As I was running around CanJam trying to keep up with all the coverage possibilities, I ran into Larry Smith from Wireworld, who I had first met at a successful local audio club event. Larry asked me if I had taken their new Headphone Cable Polygraph? No, I replied wondering what he was up to and glancing at my watch wondering how the heck was I going to cover all the CanJam stuff. As it turns out, Wireworld has created a very cool, “hear it for yourself” approach to sampling their headphone cables. I sat down and took the “polygraph” and it turned out to be one of the cooler demos at RMAF.
One of the core truths for Wireworld, and I would argue all of us, is that “the best cable is no cable.” By this I mean that having one component hardwired into another is ideal as the signal flows directly into the gear with no possibility of transmission error created by a cable. Now, of course this is not workable in most systems as gear components need to be separated. Where this does come in handy is setting a baseline of performance. Wireworld got to thinking: “What if we could demonstrate a real live ‘no cable/direct connection’ sound, then compare a variety of cables on offer to that baseline? Would our customers hear the differences between cables? How would our best cables compare to the reference ‘no cable’ sound?” Brilliant! And so it turns out is the implementation.
Brilliant because the implementation is very simple when set in the headphone space. Larry and team created a roughly 4-inch long connector for a Pono to connect to some Oppo planar headphones. The Pono is a very fine music player designed in part by Charles Hanson of Ayre fame. The Oppo headphones are an equally terrific set of cans at its price point. So combining the Pono and Oppo creates a very nice portable rig for testing. Now add a direct connection between the Oppo and Pono and you have a headset with a “built-in” digital audio player. Photos below show the connector which is solid metal. The triangular Pono player makes holding the rig very manageable and the Pono effectively supports the headphones. The music files we listened to sounded excellent. It was clearly very good sound. So now we have an established baseline of what “no cable” sounds like and it’s quite good.
Next, we removed the direct connector and listened to the stock Oppo cable. Ugh, horrible, lifeless sound. No bueno. You can see where this is heading. Of course, now we could listen to the sound impact of the Wireworld cables. The second cable we listened to was the “Pulse” headphone cable from Wireworld. Ah, much better sound over stock, not subtle. More freed up midrange! Oxygen-free copper offered up a nice improvement here. The third cable we listened to was the “Nano-Eclipse”, better still with OCC copper and silver plated connectors. A little more clarity. The fourth cable we listened to was the “Nano-Silver Eclipse” with OCC silver-clad copper. The sound kept getting richer and this was quite nice. This I liked quite a bit and heard even more detail.
Finally, we listened to the “Nano-Platinum Eclipse” which sounded so good, I think it was very, very close to the sound we heard with the “no cable” direct connection into the Pono. The Platinum is OCC solid silver with silver clad pug connectors. A suitable flagship cable based purely on the sound quality I heard. High resolution, involving sound.
At each step of the way, the better materials and slightly better connectors led to increasing quality of sound on the Oppo headphones. By setting a baseline with the direct connector, Wireworld has created a simple but smart test that once and for all demonstrates cable differences in a fair and unbiased way. A participant can go back and hear the direct connection at any time and A/B tracks as they please. The sound differences between the cables were clearly defined at each step. Best of all, I got to choose the music I wanted to hear. It is fascinating to hear the difference that materials, geometry, and connectors have on improved sound quality.
I really did not have the time for this test at first, but I’m damn glad Larry stopped me in my tracks (really CanJam “fog”) for this demo. Even better, I got to pick Larry’s brain on HDMI and Ethernet cables and learned a lot from that discussion. If you get a chance to do this “Polygraph” test at an audio show, take it!