PROS: adds warmth and more body to the sound, expands the soundstage, excellent workmanship, lightweight and comfortable to wear.
CONS: pricey, sound improvement varies depending on pair up.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: PlusSound.
Aftermarket premium replacement cables have been a controversial topic of discussions in many audio communities. Some people don’t hear any sound improvement, others consider the improvement to be too subtle to justify the cost or talk themselves into believing to validate their purchase. I also ran into a group of people who consider cables as an accessory to personalize IEM appearance, like in custom iems, or those who switched to balanced termination and took the opportunity to upgrade to fancier wires. There are also people who never tried a replacement cable and formed their opinion based on reading someone else’s rant.
I’m a cable believer because I do hear the change in sound, but not always able to capture it accurately in measurements. The most obvious change is based on science where higher purity material will yield a smaller resistivity, better conductivity, and corresponding boost in signal level due to reduction in losses. There is no magic behind it because various metals have different properties, and you’ll get an instant benefit of a boosted output with an improved efficiency of your headphones, something that could be measured. Also, doubling the number of conductors will lower the overall resistance of the cable. But when I hear a change in a bass texture and articulation, or more airiness in treble, or overall improvement in retrieval of details which feels like a layer of veil is lifted off – this is not easy to capture in measurements. Considering we all have a different perception of sound, without supporting measurements, unfortunately, some people jump into conclusion and form a “snake oil” opinion, especially when price is taken into consideration.
The intent of this review is not a preaching to change anybody’s mind, but rather to share with you what I hear and how I hear it. 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 wire as a material with physical properties of resistivity, conductivity, purity, geometry, etc, which acts as a filter between your source and headphones. Variations of these physical properties will affect the conductivity of electric signal and will result in a sound change, from a subtle to a more noticeable level. Also, I want to mention the design of cables, which is related to the cost since you are not dealing with a “coat hanger” wire but rather high-grade materials, advanced production techniques, and hours of labor which all add up. Finally, the sound improvement of one specific cable is not universal with every IEM because it will depend on the synergy between your source and your monitors.
* I use this preamble with all my cable reviews.
I have reviewed PlusSound (PS) cables in the past, but it was almost 2 years ago when I referred to them as relatively young company, considering they started in 2012. PS matured since then, expanding the product line with their own IEMs, Bluetooth wireless cables, and new cable designs. But one thing that hasn’t changed is how Christian, the man behind the company, handles his interaction with customers while providing nearly 24-7 support. Either through direct emails, or PMs on Head-fi, or FB Messenger – you will get a very fast answer within an hour.
PlusSound still offers many different signature copper, silver, gold and silver plated, and hybrid wires, described in detail here. And still, regardless of the type of cable material, they all feature a Type 6 Litz configuration where wires have 6 enamel-coated groups with multiple strands to decrease electrical anomalies (such as skin and proximity effect causing microphonics), to minimize oxidation (preventing wires turning green), and to improve conductivity since electric signal usually travels on the surface of the wire, thus multiple thin strands will have a better conductivity and a smaller resistivity than a single “coat hanger” wire.
Another important fact is that PlusSound wires are cryogenically treated for strengthening purpose to enhance their reliability and longevity. Furthermore, the wires itself are UP-OCC manufactured, referring to Ultra-Pure Ohno Continuous Casting process developed and patented by Professor Ohno of CIT in Japan. All PlusSound cables have a wide degree of customization, featuring 8 wire types, 12 connectors and 8 terminations with various color logos on heatshrink, and different y-splitter and chin slider material/designs. Some cables have an option for a custom sleeve between the y-splitter and the plug, as part of an advanced multi-dampening system featuring tri-shielding and dual insulation.
Unboxing & Accessories.
It’s probably crazy to talk about unboxing of a cable, but when a manufacturer puts an extra effort, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge it because some companies send their cables in a ziploc bag. Just like with their other cables I reviewed, the product was inside of a compact giftbox quality cardboard black box with a magnetic flip cover. This time, they also added an external sleeve with a glossy artwork of a cable. The sleeve was on a tighter side and instructions printed on the back are nearly impossible to read due to poor contrast with black background. Hopefully moving forward, PS will use another print color to make it more readable.
Inside the box, cable was kept sealed in a clear plastic bag, a nice touch with something different and unique. An included adapter was also “freshly” air-sealed in a clear bag. Also, included was an amplifier rubber band, a bit of an old school. I would have loved to see a cable organizer, like one of those short leather strips with a snap button, and maybe a small storage bag.
Along with a cable, terminated 2.5mm TRRS balanced, I asked Christian for a short 4.4mm adapter to be able to use with WM1Z DAP in my testing and future reviews. In my previous PS reviews, I received both straight and angled 3.5mm short adapters (from 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS), so I’m quite familiar with these already. Unlike other manufacturers, PS heat-shrinks all the connectors, including adapters. While it does make the cable look more DIY-ish, it has an advantage of the enhanced grip, which is more practical than glamorous. Also, with an adapter, I always find PS to have a very tight and secure connection, never a wiggle at the joint.
As an example, when 2.5mm plug and 4.4mm adapter connected, it feels like a solid one-piece connector.
I already covered the details of Type 6 Litz wires used in this cable. It’s the same type of wires PS uses with all their cables, still with 7 cores, high purity, 26AWG gauge, cryogenically treated.
What’s unique in this case is their new wire material, called Tri-Copper (3Cu) which consists of 3 different types of copper – pure copper, silver-plated copper, and gold-plated copper. These 3Cu wires will be available with all non-shielded PS cables, such as X series (2 wires), EXO series (4 wires), X6 series (6 wires), and X8 series (8 wires).
Also, it features the new insulation, a proprietary jacket with improvements in durability, softness, and flexibility. Together with thinner 26AWG wires and a new transparent insulation jacket, cable is very pliable, relatively lightweight (great for commuting with IEMs), and has no microphonics effect. Upon closer look, you can see the strands of plated copper, inner-twisted with a pure copper. I do like the looks of this cable.
The one I received for review is EXO series cable, with 4 neatly braided conductors between the plug and y-splitter, and two twisted pairs going to each earpiece connectors where you have a flexible pre-shaped earhook. There is no memory wire or heatshrink earhook tube. If you want your cable to be light, X series with 2 wires is a good choice. For full-size headphones where you don’t move as much and want minimum impedance to improve efficiency of your demanding cans – a thicker X8 with 8 conductors will be more appropriate. For IEMs, EXO strikes a perfect balance of performance and ergonomics.
Also, as I already mentioned, you can personalize the heatshrink on the plug and earpiece connectors with different PS logo colors, and have flexibility to select different y-splitter and chin slider. On the cable I received, those were aluminum, though, probably rose gold would have been a better match for a copper color. For earpiece connectors, I was glad my review unit arrived with 2 different colors for an easy ID of Left/Right sides. Also keep in mind when attaching earpieces, the screw should point out relative to Left/Right sides, especially if you don’t want them to rub against your skin.