PROS: build quality, silver plating with higher percentage of silver, 8 conductors, sound improvement on par with pure silver cables, included accessories (storage case/box).
CONS: 8 conductors can add to the weight and make cable a little stiffer.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Penon.
I’m aware that some people don’t believe in cables and have very strong opinions about it. That is a reason why I usually start my cable reviews with a Preamble which still applies to this write up. The intent of this review is not to change anybody’s mind, but rather to share with you what I hear during testing. Perhaps, I can’t fully explain why there is a change in sound, but I do hear it. What makes sense to me is that I look at the wire as a material with physical properties of resistivity, conductivity, level of purity, etc, which acts as a filter between your source and headphones. Variations of these physical properties can affect the conductivity of electric signal, resulting in a sound change, from a subtle to a more noticeable level.
Audio enthusiast often talk about fine-tuning their IEM sound, or looking for a cheaper way to switch to a balanced cable, or just being fed up with a memory wire and wanting something more comfortable with less microphonics. I have reviewed many budget cables in the past, including some from Penon (here), and also tested many high-end cables from well-known manufacturers that cost more than some IEMs. This new Penon cable is still priced under $100, which I consider to be on a budget scale, but I found its quality and performance to be above its price tag.
Unfortunately, today you can find a lot of ultra-budget cables on eBay and Aliexpress, but many of them only got the “looks” without any sound improvement behind it. I wouldn’t even consider some of them as a valid replacement because they can degrade the sound or damage iem socket with their cheap connectors. This OS849 cable is different, built to a higher level spec from Penon, and branded under their own name. I was curious enough about the cable and agreed to test it without a pressure of the review, but ended up enjoying it enough to make a write up so I can share about it with my readers.
Unboxing and Accessories.
With OS849 being their first cable product, Penon decided to give it a royal treatment with a premium packaging, and I’m not exaggerating. The cable arrived inside of a jewelry style real wooden box. The lid of the box is a bit tight, but when you look closer, you can find a short slit on each side, big enough to pry open the lid with your fingernail. With a top off, you will find a Penon branded velvet storage bag with a cable, and another piece of Penon branded velvet liner at the bottom.
The storage bag is big enough for the cable, but not for the cable with IEMs. The wooden box will be roomy enough and more appropriate for your IEMs with a cable, though the box is not deep enough for many of my multi-BA and hybrid IEMs to go inside with a lid closed. It’s great for the cable by itself or for a desktop display of the cable and IEMs with a lid off.
When you look at the spec of OS849, you can see this cable uses high quality 6N purity single crystal copper with silver-plated conductors (SPC). There are many SPC cables out there, but usually the silver plating percentage is very low. Here, Penon confirmed about using 8% of silver in the wire plating which equates to 10µm in thickness. Each conductor has 49 wire strands, for a total of 8×49 strands (thus OS849 model name). Even the solder joints are silver too.
The single crystal copper wire, also known as mono crystal, uses a special manufacturing process which eliminates the pockets of oxidation and contamination between atoms and metal crystals. These so-called pockets form a discontinuity which can be responsible for tiny shifts in electrical behavior and signal transmission. To avoid that, the manufacturing process of mono crystal wires creates a single continuous crystal structure without microscopic voids. Bottom line, these are not cheap budget wires.
Starting with a plug, you have a choice of either 3.5mm TRS single ended or 2.5mm TRRS balanced termination, where according to the product page either options are priced the same. The plug itself is metal with a black anodized finish and carbon fiber insert, and a nice strain relief. 8 conductors are tightly braided in a square braid, which creates a bit of a memory effect when you unfold the cable, but it’s not too bad and the cable is still very flexible. I found to microphonics at all. Every conductor has a tight transparent jacket so you can clearly see a silver-platted surface.
Going up to a y-splitter, it has a matching all metal design with a carbon fiber insert. From there, you will find a metal CNC chin-slider with a round laser etching. The plug, the y-splitter, the chin-slider, and the connectors are all black which creates a nice contrast with a silver-platted finish of the cable. There is no memory wire or a pre-shaped flexible earhook. Even so each side after the splitter has 4-conductor braid, it’s still flexible enough to go over your ear and keep the shape. Without earhook, you have the option to wear this cable either wire up or wire down.
