A while back I reviewed Labkable’s Samurai III, a cable with a beautiful signature that remains one of my favorites. The Samurai was created with a philosophy in mind, to represent a sound that would be engaging according to certain principles. The Pandora on the other hand wasn’t designed to recreate a certain type of signature, as you’d normally expect – it was designed for a rather specific audience. Labkable’s Korean distributor was getting requests for a cable that matched well JH’s Roxanne, in combination with brighter daps that were popular on the Korean market. So they designed several cables, and sent them over to the Korean distributor who had them tested by a group of well-trained audiophiles. They picked the designs they liked most, which were then refined and then sent again to test. The result was the Pandora.
When I spoke to Peter, he mentioned that the Pandora was the Samurai’s natural counterpart – if you didn’t like one, you’d most likely enjoy the other. As the Samurai has a colored, ‘fun’ type of signature with a slightly brighter upper midrange that brings out a nice bit of sparkle, I automatically expected the Pandora to be on the warmer side. While they are very different, they contrast in a different way I was expecting.
The Labkable Pandora
Alloy: Silver & Gold-Plated Copper hybrid, mixed with Silver & Copper hybrid
Conductors: 10 braid
Construction: Litz construction
Build & Design
Saying the Pandora is quite a sight to behold, would be an understatement. Its alternating two tone is probably the most beautiful cable I own. Pandora combines a classic elegance with a rustic color combination. The design consists of 5 alternating pairs of wires, making for a total of 10 individual wires. The golden-colored wires are a mix of silver and gold-plated copper, while the brown wires are a mix of silver and copper. The quality silver-colored plug is the same one used with other Labkable products, as are the silver 2-pin connectors. But Labkable went all out with the splitter: a small Swarovksi crystal resides on a brown cylinder that matches the color combination of the wires. A little bit of bling to emphasize the exclusivity of their top of the line offering that has its appeal, although it might not be for everybody. But as a complete package, there’s no denying the class Pandora eludes.
The Pandora has a reference signature, with a relatively uncolored midrange and slightly brighter than neutral upper frequencies, that leans towards an open tone. Pandora is highly transparent and resolving, with a neutral presentation. While the Pandora doesn’t create a thick or warm sound, it refrains from sounding dry or harsh. The beauty of Pandora’s sound lies in the combination of its precision with its staging presentation: the wide and deep stage that creates a holographic representation of the music, not in the last place because of its high resolution. The highly resolved notes in a clean and vast stage results in a good layering ability and accordingly instrument separation, especially for iems with an inherently intimate stage.
I’ve had mixed experiences with hybrid cables. Generally speaking, they seam to have a wide and clean stage in common, making them appealing for their soundstage benefits. The downside that inevitably seemed to be come with them is a leaner mid-bass presentation, which helps in creating the airy stage structure. At least the ones I had in the past, I can’t say this is true of all hybrids of course, but it kept me away from them for a while. While Pandora equally recreates a large stage, the bass response remains dynamic, with an excellent low end impact. The sub-bass hits deep, and the combination with a slightly enhanced mid-bass provides a nice bit of power.
The bass improves in definition, sounding controlled and dynamic. Especially the mid-bass is tighter and more resolved, giving more room to the other instruments to breathe, without sacrificing its presence and contribution to the overall picture. This allows for a powerful bass presentation, without tightening the stage. Bass-heavy monitors like the Roxanne or Solar can impress with their power, but sacrifice the stage airiness due to warmer mid-bass air. The Pandora plays in incremental role in tightening the bass, without sacrificing the quality of its sub-bass impact. This can be attributed to a cut in the upper bass that takes a bit of warmth from the bass. While it results in a cleaner stage, it can take a bit off the naturalness of the bass tone with iems with a more neutral bass presentation, giving it more the definition of a silver cable. It’s the type of bass that sounds excellent when paired with an iem like the S-EM9 for bass heavy electronic or rock music – heavy in impact, yet nicely defined.
The Pandora’s midrange has a focus on clarity and precision. It is both highly resolving and transparent. The combination with uncolored midrange notes gives it a reference-oriented signature. Listening to Pandora is uncovering a wave of detail; every note is highly articulated, and perfectly isolated in space. While Pandora’s midrange sounds very clear, it isn’t overly bright. When paired with iems that have an enhanced treble response, it might result in a brighter upper midrange. With midcentric iems, the cable remains smooth, while significantly improving the clarity and articulation of notes.
The Pandora has a neutral size of midrange notes. The vocal representation is focused on clarity, rather than creating an emotional experience. Vocals are detailed and clearly articulated, although they don’t sound particularly warm or deep. This is due to a distant lower midrange, which cuts a bit of the subsection of the body of midrange notes. This results in a cleaner sound, by creating more space on the stage. At the same time, it isn’t particularly warm or lush. Cables with a more forward midrange as the SilverFI IEM-R2 or plusSound’s gold-plated copper for instance have an inherently warmer midrange. However, the Pandora in turn will offer more detail and precision. While the Pandora’s notes are clear, they are not thin altogether as the midrange itself is not recessed or bright, and remains smooth. The upper midrange has very transparent tones, combining a highly resolved sound with clarity for an outstanding articulation of individual notes.
In line with the reference signature, Pandora’s treble is slightly brighter without being harsh, similar to the rest of the signature. A lift in the lower treble boosts Pandora’s technical presentation, bringing more clarity to the signature. The Pandora is very upfront in its detail presentation; bringing each element of the music to the foreground. The onset of notes is highly articulated, and the imaging is precise.
The treble itself is resolved; treble notes are well defined and separated. While I wouldn’t label Pandora’s treble as smooth, it isn’t harsh either. Rather, the brightness of the tone will rely on the pairing. Warmer iems like the 8.2, Solar or Roxanne will benefit from the improved clarity, while iems with a smooth presentation as Zeus and the Prelude will remain natural. As the Pandora leans towards an open tone, it will provide a more pronounced upper treble in iems as the S-EM9 and NT6pro that have a tendency to brightness. However, even in this case I would not describe its treble as harsh or sharp, although there might be some variance for sensitive listeners. However, regardless of the pairing the Pandora will improved the definition and articulation of the treble, as well its extension. This not only results in a clearer sound, but an overall higher resolution.