Letshuoer Cadenza 12 ($2300): Is this worthy of the name flagship? Yes. Yes it is.
When Will messaged me that he had what he considered to be one of the most resolving, thoroughly satisfying sounds he had heard in quite some time from an IEM, I let him go on for a bit. He then mentioned it was the Letshuoer Cadenza 12…I let that sink in…he talked some more, and I listened. My mind wandered to a previous model I had reviewed from the previous company (before the name change), the Tape. Some liked it, some loved it’s cassette-like looks and marveled at what was one of the first piezo’s out. I was at the opposite end. I will openly admit that I really, REALLY did not like the Tape. It’s sizzle up top, and lack of dynamics from my perspective made me wonder how the other reviewers could stand it. Then it occurred to me (like a Whack-A-Mole game), that my tastes differed from others and I could understand why some liked it. I’ll put this politely, I really did not like the Tape.
So as Will was expounding upon why the Cadenza 12 jumped to the top of his list, I appreciated his insight, for we usually agree on what we like and dislike; but come from two different favored sound signatures. So, after Will’s time, and review here on eCoustics, the unit was sent to me. He asked that I withhold judgement until I had a thorough listen. I trust his judgement, and his review creds, so I did. What follows are glowing words for the Cadenza 12 (C12), and astonishment at what I would personally call the “rebirth” of a company that now gets it. Astounding, indeed.
This unit will be sent to the next lucky reviewer when my time is up, and all I can say is that I will be sad for it to go. Very sad.
In The Box:
Astell & Kern CA1000T
Shanling M6 Pro
Empire Ears Legend X
UE Live (Custom)
Dark Side of the Moon
Once one hits a certain price point, there is an expectation of an unboxing event. A production really. The C12 does not disappoint. Coming in a mirrored silver sleeve, the unboxing is indeed an event from the beginning. Taking off the sleeve, a clamshell-like box clad in black reveals itself. A magnetic clasp holds the top in place. Once opened you are presented with an opaque cover sheet laden with the logo. Lifting that you discover the square case in one third, the IEM’s themselves in another, and a sterling Letshuoer dog, their mascot. This mascot doubles as a stand for your IEM when on your desktop for all to see. It is a heavy piece as well so mind where you place it.
Lifting the lower part where the IEM resides in soft foam, you are met with a paperboard wrapped sleeve around the dividers mentioned below. Under that you find slots for the three types of tips in s, m, l of Vocal, Bass & Balanced types. I favored the bass, and in medium size, which is one size smaller than I usually use due to the shape of my canal. As a result, seal and isolation were VERY good as a result.
Another reviewer noted setting aside 30 minutes for the unboxing. I cannot disagree, since time spent exploring is part of the overall experience. I will note that the soft layer of felt over the foam inserts looks quite cheap, and does not stay in place. To me this belies the overall expectations and involvement. A positive of the box is that Letshuoer included a flexible insert, so you can arrange the inside to accommodate many IEM’s or DAP’s (or dongles). This is good thinking and one could easily tuck this into your suitcase when traveling. A well thought out plan, and one I hope more manufacturers incorporate, instead of throwaway or simple cardboard. Investing a few pennies more per unit means a change in a couple of dollars. So be it.
I will mention that the felt cover of which I spoke above would become so much of an annoyance to me that it would end up in the trash receptacle. Opening the box, or removing anything from the case means that piece constantly moved; especially taking the logo stand out and accessing the tips. Throw it away…
The paperwork on the other hand is all premium and amongst the best I have seen in any flagship.
The C12 is a hybrid IEM utilizing a single 10mm dynamic diver and eleven balanced armatures per ear. The dynamic driver uses an LSS Kevlar diaphragm for increased rigidity while reducing weight. Letshuoer feels that the C12 benefits from the higher performance driver in addition to the balanced armatures (ba’s).
The ba’s are a mix of Sonion and Knowles models. The Sonion are used for the mid-bass and midrange drivers, along with super-tweeters that are paired with the Knowles tweeters. In essence, the Sonion surround the Knowles frequency-wise. The six-way crossover and five handmade sound bores ensure that all those drivers remain in-phase and work together seamlessly focusing on the merits of each driver within their respective range.
Letshuoer could have gone for less expensive (but still very high quality) off-the-shelf drivers from both vendors (like many do, to the detriment of those models…) but instead decided to invest in custom drivers that took much longer to engineer and test.
There is no denying two things about the C12: 1. It looks superb in the mirrored finish, and 2. It is big. To me this is not the largest IEM I have tried, but it is close. Tip rolling therefore makes it a necessity for proper fit. The nub on the conche becomes annoyingly blunt after longer sessions of two plus hours, and I find myself adjusting the unit near-constantly to avoid that.
Using the medium bass tips, helped to alleviate the conche pressure, but I could still feel it. The shell itself is gorgeous (but fingerprint prone…) due to the mirrored finish, laden with the “Letshuoer” name. I will say that between Will and myself, the faceplate is showing scratches, so a thicker or tougher coating might help.
In typical teardrop shape, there is a single small vent hole on the inside top of the shell, right next to the Phillips head screw; which gives access to the shell. Swooping toward one’s ear, the shape melds well with the fairly wide screened nozzle. A bit wider than I prefer, but when you consider all of the sound tubes and drivers, it can be excused. Thankfully there is a nice lip, which helps hold tips in place. The backside of the shell also carries (in faint lettering, which is near impossible to read) an “L” or “R” along with the model and serial numbers. My feeling is that Letshuoer wanted to give you the information, but not highlight that lettering too much.
