Something there is in the minds of serious audiophiles and music lovers that can’t resist trying to make good things better—a philosophy that, in a nutshell, is the guiding force behind the North Carolina-based firm Moon Audio. Those of you who have met and talked with Moon’s leader Drew Baird will already understand what I mean by this statement, but for the benefit of those who have not yet met Mr. Baird, let me simply say that he is one of those individuals who loves the challenge of finding ways to tweak and improve what many regard as top-tier products. Accordingly, Moon Audio makes a plethora of specialty high-performance audio cables, many of them tailor-made to fit the often unique requirements of high-performance headphone and earphone enthusiasts. A classic case in point would be the Moon Audio Silver Dragon V1 IEM cable set that is the subject of this review.
As those of you who have followed Playback reviews for a while know, we typically consider today’s top-tier custom-fit in-ear monitors the very highest expressions of the earphone art form. But good though today’s top-of-the-line in-ear monitors are, there can still—as Moon Audio sees things—still room for improvement. With this thought in mind, Moon has done one of the things it does best, which is to great a set of ultra high-quality (but not insanely high-priced) signal cables that can be installed as drop-in replacements for the good (but perhaps not great) signal cables that originally shipped with our in-ear monitors. Happily, three of the top in-ear monitor makers—JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, and Westone—happen to use a common signal-pin arrangement on their monitors, which means Moon can create one common model that fit’s all three. Even so, customization options abound, so that users can specify exactly what type of connector(s) they want on their cables, the length of the cable, and so on.
Our review sample of Silver Dragon V1 IEM cable came fitted with JH Audio/Ultimate Ears/Westone connectors of the earphone end, and with a gorgeous, Oyaide right-angled 1/8-inch mini-jack plug on the other. The cable sells for $185, which might at first seem steep until you consider the fact that top JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, and Westone monitors sell for around if not over $1000. When you’ve already spent that kind of money, spending another $185 to get a noticeable increase in sound quality starts to make sense—even though some might consider it an exercise in “gilding the lily.” Ah, but this raises the most central question of all: does Moon Audio’s Silver Dragon V1 IEM cable really make a significant sonic difference? Read on, for answers.
Moon Audio Silver Dragon V1 IEM cables, highlights:
•Length Options: Moon’s IEM cables are offered in three standard lengths: 48”, 64” (+$15), and 80” (+$30).
•IEM Connection Options: Moon’s IEM cables are available with terminations to fit either JH Audio/Ultimate Ears/Westone monitors (same connector type fits all three), or to fit Livewire monitors (+$10). Moon is also working to develop connection options to Shure, Sennheiser IE8, FitEars, and other earphones and in-ear monitors.
•Source Connection Options: Moon’s IEM cables are offered with an extensive range of source component connectors, as noted below:
oPremolded right angle mini-plug
oOyaide straight mini-plug (+$10)
oOyaide right-angled mini-plug (+$10)
oRSA (Ray Samuels Audio) connector to fit 4-pin output jacks found RSA’s Predator and SR-71B Blackbird amplifiers (+$10)
oMini 4-pin male XLR connector for adapter systems (+$10)
oiBasso hirose connector (+$20)
oDual 3-pin male XLR connectors (+$25)
oDual 3-pin female XLR connectors (+$25)
oFurutech Rhodium-plated XLR connectors (+$125)
•Cable Construction: Moon describes the Silver Dragon IEM cable’s construction in this way:
“The Silver Dragon IEM is a coaxial design using a 99.99998% UP-OCC Stranded Silver 26AWG center conductor for the positive leg. The center conductor uses the same Kevlar reinforcing as the other Dragon cables. The center conductor is wrapped concentrically by a 99.99998% UP-OCC silver-plated single crystallized UP-OCC pure copper stranded 26AWG gauge conductor with 7N purity 99.99998%. The left and right signal cables run parallel to each other resulting in a very low inductance. Both signal jackets are polyethylene and the cable is extremely flexible yet very resilient and resistant to flex failure.”
I know some of you will instinctively reject the idea that so-called high-performance signal cables could make much if any difference in the sounds you hear from your in-ear monitors (or other transducers). Nevertheless, many of us have heard differences between signal cables, and with that thought in mind I’m simply going to tell you the differences I observed.
