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Ares Audio Ikigai Review – The Magic In Moderation

Sound –

Tonality –

Where traditionally cables around this price resorted to exotic blends and price-prohibitive materials, we’ve seen a trend lately of high-performance copper cables that instead employ sophisticated geometry to adjust sound. The Ikigai is such a creation with special focus on strand-count in addition to proper shielding. It’s an interesting performer too, benefitting from copper’s “normalcy” with regards to timbre and tone, it feels like a natural extension of any stock cable; bringing up resolving power, attack and dynamics without overly skewing the balance of the sound. Where many cables introduce, at times, quite transformative qualities, the Ikigai was a refreshing change, being simply linear and natural with an engaging note presentation and immersive soundstage presentation true to the company’s ethos.

Bass –

The Ikigai has a mildly warm low-end, introducing a more robust yet articulate bass. Extension is immediately improved, most noticeable on BA earphones, and the Ikigai sounds very tight too, promoting a hard-hitting sub-bass slam. In addition, the low-end receives a gentle lift through the mid-bass for a slightly enlarged note presentation. As the low-end remains mostly linear and the changes are not overt, the timbre isn’t overly affected so bass never errs on bloat or tubbiness. The note presentation is also enhanced, with a noticeable increase in control and a more aggressive attack especially, both instigating a generally more defined and detailed bass performance.

This was most noticeable to me in the sub-bass on DD and hybrids and the mid-bass on BA earphone, that became much more articulate and defined on the Ikigai as opposed to stock copper cables. As extension has been improved, the Ikigai also serves to heighten dynamics, for an altogether more involving listening experience. It is admirable that the cable does so without negatively affecting timbre, separation or overall balance. The tone remains natural and inviting and, similarly, the intrinsic colour of the earphone still shines through with honesty and careful augmentation.

Mids –

Similar to the bass, the Ikigai crafts subtle and tasteful changes. The midrange is characterised by an immaculately clean tone and a slight increase in upper-midrange presence and extension. In turn, you get an altogether more transparent and open presentation at the cost of a little density. Vocals remain naturally voiced and coherence is similar to stock; a by-product of a slight increase in body derived from the bass combined with minimal change to lower-midrange contrast in addition to a smoother articulation. In turn, vocals retain balance between male and female and, as the upper-midrange sits a touch forward, so too is vocal positioning brought slightly forward.

Vocal size is also slightly bolstered to match, so you retain complete, well-resolved midrange notes that aren’t stretched thin or strained due to the increase in clarity. The midrange is noticeably higher in definition and texture too, and the staging is much improved. I would hesitate to call the Ikigai a bright or forward cable as the changes are made in tasteful moderation. It’s really the Ikigai’s enchanting soundstage presentation that is its most magical element, once again, a quality rarely found alongside such a balanced and natural sound.

Highs –

As below, the treble region is endowed with a slightly quicker, more aggressive attack that enhances note definition and fine detail retrieval. Yet, not an ounce of sharpness, strain or fatigue is to be found as this is counterbalanced by a slightly smoother foreground treble presentation. The Ikigai serves to smooth lower-treble peaks and, in so doing, permits a more natural and linear treble. Instrumentation, most notably cymbals, have more accurate body and heaps of additional texture. They decay naturally with largely improved timbral accuracy.

I hear a slight upper-harmonic lift that retains plenty of clarity without increasing sharpness and fatigue. In turn, the Ikigai is quite an open-sounding cable with engaging sparkle and energy. To reiterate, it isn’t a bright cable and the lift here is not too overt. The background remains dark and clean but with that additional upper-treble presence, on high-end IEM especially, micro-details simply tend to “pop” more than on stock cables. In turn, the Ikigai has noticeably higher resolution and detail retrieval in both the foreground and background whilst also serving to improve instrument timbre. To my ear, this is the most ideal way to alter treble.

Soundstage –

The Ikigai has an awesome soundstage presentation and, due to its smooth and coherent voicing, excels with cohesion. Soundstage expansion is immediately improved in all axis but depth especially is enhanced. Imaging is super sharp and much more holographic in terms of placement. Whether due to the additional depth, directional cues are more sharply pinpointed, and the presentation is considerably more multi-dimensional. This was noticeable mostly with backing vocals that spread laterally on stock OFC cables, but also achieved some coronal positioning and better stereo separation with the Ikigai. Despite being smoother, the Ikigai’s imaging performance is very involving. Separation too is enhanced, aided by a quicker and cleaner transient response aiding note definition. This isn’t a warm, full or dense sounding cable, rather, it is open and each element a bit easier to isolate in turn.

