While the portable audio market got more niche as TWS earphones entered the market, the demand for an upgrade cable will continue to exist along with the audiophile hobby. Yet apparently, the competition has become a lot more intense as years pass by, making things difficult for new brands entering the market. After Nostalgia Audio’s positive debut through their first IEM & upgrade cable, Benbulbin and Olorin, they’ve presented a new variation of cable products. One of them is so far the most affordable copper cable from Nostalgia Audio, called the Nerwen. Let’s now cut to the chase and discover more about the details and its sound signature.
Nerwen comes in with a nice clean box. The outer silvery box is lightly engraved with cable drawings with a black Nostalgia Audio logo placed at the front. As sliding out the inner box reveals a black package that includes the nicely presented Nerwen and its accessories. Other than the cable itself, Nerwen comes with a soft pouch, a leather cable tie, a set of modular plugs (3.5mm TRS, 2.5mm TRRS, 4.4mm TRRS), and a warranty card. Apparent as it is, the lower plug is interchangeable which will be elaborated as we proceed with the review. The included brown pouch has a soft, fluffy texture that goes along well with its name (Nostalgia) – whether it was intended or not. The cable tie is quite good in terms of quality and does not feel flimsy or fragile.
Nerwen is directed in Hong Kong and handcrafted in Japan. It uses a coaxial design, comprised of 24awg 6N OCC Copper wires with 22awg Furukawa PCUHD Copper shieldings, and then finished with PVC insulation. This leads Nerwen to have a good thickness (thicc!) for a 2-braided cable. The thickness is nothing close to being chunky, of course. Nostalgia Audio also states that Nerwen uses Mundorf Supreme AgAu solders with rhodium-plated connectors.
The strain-relief finishes on both ends are applied accordingly and appropriately. The Y-split component and the IEM connectors are also made of metal that go along well with the overall looks. The wires are quite soft and pliable, not allowing much microphonics to occur while wearing them. I would have liked to see a chin slider to be installed but not a big deal. It is also understandable since it is difficult to make a functional chin slider as Nerwen does not have any braiding on the upper rest of the cable.
Superb Switching Plug
Speaking of connectors, Nerwen is also applied with the latest trend going on in the cable market – interchangeable plugs. Nostalgia Audio includes three variations of connector choices as default (2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm) that allow immense usability. Nerwen’s interchangeable Superb Plug uses a screw design that holds sturdy onto the plug. Perhaps this is the most promising looking in terms of durability. The plug has some weight and size but does not particularly affect the comfort while using it. Although Nerwen supplies the three most common end terminations by default (what to ask more for a default accessory?), there are several more terminations that are actually compatible with Nerwen – such as Type-C, balanced 3.5mm TRRS, or even XLR. The mentioned terminations and the rest have to be purchased from elsewhere, but anyhow, it is a big plus for Nerwen to be using a connector that provides the largest plug variation as of now.
Nerwen is a highly omnivorous cable that brings out consistent and steady outcomes with a variety of driver combinations and sound signatures. The first improvement I could tell from Nerwen is the depth expression. A stronger sense of low-end existence could be felt from the headroom, which causes the bass to dive even deeper and cleaner. The differences are evident enough to tell that each bass strike is now carried with a lot heavier, larger force. The bass doesn’t feel particularly faster in speed but nor does it feel to be any slower. I would say the bass speed feels to be just about neutral (or unaltered).
General Sound Characteristics
Listening to Nerwen offers an interesting experience – once you listen to it and switch back to your old stock cable, your sound suddenly becomes light and shallow. Nerwen shines quite a significant amount of ultra-low details that used to remain veiled, improving the bass extension and density. These low-end expansions brought by Nerwen are not done flabby but done tidy and cleanly. Nerwen adequately provides slightly better control of the reverbs. Hence Nerwen doesn’t bloat the reverbs, making the bass be emphasized more through the tight, ultra-low vibration than the softer reverbs. The bass tone also emits a deeper and darker smell, overall filling the low-mids with lots of depth expression. However, these are all done neatly and kept under control, presented in a well-organized state.
Deeper into the sound
As we wrap up talking about the bass, the last but not the least change brought to the low-ends is the weightiness. Now some of you may wonder about why I’m referring to the “weight” thing again while I already mentioned the bass sounding heavier already – that’s because not only the bass feels heavy but you can also really feel the weight pushing down the low-mids. The center of mass gradually feels slightly lower than before but only mildly that it adds extra stability to the sound. The upper-ends aren’t degraded through this and are kept just as nicely as before, which I particularly appreciate from Nerwen.
There are a few more big highlights from the sound of Nerwen other than the bass. The background itself is processed with noticeably more stillness. That means, the background feels a lot quieter, cleaner, and calmer. If your IEM has a very whitish, restless tone on the background and you’d like to calm that down, Nerwen must do the trick. Mids aren’t touched so much, yet it does naturally add some body and density to the vocals. The tonality is kept natural with a touch of richness in color and spatial expression.
Mids and highs are both handled sleek and smooth, overall offering the pure-copper neutralness that we’re familiar with. Though for the highs, Nerwen adds a small amount of emphasis only to the point of making the treble notes cleaner yet not distorting the original sound signature. In general, these changes also cause the soundstage to increase in multiple directions but the biggest change happening on the y-axis. Downwards, to be more specific.
