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Sonic Satori Impressions: Audeze Titanium EL-8 + Cipher Lightning Cable

02-21-2016 | By Michael Mercer | Issue 84

Audeze Nails It Yet Again

As I sit on the back porch bobbin' my head to A Tribe Called Quest's "Lyrics To Go" off Midnight Marauders via TIDAL through Audeze's new Titanium EL-8 closed-back planars, I'm feelin' the music like I do when I'm using one of my usual portable systems. The sound is full-bodied, engagingly dynamic, and silky-smooth. There's also plenty of headroom. So, what's the dilli'? What makes this experience different and worth talkin' about this morning? Usually, when I'm rockin' my tunes out in the world I'm using a full portable rig, typically consisting of: My headphones, battery-powered headphone amp/DAC and DAP (digital audio player) plus necessary cabling. Now, the set-up process for one of those rigs is admittedly somewhat lengthly due to my audio OCD, but no matter what, I have to consider things like component synergy, which cables to run, and I usually end-up slappin' some rubber bands around what we Head-Fiers call a "brick": a lil' stack with the Amp/DAC and DAP rubber-banded together (we do have some fashionable, branded bands I'll admit) like a shrunken stereo system in your hands. Right now, I'm baskin' in the music with nothing more than Audeze's new Titanium EL-8 closed-back planars, their also-new Cipher integrated Amp/DAC/DSP Lightning Cable, and my iPhone 6!


With the Cipher Amp/DAC/DSP integrated Lightning Cable (plus either EL-8 or brand-spankin' new-and-impressive SINE on-ear planars: the first of their kind BTW). Audeze has again achieved what the LCD-Series did for the brand: Create a new product category; as opposed to dippin' into an ocean of competitors. Having an in-line headphone amplifier, DAC, and DSP, which, for now, provides a useful 10-band equalizer through the Audeze iOS app, effectively turns my iPhone 6 into my DAP. Add that convenience to the fact that I've barely taken a break from listening to this combination since I picked it up a few days ago, and it sounds like the innovative company has a couple more winners on their hands. It's such a pleasure, needin' nothing but a pair a' cans, Lightning cable, and my iPhone 6 for portable fidelity! I've been streaming TIDAL without equalization, and Spotify with a touch of EQ. Speaking of that: Thanks for the two EQ presets Audeze!  

Now, my initial reaction to this combination was caught on video (thanks Taylor—I had no idea you were filming, thought you were taking stills) so if this seems like yet another glowing article for Audeze—so be it. Actually, when I heard the prototype of this combo at Head-Fi's CanJam at RMAF last year I really liked it—but not nearly as much as I do the production models thus far.


I didn't know about the technological advancements in the Titanium EL-8 series. They sport larger drivers than my original EL-8s, and their diaphragms are thinner and faster too. The headphone sounds more efficient, and that's a splendid thing. I've also tested the cans with Kimber Kable's AXIOS headphone cables (terminated 3.5mm) and I'll save those findings for the full review. For now, I'll say they made beautiful music with the Cipher Labs Sustain84 tube amp and my Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies with WA7tp tube power-supply. I enjoyed the sweet sorrow of Tori Amos's voice on Unrependent Geraldines and the pulverizing thud of the bass on Shlohmo's Dark Red and Mobb Deep's Hell on Earth

Thankfully, my only gripe with the prototype Cipher has been resolved in the final product. It's located at the Y-split of the headphone cable at the chest now. It was located high on the lead to the right driver at Canjam at RMAF - so it was tough to see which buttons I was pushing. Problem solved. Again, I don't have any gripes with this wicked lil' headphone system Audeze's introduced to the masses via their presence at select Apple Stores (yup) so if positivity is a problem for you I suggest finding a hater to read. Why are these impressions so favorable? Not only do the headphones sound fantastic to my ears, but they also nailed the microphone performance! That's something: Executing with precision on both the playback and talk-back ends of the spectrum. The Cipher is fully-Siri compatible, and I actually find that mine is more responsive when I'm using the magic combo. I wish I could share everything this fellow headphone hobbyist said to me during my first cell phone call with the Titanium EL-8s & Cipher—but I can say they claimed that I sounded "much sexier through Audeze". What does that mean in terms of fidelity? Well, as I was moving around during the conversation, this friend asked me if I was in an elevator upon stepping into one (pretty cool), and also asked me what "changed so drastically" when I stepped into my closet to grab some interconnects, dippin' my head into the small space. They could hear the background and my voice so clearly they actually asked me if I was "looking down while I'm talking to them" and that actually freaked me out. I said: "yes, wait, do you have a webcam in here somewhere"? However, no conspiracy afoot here. They could hear the finest details during our conversation, and we spoke for close to three hours (been awhile since we spoke). When we started our call my iPhone 6 battery-life indicator was showing 89%, and towards the end it was at 47%, so the battery-suck of the Cipher isn't nearly as drastic as I thought it might be for phone calls either. So it's an impressive technological leap, and if I worked for Audeze I'd be welcoming licensing opportunities for the Cipher. I imagine other headphone companies aren't too far behind on the Lightning Cables potential for signal processing, but they'd also need to change the leads to their drivers/ear-cups like Audeze has with the EL-8 and SINE! So this SoCal personal audio company's got a nice lead in this arena. So how about the sound?


