Cables are a bit of an enigma. While there is little doubt that they can make a difference, there is a big question as to whether that difference is an improvement or just different. Those who don’t believe in cables don’t realize how many factors go into a cable’s performance. There is resistance, impedance, capacitance, current capacity, bandwidth, isolation, phase coherency and linearity; many of which are interdependent and interactive, and some of which are mutually exclusive. For example, all of the other aspects can affect linearity (or linear bandwidth; IE: frequency response at differing power levels), and there tends to be an inverse ratio between current capacity and bandwidth (as well as phase coherency).
It is the purpose of cable to add nothing to nor subtract anything from the signal passing through it, as anything added is by definition Noise and Distortion, while anything subtracted is also a form of Distortion. And it is the job of the cable manufacturer to balance the above factors to produce as little signal deterioration as possible. This is where many cables fail, a good cheap cable will only subtract from the sound blurring detail, while a bad cable will actually add to the signal often acting like a passive EQ, whether by intent or accident, sometimes employing elaborate boxes to change the overall sound in an attempt to create the illusion of greater detail or more bass or whatever sonic goal the designer has in mind. So the Art of cable design is first determining what that perfect balance is and then finding a way to achieve it and finally finding a way to determine if it has in fact been achieved. Though there are ways to test for the individual factors it finally comes down to the human ear to determine the synergy of those factors.
Dana Cables is a small custom cable manufacturer who believes they have hit upon the magic formula to achieve the aforementioned balance. At the heart of Dana Cables is Dana Robbins a retired electrical engineer with a passion for audio who in pursuit of that passion began designing and manufacturing custom audio cables. Dana Cables latest offering is the Lazuli Reference Headphone Cable which is available for the HiFiMan HE1000 Headphones, the Focal Utopia Headphones and the Abyss Headphones, exclusively, presumably under the concept that reference quality cables require reference quality headphones to appreciate them, or perhaps, simply, a headphone cable should not cost more than the headphones they are to be used with (I am told they will offer more cables as more reference quality headphones become available). This put me in a bit of a conundrum as it made it necessary for me to acquire a pair of headphones from that exclusive list to perform this review and I send out a hearty thanks to Peter Hoagland of HiFiMan who came to my rescue and lent me a pair of HE1000s. In the mean time, I was sent a standard Lazuli cable for the ETHER C Flows to get a sense of their overall sound (a full list of headphones for which cables are available is at http://danacables.com/). Thanks in part to my needs for this review, Dana Cables has decided to offer the Lazuli Reference in three configurations; 1/4″ single ended, four pin XLR balanced and dual three pin XLR balanced. They also offer Lazuli Reference adaptors for those who have multiple applications. (Note: Dana Cables offers a no risk 30 day money back guarantee for those wishing to audition their cables.)
The Presentation of Quality:
The Dana Cables Lazuli Reference HF (for HiFiMan) Headphone Cable was presented in an attractive premium box with a velvet travel bag and a Certificate of Authenticity (including burn in and testing record and serial number). The build quality of the cable is both alluring and impressive in its construction, with high quality connectors and a fairly flexible black and brown woven outer jacket. Over 600 strands of wire go into the manufacture of the standard Lazuli cable and over 1200 strands go into the Lazuli Reference.
The Sound of Music:
Since I started my listening tests with a single ended Lazuli cable on the ETHER C Flows I was able to listen on a variety of sources beginning with the Questyle CAS 192D / CMA 800R combination which is my reference system. As is my habit, I went through my demo test list first just to get a feel for the cable, then I went back to key tracks to compare to the factory cable. Since the factory cable is actually fairly high quality, the differences are subtle, which is a good thing, since stark differences would mean that something is wrong.
The soundstage tightened up and became a little more immediate and everything felt just a little bit more live with the Lazuli as was evidenced by listening to Benny Goodman’s performance of “It Had to be You”. The bells and cymbals of “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” by Santana became just a touch more articulate and detailed without a corresponding increase in brightness.
Switching over to the Ampsandsound Mogwai the differences were more noticeable, the Lazuli’s characteristics complementing those of the lush tube amp. The slightly bloomy sub-bass of Dario Baldan Bembo’s “Non Mi Lasciare” was taken well in hand and rendered both rich and natural, while the slight bump in dynamic range gave the Operatic Tenor’s voice a heart rending realism.
But the real treat was yet to come with the arrival of the HifiMan HE1000s and the dual balanced Lazuli Reference HF Headphone Cable. I gave myself a couple days of listening to refamiliarize myself with the HE1000s before adding the Lazuli Reference cable.
The tightened control of the low bass and the slight boost in dynamic range along with a more focused phase coherency lent Sinéad O’Connor a soul wrenching quality while singing “Just Like U Said It Would B”. Even Avril Lavigne was transliterated so passionate that I found myself playing “Keep Holding On” multiple times though I had not originally intended to use that track.
I lost myself in the byplay between Keith Moon’s flowing percussion and John Entwistle’s dancing bass lines of The Who’s “Pure and Easy”, the details clearly delineated.
The HE1000 is a truly fun headphone to listen to music through and the Lazuli Reference adds that little bit of refinement that makes the experience transcendent, as was evidenced by their portrayal of “Polyester Bride” a tune by Liz Phair as well as Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazy River”.
You may have noticed that I mostly mention vocal tracks here, while the rendition of the individual instruments is greatly enhanced, it is the emotional content that benefits most from the Lazuli Reference’s invisibility, that is why I chose to end my session with Louis Armstrong and “What a Wonderful World”. The strings, the lone flute, the horns all placed just so and ole Satchmo pouring out his heart.
The Money Shot:
Snake Oil or Voodoo? I think you can safely say that the Dana Cables Lazuli Reference HF falls out sincerely on the Voodoo side, that is to say, they do what a cable is supposed to do and do it better than most, as do the standard Lazuli. As to what they do, I would say they offer an increased current capacity while maintaining linearity and a slightly improved phase coherency, which translates into tighter bass control, greater detail and improved dynamic range, without adding brightness or harshness.
My only criticism of the Lazuli Reference cable, more of a complaint really, is that they are heavy, but that is the nature of the beast and well worth enduring.
Does it make sense to spend over a third of the cost of your headphone on a cable? That depends a lot on where you are in the buying process. If you have yet to purchase the headphone and that money will get you a headphone you like better, then go for the better headphone. The hierarchy of audio is very simple; source, headphone, amplifier, cable and the fiddly bits (added tweaks, like cones, isolation platforms, soundproof rooms, etc.). If you are trying to get optimal performance from your headphone system, then it would be hard to go wrong with the Dana Cables Lazuli headphone cable, but if you are in that rarified air of world class headphones, then you owe it to yourself (and your headphones) to give the Dana Cables Lazuli Reference a try.
Danacables is offering a discount for our readers in the month of December 2016. http://danacables.com/ Use the coupon code ‘HPGuru Dec 2016’ at checkout:
– $100 off any regular 2m Lazuli cable
– $100 off any 2m TruStream USB cable
– $100 off any 1m PureStream SPDIF cable
Free shipping in the USA for all the above items. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for shipping cost on international orders
Dana Cables Lazuli SP: $549 – $649 USD
Dana Cables Lazuli Reference HF: $1,199 – $1,399