This review almost took as long to assemble as Cardas Audio took to design the Clear Beyond HPT headphone cable. Given the inherently custom nature of Clear Beyond and the breathtaking array of different connectors and pinning combinations used in personal audio, a transatlantic dialogue between myself, Cardas, and the personal audio industry stretched things out considerably.
We’d agree on a pair of headphones only to find there were three different types of pinning combinations. Then, having discovered the right pinning combination, one of the two channels on those headphones decided to shuffle off this mortal coil and a replacement might occur… eventually. The ensuing delay meant the amp I had intended to use was returned because it had been discontinued. Eventually, thanks to asking a lot and very nicely, loans of Sennheiser’s HD800 S (reviewed in issue 157) and the comparatively new iFi Audio’s Pro iCAN Signature (to be reviewed early next year) were arranged and everything slotted into place.
Hoops for jumping
The reason such hoops needed to be jumped through is that this is not your ordinary headphone cable. Clear Beyond HPT is the result of several years of R&D, to take the Matched Propagation Conductors found in Clear Beyond audio interconnects, power cords and speaker cables and shrink it down to where it still delivers the goods but can be connected to personal audio connectors. The usual trick of reducing the conductor count in the strain relief of the connector body just won’t cut the Cardas mustard.
Cardas Audio has its own copper forge, so producing ever smaller cables for Clear Beyond HPT headphone cables is at least possible. Creating that unique Golden Ratio layout in a necessarily small cable is another matter and it resulted in something no other Cardas cable has done before… the use of silver; the Hybrid Matched Propagation Conductor array has the usual stranded, braided Grade 1 purity copper conductors, with the addition of a single 30AWG Cardas Grade 1 silver wire. While I can almost hear the sharpening of pitchforks and the lighting of torches from Cardas purists, let’s be pragmatic here; how else can you manage to deliver the mid and top clarity normally found with a lot of copper wire, when you can’t use a lot of copper wire?
While this hybrid conductor layout shrinks the size of Clear Beyond without unseating the performance, it’s still a beefy cable for personal audio. This is because Cardas refused to roll back on key aspects of the Clear Beyond, such as its cross-field layer geometry and its PTFE-wrapped conductors. Specifically thinking about the life of a personal audio cable, Cardas introduced anti-static fibres to flank the conductors and housed the whole cable in a blue and black braided jacket. The two entirely independent conductors are held in place with several Cardas-branded copper lozenges.
Cardas Audio also engineered this cable so that it could accommodate the widest possible range of connectors and pinning arrangements. So long as you know the make and model of your headphones and headphone amplifier, Cardas can make them for you. As discussed earlier, to get the best out of that matched propagation layout, precise pinning ‘maps’ are important, especially as some manufacturers seem to change absolute phase with the seasons. However, so long as the connectors are still available, Cardas can make you a set of cables.
Into the HD800 S
?In our case, as discussed earlier, it connected to Sennheiser HD800 S two-pin conductors at the ears end, going into a single balanced four-pin full-sized XLR at the amp end. The cable was long enough to require four copper lozenges, came with a couple of blue Cardas branded Velcro cable-ties, in a nice card box and came with a lot of fun case candy. None of which matters in sound-quality terms, but it’s a lot nicer than just receiving almost ￡2,150 worth of cable in a Ziploc bag.
Clear Beyond HPT is a revelation. Although the technology is getting on a bit, I’ve always liked the HD800 and HD800 S, but they can be a touch ‘excitable’ and with the standard cables the Sennheiser/iFi Audio combination is extremely forthright meaning that excitable quality is easy to unleash. The Clear Beyond lets so much more through that it effectively parks that excitability and just lets the headphone sound like it’s been freed from bondage. Clear Beyond HPT doesn’t change the character of the HD800?S, it just gives the headphone more latitude.
That’s just the first thing you notice. A few seconds later you begin to hear just how deep the changes go; letting an already extremely informative combination of amplifier and headphone just move to the next level. One aspect of performance I have always respected from the HD800/800 S it the transient speed. These headphones are extremely fast-reacting under normal circumstances, but with Clear Beyond HPT in place, that speed becomes more reactive than ever, hearing brushwork on drums sounding eerily like it was live for example.
The same could be said with vocal articulation and detail. Even difficult to parse vocalists like Sting (I agree with Family Guy that you can only understand the last three words of every lyric he sings) and Van Morrison are rendered a little more intelligible. But then again, the same could be said of every aspect of sonic presentation, from coherence to dynamic range and back again. Clear Beyond HPT just made a great pair of headphones even better across the board; taut, deep bass, a clear (!) midrange and top, powerful dynamics and even more headroom, with no observable downsides.
I realised late into the review that on the face of things, the notion of using a ￡2,150 cable to connect a ￡1,500 pair of headphones to an ￡1,800 amplifier should be absurdly unbalanced. But when you listen to just how much more headphone and amplifier are let out by the inclusion of the Cardas Audio Clear Beyond HPT headphone cable… it doesn’t sound ‘absurdly unbalanced’ at all. It sounds right.
Price and contact details
- Cardas Audio Clear Beyond
- Headphone Connections?Audeze, Focal, dual 3.5mm Focal/Sony, Sennheiser HD600 and HD800 as standard. Others connections on application
- Amp connections?3.5mm, 6.3mm single-ended jack, 4.4mm balanced jack, four-pin XLR as standard. Other connections on application
- Price (as tested)?￡2,149/1.5m
+44(0)20 8948 4153
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