Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Accustic Arts Drive I and Zanden Audio Model 5000 MkIV DAC
Preamp/Integrated: Antique Sound Lab MGHead DT/OTL 32 [in for review]
Headphones: two pairs of Sennheiser HD-650
Cables: Crystal Cable Reference interconnects and power cables; Artistic Audio Vacuum Reference digital cable; Stefan AudioArt Equinox and stock HD650 harness
Stands: Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platforms
Powerline conditioning: Walker Audio Velocitor
Review component retail: starting at $150/200 for 10' length respectively

Headphones are ear speakers. Speakers require speaker cables to make sound. This obvious statement explains the emerging aftermarket niche of replacement headphone wire harnesses. Needless to say, headphones don't use regular speaker terminals to readily swap out what tend to be captive wires instead. Alas, the top Sennheisers diverge from the norm. They use hidden miniature prong terminals that allow the instant removal of the stock cord. This has compelled makers like Cardas, Clou, Stefan AudioArt and now Moon Audio to offer options for the life link that connects these cans to your amplifier or headphone socket of choice.

Moon Audio's Drew Baird offers all manner of headphone cables and terminations to accommodate portable and stationary systems including true dual-mono applications with twin 1/4" jacks. I was sent the Silver Dragon and Blue Dragon cords. The former "uses a 4-wire braided geometry made up of solid 99.99% silver 24AWG Teflon-insulated wire. The wire is soldered to a Cardas GRSQ Rhodium/silver-plated stereo 1/4" plug with WBT silver solder... then covered in 2 layers of Techflex braid". Retail is $200 for a 10' length. The Blue Dragon replaces the silver conductors with copper and sells for $150. The system I assembled to test Drew's cables with was as overkill as possible with my hardware on hand to optimize quality and resolution.

Hopefully, this would highlight whatever differences lay in wait to pounce on my shortsighted ears: Accustic Arts Drive I into my Zanden DAC via Artistic Audio's Vacuum Reference S/PDIF cable; Antique Soundlab's MGHead DT/OTL 32 tube-rectified valve preamp/headphone amplifier alternately driving two pairs of HD650s. Power for all components was sourced from a Walker Audio Velocitor. All power cords were by Crystal Cable Reference as was the single analogue interconnect. Stefan AudioArt's Equinox wire harness for the Sennheiser 'phones as well as their stock wiring would provide context and comparisons. The Zanden and ASL units were suspended on Gingko Audio's clever new Cloud 11 platforms made from black Acrylic and floated on three black rubber balls. Naturally, the carpet was cleaned prior to use. Just kidding. The amp's tube pins were treated with Walker Audio SST however, and the CDs treated with Vivid and demagnetized on the Furutech degausser. Every little thing counts after all when you sharpen your axe to split hairs.

The first CD to make it into the classy German spinner was Vicente Pradal's glorious La Nuit Obscure [Virgin]. It sets to music St. John of The Cross' mystical poem "The Dark Night of the Soul" with piano, double bass and the voices of Vicente Pradal, Ruben Vélasquez and Sergio Guirao. In terms of concept and profundity of lyrics and delivery, this music is very much in the vein of Abed Azrié's masterworks Aromates, Suerte and Suerte Live or m.a. recordings' Argentine Tangos & Italian Madrigals albums. "Tras de un amoroso lance" became the track to get a first feel for the sonic signatures of cables under evaluation and their differences against my reference, the Stefan AudioArt Equinox.

The Silver Dragon's top end, surprisingly, had less upper-harmonic content than the Equinox. This was especially obvious during the tenor's upper register peaks where air pressure and speed just before the highest note suddenly expand the overtone envelope. It also meant the Silver Dragon sounded tighter and drier. It wasn't as airy and spacious. These spatial qualities are rather abundant in this recording and, when reproduced, add a sort of dither that acts like dust motes in a stream of light. Suddenly, empty air becomes visible. Negative space of absence turns presence. Tube lovers call this wetness - and the Silver Dragon's sonic libations were distinctly on the drier end of the spectrum than the Equinox.

Going from the silver to the blue dragon added both weight and -- dare I say it? -- a more copperish and warmer tint. While that part conformed to popular notions about copper vs. silver conductors and with it, the relative balance of weight vs. a leaner, more precise sound, the Silver Dragon failed to accede to expectations with its HF performance. Alternating between Equinox and Blue Dragon, I found the former to be more open and cohesive top-to-bottom and nearly suggestive of a smidgen more gain.

