Early on in my journey through headphones I established a strong belief in the audible differences cables make. My first experience was very early on and I went in with an open mind, one that didn’t even know heated debates over their contribution to sound even existed, and was very pleasantly shocked at what a cable can do. I haven’t looked back since then and have both tried and reviewed a whole plethora of cables and while I can assure you they have all been different, you can see they all have the same sort of aim in mind. Flexibility, usability and ergonomics are always a highly developed point, sometimes even more boasted about than the sound performance by the creator. There is nothing wrong with this either, because I would say there are two camps of cable buyers, those like me who appreciate everything they do (and put sound first), and others who are more dubious and just want a cable that’s easier to use than some of the very, well, shit, stock cables.
Double Helix Cable’s Peter Bradstock is somewhat a genius when it comes to cables, what is there that this man doesn’t know. The company name originates from his degree in microbiology and while I have dealt with some lovely and very knowledgeable people from all different demographics, none I have felt as insightful as with Peter, unless he just bullshitting me with all these fancy words, only kidding! His range is extensive enough to cover most peoples needs with his Molecule SE being one of the most flexible cables I have ever laid my hands on, he has also been having a go at completely reinventing the wheel with some of high higher end projects, that have a complete focus on sound quality and shielding. The Complement line, currently made up of a 2, 3 and 4 model is the true start of cables, which are completely unlike what has been done before, and what’s scary is that they are not even the pinnacle of his futuristic mind, just check out the “Spore M” system!
If you take things completely on a performance scale, the Complement 3 we have here is the current flagship of the Complement catalogue and also doesn’t come cheap at a starting price of $900. I say starting price because just like everything Double Helix Cables (DHC) do, you can completely customize it from a range of options. $900 is for the standard 6 feet (going shorter will reduce price while of course adding length will set you back even more cash), most headphone connectors (while some such as the HD800 and FAD Pandora connectors are a little bit more), quite a few options for jack terminations included DHCs recommendation of Abbatrons USA Made Tellurium 3-pin XLRs (what I have) and finally how or more IF, you want a y-split as you can opt to get the maximum isolation like myself and keep both channels completely too them selves.
While the Complement3 uses the newest and best cable in the series so far, since day 1 the Complement cables have been about isolation and separation. They keep both channels separate, then cables are again separated within each channel, so basically you get a dual mono cable. Using DHCs words “separated left and right channels into two independent cables which could not interact with one another or the outside world, by using an onion-like system of protective layers that were each implemented to combat a different natural phenomena – be it mechanical vibration, static charge accumulation, or interference across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.” As I said there is a LOT of thought going into this cable, leaving it unlike anything else. The cable itself is what they call a fusion cable that combines both OCC silver and OCC copper, 14 bundles of 7 strands of each to be precise and with an American Wire Gauge (AWG) of 22! It uses modified type 4 litz bundles, which are surrounding a core made of a soft pliable, semicondictor. This basically gets rid of the rubbish (excess energy, charge build up etc) that you don’t want in the cables, draining it from the conductors. Basically they have designed a cable that reduces the stuff we don’t want both on the inside and outside of the cables and that’s pretty darn impressive! All of the internal shielding leading too the outer sleeve of silver fiber has been carefully and purposely selected and just adds to the make up of this. Now, I will be honest and say I don’t understand all of the technical aspects of this cable, if I did maybe I would have thought of something similar myself but that’s not near the case. I am saying this not too put myself down but more so that if your striving for some more information regarding it, then check out the DHC website which goes into a tonne of crazy detail and in that odd case that still is not enough, the shoot the company email up with your questions!
I think the build quality is a bit self-explanatory after what I have written, you’re right it is epic! Not only is the cable big but it feels meaty, if you were to give it a squeeze there is not give from it, it is as hard as a rock. The terminations on either end are as polished and professional as you will get with the Abbatron connectors being everything they were made out to be and the HD800 connectors being the “Jumbo” variation that is bigger than the stock connectors. The HD800 connectors are also wrapped in a bit of heat shrink, DHC branded of course!
Ergonomics have been for me iffy. This cable is stiff, chunky and heavy and Peter never once tried to deny any of this, in fact he is very up front about it. Now I reckon I have some sort of weak neck because I do find this too start too stress my neck out after an hour and a half and do then have too have a break but no one else, including Inearspace writer Josh has encountered these problems. I would like to disclaim that I also find the HiFiMAN HE-500 to stress my neck out due to being a generally heavy headphone and I would say that my Sennheiser HD800 with the Complement3 is a similar sensation. I am of course wearing the cable the correct way because yes, there is a certain way to wear this cable, I said it’s a bit different! The idea is to pin the slacks of cable to the leg of your chair with you legs or as I have found works best, to have the cable under my legs, it just helps relax the upper parts of the cables and takes away some of the weight. If your looking for a new cable that is flexible, comfy and light I have many cables that can do just the but this is certainly not one of them and even if your neck is ten times stronger than mine, it is a cable that will be making its presence known.
