Noir Hybrid HPC
The Hybrid uses a mix of pure silver and copper conductors in a semi-Litz geometry giving it a different character to conventional SPC cables that are more cost-effective to produce. In my experience, this combination tends not to produce the more obvious brightness provided by an SPC design and this is indeed the case here as well. For the following section, I used the Noir Hybrid with the Audeze LCD-5 and Meze Elite that both use OFC stock cables. One notable and more universal observation made during testing was the cable’s tonally transparent nature that allows it to synergise well with the qualities of the many headphones.
LCD-5: The LCD-5 comes with a high-purity OCC Copper cable available in either single-ended or balanced. On first impression, the cable is providing a more engaging, vivid and contrasted sound. You simultaneously receive a boost to clarity and treble sparkle in addition to a bolder, more powerful bass. As a result, those wanting greater bass presence may not find that here as overall balance is similar, with the voicing being most changed. The stock cable sounds comparatively flatter and more linear that some may prefer for professional use. Arguably, the achromatic tuning targeted by the LCD-5 means the style of colouration introduced by the aftermarket cable is welcome for musical enjoyment and this was true for my personal tastes.
The biggest change to my ears within the low-end is the more robust and weighted sub-bass. Incidentally, this actually gives the stock cable slightly better separation with the FAW cable trading off a little in favour of a noticeable jump in dynamics and power. Sub-bass becomes more forward, and the note presentation is bolder, in turn. The texture of each note becomes thicker and more visceral at no loss to mid-bass separation or responsiveness. As notes are physically larger, separation is slightly reduced, however, this isn’t an issue for the LCD-5 specifically and the jump to power is welcome and desirable. Attack is slightly more assertive, and decay remains similar. Control is a touch improved but the FAW doesn’t present as especially more discerning, rather, it primarily serves to improve range, punch and slam properties.
Once again, it is apparent that the stock cable is more even in its transitions making for the more honest albeit less thrilling listening experience. The FAW once again treads down the path of engagement with greater contrast between its bass and midrange in addition to a slight boost to upper-midrange presence making for a more vivid presentation. Clarity is higher and the vocal presentation takes one step forward. As body has been slightly increased overall, this comes at no loss to coherence nor size, upholding a sweet and well-proportioned presentation. In fact, the Forza cables has noticeably improved layering within the midrange with greater delineation between each layer on vocal harmonisations. The stock cable sounds a touch dry by comparison while the FAW cable offers a good bump in resolving power and a more W-shaped signature.
It’s always interesting to see how cables affect the top-end and here, the changes are intriguing indeed. The stock cable performs well here, it has a bit more bite and crunch in the leading edge that also manifests a slight graininess by comparison. The FAW cable sounds more refined with a slight upper-harmonic boost. It has a greater liquid smoothness with less grain and crunch in favour of a more delicate if slightly thinner note presentation. Notes are presented with enhanced vibrancy and decay with greater agility. This provides a good jump in separation, especially noticeable on complex tracks. The slight change in timbre is likely a result of greater upper-treble presence as I did notice greater sparkle. This is a great way to introduce additional treble energy without glare or sharpness as one would find with a mid-treble boost of similar proportion. To my ears, this really brings out the technical nature of the LCD-5 and makes for a more involving listen compared to the smoother stock presentation.
Where I feel the FAW cable really brings things together is with regards to the soundstage which was noticeably enhanced in a very enjoyable manner. Some cable pairings are simply strange here, with odd imaging that sacrifices acuity in favour of space or dimension. Not here, as the FAW cable manages to be more spacious and even sharper in terms of direction. As aforementioned, layering is noticeably improved with greater delineation between backing and lead instruments/vocals and more defined harmonisations. This gives the presentation a more multi-dimensional and involving feel. In addition, transients are slightly faster giving the impression of a more holographic image. Separation is slightly reduced in the bass but is improved in the midrange and treble. The LCD-5 is clearly more composed and discerning of fine detail on complex tracks when paired with the Hybrid cable.
Meze Elite: The stockOFC cable provides a good match for the Elite’s warm and laid-back character with enough energy to satisfy those wanting balance too. I do know that many are looking for a brighter sound from these headphones for which the Noir Hybrid is a great match as it teases out greater vocal presence and sparkle. In fact, overall, this cable is a terrific foil to the Elite serving to enhance overall balance and versatility.
The low-end is affected in an intriguing manner as the stock cable appears warmer and bassier by comparison. However, under scrutiny the FAW cable is providing a bit more sub and deep-bass whilst serving to clean up the mid and upper-bass. While the Elite remains warm and full with both cables, the FAW cable is noticeably cleaner and less tubby with improved dynamics and balance. Notes are bolder and more defined. Separation is slightly enhanced but the tonal cleanliness is most noticeable to me. There isn’t a huge jump in technical performance but a combination of a slight increase in tightness and control paired with the cleaner tonality. Altogether, this permits a noticeably more dynamics and textured bass performance with greater depth, weight and drive.
Similar comments can be made within the midrange where the effects of the FAW cable serve more to balance out the stock tonality of the Elite rather than adding colouration as seen on the LCD-5. Specifically, the cable introduces a bit more upper-midrange presence which helps to both increase vocal clarity and intimacy. As the Elite is on the warm, smooth and laid-back side, this doesn’t manifest as forwardness but a nice bump to a balanced level. In addition, the tonality becomes cleaner and less coloured by the bass, aiding separation and definition. This is most noticeable with male vocals that sound considerably cleaner on the FAW cable with less fuzz around the edges.
Within the top-end, the cable serves to slightly increase lower-treble smoothness whilst sharpening the transient response and slightly increasing sparkle. Altogether, this means you don’t get a noticeable boost in brightness, rather a slightly different voicing. What listeners will enjoy is the increase in note definition. While the cable actually provides slightly less crunch and lower-treble crispness, the leading edge is noticeably more defined on the FAW pairing. Moreover, above the cable serves to enhance extension and sparkle with greater energy and air. This is all the while avoiding brightening of the middle-treble, keeping the clean, contrasted presentation beloved of the Meze house sound fully in-tact.
The Elite has an immensely impressive soundstage out of the box and the FAW cable further enhances this. Dimensions are slightly enhanced but not hugely so. The imaging is sharper with a keener sense of direction on behalf of the more defined treble response in addition to slightly improved layering. Specifically, the background is more contrasted to the now more focused foreground enhancing delineation between the two. The sense of space and ether is excellent and immensely involving. The good jump to separation aids this impression greatly with the much cleaner bass and lower midrange. In turn, small details here are more defined and apparent to the listener.