Just Ask Drew - Why Audio Cables Matter Video
The Audio Cables matter video where my friend and Moon Audio founder Drew Baird riffs about audio cables remind me of reading philosophy in Mitch Miller's class at Vassar. Reading Heidegger, Nietzsche, or Kant was sure to put me to sleep even though every word, idea, and concept felt important. Sitting in Miller's class brought words to life.
If you aren't lucky enough to live near the audio Moon (Cary, North Carolina), and how your music sounds is important then watching Drew explain the foundation of his audio cable making company brings words to life. I don't claim to understand much of what you'll see even after typing the transcript, but I know who to ask - my friend Drew. I could ask my brother Drew, but he doesn't know anything about high fidelity audio.
Landing on the Moon
Since you are going to want to speak to the man after watching his video, here is how to contact Drew and visit the Moon when in Cary, NC.
drew (at) Moon-Audio.com
106 Brady Ct, Cary, NC 27511
Since Drew is always underwater answering customer emails, call for an appointment before landing on the audio moon in Cary. I'm trying to convince Moon Audio to host a regular quarterly gathering, so stay tuned.
Also, and believe me I've asked, there is a strict rule about living in Moon's audio showroom. I pitched an overnight and that idea fell flat. Sure, they don't have a shower, but there is a bathroom with a sink and there are restaurants within walking distance.
Nichole and Drew looked at me like I was a crazed stalker after I asked to move into their showroom. If you love audio and are anywhere near Cary, North Carolina ask to spend time with the audio whisperer Drew Baird. See if you can get them to relax that, "No living here," rule :).
Moon Audio Ambassador
Martin Wescott Smith
Just Ask Drew
Welcome to the Just Ask Drew video series. In today's video Drew discusses Moon Audio Silver and Black Dragon audio cables.
Hi, I'm Drew Baird from Moon Audio and today we are going to talk about headphones cables. We're going to talk about the differences between our cables, connection options hardwired versus user detachable and we're going to talk about some of the customizations we can do to your headphones to make them sound better with our cables.
Headphones Cable Basics
Headphones makers put all their research and development into the driver design. And rightfully so since drivers are the most important piece of the headphones puzzle.
The problem with stock headphones cables is it becomes an afterthought (for headphones manufacturers). They put all their money and focus on the headphone's driver.
The headphones cable is outsourced to a company that usually doesn't listen to the headphone. Those vendors may use poor materials (on their headphones cables) with small conductors and bad geometries. Essentially the headphones cable becomes an antenna for your headphones. It (the bad cable) picks up noise and anything (other signals) in the air. So headphones cable design and manufacturer is almost as important as the driver.
An easy analogy I share to help people understand why upgrading will make their headphones sound better. Headphones are like a car engine. When your air filter gets dirty your performance for gas mileage and acceleration deteriorates. Changing the air filter and your engine breathes better. With headphones changing out that (stock) cable to a better geometry, larger conductors, and good shielding to ward off outside noise improves the sound. You create a clean air filter for your headphones.[Holding up a cable]
Here's an example of a stock headphones cable. As you can see here, and I won't mention the manufacturer, here are the small three wires and, as you can see, that is basically all that goes down that pipe. There is no shielding. Conductors are very very small. The geometry isn't consistent. There is a cheap rubber jacket. This (poor manufacturing) can deteriorate your headphone's sound even though you spent a lot of money (on the headphones).
Moon Audio Headphones Cables
We (Moon Audio) create our own headphones cables. First and foremost Moon Audio is an audio cable manufacturer although we sell all of these items. We began with all things audio cables.[table in front of Drew includes various headphones and cables].
We produced our first headphones cable, I'm going to guess eight or ten years ago after I was called by Jude from Headfi. Jude started Headfi. I didn't know him at the time. He asked, "Hey Drew, could you create a headphone cable for my Sennheiser HD650?" Which I have here [Drew holds up a pair of headphones].
This has long been one of the most popular headphones, reference headphones. Great price, great performance. Sennheiser started with the 580, then the 600 and then evolved to the 650. He asked me if I could make a headphones cable for his 600s. At the time the only other game in town was Cardis audio.[Drew holds up a blue cable]
Here are two of our original cables. We started out with Blue Dragon first. This is the Blue Dragon version one. It was a little stiff and unwieldy. This is what I sent to Jude.[Drew holds up blue cables then a darker cable]
And this is the Silver Dragon. Instead of the Blue Dragon's copper conductors (Silver Dragon cables) use per silver conductors. Things have evolved a lot over the years. We are up to Blue and Silver Dragon version three now. Not shown on the table is our Black Dragon version two audio cables. There are differences between each cable and what they can do for your headphones sound.
