ISN AG8

If you're looking for cable that brings an organic signature with extra texture down low, a nice lower mids boost and a smooth delivery across the range combined with a nice separation and stage size expansion that only an 8 wire can provide then at this price the AG8 is to me a no brainer!

Pros

  • Very good build with flawless braiding
  • Excellent soundstage expansion
  • Improved imaging thanks to better separation
  • Smooth delivery across the range
  • Good quality carbon termination and splitter
  • Tight slider stays in place
  • Color coded left and right

Cons

  • Cable weight and no preformed ear hooks makes it a better at home option than on the go

Product Page : https://isnaudio.com/cables/isn-ag8/
Official Distributor’s page : https://penonaudio.com/isn-audio-ag8.html
Price : 199$

Introduction

I discovered the ISN brand when I had the chance to review the sales hit ISN H40 IEM which boast fantastic value for money. When I had the opportunity to review their 8 strands pure silver cable the AG8 I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to write my first cable review. I actually spent a lot of time (200+ hours) with the AG8 before finally getting to write this, with a lot of different pairings.

Build, ergonomics and comfort

The AG8 comes in a relatively simple package not unlike the H40, but given the amazing value for money they provide the interest is in the product itself rather than the packaging.

Build
The build quality is great and the braiding of the cable is flawless and quite beautiful. ISN doesn’t share much on the strands nature, the manufacturing process, gauge (but I’d say 24 AWG comparing to other cables I own), geometry or even source of the material like some cable makers other than it’s high purity silver. The cable sheathing color, giving somewhat of a golden brown color is very classy. The carbon splitter and termination feels sturdy with classy golden touches. The plug is gold plated as it should be in this price range.

Ergonomics
I have a 2 pin version of the AG8 and I was happy to see that it works with all my recessed IEMs and CIEMs as it can sometimes be an issue. The pins also fit every of my IEM with no extra force needed which is always something I am wary of (my DITA Oslo comes to mind, fits only a small share of my IEMs pins are too fat). The AG8 is neither loose nor tight and fits everything nicely.

Worth noting the blue and red color is something often missing on cables forcing you to check hard to read markings, not the case here with clear color coded markings, kudos ISN here!

On to the slider it’s built to either sit nicely with the splitter, note that it’s fairly tight which is good because it sits securely when you slide it up, on the flipside it’s not easy to slide and I was careful along the way not to slide it too fast. The slider is important ergonomically especially with universal IEM since the cable weight is felt (by nature of it’s 8 wire) and there is no preformed hooks on the ears so the cable holds basically on fit (not an issue with CIEMs) and tension from the slider. ISN chose wisely to make it tight enough.

Comfort
Despite its 8 wire footprint especially considering the 24 AWG, the AG8 is supple and comfortable to wear. Given its footprint and how classy it looks though, I feel better wearing it at home that on the move where lighter alternatives can be more appropriate and also allow to enjoy its sonic qualities to the fullest.

Sound

The ISN AG8 is not at all the typical silver profile in terms of its signature, but the past years have shown material is not the only element determining the sound profile of a cable. If I had to sum up the AG8 I would say it’s a smooth and full sounding cable with good vocal presence, with remarkable soundstage expansion, layering and imaging. As we’ll see in the pairing section, the AG8 pairs better with IEM with reference to natural signatures rather than the bassier and warmer IEMs.

Bass

The AG8 is an interesting cable bass wise, while it does not boost bass particularly neither adding quantity not tightening the bass for a punchier more controlled presentation.

Rather it improved the bass quality and in particular the bass detail and textures on every IEM I tried it with. There is something very analog about the AG8’s bass with a smoother presentation thanks to a smooth attack and a bit longer decay. I also found the percussive instrument’s tone to be quite accurate.

This makes the AG8 an interesting pairing with IEMs that can side on the drier side bass wise, I don’t have many of those but for example the fast, punchy and controlled bass of the Fusion had just an extra wetness and richness and therefore a more tactile feel that I found to be great as it doesn’t compromise the underlying qualities of the Fusion.

