Cables, a hot topic which probably will never be set. Some consider it snake oil, some can’t live without the sound enhancements they bring. Though at first I also was skeptic, I am now convinced that cables do make a difference. There are many cables at affordable prices that already bring a definite improvement, and sport high value for the sound. During my time with the A18t I have tried out a number of different aftermarket cables to see how they match this beast of an IEM. That’s what cables are about after all, finding a good partner for your ear- or headphone.
PlusSound is one of the companies that I put up high for their build quality, comfort and sound. The LA based cable makers can be found twice in my inventory, once with their hyper portable X-series and once with the unconventional material-mix with their Exo.
Effect Audio is one of the most talked cable brands here on Headfonia, as most of our staff is convinced by their craftsmanship and house-sound. I have borrowed Lieven’s Horus sample for another review and of course couldn’t resist to also try it on the A18t, my long-time love Leonidas of course also makes an appearance.
Another brand, that maybe is not as well known as PlusSound or Effect Audio, is the Hong Kong based manufacturer Labkable. I’ve reviewed two of their offerings a little while ago and must say that they also pack a very impressive price to performance ratio. Their Samurai III is one of my favorites and also matches quite well with the A18t.
PlusSound – X (GPC)
This gold-plated copper cable sports a very transparent signature with great bass impact and slightly softer highs. The A18t keeps its mind-numbing sound stage, layering and details as well as the superior imaging. The X adds a tad of warmth to the upper regions and gives bass a harder kick. I love the hardcore lightweight and portability of the X-series cables, which has been the reason why I got it in the first place.
PlusSound – EXO (T-Metal)
The T-Metal Exo cable is built of three different materials: silver, gold-plated silver and gold-plated copper. A very obscure mixture, but it definitely paid off sonically. In combination with the A18t sound changes to a more dynamic bass with additional body and punch, a slightly fuller midrange and more sparkle up top. Some extra warmth to treble can be found as well as enhanced layering and slightly wider sound stage. This combination created a liquid gold feeling for me, impossible to separate myself from it. For more than a week I couldn’t listen to anything else.
Labkable – Samurai III
The Samurai is part of Labkable’s Master Series of IEM cables and also is, like the Exo of PlusSound, made out of an unconventional material mix. Labkable also uses three different kinds of metals: silver, gold and platinum. It is one of the very few cables to utilize platinum alloy in cables.
One of the key-strengths of this particular cable is the holography it brings to voices. The A18t benefits from added mid-body and a bigger stage in terms of depth and width.
Effect Audio – Leonidas
Leonidas was the first aftermarket cable I bought for myself, after long talks to Lieven I decided to pull the trigger on one. Since then Leonidas has always been one of my favorite choices for cables. It’s wonderfully organic and smooth with tightly controlled bass and enhanced layering and added sound stage width and depth. All these characteristics have found their way into the A18t when I hooked it up. A very nice and enjoyable signature.
Effect Audio – Horus
As said in the beginning of this chapter, cables are a hot topic, even more so when they cost 1500$ like Horus. It’s Effect Audio’s latest flagship model and definitely worth its status. When I heard what its price would be I was a little shocked to be honest, but truth is, there are many cables out there that cost even more.
From the first time I had it paired with my A18t I was convinced by its qualities. One of the strengths of Horus is its beautiful nature of an organic sound. Bass has this honey cover over it making it soft and full. Mids and highs sound sweeter with incredible clarity and precision. The sound stage again got considerably bigger and separation received some good portions of air for enhanced imaging and layering. If I could afford one, I’d definitely go for it.
Out of all these cable combinations my two favorites are Effect Audio’s Horus and PlusSound’s Exo, with the Exo receiving a little more playtime currently.
As with all my other reviews the SP1000 has been my main source. All used DAPs and DACs have a dead-silent background without any hissing, except for the L5 Pro which mildly hisses even on ultra-low gain setting. As the monitor itself has a balanced signature, it will nicely display the sound of your sources. If you’re after a more analytical tone go for a source with that signature, if you’re though looking for something more analogue and less audiophile tuned, go for a warmer source. I have used my custom A18t with different sources, most of them have been with me for some time now, while Cozoy’s Takt Pro just recently has made its way into my home.
Astell&Kern – A&ultima SP1000
This May Korean Astell&Kern has redone their flagship model and it has been taken to the next step not only in looks and naming but of course also in terms of sound.
The SP1000 is impressively dynamic with fantastic speed and probably the biggest sound stage in a portable device. The A18t is incredibly detailed, energetic and extends very well on both ends. Sound stage and micro detail rendering is en par with some of the more expensive two channel systems I came across. The balanced output delivers a tighter bass, better instrumental separation and overall higher harmonics.
Chord Electronics – Hugo2
Digital sound is the art of time, just as an orchestra needs its conductor, sound through a D/A converter needs perfect timing. The FPGA based DAC from Chord Electronics proves how important it actually is. With resolution out of this world and an impressive sound stage and clarity the A18t – Hugo2 combination becomes one of the very best I’ve heard. Organic, detailed and impressively layered, with life like emotions and natural imaging. Excellent bass – mids – treble transition and a silky top end is what Hugo2 offers the A18t. My main office source has seen a lot of playtime with the 64 Audio, either fed via USB and Roon or one of my DAPs (coaxial or USB).
Chord Electronics – Mojo
The miniature sized Mojo has an uber-resolving signature with a more digital sound than its bigger sibling. The A18t is impressively detailed with a wonderfully big sound stage. Layering, instrumental separation and imaging are all top notch. I bet a lot of people can easily live with the balanced and coherent signature these two create together, I know I could.
Luxury&Precision – L5 Pro
Luxury&Precision is something like an offspring of Colorfly. A number of former Colorfly developers, who also were involved in designing the iconic C4 DAP, have launched L&P. The L5 Pro was their first touch-screen audio player. I see this DAP as one of the very best around, it features a smooth and detailed sound. The L5 Pro can be adjusted to a very broad number of ear- and headphones with its five gain-settings and digital filters. Unfortunately, it isn’t the most silent DAP around, the A18t does pick up slight hissing from it. Though when music is playing you can’t notice it. The full and dynamic signature blends in very well with the Tzar’s key-signature.
Luxury&Precision – L3 Pro
L&P launched the L3 Pro shortly after the release of their L5 Pro. I also consider it as one of the very best in its price-segment. If it weren’t for that ridiculous user interface and lack of updates, probably more people would use the Luxury&Precision DAPs. The L3 Pro luckily is completely dead silent in its background, so the A18t doesn’t pick up a single bit of hissing. The L3 Pro has, just like the bigger L5 Pro, a very musical and fun signature with great details and layering. The balanced output of it is class-leading and a pure enjoyment.
Cozoy – Takt Pro
Hong Kong based Cozoy has surprised me big with their REI a few months ago. When the micro sized Takt Pro arrived, I was more than shocked by its form factor. With dimensions not even as big as my pinky finger, it sure does pack a huge sound. It is dynamic and fast with an organic signature and loads of details when paired with the A18t.
Expect more detailed impressions over the course of time and especially for the dedicated Takt Pro review that will be posted.
The last page contains Comparisons to other flagship CIEMs and the Conclusion!