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review: cardas sennheiser VS zu mobius (part one)

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Ok so everyone here knows me as a cable freak who is also obsessed with connector quality. Yes i am :), so bear with me, i promise i am not going to go patrick82 here :). anyway, as many of you guys know i am one of those who do not use a dedicated headphone amp, instead i use the ghetto trick of directly driving my senns directly from the two xlr outs of my apogee/lavry dac (pioneered by none other than the brilliant fotm starter iron dreamer :D). because of that, the headphone cable has become the critical link between the dac and the headphones in my rig.

To maximize the sound quality i need to get the best sennheiser headphone cable i can find. Over the last 18 months or so i have tried/owned many sennheiser cables. cardas, equinox, GE 18awg teflon coated copper prototype (zach please correct me if i am wrong), headphile blacksilver, moon audio silver dragon and the zu mobius...ok i know there are a few more out there but i don't have the money to try them now. Of course, it is obvious that there is no perfect cable in this world, but so far i have managed to find two balanced sennheiser cables with the sound and the build quality i care to live with ? enter the cardas sennheiser and the zu mobius.


Xhadow Cardas

The cardas sennheiser cable is the most widely produced after market sennheiser cable, but they don't seem to get a lot of love on headfi. Every after market sennheiser cable, including the rnb180 special G52, is supposed to beat the crap out of the cardas. After trying out a bunch of after market sennheiser cables, I kind of understand why the cardas doesn't seem to get a lot of positive press. IMHO most headfiers tend to enjoy a warm and fuzzy sound (think RSA amps), while the sound of the cardas is as lean and clean as you can get for a copper-based sennheiser cable. I personally have no love for a warm and fuzzy sound, i love the SS sound from a gilmore or a meier amp and tend to avoid anything with tubes, therefore i really dig the cardas sound (i liked the cardas better than the equinox and the headphile out of my lavry and magnum's rig, when i was at the chicago meet).

I got my balanced cardas used from grand enigma (he got it from headroom), it came with two neutrik gold plated brass xlr plugs. The sound was...well, warm and fuzzy, not good enough for me. Being unreasonably obsessed with connector quality, i bought a pair of furutech xlr plugs with rhodium over bronze contacts for about $140 bucks and junked the neutriks. Ok the sound became clearer but it became so thin that it was unnatural and distracting. Not willing to give up, i replaced the furutechs with a pair of xhadow xlr plugs with silver over copper contacts. Wow, remember the story of goldilocks and the three bears? Neutriks are too warm, furutechs are too cold, the xhadows are just right, very natural and transparent.

The build quality of the cardas is excellent, the cable is very flexible, the rubber sheath is not microphonic at all and has a very nice smooth touch. The two y-splits are immaculate with layers of adhesive heatshrinks applied on the wires and the joints flawlessly.

Zu Mobius

Every sennheiser users have heard about the zu mobius, it needs no serious introduction, because it is probably the most popular and the best sounding after market sennheiser cable. Other than the rnb audio G52, it is the only cable that receives an overwhelmingly positive press on headfi, with lots of users reporting that the mobius is capable of removing the notorious sennheiser veil. Although IMHO there are many things behind the veil and the headphone cable is only one of the reasons behind, the zu mobius is way more open and natural sounding than the stock sennheiser cable.

The mobius can only be directly purchased from zu, because zu is a relatively small company and thanks to srajan ebaens from 6moons, there is usually a lead time on its products. 18 months ago zu shipped my order in a day, 10 months ago zu shipped my order in 5 days, and 4 months ago zu shipped my order in 2 weeks. My balanced zu mobius comes with neutrik silver plated brass plugs, i am unable to open them up because zu glues all its terminations.

As far as i know the mobius is the only after market sennheiser cable that is shielded. The cardas is supposed to be shielded too but i don't think it is, because it is too flexible for a shielded cable and i couldn't find any kind of shielding at all when i reterminated it with different xlr plugs. As a result of the aluminum braid shield and the techflex, the zu mobius is somewhat inflexible and microphonic. Nothing serious of course, i have never been distracted by the mobius when i listen to the music.

