Three Way HFI-780 Shootout

The DIY modded HFI-780 utilizes a funky yellow-orange colored cable. The four cores are much smaller than the 18AWG Jenas, but they are much, much, stiffer than the Jena. The cables used are actually chassis hookup wires, famous for offering good price to performance ratio. After all, these cables are used to hook up various joints on your amplifier, and it’s best if they can retain good signal purity. Though they are  more affordable than typical aftermarket cable, they do come with one catch: they are very stiff. Who needs flexible cables inside their amplifiers, anyway? So, when you’re paying  the premium price for boutique cables, what you’re getting is good performance with good  flexibility, as in the case  of the ALO recabled headphone. So, though these DIY cables might be good performers, they are not very comfortable for actual real day use.

The braiding on the DIY job is quite unique as well. The modder, Cyberspeed, commented that this particular braiding yields the best sound quality compared to other braidings. I personally haven’t gone as far as comparing braiding techniques to its effect on sound quality, so I won’t comment on them. This particular recable is fairly short at roughly 4 foot, and is terminated with a 1/8 nickel/gold Switchcraft. The owner also added some flannel cloth and blue tack on the housing, to improve its damping. This recable job was kept to single entry to the owner’s preference.

ultrasone_triple780_2

If the ALO recable doesn’t alter the sound signature of the HFI-780, yet enhances it, the DIY recable does a few things to the voicing. Keep in mind that the changes are a combination of the damping modifications as well as the recabling. The DIY modded is quite different in that it has a thicker midrange and bass. Its soundstage, surprisingly, is smaller than even the stock HFI-780. I don’t think that this is due to the cables, but rather, the damping which thickens the midrange and the bass also at the same time reduces the soundstage, and makes it sound less airy. Now whether a thicker low and mid is better, is entirely dependant on the music. If you listen to Vocals and RnB, then you might like the change. On classical recordings, I don’t like the effect so much, because it translates to an unnatural bass. The good thing about the damping, however, is that it makes the DIY modded cans to have the least amount of reverb among the three. The stock unit has the worst reverb, the ALO modded improved on it, but the DIY modded is the best in this particular criteria (keep in mind that it does so while sacrificing soundstage and airiness, so there are compromises to be made). What I do think the stiff recable job improves the sound is in the treble, which is smoother than the ALO or the stock unit. It’s also less prone to sibilance. And finally, while the DIY modded unit has a smaller soundstage, it actually has the cleanest imaging of the three, but I think this difference is also due to the jumper wire being used, not the damping.

At the end, whichever modifications you prefer entirely depends on your music preferences. Having quite some experience with aftermarket cables, I do think that the premium price you paid for brand cables are more than just for bragging rights. Although the DIY modded HFI-780 also had a very good performance, cable stiffness is a big problem when you’re using it for headphones. So far I have yet to find a good performance cable that’s flexible enough for headphone use, outside of the branded cables such as Jena, APureSound, MoonAudio, Cardas, et cetera. Lately, damping modifications is also getting quite popular these days, and they seem to alter the sound quite significantly compared to stock damping.

System for auditioning:
Headphones: Ultrasone HFI-780 Stock, ALO Recabled, and DIY Modded.
Source: CEC TL51XZ via Coaxial to Lavry DA11
Amplifier: SPL Auditor, SPL Phonitor.
Interconnects: Transparent Musiclink Plus XLR, Purist Audio Design Maximus XLR, Stereovox Digital Interconnect,

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13 Comments

  • Reply December 3, 2011

    Guest

    Hi Mike,

    I’ve been doing research about cables and noted that it seems to be a rather controversial issue, especially on places like Head-Fi. It seems like there are those who believe that they make a difference, and those who don’t and point to ABX and double blind tests. Could you let me know your thoughts on this?

    • Reply December 3, 2011

      Mike

      Cables make a difference, though in some cases small.

      • Reply December 3, 2011

        Guest

        Thanks for the reply. My concern is why there are few who say that the sound changes for the worse after an aftermarket cable is installed. Are aftermarket cables always superior to the stock ones?

        • Reply December 5, 2011

          Mike

          Most of the time, an aftermarket cable would give you superior technicalities. But like other components they too have their own sound signature and so it’s ultimately a mix and match thing.

  • Reply December 8, 2011

    Anonymous

    How do they compare against the Ultrasone Pro 900?

    • Reply December 8, 2011

      Anonymous

      The ALO-modded one.

      • Reply December 8, 2011

        Mike

        Talking based on a faint memory here (that review is more than a year ago and I haven’t listened to an HFI780 ever since).
        The Pro 900 is more spacious and refined. The HFI780 is more forward and engaging. Both retains a very similar ultrasone signature.

  • Reply December 17, 2011

    Andy

    Hey Mike,

    Do you think the HFI-780 is a good match with the Matrix Mini-i? They’re on sale for $155 on Amazon, and I’m not sure if I should jump on this offer.

    • Reply December 17, 2011

      Mike

      Hi Andy,
      The HFI-780s are pretty easy to drive, should be easy to drive it with the Mini-i. The question is if the sound of the headphone matches your preference.

      • Reply December 18, 2011

        Andy

        Hey Mike, 

        I listen mostly to electronic music. Right now I use the HD25-1. The midrange and treble on them are pretty much perfect for me, but I wish the bass had better extension and a little bit more impact, and a bigger soundstage.

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