One sign of the growing maturity of the high-end headphone marketplace is the number of cable manufacturers now offering specialised headphone signal cable sets. One such manufacturer is the Cary, North Carolina-based firm Moon Audio, makers of Dragon audio cables (take care, though, not to confuse Moon Audio with the legendary Canadian audio electronics manufacturer Moon by Simaudio; they are two separate entities). Moon Audio enjoys a very strong, international reputation as a versatile, world-class, online retailer of high-end headphones and associated products, but for this very reason it can be easy to overlook the company’s superb, specialty Dragon audio cables, offered both for full-size audio systems and for headphone rigs.
Our review subject here is a set of Moon Audio’s top tier Black Dragon Premium Focal Utopia V2 headphone cables, which feature precision-made LEMO-type headphone connectors to fit the specific requirements of the Utopia. The Black Dragon Premium V2 cables start at $395, with pricing dependent upon the length of the cable ordered and upon the buyer’s choice of single-ended or balanced amplifier connectors. For both single-ended and balanced-type cables Moon uses Furutech Top Line-series connectors, claiming that they are, “quite simply the best made”.
Black Dragon Premium Focal Utopia V2 cables use four 21.5AWG Teflon-insulated, stranded conductors featuring single crystal UP-OCC copper at ‘7N’ or ‘seven nines’ (99.99998%) purity. Moon says, “each conductor is made up of a special varying size stranding geometry”, where “copper stranding is mixed with Kevlar stranding” to increase the cables’ physical strength and resistance to flex-induced failures. The copper/Kevlar strands are surrounded by cotton, followed by a layer of Teflon tape. Finally, the cables receive a layer of shielding and a sturdy polyethylene outer jacket for added durability. Cable wires are soldered to their respective connectors via a high quality, high yield silver solder.
As it happens, Moon Audio makes two top-tier cables for Focal’s Utopia: the Black Dragon Premium Focal Utopia V2 cables on test here, and the slightly more expensive Silver Dragon Premium Focal Utopia V3 cables (with prices starting from $455). As the name suggests, the Silver Dragon cables use silver conductors rather than the high-purity copper conductors used in the Black Dragons. Moon Audio President Drew Baird encouraged us to try the Black Dragon model, which Moon Audio claims is “warmer in nature than the Silver Dragon Premium Focal Utopia V3”, yet emphatically “is not a laid back, lush, or dark sounding cable”. Instead, Moon claims the Black Dragon Premium V2 “is extremely smooth sounding with great low end and wonderful voicing,” with the ability to gently help make Focal’s hyper-revealing Utopia sound “a little less analytical and little more natural…”
For my tests, I used both the Questyle CMA600i fully balanced headphone amp/DAC and Moon Audio’s own valve-powered Inspire IHA-1 headphone amp/preamp as my listening platforms, using a set of Focal Utopia headphones as a reference transducer as I compared cables. Looking to assess performance at the highest levels, I played a battery of 24/96 and 24/192 high resolution recordings, switching back and forth between the Black Dragon premium V2 cables and the already excellent standard cables supplied with the Utopia. Here is what my listening tests revealed.
First off, let me acknowledge that the standard cable supplied with the Utopia is a good one—especially for listeners who prefer a presentation that emphasises extreme treble extension, high transient speeds, and crisp definition, albeit at the expense of a subtle quality of coolness in the sound and a slight tendency toward leanness in the bass. In contrast, what the Black Dragon Premium V2 brings to the party is, as advertised, a smoother and very slightly sweeter top end, but—and this is important—with no loss in transient speed, focus, or definition. Moreover, the Black Dragon Premium V2 offered a subtle degree of natural-sounding midrange warmth and a notably rounder, more full-bodied, and more strikingly three-dimensional midrange presentation. Finally, the Black Dragon Premium V2 neatly solved the perceived ‘bass leanness’ problem of the standard cable by adding a subtle but welcome touch of mid-bass weight to match the standard cable’s already excellent low-bass response (the net effect of substituting the Dragon cables is that the Utopia’s bass suddenly seems more linear and balanced in the critical mid-bass-to-low-bass transition region).
A track that nicely shows all these factors in play is ‘You Love the Thunder’ from Jackson Browne’s classic Running On Empty [Rhino UK, 24-192 re-mastered]. Apart from Browne, whose voice and guitar are of course centrepieces in the album, four key contributors are Leland Sklar on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, David Lindley on lap steel guitar, and Danny Kortchmar on lead guitar. Through the standard cable this wonderful live recording sounds like what it is: namely, really excellent hi-fi. But with the Moon Audio cable in play, the track takes on a new life of its own, becoming more natural sounding, more three-dimensional, and much, much more engaging. Suddenly, Sklar’s wonderfully energetic bass has real punch and a visceral snarl, while Kunkel’s percussion drives the song forward with exuberant, locomotive-like force. At the same time, Lindley and Kortchmar trade beautifully phrased and artfully timed licks, raising the energy level of the song even higher. With help from the Dragon cables, Lindley’s lap steel lines, in particular, become at once sweet, soaring, and very incisive, so that the sheer beauty of the playing is at times simply breath-taking.
My point is that Moon Audio’s Black Dragon Premium V2 headphone cables help lift the sound of the superb Focal Utopia from the realm of great hi-fi on up into that rare atmosphere where great hi-fi leaves off so that truly great music can unfold. In short, this cable helps make a world-class headphone even better: highly recommended.
Type: Premium-class headphone signal cable for use with the Focal Utopia headphone. Offered in various lengths and terminated for use with single‑ended or balanced-output amplifiers.
Cable construction: Four 21.5 AWD conductors feature Teflon-insulated, multi-strand conductors featuring mono-crystal UP-OCC pure copper wire with 7N 99.9998% purity ratings. The cables use variable size stranding geometries, with cotton and Teflon dielectrics, full-length shielding, and polyethylene jackets.
Cable Connectors (Focal Utopia model):
Headphone side: LEMO-type connectors.
Amplifier side: Furutech Top Line-series single-ended (6.35mm TRS headphone plug) or balanced (4-pin XLR) connectors.
Available lengths: 5, 10, 15, or 20-foot lengths.
Pricing: Starts at $395 US.
Manufacturer Information: Moon Audio
106 Brady Ct., Cary, NC 27511 USA
Tel.: +1 (919) 649-5018
Note: Although Moon Audio is a US-based firm it routinely arranges sales and shipments to the UK and to Europe. Contact Moon Audio for details.
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