Between the Divine and the Real
- It provides a perceptible improvement in many aspects of sound: scene, three-dimensionality, texture, detail, clarity, transparency, cleanliness, definition and resolution.
- Because of its benefits on sound, it can even be useful for improving some headphone deficiencies.
- At first glance, this may seem an expensive price for an adapter.
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For better or worse, cables are indispensable travelling companions for quality sound flow. As we wait for wireless technology to improve, to keep up with wired headphones, we will continue to use cables. In the meantime, it is becoming increasingly common for cables to try to improve as well. And in a world with such a diversity of connections, it is obvious that adapter cables exist – why not make them of the highest quality? That’s the case I’m currently reviewing. This is a high-end adapter cable, made by Penon. It’s actually a «short» version of one of their better and also more expensive cables called Totem. It consists of two strands of 334 cores each. Each strand has an eye-catching blue colour and is coated with transparent plastic. The connector housings are made of carbon fibre and all connections are gold-plated.
Admittedly, I have always been a bit sceptical about cables. But until now, I had never tried such a high quality adapter. Let’s see how my opinion of them has changed.
- 2 strands, 334 cores per strand.
- Litz6-type silver-plated monocrystalline copper, palladium-plated pure silver and pure gold-plated monocrystalline copper.
- Connector housing made of carbon fibre.
- Gold plated connectors.
- Full adapter length: approx. 13cm, for SE 3.5mm male to SE 3.5mm female adapter.
- Cable length, excluding adapters: approx. 6cm.
- Diameter of connector housing: 9mm.
- Connector housing length: 25mm.
The cable came together with other products, in the same package, so I don’t have the original packaging. I think that, being a really hard and simple product at the same time, it will come like most cables: inside a little bag well packed with paper and bubble wrap.
Construction and Design
The cable consists of two coiled blue strands, sheathed in transparent plastic. Each strand has a total of 334 cores. The cores are composed of Litz6-type silver-plated monocrystalline copper, palladium-plated pure silver and pure gold-plated monocrystalline copper.
The total cable size, in the revised unit (SE 3.5mm male to SE 3.5mm female adapter) is 61mm of cable, 130mm in total, counting the connectors and their housings. Each housing is approximately 25mm long and has a diameter of 9mm. They are made of carbon fibre and each has a classic checkered and dark pattern. On the male connector housing is written the name of the brand in a rather scrolled lettering in gold ink. The connectors are gold-plated. The wires are protected by a transparent plastic sleeve when they are inserted into the housings, which in turn protects the internal soldering.
The design is notable for the quality of the materials used, but mainly for the intense blue colour of the two large strands of the Totem.
- 3.5mm Audio SE Male to 2.5mm Balanced Female
- 4.4mm Balanced Male to 4.4mm Balanced Female
- 3.5mm Audio SE Male to 3.5mm Audio SE Female
- 2.5mm Balanced Male to 2.5mm Balanced Female
- 4.4mm Balanced Male to 2.5mm Balanced Female
Influence on Sound
I have used the Totem adapter cable for many hours and with a multitude of sources and IEMS. But most of the time, and at the time of writing this review, I have been using two specific sets: the xDuoo Link BAL2 + Penon Sphere, using my PC as a source, and the Hidizs AP80 PRO-X + Hidizs MM2, for a few days off, away from home.
I insist again that I have always been a cable sceptic. But this adapter has made me rethink my convictions about them.
In a quick change, between using or not using the cable, the differences are already apparent. The first thing I noticed was an improvement in vocals. On a track with female vocals, their presence increased after connecting the adapter. The texture improved, as well as the clarity and spatiality. With this, the three-dimensional effect of it grew, gaining in body, taking on a more physical, larger and closer form. Similarly, these sensations were also transferred to the rest of the voices and instruments. The depth became more pronounced and the separation sharper.
After hours of testing, the feeling is as if a small veil is being pulled back over the music and it can breathe more freely. Another very noticeable feature is that the sound is no longer flat and lifeless. After connecting the Totem adaptor, all the elements grow and become more enhanced, taking on a characteristic of vivacity and greater emphasis. It is as if the elements go from 2D to 3D, from black/white to colour, from low resolution to high resolution. The result is difficult to describe. But after plugging it in on a daily basis, one doesn’t want to stop using this adapter, once you have internalised all these improvements, as well as the gain in nuance and micro detail.
I should also mention a greater sense of sweetness and musicality. It is not that the softness is increased, the cable does not shade the sound, but that the details, the edges, the finish, is of better resolution, purer and more beautiful. This vivid perception of improved quality means that the sound can increase in volume, because those deficiencies that were there before have disappeared, resulting in a leaner, cleaner and more crystalline nuance.
Another important gaining aspect, not forgetting the higher level of transparency and the improved perception of a darker background, is texture. The descriptive sensation is increased and the perception of surface roughness becomes simpler and more obvious. The result, in this sense, is that the music is much more enjoyable, because it becomes richer and more pleasurable.
Other aspects that also benefit are the transitional aspects, as they develop in a more fluid, but also more precise and cleaner way. With the extension of technicalities, the layering becomes more apparent and the dynamics grow.
Finally, the Totem adaptor cable can be an improvement on some of the headphones’ shortcomings, enriching aspects such as those discussed in this section. Perhaps, before putting those headphones that do not convince us in a drawer, they deserve a second listening connected to a Totem adapter. They may not be so bad.
Believing in cables or not is almost like believing in a religion. I’m an agnostic, and it’s the same with cables. As a man of science, I believe in numbers. But sound is not just about numbers. Sometimes it is better to put on a blindfold and listen 100% with your ears. I think that, in a blind test, I would be able to tell when the Totem adapter cable is being used or not. That’s how clear its benefits seem to me.
One can try to improve the sources and the headphones, to extend the sound quality. Now, as a piece of advice, I would also tell you to try a quality adapter like this Totem, to get more out of your current system. After using it, you might consider not investing in new items and save money.
Sources and IEMs Used During Analysis
- xDuoo Link BAL2.
- Earmen Colibri.
- TRI TK-2.
- Hidizs AP80 PRO-X.
- Penon Sphere.
- Hidizs MM2.
- TFZ Tequila Pro.
- Dunu Titan S.