Pairings –

Oriveti O800 ($799): Bass extension is improved, and bass becomes quicker and more balanced. The midrange is brought forward, and the tone is cleaner. Clarity and definition are improved, but coherence is similar to stock, vocals sound larger and more powerful. Treble is slightly more prominent and energetic. It is more open and there is better fine detail retrieval and resolution. The soundstage actually loses a bit of depth, perhaps due to the more intimate vocals. However, it gains width and imaging is more involving on the Ikigai.

Gaudio Nair (900 CHF): The Nair comes with the Satin Audio Hyperion from factory. The Ikigai pairing provides a slightly deeper bass with a more authoritarian slam and slightly fuller mid-bass. The midrange is brought a touch forward, vocals are slightly warmer and more powerful but also a bit more open up-top for a slightly more engaging, higher contrast sound. Treble is slightly smoother and more even. Treble instrumentation has more texture and fine detail retrieval is improved. Extension is slightly improved as is headroom. The Ikigai provides a larger soundstage and more holographic imaging.

Custom Art Fibae 7 (1100 EUR): The Fibae 7 includes the Null Audio Arete OCC cable from factory. Bass is slightly quicker and more defined with similar extension, but less sub-bass bias than stock, the timbre is improved. The midrange is slightly cleaner tonally, with a little less warmth. Vocals are slightly more forward and defined, but presented with a slightly smoother articulation. Treble is slightly smoother, not the best pairing on the Fibae 7 to my ears, but still naturally voiced. Despite this, fine detail retrieval is enhanced and there’s a bit more top-octave extension and resolution. The soundstage is larger in all axis and imaging is a bit more stable and multi-dimensional.

MMR Homunculus ($1699): The Homunculus includes the Eletech Prudence from factory. The Ikigai offers a tighter, more controlled bass presentation with higher definition though the quantity and timbre are similar. The midrange is quite a bit cleaner in tone and slightly more extended. Vocals are slightly more forward. Treble is slightly smoother but with a small bump to fine-detail retrieval. The background is cleaner but micro-details are slightly more present. The soundstage is deeper but with similar width. The imaging is a bit more multi-dimensional and involving on the Ikigai but quite good already on the Prudence.

Lime Ears Pneuma (1800 EUR): The Pneuma includes the PWAudio No.10 cable from factory. Bass is slightly more linear with less sub-bass focus but also less energy. The No.10 sounds a bit more defined and aggressive in the bass. The midrange is slightly cleaner in tone, vocals are a touch more forward and definition is a touch higher, but mostly similar in terms of voicing. The treble is slightly more aggressive on the No.10 and both have similarly strong fine detail retrieval, the No.10 sounds crisper in the foreground. The Ikigai has a bit more resolution at the very top and better background detail retrieval though it is smoother so it can be hard to appreciate. The Ikigai has a noticeably larger soundstage with much more multi-dimensional imaging.

Noble Audio Katana ($1850): The Katana is very responsive to cable swaps and is my usual test earphone for these reviews. It benefits here from a noticeably more robust and extended bass. However, it appears more textured and defined in the mid-bass too. The midrange is slightly more forward, but relative to the bigger bass, retains admirable balance. Definition and clarity are a touch enhanced; vocal size is increased to match. Treble is smoother with noticeably reduced lower-treble peakiness. Instrument body is improved, and decay is more natural. There is more sparkle and resolution at the very top. The soundstage is wider and much deeper, imaging is more multi-dimensional.

Suggested Pair Ups

The Ikigai’s defining tonality traits are its clear, clean midrange, fast, controlled sub-bass and smooth lower-treble. It therefore, best suits more aggressive earphones with a lower-treble peak of some sort. On already smoother and warmer earphones like the Fibae 7 and Homunculus, I found it could take too much edge off the treble. Conversely, the uptick of midrange clarity means that the cable never sounded dull or veiled with any pairing, making it versatile in that regard. I found best synergy with brighter earphones as a result, pairings such as the Nair and Katana benefit most by that smoother treble, creating a more linear and balanced experience.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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