I’ve mentioned previously, in my other cable reviews, that reviewing audio cables can be quite difficult as the differences that they can provide can be quite small. But upon first hearing the new Kimber AXIOS upgrade cable to the flagship Sony MDR-Z1R headphones at TAVES this past fall, I was quite pleased to hear that the differences were actually profound from the outset, but more on that later. The build quality of these cables is truly astounding; everything from the packaging, to the documentation and the cables themselves exudes quality. The cables are literally a work of art to behold. The complex hand braiding not only looks great, but ensures that the cables are more immune to external RF noise. There are three versions of the AXIOS cables that are available and various customization options you can pick from the Kimber AXIOS website.
AXIOS-CU: Made from 16 OFC (oxygen-free) copper conductors
AXIOS-HB: Made from 8 OFC copper and 8 pure silver conductors
AXIOS-AG: Made from 16 pure silver conductors
For the purposes of this review, I was provided with an AXIOS-CU cable for the Sony MDR-Z1R closed-back headphones (terminated with a ¼” stereo TRS connector) and an AXIOS-HB for the Focal Utopia open-backed headphones (terminated with a 4 pin XLR cable). Both cables looked outstanding and while not cheap, the top flight build quality and resulting sonic improvements were immediately apparent. Like the hand braiding of the conductors, each cable is hand soldered in the USA by Kimber’s highly trained craftsmen using Nitrogen assisted units. The resulting cables are truly a work of art!
First up, I decided to select the AXIOS cable for the most excellent Sony MDR-Z1R headphones. These are my current favourite closed-back headphones and they offer a wonderfully rich and spacious sound signature. The stock cable included with this headphone is quite pedestrian in terms of build quality and construction. There literally is no comparison that can be made between this cable and the AXIOS Kimber cable in terms of materials and build quality.
My first music selection was a high resolution (192kps) version of David Chesky’s “Jazz in the New Harmonic: Primal Scream”. This is a wonderfully mastered jazz piece and I often return to it when evaluating new gear. Right from the first track “Check Point Charlie” the AXIOS-CU cable made its presence known with an improved smoothness and fluidity to the overall presentation that was slightly lacking with Sony’s stock cable. The music seemed to flow more effortlessly with this cable in between my Chord Electronics DAVE and the headphones. Usually I have to focus carefully in order to pick up differences with cables, but with several A-B tests with this album and both the stock Sony cable and Kimber AXIOS cable, the differences were certainly more profound than what I was used to with regards to cable upgrades. The sound staging seemed to open up further from the already impressive image offered by these headphones. “Sleepless in New York” sounded majestic and truly awe inspiring with this setup and had me smiling from ear to ear. The treble maintained its excellent extension, but the AXIOS cable offered a more life-like presentation with the perfect amount of cymbal shimmer that really offered a more believable image. The stock cable tended to over emphasize this region of the frequency spectrum, but with the Axios cable in place, you get to have both outstanding extension and detail without any harshness; it’s literally like having your cake and eating it too!
Next up, I decided to put my Chord Hugo 2 into the mix (my review can be found here: https://headphone.guru/chord-electronics-hugo-2-transportable-dac-headphone-amplifier-transportable-transparency-finest/) with the Sony MDR-Z1R headphones and my track for this session was an album that I really need to listen to more often. It’s a lost favourite of mine that has kind of fallen off my personal radar through the past few years. “Astral Weeks” by the one and only Van Morrison has always been a favourite of mine through the decades, but for some reason or another, I’ve totally forgotten about it. I suppose with Tidal’s huge selection of lossless music, I’ve found myself listening to so much new music, that I’ve lost track of some of the standards I’ve come to really love. Everything from the brilliant acoustic guitar, to Van’s legendary vocals were perfectly laid bear with this setup. When I did direct A-B comparisons when listening to “Sweet Thing”, as soon as I popped in the Axios cable it was as if a slight veil was removed when compared to the stock cable. It was as if the window had been cast wide open and the music just poured in without anything between me at Van Morrison’s classic recording. Along with the improved transparency, the imaging yet again improved upon what I already considered to be quite good. With better and more precise placement of each player within the sound stage, the Axios cable really helped take things a whole new level. Simply put, I heard things with this setup that I had previously thought were not possible with most cable upgrades I’ve experienced in the past.
Finally, I moved to Focal’s flagship Utopia headphones and the AXIOS-HB cable (made from 8 OFC copper and 8 pure silver conductors). As this cable was terminated with a 4 pin balanced XLR connection, I used my HeadAmp GS-X Mk2 headphone amplifier and my Chord Electronics DAVE as the DAC.
Gregory Porter’s latest album “Nat King Cole and Me” is truly a keeper for me! I purchased the CD upon its release and I’ve loved it since the first time I listened to it. Not only are these brilliant classics performed by an artist with an incredible and memorable voice, but the sound quality and engineering on this record is as good as it gets! I have tried my Focal Utopia headphones with plenty of aftermarket cables since I purchased it in August of 2016 and I can very honestly say that the Kimber AXIOS-HB cable was simply one of the best upgrades I’ve heard with these headphones. Gregory’s vocals were brought forward slightly and really had a heft to them that neither the stock cable or many of the upgrade cables I’ve used offered. The smallest details and nuances of the bass notes were all brought forward with a clarity that I thought wasn’t possible with the Utopias. This clarity seriously rivaled many of the great electro-static headphones I’ve owned through the years (namely the Stax flagship SR-009) and I might just attribute that stat-like clarity to the 8 pure silver conductors in this cable. After experiencing this album with these cables and the Focal Utopia, I can easily say that I have zero reservations of selling my Stax headphone setup!
The Kimber AXIOS headphone cables are truly works of art and the ability to customize the construction for your needs and tastes is as good as it gets! Throw in some of the very best sonic improvements that I’ve heard from cable upgrades, these are really the perfect finishing touch to your personal audio setup! I suppose the only slight improvement that I would have liked was a reduction in the microphonics that resulted from having unsheathed cables that could rub against itself and be heard through your headphones. But that quibble is definitely minor as most of my listening is at my desktop and any subsequent movement is limited. Overall these cables really, really impressed me and while not cheap, if you want the best, the Kimber AXIOS line up is right up there with the very best in cable upgrades!