In our reviews, headphone cables are rarely in the spotlight. Sure, we complain when they’re flimsy and gush when they’re sleeved in no-tangle fabric, but they usually don’t warrant more than a passing comment. We do consistently praise headphones with detachable cables — this feature allows for replacement of broken cables, swapping between long, short, single-ended, and balanced cables, and even experimentation with high-end cable materials. There is one more advantage to detachable cables, however, that we have only barely covered: the ability to make your headphones wireless. For our first review of a headphone cable that comes with no headphones attached, we’re looking at the Plussound Exo Bluetooth cable. It’s a niche product for sure, but may the best way to add wireless functionality to headphones that we have yet seen.
Based in Los Angeles, California, Plussound has been designing and building custom headphone cables and interconnects for over six years. Most recently, they’ve even branched out into IEMs and portable amplifiers. Their cables are highly customizable, with a variety of conductor and cable sleeving options that can be terminated with virtually any connector on the market. These cables — especially with wire upgrades — can come at prices that are familiar only to audiophiles (i.e. expensive). Still, even if you don’t believe that silver-plated cable is required for good sound, we think there is undeniable value in cables that come in the perfect length, with the connectors you need, made of beautiful and durable materials, and hand-built with care. The Exo is no exception — the entry-level version features two Type-6 Litz oxygen-free copper cables in Plussound’s own transparent insulation. These conductors have their own unique properties (which you can read about here), not the least of which are superior durability and looks compared to the tiny fine-gauge wire found in most headphone cables. The Exo’s connectors are protected by heat-shrink tubing, emblazoned with red and blue versions of the Plussound logo, that not only protect the connectors, but also provide strain relief for the cable.
The main attraction of the Exo cable is, of course, Plussound’s custom-designed Bluetooth module. This isn’t first the Bluetooth accessory cable we’ve tested — the Shure SE215 Wireless was really the standard SE215 bundled with Shure’s RMCE-BT1 cable. Though that cable did add wireless functionality to an otherwise wire-bound headphone, we found it disappointing for the price. The Exo cable is more expensive than the RMCE-BT1, but outperforms Shure’s offering in nearly every way. The Exo supports Bluetooth 4.2, aptX, and AAC. Its three-button controls sit a little loosely in their housing and, on our sample, seemed to be mounted upside-down from what we’re used to (volume up towards the bottom of the device), but they worked perfectly with iOS. In our testing, we experienced some barely-audible hiss when audio was active and occasional audio skips when our phone was placed in a cross-body pocket, but in both cases no more so than the majority of Bluetooth headphones we’ve tested.
When we first contacted Plussound, we had Fiio’s F9 Pro and FH1 IEMs on hand. They’re very different headphones, but both use MMCX connectors for their detachable cables, so we requested a review sample terminated in MMCX. The Exo worked flawlessly with these IEMs, not coloring the sound in any discernable way, and lasting about 10 hours on a charge. The only detractor from our experience was the size of the Exo’s Bluetooth module. It’s extremely light, but very large, and the sheer size of it causes some weight imbalance, and makes it easily snagged on collars and coats. After using it for a few weeks, however, the size of the Bluetooth module was never actually a problem, and we have to give Plussound some leeway for designing a module as small as possible — unlike Shure, they don’t have the luxury of placing components along the length of the cable. Plussound told us that they can place the Bluetooth module in the middle of the cable upon request.
The Plussound Exo looks great, with its high-quality materials and distinctly custom feel. Its price (especially after upgrades) may be surprising to those who have never shopped for custom audio cables, but we think this entry-level model easily justifies the cost. The Exo is a great example of what’s possible with a detachable cable and a little ingenuity. Though we were not able to test the limits of the Exo’s power output — we didn’t have any full-size headphones with MMCX connectors on hand — we love the idea of making our best cans wireless. If you own any headphones with detachable cables, we think the Plussound Exo is an accessory you simply must try.
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