Finally a new review from Josh Chan, who has meanwhile blossomed into the Jedi Master of the cables. Since discovering the influence of cables on headphone sound a few months ago, Josh has been meticulously testing every cable he can get his hands on and even working on his own graphical overview of the tested cables! Thanks Josh for sharing your wisdom with us! 😉👍
The use of cables on IEMs is an interesting topic that gets a lot of attention, especially when one wonders whether or not they actually have an impact on the overall sound of an IEM.
With that in mind experience of using cords on IEMs is highly subjective and depends on many different factors including: construction and materials of the IEM (balanced armatures, dynamic drivers, electrostatics, etc.), source (DAP, music player, etc.), ear tips ( silicone, foam, etc.), cable construction and materials (copper, silver, gold, etc.), and your listening preferences (treble sensitivity, bass sensitivity, etc.).
In my personal experience and opinion, cables definitely and without a doubt have an impact on the overall sound signature of an IEM. This is evident in my own IEMs such as those from Empire Ears, which I will focus on in my review. I don't measure IEMs with different cables and rely on what I hear and perceive.
However, the impact of a cable on the overall sound of an IEM varies depending on the factors mentioned above. It is not surprising when a cable has a large, very small or no impact on an IEM.
See the following test report for detailed information about the following STE cable:
STE MIX W16 (silver+copper hybrid cable)
I will focus on how this cable affects the following IEMs:
- Empire Ears Odin (Odin) with standard cable (Stormbreaker)
- Empire Ears EVO (EVO) with standard cable (Genesis)
- Empire Ears Valkyrie Mk II (Valkyrie) with Standard Cable (Alpha IV Hybrid)
- Kinera Nanna 2.0 with standard cable
The following information is based solely on my thoughts, opinions and experiences listening to IEMs with specific cables. I didn't take any measurements. I was fortunate enough to receive various cables from Tom/Audio Essence to test.
Additionally,Empire Ears are known for testing their cables very carefully on IEMs before launch, so the improvement or degradation in sound quality may vary from IEM to IEM.
Depending on personal sonic preferences and what you're trying to achieve, boosting and cutting certain frequencies can be positive or negative. For example, lowering the treble can have a positive effect if you want to achieve a more relaxed treble reproduction.
Source and earplugs
For my tests I used the Cayin N6ii Ti with the R01 board as DAP and source. To play music I used USB Audio Player APP with built-in Tidal function and Bit Perfect mode. For eartips, I used the Stock Final E eartips on both IEMs.
I listened to the following tracks to gather my impressions:
• Illenium - Fallen Embers (whole album)
• Hans Zimmer - Time (Inception album)
• Hans Zimmer – Why so Serious? (Dark Knight album)
• Alan Walker - Faded
• Dem Franchize Boyz - Ridin' Rims
• Aviici - Wake me Up
• Eminem - You Don't Know
Overall, the packaging of the cable is very simple and not overdone. The STE cable comes in a plain white box that comes with a card from the company. A carrying case or other accessories are not included.
Processing & Materials
The STE Mixed Cu + Ag cable (STE Mixed Kabel) is made of the purest copper and silver and is supplied in a 16-wire configuration. Despite the 16-wire construction, the cable isn't bulky or heavy and sits comfortably on my ears. There was no cable noise whatsoever during my testing.
The processing of the cable is very high quality overall and you can feel that it is a premium cable. At first glance and touch, you can see that the braid is evenly distributed and the cable itself feels soft.
The cable is very, very soft - one of the softest 16-wire cables I've come across. The cable is wrapped in black fabric up to the Y-split. The copper and silver wires can be seen on the rest of the cable.
The end and the Y-split are made of dark gray titanium tubing. The cable slider is made of black rubber.
Detailed sound impressions
The following sound impressions are based on my comparison between the standard cable of the IEM, the Stormbreaker (1299 CHF) and the STE MIX W16 cable (499 CHF).
Overall sound signature of the Odin with the STE Mixed Cable
The STE Mixed Cable creates a slightly mid and high-pitched sound signature on the Odin. The low bass still goes deep and the bass is punchy. The mids and highs are still present and are the focus of the sound signature. There was no sibilance or harshness. The soundstage is narrow in both width and height. The mids sounded crisp and clear, and the highs seemed relaxed.
Compared to the Stormbreaker, the STE Mixed cable pulled back all sound frequencies on the ODIN. The biggest difference was the reduction in width and height of the soundstage. So I still preferred the Stormbreaker cable on the Odin.
low bass and bass
Deep bass and bass have been reduced. While there was still a lot of bass punch, it was obvious that the sub-bass and bass weren't as deep and structured compared to the Stormbreaker.
The mids have been pulled back slightly compared to the Stormbreaker, which may appeal to people who don't like the Odin mids emphasis. They're still forward, but not as far forward as the Stormbreaker. The mids are very detailed and clear, but the overall sound is warmer due to the reduced soundstage mentioned below.
The highs were more relaxed and less sparkling than the Odin. Similar to the mids, they weren't as forward compared to the Stormbreaker, but still more forward than neutral-sounding IEMs.This might suit those who prefer the relaxed highs of the Odin
The soundstage has been significantly reduced with the STE Mixed cable compared to the Odin. The soundstage wasn't as wide and high as with the Stormbreaker. In my experience, this was the biggest difference between the STE Mixed Cable and the Stormbreaker on the Odin.
