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iBasso CB13: etwas Feenstaub und 8 geflochtene Kabelstränge - [Review] 🇬🇧

Prolog:

An „Kabelzauber“, also dass ein Kabel den Klang (positiv) beeinflusst, glaube ich bei Hi-Fi-Komponenten, Lautsprechern, Kopfhörern und In-Ears nicht – es sei denn, es gibt dafür eine logische Erklärung und der Sachverhalt ist messtechnisch nachweisbar. So etwa bei empfindlichen, niederohmigen Mehrtreiber-In-Ears mit variierendem Impedanzgang, wenn ein anderes Kabel als das vom Hersteller beigelegte einen anderen Widerstand als ebenjene „Standard-Strippe“ aufweist. Dann kann es nämlich, wie auch an Quellgeräten mit unterschiedlichem Ausgangswiderstand, zu Verbiegungen im Frequenzgang des In-Ears kommen, deren Form und Ausmaß vom individuellen Impedanzgang des In-Ears sowie dem Widerstand des Kabels abhängt.


Als Kabelzauber-befreiter Audioliebhaber, Kopfhörer-Verrückter und ambitionierter Hobby-Rezensent war meine Verwunderung dann doch recht groß, als ich im Paket aus China, in dem ich lediglich das „AMP2“-Verstärkermodul für iBassos DX200 Audio-Player erwartete, noch ein „Upgrade“-Kabel für In-Ears mit MMCX-Steckverbindung vorfand.
Ob meine Äußerung, dass ich das Kabel sehr schön fände, dazu führte, dass man es mir zusendete, oder ob ich es als „Standard-Ausstattung“ für DX200-Rezensenten erhielt, weiß ich nicht – dennoch habe ich es mir nicht nehmen lassen, in einer in der englischen Sprache formulierten Rezension genauer zu untersuchen, ob das Kabel, dessen Name „CB13“ lautet (nicht zu verwechseln mit „CB12“, einem Mundwasser und anderen gleichnamigen Kabel von iBasso) und 199$ kostet, zu messbaren klanglichen Veränderungen in Verbindung mit iBassos hauseigenem IT03 In-Ear führt, welchen haptischen sowie optischen Eindruck es macht, und letztlich, wie es sich im Alltagseinsatz in Sachen Ergonomie schlägt.

So here we go now, muchachos y muchachas. ¡Vamos, vamos! ¡Arriba!


Introduction:

Aftermarket and “upgrade” cables exist for decades in the (stationary loudspeaker) hi-fi domain. They also do exist for a quite long time for headphones and in-ears, wherefore it is not surprising that various companies solely dedicated to manufacturing aftermarket (/”upgrade”) cables for headphones exist around the globe, offering a broad bandwidth of cables for headphones and in-ears, with a sometimes more and sometimes less exotic build, design and use of material.
There are literally cables for every budget, with models being sold in the 2-budget dollar range but also in the four-digit price range.



iBasso Audio, before making digital audio players but only amplifiers, used to offer interconnection cables to connect a source device to a portable headphone amplifier.
Now after they have released their first in-ears under their own brand, the hybrid triple-drivers called IT03, as well as their flagship digital audio player DX200 with a balanced headphone output in addition to the single-ended output, iBasso have released two aftermarket cables – the more affordable CB12, not to be confused with the identically named mouthwash, as well as the more luxurious CB13 that costs $199 and is a hybrid 8-conductor cable that is made of monocrystalline silver and copper litzes.
While the price asked for the CB13 is not particularly cheap for what some consider being “just” an aftermarket/replacement in-ear cable, it is still a good bit below what some other companies are charging for comparable aftermarket cables.
Both cables feature a balanced 2.5 mm TRRS plug on the player’s side as well as MMCX connectors on the in-ears’ side, and both cables can of course be used with any in-ear that has got a regular MMCX connection (it is not solely or exclusively meant for iBasso’s own products).


