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Reviewer: Jay Fisher
Source: VRS Audio Systems Revelation hard disc digital player
Preamp: Serious Stereo Passive Attenuator (Tribute autoformer version)
Amp: Electronluv 75TL single-ended triode tube monoblocks
Speakers: Great Plains Audio 604 8H-II drivers in homebrew 10 cubic foot mass loaded transmission line cabinets (see Stephæn Harrel's 6moons article for more information)
Cables: See below. Previous references were Auditorium 23 Speaker Cables, Harmonic Technology Cyberlight Interconnects, Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC-10 Power Cords
Stands: Michael Green Deluxe JustaRack, Lovan Sovereign Rack w/mods
Powerline conditioning: Furman Elite-20 PF I Ultra-Linear AC Power Source
Sundry accessories: Realtraps Mondotraps and Realtraps Microtraps, Symposium Svelte platforms w/ Symposium Rollerblocks, Timbernation cherry amplifier platforms, Sound Quest Isol-Pads, Audiotop Connect-Workstation, Audiotop Digital
Room size: 22' x 22' x 9'
Review Components Retail: Furutech Audio Reference III-N1 (RCA) interconnect cables $1050. (1.2m pair), Furutech Speaker Reference III-N1 speaker cables $1430. (3m pair); Ensemble Dynaflux FSF interconnect cables $900 (1M pair), Ensemble Megaflux FSF speaker Cables $1774 (3m pair); Skywire 1400 interconnect cables $585 (1m pair), Skywire 1400 speaker cables $985 (3m pair); Townshend Isolda DCT 300 interconnect cables (RCA) $700 (1m pair), Townshend Isolda DCT speaker cables $1000 (3m pair); Synergistic Research Tesla Apex interconnect cables (RCA) $3000 (1m pair), Synergistic Research Tesla Apex speaker cables $5400 (8ft pair); Synergistic Research Tesla Absolute Reference power cord $2500 (5ft); Synergistic Research Tesla Hologram D power cord $2400 (5ft), Synergistic Research Tesla Hologram A power cord $2400 (5ft), Synergistic Research Tesla T3 power cord $800 (5ft), Synergistic Research Tesla T2 power cord $550 (5ft), Tesla PowerCell 6 outlet $3000, Tesla Enigma valve power supply for Active Shielding $6000

Cable Quest: A Five Cable Journey to Synergistic Research's Tesla Series
I've had many opportunities to listen to exceptionally high quality recordings played through what many reasonable people would consider extreme, perfectionist, cost-no-object, perhaps even lunatic fringe level audio systems. Each time, despite the impressive, even spectacular sound quality, I usually leave woefully aware of what seems like an unbridgeable chasm between the recorded musical illusion and what the music sounds and feels like at a live performance. Despite how unlikely it may seem to actually bridge this gap with my own music system, I am compelled to spend an embarrassing amount of time, energy and resources attempting to achieve a more convincing musical illusion that will give me a deeper, more satisfying musical experience and allow me to suspend disbelief more of the time. While these efforts may be partially fueled by an irrational yearning to be transported to the recording venue or better yet, to transport Sarah Vaughn, John Coltrane or The Academy of Ancient Music into my living room, the overarching goal is to hear and feel more of what the musicians were expressing when recorded.

This year I assembled a new high-efficiency system that gets me much closer to the music than others I have owned. The speakers are 10 cubic foot mass-loaded transmission lines employing the 15" two-way coaxial Altec 604-8H-II driver from Great Plains Audio. Upstream components include the VRS Audiosystems hard disc digital player, directly driving a pair of Electronluv 75TL single-ended tube monoblocks. Volume is controlled with a Serious Stereo passive preamp that employs a pair of autoformer attenuators from Tribute of the Netherlands. Ever since assembling the system, I knew that the cables, and in particular the speaker cables, were not allowing the system's full capabilities to be heard. Much of the music was not getting through. So I began my eight-month quest for the most musically revealing cables I could get my hands on. Hopefully, these cables could help me transport myself more of the time.

The Search for Musicality and Realism.
A deeper experience of the musical expression and feeling of a recorded event is the transcendent goal. Sonic realism and authenticity of presentation are powerful means of getting there. Of course we all have our individual notions of what sounds 'real' and 'natural' and for me this does not always coincide with 'beautiful'. I have greedy ears and they want to hear it all - musicality and realism ruthlessly revealed, warts and all. My grandiose goal was to find cables that would let all of the music through without emphasizing or editing any portion of the audible frequencies. Cable-induced artifacts of any kind were taboo. The hunt was for the vivid revelation of tone color; unlimited dynamic agility (both macro and micro dynamics); and super detail and transient speed without rounding or highlighting leading edges. Notes should be allowed to decay naturally without truncation. The cables must enable the spatial information in the recording to be rendered with impeccable timing, 3-dimensionality and precise localization of instruments and voices. The search was for musicality but without sounding overly polite or 'laid back'. If a trumpet recording has tremendous bite or if a live venue sounds dead or too reflective, let's hear it all, unadorned. The cables would be pipelines for sublime musicality but not at the expense of filtering or altering one iota of the recording. All of this delivered through cables that are themselves inaudible. That was the dream.

