Rhapsodio is a Hong Kong-based company, run by Sammy; an audiophile, innovator, and experimenter. Sammy designs iems in all ranges and configurations, using either balanced armatures, dynamic drivers or hybrid configurations of both. A few years back Rhapsodio was the first to produce a hybrid design using both multiple dynamic and balanced armature drivers. But he’s not keeping still, even experimenting with new types of drivers he might be able to use in the future. As a grown child, Sammy loves to tinker with all types of components he comes across.
But just as much as he loves iems, he loves cables – maybe even more. But instead of buying new cables to try like the rest of us, he designs them. And trust me, he’s just as much of an addict as I am. Since we first started talking about a year back when I ordered the Solar, he’s released 12 new cables(!) using all types of alloys and hybrid designs, in a wide price range.
Sammy’s own preference (according to him) is a flat, neutral tuning with as little coloration as possible. But coming to know him a bit, I’ll add he’s a bit of a treble head and doesn’t particularly care much for bass or warmth. Which was a bit surprising to learn considering the Solar is one of the bassiest ciems I own, but he likes to tune for different audiences which is also reflected in his varied cable selection. While his Silver Litz is quite cold, dark, and slightly V-shaped (Sammy’s personal favorite), the 2.98 silver/gold is almost the opposite; warm with a more mid-centric signature.
But if there’s one thing Sammy values most, whether it concerns iems or cables, it’s resolution. Sammy and I might not have the same taste when it comes to the signature, but think alike when it concerns technical capability. And when it comes to resolution, his cables have set a high personal reference, exceeding the industry standard. Ironically, the resolution isn’t really the main topic of this review. It could have been if I was discussing the Silver Litz, 2.98 or Wizard OCC 8-braids. But the Golden has something quite different to offer, and it’s included for a very good reason: its tonality.
- Alloy: Silver and copper mixed alloy
- Conductors: 4 braid
- Construction: Litz construction
- MRSP: $700
Build & Design
The Golden consists of four thick wires in a standard braid. Each wire consists of multiple smaller wires, a Litz construction. It gets its gold coloring from the individual small wires, although there’s no actual gold involved – the alloy consists of a special blend of copper and silver. The wires are pretty thick. The cable is significantly thicker than your average upgrade cable, let alone stock cable. It’s similar in size to the Toxic Silver Widow for instance. This also makes the cable rather stiff, it’s less flexible than a normal cable. It doesn’t particularly care for being laid out on display to model for pictures, and it certainly won’t stay flat for one second despite numerous attempts to keep it still. It can still fit in a regular iem carrying case, though, although it looks a bit claustrophobic all curled up.
Concerning its looks, it comes with a nice gold-plated brass jack with a black and gray motif. I like the look and feel of a solid upgrade cable (you could call it a reversed Linum preference, I don’t seem to get along with invisible wires), so I quite like the thick wires, I certainly don’t mind it. But there’s another aspect that’s pretty hard to ignore: it’s golden. Which is either really cool if you like gold stuff, or a bit extravagant if you have a more modest taste. I fall into the latter category, so I tolerate its flash because of its sound.
Besides the wires being on the thicker side I have no further complaints: the cable doesn’t pass on microphonics, and it doesn’t press uncomfortably on my ears. Along the top part there’s a transparent heat shrink lining that presses the wires in shape, and also prevents the braid of the wires pressing on your ear. The weight itself is not that bad unless you have a strong preference for lightweight cables.
I’ve hinted at it before, so I’m going to cut to the chase – the Golden is a very special cable. Its extravagant looks are matched by its unique tonality. What I like to call a ‘summer’ signature, a rare kind of rich tonality that I’ve only come across twice in the roughly 25 cables I’ve heard so far. An inherently warm and smooth midrange, and overall very natural yet emotional sound; not in a ‘reference’ kind of way; it’s an enriched beauty, like photoshopping a picture to make the colors pop. There are plenty cables that are warm, but this isn’t what I’m referring to – it’s something special.
