My name is Tokpa, and I am honored to have been asked by Andrew to do a guest review here at Bloom Audio. Bloom is one of my favorite places to get my gear, Andrew is the nicest and most accommodating guy ever, and they even send you a chocolate bar with your order - how cool is that! So, let me briefly introduce myself; I am a professional touring/studio musician, a producer, photographer, videographer, and director. On top of being a multifaceted artist, I am also an extreme audiophile. I live and breathe music, every day, all the time, and my portable IEM/DAP setup goes everywhere with me. Music is life and needs to sound awesome always!
Today I am talking about the Eletech Iliad. This is Eletech’s second highest priced cable, made of some seriously expensive materials with a wowzers price to match at $1799. Making the decision to buy a cable, or for that matter any piece of musical gear for this kind of money is for those that can, or for those that really, really care. I’m the latter. This is not a cheap hobby, and this is not a cheap cable. Perfection doesn’t come easy, and the road to perfect sound is littered with mistakes, lessons learned, and old gear changed for new. There are much cheaper cables out there, but some that are much more expensive too. For some, a basic cable is all they need, others like myself are trying to squeeze the last remaining drops of performance out of the setups. Cables can be a hot topic, as they usually affect your setup in more minimal ways compared to IEMs or a different source. But they can be the last step to finding that perfect sound and should not be understated; the right cable can change everything.
Something to keep in mind when talking about cables; the “sound” they have is very subjective, and completely dependent on what gear you use them with. Also, everyone hears things differently, likes different music, likes their music presented in different ways, and has drastically different expectations. Wrap all that up in a bowl of opinions and you’ve got fodder for an emotion filled conversation about the “best” cable. Short answer is there is no such thing, only what works perfectly for your gear, your music, and your way of listening. I come from an audio background where absolutely everything in your signal chain makes a difference. Recording engineers and audiophiles alike know how much the smallest change in equipment can alter the sound. Different wire, connectors, even solder. But it’s not always a better change, or even a perceptible change. Sometimes the synergy just isn’t right, and you can even go backwards making it worse. Sometimes the el-cheapo gear sounds better than the crazy expensive, so it’s not always worth throwing more money at it, more expensive doesn’t always mean better. The right cable can breathe new life into your treasured favorites or make a very pleasant IEM sound harsh and bright, or dark and dull. It’s all about the synergy. What matters most – scratch that – the only thing that matters, is if you like it, and it makes you happy. So, on with the Iliad!
Eletech is not new to the game, and for those that have been paying attention, their owner Eric Chong was a major player at Effect Audio until a few years ago. He left to do his own thing, joining the crowd of boutique cable makers with a line of freshly unique, exquisite cables that truly stand out from the rest. On top of that, Eric is a shining example of a nice guy, and one who truly understands audio. I was very interested to hear the Iliad, having read some great stuff about it, and talking to Eric about it too. The comment I heard often, and was most interested in, was how natural it was. But everyone’s idea of natural isn’t always the same. I use a set of 64 Audio A18t IEMs for work and pleasure, and they are the absolute benchmark when it comes to natural reference. I use them for rough mixing often, and my needs are perhaps unique to the Head-Fi world, in that the sound cannot be overtly changed, pushed, or twisted to make room for more soundstage, clarity, or whatever at the expense of natural, neutral, reference timbre. It must sound like the artist intended first and foremost.