The following sound impressions are based on my comparison between the standard cable of the IEM, the Alpha IV Hybrid (299 CHF) and the STE MIX W16 cable (499 CHF).
Overall sound of the Valkyrie MK II with the STE Mixed Cable
The sound signature of the Valkyrie MK II with the STE Mixed Cable resulted in a clearly bass- and mid-heavy or V-shaped sound. The sub-bass is deep and powerful and the bass is powerful. The mids are front-firing and very detailed. Voices and instruments sounded fantastic and were very detailed with lots of texture. The highs felt relaxed. There was no sibilance or harshness. The soundstage was narrow, not wide.
Comparison with the Alpha IV hybrid cable
In my opinion, the STE Hybrid cable matches the Valkyrie MK II's V-shaped sound signature very well. It allows the Valkyrie MK II to retain its refined V-shape signature with deep sub-bass and crystal-clear, slightly forward-biased mids . Compared to the Alpha IV Hybrid, the sub-bass is reduced, the bass is equal and the mids and highs are less present.
The soundstage is narrower and not as wide. I therefore still prefer the Alpha IV Hybrid cable on the Valkyrie MK II, although the STE Mixed cable is still a very good alternative to dial back the mids and highs compared to the original Empire Ears setup.
Deep Bass & Bass
The low bass is still deep and very similar to the Alpha IV Hybrid cable, but it doesn't go as deep. The bass is very similar but was a bit punchier at times with shorter decay.
The mids sounded great and matched the Valkyrie MK II's overall V-shape tuning, but wasn't as forward-thrust compared to the Alpha Hybrid IV cable.
The highs were more relaxed and not as forward compared to the Alpha IV Hybrid cable. I read somewhere on the internet that people feel a certain harshness in the treble. The STE Mixed cable helps curb these issues if anyone has experienced this harshness.
The soundstage was reduced and wasn't as wide or tall.
The following sound impressions are based on my comparison between the standard cable of the IEM, the Genesis (399 CHF) and the STE MIX W16 cable (499 CHF).
Overall sound of the Legend EVO with the STE MIX W16 cable
The sound signature of the Legend EVO with the STE Mixed cable resulted in a very bass-driven sound paired with emphasized mids and highs. The sub-bass was deep and the bass was punchy and didn't drown out the mids and highs. The mids are still present and retain their high level of detail and smoothness. Voices and instruments sound fantastic. The highs are relaxed and there are no signs of sibilance or harshness. The soundstage was narrow.
Compared to the Legend EVO with Genesis cable
With the STE Mixed cable, the Legend EVO retains its bass-heavy characteristics but reduces them entire soundstage and lets the mids and highs recede slightly.In addition, in my opinion, the influence of the Weapon X-Bone Conduction Driver is also reduced. Overall, I preferred the Genesis cable on the EVO.
Deep Bass & Bass
The low bass is still very present and deep, but it doesn't reach as far as the Genesis cable. The bass is more or less the same and the Legend EVO still retains the same bass structure. Another notable difference was the Weapon X's lighter impact. In my experience, I felt like I was missing that extra "thump" and 3D effect that was more noticeable with the Genesis cable.
The mids sounded great but weren't as present compared to the EVO with the Genesis cable. You can feel that the mids are now pulled back and are more even in the frequency response curve.
Highs: Similar to the mids, the highs were a bit more relaxed and not as far forward as with the Genesis cable. The highs themselves still felt relaxed.
The soundstage was reduced and wasn't as wide and high.
Overall sound of the Kinera Nanna 2.0 with the STE MIX W16 cable
The sound signature of the Legend EVO with the STE Mixed cable resulted in a very bass-heavy sound paired with emphasized mids and highs. The sub-bass was deep and the bass was punchy and didn't drown out the mids and highs. The mids are still present and retain their high level of detail and smoothness. Voices and instruments sound fantastic. The highs are relaxed and there are no signs of sibilance or harshness. The soundstage was narrow.
Compared to the Kinera Nanna 2.0 with standard cable
The STE mixed cable had the greatest impact on the sound of the Kinera Nanna 2.0 compared to all other IEMs I tested above.
Compared to the standard Kinera Nanna 2.0 cable, the STE cable builds on the foundations of this cable and makes the Nanna 2.0 even better. The bass was boosted and more detailed, the mids and highs were a bit more forward and super detailed.
In my opinion, the STE MIX W16 cable and the STE CU W16 cable have had the most positive impact on the Kinera Nanna 2.0. I chose the STE CU W16 over the STE MIX W16 because it offers an even bigger soundstage and a slightly deeper sub-bass.
Sub-Bass & Bass
The sub-bass is more extended and goes deeper compared to the standard cable. The same goes for the bass, which is still punchy but with more punch and authority. The overall bass structure is still very detailed.
The mids have moved a little further forward and have gained in detail.
Similar to the mids, the highs are also pushed a little more forward and sparkle a little more.
The sound stage has increased both in height and width compared to the standard cable.
The STE MIX W16 is an excellent cable, both sonically and aesthetically. The overall finish of the cable is excellent and leaves a premium feel. On the Empire Ears IEMs, the STE Mixed cable reduced the soundstage somewhat and controlled the mids and highs.
On the Kinera Nanna 2.0, the STE MIX W16 raised the bass and definitely opened up the soundstage a bit more, which was a very welcome adjustment for my taste. I preferred to use the STE Mixed cable on the Kinera over the Empire Ears IEMs.
So I'm happy to give it an overall rating of: 8/10