I-AUDIO Singapore

Interview & Cable Review

March 2003'

Transcript of the magazine interview

 

To create an audio cable, there are basically two schools of thought, one is where a design starts from 'off the shelf' wire from major wire manufacturers and 'configured' with proprietary geometry, shielding, grounding, etc. to create the 'character' of their cables. Many high end cables you buy today are made this way and these cables can sound significantly superior in performance when compared to its humble origins. This mode of operation places a heavy premium on the labour to build the cable.

On the other hand, we have cable designers who are fortunate to be able to work closely with wire manufacturers and hence able to dictate the specifications from the inception. Obviously the second route does ensure the cable has all the necessary characteristics to begin with, including the choice of conductors, the wire configuration, the geometry, the choice of dielectric, and so on. The premium in this case is the small volume of cable (cable manufacture is always measured in km!), which reflects a necessarily higher unit cost.

Now you know why cable can cost so much!

 

Sonic Art first started with a design in 1994. It has a Time Align configuration, which Mark has had design rights. It is a balanced drain 'hot' and 'cold' with a floating shield. By 1996 the design had been finalized and has not been challenged till today.

 

Q. Sonic Art cables are made from silver plated copper conductors, I am sure many cable manufacturers have a field day running down this configuration?

It is true silver plated cables have their limitations but like silver or copper, this is only part of the story. Silver if done correctly has a nice sweet sound, which audiophiles love. However for all practical reasons, silver is too soft to be of any use as they break easily. You need to add other metals to silver to 'strengthen' the material. The whole exercise totally negates the purpose of using silver as the added impurities needed to 'harden' the silver add harshness and brightness.

The plating process also plays a part in the results you get. There is silver plating and there is silver plating. How the silver is formed over the copper has a bearing on the final results. In Sonic Art cables, we use a special process perfected for the stringent requirements of the military.

Here, the six nines copper is saturated with a 40 micron layer of six nines silver at over 900 degrees C. At this temperature the silver seeps into the core of the copper wire instead of just covering the copper. This fuses the two metals completely and for all purposes, behaves like one.

It does not end there. The dielectric we use is not just any normal Teflon. Teflon is an expensive material and it is obviously in fashion with many cable manufacturers. Just like silver plating, Teflon has variations and we use a pressure cast Teflon because it is sonically superior but horrendously expensive. We have not found anything superior to justify a change.̃

Q. What about the configuration of cable?

Design of the cabling is of course paramount to performance. The conductors we use are engineered to a diameter that keeps eddy currents to a minimum - 0.8mm. An audio signal is also an electrical signal of varying frequencies, frequencies that create eddy currents and generate magnetic fields around the cable. Rate of change in the electrical signal is responsible for this and music signals have fast and complex rates of change. Conductor diameter and metallurgical mismatching are major causes for these problems.

As the cross sectional area of a conductor increases, the problem of eddy current increases when handling an audio signal. An amplifier connected to a cable of huge cross sectional area would become completely unstable as eddy currents (caused by transient signal change in the cable) create enormously magnified transient capacitance. Large low impedance cables are probably the worst things for audio. Ultra low impedance creates a cable of high capacitance creating a low resistance path into a short circuit at high frequencies. Our cables are not ultra low resistance, although the conductivity of the metal is high. Our cables feature a 'time aligned' drain system for both the signal and the return wiring, maintaining a balance of resistance and capacitance which keeps the arrival time of frequencies as even as possible.

Our strand number and individual thickness is calculated to create a conductor that is perfectly round. The wall thickness of the Mil Spec Teflon is therefore perfectly even, eliminating conductor to insulation anomalies. ̃

We have recently developed a nice Tonearm cable but it is so labour intensive to make. It comes terminated at the Tonearm end with either a SME style connector from Cardas or for Rega Tonearms. You should try it with a Rega, gob-smacking good!

Q. You have a new speaker cable…

The latest 'EBONY' is the advancement of our original 8-core speaker cable (2000) and builds on the excellent performance. It has our version of Variostrand technology, like many high end cable manufacturers, we combine various diameter conductors to create a cable that spreads its mechanical resonance's over a wider bandwidth at a much lower amplitude than a single diameter design. In other words it gives a much more stable performance over the entire bandwidth.

