Danacables for Hifiman HE-560 and HE-1000

 

            What I do for you, dear reader! Have you ever changed cables on the older style HE-560? With the screw in connector? It was never really an issue for me, as, generally, you attach your cable once, at some point you may do it a second time if you get an aftermarket replacement, but that’s it. But, for the sake of this review, I calculate I changed cables back and forth 1,358 times on the 560, 948 times on the HE-1000 (easier than the 560, just pops out, but still after a while…), all for the privilege of being able to impart to you the comparative evaluation of these compared to stock, to help you spend your hard earned cash. Ain’t I nice?

 

Company Information

Let me start with a bit of information about Danacables. I emailed Vinh at Gingko Audio to get technical details about the cables, after checking the site, which speaks mostly about the interconnect and other cables, and I got this in answer…

“The Danacable headphone cables consist of 600+ individual strands of OFC (Oxygen Free Copper). For headphone music reproduction this accomplishes three important objectives:

1) Minimize cable resistance to provide impactful bass and smooth mid-range/treble response. Even at 10 feet in length our cables measure 5 to 10 times lower resistance than stock cables. Just lift one of our cables, the weight tells the story.

2) The special small geometry wire reduces skin effect for an open, effortless, high end response, utterly natural.

3) Ergonomics matter, as a headphone cable this is basically a “wearable” design. The small gauge wire results in a highly flexible cable design so it drapes well. The outer jacket is a custom ordered poly/cotton blend braided material, provides a nice feel and minimizes any vibration being induced by the cable into the earcups.

The connectors used for the ear-cup end vary with the headphone model. The standard HiFiMan cable uses high end commercial grade gold SMC screw-on connectors. For the amp end we chose the industry standard Neutrik brand, their high end “gold” version. 1/4″ TRS is standard, with single 4 pin or dual 3 pin XLRs optional.”

The headphone cable line is called Lazuli, with Lazuli AB for Abyss cans, Lazuli SH for Sennheiser, Lazuli AD for Audeze, and Lazuli DM for Dharma (it’s not a cough medication…). I was sent the Lazuli HF, natch…

Equipment  Used

Gear used was: PC/LH Labs 2G USB cable/ Regen/Geek Out Special Edition/MicroZOTL2 (Mission interconnect between Geek Out and ZOTL).

A word on construction and ergonomics here: These cables are thick! It measures about 1.5 cm diameter, 3cm circumference. Despite this, they are very flexible and comfortable (though the weight is more noticeable than the stock or my Norne Zoetic cable). There are no frills, “just the facts, maam” with a rubber splitter, solid but industrial looking connectors, and the one misstep, in my opinion, red and black tape telling you which connector is right and which is left. The cable wrap is a subtle woven cotton/poly. The connections are solid, but I’d like them more seamless as connections.

I started with the 560, since the cable is more difficult to change, and I wanted to get it out of the way first (also, I use the 1000 much more since I got it and wanted to end up with that. Now, let me say, when I first got the 560, I didn’t love it. To be more precise, there were times I found the highs shrill, sharp, and irritating. This was a topic discussed on the Head-Fi thread, and there are mods out there to ameliorate this, but, being 10 thumbs (1 broken), I never went down that path. This was improved by changing amps, going from using the Geek Out directly, to the Ray Samuels HR-2, which improved things immensely, then I got the ZOTL, which is what is mostly in use. Still, while I did enjoy the 560 at this point, it shared top use in Chez Skowron with the Koss ESP-950, which has different sonic strengths, and I alternated between them.

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Since getting the HE-1000, the 560 (and the Koss) has gotten little use, so I blew the dust off, put the Dana cable in (screwing, screwing, screwing…), and , man, these definitely take things up a notch! To be more specific: compared to the stock cable, there is more depth, more air, more ease of presentation, more 3D sound to the stage with air/space sounding more dark and realistic, and THE HIGHS! Tamed, I tell you! No loss of detail, but smoother, silkier (I’d still note the edge occasionally, but not enough to be bothered by it).