The Cable Conundrum: Tradeoffs... always tradeoffs
Cables usually present tradeoffs. The cable that delivers lightning-quick transients and microscopic detail retrieval may sound subtly bleached or lean. The cable with the deliciously lush midrange and ultra smooth treble may lack detail retrieval and have bloated or ill-defined bass. The combinations of strengths and weaknesses vary but are usually present to some degree. This makes the cable that can deliver all the sonic goods across the audible range something as rare as hen's teeth but in this case, the object of audio desire.

After much research and many recommendations from a number of audiophile friends whose ears I trust, I narrowed down the survey to 5 promising cable sets of interconnect and speaker cables. These range in price from moderate to expensive. The search was not intended to be an apples-to-apples comparison with regard to price but rather, a quest for complete musical satisfaction. It is important to note that I listened to all the recordings listed in this article through all of the cable sets reviewed to understand their comparative performance. I have cited these recordings below to highlight various capabilities of each cable set.

Furutech's Reference Series
First to be auditioned were the Furutech Reference Series interconnects and speaker cables. With their unsurpassed fit and finish, these cables are beautifully made and luxurious looking. Furutech is one of Japan's premier producers of high-end audio and AC connectors, so naturally their Audio Reference III-N1 (RCA) interconnects sport their ingeniously engineered RCA connectors. These are rhodium plated with brass housings. The multi-faceted, phosphor bronze center pin and locking collar ensure a tight connection and operate with the smooth feel of precision tools. The Speaker Reference III-N1 cables are terminated with nonmagnetic rhodium-plated pure copper spade lugs or banana connectors. To suppress RF and absorb EMI, the reference line is double shielded including Furutech's hexagonal GC-303 modules. Judging by the Reference's silent background, the modules do a commendable job of absorbing EMI.

The cables employ conductors of "Ohno continuous cast single crystal copper in a helical array". The flexibility of the cable line makes them a pleasure to install. The conductors and all other metal cable parts undergo Furutech's two-stage Alpha Process, which includes "deep conditioning cryogenic freezing and a patented ring demagnetization treatment". On first listen, the benefits of the cable's construction plus the Alpha process are clear. The robust energy and body of the music are instantly audible when clarinetist Don Byron and his band chug through Duke Ellington's "The Dicty Glide" like a locomotive on the CD Bug Music [Nonesuch/7559-79438-2].

There is an even-handed quality to the entire audible range that brought to mind the term coined by the late Dr. Harvey 'Gizmo' Rosenberg. It is musical wholeosity. The cables succeed in not accentuating or diminishing any particularly portion of the frequency range, letting the woodwinds, brass and percussion of Bug Music play with full tonal and harmonic richness. After many hours of listening, my appreciation for the Furutech References grew because of how non-fatiguing they can be while still revealing a very high level of detail. The extension of both treble and bass is excellent but it is the wholeness and balance of the sound that makes the Furutech Reference stand out.

Furutech website | US importer's website

Ensemble Dynaflux Interconnects and Megaflux Speaker Cables
Next came the Swiss-made Ensemble Dynaflux FSF analog interconnect cables and Megaflux FSF speaker cables. The interconnects and speaker cables employ 6 high-purity copper conductors of .25mm and 1.5mm respectively. These conductors are individually film shielded from RF by a micro layer coating of a proprietary material. The conductors in both designs are configured in a helical array, which is enclosed in two external shields. The damping of micro-vibration throughout these designs is achieved with a proprietary resonance-control material. The Ensemble's overall sound is very transparent, with an especially refined midrange and a seductively silky, extended treble. In a word, the Ensemble sound is elegant. The cables did particularly well at revealing inner detail throughout dense or complex musical passages and textures.

In "Dance of the Tumblers from the Snow Maiden" on the CD Exotic Dances from the Opera [Reference Recordings/RR-71] with Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, shimmering triangles illuminate the Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall; symbols and maracas hover behind masses of strings, with each player individually audible. Pianissimo passages lead into explosive crescendos with brass, woodwind and percussion instruments retaining clear timbral definition within dense sonic clusters. Throughout these demanding passages, the orchestral texture is composed of clearly individuated instruments that form an organic whole. The Ensemble cables deserve their reputation for neutrality. The drawback I perceived is that they are dryer in tone than the other cables auditioned. Also, even with 250+ hours of break-in time, the bottom octaves sounded slightly closed in, with less immediacy and dynamic authority
than the highly refined mids and highs. This reticence in the lower octaves seemed to impede the sense of ease and flow that came easily to the remaining cables auditioned. I soon realized that despite Ensemble's sonic elegance and delicacy of inner detail, my search would continue.

