Cardas A8 Ear Speakers

Build Quality
PRICE $299

Driver designed by George Cardas
Accommodates balanced cables
Extraordinary sound quality
Lacks mic or smartphone controls

The Cardas A8 is big on transparency and soundstage and delivers remarkably deep yet tuneful bass.

Cardas Audio is best known as a manufacturer of audiophile cables, but the Bandon, Oregon–based company jumped into headphones a few years ago with its EM 5813 Ear Speakers. Their sound was big and bold, but comfort issues limited my listening times to short bursts because the earpieces were heavy and the cables unwieldy. Now Cardas is back with new in-ears, the A8 Ear Speakers. I’ve known George Cardas for decades, and he’s normally a soft-spoken dude, but he’s really jazzed about what’s going on with headphones. They’re keeping hope alive for the future of high-end audio for the next generation. Ask him about the A8, and he’ll give you an earful—he’s a man on a mission.

The A8 is lighter and more comfortable than the EM 5813, and the cable is thinner and more flexible. It features stranded conductors wrapped in a helix pattern around a textile core, and it’s definitely one of the best cables I’ve ever seen on an in-ear headphone. The upper “Y” part of the cable disconnects at its base, so you can easily change cables or hook up a Cardas balanced cable for use with the balanced output jacks on the Pono or Astell & Kern portable music players. Best of all, the A8’s sound quality, even with my iPod classic, is scary good for the money.

The earpieces are machined from billet brass, painted, and finished with a blue rubberized coating. The proprietary 10.85mm dynamic driver was designed by Cardas and features the world’s first Ultra Linear Contour Field Dual Magnet Driver. George Cardas claims the A8 driver’s “unique magnetic formulation” and contour magnets allowed him to replace the permeable material (iron) and increase and focus the flux density in the voice coil gap, which he claims significantly lowers distortion. I’m not qualified to discuss the tech, but I can tell you the A8’s sound is extraordinary in its resolution of fine detail, dynamic punch, bass power/definition, and it produces a wide-open soundstage. Cardas even invested in the factory in China that makes his headphones, to ensure maximum quality control over A8 production.

I used my Astell & Kern Jr high-resolution music player for most of my listening tests and found the A8 more neutrally balanced than the Cardas EM 5813 headphones. With a great-sounding audiophile recording—saxophonist Peter Epstein’s Staring at the Sun CD—the stand-up bass, bass drum, and floor toms are tighter and clearer over the A8; the EM 5813 feels bloated and thick by comparison. The A8’s soundstage is sharper in focus and more spacious. This recording’s uncompressed dynamics really cut loose over the A8, and resolution of the quietest details of the recording venue’s ambient reverberation are revealed. That’s the sort of sonic information lesser in-ears gloss over. The A8 sets them free.

The deep, deep bass tremors coursing through rapper-producer Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like S**t album have tremendous weight and power but never sound overdone. The A8 is a bass lover’s headphone.

Things were going so well, I brought out one of my long-term in-ear references, the Sennheiser IE800 ($800) to pit against the A8. These two sound very different; the A8’s bass goes a lot deeper, without any loss of definition or low-end clarity. Dynamics are more viscerally felt over the A8; it’s a higher-energy headphone. But the IE800’s midrange sounds more refined and natural, and the treble is sweeter. The IE800’s sound is closer to neutral but less exciting to listen to.

The A8 Ear Speakers bode well for headphones to come from Cardas Audio, and from what George told me about his next in-ear, it’s going to be a game changer! Stay tuned…