Fit and Feel
I won’t go into the unboxing experience, I’ll leave that to those that care more about such things, but I can say that the box, the design, and all included accessories are best in the game. You can find all the technical information about what exactly they built this cable with, someone else can explain that better than I as well. Just know that it comes in a lovely, very useable olive green leather case, and yes the box is super cool too. Sometimes there is way too much effort put into the aesthetics of cables (and their packaging), to the detriment of the product itself, or at least the inflated price tag. I will go on record to say that I am not a huge fan of the typical ultra TOTL look, where everything needs to be sparkly, and super fancy all the time. It can oftentimes become overstated and a bit too much. I care mostly about the sound, and the feel when it’s worn - comfort is important! Personally, I like a more industrial no frills concept, but that’s just me, and of course I don’t mind a beautiful object - I just don’t want pay a bunch more for fancy visual design only. That being said, the Iliad is perhaps the most beautiful cable I have ever seen, and is so lush, soft and supple I couldn’t believe it. It uses 24AWG wires, which could feel big and heavy but instead feel velvety soft to the touch, with absolutely no memory retention, letting the cable just drape on your neck. The color is warm and sparkly, you can see the individual golden strands as they glimmer in the light when you hold them just so. The color is more pale and soft, which gives it a premium look without screaming “overpriced gear here!” With the Iliad I don’t mind the fancy look, somehow it’s more organic looking than some other gold hued cables, and doesn’t make me feel like I’m holding a piece of jewelry, but an ultra high end audio cable that could also take a beating if I inevitably dropped it. One thing to note, the Iliad doesn’t have a chin cinch, which is unfortunate. Apparently, they no longer use one because the original one was causing too many RMA repairs, but it is definitely missed in my opinion.
The hardware is brushed aluminum, feels solid in my hand, and has some very unique golden geometric patterns that lend to its uniqueness. Instead of using some famous branded connectors, Electech opted to make their own, and they are certainly top tier here. Just know this is a very elegant cable, and you know it from the first moment you pick it up. I’m sure many will be curious to compare this to the EA Code 51, as they use very similar cable materials, and the price point is in the same ball park. More on the sound later, but I was very surprised to find that the Iliad was quite a bit softer and more subtle than the C51, despite it being physically larger. Fit, finish, feel, all get top marks from my side. Well done!
Here we come to the crucial part, because no matter how lovely it looks, if you don’t love the sound then who cares. Again, let me stress that my personal preference is more reference, natural, and organic. I love a huge grandiose soundstage, loads of detail, mesmerizing vocals, and deep rich bass as much as the next guy, just not at the expense of natural timbre, or making the instruments or vocals sound too “off.” It should sound like real life, not so much the hopped-up Head-Fi sound that we see too often. Just please be as much as possible like real studio monitors or a Hi-Fi system in a perfect treated room, that’s all I ask!
So how does it sound? On first listen the Iliad was, wow. Huge soundstage, rich deep bass, organic velvety vocals, with a high end that went to the heavens. More of a soft and relaxed approach, with gleaming details. Organic and rich. Super duper crazy holographic. The power is also there, delivering some dynamic power and thump when called for. I was very impressed. But the longer I listened I started to hear a few things that bothered me some. Let’s delve deeper.
The bass of the Iliad is wonderful. It extends very deep, with a nice sub bass rumble extension, and good authority. The lows are in the right place, putting the emphasis roundly on the whole bass spectrum instead of highlighting a specific area with no humps or bumps along the way. There is absolutely no bleed of the bass frequencies into the lower mids, keeping the lows nice and clean. More guttural than punchy, but with some serious attitude. After more listening, I found the bass tends slightly towards the warmer side, while continuing to stay very organic. I found the low end has this sense of growl to it, thunderous but almost wooly or even fuzzy at moments. The more I listened, the more I found it to bloom a bit too much, which disappointed me, as it favors a dirtier gritty low than a cleaner sound. Not that it's grainy, more like there is a bit of a tube-like growl. It could be super awesome too. This all of course depends on the music you’re listening to. For rock I think people would love it, for classical, perhaps less so (at least in terms of tonal accuracy). Synths, and electronic music, yes please. Jazz has this growl and grunt on the low end that I did really enjoy. So yes, awesome, but at times it could also be a bit messy. If I compare it to the C51, the EA is punchier, maybe more “correct,” and a bit more controlled, if also a bit too tight. The Iliad has this more relaxed presentation, not loose but less taught. If you like great organic bass, with a sub nice extension and a little growl to it, look no further.
