Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 12.2), PureMusic 2.04, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, S.A. Lab Lilt [on loan]
Preamplifier: COS Engineering D1, Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8, FirstWatt S1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan],
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Headphones: ALO-rewired Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1 & T5p, Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-XC, AKG K-702; stock-cabled HifiMan HE-6, HE-560 both with upgraded pads; MrSpeakers Alpha Dog and Alpha Prime; Aëdle VK1; Ortofon eQ5; Hifiman HE1000 [on review]
Headphone amps: Bakoon AMP-12R, Eximus DP1, Stello HP100MkII, Questyle CMA800R (x2)
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event MkI and MkII; KingRex uArt double-header USB; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s and subwoofer
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves and Krion or glass-based Exoteryc stand/s for amp/s
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2
nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail: starting at €209 (non-standard lengths and costlier connectors would increase the base price)

Mateusz Przychodzień of Forza Audio Works at the Warsaw 2014 hifi show.

Headphones are the new 'shrooms. There's nothing magic about their trending; except perhaps that partaking from a superior can driven by a proper amp with top-notch source material, many hifi freaks previously un(der)exposed to the glories of headfi could well think that they'd just ingested a potent dose of psilocybin-heavy mushrooms. "Whoa. Wicked!" It goes without saying that just as loudspeakers need good cables to connect them to their amplifiers, headphones do, too. Whilst some don't offer convenient plug'n'play hot swaps—their leads are hard-wired to require expert surgery on their voice coils—most of the better headphones today feature a wire harness that disconnects. The terminations involved could be 2.5mm mono, 3.5mm stereo, 3-/4-pin XLR or proprietary. No matter, a growing industry of aftermarket suppliers offer replacement leashes which in many cases make rather pronounced sonic improvements. If you doubt that, just imagine what'd happen if loudspeaker makers suddenly hardwired their choice of 3-meter runs of speaker cables. Do you think they'd use NordOst Odin 2 or anything of that calibre? Case closed!

This is the niche of Forza Audio Works. Polish contributor Dawid Grzyb had suggested that their quality to price to performance ratio was off the charts. After contacting me for a review, I told owner Mateusz which cans I had that lent themselves to tail-oring: Sennheiser HD-800; Audeze LCD-2 & LCD-XC; MrSpeakers Alpha Dog & Alpha Prime; HifiMan HE560& HE6; AKG K-702; and Aëdle VK-1. But I also confessed to no longer having most their stock wiring. I'd replaced that long ago with ALO Audio-sourced replacements. Thus I could compare his only to those, not the originals. "We share the same sentiments about stock cables. I don't bother with them on a daily basis. They serve me just to show customers how big of a difference a cable swap can make; and as a comparative benchmark. For such purposes, stock leashes are indeed perfect. Do you have any thoughts about sonic aspects you would like modified/improved for particular cans? I ask because what we offer is based on two UPOCC cryo'd 7N materials: copper and a mixture of silver and copper (not silver-plated copper!). Cables from every series—except Color, my budget solution—can be made with those. I recommend different wires for different products. I advise copper for the HD800, hybrid with the LCD-2 and so forth. That's based on synergy and my own experience with various models. I already have my personal cable picks for the models in your collection. Sometimes I modify them based on user expectation and taste since every ear and setup is different. In short, tell me which version of Noir wires you'd like to have for each headphone and I'll handle the rest."

I replied as follows: "Very simple. I'll tell you what to me is wrong with the stock sound and you act accordingly. The HD800 are too bright, zippy and nervous. They don’t have enough weight in the bass or body in general. The Audeze are dark, luscious, chocolaty, bassy and heavy, hence could use more top-end energy and incisiveness. The HifiMan HE-6 is too bright, the HE-560 just right for my tastes given that it’s a planar. The MrSpeakers Alpha Dog and Alpha Prime are a ‘poor man’s Audeze’. The AKG K-702 are boring. They're very linear but too polite, conservative and greyish not in 50 shades. They need an injection of overall energy and colour. Lastly, I have HifiMan HE1000 in-bound for review. I only heard them briefly at the Munich show. In the past, my impression was that HifiMan err in the bass (not enough) whilst Audeze err in the treble (not enough). If the HE1000 continue that tradition, they might want a bit more bass weight. Finally, my favourite headamp is the Bakoon AMP-12R which I use for all serious listening. I also have an April Music Stello HP100MkII, an Eximus DP1, two Questyle CMA-800R; and an Aura V2 with 125wpc of ICEpower piped through a load resistor." I figured this to be the typical feedback an actual buyer might give Matt to decide on their appropriate metalurgy.

Yours truly at the HifiMan booth, with owner Fang Bian looking on at the far right.

Matt's reply was reassuring. "Basically I could just sign my name under your impressions. I don't think I could describe those headphones any better in just one sentence. Now my advisory work is much easier. I too auditioned the HE1000 in Munich. Unfortunately the placement of the HifiMan booth plus the open design of their top model effectively killed all the listening pleasure. The only thing I can say about them at this point is that they were very open-sounding with good treble extension but lacked fullness in the upper bass/lower midrange band. Similar story with the HD800. I bet that a Bakoon current-driven amp with our Noir HPC Mk2 cable will do magic with them." I also asked Matt for an Audeze cord terminated in 2 x 3-pin XLR to try them in duelling-mono true balanced drive off two Questyle CMA-800R. With Rafael Cortés' new Blanco y negro tribute album to Paco de Lucia just released on BandCamp, maximum mojo aka musical magic was definitely on my docket. Having in the meantime reviewed HifiMan's stellar HE1000, I called them the HD800's quasi electrostatic über brother from another mother and also the probably tonally best balanced planarmagnetic I'd thus far heard. I actually didn't think that they needed rebalancing and found that loading them down with too much warmth from deliberate ancillary choices like an older Burson Soloist undermined their spectacular resolution. I was thus curious how Matt's Noir would play out versus Fang Bian's clearly non-blasé stock silver/copper leash....