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.
Labkable Samurai III ($875)
Pandora’s smaller sibling has a similar tightness in the bass response, but misses the sub-bass impact of Pandora. Although the Samurai’s controlled mid-bass gives it a clean stage, Pandora adds more depth to the stage and combines a similar sense of spaciousness with an overall bigger bass. With the Samurai it feels more like a compromise, while the Pandora is giving the best of both worlds. The Samurai’s midrange is more colored, with slightly warmer notes and a brighter upper midrange. The Pandora’s midrange is cleaner, being more transparent and resolving. Similarly, the Pandora’s treble is more articulate, while the Samurai’s treble is slightly thicker.
SilverFi IEM-R2 ($1295)
Pandora versus the IEM-R2, rationality versus emotion. Pandora has the reference signature, and overall offers more clarity. The IEM-R2 on the other hand has an inherently warmer sound, with a midcentric signature. Both create a clean stage, and offer excellent separation. The Pandora’s is slightly wider, while the IEM-R2’s is a bit taller. Both create good depth. The Pandora’s midrange is slightly leaner, but sounds clearer with more apparent detail. The IEM-R2 on the other hand has a more emotional, warmer sound better at reproducing a natural vocal representation. The IEM-R2’s upper midrange is relatively more uncolored and smoother compared to the brighter Pandora’s. Similarly, the IEM-R2’s treble is smoother, while the Pandora’s is more articulate and slightly brighter. With its clear and articulated sound the Pandora offers digital precision; while the R2 is less upfront in its detail, it has a more natural tone. Both perform at a high level when it comes to midrange resolution.
Empire Ears Zeus-XIV
Zeus combines a full-bodied sound with high resolution and a large stage. Its midrange is forward, and the upper midrange is smooth. The treble is less prominent, giving it more of a warm, midcentric signature. Pandora tightens the bass, while adding a nice bit of impact. The midrange is slightly leaner and brighter, but more balanced when taking the treble in account. The sound is clear and detailed, while still sounding full and engaging. An excellent match, that manages to boost Zeus’ already impressive technical performance.
The S-EM9 has a signature that slightly departs from neutral. Due to its excellent resolution and separation, it provides a highly detailed sound while refraining from sounding bright. The S-EM9’s stage airiness and bass performance is highly dependent on the cable pairing, and makes it a fun iem to play around with when it comes to cables. With Pandora, the bass is powerful, fuelling the music with energy. The upper midrange and lower treble is slightly brighter than with its stock cable, but adds to its excellent detail retrieval, without sounding harsh. The stage is cleaner and larger, allowing more air for instruments to breath. Upper midrange notes are highly transparent and engaging, providing nice bit of excitement for synthetic treble notes.
The Pandora can be considered the cable equivalent of the Jomo Samba: both share a similar signature, an uncolored reference signature excelling in resolution and clarity. While matching similar signatures sometimes works excellently, the Samba needs a warmer cable to be at its best, to combine technical precision with a musical and more emotional sound. Combining Samba with Pandora offers superior clarity and definition, while resulting in clinical precision. Excellent for electronic music, though not as natural for instrument-based music.
Similar to JH’s Roxanne, the Solar is characterised by powerful bass which gives it a warm and smooth signature. The mid-bass presentation gives it a full sounding signature with thick notes, although the warm air reduces the airiness and overall transparency. The Pandora gives it a cleaner and more resolved mid-bass, which helps to recreate a cleaner stage. Midrange notes are clearer, being more transparent and overall better articulated. This helps to bring the midrange more to the foreground, while uncovering subtle nuances in the music. The Solar’s treble remains smooth, while a lift in the upper treble brings out more fine detail.
In my last review of Pandora’s counterpart, the Samurai III, I mentioned the philosophy, in which the Samurai was designed: that of the ‘Bashuda.’ The spirit of the warrior, reflected in values as discipline, precision and rationality. While those values apply for a certain amount to the Samurai, it is the Pandora that truly seems to embody them. For this is the true reference cable, providing ultimate precision and high performance.
With its large stage and highly articulate sound, the Pandora offers a clean and highly resolving sound. Due to its reference signature, it truly pushes the ability of a neutral or warmer iem with the precision it offers, especially when combined with an already highly resolving iem as the S-EM9 or Zeus-XIV. However, I tend to use it most with already bright iems for its mesmerising precision and transient sound, especially when listening to fast-paced or complexly structured music. I’ll have to admit its beautiful design adds to the magic, as it really is a work of beauty to behold. But of course this all comes with a price. For the cable enthusiast the Pandora is an exciting and technically highly proficient cable; but as always, it will be up to each audiophile individually to determine if it’s worth it.