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Audio Ramblings - The Focal ELEAR Headphones and Cabling From Moon Audio, Double Helix, Wireworld, and a Whole Lot More...

02-21-2017 | By Dave Clark | Issue 90

So I've been playing around more with headphones (headphones from Sennheiser, Audeze, AKG, and OPPO are in my usual rotation of references), but after hearing the new ELEARs from Focal… uh, we got to have these. At an event held over in Torrance at The Source A/V a while ago, Carol and I, along with a throng of local head-phiers got to hear the complete line of Focal headphones from the $3995 Utopias to the $995 ELEARs to the $249 Listens with just about any head amp out there.… all stellar, but all rather obviously different. After all, the price range is quite wide, and then there is the wide assortment of sources and amplifiers, so there are going to be trade-offs as one moves up or down the Focal line… though both Carol and I came away feeling the ELEARs were the sweet spot, and that at 4-times the price, the Utopias to not be worth the difference—for us at least. For sure the Utopias were the best of the lot, but not the best in terms of value. The ELEARs just came close enough to the Utopias to be a done deal for us… they offer amazing bass and treble extension that is not the least bit hard, bright, or gritty. Stellar sound that is open and dynamic and way musical. Big, and yet oh so articulate, their presentation is clean, smooth and is very resolving, and yet not the least bit overly analytical. Sweet. So, when we got around to buying them we fell into the obvious hole of wanting better cabling… which led us to cables from Moon Audio, Wireworld, and Double Helix cables.

Yeah, through a series of mistakes on my part…we ended up buying them all over a span of several days!

Focal ELEAR Headphones moon audio

From Moon Audio, based on Drew's suggestion, we purchased the Black Dragon V2 Premium (a more traditional round black cable/wire with a beautiful carbon fiber silver ¼" phono plug at the end) that retails for $425/5 feet. This is a copper wire cable and it is beautifully built. This cable tends to present a smooth warm, fuller presentation though all the details are still there… they are just not as analytical or resolving as the other cables—especially the Double Helix. I say not as resolving only because of their warmer, fuller presentation (can I say luscious? Yes certainly.) which tends to take center stage. The resolution and details are still there—this is a wonderfully extended cable in terms of the frequency extension, top to bottom—it is just not as there there when one goes back and worth with the other cables. Certainly the details and such are not lost in the mix, the Black Dragon V2 Premium is just a wee bit softer, rounder... more forgiving. Curious how the silver version would sound? The Black Dragon V2 Premium has killer bass and space, especially with the music we tend to be drawn towards. Overall the cable is a wee bit laid back, and as I said warm and rich… a tad darker than the others for sure, but not in a way that would detract from one's enjoyment... it is a cable that is quite musically engaging in that it simply gets out of the way of the music. Stellar midrange that is oh so natural and correct, though like I said, it leans to the warmer, richer side of whatever the term neutrality might mean for you. Even so, with our music, it is as correct as I think our music should be correct. After all, how should any of this music really sound?

I have a friend who comes over now and then and tells me that he knows how a specific LP or whatever should sound… and that I need to do x, y, or z to get my system to do that… Uh, you think it should sound like that, but there is no way you know it should sound like that. All a matter of preference, interpretation, realization… what you want and perhaps not what I want. That's right, I am talking to you… no, not you, but the guy behind you. Yeah, that's right I see you there.

Anyhow, kudos to Drew for a killer cable that would make any music lover smile. Highly recommended.

Focal ELEAR Headphones wireworld

Anyhow… from Wireworld, we got the Nano-Silver Eclipse (thanks again to The Source A/V for the cables oh, and the ELEAR headphones which were not readily available through the distributor at the time we purchased) which are of the classic flat Wireworld style cabling ($350/1.5 meters). These are silver-plated copper and feature two 8 strand wires that are 27AWG (see image below) in their flat cable design. These cables are very well balanced top to bottom offering us an even presentation—neither too much nor too little of anything, though certainly just the right amount of musicality. They pretty much do it all: solid deep bass with tons of texture, wonderful space and presence, smooth and resolving… yeah, love this cable too. In listening to this versus the Nano-Eclipse non-silver version at The Source A/V, differences were readily apparent: it is more resolving and tactile. The Nano-Silver just gives you more of everything over the warmer and less detailed/resolving Nano-Eclipse copper version. Both are very musical, but my heart fell for the silver. That much more detailed and there than the copper version. Even so, the Wireworld is not overly detailed or upfront. Like I said, it is evenly balanced with a wonderfully presentation. You get it all with nothing being spot lit.

I have known David Salz since he started Wireworld a long, long time ago… his designs are based on solid principles and at various regional shows (RMAF for example) he has a demonstration where he can prove that what he is doing does what he says it is doing… yeah, cables matter. Plus, David is a real sweet guy!

OH... before I forget... speaking of Wireworld, I also have their Ethernet, USB, and AC power cords here, specifically the Platinum Starlight USB, Electra power cord, and the Starlight Ethernet. All of these cables pretty much offer a very similar sound and improvement as heard from the Nano-Silver Eclipse, and I will have more on these later, but for now let me say that the Starlight Ethernet is stellarly robust, warm, and so musically good, that they are keepers. 

Kudos David... a clear knock out cable.

From Double Helix, based on suggestions from Peter Bradstock, we ended up buying the new Molecule SE22 which is a 22awg OCC copper-litz cable ($319 as configured) which resembles the braiding made famous by Kimber. Now I am not saying they are the same, but for sure it is a braided cable. Double Helix allows you to pretty much custom order the cable's fit and finish in terms of termination and splitters which is way cool… and Drew over at Moon Audio has a few options to choose from as well when buying his cables. The Molecule is a beautifully made cable and is quite attractive visually. Fit and finish are both top notch.

