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Yet another interesting, affordable audiophile XLR connector find.
Perhaps made by EIZZ, it's a Xhadow XLR clone that appears to be very well-made.
I plan to build two more 0.5m DIY AES/EBU digital cable designs, one using custom-twisted 21 AWG VH Audio OCC solid core copper wire with AirLok dielectric, the other using custom-twisted 22 AWG Neotech UPOCC solid core pure silver wire with Teflon dielectric, featuring an unshielded/ungrounded tightly-twisted pair geometry.
There are two phases of DIY cable building that are vital towards the success or failure of any given project. The termination aspects of mechanical integrity and the conductive interface, and the resulting sonic signature of a particular DIY build. In this case, the build quality of the Xhadow XLR Clone is a dismal failure if the expectation is anywhere near the notion of a truly precision XLR connector that the original Xhadow Precision XLR is known for. If there is light at the end of the tunnel, it's that the inexpensive Xhadow XLR Clone actually sounds very good if not excellent, with an identifiable sound quality that betters any pro audio XLR connector, and some audiophile marketed XLR connectors that I have experience of. So here's the lowdown of this DIY story:
The Bad News
The initial impression was very good, with an indication of good build quality on par with my other moderate-cost level favorite, the EIZZ XLR connector design. However, after looking at the enormously large opening of the connector entry point, and how limited the strain relief insert is to grip a cable OD that is any less than a couple of millimeters smaller than the entry point was a bit dumbfounding. I heard myself saying to myself, "What were they thinking?". There are few balanced cables with such a large OD that really require such a large XLR connector entry point, so the need of a massive cable OD build-up material was truly excessive; the most ever required, IME. That said, after examining what was needed to build a proper strain mechanism, I was able to configure a good grip on the cable without caveat.
The second finding was how poor the design is regarding the termination set-screws ability to provide a robust grip on the conductors when inserted into the termination slots. The fine threaded set-screws are far too prone to striping, in fact impossible to depend on. So if one seeks a solderless termination method, forget about it. That said, when the set-screws are removed, the termination slots are easily used for soldering the conductors, without issue.
The third bad news finding is that the male XLR prongs are not positioned within the Teflon dielectric in a precision manner. It was difficult to initially insert the male XLR connector into the XLR jack without fiddling with it until successful, after a goodly amount of concern that it would not actually fit. Thankfully it did, and as a result I liked what I heard.
The Good News
The presentation, even without a day to burn-in the solder joints sounded very open, with an expansive soundstage that sounds nothing like your typical pro audio XLR connector, with a very smooth sonic signature that is not unlike the original Xhadow connector design concept. Whether or not things could have been better via a solderless set-screw termination method is an unknown factor, but since my opinion of solderless vs. soldered signal connectors is not written in stone, I was not unhappy to have no choice in the matter. The connector sounds that good, to my ear. At this point, I prefer the Xhadow XLR Clone terminated AES/EBU cable for use with my digital CATV system set-up vs. the EIZZ XLR terminated AES/EBU cables in my collection.
If my findings are any less favorable after a proper burn-in process, I'll be sure to append this report with more insights.
I find the Xhadow XLR Clone complements the sonic signature of 22 AWG Neotech SOST-22 UPOCC solid core pure silver wire with Teflon dielectric when implemented for a short-length 0.5m DIY UTP AES/EBU pure silver digital cable. The particular 22 AWG conductor when used for a custom DIY twisted pair offers the identifiable sonic signature of a solid core pure silver digital cable, to my ear. When terminated with my favorite Wonder Solder Signature solder, the particular silver-plated phosphor bronze with Teflon dielectric XLR connector helps to provide an expansive soundstage, neutrality without sounding lean, sweet treble, a goodly amount of speed, transparency, and dynamics, as well as a certain delicate firmness rather than an ethereal tonality that some pure silver cables are known for. The Xhadow XLR Clone performs better to my ear than both the platinum-plated and the gold-plated EIZZ XLR connectors when used with this particular wire, for the particular application. The previously mentioned mechanical issues aside, I find the sonic qualities that it offers makes it a high-value product from an audiophile POV, and a worthy element to add to my digital cable collection. Unless VH Audio offers 21 AWG solid core silver wire with AirLok dielectric someday, this wire may be as good as it gets for a home-brew solid core pure silver UTP AES/EBU digital cable project.
where can the neotech wire be purchased?
But these have bronze conductors vs. copper for the Xhadow
True, but most audio connector clones are not exactly the same as the original product, and they sometimes feature less expensive materials to keep the costs down. For example, there have been many WBT clones, and few use the same copper alloy as the original, more expensive WBT rca connectors. The price of the the original Xhadow XLR is far more expensive than the Xhadow XLR clone.
But bronze? Doesn't bronze have much poorer conductivity than even brass? I supposed that most cheap (if not the cheapest) connectors use brass. What am I missing here?
Image: Oyaide FOCUS 1 XLR connector with phosphor bronze contacts.
Conductivity is not the ultimate aspect of what can make an audio connector sound good from an audiophile POV. Brass is often considered an inferior sounding base metal vs. phosphor bronze. Oyaide implements phosphor bronze as a base metal for their FOCUS 1 XLR connector, which is a much more expensive XLR connector than the Xhadow XLR clone. Many other audio connector manufacturers also feature phosphor bronze as a base metal.
The mechanical integrity of the contact will outweigh the conductivity in certain applications. For instance, Belton Tube Socket contacts are phosphor bronze.
"I know just enough to get into trouble. But not enough to get out of it."
Yep....there's "bronze", and then there's phosphor bronze.
"I know just enough to get into trouble. But not enough to get out of it."
...as base metals, including unplated beryllium copper connectors, with much greater rigidity and milling qualities vs. pure copper. Pure copper is a notably soft metal with poor spring-like qualities that affect signal integrity and vibration control ability. Rhodium and those in the rhodium family (rhodium, platinum, palladium, etc.) as a conductor is rather poor, but the hardness/rigidity, and low-oxide layer interface provides a very special sense of tonality and PRAT that is identifiable as an audio flavor, apart from the sonic signature of the higher-conductivity base metal involved. The most notable example of this is the rhodium over silver plating over a lower-conductivity eutectic brass base metal that Cardas Audio originated, and also inspired others such as Oyaide. Any type of I/O connection interface can make a profound impact on the presentation of system from a customized system tuning POV, which is why cabling and vibration control topics are my primary audiophile interests.
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