The test: for my listening tests, I used a pair of very accurate and uncolored Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors (IERMs) driven by a Ray Samuels Audio SR-71B Blackbird headphone amplifier, fed from an iPod Classic via a high-quality line-out dock (LOD) cable.
I listened to a battery of well-recorded tracks through the IERM’s as fitted with their stock Ultimate Ears signal cables. Next, I replaced the stock signal cables with the Moon Audio Silver Dragon V1 IEM cable and then replayed the same tracks to see if I could detect any sonic differences (beneficial or otherwise).
The outcomes: Right off the bat, I noted several sonic differences with the Moon IEM cable in place—all of them favorable ones. First, I observed heightened midrange openness, as if the Ultimate Ears IERMs had tapped a hidden reservoir of timbral or tonal purity (which is interesting, giving that this is an area where the IERMs were quite good to begin with). I wouldn’t say the difference was huge, but it was definitely noticeable and made the monitors more engaging.
Next, I noted a pretty clear-cut difference in apparent transient speed and definition. Wherever sounds started or stopped suddenly, the edges of notes (and especially the very beginnings of notes) seemed to be carved more cleanly and crisply and the Ultimate Ears’ overall presentation also sounded—for want of a better term—more agile. In practice, this meant that passages that feature sharp dynamic contrasts became more dramatic, yet without becoming colored in any way that I could discern.
Finally, I observed just a smidgeon more treble openness and extension with Moon’s IEM cable in play, yet without any increase in brightness (and in fact, without any significant shift in tonal balance at all). This improvement was noticeable on small, low-level treble details, such as reverberant echoes, reverb tails, or high harmonics that conveyed the sense of air surrounding instruments. I would say this treble change was perhaps the subtlest and smallest of the three improvements I’ve mentioned, but worthwhile nonetheless.
It’s important to understand the cable didn’t change tonal characteristics of the Ultimate Ears monitors much if at all. Rather, the changes had more to do with timbres, textures, and transient speed, so that the monitors became more expressive and musically informative, yet without losing any of the fundamentally neutral character that makes the In-Ear Reference Monitors so desirable in the first place. This is good thing, since it means the Moon Audio cables carefully observe the traditional physician’s edict to, “first do no harm.”
If you try the same test that I conducted, do consider using the Hilary Hahn/St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performance of the Edgar Meyer Violin Concerto [Sony] as one of your test tracks, focusing especially on the concerto’s second movement. This particular recording provides a showcase for most of things the Moon Audio IEM cable does well in one nice, neat, self-contained package. First, you’ll discover the passage moves through several vigorous dynamic “mood swings,” which reveal the improved transient speed and dynamic agility that the Moon cable provides. Next, you’ll note that on Ms. Hahn’s upper register violin passages you can readily hear the clearer, purer, and yes, sweeter high harmonics and treble openness the cable helps to unlock. Third, on more densely orchestrated passages, you’ll quickly grasp the heightened qualities of timbral and tonal purity the cable makes available, while at the same time being able to hear for yourself the fact that the cable doesn’t (thank goodness) alter the core tonal neutrality for which Ultimate Ears’ In-Ear Reference Monitors are justly famous.
As you listen to Meyer Violin Concerto with the Moon IEM cable, you may be struck by the fact that the cable change those things that are arguably best left alone (namely, the wonderful neutrality and accuracy of the monitors), but that it enable the monitors to tap more of their full sonic potential, so that they sound clearer, more focused, and resolved. This “several steps forward and no steps backward” quality is what makes the Silver Dragon IEM cable such a desirable enhancement.
Consider this accessory cable if: you’d like to see your already good-sounding in-ear monitors take some worthwhile steps up in performance, yet without losing any of the sonic mojo that made you choose them in the first place. Also look into the IEM cable if, down deep, you have a keen desire to make good things even better.
Look further if: you feel $175+ is too much to spend on a product that will likely make a number of comparatively small (albeit collectively significant) improvements in the sound of your already very high-quality in-ear monitors.
Moon Audio’s Silver Dragon V1 IEM signal cable holds the potential to take already excellent top-tier in-ear monitors to the next level of performance. You may or may not feel the benefits justify the price, but there’s no denying the thrill of hearing a good thing made even better.
Moon Audio Silver Dragon V1 IEM signal cable
Price: $175 for 48-inch cable, plus $10 upcharge for Oyaide right-angle mini-plug connector.