Review: Atlas Cables Zeno (OCC headphone cable)
Firstly I would like to thank Atlas cables for this sample, it has been fully run in for over 150hrs, along with being used extensively before reviewing.
*disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings.
Gear Used: Keces S3 > Atlas Zeno > HiFiMan HE-500 (modded with dual 3.5mm mono sockets)
Packaging and Build Quality:
The Zeno comes in an Atlas Cables box, with a custom sticker for the model that is included. On the side you have boxes with the configuration and length (for mine, 2m, 4-pin XLR Amplifier, 3.5mm Custom headphone). On the back of the box you have some information about Atlas cables and their ethos, inside you will find the cable and also a small leaflet about the cable.
The cable is incredibly well built, first off Atlas use custom solder free connectors to achieve the best possible contact (and lowest signal path) between cable and connectors. Then they use OCC cable, they do not believe in using a coated conductor, and only use the purest of copper in their cables (apart from their Asimi which uses OCC silver).
The 4-Pin XLR plug is a thing of beauty, in their dark chrome finish, the lower section of the cable is heavy duty and sheathed in fabric. The y-split is small and lightweight, it is also in the same black chrome finish as the XLR plug. The upper section of cable is soft and rubbery, and on mine finishes in dual 3.5mm jacks. The jack housing is a matte grey and slimline so they will fit the Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Gen, Final D8000 and many other headphones. The L and R sides are distinguished by Red and Black heatshrink. The whole cable feels very well put together, it is thick but not cumbersome or heavy.
I was previously using a homemade cable on my HE-500’s, it was made with Van Damme miniature starquad cable which uses a mix of OFC and SPC conductors. I have the Atlas Zeno IEM cable and find it to be incredibly open and detailed yet also natural and never fatiguing.
The full size Zeno cable uses the same conductors as the IEM version which I am very familiar with (it is one of my favourite IEM cables). The pure OCC conductors along with the custom insulation from Atlas bring a very natural sound from the headphones you connect it to. As with all cables, careful system matching is a must, and the Zeno will not tame hot treble, nor will it bring out thunderous bass.
What the Zeno does is lift a slight veil from the sound of most stock cables, subtle details are now more easily picked out and instruments find a more defined place within the soundstage. The Zeno is an effortless sounding cable; it will not alter the stock sound signature but rather enhance it. The stock HiFiMan cable is terrible ergonomically and it is silver plated copper bringing out a little bit of extra presence in the treble. Now I do not think the stock cable is bright, but it does not have the most natural of timbre to it, it can sound a little metallic. Changing over to the Van Damme cable brought out a little more linearity, but not a huge difference. Going to the Zeno you immediately notice that there is more substance to the sound, more body but not at the expense of extension or detail retrieval.
The background is blacker, bass guitars now have more focus and definition; kick drums retain fullness but with a more defined kick. The midrange has more bite and vocal tracks are easier to pick apart, electric guitars have a crisper and more open sound. The treble still has plenty of sparkle, but the timbre is more accurate and cymbals sound more realistic with no missing extension. There is openness to the sound now that was slightly lacking before, the soundstage is more focused with a solid centre image and everything else having a better defined space.
Conclusion: As I have said many times, cables will not change the whole system, and careful system matching is a must. Saying that, the Zeno cables seem to fit seamlessly into any system and enhance it by bringing out subtle details better along with a more natural and effortless sound. The Zeno Cables can be described as natural, effortless and spacious without a hint of bloat or sharpness.