The cable comes in 2-pin 0.78mm variety with a unique 4-pin attachment for the jacks. Included are 2.5bal, 3.5se and 4.4bal. What makes this unique is that the jack housing screws off (onto the cable), then you can pull the jack itself off. I would be careful doing so, and I could not achieve a tight fit when attaching the jack to the inserts. Orientation is paramount as well, to allow the screw on jack cover to mate properly. I novel idea, but with a couple of quirks. Build of the cable is fabulous and it comes stock with 204-strands of 6N Monocrystalline Copper and Silver in a hybrid weave configuration to reduce impedance and improve signal integrity. The hybrid cable is sturdy and well-built, despite being a little tough to work with (besides the attaching of jack tips) and not so forgiving at times. Above the Y-splitter, the wires are visible in shrink wrapped silicon. Below, the cable is shod in the same, but with a form-fitting cloth cover giving it that extra stiffness.
I would rate the overall quality of the IEM and cable as “nearly” worthy of a flagship moniker. Improvements would make this top of the class.
Going back to my ongoing discussion with Will, I appreciated what he said, and mostly agreed. Bass (especially using the bass tips of foam/silicon mix) reaches deep and well under control. There is good grunt, but controlled leading into sumptuous mids. Taylor Swift’s voice sound superb inside my head, and is clean, crisp and detailed. Pushed slightly forward and up to me, this is the highlight. Treble notes follow naturally with good reach and clarity; lending to a more smooth character than sheer quality. The C12 is different enough from others in this range that it can be considered based upon its pleasantly vibrant character and feel.
Bass while not reaching the nether regions of my Legend X nonetheless exist on quality. Note weight and dynamics rule the roost here instead of sheer quantity. I would call it engaging rather than having that eviscerating quality of sheer subwoofer power like the LX. As a result, there is a smooth push into the mids. The engagement of the low end could be attributed to a slightly slower decay, which to me mimics going deeper. A false sense of depth, kept well under control. The dynamic driver of common 10mm size does its job without overpowering or embarrassing the signature.
Those mids come is sweetly and with a vibrant smoothness not unlike the UE Live. Other have noted that the bass is their favorite part. For me it is the mids, which seems odd to me since I prefer the low end. Female vocals sound sweet and defined, but without becoming piercing. Lending to that smooth character there is still plenty of definition in the layer as conga drums and piano come across with that vibrant tonality such as on “No Hay Problema” from Pink Martini. A song such as this demands accurate representation, but also that sumptuousness Latin music is known for. The C12 does not disappoint.
Others have found the treble to be a bit short on quality, but with my upper hearing deficiencies, I appreciated the near-tamed response. I found the C12 represented cymbal hits accurately but with a bit of grain in the lower treble. This did not bother me, as there was not the added sparkle sometimes associated with the upper end as a cover for the less than tight control.
Rolling this all together, I find the soundstage to be taller than wide, with very good depth as well. Think of sitting near the mid-back point in a tall narrower venue. Still excellent seating and placing of sound, just not as wide as others in this range. To me this helps with dynamics. There can be more focus on the layers here instead of placement. The results come out the same, but the increased dynamics result in excellent sound. Once “Safe From Harm” by Massive Attack comes on, my senses face a cacophony of emotions and I reach for the volume knob…to turn it up.
Letshuoer Cadenza 12 ($2200) vEmpire Ears Legend X ($2300):
My unabashed love for the Legend X has been written about many times. The bass is (still) superb passed only by the LX EVO and Fir Audio M4/M5 & Elemental models. Adding the Eletech Socrates makes this my reference point for all comers. If there is one aspect, I would find lacking, it is overall clarity and detail. To me, this does suffer a bit from that marvelous bass response. The C12 does better here with more detail present, but keeping that “warmer” signature. Parenthetically speaking, because the LX is warmer while the C12 helps necessitate the warmer signature through excellent responsive mids and the treble note of which I spoke above. I still prefer the LX, but the C12 makes a worthy effort.
Letshuoer Cadenza 12 ($2200) vUE Live ($2400, Custom):
The UE Live was my first custom followed by the CFA Supermoon and UE Drop. Fit is very good, since this is oriented towards performers. The first difference to me is in the details. There is no comparison to me, the Live wins. The C12 is good. Very good. But it suffers from the multiple driver count to me, and trying to please many users (and genres). The UE Live is purpose-built for one thing: communicating as much information to the user (performer) as possible with the least number of distractions. As such, this really is not a fair comparison. That said, the C12 comes across with a more velvet-like signature, without becoming too warm or rich. Not as reference as the Live, but also with excellent dynamics and note weight. Where the Live might come across as “thin” due to the need to pass information along, the C12 adds a thicker signature. Both come across as very good, but from very different perspectives.
Going back to my opening, I came at the C12 with some trepidation, even with Will’s knowledgeable opinion. It is not that I didn’t trust him, it was the bad memory of the “other” one. But I also understood that Will does not throw platitudes and accolades around without warrant. So it was that I waited.
And what I heard from the off was a worthy candidate and then addition to the flagship moniker. The bass hits fairly hard, and with good character. The mids come across without offense, and the treble note hits my sweet spot (as in not offensive). With the proper tip, the Cadenza 12 is an excellent monitor for the price and should be considered in that near-rarified air of top-class IEM’s. Is it the best? No, but it wasn’t meant to be. This is an exercise in revitalization. And Letshuoer has largely succeeded. This is a very fine unit, just pitch that felt cover.