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The Art of Custom Portable Cables.

Couple days ago, I found myself discussing the merits of custom cable building for custom IEMs and came to the conclusion that my vision of building an indestructible portable cable for custom IEMs (CIEMs) just can’t be done. At least not with the resources readily available to me. Perhaps some day with a proprietary connector and a revolutionary redesigned wire, it might be possible.

The journey started over a year ago, when I was fed up with the quality of IEM cables available on the market. They broke down very quickly, either having spotty connection on the pins or insufficient strain relief on the 3.5mm jack. I made a few inquiries and did a bit of research, discovering that cable building seemed relatively simple. So I picked up all the tools I needed and started experimenting with soldering techniques, suffering many horrible burns in the process and burning a hole in my chair!

I learned about radio frequency (RF) interference, and steps to counteract the RF interfering with the cable. Surprisingly, the answer was extremely simple, at small gauges it required braiding without any form of shielding. So, I had to learn the different forms of braiding and the tension required to produce a nice supple cable that was soft and flexible enough to curb microphonics. I started out with cheap and readily available Canare quad star wires, experimenting with the different gauges and stress relief methods.

I became quickly acquainted with the techniques and devoured loads of research, within a couple months I purchased some 4N pure silver wire from a small company in the Czech Republic. This was challenging, since the gauge was significantly smaller than the wires I was practicing on.

The success of the silver cable gave me the confidence to start on the Grado project. I had waited this long to pick up enough experience and skill to avoid killing the drivers. I purchased several feet of wire from Double Helix Cables and set about creating a couple of UP-OCC copper mono to stereo and mono to balanced cables for the Grado project. It gave me tremendous joy when it all came together, the sound quality was absolutely worth the effort.

I wasn’t done yet. I decided to make a couple more cables for my CIEM, this time one single ended and the other balanced, made from UP-OCC copper from Double Helix Cables. I needed to put the copper/silver debate to rest. The debate was how metals do not have different sound characteristics, I was on the fence and needed evidence. I worked on a balanced cable first, using the exact same connectors as the silver cable I made before. The difference in sound was very clearly there. However, I can understand if many cannot hear the difference, as I have seen how several people can’t tell the difference between the Shure 440 and 840, as well as several other examples in which the difference was glaringly obvious to me.

I was finally done working on cables for a while, deciding I needed a well deserved rest. Until, my cables started breaking down.

At this point, I think its prudent to explain my geographical location and what my cables go through. I live in a tropical island where humidity is a consistent 70% with temperatures up to 35°C. I believe that high humidity and temperatures tend to break down cables far quicker than a temperate climate.

Also, I commute a lot. My cables get knocked around in my bag with my amplifier and iPod, as a result, the jacks suffer. I’ve had one Hirose connector having issues already despite how chunky and well made it feels. I use my cables while I’m on my long cycles or at the gym as well, several pin issues have occurred resulting in several repairs. One of my cables even has discoloration on the insulation and oxidization on the copper within, closest to head and neck. Probably as a result of the sweat and heat.

So I come to my conclusion. I started out with the intention of creating a grand sounding, durable cable. Unfortunately, I’m forced to accept the reality that cables are fragile, essential pieces in our audio arsenal. There is a big reason why there are instructions floating around on the right way to wind and store your cables. It would help a tiny bit if your climate wasn’t as brutal as mine, but wear and tear from your daily commute would take it’s toll on them anyhow. Treat your cables with respect.

– Saintkeat

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