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Forza Audio Works Noir Hybrid & Noir HPC MK2 Review

Noir HPC MK2

Unlike its hybrid equivalent, the Noir MK2 is a good old fashioned high-purity copper design. It derives sound quality enhancements from its geometry and the simple purity of its conductors. In turn, the sound does have a slight warm tinge to it, but nothing that would make me dub this an explicitly warm cable. It actually shares many similarities with the Hybrid but doesn’t quite have the same air and top-octave extension whilst having a bit more warmth in the mid-bass. Like the hybrid, I found the MK2 to provide a robust and dynamic bass alongside a slightly higher contrast sound than conventional copper cables and good tonal cleanliness throughout. It differs chiefly with its darker background making this a strong choice for those averse to brightness or those that don’t want to increase the brightness of their headphone.

HEDD Audio HEDDphone: The HEDDphone is not a bright headphone but I wouldn’t call it forgiving or warm either. The stock cable has unspecified specification and, as far as ergonomics are concerned, is one of my least favourite aspects of the headphone as a whole. Another thing to note about this specific headphone is the inverted polarity of the cable. This isn’t something that hugely affects the sound on this headphone but it is noticeable to me and means cables designed for the HEDDphone aren’t compatible with other headphones with other driver types. This explains why this will be the only pairing for this cable in this review as it has been wired in reverse polarity for the HEDDphone and sounded a bit funky with my other headphones. Besides this, expect similar changes on other headphones as demonstrated above.

I should preface this review by saying that I am a big fan of the HEDDphone from a tonality and technicality point of view, and I believe it offers strong value in both regards. My chief complaints would be cable ergonomics and bass performance, both addressed healthily by the FAW cable. Similar to my impression with the Hybrid, the Noir MK2 provides a deeper extending bass with a more robust sub-bass slam and rumble, thereby providing a good jump in dynamics. The chief difference would be the note presentation which is a little rounder in the mid-bass but, otherwise, is still characterised by a bold, well-structured and deep-bass centric signature. This works well with the HEDDphone that benefits greatly from the increase in depth and range. Moreover, driver control is enhanced yielding greater note definition and a snappier attack. That said, this comes with minimal change to separation due to the fuller note structure. I substantially enjoyed the changes here that served as a perfect complement to the HEDDphone’s stock tonality, the FAW pairing was faster, more dynamic and arguably more accurate.

The stock midrange is defined by a nigh neutral tonality and slightly roomy and full-bodied presentation. I found the FAW cable didn’t change this too substantially which is to be taken as a positive given that the HEDDphone already has quite a likeable midrange tonality to my ears. What I did notice was a slight increase in contrast here, imbuing a slightly more separated and engaging voicing. Specifically, room is slightly decreased in favour for a light warm tone due to the increase in bass presence. The upper-midrange trades a little density for greater extension and a slightly more articulate nature with one notch of additional clarity. This results in a slightly more powerful male vocal and a cleaner, more delicate female vocal with slightly less body and slightly better extension if a little glossiness that isn’t entirely authentic. Resolving power takes one step forward as small details are given more room to breathe and separation is enhanced. In particular, layering is improved, not quite to the extent of the Hybrid, but noticeable over stock with a more delineated stage.

I am hearing more similarities to the Hybrid within the treble in the form of a refined, slightly smooth lower-treble with an enhanced upper-treble region granting greater sparkle and zing. The stock cable actually does have a little more crunch in the lower-treble, but the FAW cable is noticeably more energetic in its expression. It is important to note the upper-treble emphasis as well, as the MK2 provides a pleasantly dark background in between. This gives a nice sense of contrast and pop to foreground instrumentation. Note body is ample, slightly reduced due to the upper-harmonic bias. As before, the transient response is sharper with a more defined leading edge, albeit not to the same degree. The boost to sparkle retains a good sense of openness and headroom but the chief change over the Hybrid is that clean, dark background that I found a delightful complement to the fast, sharp HEDDphone.

Incidentally, I found the stock cable to provide a slightly wider soundstage than the MK2, but not by a huge degree. The FAW cable is defined by its more involving, layered imaging that provides a more multi-dimensional stage. Proportions are well-rounded between width and depth, however, the jump in vocal clarity and immediacy to some degree does tend to push vocals slightly forward, reduign the perception of dimensions. Otherwise, direction is sharper and more specific, layers are both more abundant and defined which plays well with the speed of the HEDDphone. Separation isn’t something that ever troubles the HEDDphone but it is further increased here, most notably within the midrange due to a slight reduction in room. Overall, this cable is a good option for those that find it a bit roomy and dense in the midrange and does help to clean up the woolly bass too.

Verdict –

You must excuse the lack of comparisons in this review as the FAW cables are some of the most affordable I’ve tried in a long while and this means it is difficult to find a direct competitor. Few would argue with me that custom cables are not the most cost-effective way to upgrade sound quality, but an avenue to improve ergonomics, looks and subtly adjust sound to taste. However, Forza’s cables feel like a real bargain in an otherwise premium sector. For that attainable asking price, you also do not make many concessions in terms of materials or overall quality. It must be said that the premium cables I’ve tried will outperform FAW’s offerings in terms of technical performance and do so with custom terminations and connectors. However, these models also cost multiples more. The Forza cables are a very respectable jump over premium factory-included cables yet alone those that accompany many lower-end headphones – and this is not a given for all aftermarket cables many of which use unspecified conductors around this asking price. They offer a very likeable tonality that synergises with a wide range of gear. If you’re looking for an attractive cable that can be optioned to your liking and offers guaranteed quality without breaking the bank, these are a terrific option for the majority of enthusiasts.

The Noir Hybrid HPC and Noir HPC MK2 are available from Forza Audio Works (international) starting at 209 and 164 EUR respectively at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with FAW and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

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