Pros: Oval design eliminates tangles, heavy duty durable construction, light weight, good connectors
Cons: Utilitarian looks
Thanks Alex Sventitsky, founder of WyWires, for providing this sample in return for my honest opinion. An earlier version of this review was published on HeadFi.
This is a first for me. I’ve never reviewed a cable. It feels a little daunting. With a cable there are no real specs to look at, no scientific reports to prove that one material works better than another for audio production. There are some consensuses about constructing to physically counter electro-magnetic interferences, and general agreement that better wire should be used. The world of cables is rife with potential for bias. There are no measurements marketed with cables, for the most part, and what we hear is so indecipherable even by people in the know, that we can’t be sure that what we are hearing isn’t some sort of marketing magic. Sometimes it feels like we are hunting for the last unicorn—only the ‘audiophile’ hero and others sensitive enough can see its magnificent horn, but Mommy Fortuna can make anybody think that a scraggly old lion is a dangerous Chimera through her guile. Hopefully the cable isn’t an old snake, like the wyrm Ourobouros in The Last Unicorn.
Cable reviews are very prone to bias. When we buy a cable, usually all we have is the company’s description. This means that we have the potential to impart the sound that the company says will be produced on the cable. Additionally, if differences in sound are due to amplitude, we may interpret a cable as being more dynamic, when really it just turns the volume up.
My approach to this review will be to compare all cables with the same headphone playing out of the same source with the same tracks picked for different purposes, all volume matched. By the end we’ll see if I could tell the difference, and whether I believe the cable deserves the premium price and hype.
I also own a balanced cable for my HD600 made with OFC copper and low capacitance in a flat litz braid. I haven’t heard any differences except volume differences on that cable from the HD650 cable my used HD600 came with. That said, I do believe that cables can make a difference.
When we look at cables generally all we have to go on before purchase is what the price ($299 here) and what the manufacturer tells us. The only specifications that this cable has provided are the length, 5 feet; that it uses litz copper, that the dielectric is cotton, and that it is a balanced cable made for the HD600/650. Normally, at audioprimate.blog, useability and audio quality go before specifications, but when it comes to cables, many folks need to be convinced that they should even pay attention at all. There is no doubt that the claims of many cable manufacturers are more fanciful than claims made in other areas of audiophilia, so we will begin by looking at what the WyWires has to say, and then dissecting the features as we observe them. From the WyWires website:
WHAT PERFORMANCE ATTRIBUTES DO YOUR CABLES OFFER?
Actual performance is system-dependent. This is why we require a consultation prior to purchase. We strive to provide our customers with the following improvements over their existing cables:
– Totally silent background between notes
– State of the art realism, especially vocals
– Greatly expanded soundstage in all dimensions including the vertical
– Take the edge off sibilance (SSS’s) while enhancing inner detail
– Present instruments in their lifelike scales
– The most natural rendering of tone, timbre, attack and decay
– State of the art definition and resolution of complex passages
– Excellent low-frequency performance that belies the size of your woofers
– Virtual elimination of irritation or listening fatigue
HOW DO YOU PERFORM LISTENING TESTS OF DIFFERENT CABLES?
In performing blind A-B tests of different cables, we first install cable A and hand each listener two schematics of the part of the listening room where the speakers are located. One drawing is the horizontal view from the seating position and the other is a top down view of the area around and behind the speakers with the back wall omitted.
Each time we play a selection of music, we ask the listeners to draw the soundstage in three dimensions on the two schematics while the selection is playing. They are asked to indicate the height and perceived location of the various performers. We ask them to also include specific performers such as background singers and less obvious percussion sounds.
We do the same exercise for cable B and compare the results. We always get different drawings for cable A versus cable B. Even though the obvious sounds of instruments and voices may be identical with both cables, the differences in soundstage presentation are always strikingly different. Many times, the harder to discern subtle sounds are missing from one drawing and appear on the other.
I’d like a bit more detail about this method, as described I think this could be done two ways: The piece of music is described and the players to identify are identified before the music sample is played, or the music sample is played and then questions are asked about the performers. If the method is the first, I find this an acceptable method. In the second method, there is a lot of potential for introducing bias. The interviewer can lead the interviewee to the conclusions they wish.
One thing that is necessary for this method to be valid is repeat observations. Even with the same track, there can be variance from observation to observation, especially after you’ve noted something different in the recording. I’ve repeatedly had the experience that there is something revealed in a track I love by a better headphone than I’ve been using. However, now that I know it is there, I’ll better hear it on future listens with inferior headphones. Training your brain matters.
AREN’T MACHINE-MADE CABLES BETTER THAN HAND-MADE CABLES?