Here is where the Iliad shines brightest. This is definitely your cable if you like vocals, as I have yet to hear a cable render them so out of your head, and with such velvet sweetness as the Iliad does. The sound stage is huge here, one of the biggest and most 3D of any cable I’ve ever heard. Perhaps the most holographic of any cable I’ve heard. The presentation is relaxed, but heaps of micro details remind you that this is one of the best cables you can buy, while allowing you to simultaneously forget about it all and just enjoy the music. There is a slight upper mid bite, giving snare hits and brass horns a little extra snap and crack. Lots of space in-between the layers, great separation and detail. Guitars have the correct timbre, loads of personality, and I can hear that woody-ness along with the grunt or scream. I found this all to be lovely, organic and very enjoyable to listen to. Instruments sounded as they should. Hooray! Upon more listening my only qualm with the midrange is that in order to give you the cavernous sound stage it forces the mids a bit too far away, almost scooping them out to make the space. Vocals sit nicely, but instruments are forced a bit further back than I would like, which takes away from their personality. This is typical of such 3D holographic cables, all of them seem to do it, and I do feel the Iliad accomplished this exceptionally well, the best of any of them.
Thinking back of the EA Leonidas Octa, whose upper midrange is way to altered for my tastes, the Iliad bests it by a long shot here. For those that treasure vocals, this will be a welcome gift. The C51 midrange is more forward and neutral, still quiet holographic but not in the same range as the Iliad, but its presentation is just too hard and punchy, taking away some of the dynamic range. Both cables have heaps of resolution, but how they present them differ. The transients of the Iliad are softer, with plenty of bite but more relaxed and a bit slower, more musical perhaps. The C51 has more of a heavy hand, while the mids are most forward they have greater bite and intensity. It really comes down to personal preference, they’re both spectacular performers here, and I am really splitting hairs.
I had heard some pretty outrageous claims about the treble of the Ilaid. Perfection. Amazing. A high end dipped in honey, with a sprinkling of liquid gold sparkles in the highest registers, this is what I was expecting. Indeed, that does sum it up, almost. I will say the high end is exceptionally beautiful, tasteful, detailed, lush, clear, vivid, spectacular even. The holographic nature continues here into the upper registers, with heaps of resolution befitting such a TOTL offering. The smallest details are rendered with precision and care. It extends wayyy above your head, giving one of the most gorgeous and spacey treble presentations I have yet heard. Like sprinkled gold flakes dancing in the wind. Transients are fast but not too intense, keeping the pace nicely but not forcing anything. The upper registers have a very black background which keeps all the tiny details lit up and clear. It’s very natural, even, and slightly laid back. It could actually be close to perfect. But, and it’s a big but, there is this extra presence, a slight sizzle, this sense of crystalline sparkle that brought it over the edge for me at times.
To be honest I was most worried about the extra treble energy when I was initially researching the Iliad. I kept hearing it could add a bit too much sparkle for some pair ups, and while the treble of my A18t is glorious, perfect even, adding a bit more sparkle energy could easily push them over the edge into uncomfortable territory. And this is what happened for me. I’ll try to explain it. Imagine having this perfect Iliad high end, just amazing, ok, got that in your head? Now imagine having a presence knob on your amplifier that controls only the highest frequencies, and that gets turned “just a bit” too much. That’s what the Iliad high end sounds like, to me at least. A sprinkle of golden sparkles in the ultra high end, tickling and sizzling your ears just a bit too overdone. Remarkable, natural and organic, just that extra presence made it almost impossible for me. I really, really wanted it to be perfect, I even found myself wishing it could be just 4% less presence, 3% less? But sadly, that’s not how it works. An abundance of one frequency can be ok sometimes, but that super high sizzling treble…makes it hard to relax, and there was just enough extra to accomplish this. Again, perhaps this is a bit of that Head-Fi tuning, ultra sparkle city that many probably enjoy, but it was enough that I couldn’t enjoy the cable with my A18t. Now, I have a friend who uses an Iliad with a set of A18s IEMs – which inherently have a lower amount of treble energy, and sparkle – and he loves it. So again, it come down to the pair up, the synergy – but unfortunately this was the breaking point for me. Darker IEMs this could be THE cable for you. Or if you prefer a super treble energy experience…Horus anyone?
