Disclaimer: The Wagnus Frosty Sheep IEM Cable sent to us for the purposes of this review is a sample and does not have to be returned. Thank you to Wagnus for giving us this opportunity.
You can read more about cables we reviewed on Headfonics by clicking here.
This Wagnus Frosty Sheep entry is part three of a four-part series of high-end cables. For the general introduction about cable performance and matching, please see the first review of the series (Rhapsodio Golden). In each review, the scores of ‘looks’ and ‘build & ergonomics are weighted together in the final averaging of the score, as I find the other two scores proportionally more important.
Traditional Japanese cable manufacturer Wagnus has been a major player in the business for over 10 years and has earned a sterling reputation when it comes to high-quality cables. The recently developed ‘Frosty Sheep’ is their latest addition and their new flagship product. A brief interview with Haruyuki Kume, the CEO of Wagnus.
Hello Haru, could you briefly tell us something about the history of Wagnus?
Hello Nic, thanks for your time and interest in our product. I founded Wagnus 10 years ago. I started as a professional musician and mixing and mastering engineer, so I needed to optimize the quality of the sound reproduction system in my studio as far as possible. So I changed the cables in my studio and was amazed to hear the sound changing with different cables. Then I started to study the cable’s material and experimented with modern and vintage cables, solders and more.
Does Wagnus have any philosophy or mission statement concerning its products?
Just one thing. I ask myself “Can this be used by a professional studio engineer or musicians?” If it can’t, I will never release it. So factors as clarity, phase balance, power, high resolution, natural balance, and total quality are important for me. Another thing we consider important is if the provided sound can enter the heart of a listener to our cable in a natural way.
What can you share about the construction of the Frosty Sheep?
The plug is a special edition of our silver plated plug. The cable itself consists of a Litz construction with 60 wires and pure double silk insulation. For the wires, we chose OFC silver-plated copper.
Silver-plated copper seems a bit unusual for a flagship cable, especially since a lot of manufacturers are using silver or silver/gold alloys. Why did you decide to stick with SPC?
The high frequency goes along the surface of the wire, while the rest of the electrical signal passes through the lower and middle levels. Therefore, I use a pure silver-plating layer with less metal resistance for the high frequency, and for reproduction of sound at the super high level.
I find that the frequency balance and general outline of the sound are often narrow when I make a wire with pure silver, as the lower tone is harder to distinguish from a satisfactory intermediate tone. Because a sound digresses to the high level in pure silver, there is not enough sound balance (the middle and bottom sound is not enough) when I use pure silver, or else it requires thicker wires. Therefore the element of copper material provides an SPC with good balance for revitalizing the lower level.
If I use only copper, I miss a bit of high frequency. This is why I use silver-plated pure OFC Class A copper to achieve what I find a really good sound balance. But I adopt a very high-performance class 1 OFC in copper, designed to optimize resolution and the phase characteristic.
There are many manufacturers blending gold in their alloy, but I personally don’t find it very useful. Gold has inferior resistance to silver and copper. Therefore, you can use it to change the sound, but the balance of the sound is affected because it cannot maintain a flat frequency. That’s why we use ‘perfect balance SPC’ (our special made SPC).
Build & Design
The Frosty Sheep consists of 4 twisted wires, making it a great deal slimmer than a standard upgrade cable. Due to the plastic shielding, the cable is a bit stiffer, though still flexible to roll up securely for storage. The 4 wires are individually insulated with silk, giving the cable its white color. As mentioned earlier, each wire consists of multiple smaller wires (Litz construction). The plug is beautiful; a sturdy silver-plated metal composition, that has a high-quality look and feel to it. The splitter is a sober plastic wrap with ‘Wagnus’ marked on it, where other manufacturers tend to use some kind of wood or metal for an extra finishing touch. The L-shaped connectors are built from transparent plastic with some glitter and bend the cable effectively behind the ear.
The twisted wire gives the slim Frosty Sheep a unique look within my collection. I like the design, although I must admit that my perception of it is influenced by what I know of its performance and price. It is a bit sober, so I could understand if someone might prefer a bit more flash considering the price, although it is not my priority, and I think it’s safe to say neither that of Wagnus as well. Its overall ergonomics are good due to the slim design and excellent connectors, although the wires do pass on some microphonics. This is especially noticeable when they braze a hard surface like a desk while listening on the go the effects are negligible.
Initial impressions of the Frosty Sheep were that the cable had a clear U-shaped signature, with enhanced and somewhat prominent treble, giving it a precise but slightly more clinical tone. Especially with the S-EM9 with its already enhanced treble, high hats could be a bit too prominent, with the midrange lacking a bit in warmth in relation to the treble. However after the 150 hours recommended burn, the treble has smoothed over significantly with an overall more balanced presentation.
The Wagnus has a very linear and uncolored midrange, although its general tone is skewed towards the higher frequencies, without sounding bright. At the lowest extension, the sub-bass is slightly attenuated; the bass has a nice soft touch but is not particularly high in impact.
Its mid-bass is well controlled, giving it less midrange bleed and an overall very clean stage. Its signature is still slightly U-shaped, with a leaner lower midrange, and less thick notes than the previous Symbiote and Golden cables. Overall instrument size is well proportioned, but mostly very precise in both their definition and localization in space. The midrange isn’t inherently very warm or lush, with vocal emphasis being slightly more on articulation rather than depth. This is a midrange that excels in its technical approach, although it is slightly on the drier side. It isn’t artificially brightened for more detail or clarity; its precision is derived from its resolving nature. As mentioned, the treble was a bit edgy at first but settled in nicely later on. Though it has a slightly colder tone, the treble is clearly defined and overall very well balanced in the presentation as a whole.