What does a man who is not into esoteric cable descriptions but only believes in what a cable can objectively change about the sound (e.g. alter the frequency response of multi-BA in-ears with a non-flat impedance response due to a different cable impedance compared to the stock cable) think about the CB13?
Well, to find that out, I would invite you to check out this exact review.


Full Disclosure:
It was a little unexpected when a package showed up at my doorstep and I found the CB13 cable in addition to the AMP2 amplifier module that I knew I was going to get for review. Nonetheless, even though I am no “cable believer”, I am grateful that iBasso sent it to me, free of charge and without any pressure, expectations or requirements.
I still wrote a review about it since I think that the cable is ergonomically, visually and aesthetically extremely nice.


Technical Specifications:

http://ibasso.com/cp_xq_dy.php?id=5310#page1

MSRP: $199
Wires: 5N mono crystal silver wire & 6n mono crystal copper wire
Wire Insulation: proprietary high quality dielectric
Plug: 2.5 mm gold-plated balanced TRRS
Length: 120 cm (+/- 5 cm)


Unboxing & Delivery Content:

The CB13 cable arrives in a rather simple plastic bag that however does show the specifications on the back, along with a guide on how to replace the cable. A serial number can also be found on the package’s back, which I did not expect for a cable, even a premium one, but find nice to have in case of warranty issues.



While the plastic bag is really all you need in terms of package and delivery content, I still wouldn’t have mind to find a more luxurious presentation box, and probably even a carrying pouch as well as 2.5 mm TRRS female to 3.5 mm TRS male adapter, which would be more appropriate given the cable’s appearance and price that, while considerably cheaper than comparable models, is no piece of cake either.

By the way, when the cable arrived and I took it out of the air-sealed package for the first time, it had some rubbery and sticky feeling to it. But less than 12 hours later, it was gone and its surface felt smooth again, and the stickiness and rubbery feeling were gone as well.


Visual Appearance & Build Quality:

Most in-ears’ stock cables have got three or four separate conductor wires at max – the CB13 doubles that last number with eight separate conductor wires, four of them being made of monocrystalline silver and the other four of monocrystalline copper.


The angled, balanced 2.5 mm plug, y-splitter, chin-slider and MMCX connectors have got a soft plastic insulation and feel nice. Strain relief is very good, too.
Since the cable consists of eight individual conductor cables, there are no solder joints in the y-splitter, but instead the braiding is divided there, so that it can be continued en route to the left and right in-ear housing.


iBasso’s CB13 cable’s conductors are braided very nicely and evenly. The cable is therefore a good bit thicker than about any other braided or twisted stock cable, but surprisingly (and very satisfyingly) flexible, which is actually quite an understatement: it is very flexible wherefore you really wouldn’t think that it is that thick. It is even more flexible and softer than some much thinner braided or twisted stock cables I know.
Still, despite its thickness, it doesn’t feel really heavy but remains surprisingly lightweight.


To wrap it up: visually and regarding build quality, the CB13 is an extremely nice aftermarket (/”upgrade”) cable.


Installing the CB13 on an In-Ear (iBasso IT03) -> Durability, Daily Use, Feeling:

While the cable can be installed on any in-ear with a regular MMCX socket (a slight modification (removing/shortening the collar) may be required for some in-ears though), I chose to only use it with the IT03 since I am no “cable guy” and avoid unnecessary cable changes if possible, in order to make the sockets last longer.


The installation is easy – just as with any other cable, remove the stock cable with a careful straight pull (using your finger nails may help) and push the CB13’s MMCX connectors straight in until you can feel that they latch.


The cable does not have any ear guides, which is something that I think many people are going to like a lot. While I am someone who usually likes ear guides on a cable, I find that the CB13 is equally comfortable without them.
The increased thickness behind my ears is barely even noticeable for me since the cable is so flexible.
Thanks to the cable’s flexibility, the nice chin-slider and due to that the cable is not heavy at all, I don’t notice any increase in cable noise even though the CB13 is a good bit thicker than almost any stock cable I know.
The length of 1.2 meters is, in my opinion, quite ideal for everyday and outdoor use.