Mids

The AG8 is going counter to most silver cable tuning mids wise : it makes every IEM fuller sounding with a definite lower mids boost, but also smoother sounding with again somewhat of an analogue feel with smooth attack and longer decay.

Note that it’s neither overdone – timbre is not affected – nor at the expense of clarity and transparency which is quite remarkable and makes for a nice combination of smooth yet clear presentation with IEMs with good upper mids presence and an open signature.

Instrument separation is improved with the AG8, as is usually the case with 8 wires cables, giving more breathing room to instruments and a better portrayal of more complex ensembles. Last but not least, I enjoyed the vocal presentation on the AG8 very much, it brings vocal a bit more forward with a smooth and clear delivery.

As we’ll see in the pairing section, the AG8 does wonder with the likes of Tansio Mirai Zodiac, ItsFit Lab Fusion, Earsonics EM10 or Dunu SA6. It doesn’t work as well with the warmer, smoother and fuller StealthSonics C9 Pro where clearer cables and source do pair better.

Treble

The AG8 is definitely a consistent cable across the range, it doesn’t betray its smooth nature from bass to treble.

The AG8 lower treble is spot on to my ears both in the energy it conveys and the tone, with a wetter treble presentation it helps bring the little something that provides extra engagement to more neutral IEMs as well as a more natural tone.

This doesn’t go in the way of the treble extension and the AG8 doesn’t disappoint with resolution and air being improved, benefiting soundstage as well as imaging precision.

Pairings

Tansio Mirai Zodiac
This is probably my favorite cable with the Zodiac. If you’ve read my Zodiac review you know that I rate it very high. the Zodiac is a highly transparent IEM with superb soundstage and imaging. It packs good punch down low, open transparent mids with good bite and refined upper treble.

Compared to the stock cable, the ISN AG8 bring a lot to the table starting with an even more expanded soundstage. The Zodiac is already a top performer there with holographic stage but paired with the AG8 it goes into elite soundstage territory with further instruments separation and stage expansion. Overall the AG8 brings a more organic signature to the Zodiac, while not compromising its fundamental qualities.

Bass is even more layered and textured, with a tad more weight as well. Mids are fuller sounding with a bit more body and overall slightly warmer tilt on tone. Upper mids is smoother so there is a bit less bite making for a more romantic presentation. Instruments separation is a bit better and I felt this was beneficial for larger ensembles and more complex tracks. Treble tone is more natural with a slightly warmer tone which I like while at the same time retaining the nice lower treble sparkle the Zodiac is capable of.

Dunu SA6
I recently reviewed Dunu SA6 and it’s one of my favorite mid tier IEMs. The SA6 is a reference IEM with an organic twist, and its SPC stock cable is pretty good to begin with so I was interested in what the AG8 would bring to the table. Given my experience with the Zodiac, I expected the AG8 to make the SA6 a bit more organic still. As it turns out cable synergy is not always a same story with every IEM.

When paired with the AG8, the SA6 gains is a bit fuller but the gain is not as great as the Zodiac pairing which is not a bad thing per say as it doesn’t take the SA6 too far from its reference baseline. I must say while I use the SA6 with its switch to ON with the stock cable, I felt that switch turned off was better with AG8 with Hiby R8 (with DX160 I enjoyed both settings).

But the main benefit that was instantly apparent was the stage, the AG8 opens the SA6 up more than it does the Zodiac and the extra stage size in itself makes the SA6 an even more engaging listen than its very good stock cable.

Earsonics EM10
This is still one of my favorite custom IEM if you’ve read my review you know I consider it a most under rated IEM that can compete with the best and is no less good than the highly praised Grace. The EM10 is a highly engaging all rounder CIEM with totl performance across the board. I also consider the EM10 to be among the very best BA mid bass around no less.

The AG8 is a great pairing with the EM10 if you want to beef up its lower mids and make for a fuller sounding unit, and add a touch of warmth and body to its reference midrange. The added body won’t go in the way of separation and stage since the AG8 will bring extra separation and stage size compared to the stock cable.