Depending on what headphones you have, the source equipment, and the type of music you listen to I can help you pick and choose which cable fits your needs better.
Dragon Audio Cables
The Silver Dragon is made of pure silver conductors. Now, in the V3, we've stepped up to a 7N conductor which is the purest silver conductor available on the planet today. It is unbound by crystalline boundaries. There are no fractures in it. It (Silver Dragon cables) is extremely difficult to produce, but we've gone to great expense to produce it to improve your headphones.
Then there is the Blue and Black Dragon. The Blue Dragon is the same design as the Silver Dragon but with copper conductors. In the Black Dragon design, we've taken the Blue Dragon and stepped up the conductors from 24 to 21.5. Black Dragon cables add fuller sound a little more bass to the sound. Silver Dragon is our top of the line clean, clear, and dynamic cable.
Now let's discuss connection options.
There are different kinds of connection options for your headphones. In some cases, there are no connection options, but Moon Audio can hack your headphones to add connection options.
Some of the connection options are "user replaceable" and DIY. You purchase a cable on Moon-Audio.com and replace the stock cable with ours. There are other cables that are hardwired to the headphones and these would need to be sent to Moon Audio to be changed.[Drew holds up a pair of Beyer Dynamic headphones]
For example, the Beyer Dynamic T70 has a hardwired cable. It has a single entry on the left side which is not user replaceable. So these would need to be mailed to Moon Audio to be modified.
The Sennheiser HD650 has a user-replaceable cable. You can simply order a cable at Moon-Audio.com detach the cable and away you go.
Hardwired Headphones Modifications
For those headphones where modification is required headphones can be sent to us (Moon Audio 106 Brady Ct, Cary, NC 27511). Let's go back to the Beyer Dynamic T70. We can do a couple of different options. The first option (for headphones modification by Moon Audio) is to replace the existing cable with a single entry as shown here.[Drew holds up a pair of Beyer Dynamic headphones]
I like to do what we call a "split modification." We remove the existing cable, drill a hole in the other cup, install two new grommets, and hardware a cable to the drivers. This shortens the path to the right cup. In a single entry headphone like the Beyer Dynamic headphones the cable goes up and over the band to the other driver. This (long path) can deteriorate the sound quality of this headphone. By hardwiring to the driver we maximize performance (for better sound).
If you need your headphones at home and on the go we can do a "detachable connection." These are the Beyer Dynamic T1s.[Drew holds up a pair of Beyer Dynamic T1 headphones]
In normal form, this is a hardwired headphone. It has a split entry as opposed to the single entry on the T70. Besides just hardwiring a cable to this we can also add a detachable option. In this case, we've used the mini four-pin XLR common to the Audeze LCD2 and LCD3. If you own multiple headphones such as the Audeze and the Beyer Dynamic T1 the four-pin XLR means you can swap the cable back and forth.
Not every headphone can be modified to a detachable system. It depends on the ergonomics of the cup design. We can't always fit a connector in there. In most cases, we can figure something out (to improve the sound).
Moon Audio Adaptive Headphones Modification[Drew holds up a pair of Fostex TH600 headphones]
The ergonomics (of the TH600) don't allow us to do a detachable system so we've created an adaptive system. First, replace the stock cable with one of our cables. We recommend Black Dragon headphone cable for the Fostex TH600.
For the adaptive systems, we make a short cable and on the end, we'll put a min four-pin XLR. This connection is small, balanced, and allows either balanced or single ended connections. Why important?
There are so many different headphone AMPs and DACs out there as well as home amps with lots of different connection issues. In this case (use of the mini four-pin XLR) we create one short cable for portable a long cable for home. Detach the cables we've made for you for either home or travel.
Headphones with Existing Detachable Cables[Drew holds up a pair of Audeze LCD2 headphones]
This is one of my favorite headphones. The Audeze LDC2 uses the same four-pin mini XLR we showed on the Beyer Dynamic T1. We've created a new cable called the Silver Dragon V3 premium specifically designed for the Audeze LCD2 and LCD3. Furutech has come out with some nice new pure copper designed plugs with silver rhodium plating perfect for Silver Dragon's sound signature.[Drew holds up cable showing connectors]
We are also going to talk about the new Black Dragon premium cable for Sennheiser HD800 headphone. This is the new Black Dragon V2 premium cable using the same upgraded Furutech HD800 connector. We can do this (modify the cable) in quarter inch dual three-pin in either standard or carbon fiber finish for the XLRs.
