Surprisingly good premium budget cables.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Penonaudio.
Even so my usual Preamble talk about the cables still applies to this review, I wanted to be brief here and decided to skip that section. I’m aware that some people don’t believe in cables, and I don’t have any intention to change their mind. But I also know that many want to fine-tune their IEM sound, or looking for a cheaper way to switch to a balanced cable, or just fed up with a memory wire and want something more comfortable and perhaps with less microphonics. I received these cables from Penon not for the review purpose, but to provide the feedback about their performance and their build quality. I choose to write this mini review because I think these cables offer a decent value under $100, especially if you are on a budget.
While “budget” cables usually arrive in a ziplock bag, here Penon put an extra effort placing them in a transparent plastic box with a clear detailed description of the connector type and the wire material. The plastic box, with a Penon logo, was inside of another small gift box. Nothing fancy, but still a nice touch with a pleasant unboxing experience. In the picture below, I got first pair of cables in a ziplock bag while Penon was working on the final packaging, which arrived later with other 3 cables.
Obviously, these cables will vary depending on the connector type and the wire material, but they also have a lot in common which makes me believe they were manufactured in the same place. All the cables have 8 conductors, meaning they have 8 separate wires, braided together in a well crafted square pattern. A very consistent square braid pattern and tight spacing between the wires makes me wonder if this was done using a braiding machine because it’s too neat for hand-braiding. With every cable, you get an option of either L-shaped 3.5mm TRS single ended gold plated plug or a straight 2.5mm TRRS balanced gold plated plug. Regardless of which one you choose, you don’t have to pay extra for it. It’s a plus since some cable manufacturers charge more for a balanced connector. But at the same time, keep in mind you are not getting a brand name expensive connectors. These are budget ones, but they still look and feel sturdy, especially 2.5mm plug.
Each wire has a separate rubbery shielding. Out of the box it felt a bit “sticky” but it should wear off after some time. There is also a clear rubbery/plastic y-splitter where the braiding splits from 8-conductors to L/R sides with 4 braided conductors each. Furthermore, you can find a rubbery matching chin-slider with a divider between L/R sides, but because of the “sticky” cable it was a little hard to slide it due to friction. Since I didn’t have patience to slide it slowly, when I forced the chin slider down the divider inside of it got ripped. Ironically, it made chin-slider easier to use. If you are not a fan of memory wires, you will be happy to know these cables don’t have any, not even pre-shaped earhooks. And since cable is very pliable and soft, it bends easily and stays comfortably behind your ears when worn wire up. If you have mmcx connector IEMs which can be worn with wire down, you can use this cable without a problem since you don’t have to worry about memory wire.
Regarding the connectors, 2pin ones are standard universal with 0.78mm diameter pins, aluminum casing, and Red/Blue color marking rings to identify right/left sides. Keep in mind, with 2pin connector you need to be consistent between L/R sides, otherwise you will encounter a phasing effect. When you look closer, the plastic mold around the pins is smooth on one side and has groove on the other side. When plugging these in, make sure you have the groove consistently out or in on both right/left sides. There is no need to worry about how you attach mmcx connector because it’s universal and spins around. There is a R/L marking on each mmcx connector, so pay close attention to it. MMCX connector housing is all metal, it does have a tighter fit with majority of IEMs I tested it with. So be very careful when disconnecting the cable, holding it only by the connector, never pulling on the wire.
The cables I received either had 8-conductor single crystal pure copper cable, or 8-conductor silver plated copper, or a hybrid design with 4-conductor single crystal copper and 4-conductor silver plated copper. Single crystal wire description refers to a specific manufacturing process of the copper wire which creates a single continuous crystal structure without microscopic voids. In theory it should improve the purity of the material.
Pure Copper / SPC hybrid:
The looks are important and it’s nice to back it up with a solid design and quality materials, but at the end of the day it’s all about the sound improvement, even if it’s just fine-tuning with subtle changes. These cables will not magically change your sound like an EQ adjustment. They do offer improvement in soundstage expansion, and due to multiple higher purity conductors (in comparison to some stock cables), they will also improve the sound efficiency of IEMs since the cable impedance will be lower. Therefore, I made sure to volume match in every comparison before collecting my sound impressions.
