Stefan AudioArt Equinox Headphone Cable and
The Musical Fidelity X-Can V3 Headphone Amp

Shock and Awe For Less Than $1,000

Francis Vale

Many people look at audio high-enders as being more than a little nutso, and sometimes with good reason: Hobbyists (and this is a hobby, remember) with $200K rigs and who have only one bankrupt Casino Royale LP in their entire record collection; basket cases who refuse to listen to great musical performances because the CD’s imaging sucks; size-challenged guys who try to make up for their physical deficiencies with mammoth tubes that only illuminate their inadequacies; and the sadly ridiculous list goes on and on.

However, there is no denying that even the most seemingly irrational items, especially cables and wires, can make huge differences in how we perceive music. There are those who are outside the high-end that love to scoff at us when we willingly shell out hundreds and, more typically, thousands for wiring up our rigs. Yet sit these same hard-core rationalists down in front of a properly turned out system and their jaws inevitably drop.  Gleefully, we shoo them back home to their tabletop Bose CD/radios in a splendid funk.

A wiring case in point is the Equinox headphone replacement cable for the Sennheiser HD-650/600/580 series of headphones, which rank among the world’s best cans. Stefan AudioArt, located in West Hartford, CT, makes the $189.00 Equinox cable, and its president is James Serdechny.  The Sennheiser HD-600 headphones are an outstanding open-air design and can be bought on the street for about $340. But why in the world would anyone pay more than half again as much to throw out the stock HD-600 wires and replace them with an Equinox cable?  Like so many good things in life, you can talk about it until you are blue in the face, but until you actually do it, you will never know what you have been missing.

Apparently, Serdechny, a musician and engineer who has spent many a year with pro cans strapped around his head, had a pretty good idea about what was missing, and like many a good high-end true believer, he set off on a multi-year pilgrimage to find audio nirvana. The result of his wired quest was the Equinox replacement cable for the Sennheiser’s, and the K1000 replacement cable for the AKG K1000’s. The AudioArt Lit states that the Equinox wires employ a 4-conductor quad-braid field geometry cable consisting of ultra high purity copper with individual strain isolation enclosed with a Teflon/Oxygen dielectric finished in black Techflex with white cabling. The cable incorporates gold plated Sennheiser spade connections and is terminated with a professional 3.5-mm heavy-duty black handle connector with gold contacts or professional 1/4" termination with silver contacts. The connectors are applied to the cable with Stefan AudioArt's exclusive “Ultra-Solder Process” (Patent rights issued and/or pending). No doubt about it, Serdechny has made his high-end bones.

The differences between the stock Sennheiser cable and the Equinox wires are not subtle. The between the ears boom-boom, already a big plus with the HD-600’s, goes solidly deeper and is much tighter overall with the Equinox in play. Apparently, the rock solid bass offered up by the HD-600’s gets somewhat porous as it travels down the length of its stock wires. The Equinox fixes the leak deep in the musical bottom.

The highs tell a similar tale. The HD-600’s excel at the top. But here too, the Equinox makes the highs brush up against your ears with even more extension, although not as dramatically as the bass improvement. Still, who will deny that supple silk hose whispering past your facial skin always beats rayon.

But the midrange is another story. You will never learn what the HD-600’s are capable of in the middle if you don’t try the Equinox cable. Vocals, especially female vocals, take on a musical, 3-dimensional quality that is often astonishing. Acoustic music especially benefits.  Brass, woodwinds, piano and strings all glisten anew in the magical music light.

Indeed, the first thing that hits you when you swap out the standard cable for Serdechny’s dream is the sheer musicality of the system—An elusive quality that is always tough to define in words, but is almost always experienced as an instant, deep relaxation, as if your brain is saying, OK, I will stop working so hard at playing pretend and just sit back and enjoy the show. The HD-600’s and Equinox cables are the overworked brain’s sonic playmates, but how to reach such mental bliss?

If you are a traveling man, for $10 more you can order the standard nine foot Equinox cable with a minijack and a mini-to-1/4” adaptor instead of the stock quarter inch connector and hook your cans straight into an iPod. But if you are serious about your music playing options then an outboard headphone amp is a must, and one of the best around is Musical Fidelity’s X-Can V3, which replaces the X-Can V2.

As with the V2, the new V3 has terrific load driving capacity, which cheap op-amp powered headphone jacks on almost all CD/DVD/portable mp3 players simply don’t supply The X-Can V3 has ample juice for driving highly reactive loads that headphones can present, as well for offering high energy transfusions into inefficient vampire cans that drain the dynamic life and headroom out of the op-amp—and your music.

The new V3 X-Can uses the output stage from Musical Fidelity’s superb Tri-Vista SACD player, but two 6922 tubes now replace the four milspec 5703 triodes used in the SACD player. That’s right, the $449 X-Can V3 is a tubed headphone amp, and it’s one with a power attitude. The X-Can V3 pumps out approximately one watt, flea size as far as amps go, but huge when it comes to headphone amps that typically deal in just milliwatts. Powering up the new V3 is a very substantial external power supply that doles out 500mA. The electrical goods are delivered with low output impedance (47K ohms) and a high damping factor.

The case design of the V3 is all-new, and dumps the aluminum-ribbed beer can design of the cylinder-on-its-side V2 in favor of an extruded black aluminum box, which is also ribbed. The V3 also finally gets a proper volume control knob instead of the tacky little wedge-shaped plastic thingy used on the V2.

The V3’s new front panel is a luxuriously milled aluminum fascia that has an expensive chronograph watch look about it. Altogether, the new V3 design feels much more substantial, and has physical looks and usability that are worlds better than its V2 predecessor.

It’s rear end also looks pretty good. The V3’s back panel sports two pairs of RCA jacks. One pair drives your cans; the other pair sends a signal along its way without passing it through the amplifier or the volume control. This way, you can insert the V3 into a tape loop or ahead of your system’s main amp/preamp. The only other rear connector is a DIN-type power supply input.

Behind the V3’s proper new volume control knob is an equally proper Alps dual-gang potentiometer that feels oh-so-right when you twist the creamy smooth dial from all the way down (“70” on the silk screened circular numbers) up to its wide open, “0” position.  But if you are continually listening at the “0” headphone level your ears are either now terminally bleeding or you lost your hearing years ago at too many Metallica concerts.

Plug in the Sennheiser HD-600’s with an Equinox cable into the new X-Can V3 and you are in for a truly amazing listening experience.  The HD-600’s are forcefully shown that their new V3 master is in power for good, and the cans obediently pick up their open-air tails and fly off up into the musical sky.

This three-piece ensemble; HD-600’s, Equinox cable, and X-Can V3; were obviously separated at birth, and their audible joy in their reunion is instantly obvious. Deep notes are served up by this headphone system with utter ease and slam against your head in total solidity, and the mids are of a seamless continuous piece with the transparent highs. It doesn't matter if it’s hard core rock or a dying diva's operatic whisper; the wondrous effect is always the same.

It’s also audibly clear that the new X-Can V3 is a big improvement, top to bottom, over the V2 model. The X-Can V3 is another great product from the inspired innovators at Musical Fidelity.

So, for a total headphone system price of slightly less one thousand dollars you get awe and wonderment. Who could ask for more?

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