To compare the C51, it’s more linear in the highest registers, avoiding that extra presence sizzle. There is even a slight roll-off of the upper treble regions, bringing a sense of organic warmth up there. But the extra energy and transient intensity of the C51 somehow makes the cable harder to enjoy in the high end, as the continued taught power makes its way to the treble too. So, you have this slightly rounded off warmer treble, but the almost aggressive nature of the cable, in its desire to be punchy and powerful can come off being a bit too heavy handed. The Iliad is definitely more relaxed here, even with the added presence, it has a lighter hand. One is more musical with added golden sizzle, the other is more clean, punchy and linear.
So, was the Iliad everything I wished it to be? Painfully close but unfortunately no. Could it be everything someone else wishes it to be? Very likely. It’s an amazing cable. Glorious sound, incredible resolution, organic vibe, wondrously lush and soft to the touch. Nicest feeling cable I’ve ever used. Best of the best even, just didn’t quite work for me. With a darker IEM it could be perfect. For someone who loves that extra sizzle and shine, perfect. For someone who has lost some of their upper register hearing, could be! My personal caveat is simple in essence, but hard to find in reality. Natural, reference, and capable of letting the music, and the mix, be presented as faithfully and correctly as possible. Hiding behind extra detail, an overly opened up soundstage, or extra punch and slam just doesn’t do it for me. The Iliad was really close, ticking off most of my boxes, but the nail in the coffin was that darn sizzle, just what I was afraid of. It just wasn’t a good match up with my IEMs, which in all fairness are right on the bleeding edge of comfort in the high end already.
To sum up the Iliad and its closest competitor, the EA C51, I am struck in a bit of a Catch 22. The C51 has the killer punchy bass, the clean and more linear mids and highs, with a seemingly pleasant roll off to the highest frequencies, so it should be great yeah? In actuality, I found the C51 to be hard to enjoy, just because of its heavy handed nature, and the power it exudes makes the dynamics always in the “intense” category. I couldn’t relax with it. The trade off with the Iliad is it is more relaxed, maybe even more musical, with softer transients and more of a tubelike glow to the bass. I like the positioning of the mids on the C51 more, giving them a more forward placement, but the aggressive nature of the transients gives it an edge that can be downright unpleasant at times, with the wrong mix/music. So, there is a tradeoff with both, but for this crazy price range it should be perfect, yes? I’m sure that many people will be totally in love with the C51’s power, amazing bass, and incredible clarity, just as someone will call the Iliad the greatest most musical cable ever – and they’re both right. Remember, the only thing that matters is that you like it.
The Iliad is a tremendous undertaking, and it succeeds at almost everything in perfect harmony. Superbly soft cable, beautiful and understated looks, amazing connectors, great sound. For such a price it should be all one could wish for, and it certainly delivers on all accounts there. I am very happy to have had the chance to hear it. To hear such amazing gear is what I live for. You get what you pay for, and with the right IEM match this could be the best cable made in the world. Perfection even, and that’s what we’re all searching for, perfection right? It just needs the right IEM to partner with, and game over.
Tokpa Korlo is a gifted musician, photographer, videographer and sobriety activist with a large international following. Born in Austin, Texas into a family of meditators, he has since travelled the world extensively and lived in both Europe and Asia. Tokpa earned recognition as a jazz guitarist since his early teens, studied Jazz Performance and Composition at California Institute of the Arts and the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles where he was honored with the college’s “Outstanding Guitarist” award. You can learn more about Tokpa and his work at tokpakorlo.com