 

Started with Herbie Hancock “Watermelon Man”, from Takin’ Off (24/96 download); nice open stage, Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet losing the slight edge imparted by the stock cable, Herbie’s piano a bit more 3D, bass a bit more tight, textured (love a good acoustic bass sound). I went to Michael Zarang and the Blue Lights “Date Night” (Hash Eaters and Peace Keepers 16/44 FLAC download), wildly explosive Mid-Eastern Jazz-Funk, with the free jazz blowing sax a bit too edgy with the stock cable, and a flattened soundstage, and a general fine grain over the entire sound. The Dana deepened the stage and gave that sax body, and less edge (though the player has a natural edge, but it didn’t need augmentation).

Browsed JRiver to The Band’s “W.S. Walcot’s Medicine Show” (Stage Fright, 24/96 FLAC Download). Garth Hudson’s tenor sax has more richness, texture, the vocals come from a real body, the overall presentation is just more organic and real sounding. For a silly diversion, I scrolled to “Fun Fun Fun” the acapella version (Keep An Eye On Summer-the Beach Boys Sessions 1964, 24/88 FLAC download), Mike Love’s lead is fleshed out and rich, the rest of the Boys are more individuated, solid, with more depth and less overall haze. (Boy, is this fun to listen to; the stock sounds pretty fine on this tune as well).

Moving on to the HE-1000, I stayed with the Fun Fun Fun, was having too much you-know-what to switch yet. Overall, the HEK is more open, more detailed, more “real” than the already fine sounding 560 (as it should be, at three times the list price). Voices do sound richer, more 3D again on the Dana, the stock flattening both the voices and the soundstage.

At this point, it’s dawning on me, the improvements over stock pretty much are paralleling the improvements I’ve noted on the 560. Since I’m listening to acapella, I go to Petra Haden “I Can’t Reach You” (Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sells Out, 16/44 m4a rip from cd). This is a great album where Petra recreates the entire classic album, The Who Sells Out, by recording herself doing all the vocal and instrumental parts. Now, I don’t want to overstate things, the HE-1000 sounds great through the stock cable, but Petra’s voice picks up a more dimensionality, a bit more richness with the Dana, and there is an overall grain that is decreased and openness that is increased. Moving to the same album’s version of “I Can See For Miles”, the naturalness of the voices on the Dana is apparent, as is the lesser glare in the highs and overall decrease in graininess.

Some Rock and Roll, you say? I’ve never been a fan of the idea that you can only evaluate gear on “audiophile approved” music, if I can’t listen to my favorite rock/pop recently recorded (which often is a synonym for badly recorded), what’s the point? I Never want to listen to Jazz at the Pawnshop to the exclusion of other, more exciting music. So, scroll JRiver to All Time Low’s “Somewhere in Neverland” (Don’t Panic, cd m4a 16/44 rip), which was recorded originally to be a congealed mass of sound behind the vocals of Alex Gaskarth, with no bass notes distinguishable, guitars melting into a hot gel. My daughter is their biggest fan, so I’ve played this for her on good cans. The two most obvious things that happen are that the bass player is actually playing distinguishable notes (she didn’t realize that is what a bass player does). The other is the guitar player on the left of the stage is playing pretty arpeggios, which through a phone and Apple buds become an undifferentiated mash, but is clear as a sunny spring day on my gear. So, what happens with the cables at hand?

They both clear up the sound and allow the above improvements, but the lead and harmony vocals are more easily distinguishable on the Dana, two separate vocalists with chest cavities and separate space. Bass has body and notes easily identified. Using  the stock cable the vocals are more difficult to separate. Those guitar arpeggios are clear and delicate with the Dana, more buried with the stock. That haze/grunge makes the stock less appealing in a general way as well. The drums have more skin, the cymbals less an undifferentiated “whoosh” with the Dana. The drummer actually has a pretty nice touch on different parts of different cymbals, something it takes really good gear to hear, as it does to “hear” the bass.