Audeze Titanium EL-8 + Cipher Lightning Cable

As I've done with previous Sonic Satori Impressions here at Positive Feedback, I'm going to provide track-by-track sonic commentary for this installment covering the Titanium EL-8 closed-back planar magnetic headphones with integrated Amp/DAC/DSP Lightning Cable. I'll be describing the sound of these products together as a "portable system" if you will. Some of the impressions will be written "live" as we've called 'em before (writing as I'm experiencing the music through the EL8s). Others will be done in the traditional style: Listening, taking notes, and writing all my thoughts afterwards. For the full review I'll take a deeper look at the headphones and Cipher individually. I also use my original Audeze EL-8s (both open and closed-back) while evaluating the performance of the Cipher to check out its synergetic capabilities with those cans as well. For now, I'm psyched to share my sonic impressions of this über-convenient portable rig, with my iPhone 6 pullin' DAP duty—using TIDAL with no equalization, and Spotify with slight EQ utilizing the Audeze iOS app:

BANNERS "Gold Dust", BANNERS EP (Live Impressions): This is such a finely-crafted tune. The sparse guitar & vocal introduction builds wonderfully, punctuated by the singers emotional intensity and broken-hearted lyrics. His voice is realistic, with subtle nuances that paint this track with a morose-yet-hopeful kinda' vibe. It's anthemic power pop at its best, chock full of ascending piano and vocals. The kick-drum slams with an authoritative thomp, and the rest of the drum kit fires through the rest of the instruments perfectly. The dimensionality is sublime, as this song maybe minimal compositionally—but the execution delivers this warm robust sound. I was caught in a "hit repeat" loop for awhile with this song yesterday, it's so inspiring to me. I have a soft spot for BANNERS because I wrote about the EP the night I got it, the music moved me so much. So I've also given this EP tons of spins. The presence and dynamic slam is absorbing, the soaring chorus and melody are infectious. It's the perfect indie pop formula. I think I could sell these headphones with this track alone.


A Tribe Called Quest "Stressed-Out" (LP Version) Beats Rhymes And Life soundtrack (Live Impressions): This track has such a wicked bassline. The riff stands alone in the soundstage during the intro. I love the sway here, initiated through a minimal swift drum loop (like a couple of bars-swift) wrapped around that wavy, thick and funky solo bass riff. The sound is full, but not congested. The low-bass and drum hits have this hearty texture, and the multitude of sounds have sharp transients that are fast and hit hard. This is an addictive listening experience. The Titanium seem faster than my original EL-8s. I'll investigate that further in the full review, but the dynamics here are deeply engaging, wide-open and slamming—exactly what I look for.

Adele "Hello", 25: When I hear Adele's insanely popular "Hello" on a resolute system I can tell immediately why the song's got such mass appeal, beyond the obvious universal themes in the lyrics (calling an old lover to see if there's anything left, or try to apologize for mistakes of the past). Adele used to record spiritual music (Christian if I remember correctly), and so she's got this sorta' half-cocked (intentionally) emotive belt that seems to act out the words, if that makes any sense. She's got that Theater-of-the-Mind thing down. She sounds broken-hearted to me, and even when I try not to drawn into this damn song it pulls me back in! Like "Hometown Glory" off 19, her first LP (and, IMHO, more soulful than 21) "Hello" on a resolving system triggers the damn sap in me. The new EL-8s capture that seductive quality in Adeles voice that's put her on top of the world with ease and precision. These headphones render female vocals eloquently and cleanly. The sound of the piano stands out on this track for me often, depending on the veiling characteristics of the system. It's natural and dimensional, with a commanding presence that's practically visual. I love the way this system captures the spirit of emotively-charged singer/songwriter stuff. I've said before that if given only a few words to describe the Audeze house sound; one of the words would be "warm." That characteristic makes them a superb fit for piano and guitar-driven pop music, and they delivered sonic gold here with "Hello".


Beck "Morning", Morning Phase: Beck is so, well, so Beck on "Morning". Sounds loopy I know, but I'm speakin' of Mutations-era Beck. His vocals, the airy reverb, and doubling-up (or more?) spread across these glacial guitar riffs. The freakin' song sounds like morning. Damn, I'm caught in this pseudo-poetic-musings sort of a cadence because of the warmth and magnetic mellowness of "Morning." Damn you Beck. OK, I'll try to bring it back: The sonic flavoring's ethereal, the wavy guitar and laid-back drumming carry this meandering coolness that catches me in a trance. See? I can't help myself when listening to this track through the new EL8s and Cipher. I could say, and should, that the guitars sound magnificently detailed. The mids are particularly vibrant and coherent through this combo. The kick is tight and focused, and Becks vocals have body and a velvetty texture. The sound is (damn I can't shake it) like sunlight. The music's soothing, it's liquid-like and transparent too. This was a true sonic treat, and my utmost apologies for the dirty-hippy prose. Beck brings it outta me.

Thus far this new portable system: The Titanium Audeze EL-8 and Cipher integrated headphone amplifier/DAC/DSP Lightning Cable, is a marvel of innovation and audio performance. I'm not sayin' DAPs are going anywhere anytime soon (digital audio players) as this technology is limited to Audeze's EL-8 and new SINE planar headphones. So my Astell&Kern AK380 and Questyle QP1R are staying in my roadcase. But the convenience of getting great sound on-the-go from my iPhone 6 and a pair of Audezes has been a real pleasure. Especially given the fact that I can use em for phone calls and Siri! I've been running late, rushing out the door, and since I got this combo I'm always carrying a first-class portable headphone rig with me! I just grab these new Audeze cans and their Cipher cable and I'm out. No worries about rubber bands, adapters, or outboard amps and DACs. I'm always stylin' with my music. Can this feeling last? I'll let you know in the full review. In the meantime, check this out ASAP if you're into headphone culture. I think this could be the most significant innovation I've actually heard in a long time...