The only disadvantage I see is that the iBasso IT03 is less easy to store in its leather pouch with the installed CB13 cable compared to the stock one, however it is still manageable.


Sound:

How could a cable even make an in-ear sound “different”?
The main reason (except for bias and placebo), if a cable gives you the impression of a different sound signature, is a more or less distinct change in tonality (frequency response) and sensitivity if the aftermarket cable’s resistance is different to the stock cable’s.
The way a cable changes an in-ear’s frequency response and by what margin cannot be generalised but depends on the specific in-ear model and its unique impedance response, as well as the cable’s specific resistance. Since the vast majority of multi-BA in-ears don’t have a flat impedance response, they are more prone to show a (more or less) slight change in sound signature with an aftermarket cable compared to the stock cable.
The sensitivity and audio player’s measured loaded performance might also change slightly due to the possibly slightly different cable impedance.


Even if a cable does not objectively change anything (e.g. due to the same impedance as the stock cable), there can still be benefits such as better comfort, less cable noise, more flexibility, and lastly better aesthetics and a more premium feel.

Changes compared to the IT03’s Stock Cable:

Since I am no “cable guy” and don’t change or remove cables on my in-ears and headphones for no reason or depending on my mood, I didn’t use the CB13 cable with any other in-ear than iBasso’s IT03 – 2-pin and MMCX connections are usually reliable, the former more so than the latter, but they are not made to last forever either, so changing cables too often should be avoided if possible.

So let’s see if we can measure a frequency response difference between the CB13 and IT03’s stock cable:



In the graph above, we can see the measured acoustic difference between of the stock cable in relation to the CB13 cable when used with the IT03. What we can see is that the difference between the two cables when used with the IT03 is pretty much zero (please ignore the slight, irrelevant wobble below 300 Hz that is likely caused by my laptop’s fan and looks a little different on every measurement).

The CB13 might however cause some variation with other, more sensitive and lower impedance in-ears such as the Shure SE846 (that I didn’t want to “abuse” for changing the cables and therefore wearing the sockets), and also with other in-ears that have a stock cable with a decisively lower or higher resistance.


Looking for any other sound differences (such as soundstage and imaging) would not make much sense and would not be reliable with just one pair of the same in-ear model, so the slight soundstage width increment I thought I was able to hear when changing the IT03’s stock cable for the CB13 multiple times could well be just imagined since changing the cables takes more than just a few seconds wherefore more objective direct comparisons with only one set of the same headphone/in-ear model are practically impossible due to our short-term auditory memory being easy to fool.


Conclusion:

Using iBasso’s IT03 in-ears, I haven’t been able to demonstrate an objective difference between the stock cable and the CB13 – which however doesn’t mean that it might have some measurable effect on the frequency response with other in-ears compared to their specific stock cables.


Nonetheless, the CB13 is a great cable, even from my point of view as someone who doesn’t care much for third-party and “upgrade” cables except for the looks – it is made of high quality materials (8 conductors of monocrystalline copper and silver), is super flexible as well as soft despite being thicker than average cables, is surprisingly lightweight and of course looks very gorgeous and beautiful with the way it is braided.
Sure, if you are someone like me who doesn’t believe in “cable magic” except for if they change the tonality due to a different resistance compared to the stock cable, the CB13 is no cheap cable to buy just for the aesthetics. Nevertheless I know other non-cable-believers who have spent more than twice the price of the CB13 on a cable just for the aesthetics and ergonomics, and even though I would personally not buy any upgrade or aftermarket cable because I have a “100% stock” attitude (especially regarding ear tips and aftermarket cables) when it comes to audio gear, I somehow honestly think that based on it looks, material, build quality and ergonomics, the CB13 is worth its price in some way.