I’m both excited and nervous to publish this review. I’m nervous because I normally steer well clear of most cable reviews, but, just as was the case with the SilverPlus USB cable from The Chord Company, I’m excited to share a review of a really nice cable that might take your system that final step towards your ultimate audio goals.
SoundChef is a new company on the scene… well technically they’re not on the scene yet, but that’s part of why this is exciting – you see I’m very fortunate to be reviewing a prototype interconnect that’s due to be released in the coming weeks. So, back to the story… SoundChef is a company based in South East Asia and specialising in various custom cables. So far I’ve seen a range of their interconnects and heard 2 of them including this, the Marshmallow interconnect.
Pricing of the interconnects is higher than the standard fare, but they’re also not your average interconnect in terms of both aesthetics and quality. Pricing is expected to be in the range of $150-200 AUD depending on the model and the materials it employs. At this time I know of 3 versions of the SoundChef interconnects: Marshmallow, Meringue, and Macaroon.
The Marshmallow interconnect uses stranded silver, copper and gold for the left and right channels and combines a solid silver wire and a solid copper wire for the ground connection. It’s these ground wires that are spiralled around the active leads to make the striking design of all the SoundChef models. The other SoundChef models combine various other materials or different quantities of those materials to alter the sound characteristics slightly.
Design and Ergonomics
The SoundChef interconnects use high quality Neutrik right-angled 3.5mm plugs which are excellent in terms of their build quality, aesthetics and design. Between these plugs runs a 3cm (roughly, I didn’t measure) length of 4 cables as described above – 2 matched active leads and 2 ground leads of different materials. The result is a short, compact interconnect that sits nice and close to your source and amp, but with enough space to not get in the way of connecting your earphones or accessing the volume control.
Importantly, the SoundChef interconnects feel solid and sturdy. I have an expensive Big On Noise interconnect that never ceases to vex me with
So How Does It Sound?
There’ll be plenty of people out there who’ll tell you that interconnects and cables make no difference to the sound and while I disagree, I do understand where this perception comes from. You see, interconnects and headphone cables don’t transform the sound. A better cable will not transform your system (although a worse cable can be a bottleneck for sound quality in my experience). In most cases, factory supplied cables are just fine, but aftermarket cables allow you to tailor the subtle characteristics of the sound to your tastes.
Because interconnects like the Marshmallow will only adjust the subtle characteristics of the sound, the best way to give you a picture of its sound is through some select comparisons, so here goes…
FiiO L8 Interconnect
The FiiO L8 is a basic, $20 interconnect that uses simple, tried and true copper for the conductors and, as you’d expect, it sounds just fine. Everything is nicely balanced across all frequencies and nothing seems enhanced in any way – it’s actually very transparent which is great.
Switching then to the Marshmallow brings some subtle, but noticeable changes. Now the top end details are slightly more present and I notice a slight amount of extra energy and impulse in the deeper bass notes. By the way, now is probably a good time to mention that this testing is all being done using the Shozy Alien and FiiO E12DIY driving Shure SE846s running the white filters or Noble Kaiser 10s. The music for the test is Steely Dan’s impeccably recorded and mastered album, Aja.
So, with the Marshmallow interconnect I would say that the music becomes more energetic and dynamic with tiny emphasis on the treble and bass extension. Do I prefer it to the FiiO L8? Not exactly. It’s different, but not necessarily better or worse. For ‘phones needing an extra lift in dynamics the Marshmallow would be just what the doctor ordered, but with the SE846 and K10 which are already stellar performers, the additional clarity and vibrance is neither better nor worse – it’s just different. Also, the Marshmallow takes a tiny bit of emphasis away from the vocals by lifting the treble and bass. It’s a tiny adjustment, but worth noting if you were already starting out with a v-shaped IEM like the AAW A3H for example.
Big On Noise Axiom Interconnect
I bought the Axiom interconnect on a whim one day because I got a bargain. It’s priced in a similar range to the Marshmallow though so it’s a good comparison. The Axiom uses a 3-wire braid of a silver-copper alloy that’s plated in 24k gold – fancy, I know! That all sounds great on paper, but I bought it because I liked the effect it had on my portable rig at the time so let’s see how the Marshmallow fares against it.
This time I’ve started with the Marshmallow because it was already in place from the L8 comparison. This time, switching from the Marshmallow to the Axiom I noticed that the sound became smoother all of a sudden (a trait of the gold I believe). The Axiom interconnect is a conundrum because it’s relaxing and easy to listen to, but at the same time it feels a bit too smooth after the Marshmallow and I feel like I might be missing some detail and sparkle that should be there.
Vocals are brought back to front-and-centre by the Axiom, but at the expense of a sense of space that’s present with the Marshmallow. Switching back to the Marshmallow is instantly more engaging and exciting. There’s a tiny bit of sibilance hiding there, but I feel like I’m hearing it all now. My wallet is very sad to say that I would gladly choose the Marshmallow over the Axiom – it just brings so much life and clarity to the sound.
At this point I started to wonder how the L8 fared so well and so I plugged it back in to see how it fared after I’d spent more time with the much pricier competition. There’s no doubt that it gives slightly less detail and clarity than the Marshmallow, but it’s a very good interconnect. If only it weren’t just a little too long for most of my rigs, but unfortunately it’s got a good centimetre or so on the Marshmallow and looks and feels a bit shite in my setup as a result of the excess length.
I’m very thankful to my friend Anupong for lending me the Marshmallow interconnect, even if it came at the expense of showing up my existing, expensive cable. The Marshmallow is as good-looking as it is sonically pleasing. I love the aesthetics and ergonomics of the SoundChef cables and can’t wait to audition the Meringue again and to try the Macaroon for the first time. Just quietly, I’m extra excited to try the Macaroon because it uses rose gold (if I’ve heard the rumours correctly) which is a combination of copper and gold as an alloy. It might get too smooth like the Axiom or it might just hit a home run for my tastes – only time will tell.
But enough of my fantasies. If you’re interested in interconnects for your portable rig there are 2 things you should know:
- The differences made by interconnects are subtle adjustments, not transformations, but they can help to tune the signature of your rig that last teeny bit
- The SoundChef interconnects are awesome! They’re sexy, sturdy and the multiple models actually have a purpose by offering you the exact tuning options I mentioned in point #1
I’m not sure exactly where the SoundChef cables will be distributed, but will come back and post an update here as soon as I find out. Until then, happy listening!