The Frosty Sheep’s stage is clean, noticeably cleaner than the warmer Golden and Symbiote cables. Due to the clean stage, separation and imaging are at a high level; every individual instrument, tone, and fine detail are presented clearly in space. Most importantly, the Frosty Sheep is a true high-resolution cable.
Listening to a high-resolution cable is dissecting a song into 20 pieces; it’s hearing detail for the first time with iems, that you thought you were using to hear fine details in the first place. High resolution equates to hearing precisely how a tone is constructed. An example is the effect of echo and reverberations on the pronounced length of a tone, but are somewhat taken for granted; as in it effects the tone, although you don’t realize the sound effect is due to a distinct echo, not the original note itself.
If instruments are sharper and clearer defined in space, they automatically leave more room for other instruments that are competing for space. If larger instruments have low resolution, they’ll be relatively blurrier and it’s harder to differentiate between two separate identities, especially if one of them is more distant and less pronounced. Examples are with two distinct trumpets or bass lines that are easily perceived as one, or diffused background tones such as string instruments or background choirs (the ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaaahs’); a higher resolution enables to locate their exact location in space, as well as their precise size rather than an all-enveloping sound clouding the music. The effect is a cleaner and better-defined stage, with indirect effects on separation and detail retrieval – based on resolution, rather than brightness.
EarSonics S-EM9 8.75/10
With its U-shaped signature, the S-EM9 doesn’t have a particularly warm or lush midrange that captivates with powerful vocals. However, its audiophile properties set it apart: resolution, imaging, and dynamics. The Frosty Sheep and S-EM9 understand each other perfectly; they share a common goal of achieving technical excellence over a forward or colored signature. Combined with the Frosty Sheep, the S-EM9 performs at its technical best: detailed, precise, and dynamic. Qualities that bring out the best in electronic music, pop or faster rock. At the same time, the S-EM9 doesn’t mind a bit of a midrange coloration and warmth to bring out the best of vocals. While precise, the combination is not very lush or emotive for instrument-based music.
Rhapsodio Solar 9/10
The warm Solar tends to benefit from a high-resolution cable, and I preferably pair it with a silver alloy. The Frosty Sheep does an excellent job at harnessing its warm mid-bass, improving its stage precision and airiness. While the Solar has an overall very full and engaging sound, the beautifully thick notes it creates seem to conflict with its midrange resolution. The Frosty Sheep takes the Solar’s precision to a different level, improving instrument definition significantly, as well as overall clarity. The Solar’s warmer treble tone remains very smooth, yet precise.
The Aether has an excellent overall balance between tonality and technical capability. Its stage is airy and precise, and it has a beautifully neutral signature, with a pleasant breeze of warmth. The Wagnus leaves its signature uncolored, maintaining a natural tonality. Tones are presented with great accuracy in both instrument definition and localization. On occasion, there is a slight tendency for sibilance, but overall the combination can be characterized as a neutral and precise sound, without sounding artificial or bright.
Empire Ears Zeus-XIV 8,5/10
The combination with the mid centric and highly resolving Zeus-XIV is pretty neutral and technically proficient. While the signature can be considered linear and relatively uncolored, I miss a bit of its original vocal depth, as well as extra excitement. For Zeus particularly, I prefer the Golden for some extra sparkle and liveliness or the IEM-R2 for its beautifully natural sound. With the Wagnus, Zeus takes more of a studio monitor approach.
Wagnus Frosty Sheep vs. SilverFi IEM-R2
Both the Frosty Sheep and IEM-R2 are exceptionally high performing cables. Overall, the Wagnus’ focus is on definition and accuracy; it has a slight edge in midrange resolution. The IEM-R2, in turn, has greater transparency, giving it overall a more realistic and natural tone. While both have a clean stage and truly excel in separation, the Wagnus has a slight advantage over IEM-R2 in imaging, feeling more pinpoint precise in the exact spatial localization. But again, differences are again very close.
While both have a very neutral and uncolored midrange, the SilverFi has warmer and more forward lower frequencies. Its mid-bass has slightly more impact with better resolution, and its midrange is more forward and inherently warmer, although both have a clean atmosphere. Accordingly, the IEM-R2 creates slightly thicker notes, while vocals have more depth. Not to say the IEM-R2 is a thick sounding cable, it remains very close to neutral. Both cables have smooth treble, with the IEM-R2’s being slightly smoother, and the focus of the Wagnus’ treble being on precision. Overall, the IEM-R2’s signature can be considered slightly mid-centric, but most of all, incredibly natural. The Frosty Sheep has a relatively more neutral signature, feeling a bit more accurate, but less emotional.
More practically, the cables have very different builds. Of the 4 cables, the twisted Frosty Sheep is the slimmest and easy to use. The IEM-R2, on the other hand, looks majestic with its flat 7-braid, but the individually cotton-shielded wires are thick and less practical for outdoor use.
Wagnus’ mission statement is to offer precision in sound that can live up to the standard of musicians, or a mastering engineer. If there were ever a mission statement applicable, this would be it. The Wagnus renders with the precision of a Japanese Samurai blade; not something you associate with a warm, fuzzy feeling – this is clinical precision, presenting a level of detail that reveals passion in its manufacturing, and a dedication to perfection.
The term ‘reference’ is readily used on many audio components, though more often than not failing to be applicable. While Wagnus hasn’t used it in the name, the Frosty Sheep is more than deserving of it. Though not overly warm or lush, of the 4 cables, this is the most uncolored. With its focus on balance, transparency, and resolution, Wagnus presents a technically highly proficient cable, worthy of its new flagship status.