Why did we pick these two cables for these headphones? We found these cables sound best with their equal partner headphone. The Black Dragon with the Sennheiser HD800 brings out the bottom end. These headphones tend to be light in their bass. The Black Dragons add a fuller sound while smoothing out the high-end notes.
This headphone (Sennheiser HD800) can be a little analytical, especially when used with a solid state amplifier. I tend to enjoy a tube amp to add full body warmth so the HD800 sound is not so analytical. The Black Dragon V3 is my choice for the HD800 headphones.
The Silver Dragon V3 cables designed for Audeze LCD2 and LCD3 adds top-end air and clarity. Due to the magnepan design tend to be a little smooth on the top-end. Silver Dragon compliments its nature adding a little top-end sparkle. Not any brightness. This is a bright headphone, to begin with. Audeze headphones have some of the best basses out there, so the Silver Dragon tightens and controls it (Audeze LCD bass).
User Replaceable Cables
Some manufacturers are coming out with hard to modify connections. Some don't have an "off-the-shelf" connector.[Drew holds up Shure 1840 headphones]
For example, the new Shure headphones like 1840 use a small CCMX connector. This (the CCMX connector) is not an easy connector to work with. In the last year, we've worked hard and at great expense to develop molding systems to do connectors for headphones with the MMCX connector. We've just launched a few of those cables and there are more to come.[Drew holds up a Shure CCMX cable]
As you can see this is a plastic injection mold created for this headphone (Shure 1840). And it (the new cable) will work on any future and existing Shure 1840 headphones.[Drew holds up a Sennheiser HD700 headphones]
Here is the Sennheiser HD700. Because of the ergonomics of the hole we've had to create a plastic injection molded table for it (Sennheiser HD700 too). This connection system is available on all three (Blue, Black, and Silver Dragon) of our headphone cables. At first, we only have ten-foot lengths, but we will be creating shorter version soon.
Adaptive System Options[Drew holds up a Sennheiser HD700 headphones]
Going back to the adaptive systems I thought I'd bring back the Audeze LCD3 to demonstrate the different connections we can do. Before I showed you a hardwired headphone, the Fostex TH900, in this case (the Audeze LCD3) is detachable but you may want an adaptive system.[Drew holds up a mini four-pin XLR cable]
First we created a five-foot cable with LCD3 connectors and a four-pin mini XLR. I have a host of different cables for connecting to different amplifiers. The first is a five-foot balanced to balanced connection going from a four-pin mini XLR to a dual three-pin XLR for your home balanced amp. We've also done a quarter-inch jack in case you have another amp.[Drew holds a cable with banana plugs]
A new popular way to connect your headphones to conventional amplifiers is the adaptive system we've created to go from the mini four-pin XLR to bananas or spades whatever connection your amps require. The LCD3 is easy to drive, but in demanding headphones like the Hifiman HE6 is a demanding headphone. This is a very useful adaptor for that headphone.
We can also do all kinds of portable (smartphone) connection systems.[Drew holds a RSA or AOL plug]
Here is the RSA or AOL plug first used by Ray Samuels audio on his SR71B a fantastic headphone amplifier. Kudos to Ray for that. It has become a new standard for balanced connection in the portable arena.[Drew holds up an adapter cable]
We can also make a mini adapter cable to jack into your iPad, smartphone or DAP if you don't want to lug all this gear on your trip.
More About Dragons Cables
I'd like to go into a little detail about the sonic signature of our Dragon cables. The first is the Blue Dragon V3.[Blue Dragon V3 is shown]
It was developed to be the most neutral of our cables. If you are doing mastering work where you don't want any coloration or you have neutral sounding headphones and you don't want to improve bass or top-end the Blue Dragon V3 is the right choice.
The Black Dragon's V2's larger conductors produce a fuller sound adding some bottom end weight. If you have thin or analytical sounding headphones then the Black Dragon V3 would be right for you. It is not an overly warm sound, but very natural and characteristic like the Blue Dragon.
If you need a detailed and resolute cable then I'd upgrade to the Silver Dragon V3. If you have a dark sounding headphone such as the Sennheiser HD650, long known as a lush full-bodied sound, then the Silver Dragon V3 is the obvious choice. The Silver Dragon V3 adds sparkle, clarity, and bass control to improve the sound.
The Silver Dragon would NOT be a good choice for a bright analytical headphone such as the Sennheiser HD800. Because the HD800 has a pronounced top-end and can be a little analytical the Silver Dragon would NOT be my first choice unless you are using a warm sounding tube amp like a 300B caliber.
Each headphone (and other audio gear like DACs and Amps) have their own (sound) characteristics. Trying to pick the right cable to headphone combination can take some experimentation.