I also found the the treble to be more natural with the AG8 with a less reference tone infusing a touch of a warmer treble tone while not compromising the superb upper treble extension and air of the EM10. As for bass, the benefit is obvious and significant to the textures and detail although those are pretty great to begin with so I’d say the main benefit to the EM10 is stil the mids with the AG8.

Custom Art FIBAE7
This is one pairing I suspected might be a toss up depending on how synergy would play out. The other pairings I tried before had me a bit worried the AG8 would make the FIBAE7 a bit thick and warmer. As it turns out it didn’t play out that way and I didn’t find tone to be warmer but the F7 has enough upper mids presence to balance out its lower mids presence so I guess this has something to do with it.

The AG8 smoothened the F7 upper mids though, I am talking of delivery with smooth attack rather than any cable related dip there as the upper mids presence was not affected by the AG8. This makes it an interesting option for people who find the F7 is maybe going to close or beyond their upper mids sensitivity at times (especially on some source like SP1000 or Hugo).

The extra separation and stage size over the stock 4 wire Null Audio Arete was significant with AG8 on the F7 making for a holographic experience.

StealthSonics C9 Pro
The upcoming flagship from StealthSonics I had the chance to recently review before its release is highly engaging and smooth with a strong bassline, full mids with superb vocals and very refined and elegant treble. It’s one of the most organic tuning I have heard to date, I was not sure the pairing with the AG8 would not be too much.

I was right, I didn’t find the pairing to be the best, the C9 Pro has quite a bit more lower mids presence than the average IEM these days. It’s a full midrange with a lot of body and the AG8 just takes it even a tad farther which even with the extra separation and stage size compared to stock doesn’t quite compensate the added warmth and body.

It’s a clear lesson that AG8 is not the silver cable that will bring more treble presence, clarity and transparency to warmer IEMs. Other pairings are more appropriate.

ItsFit Lab Fusion
If you’ve read my Fusion review you know I like the punchy and clear sound, with great soundstage and fantastic imaging. It’s more of a reference tuning and I suspected the AG8 would give me a more organic take on the Fusion and looked forward to it. I was right and it turned out as I expected making it one of my favorite cable with the Fusion along with DITA Oslo.

The Fusion clear and punchy bass gain more textures on the AG8 but it’s a constant with all my IEMs, it’s more spectacular with the drier bass of the Fusion though as the slightly longer decay makes for a wetter bass presentation that is quite an interesting variant. The reference mids gain body thanks to added lower mids presence, this is actually a bit more than Oslo which I didn’t expect. The mids tone is warmer with AG8 and I find it a more engaging listen. The same applies to treble were the Fusion lower treble are infused with a touch of warmth that I find pleasing. The Fusion remarkable upper treble is a bit less defined than with Oslo but has a more relaxing presentation that doesn’t sacrifice details.

Verdict

In a market where premium cables price are skyrocketing and can honestly be questionable investments, there is room for high quality and high value cables at a fraction of the price. The AG8 is definitely well built, consistent with cables 2 or even 3 times the price and the performance is also in line with this ratio which makes it insanely good value for money.

ISN definitely was bold with the AG8, straying away from the typical silver cable tuning in favor of an organic cable that brings extra texture down low, a nice lower mids boost and a smooth delivery across the range combined with a nice separation and stage size expansion. This makes for a superb pairing with reference and natural IEMs and at this price to me a no brainer. In a similar price range, it performs better than my Null Audio Tiburon 8 wire for example and I find the overall build quality including braiding is superior.

Listening notes
I spent approximately 200 hours with the AG8, listening on iBasso DX160, Hiby R8 using Tansio Mirai Zodiac, Dunu SA6, Earsonics EM10, Custom Art FIBAE7, ItsFit Lab Fusion and StealhSonics C9 Pro. 

Special Thanks
Thanks to ISN for providing a review unit of the ISN AG8As usual, this review is my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review. 

Accessories

  • Carrying case

Specifications

  • Material:High purity silver
  • Number of cores: 8 shares
  • Connector: MMCX/2pin 0.78mm
  • Plug:3.5mm audio/2.5mm/4.4mm balanced gold-plated
  • Cable length: 1.2M

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