MG Audio Design Cables: A Flat Out Bargain!
In my day job (the one that pays for this hobby), I work with small business owners to help them develop business relationships with major corporations. I’m always excited to learn about a company that knows its product and can provide top-notch quality and service to potential customers. It simply makes my job a lot easier when I can tell a corporation about a company that can deliver a state-of-the-art product while still giving personalized attention and all at a more than reasonable price. Similarly, at Stereo Times, it’s great when I can tell you, our readers, about small audio businesses that fit this same mold, in this case I’m talking about Thornton, Colorado based MG Audio Design.
MG Audio Design may be a relatively new company to the high-end audio marketplace but the main men behind the company, Chief Product Developer Lee Matuszczak, and Chief Operations Officer Greg Graff, have been involved with loudspeaker and cable design for more than 25 years. According to their website, Matuszczak is a retired electrical engineer and Graff is a bassist who has performed with a number of jazz and rock bands. Both men have been avid audiophiles for well over 30 years.
About the cables
A few months ago I was introduced to Graff by a colleague at another publication and offered an opportunity to review some of the MG Audio cables. I was in the middle of evaluating the new Entreq Audio Apollo cables when the MG Audio cables began to arrive. Initially I received their Planus AG (silver) and Planus CU (copper) interconnects and later received their Planus II speaker cables.
When I began unpacking the cables I was struck by just how well they were made. If these cables were imported from Germany or Denmark and arrived in flight cases they’d probably cost about ten times the money. The cables are meticulously made of flat copper or silver foil strips sheathed in gray nylon mesh jackets. The ends of each cable run are finished in a black shrink wrap with the MG Audio logo on it. The single-ended interconnects were terminated with RCA connectors made by Luminous Audio Technology and the balanced cables with XLRs made by Neutrik. The speaker cables use silver spades made by Luminous Audio Technology on one end and rhodium spades made by Cardas on the other. MG Audio suggests using the silver spades at the amplifier end but also says that you may prefer the rhodium spades instead. The cables are not directional so connection is your preference.
The cables are built by a fabricator who builds the cable runs to MG Audio’s specifications and the terminations are done in house. MG Audio has found a way to terminate their cables that takes much less time and, more importantly, doesn’t result in cut fingers. Graff notes, “blood on copper is not a good conductor and screws up the look of the cable.”
Handle with care
Though the MG Audio cables are priced to be affordable to most audiophiles, these are certainly not cables for every audiophile. These are delicately made cables and will not do well with someone who wants to be able to handle them and twist and torque them at will. The copper and silver strips can be damaged if not treated with care. It was a constant battle to keep Max, my Boston Terrier, from letting his curiosity get the better of him. Small children should be kept away from them as well. Come to think of it, when my girlfriend first saw the speaker cables, she thought that they would make for a really hot belt. So while you’re at it, keep an eye on girlfriends and wives as well. These cables are the antithesis of my current faves the Entreq Audio Konstantin, which I routinely bend and twist and even occasionally step on without fear of damage.
Another thing to take into consideration is that these cables are unshielded. This was a problem for me because my system setup is such that I require long lengths of interconnect cables. The longer the cables, the more susceptible they will be to EMI and RFI. This wasn’t much of a problem until I got a little greedy in my system setup. I made some major changes to my reference system setup just a few weeks before the arrival of the MG Audio cables by adding a pair of the venerable Magnepan MG20 loudspeakers to my system. These Maggies eschewed the stock Maggie crossover and utilized the excellent Bryston 10b electronic crossover. This meant that I had to use four channels of amplification. I wound up buying a pair of Bel Canto Ref 1000 mono amps for the low frequencies and M300s for the upper frequencies. The Vitus RI-100 integrated amp’s linestage section is being used for preamp purposes. I use a TEAC UD H01 DAC to provide the digital signal from an OPPO Digital DV-980H Universal Disc Player and an Apple TV device which streams music from my iTunes account.
Now I’m a big believer in system synergy and usually prefer to wire my system with cables from the same manufacturer. Instead of systematically working in the MG Audio cables, first on the source components and then on the electronics and finally on the speakers, I decided to evaluate the system using all of the MG Audio cables at once. In case you were counting, I was using a pair of AG cables from the TEAC DAC to the linestage and from the linestage to the Bryston crossover and then two long runs of CU cables from the crossover to the two pairs of Bel Canto mono amps and then two long pairs of Planus II speaker cables to the Maggies. That’s six pairs of cables and unfortunately a lot of opportunity for noise, hum and all sorts of nastiness. So after spending a couple of weeks trying out grounding plugs, cables wraps and an assortment of other tweaks aimed at battling noise I decided that it was time to simplify the system. I removed the Bryston crossover, Bel Canto amps and Maggie speakers and opted instead for a system with the Planus AG cables connecting the TEAC DAC to the Vitus integrated and the Vitus connected to a pair of Escalante Design Fremont loudspeakers. One pair of interconnects and one pair of speaker cables.