What's A Woman by Vaya Con Dios [BMG 74321 56318-2] with the low drums, bass, accordion, muted trumpet, vibes and Niki Reiser's bluesy lead vocals of "What Will Come Of This?" was next to "hold a piece of my soul in her fist". Alternating between Equinox and Blue Dragon, the former one again sounded slightly louder and thus had more impact, especially notable on the added heft of the bass drums. The metallic fire flies steaming off the muted trumpet didn't possess quite the same flimmer and splashy potency with the Dragon.

The Silver Dragon bettered its blue brother with pitch definition and articulation in the bass and also with maintaining superior separation while sorting through the various instrumental lines. Coincidentally, the general impression of weightiness lifted by a few ounces, trading ultimate gravitas for more apparent resolution. Despite its silver conductors, the Silver Dragon distinctly is not a hot, treble-lifted design and more relaxed than common wisdom might predict. James Serdechny's demure black cable with white leads combined the weightiness of the brightly blue Dragon with the clarity of the red-clad Silver Dragon and added a degree of treble extension that I found most welcome and also representative of the best overall balance or tonal coherence. And while we're at dress codes, I don't understand at all why Drew Blair would mate brightly colored cables to an anthracite-grey/black headphone. [I've since been informed that Drew customized his colors according to customer preferences.] Also, his tighter-woven Techflex sheathing is more prone to spiraling up than the more languid and relaxed Equinox material/conductor which drapes better.

Renaud Garcia-Fons' multi-tracked solo bass extravaganza of Légendes [Enja 9314-2] with its super-funky "La Guitarra à King Kong" was next to stand in for pace, rhythm and spiky transients of a monstrous 5-string bass plucked, bowed, slapped and 'abused' in all kinds of percussive ways to suggest a complete ensemble of performers including a separate drummer. This was home turf for the Silver Dragon's leaner, subjectively faster mien compared to the Blue Firebreather. Except for slightly less rosiny raspiness on the violent con-arco interludes and not quite the same mass down low as the Equinox, this was an ultra-happening showing and showcased this Moon Audio cable fully in its element.

Its blue sibling, as by now expected, was a bit fatter and fuller albeit not quite as fast on the uptake. Which, after all, is the idea if you offer two cables: Two distinct flavors to suit different listener preferences. The stock cable on the 650s is significantly better than that on the earlier 600s but still a bit grainier, coarser, fuzzier and noisier than any of today's options. However, it's fair to say that the performance delta has rather shrunk. It seems that the engineers at Sennheiser took note of this aftermarket breathing down their necks and decided to give the stiff middle finger to the competition?

Are you a devout Sennie who has already settled down in marital bliss with a copasetic amp? Attending what kind of luxo ring to slip on this marriage now that you've bedded the object of your desire does become a worthwhile endeavor. The good news of today? Your options have just expanded. My favorite of those remains the $189 Stefan AudioArt Equinox. It strikes me as the most cannily balanced. The two Moon Audio cables nearly bracket it on either side with their respective sonic traits. This should make for a nearly ideal threesome to pick from to suit your personal needs. The Silver Dragon is leaner, subjectively more precise and resolved but not even slightly tipped up. The Blue Dragon is warmer and weightier but not quite as articulate. If you're a BlockHead owner and thus in need of true dual mono, Moon Audio's got you covered as well. Hey, why should the regular speaker guys have all the fun? Now headphone user can join the cable games and season to taste their miniature hi-def rig with subtle wire changes.
Manufacturer's website
PS: Though this is a slightly different subject - what if you're not a Sennie already? I strongly suggest you consider the audio-technica ATH-W1000. I think it's a better 'phone, it's more comfortable and the build quality is far superior without a question of personal opinion. And the best part? Its very high-quality cable is captive and thus eliminates the whole concern altogether over what wire harness one should add to feel certain that one's headphone purchase truly delivers all it's capable of. This just in case you were one of those rare 'philes who favors keeping things simple. Oh - did I mention its 100dB sensitivity and 40-ohm load makes it perfectly happy to suck juice from a superior headphone socket like the one on the Eastern Electric MiniMax CD player I just reviewed in this exact combination? No need to even go the separate amp route. What's the world coming to - audiophilia for dummies and simpletons? That doesn't sound right, does it? Okay, fugheddaboudid. See my cousin Vinny 'the hammer' Pagliacci. He'd like to meet you.