ALO gave me the Reference8 free of charge in exchange for my honest review, for good or ill.
The Reference 8 sells for $299.00
ALO took a while to respond to my request for samples to incorporate into my Cable Shootout (which is still on hold. See my first cable review for details). But when the response came, they were eager. Immediately they sent forth their gladiator: The Reference 8.
I had my doubts how something like this could compete against cables made of pure silver, or something insane like plusSound’s T-Metal. Allow me to say up front, my doubts are quelled. This thing kicks ass.
The Reference 8 uses four high-purity Silver-Plated Copper conductors, and four more high-purity OCC Copper, coming together to form a seductively elegant eight-strand braid. It is light, thin, and delicate. Or rather it looks delicate. ALO builds a sturdy cable, have no fear.
Angled 2-pin connectors are used on the sample they sent me. I’m not a big fan of these. They allow far less deviation in human anatomy or IEM design. The cable just barely makes it around my ear when plugged into the 64Audio U12, and doesn’t work well at all with the Kaiser Encore Universal by Noble Audio. That goddamn connector interacts with my lobe in such a way as to leverage the IEM out of the canal. After a few minutes of f**kery, I gave up, and no longer use the Ref8 with Encore. For Custom IEMs, like my Rhapsodio Solar, there is no trouble. The connector makes it around my ear just fine. And like I said, the U12 fits, also. The nature of this issue is such that if it fits barely, it fits completely. It either works for a particular IEM or it doesn’t. No middle ground.
ALO’s website claims the Ref8 is designed to reduce microphonics. Reduced from what, I ask. Humanity has never crafted a more microphonic cable. When you combine the stiffness, lightness, and thinness, you have a thing which hovers over every surface, transmitting vibrations flawlessly whenever it makes the barest of contact. They flow un-damped straight to your sealed ear canal, becoming so loud as to override the music.
All is not lost, however. I find shirts that don’t have a collar, like a t-shirt or Henley, offer the cable little to no resistance, so contact is minimal. If you do have a collar, a lapel-clip saves the day. Also make sure the memory wire hugs you ear closely. The more contact with your flesh, the more the vibrations are absorbed out of the wire. When everything is going right, it is a quiet cable. But that is not its nature, despite what ALO says. You must break its will, and wrestle it into submission. See the Linum Super BaX for a truly microphonic-free experience.
In spite of all that gibberish, the Reference 8 is super comfortable. Coming off the X6, I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Eight conductors, and it’s one of the smallest, lightest things you’ll ever use. I tip my hat to you, ALO, you sexy, sexy thing.
I compare all the cables I review against a strong, solid standard of Silver-Plated Copper OCC. Forget stock cables. I don’t use them. I own two cables I fancy as a good baseline. One of which I built myself.
Pinky-Made SPC OCC Litz
Pandora by Rhapsodio – SPC OCC
In the audio industry, “reference” is a term that means a flat response across the entire frequency spectrum. An accurate reproduction of what was recorded. Applying that term to a speaker/headphone makes sense. But I didn’t understand calling a cable “reference”.
Now I do.
Who knows if the Reference 8 delivers a flat response. Since I have no measuring equipment, I can’t say. What I do know is everything I plug into this cable sounds immediately clearer. There is new brightness to my IEMs, achieved not through harsh peaks, but rather an infusion of air and an extension of treble. Cleanliness is a good word to describe the presentation; it simply sounds cleaner.
Soundstage gets nice and wide. This is the cable to test the boundaries of your in-ears. What is their potential? How wide can they go? The Ref8 will show you.
Note weight is decreased. There is certainly power here, but the sound is not aggressive. On the contrary, it’s extremely smooth. The bass seems a little more under control and in line with the vocals. The tonality is NOT dry. Nor is it what we call musical, with warmth and heightened bass. No, I call the Ref8… airy. Like a bird’s song. Sweet, light, and ethereal. F**k yes! That’s exactly the right word. The Reference 8 sounds ethereal.
Before the Reference 8, I EQ’ed my 64Audio U12, trying to squeeze a little more out of those highs. I love these earphones to death, but they are violently warm. Now I leave the EQ off. The Ref8 adds more air and treble presence than Equalizing ever did. And without f**king up that glorious low-end. Pinky gets to bask in all the rumbling subs, and enjoy a cleaner, more transparent mid section, with highs that FINALLY sparkle… a bit. The Opus#2>Balanced Output>Ref8>U12 is absolute God-Tier.
The Rhapsodio Solar CIEM transformed with this cable. It grew less thick, and less angry, and mellowed its ass out. Solar became one smooth operator. Still good and warm, with exceptional lows, but now it breathes. Air fills a soundstage that is bigger and wider than Solar ever rendered before. The vocals shown clearer, seeming less recessed than usual. It is a lovely improvement, but not quite my favorite. For more on that, see my X6 review.
I don’t own bright, or dead-neutral in-ear monitors, but I have this notion the Reference 8 may not be the best cable for those signatures. If your IEM is already sick with treble, maybe find a warmer cable. This one could make it worse. Even though, again, it isn’t peaky on its own. It merely has a way of bringing out the full potential in those highs.
My gear tends to be on the warmer side. Lots of bass, lush mids, non-frightening upper frequs. The Reference 8 ministers unto them as an angel sent of heaven. I really, truly, desperately, love this cable. ALO must have created it with the U12 in mind. It’s taken one of my favorite pieces and renewed my passion for it ten-fold.