Focal ELEAR Headphones Double Helix cables

The Molecule is probably the most resolving even though the Nano-Silver uses silver and we all expect silver to be more… silver-like than copper-like and more resolving. Not so for the Molecule nor for Wireworld where Nano-Silver comes across as being perhaps more evenly balanced with no hint of glare or grit. No silver sheen or hint of being tilted upward as silver can do in some cables. But with the all copper Molecule, that cable goes a bit further in the resolution category getting you a wee bit more things to latch on to—interesting. The Molecule has that texture and detail that make the music take a step forward in terms of being there… palpable there. You get the impression of more details and resolution which could be attributed to the Molecule's midrange being not as warm as either of the other two cables. Way cool, though not 'tonally' cool, and not the least bit fatiguing.

And again, Kudos to Peter for his work in producing such a stellar product.

Now I am not going to say which is my preference nor which is the better as any preference for one over the other is all a matter of taste and synergy. In going back and forth between the three cables, differences were rather subtle and more an issue of character. Everything did the bottom end quite well providing slam and extension with all the texture and palpable presence one could ask for. Listening to Recondite (Iffy and Hinterland) and Safe by Badawi, all the cables took me to a happy place where the music took center stage. It was difficult to want to focus on any differences instead of just listening to the music. But for sure, when push came to shove, I was able to find the character or personality of each cable as noted above: The Moon was warmer and richer tonally (tonally as in the frequency presentation or balance), the Wireworld was very well balanced with that sort of "just right" presentation, and the Double Helix was more resolving in terms of textures and details across the frequency spectrum. Perhaps more edge definition and decay with the Double Helix versus the warmer rounder Moon, and the more even-handed and yet nothing is forsaken Wireworld. All stellar in their own way and like I said, differences being subtler and that of a personality than anything else.

Obviously, the materials and execution come into play here. Choice of wire, construction, and geometry will all impart some sonic signature or personality into the cable. Find your happy spot and bingo, there you go.

Now I can live with any of these and only ended up buying them all due to the way things worked out… or wasn't working out at the time. I have no regrets and find each cable to be a real keeper. Without a doubt, I do find certain music to favor one over the other, and that is what one would expect. For the busy stuff where there is a lot going on, the Molecule stands out defining all the little odd bits, for music that is more upfront and bass driven, give me the Moon Audio to back it down a bit without killing the bottom-end, for everything else, swap in the Wireworld for a one-size is good thing… though none of that is an absolute as the system becomes another factor. And obviously none of this could be ascertained without the ability of the ELEARs to do their magic. Amazingly good headphones. No, make that amazingly killer headphones. Stellar in every way I can come up with!

ELAC B4

My desktop system is based around the Schiit Audio Wyrd USB interface, the Jotunheim preamplifier/headphone amplifier/DAC, their PYST USB cabling, a Dell PC (Windows 10, 8 gig ram, i7 processor, Nvidia sound card), JRiver Media Center 22, iFi iPurifier 2, Audioquest Ethernet cables, AC cords from Dynamic Designs, and AC conditioning courtesy of Silver Circle (the Juice Box Pro). When not using headphones, I also have a pair of ELAC B4 loudspeakers driven by a Parasound zAmp with Canare speaker cabling. The setup rocks with either headphones or speakers, silly shit-eating grin rocks. The little ELACs at $180 a pair should be one everyone's radar.

Parasound zAmp

Schiit audio Jotunheim

The Jotunheim tends to fall to the warmer side of things but clearly gets it all across to the listener offering a clean and grain-free presentation. Dynamics and swing are there, as is rhythm and pace. Bass is stellar in my book as is its ability to dig deep into the music letting us hear what we want to hear. At $399 ($499 with either the DAC or phono card and I obviously went with the DAC card) one is hard pressed to find anything to complain about. It makes music, and is very, very engaging. For sure one can do better, but then the Jotunheim is pretty much a one and done product at an amazingly reasonable price. If you want the whole story, Jude over at Head-fi.org has a great video that tells all… HERE.

Toss in the Wyrd USB unit to address issues with USB and damn, for not a whole lot of cash, you can put together a stellar system. I would add that the PYST USB is stupidly good for under $30 a meter. Not much to complain about unless you want spend way, way more… like…

Auralic Mytek Brooklyn

…the Auralic Mini feeding either the Mytek Brooklyn, Heed Canamp and Dactilus w/outboard LPS, the iFi Micro DSD, or the tubed Lambert headamp… all with either Sablon Audio or Wirewold AC cabling. And USB cables aplenty… Wireworld, Sablon, Audience, Light Harmonic, WyWires, Dynamic Design, Purist Audio, Skogrand, Kubala-Sosna, Curious Cables, ANTICABLES, etc. Plus, AC conditioning from Silver Circle (Juice Box 1), an upTone Regen with a big LPS, and so on… this is what we have out in the living/listening room and is perhaps not the most 'end all' of setups, but it works. All music is stored on the Integrita NAS from the now defunct… sigh… Certon of Germany. This NAS is feeding all streamers and computers in the house for our music. Clearly top-notch.

And headphones from Audexe, OPPO, Sennheiser, AKG... and wiring from WyWires, Cardas, Double Helix...

No, this main headphone system works really, really well… but more on that later.

Everything being said and done, any of these headphone cables along with the Focal ELEARs will get you into that happy place. All are winners in their own respect.

Wireworld

www.wireworldcable.com

Moon Audio

www.moon-audio.com

Double Helix

www.doublehelixcables.com

Focal

www.focal.com/headphones

The Source A/V

thesourceav.com

Schiit Audio

schiit.com

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