Automated cable-making equipment offers consistency but severely limits the choice of materials and geometries – thereby reducing the effectiveness of the design. The outcome is a cable that sounds like every other cable mass-produced anywhere on the planet.
Because WyWires are hand-made, we’re not limited by the constraints of automation technology, or by the materials we use.
Machine made cables are limited in two areas where WyWires are not:
The automated process for drawing insulation over the conductors requires high temperatures; for Teflon, the drawing temperature is over 1000 degrees F. These high temps dictate the use of heat-resistant conductors, rather than the best material for conducting sound.
In an automated process, the dielectric is extruded directly onto the conductor material – eliminating the possibility of using the best dielectric there is – air. The best machine-made cables have Teflon as the dielectric; Teflon is third or fourth in effectiveness as a dielectric.
At WyWires, we’ve chosen a more thoughtful, slower manufacturing process to get the best results:
We manufacture by hand at room temperature. We can choose the best conductor material without fear of damage due to excessive heat. We use ultra-pure copper due to its strength so that our product can withstand prolonged use, and the wear and tear of changing components and owners.
We are thus able to use the best insulator – air. Our conductor bundles are wrapped in organic cotton (which is mostly air) and then encased in a larger diameter PTFE tube. So the insulator contains the best dielectric and the Teflon tube protecting the cables is 3 layers away from the conductor.
The WyWires FAQ has some more information for your perusal. I recommend browsing with an open mind. Of note, the warranty on personal audio products is one year. Multichannel products have five years of warranty coverage. WyWires also has a PDF that kind of says why many cable claims are a load of malarkey, also. You can check that out here. In general, I didn’t feel that WyWires was trying to fool me with…
Form & Function
The WyWires red came in a length of 5 feet, which is the standard length for their headphone cables. You can get longer lengths made for more money. It’s a handmade cable, so of course longer lengths are possible.
Most custom cables are visibly braided. The argument for this is that it cancels out various noise that might infect your audio chain—I have no idea if this is true, but braiding sure does look pretty. The appearance of the WyWires red, by comparison, is much more utilitarian.
The shape of the nylon outer layer is interesting, and very thoughtful. Most cables use round or flat flexible arrangements, which I find do next to nothing to prevent tangles. The WyWires Red cable prevents tangling in two ways: the shape of the cable is a pointed oval, this means that there is an edge along the centre plane not unlike a double edged sword; second the cable, while flexible, is not so flexible that it easily folds in on itself. The effect of the first factor is to make it so when one part of the cable touches another part, it maintains separation—the outer part is too firm to allow tangling. The stiffness of the cable prevents loops from forming. There is one negative to this design, the cable does not wrap up small. Even though the cable is short, it will need some space for transport, no standard figure 8 loops for this cable.
The connectors used on the cable are all good quality, and the fit and finish is to a high standard. It is definitely better than my two other cables I own on appearance.
I have three cables for my HD600: the cable that comes stock with the HD650, a cable I bought from Custom Cans UK, and the WyWires Red.
I started my comparisons comparing the stock HD650 cable and the WyWires Red. With both hooked up to my Airist Audio Heron 5 headphone amplifier and my DX50 as the source (not a good source for the Heron). After several tracks, it was apparent that the Red had a bit more dimension and depth to the presentation, with noticeably more height to the sound stage. With the stock cable vanquished, I moved on to the Custom Cans balanced cable.
For this comparison I used the balanced headphone out of the HiFiMAN SuperMini, which does a spectacular job in balanced—not worth the price for single-ended playback. The SuperMini has plenty of power on tap for the HD600. To my surprise, the SPL meter showed me that the cheaper Custom Cans cable had a higher SPL measurement at the same volume. The reason that this is surprising is that in all the tracks that I listened to, the Red sounded louder, clearer, and with bigger dimensions to the stage. The background is totally silent on the Red and I found myself picking out vinyl noise on my Tori Amos – Silent All These Years rip that I wasn’t picking out on the Custom Cans cable. The sound was more dynamic and engaging without being edgy or coloured sounding. The bass from the Red had more texture and body. The mids had a more live feel to them, vocals just pop in your face like candy and coke, which coke is up to you. Note edges are more natural, and drum hits are more snappy and precise.
To my surprise and delight, the WyWires Red made a noticeable difference over the stock cable and my Custom Cans cable. The WyWires red expands the dimensions of the sound stage in all directions, with the most impressive gains in stage height. The background is totally silent on the Red, which allows notes to snap, crackle, and pop into childlike euphoric crescendos of excess amygdala activity deep in the primitive folds of the brain—that’s where bliss lives. It’s good. It’s really good.
I highly recommend it. Whether it’s worth $299 for American-made audio natural musical enhancement, is up to you, but this thing works. Rock hard. I’m going to go have some children’s cereal now, because…