MG Audio recommends 50-80 hours of break in, which the cables got while I was trying to solve the hum issue I was having. So I jumped right into serious listening once I scaled back the system. The Fremonts have been my reference speakers for more than five years so I was more than a little familiar with their sound. I was immediately struck by the life size scale of the music that accompanied Melody Gardot on “Baby I’m A Fool,” from her My One and Only Thrill CD [Verve]. The sound was big yet musically engaging. The music poured out of the Fremonts with ease and elegance. Gardot’s sultry voice sounded a bit lean but imaged wonderfully and had a holographic quality in my listening room.
The next disc was drummer Kendrick Scott Oracle’s The Source [World Culture Music]. Track 5, “Journey” features the vocals of Gretchen Parlato. The music was rendered fabulously, allowing the listener to hear deeper into not just the musical performance but Parlato’s soulful crooning. Track 6, “VCB,” is a brief instrumental showcase of Scott’s considerable percussion skills. Cymbals crash with realistic decay without sounding overly bright or harsh. Only when I really pushed the volume levels did the sound seem to lose its composure a bit. But this shouldn’t trouble you unless your musical biases lean more toward AC/DC rather than Patricia Barber.
Another disc that these cables really drew a lot of music out of was Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society[Heads Up International]. Track nine, “Winter Sun,” not only shows off her considerable musical skills but also one of the most beautiful voices I’ve heard. This track shows just how adept these cables are at rendering music through dynamic speakers like the Fremonts. This song has scads of detail and dynamics, and the soundstage is fleshed out sharply and clearly. Again, the tonal balance was a bit on the lean side but still very enjoyable. This is merely a nitpick. Remember, one man’s lean is another man’s robust.
Stop The Presses!
Just when I thought I was at the conclusion of this review, I was sent the excellent Pass Labs XVR-1 electronic crossover. One of the problems I had with the Bryston unit was that it only accepted RCA cables which tend to be more susceptible to hum in a configuration like mine than XLR cables.
I reconnected my full reference system with the Bel Canto amps, Pass XVR-1, Maggie MG20s and all of the Entreq cables in order to get a baseline to evaluate the MG Audio cables. After a week of listening to this setup I finally had the chance to install the MG Audio cables and started doing some serious listening; now I was hearing the system in full flower. It was exactly what I had hoped for… quiet. There was no noise or hum to be heard, just music. And oh baby, was there music.
There are two recordings that come to mind when I think about listening to the heart and soul of a system: Meet Me In London [Naim] by guitarist Antonio Forcione and singer Sabina Sciubba and Clifford Jordan’s Live at Ethel’s [Mapleshade]. The sonic flavor of the Planus CU copper interconnects would have to be characterized as smooth, while the Planus AG silver cables are more resolved. These cables exhibited the least amount of change from my Entreq Konstantin cables and that’s a good thing. The Entreq’s strengths are in their neutrality and if you’re a lover of acoustic music like I am, this should excite you. For example, Meet Me In London is loaded with wonderfully recorded songs that show off Forcione’s brilliance on acoustic guitar, particularly on track 2, a remake of Dave Brubeck’s timeless “Take Five.” The MG Audio cables don’t add any audible artifacts, leaving the strumming of strings and popping of the guitar’s body sounding realistic and not studio enhanced. These cables render acoustic music in a natural and full bodied way. It would be hard to expect much more at the price.
Clifford Jordan’s Live At Ethel’s is a brilliant live jazz recording that is never far from my CD player. The opening track, “Summer Serenade” sounded a bit soft at the upper frequency extremes but boy, talk about a soundstage. It was wide and deep and well defined. Side to side spacing was excellent and image height gave the music a three-dimensional quality. The same could be heard from track 2, “‘Round Midnight.” Kevin O’Connell’s piano playing sounds nicely detailed and you get a great sense of the venue. In fact, I would say that it is this ability to genuinely reproduce the space of the performance that is what sets these cables apart from others in their price range, heck even above their price range.
I really enjoyed my time with the MG Audio Design cables. You’ll need to be a person who cares enough to be patient with system setup and you must be careful about the way you handle these cables and where you place them. If you are you will be rewarded with an attractively styled, well executed cable that can pull as much music and performance nuance out of your system as you can hope for. Where in your system you use the Planus AG (silver) or Planus CU (copper) cables will be a matter of personal preference and you’ll enjoy that flexibility. The Planus AG cables are more detailed where the Planus CU cables are warmer sounding. The Planus II speaker cables are by far some of the most neutral I’ve heard. The MG Audio Design cables are well worth seeking out whether you were in the market for a new cable or not. Highly recommended.
Planus II speaker wire: $55/ft plus $200 termination
Planus CU Interconnect: $300/M pair plus $200 termination
Planus AG interconnect: $800/M pair plus $200 termination