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Ares Audio Ikigai Review – The Magic In Moderation

Pros –

Super soft wires, Professional look and feel, Natural timbre, Linear and highly textured treble, Deep soundstage with excellent multi-dimensional imaging, Very clean tone

Cons –

Flat braid takes a little more thought to coil, Smooth treble can limit pairings

Verdict –

The Ikigai offers a faithful augmentation of the attached IEM, retaining natural timbre and coherence whilst serving to clean up tone and enhance technical performance.

Introduction –

While the IEM market grows vast and populated, the custom cable market has not been so rife with options until quite recently. Welcome Ares Audio, founded in Singapore in 2018 as a re-termination service, Marcus and his team soon started hand-building their own custom IEM and headphone cables. They operate under the tagline “look good, sound better” and design each cable with a focus on accuracy and tonality, soundstage and imaging. The Ikigai is their latest creation, an 8-core cable with 27AWG 7n OCC Copper conductors. It features a unique hydrophobic insulation that repels moisture, thereby omitting the need for enamelled wires. Marcus posits this aids ergonomics, creating a softer cable, especially in tandem with ultra-fine wires in a high-strand count. The Ikigai represents a creative outlook on a traditional market.

The Ikigai is available for $949 USD at the time of writing. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit on Ares Audio.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Marcus from Ares Audio very much for reaching out and providing me with the Ikigai for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the cable free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • 8-core
  • 27AWG 7n OCC
  • Ultra-fine Stranded Copper Twisted Nylon Core with EMI coat
  • PVC sleeving with hydrophobic surface treatment
  • Slider + Ear Guide
  • 1.25m Length

Behind the Design –

Hydrophobic Coating

The Ikigai uses non-enamelled wiring which is quite uncommon. Despite this, Marcus assured me the cable would not oxidise as the insulation is comprised of non-porous PVC and it treated with a hydrophobic coating that repels moisture. By omitting enamelled wires, Ares were able to use thinner strands and a higher strand count for a more pliable and ergonomic experience. A kevlar core has been implemented similar to Litz-configuration cables to aid tensile strength during daily use.

Unboxing –

The Ikigai comes packaged within a small hard box with fabric pull tab that reveals an internal storage tray. The tray contains the cable and accessories, Ares Audio are more generous than most here, providing both a hard case and chic heshian pouch. The cable itself comes safely coiled within the hard case and is secured with a soft, genuine leather cable clip. I am a fan of the hard box with each lid securing via magnet with satisfying action. Both cases are easily large enough to store an IEM too and the hard box is a great addition to secure your portable audio setup in one bundle.

Design –

It appears exceedingly true that the standard of quality in the custom cable industry increases year by year. Despite having just 2 years of experience under their belt, this rang true for Ares Audio, and I was very impressed by what they had to offer with their flagship Ikigai. We observe a matte black jacket and tough gunmetal components throughout for a uniform and professional aesthetic. Of course, the aggressive ridging on each component and less orthodox 8-wire flat-braid construction means this will never be mistaken for anything but a high-performance product. Though it may not be as visually striking as veteran designers such as Eletech, there is a poignant charm to Ares Audio’s designs; small facets such as an inset grub screw on the y-split and incongruence of the L and R markers may irk the perfectionist but are a charming reminder of the painstaking hand-crafted origin of each cable. The same goes for the visible heat shrink strain relief that is usually hidden on competitors. I am a fan of this personally as, in tandem with internal nylon and Kevlar reinforcement, it should translate to a long lifetime of reliable use.  

The ergonomic experience also receives high marks, and this was surely a highlight of the cable’s design, with a focus on the non-enamelled wires inside. Indeed, Ikigai is almost impossibly soft and supple with zero memory. Coil it tight and the cable conforms brilliantly sans any kind of springiness or stiffness; I would say Ares Audio achieved their goal with great success. Take note, however, that the flat braid does make coiling this cable a little more meticulous than most. The cable cannot be twisted or it will not remain coiled during storage. Another personal niggle is that the jacket does have a rubbery feel, and did pick up dust and grab onto clothing more than most competitors. Still, this does not feel like a delicate cable in the slightest, upholding a high level of quality throughout and beautiful, clean aesthetic design.

Next Page: Sound, Comparisons & Pairings

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