The Golden doesn’t get its warmth primarily from the mid-bass, like most cables. The bass itself has a warm tone, but it isn’t significantly enhanced. The sub-bass is punchy, and the mid-bass adds a soft touch with good resolution. Instead, the warmth is inherent to the midrange, which is forward and lush. In accordance to the slightly forward center mids, the Golden creates thick notes, and the overall signature is full. Guitars, yes. Vocals? Absolutely. The Golden without a doubt brings out the best in male and female vocals, with added depth and warmth.
But it doesn’t stop there, as a lower treble lift gives the finishing touch to the Golden’s signature. And that’s where the Golden departs from a more standard copper cable, that might sound warm but misses a bit of clarity and sparkle. Instruments like acoustic guitars and violins resonate with a beautiful touch – a clear sound, yet with a golden glow. This is what gives the Golden its natural tonality, by adding an emotional touch to a colder treble like that of the S-EM9 or Zeus. The warmer treble tone can have a pronounced effect on an iem’s signature as a whole; it loses its clinical edge, making the sound as a whole more coherent.
Despite the warm and smooth midrange, the treble is quite transparent; more transparent than the midrange. And this is where the Golden’s treble behaves more like a silver; this results in a certain liveliness, a contrasting brightness to the warmth. This also means that the Golden’s treble is not as smooth and attenuated as its midrange might suggest, as high hats and snare drums are still precisely defined but can be a bit prominent at times, even though the midrange takes center place. A very special combination indeed.
The Golden isn’t a high-resolution cable per se, its focus is on tonality. There is an improvement of resolution over a stock cable, though not to the extent of some of its stablemates like the 2.98 and Wizard OCC. While maybe not in overall resolution, it does have its own specialty: lower harmonics. And what it does, it does best. Lower harmonics are brought to the foreground; the reverberation of a string, the resonance of a voice – the type of faint aftereffects you hear within music. Little additions to the sounds that are already there: overall the sound is rich and vibrant.
The soundstage is not wider per se, but in accordance to its midrange, it is deeper, positioning the stage in a more semi-circle rather than a flat screen. In one word: coherent. The downside of the signature is that some airiness is lost; the combination of thick notes and lower harmonics brings liveliness to the stage, but also takes up more space on the stage – a side effect of the ‘glowing’ resonance if you will, the residuals of warmth and reverberations.
Empire Ears Zeus-XIV 9.5/10
The first iem I tested the Golden with, was Zeus-XIV (original Zeus; the pre-R version). At that point I didn’t have any expectations of it, it was a loaner that Sammy had sent along in a package to try. I attached Zeus, put on a track, and listened for about.. three weeks straight – relentlessly ignoring every iem or cable I had around. Some of the main critiques on Zeus-XIV was that its treble tuning was on the safe side, and its mid-centric signature, therefore, limited its versatility over different genres. Zeus was the king of vocals, rock, and singer/songwriter type music, but I wouldn’t dream of putting on some melodious electronic music. In addition, the combination with the BTG gives it a rather clinical treble tone, which gave it a bit of a technical rather than natural approach.
By adding a magical touch from the Golden to the treble, Zeus was transformed and reborn. The overall tone is more natural rather than technical, and a lift in the lower treble not only adds beauty to the sound but contributes to its versatility. Zeus already has an exceptional resolution, but the apparent lower harmonics add an extra dimension to the sound, a certain liveliness. Despite Zeus being a specialist, it was still my favorite. That being said, I find it safe to say that the combination with Golden brought the peak of my listening experience to a new level – combining technical perfection, with a beautiful tonality.
EarSonics S-EM9 9/10
The EarSonics S-EM9 is my go to iem for electronic or generally fast-paced music. With its dynamic U-shaped signature it’s agile and incredibly quick, but has a leaner midrange compared to iems like Zeus or Solar; notes aren’t very thick. The S-EM9 has an enhanced and very precise treble, which can sound a bit prominent with the wrong pairing. A signature that might be less full-sounding, but works best for genres like EDM or faster rock.
The Golden fills up the midrange, giving the S-EM9 thicker yet soft notes, with a beautiful tone. Like Zeus, the S-EM9 has a slightly clinical treble, but also excellent resolution, above average for the standard TOTL. And likewise, by adding a warmer touch to the treble, the Golden transforms the S-EM9’s tonality to a more natural, yet rich and enhanced sound. The midrange is slightly more forward, and overall it just has a beautiful tone. The S-EM9’s stage is not very large, and feels slightly more cramped due to the thicker notes; a side effect I can most definitely live with, as the sound as a whole is fuller and more forward, though not as clean as a more V-shaped cable. However, since the S-EM9’s resolution is already up to par the pairing is outstanding, although its technical performance is not pushed to its absolute max.
