Cable Review: Kotori Audio Carbon II and Graphite

A Preface:
This Review is a representation of my humble opinion. YMMV!

How I found the Brand:

Capture

Funny story; I found Kotori_audio through my daily scrolling seshes on the online marketplace, Carousell. The low-priced Carbon cable caught my eye, alongside its straight forward, no frills aesthetic. It doesn’t claim to be the “top-tier” cable nor is does it claim to be the best cable in its price range.  Instead, it appears that the brand is approaching cable-engineering with a more utilitarian philosophy. Using industry grade components, Kotori_audio tackles the cable market without any substantiated claims. What you see is what you get and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I decided to send some inquiries pertaining to the product itself. He replied promptly but I lacked the money to fund this endeavor. I stopped asking to avoid giving the seller false hope. The following week, a colleague of mine in the workplace brought his DIY pair of 3D printed IEM’s paired with the Carbon cables sold by Kotori. It turns out that my colleague is the man behind Kotori_audio itself!

After a few months of saving up, I decided to commit to purchasing both the Carbon II and the Graphite (his flagship cable). A special thanks to Kotori Audio for putting up with my incessant need to enquire about every minutae of detail. His passion for his work clearly shows.

Their current line-up (The Carbon 2 and Graphite) is currently available on the Carousel Marketplace. The links are as shown below;

https://sg.carousell.com/p/%F0%9F%9A%9A-carbon-ii-graphite-mmcx-2pin-replacement-iem-earpiece-cable-123409127/?ref=search&ref_query=carbon%20iem&ref_referrer=%2Fsearch%2Fproducts%2F%3Fquery%3Dcarbon%2520iem&ref_reqId=C5TIMakXAIQPMjTzM9cUepJo0sYpd1pV

 

Specs:

Carbon II;
Price: $44.90 SGD
Cable: 26 AWG Copper Litz, 2-Braid
Y-Split: Carbon Fibre, Steel Splitter
Connector: 2-pin Westone Style connectors
Termination: 3.5mm Ranko Acoustics Termination

Graphite;
Price: $89.90 SGD
Cable: 26 AWG Copper Litz, 4-Braid
Y-Split: Carbon Fibre, Steel Splitter
Connector: 2-pin Westone Style connectors
Termination: 3.5mm Oyaide Gold-plated Connector

Do take note that Kotori_Audio takes order for both 2-pin Westone Style connectors and MMCX connectors. Other parts (Y-split, 3.5mm Terminations, 2.5mm Balanced Termination) can be opted for if they have stock for the requested components. Kotori does not ship to overseas locations.

 

Packaging:

Carbon II:
The Carbon II comes with zilch (no packaging). That is however, to be expected considering the competitive pricing

Graphite:
The Graphite comes with a beautiful 3D printed box with the name of the brand “Kotori” embossed into the center. A personalized touch, for an already well-priced product. Do take note that I currently do not have the box with me. I’ll update the review once I have received the box.

 

Build Quality:

IMG_1436

Carbon II:
The Carbon II has sheathed lower-half below the Y-split. The paracord sleeving is even, with no noticeable tears or openings. The Y-split itself appears to be sturdy and well-implemented. The 2-channels leading to the 2-pin connectors or covered in heat-shrink to promote it’s ability to retain slight memory without allowing it to tangle. However, alittle heat-shrink or extra tubing at both the termination and connector ends could be included for added support.

IMG_1439

Graphite:
The flagship cable shares similar parts as the Carbon II with a few key differences. The first thing most people would notice is the lack of the paracord sleeving on the lower half of the cable. Secondly, the termination I opted for is a Oyaide 3.5mm Gold plated jack. Audibly, there shouldn’t be any differences between the Ranko Acoustics and Oyaide terminations. Lastly, the cable featured 1 extra braid per channel.

Overall, the build is on par with the Carbon II’s with the exception of the rubber sheathing on the cable. It is alittle stiff in comparison with the Carbon II’s. The chin slider included appears to be too small, making it a struggle to adjust. The strain relief/termination problem that I mentioned earlier applies this cable as well.

 

Comfort:

IMG_1441

Carbon II:
The Carbon II’s single braid per channel paired with the supple heat shrink allows the cable to rest easy on my outer earlobes without any sign of fatigue, even after long term use.

IMG_1442

Graphite:
The Graphite for obvious reasons, are much thicker and hefter. The added weight can cause discomfort after long-term use but that is too be expected.

 

Testing Rig:

Gear used:
Aune X1S 32bit DAC/Amp
Spotify Premium (320 kbp/s)
LG G6 (ESS Quad DAC)
Shanling M0
Kinera Idun
IMR-Acoustics R1
Venture Electronics (VE) Runabout Plus

Tracklist:​
Headphone Playlist

Valkryies by Bear Mc-Creary (GOW OST)

Asylums for the Feeling- Silent Poets

Respect Commander by Jack White

Fare thee well, Miss Carousel- Townes Van Zandt

Miss Macross by MACROSS 82-99
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FY0KfhI4_o

Sonic Changes:
Understandably, Head-fi is filled with cable nay-sayers that don’t believe in sonic improvements when it comes to swapping out cables (not enough blind testing, measurements etc). I for one, believe that there are changes to the actual tonality of the earphone when you swap out cables. The thickness of the cable, purity content of the cables and number of braids do play a functioning role in affecting the perceived sound quality due to the variations of resistance to current flow. The changes can either make or break the earphone (depending on the synergy between both  points). YMMV.

Carbon II:
The Carbon II shares a noticeable improvement with the Kinera Iduns. The Sound-stage feels slightly wider, with a slightly airier treble. It’s lightweight nature paired with the feather light acrylic shell make for a long-term, comfortable listen.

Graphite:
The Graphite being the more expensive cable, has bigger shoes to fit in. On first time listen, the Graphite has an opposite effect on the already expansive soundstage on the IMR R1’s; it narrows it slightly. Tonality of the IEM remains the same.

From my previous encounters with Effect Audio, the general consensus for cables with more braids is a narrower soundstage but with better audio reproduction. Cables with more cable circumference/a wider cross section amplifies the effect even further.

Understandably, this setback might disappoint some, but the added reverb and slower decay on the upper mids aids in its ability to output realistic vocal tones, covering the entire frequency spectrum with an analog like warmth. Imaging is also improved significantly, with an increase in perceived lateral width. Tonality shifts slightly.

 

​TLDR:
There is only so much I can write about a bunch of cables. But I can say that my ergonomic needs are satisfied and the sound improvements serves as an added bonus. I wish my colleague the best of luck in growing his brand.

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