Eletech Socrates ($799): The Socrates offers a higher contrast and more engaging sound, the Ikigai a more linear and natural one. The Socrates has a bolder, harder hitting sub-bass and its bass attack is more aggressive. The Ikigai is almost as fast but has a slightly rounder note with a bit more mid-bass fullness and less sub-bass slam. It has a bit more texture and separation in its mid-bass while the Socrates has a leg up on timing and dynamics. The midrange is slightly more linear on the Ikigai and its vocals are a touch more forward. The Socrates has higher contrast and definition.
Both have a very clean tone, but the Ikigai does so with greater coherence and smoother articulation, the Socrates more energy and contrast. The top-end is inverted, the Socrates being engaging and more overtly energetic in the foreground, the Ikigai smoother and cleaner. The Socrates has sharper note attack and more clarity and bite permitting better fine detail retrieval. The Ikigai has more body and texture, being smoother and more organic but with a bit more headroom at the very top. The Ikigai has a deeper stage and both have similar width. The Ikigai has slightly more multi-dimensional imaging, with sharper localisation.
Satin Audio Zues ($1399): The Zeus offers a slightly more engaging and richer sound. The Ikigai has a quicker, more aggressive bass attack. It has better timing and has a punchier mid-bass. The Zeus has slightly stronger extension and is more dynamic, it offers a bit more linearity between sub and mid-bass at the cost of separation. It has more texture and a heavier note weight. The midrange is higher contrast on the Zeus, it has more texture and higher definition. Meanwhile, the Ikigai is smoother with slightly more accurate timbre and a more linear voicing.
The Ikigai’s vocals sit a touch more forward as well. The Zeus has a bit more clarity and extension in the upper-midrange but is just as coherent. Both have a clean tone, the Zeus is a bit more euphonic. The Zeus has a considerably higher energy treble. It is more aggressive and crisper in the foreground, sacrificing a little texture for greater detail retrieval and bite. The Zeus has more sparkle and headroom. The Zeus also offers a larger soundstage while the Ikigai is a bit more layered with its darker background. The Zeus is just as multi-dimensional as the Ikigai though a little less stable. In turn, it is more holographic.
Every high-end product requires some tantalising quality that justifies its cost and premium status. For the Ikigai, that would be its cleanliness that works in wonderful tandem with a highly involving soundstage presentation. The build and design are undoubtedly attractive too, but also more professional than a lot of custom cables – it feels less like an ornament and more like a complement to the attached IEM. Similarly, the ergonomics score high points, indeed being ultra-soft and comfy as promised by Ares’ marketing. The flat braid does require a little more thought when coiling for storage and the slightly rubbery jacket can attract some dust if you don’t tend to clean down your equipment (which I would highly recommend to promote longevity). This is also not a cable for those wanting to radically alter the sound of their equipment. Where some cables produce distinct differences, the Ikigai is much more tame. It isn’t the richest or most holographic sound, similarly, not the most vibrant and energetic. Due to its smooth and natural sound, it can be hard to appreciate the Ikigai’s character on first listen. However, after repeated pairings and comparison, I believe this is not at all a bad thing. For 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. I laud Ares Audio for their brave foray into high-end custom cables and their tastefully restrained approach.
The Ikigai is available on Ares Audio for $949USD at the time of writing. Ares Audio will be running a discount of 25% during early access (until the 12th of Dec) and pre-orders will be available at 20% off from the 13th to the 27th of December. I am not affiliated with Ares Audio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.