Rhapsodio Galaxy 8.5/10
The Galaxy is one of the most cable sensitive iems I own. It’s not without reason it’s sold with the 2.98, a $380 silver/gold cable with a warm tonality yet excellent resolution. The Galaxy is a high-resolution iem, with a neutrally-tuned signature that is skewed towards the treble. Highly detailed, but its tone can border on metallic with the wrong pairing (it seems especially allergic to SPC’s), and it requires a proper cable to bring out the best of its resolution, more so than Zeus for instance. It’s stock cable, the 2.98, strikes a great balance between tone and resolution.
The Golden provides the warm touch it needs, softening the treble and providing a very natural but colored tonality. Vocals sound warm, with the right amount of added depth to sound emotive rather than hollow. While its tonality is beautiful, and surely among the best the Galaxy can get, there is a tradeoff for resolution, which lags behind the 2.98. So for its rating I’m torn; I want to give it at least a 9 for its tone, but only an 8 for its resolution – so I have to average the two.
Rhapsodio Solar 5/10
The Solar is a warm, full and smooth sounding CIEM: 10 BA drivers producing an effortless sound, driven by its bass. The mid-bass plays a prominent role in the presentation, giving it very thick notes. While imaging is excellent, its midrange resolution can use a boost – my favorite pairing being the 2.98 8-braid. While the Solar has a powerful and full sound, a quality cable can improve its instrument definition and ‘bite’ a great deal; the crunch of guitars, and crispness of acoustic or string instruments.
In combination with the Golden, the cable’s magic is lost, while the Solar is equally left wanting for more. Both are warm, while the Solar’s treble is smooth. The special upper midrange tone seems to drown in the overall warm atmosphere. The Solar’s main desire, an improvement in midrange resolution, is left unfulfilled. This is a pairing that knows no winners.
Rhapsodio Golden vs. Wagnus Frosty Sheep
The Golden and Wagnus are the Yin and Yang of the two most important aspects of a cable: tone and resolution. The Golden, with its uniquely rich and beautiful tonality, the Wagnus, on the other hand, setting the bar for resolution.
The Wagnus has an overall cleaner bass with less sub-bass impact, with the Golden’s bass being fuller and warmer. The Wagnus’ leaner bass, on the other hand, equals in a clear and airier atmosphere. The midrange is flat compared to the Golden, with less thick notes compared to the slightly forward midrange of the Golden. But its treble and especially upper treble is lifted and more precise though also more clinical. However, the increase in midrange resolution is impressive, leaving the Golden at a safe distance. The Golden caters those looking for a warm and natural sound – the Wagnus those looking for a neutral presentation with a focus on precision and resolution.
It might not come as a surprise that I’m pretty infatuated with the Golden, and it ended up being one of my favorite cables. With the right pairing like an iem as the S-EM9 and especially Zeus, it manages to take a world-class iem to yet another level with its beautiful tonality. But considering my praise, it might be a bit surprising that it isn’t even one of Sammy’s own favorites. He personally prefers the Silver Litz or Wizard OCC, as his preference is for an uncolored sound with a primary focus on resolution. So I guess that puts everything in perspective: in the end, preference always speaks the final word. And of course, matching is essential.
The Golden is a special cable indeed, but like all cables comes with its own pairing requirements to excel. The matching key lies in an iem’s overall warmth and especially treble tone: it pairs especially well with an iem that has a cold or analytic treble tone or is just overall on the brighter side. Its pairing is less fortunate with warm and smooth iems as the sound might get too stuffy, or just not bring out the maximum potential the Golden (or the iem). In addition, it also pairs best with iems that already have a high resolution, rather than iems requiring a cable to bring out the best of it.
Based on its price, the Golden is featured first in this series. But concerning tonality, it’s already set the bar very high – or dare I say, a ‘gold standard’. Game on!