The IEM connectors on the cable I received are standard 2pin 0.78mm ones, but you can also choose mmcx type. Connector itself is small, but has a good grip. It is color marked with Red and Blue rings for an easy identification of Right/Left sides. The 2pin connector is designed to work with both recessed and non-recessed IEM sockets. Also, when you look closer, the plastic part next to the pins has a groove on one side which typically has to face outwards when attaching the cable. You must be consistent with a polarity of 2pin connectors between right/left sides, otherwise you will hear a phasing effect.
Overall, it’s a nice-looking cable. A little stiff due to 8 tightly braided conductors, which also add to the weight along with metal plug, y-splitter, and chin slider. But it’s still lightweight and comfortable enough for a portable use with IEMs.
As I mentioned in many of my other reviews, it’s very tricky to analyze the sound of the cable. What we hear is a pair up synergy between the source, the cable, and the headphones. Each of these variables contribute to the final sound we hear. But if you want to figure out the contributing factor of the cable – you should replace one variable and compare the results after a careful volume matching. Thus, in my sound analysis I picked four different IEMs and compared their sound to either a stock cable or another replacement cable. Here is how I hear the changes. “OS” refers to OS849 replacement cable.
Simgot EN700 Pro.
Stock hybrid to OS – While I was happy with Simgot’s stock 8-core hybrid cable, the difference when switching to OS is hard to ignore. Soundstage width expands, that was the first thing that I noticed. Overall sound is tighter and with a sharper transition of notes. Sound signature didn’t change drastically, but I do hear a veil was lifted off. Bass is tighter and has a perception of faster speed, mids have some improvement in detail retrieval, and treble has more sparkle. Typically, this what you would expect from SPC cable, but many cheap SPC cables make sound a little artificial, here it was brighter and still realistic and natural.
EA Thor II+ to OS – I don’t use W900 with a stock SPC cable because it makes sound too smooth, too laidback, lacking details. Pure silver Thor II+ lifts this veil off, adds more clarity, better retrieval of details, improved treble airiness, and wider soundstage. Here with OS cable, the sound improvement is nearly the same, with additional bonus of a little more mid-bass and a little more treble sparkle. Definitely a great pair up synergy.
64 Audio U18 w/M20.
Stock SPC to OS – Soundstage is a touch wider, bass is a little tighter, while mids are a little more revealing. The biggest change here is treble where you get a boost of energy with a lot more sparkle and airiness. This is a very interesting pair up because I like to have more bass, thus use M20 module. But M20 attenuates and smooths out the treble in comparison to using M15 which has less bass with more treble energy. OS cable with M20 module keeps the same bass while brings up treble to M15 level.
Stock SPC to OS – This was probably the biggest surprise since they are both SPC wires. Soundstage is a little wider, not by a lot but noticeable. Overall sound feels tighter, more controlled. Mids are similar too. While I was expecting for the treble to get a little brighter, now it feels more under control. Still with the same level of sparkle and airiness, but OS cable makes K10UA treble a little less splashy. But the most impressive change was with a bass where I hear a little more sub-bass rumble and stronger mid-bass impact. K10UA stock SPC cable was always my favorite pair up choice because all other cables ruined the treble response. Here, my preference goes to OS cable.
Because I do have the experience of dealing with budget SPC cables, my expectations were lowered when I received Penon OS849. But to my surprise, I found this cable to perform more like a pure silver cable rather than SPC, perhaps explained by a higher percentage of silver plating. If you are familiar with a principle of cable skin effect, you will be aware that electric signal usually travels through a surface of the cable, thus plating is more cost efficient. Plus, doubling from 4 to 8 conductors, which look like 26awg wires, should also improve sound performance due to lower impedance because of an increased surface for signal to travel through. Lower impedance also improves the efficiency of IEMs.
The sound improvement will vary depending on pair up, but I have noticed a consistency with a wider soundstage expansion in comparison to most of the stock OFC/SPC cables I tested it with and some other premium cables. Another improvement I noticed was in treble, with more sparkle and airiness and even improved detail retrieval without making sound too splashy or harsh. That is a problem with many cheap SPC wires that can introduce artificial brightness. Here, OS849 cable sound improvement was natural and under control.