I will start first with MMCX connector cables, testing it with Westone W80 and Campfire Audio Andromeda IEMs. In every case I used Plenue 2 as my source. As mentioned before, the fit was tight out of the box, but got a little better after a few connects/disconnects. Just remember never to pull on the cable, only the connector.
W80: Stock (Epic ofc) vs Pure Copper => more sound depth, mids are a little bit forward, sub-bass rumble is deeper.
W80: Stock (Epic ofc) vs Hybrid => more sound depth, mids are a little bit more forward, sub-bass rumble is deeper, a little more sparkle in treble.
Andromeda: Stock (spc) vs Pure Copper => a little more width, a little deeper sub-bass, mids a little more forward.
Andromeda: Stock (spc) vs Hybrid => a little more width, signature is more balanced, a little deeper sub-bass rumble, mids-slightly smoother, more airiness and treble sparkle. Sound is smoother, a little more organic.
The 2pin connector cables I tested with 64audio U6 and CustomArt Harmony 8.2, where I also volume matched in every case. I didn’t find a link on Penon to SPC cable, only for Pure Copper and Hybrid, but since I received SPC for testing as well, I’m including it below.
U6: Stock (ofc) vs Pure Copper => wider/deeper staging, bass is more articulate, tighter, with more rumble, mids have more clarity.
U6: Stock (ofc) vs SPC => more sound depth, deeper sub-bass rumble, more clarity in upper mids, a touch more sparkle in treble; like pure copper, except pure copper has more bass.
U6: Stock (ofc) vs Hybrid => wider/deeper staging, bass is more articulate, tighter, with more rumble, mids have more clarity, and a touch more sparkle in the treble.
H8.2: Stock (ofc) vs Pure Copper => wider staging, bass is tighter, mids have more clarity.
H8.2: Stock (ofc) vs SPC => wider staging, a little deeper sub-bass, more clarity in upper mids, and a touch more sparkle in treble.
H8.2: Stock (ofc) vs Hybrid => wider staging, bass is more articulate, mids are more forward with improvement in clarity, a little more sparkle in treble.
Once you start talking about balanced terminated cables, the next question that usually comes up is how to use it with your DAP which doesn’t have balanced connector or with your smartphone that has only 3.5mm jack. The answer is simple – get 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS adapter. This way you no longer require to buy 2 separate cables with different terminations, and can save money by buying one cable and an adapter.
Penon also offers a premium 2.5mm TRRS (bal) to 3.5mm TRS (single ended) adapter with 12-conductor braided design where you have 6 copper wires and 6 spc wires. Fully extended, together with wires and both connectors this adapter measures about 7″. It actually has a very good build quality, and both connector have a nice cable strain relief. In all of my tests I found it to make a good connection with IEM cables and a source, and it never degraded the sound, always being transparent.
Aftermarket cables are not cheap, and that is a reason why some people justify to use premium cables with their flagship TOTL C/IEMs where the cable price is still a fraction in comparison to IEM price. In my opinion, even if you are a cable believer, the investment into a premium cable still falls under a category of diminishing returns. Cable can fine-tune the sound, squeeze every ounce of the performance, but it will not change the sound signature. So, you can justify the premium cable purchase for $1k-$3k flagship IEM, but how about mid-fi monitors where the cable could cost as much as IEM itself? That’s where these $79-$89 Penon audio cables could come into the picture and give you a reasonable alternative. For me personally, I was actually pleasantly surprised with a performance of their hybrid version. Add to that a balanced connector, no memory wire, and almost no microphonics – definitely something to consider! Plus, a balanced adapter with a premium multi-core interconnect for under $25 is a great value as well.
Below are the direct product links on Penon site:
2pin 8core single crystal copper cable, $79
mmcx 8core single crystal copper cable, $79
2pin 8core hybrid with 4 single crystal copper and 4 silver-plated-copper, $89
mmcx 8core hybrid with 4 single crystal copper and 4 silver-plated-copper, $89
adapter 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS, $24.90 (12 cores, 6 copper, 6 spc)