Ensemble website | US importer's website

Skywire 1400 Series
The next cables auditioned are new high-end offerings by Skywire. Skywire's founder Jimmy Chan commissioned long-time cable designer Don Palmer, formerly of Highwire Audio Cables, to design the new Skywire series. The Skywire 1400 interconnects and speaker cables employ Don's patented standing-wave suppression technology. The interconnects and speaker cables are constructed with 14 gauge conductors composed of 19 strands of silver-plated copper. These conductors are insulated with Teflon and enclosed in a braided electrostatic shield composed of silver-plated copper. The cables are wound circumferentially with a patented suppression wire that dissipates RF energy as heat and reduces the amplitude of RF ringing in the cables.

In my listening room, which is situated in an RF-rich neighborhood of Los Angeles, the noise suppression technology worked its magic, making the Skywire 1400s the second quietest cables of this survey. Music emerged effortlessly from an exquisitely black background that my pulse literally raced when the trumpet blasts of Wynton Marsalis issued from the back of the recording venue of "Love and Hate" from the film score of Unforgivable Blackness [Blue Note Records/UPC: 72438641942].

The venue's ambience was illuminated as though the light switch in a dim room had been flipped on. Notes hung effortlessly in the air, pregnant with harmonic overtones. The
exceptionally low noise floor gave a clear view into the spatial layers of the music while simultaneously shedding light on a sea of inner details and dynamic shadings. These are agile, effortless sounding cables and did I mention that they are lively? My listening room was charged with the energy present in the recording. The 1400s are detailed although not microscopically so. Mid bass is fast and taut, giving acoustic bass and kick drums visceral impact and clear pitch definition.

The Skywire 1400s do not plumb the lowest octave with the same authority as the mid bass. Similarly, the treble region, while extended and exceptionally smooth, is not extended to ultra-fi extremes. However, the exceptionally open midrange, upper bass and airy treble are wonderfully natural. The 1400s can communicate the beauty of the human voice as well as the best cables I have heard. Acoustic instruments sound authentic, even organic. The Skywire 1400 cables are an exciting musical find and an absolute steal considering they can sonically embarrass quite a few well-known cables costing much more. Amazingly, the 1400s are only Skywire's mid level offering. The top level 2020 series has just been released and its audition should be something to look forward too. A future 6moons review perhaps?

Skywire website

Townshend Isolda Cables
Woohoo! When the music poured through these British cables, I blurted an involuntary hoot of approval. The Townshend Isolda cables have much of the midrange openness, clarity and easy flow of the Skywire 1400s but with the addition of greater treble sparkle and deep, take-no-prisoners bass. The lowest plucked acoustic bass notes in "The Saga Of Harrison Crabfeathers" on Brian Bromberg's virtuosic Wood [A440 Records/ART7009] became more articulate, with clearer pitch definition and harmonic overtones than I had previously heard. I was also surprised by the Isoldas' seemingly higher efficiency.

I perceived an increase in overall volume at the same previous control settings. The Isolda's wide frequency response, clarity, dynamic range and exceptional bass control are partly attributable to the cables' very effective impedance matching devices. These modules are housed in small stainless steel canisters at the cables' ends. These modules closely match the impedance of the cable to the load of the speaker and simultaneously serve as effective RF filters. The devices were inaudible and succeeded in providing a very low noise floor. Isolda speaker cables and interconnects are constructed with copper ribbons that undergo deep cryogenic treatment. These conductors are insulated in thin polyester and then sheathed in polyester braid. The Isolda cables do not produce quite as black of a background as the Skywire 1400s. They also play back music with (and I am splitting hairs here) a slightly more diffuse presentation. However, they exceed the Skywire 1400s in their pitch-perfect bass control and their ability to present large-scale music with an even grander sense of scale and ease. If called upon, these cables can convey a huge and realistic soundstage. They are equally big on tone and texture, which is authentic in character. Here is a cable that can flesh out the music from the top to bottom octave. Actually choosing between the Townshend Isolda and the Skywire 1400 cables would be a tough decision, based more on listening priorities than quality. The Townshend Isoldas are killer cables (maybe even giant killers) and represent great value.

So far the cable quest had been a musically enlightening journey, with each stop along the way bringing a lot of enjoyment. Had I not proceeded beyond the first four cable sets, I might have lived contentedly with any of them. But, as the expression goes, "sometimes you don't know what you don't know". I had no clue that the next cables auditioned would strike the musical mother lode.

Townshend website | US importer's website