The 'EBONY' features 1.0mm centre conductors surrounded by our 0.8mm outer conductors, all in our 6 nines metallurgy with pressure cast Teflon dielectric. We then apply a MILSPEC Mylar foil shield over the conductors and incorporate a drain wire, which can be utilised when an amplifier earthing post is present. This reduces the noise floor of the cable through the grounding. Protecting the delicate construction is Military PVC outer sheath, which gives the cable strength and flexibility and allows us to print efficiently on the outside, aiding in identification and direction.

It is a very nice speaker cable with an extended high frequency performance. But as with all our cables you need to give the cable an extended run in period for the dielectric to stabilize. Care to have a sample of our cables for a review?

Sure!

 

Transcript of the magazine review

This Australian company has been around for more than a decade and had dabbled in a variety of components ranging from flea powered single-ended tube amplifiers to loudspeakers, Phono stages, Tonearm cables, and now cables. They started developing their loudspeaker cables to compliment their loudspeaker range based on military grade silver and copper that was used in the American Military. Their latest innovation in cable design is the EBONY loudspeaker cable and together with the 'time aligned' interconnects promises to deliver more sound than the rest of the maddening crowd.

Sonic Art's conductor design is essentially a silver saturation, which sees MILSPEC 6 nines Silver, saturate plated onto MILSPEC 6 nines Copper. Each of the 19 strands are saturate plated with 40 microns of Silver, which forms the basis of Sonic Art's conductors. The cross sectional metallurgy is smooth and gradual in its consistency and the materials are the highest purity, eliminating brightness associated with cheap plating techniques. This is insulated with MILSPEC Virgin Teflon insulation and MILSPEC Silver mesh shield. Teflon is used exclusively on the conductors as although it is the most expensive of extruded insulators it exhibits the lowest dielectric loss, and is the best dielectric besides air. The 'time aligned' configuration was chosen after extensive testing and the design was registered in 1994.

The EBONY loudspeaker cable is the advancement of their original 8 core Speaker cable and featuring variostrand technology. ̃

This is a combination various diameter conductors to create a cable that can better produce both ends of the audio bandwidth.

'EBONY' features 1.0mm centre conductors surrounded by Sonic Art's 0.8mm outer conductors, all in their 6 nines metallurgy with pressure cast Teflon dielectric.

Shielding the conductors is MILSPEC Mylar foil shielding incorporating a drain wire, which can be utilised when an amplifier earthing post is present to reduce the noise floor through the cabling. Protecting the delicate construction is Military PVC outer sheath which gives the cable strength and flexibility.

There is definitely a lot going into these rather unassuming cables since you might be mistaken them for the normal cheap stuff. But the results speak for themselves.

Putting in Umi Yushida's 'The way we were' in my top loader, vocal portrayal was excellently displayed on a very wide and deep soundstage. Bass lines from the contrabass (also known as an upright bass or double bass) were nicely detailed without going out of control.

Then again was I listening to the cables at work or am I listening to the exact sonic signatures of my components? If I were to write all the good things these cables seemed to be doing it would take more than these measly two pages.

I could write what they did not do for that would be easier on everyone.̃

The cables did not sound bright in any way. They did not sound harsh, hard or strained especially in the higher regions.

I didn't hear any excessive decay in the music played especially where acoustic instruments like the piano and guitar were used.

This meant that there was no smearing of the audio signal nor distortion that could be heard. Colouration? Maybe a bit on the fast side but that would be a good thing because of the lack of enforced decay due to audible distortion in the signal path.

What I heard was a surprise as I had a pretty bad experience in the early days of trying to roll my own cables using those expensive industrial grade, heavy duty Teflon insulated silver plated copper wires. Things have certainly improved since then as designers finally came to grips with the problems that the earlier designs manifested.

I would place these cables high on the shopping list of anyone who wants to get cables that would give a deeper insight in their system without compromising sonic purity.

Sanjay Nambiar.

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