 

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Needing to hear some funky jazz about this part, scrolled to “Viper’s Drag” by the Henry Butler-Steve Bernstein Hot 9 (Viper’s Drag, 16/44 WAV download INCLUDED WITH THE ALBUM), Butler’s piano just sounds so “there” through the Dana, so real, the whole presentation has an organic wholeness not there on the stock (which again flattens the stage, adds high end grunge). Cowbells sounded more cowbelly, high hat sounded more high hatty. Bass has more texture, and overall drive and head bobbing factor are definitely increased as well. Another fabulous jazz album getting lots of ear time is Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls (I can’t recall many other Charlie Parker tributes sounding so little like Bird). Chillin’ (16/44 Flac rip from cd), the Dana had the trumpet more burnished, golden toned, Mhanthappa’s alto sax had more body, less aggressive edges (though he does play aggressively).

Well, I had one more cable sitting around, figured I’d give a quick listen for comparison sakes. My go-to cable for my HE-1000 is the Norne Zoetic, which I have balanced with a single ended adapter. I went played “The Hop Bottom Hop” (Mostly Other People Do The Killing-Shamokin’, 16/44 flac CD rip), and played them against each other. Now, this really isn’t a level playing field…the Zoetic is not the TOTL from Norne, sells for about half the Dana. And, at first, I wasn’t really convinced I was hearing much difference between them. But, after a bit, I found the Dana was making improvements in some of the same ways: ease of presentation, silence between instruments and a natural blackness to the silence, deeper stage, overall more natural feel.

To be sure, the Zoetic improves in these ways over the stock cable, and the changes to the Dana are small; in fact, I’m not sure I could reliably pick it in a blind test. But I am sure they are small, but real. The little objective improvement does have subjective enjoyment benefits, though, but diminishing returns is a mother…takes a lot of green to get a little more blackness. OK, went to one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Aimee Mann, “Labrador” (Charmer, m4a 16/44 CD rip), Aimee’s vocals are more dimensional, richer, more real, drums and cymbals more crisp, in the pocket, the darkness of space more deep, the soundstage more further back. Again, these are small, and the Zoetic does much of this compared to the stock cable. The Dana does more. How much? Maybe between 10-15% more (never liked these numerical assignments to subjective impressions, makes it sound scientific, but, there it is).

Conclusion

So, upgrading the cables on the HE-560 and HE-1000 definitely bring performance up. In the case of the 560, the Dana brings the performance quite a few notches, by eliminating some of the high end nasties and making the whole performance more deep and rich. Is spending $650 to upgrade a $999 headphone cost effective? That is for you to decide, dear reader, but, if you do, I know you’ll appreciate what the Dana adds to the music. The calculus is a bit different with the HE-1000. Hey, you spent $3k on these cans, maybe you’re playing it through a $3k amp, another $3K DAC (you know who you are…).

Are you going to cheap out now? Ridiculous, I say, this is the smallest investment in the chain, but it will yield musical benefits. On the other hand, if you’re like others of us, you bought the HE-1000 secretly, had it sent to the office, told your wife it was really expensive at a whole $500, and are tapped out because you stretched for it, well, maybe you’re not ready to drop another $850 on the cable. Something like the Norne will get you most of the way there, For approximately $250, you get a premium cable that improves over the stock in many of the same ways as the Dana, though not quite to the same extent, but at a relatively inexpensive price. Those who do spring for the Dana, though, will reap musical rewards.

Manufactures Response

“We at Danacable and Gingko Audio would like to thank Jack Skowron and Frank Iacone for this wonderful review of Dana Cable’s HifiMan headphones cables.Each of our cables is hand-made in Colorado to the highest craftsman quality.  As Mr. Skowron pointed out, the improvements over stock cables are significant.The cost of an upgraded cable is well worth it if one amortizes its cost over a lifetime of increased enjoyment.We will be demonstrating our cables at the SoCal CanJam 2016 in Costa Mesa on March 19-20 in a side-by-side comparison with the stock cables for HifiMan, Enigma Acoustics,  Audeze, and Sennheiser headphones so show goers can hear for themselves the difference.“Also, all Danacables come with a no-risk, 30-day money back guarantee”.

We should note that, to coincide with this review and the SoCal CanJam 2016, we will offer 20% off retail for all our headphones cables purchased by April 15.”

 http://www.ginkgoaudio.com

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