The build quality of the mobius is just as good as the cardas. The joints are secured by massive shrinks, even it is more of a hand-made cable (with shielding and techflex installed over the wires) than the off-the-spool looking cardas, there is no lousy craftsmanship here. Kudos to the zu: the two custom aluminum sennheiser plugs have a better look and feel than the plastic molds on the cardas. Zu surely knows how to make its cables look good with the aluminum eye candies they get cheaply from the milling factory next door (according to 6moons).

More about what's inside

Inside the cardas cable, each conductors have many strands of individually coated, multiple-gauge cardas litz copper wires. According the cardas' marketing literature the best sounding wire is the one that is least resonant, kind of similar to the KG's idea of pro-shrink i guess? Nonetheless the cardas does sound very clean to me, definitely not the typical copper sound.

AFAIK the conductors of the zu are white teflon coated silver plated copper wires in an unconventional or conventional geometry, i really don't know. I can't open up my zu mobius without voiding my warranty and resell value, so someone has to do the verifying job. I know, silver plated copper wires cost next to nothing and the use of SPC wires implies snakeoil, many of us believe they have poor sonic qualities too. But zu says SPC has its own merit according to US military research, ok i am not throwing out all of zu's marketing literature, go to 6moons and read the zu vs cerious vs stealth shootout if you want to read all the details. What i am trying to say is jokes aside i can't make a serious judgment based on the look and the conductors of a cable, without actually trying it for an extended period of time.

part two will be up soon.

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The sound

The xhadow cardas is the cable to get if you just want to open up the sennheisers. Veil? What veil? Everything sounds so open and clean ? not only the 'top end' or the 'midrange', but the entire spectrum. Percussions and guitars really come to life without the nasty flabby sennheiser HD650 bass. Electronically synthesisized sounds are more defined as well. I can hear an awful lot of the fine details and textures of the instruments, i can also clearly hear the effects employed in the music and how they change the sound or improve my listening experience. The initial attack of a note is very prominent and spot on, yet i can also hear a note decays and lingers in the air, thanks to the increased 'air' and 'speed'. Vocals are extremely clear and intelligible, no warmth, weight or smoothed out sound here ? i really don't like any of those. Ok, i will say vocals are probably a bit too thin for my japanese music collection, but it is nothing bright, harsh or gritty, and i think everyone knows that many japanese girls sing like strangled chickens.

The bass? No more midbass bloat, as a result the headphones sound much faster, and the increase in bass dynamics is especially noticeable. Again, nothing thinned out or omitted here, the bass still blooms (slightly) and decays, it just doesn't stick out as much as it used to anymore because things are better defined and no longer bloated.

If you want your sennheisers to sound more like a pair of AKGs without getting overly thin or bass light or cold, the xhadow cardas, or maybe silver neutrik cardas, is a must audition. The single ended version sounds close to identical to the xhadow cardas because of its rhodium over silver plug.

If you want to improve the technical aspects of the sennheisers without changing the sennheiser housesound, the zu mobius is the ticket. The mobius opens up the sound and increases the dynamic contrast, while sounding smooth and full bodied. The bass is prominent and hard hitting while still being punchy ? electronica (and maybe ghetto rap) sounds fabulous and makes me go toe tapping. For those who want to get rid of the digital glare, the zu mobius is excellent at that as well.

Although the zu mobius is very, very good, i think it is inferior to the xhadow cardas. I know the xhadow cardas costs a hundred bucks more than the mobius, but to my ears the cardas has a superior performace that is easily audiable. As i said before i am not looking for a warm/smooth/fuzzy sound, and the zu mobius does that (not nearly as bad as some of the other after market cables i tried, however). With the mobius, some finer details and texture seem to be lost, and the top end is less extended, as a result there is subjectively less air, because ambient information is somehow obscured and smoothed out too much. Maybe replacing the neutriks with xhadows will improve the mobius dramatically, but i don't have the money to buy a pair of xhadows and pay zu 50 bucks plus shipping to reterminate my mobius right now.


I am keeping the xhadow cardas and the zu mobius is up for sale, enough said...or maybe not. If i am not getting any reasonable offers i am going to keep it as one of my reference sennheiser cable, and have it xhadowed eventually. Now what's next? Maybe its time to try GE's oracle sennheiser cable :).

cardas sennheiser balanced 10ft - $275

zu mobius sennheiser 3m/9.8ft - $259

xhadow silver plated copper xlr plug - $42 each

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8 hours ago, grawk said:

12 years. Please don’t do that again

Who are you, where's Dan?

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