Now due to the whole philosophy of this cable, separate and balanced everything, the ideal scenario of use is with two 3 pin XLR connectors and that’s the configuration I have. It did put me in dilemma though because my favourite amp with the HD800s is my Questyle CMA800R, which is only single ended until I get another one. I decided on getting the 3 pin XLRs with the hope of getting another Questyle soon and I still have other amps with the correct outputs for the cable so I have still used it fully balanced. Now because for now I have been using the cable with a single ended amplifier I also have one of DHC other marvelous creations, the ultrashort adapter. It is perhaps the ideal solution to using one cable with lots of amps without any sound deterioration extra cable may cause. This is because the two jacks, in my case a ¼ inch TRS jack and two female 3 pin XLRs are directly soldered together, that’s right, no internal cable, its crazy stuff and very practical for a low profile great sounding adapter. Now the one in question is the ugliest of the bunch for sure with it being covered in gloop to hold it together and it is also a bit uneven but it does the job no quibbles at all. The adapters are 90 USD.
How much difference do I think a cable can make then? Well different headphones and different cables yield different results, in my experience. The Complement3 offers one of the most dramatic difference I have heard a cable make. Still take this with a pinch of salt, it is still only a cable and I am not changing the drivers or anything so don’t expect your headphone to sound like something brand new. While testing my HD800s with the Complement3 I have used 4 cables, the stock cable, Effect Audio’s Thor Silver and Nordost’s Heidmall 2. The stock cable is clearly the worst with subtle differences being audible with the other two cables, which do both, certainly make for a better experience. That being said the DHC cable is just doing something else altogether, it brings a lot more to the table and the impact is just more relevant. Maybe it is a case of the right synergy or perhaps it’s just the quality of the cable lets the headphones do what they want.
Now something that is quite a shocking leap forward is just how refined this cable is. Now I know the word is quite ambiguous and you have probable seen the word thrown around in all sorts of contexts. Now what I am driving at with is just how revealing it is, how clean everything is and how the headphones just never strain themselves, get caught up or just about care at what your throwing at them. Everything is just so much more distinct, listening to Elton John’s “Your Song”, a guitar starts being picked right off to the left at about the same time as the chorus comes in and with a lot of stuff going it can easily just be another sound blended into the mix and that was the case with the Nordost cable. With the Complement3 not only did it have its own space slight deeper in the presentation but I could also in vision every string being individually picked.
Now it does do a couple of things to the HD800 sound signature. The first one is not so much a change, just a development in what the headphone can do. Believe it or not but the HD800 has an incredible bass response that can go very deep. The Complement3 change is only for the better because the deeper rumbles, think stuff like Depeche Mode, Skrillex and other produced music, is just a lot more visceral and solid, it goes from being there to having some real emotion and feel to it. The next difference is the balancing of the midrange. With the other cables I feel a tilt towards the higher midrange that carries through into the lower treble regions. This makes the other cables feel a more forward with female vocals but takes a bit of the naturalness away from the male vocals tonally so this just makes everything sound more correct, we still have an unparallel-ed clarity as you would expect from these headphones, just everything is more realistic and the balance seems much better now. The treble also seems to gain a small reduction in glare, not so much in presence or epic-ness, it just isn’t as sharp, it holds together much nicer.
Moving on from what I said about refinement, the layering and spacing of the headphones is certainly more excelled and that’s a BIG call because the HD800s are already out of this world in terms of creating a spacious image. Things are just no more precise; depth is used more to really help spread instruments out and of course in a very glorious manner.
Now as I said at the start, this is a cable and I have to exaggerate the differences a little bit too drive my point home. These are not dramatic differences (well perhaps for a cable) and is more just a fine tuning of the headphone, not a brand new experience. The cable does certainly bring out the best in the HD800 regardless and is my go too cable plainly for the stellar sound it provides and that I exactly what it was designed too do.
The cable is great, the best performing headphone cable I have ever laid my hands on without a doubt but that does come at a serous price. Roughly £550 for a headphone cable is crazy, I only paid £50 more for my HD800s so this isn’t a cable you should get for anything but the best headphones and at that, a headphone you love and don’t see getting rid of for a long time. I also would see more sonic gain for spending $900 more on a DAC than buying a cheaper source component so that you can get this cable as well, it really is a last buy once everything else in your set up is exactly how you want it so you can just ooze that last bit of performance out. As much as I love this cable and as much as I appreciate how for out of the box Peter has gone to create this masterpiece, I do feel that the price is a hard pill to swallow and you certainly shouldn’t plan on using with either an amp, DAC or headphone that cost less than the cable as you just wont be getting the full use out of it, as I have said, DHC make some great cheaper cables too!