Matching impressions – Nostalgia Audio Benbulbin
Since the same family tends to match well with each other, we can’t miss out on the opportunity if there is one. The first matching impression for Nerwen will be done with Nostalgia Audio’s first IEM model, the Benbulbin. The overall sound becomes smoother with clearer divisions between the frequency ranges while not hurting the harmonics. As much as we’ve already seen from the general characteristics, Nerwen does beautifully on the low range. The weightiness of the bass is sensed with more clarity and vividness. The ultra-lows become clearer, bolder in both color and thickness, and deeper in extension. However, the tightness has not been loosened at all. The slamming of the bass also scales larger than before, making the low-end sound a bit more bombastic. What’s interesting is that at the end of the day, despite the multiple upgrades happening to the lows, the overall sound signature barely changes as the bass quantity remains almost the same. This means that the improvements brought by Nerwen are majorly done through the qualitative aspects rather than the quantitative aspects.
The tonality remains almost the same as default but with minor addition of silkier, glossier feeling to the surface. While shifting from stock cable’s SPC wires (Nostalgia Prelude) to a pure copper cable (Nostalgia Nerwen) did give me a quick doubt about what will happen on the upper-ends, Nerwen still managed things quite well. It’s often for pure silver or SPC wires to create shinier trebles, Nerwen’s coaxial shielding still seems to be enriching the trebles better than Prelude. The vocals are scaled a bit larger with more airiness on the upper-ends in general. Alongside, the three bands all seem to be well divided from each other, so the vocals and trebles each sound more cleanly and better organized. Such cleanliness also leads to a larger, more analytical headroom.
Matching impressions – Moondrop Illumination
As explained, while Benbulbin showed most improvements in the ultra-lows and lows, the major improvement point for Illumination seems to be happening on the upper lows and mids. Illumination is quite feminine and calm on the low-ends at its default state, though things change once pairing it to Nerwen. Masculinity has been reinforced on the lows by bringing out thicker vibration and bass grooves. Along with that, the background gains weight and darkness that approaches closer to pitch-black, adding seriousness to the tone of the sound. As Nerwen doesn’t bloat the reverbs but only thickens the body, the low atmosphere doesn’t get cloudy but makes the clarity better than before. Despite the stock cable being made of good quality wires too, it still sounds watered-down compared to Nerwen, so you could imagine the gap here.
For mids, Illumination picks up force and thickness that gives a stronger push to the vocals. What I especially enjoy from this matching is that Nerwen also deepens the subtle vibrations and reverbs from the mid-range, making the overall sound build up in concentration. These changes cause the vocals to sound more energetic and lively, as well as better exposing the texture details on the mid-range. The imaging of the sound itself scales larger too. That, of course, means bigger headroom. The improvements brought to the highs aren’t significant as lows and mids but still gain some reinforcements in clarity and cleanliness. Illumination is a single DD IEM that is meant to have a smooth presentation like a stream of water flow, and this extra pinch of analyticity (or technicality) serves to provide finer treble details. The tone of the highs is also moister and richer.
Comparisons – Rhapsodio Hybrid II
Could we be calling these two cousins? Rhapsodio Hybrid II is a quality custom cable that also has a coaxial structure and often follows with the purchase of premium or flagship Rhapsodio IEMs. Compared to Hybrid II, Nerwen has its center of mass lower than Hybrid II, which makes the sound considerably more composed. Nerwen has a thick, dark background tone whereas Hybrid II has a mildly bright, cheerful tone. The temperature is slightly warmer on Nerwen while Hybrid II tilts towards the cooler side. Treble transparency is superior on Hybrid – but then again, ultra-low extension and depth are superior on Nerwen. Hence if you’d like to calm down your sound and add more stability or low-end weight, Nerwen would be a fine choice to make. If an airy atmosphere and flaring upper-ends are your needs, Hybrid II would serve you well.
Comparisons – Nostalgia Audio Olorin
Now that we’ve made a comparison with a cousin, let’s do another with the brother. Nostalgia Olorin is a superior cable right above Nerwen which also we reviewed before. Although there is some difference in price, it would still be a relatable comparison as the gap isn’t big. Compared to Nerwen, Olorin shows a concentration just as thick as Nerwen but with higher resolution and clarity. The vocals are further tightened and agile too. Upper-ends are cleaner with an open field feeling presented better as well. Lastly, the highs are crispier and more analytical. Now that may get you to think that Olorin demolishes Nerwen, yet that isn’t the case. The thick, elastic bass, down-pulling stability, and unique weightiness are still inherent to Nerwen. Compared to Olorin, Nerwen is also more focused on the low-end, so make your choices accordingly.
Nerwen is one of the best choices you could make for versatility, both sonically and functionally. Its active boost in richness and sonic details are evident enough to feel the difference, all while not overdoing the sound. The consistency in timbre allows you to make even more out of Nerwen by pairing it to a variety of IEMs. It was a common perception for copper cables to have an analog sound that subdues the highs and boosts the lows, though Nerwen has presented the copper-specific elements in a very well-balanced manner. Without subduing the upper-ends, it brings out a touch of organic warmness and bass quantity. Needless to say, the high compatibility also applies to devices thanks to the switchable plug system. If you’d like to serve your IEMs a quality cable without breaking the bank, look no further.