This is Cardas’s second run at making an earphone (or as Cardas puts it with some justification, an ‘ear speaker’): the first being the ‘mostly excellent’ EM5813. The A8 is a very different prospect, however.
What it shares with its older brother is the ‘ear speaker’ concept. The single, full range driver is designed essentially like a tweeter in a conventional loudspeaker, replacing the pole piece in the driver with a second magnet to reduce eddy currents. There have been some developments in the intervening years too, and not just in the move from an 11mm to a 10.85mm diaphragm. Cardas refers to this new driver as an Ultra Linear, Contour Field, Dual Magnet driver system.
Although both enclosures are made from brass and share a similar basic layout, the big external difference between the two models is the older design was copper plated, while the A8 has a blue rubberised ABS coating. The other big – make that huge – difference is in the choice of cable. The new tightly braided blue fabric-wrapped copper 85cm long cable is extremely strong, extremely flexible, and almost immune from conduction noise. This cable is not part of the Clear range (as its sourced in China alongside the rest of the A8, rather than extruded from Cardas own forge in Oregon) is nonetheless working to the Golden Ratio so important to Cardas and is wound in a helix pattern. The big advantage is the cable connects to the headphone pair in a 3.5mm jack, like full sized headphones. This makes it very easy to swap cables, between a regular audio system and the two-jack balanced inputs for the Ayre Codex, A&K, or Pono. Theoretically at least, other connections could be possible. The A8 comes in a nice presentation box, which includes a small hard carry case and not enough ear tips; just a set of small, medium, and large triple-flange tips. Replacement triple-flange tips and Comply foam tips are available, though.
Earphones are inherently designed for music on the move. They need to be snug fitting to drown out the world around the listener, and have no tendency to fall out on the go. They need to be efficient and forgiving, because they will probably end up connected directly to a smartphone and all that implies. And they need to be fun, or you will simply forget them and leave them somewhere. Fortunately, the A8 does all these things, and does them well – better than its predecessor.