Build & Flexibility
Candidly speaking, high-quality cables tend to command exorbitant prices. As such, it would be remiss of audiophiles to neglect the physical construction of each cable as a point of consideration during the decision-making process. Thankfully, Mars exhibits qualities that outrank competitors at a similar price point.
The two co-axial cores that form the body of the cable are tautly intertwined through intricate hand braiding, retaining their original profile at all times. The cable sheathing used is extra-thick for added stability and rigidity, enhancing its ability to remain structurally sound. Damage to the internal LCOFC structure is mitigated by the implementation of robust jacketing.
Interestingly, Mars’ steadfast structure runs counter to flexibility and malleability: traits people assess for in terms of wearability in outdoor settings and ease of storage. In reality, Mars isn’t too susceptible to kinks or bends that prove detrimental to portable usage. Nonetheless, Mars still retains far more memory than its flexible counterparts. When bent in the “wrong direction”, Mars starts to “spiral” beyond the means of manageability (pun intended).
The decorative flourishes in the form of the Y-split, termination and IEM connectors are machined from black-anodised aluminium with a grain-like surface finish. Each respective element boasts exceptional finishing, free from blemishes or hairline scratches.
Aesthetically, the Mar’s amber-like copper core has a lava-red appearance, contrasted beautifully by the black-anodised hardware for a luxurious finish. If you’re searching for a more subtle fit-and-finish that blends subtly into the background of daily life, Mars may come across as garish.
At the end of each IEM connector, the cable is further shaped by black memory wire to assist in long-term wearability and stability when worn. The integration of memory-wire is a polarising topic with heated debate emanating from opposite ends of the spectrum. Personally, it exacerbates more long-term discomfort than it does benefit prolonged wearability.
From a macro-perspective, Mars is an unconventional cable with an uncommon appearance in the best possible way. Non-conforming in its physical attributes, Mars balances pragmatic considerations that affect day-to-day usage with a focus on the premium.
Cables are like fine wines. They can complement or enhance the flavours of gastronomical creations in subtle or assertive ways. If a wine sommelier does a terrible job, counterintuitive pairings can contradict, mask, or harm the delicate taste of intricate dishes. The same rules are extrapolated to audio.
Keep in mind that cables are complementary, not revolutionary. No matter how hard you try, you cannot simply rewrite the fundamental base signature of any IEM or headphones.
We discuss how the sonic qualities of my reference IEMs are altered through these selective pairings.
Before Pairing: The Soranik ION-4X is a neutral-light CIEM with a modest cliff in the sub-bass region that certainly digs deeper than neutral for a larger-than-life presentation. The overall midrange remains moderately balanced with exceptional micro-detail retrieval, without noteworthy emphasis on either the lower mids or upper mids. From top-to-bottom, the ION-4X exhibits fast PRAT qualities, with a highly resolving treble character reminiscent of balanced armatures, and a deeper sustain on the low end for a dynamic finish.
In terms of lateral width, the ION-4X manages to recreate a fairly-wide soundstage with impressive depth and separability, its imaging performance superseding it in terms of outright distinguishability between different audible cues. The ION-4X toes the line between sonic refinement and enchantment for in-studio and out-of-studio use.
After Pairing: Sonically, Mars yielded some unexpected improvements or alterations to the ION-4X’s performance. For starters, the ION-4X’s sub-bass egress is toned down a notch for a more “conservative approach” to bass. However, there is a noticeable linger to sub-bass tones, where Mars has observably altered the ION-4X’s default PRAT properties. Sustain appears to be tastefully boosted, albeit moderately, opting for a more romantic tuning where reserved warmth takes precedence over bass aplomb. Bass lines also appear more defined, where subtle note shifts and nuances amongst baritone or bass instruments are marginally more distinct.
Those notable refinements carry over into the ION-4X’s midrange performance, where hasty rises and dips in amplitude amidst ornate instrumental sections are accurately reflected. Sudden crescendos are presented in an orchestral-like manner, the fundamental timbre of each instrument and vocal line correctly portrayed.
The highly-resolving treble (presence) of the ION-4X appears less overt in its “bright” presentation. The treble shine that gives brassier instruments an edge in detail-retrieval takes on a splashier character to avoid possible ringiness associated with resonant peaks. As a treble-aficionado, this is perceived as a detrimental quality in my eyes, but this may prove to be a blessing in disguise for treble-sensitive listeners averse to zesty odd-harmonic notes.
Because of these technical advancements in sonic performance, a boost in clarity in the frequency response results in positive spillover effects in imaging, where outright discernability amongst complex or maximalist passages of music.
I can confidently say that Mars has amplified most of the positive attributes that make the ION-4X truly remarkable.
IMR Dark Matters
Before Pairing: The Dark Matters is a boutique IEM boasting an unorthodox tuning: A tremendous bass response that one can only liken to a pair of sub-woofers being taped to each ear. The default tuning configuration of choice is the “blue upper and lower” filters, both emphasizing voluminous bass depth in the sub-bass registers and a pronounced mid-range.
The latter is especially noteworthy, attributed to the conciseness and unrivalled PRAT that a bone-conduction driver delivers by bypassing the eardrums completely. The Dark Matters may be the subject of intense scrutiny and debate by its unapologetically brash sound signature, but it is a sobering illustration of why we shouldn’t lose track of what “fun” means in the audiophile hobby.
After Pairing: The Mars excels in the romantic, less so the analytical. Because the Dark Matters have a proclivity for the former, Mars is a natural complement to what is already present. The Mars provides the Dark Matters with a jet-black background, honing in on subtle shifts in amplitude amidst a backdrop of instrumentation and vocal melodies coming from all directions. Tinier microdetails, once buried, are brought closer to the forefront. L-R width maintains the same vertical distance, but the ease of separation between sonic cues is greatly improved.
The fundamental bass tone of the Dark Matters takes on a mellower PRAT, with more sub-bass bloom for a voluptuous low-end. The even-harmonic timbre of acoustic guitars and baritone vocals adopt a cabin-like presentation, where smoother tones are emphasized for a smooth and engaging experience. In the presence region, any semblance of hissiness or the possibility of ear-piercing shriekiness is strongly mitigated, with the Mars smoothening out coarse peaks.
The Astral Acoustics Mars, like a well-aged wine, excels in presenting music through a nostalgic lens: warm, inviting, but highly technical. Delicately toeing the line between “fun” and “analytical”, the Mars is a significant value-proposition for cable-believers and devout music enthusiasts. Henry’s tenure in this globe-spanning hobby has been distilled into Astral Acoustics’ latest offering, and I am delighted to announce that there is definitely life on Mars.