Musical Meddling: New Cables In Town
Musical Meddling: New Cables In Town
|The Herren Cobra Cable
Harmonic Technology Harmony Series
Furutech Terminated Harmonic Technology Power Cords
22 October 2002
Herren Cobra Cable
Recently I received an email form one Rick Scoggin of The Audible Alternative in Portland Oregon. It seems that The Audible Alternative is a sales organization that represents Dave Herren and the products that he manufactures or modifies. Mr. Herren has been in the industry some 25 years and should not be confused with Keith Herron, of Herron Audio, manufacturer of handcrafted tube and solid-state electronic components.
His own products include loudspeakers, the IA 5.25 ($550) and IA 5.25 Signature ($750) and the IA 12 PSM powered subwoofer ($650) and some cables. His mods extend to audio, video and power conditioning equipment. He also offers a line of software enhancers, including a fluid for CD treatment called "Clarity," which I will be writing about in a Musical Meddling update in the very near future.
The cable line is of the good, better, best variety and begins with the Sapphire, a dual symmetrically isolated shielded cable terminated with gold plated, Teflon insulated RCA connections and is, like all of his cables, hand made. The Sapphire sells for just $39.50 in a three-foot set. The midline cable, the Cobra, under review here, sells for $150 in a three-foot set and is comprised of a "large number" of 5 nines (.99999% pure), oxygen free copper wire strands. The strands are coated with polyvinylchloride and covered with cotton. Dave does a number of things to this cable, including using a glass resin insulator and a "special" technique of silver soldering that is said to maximize electron flow and minimize electron loss. The more expensive Silver Soldered Cobra Cables ($350 per three-foot set) differ from the midlevel Cobra in that Dave uses an Acetylene torch to liquefy the copper wire, a much higher percentage of silver solder and the termination, fusing them together in an effort to provide an extremely maximized electron flow through the cable. I will be examining the Silver Soldered Cobra in the near future as well.
The Cobra is an odd-looking cable, silver-gray in color with the cotton wrap protruding between strips of black (on the negative run) or red (on the positive) electrical insulating tape at the RCA terminations making an obvious statement. No one will question that these are hand made products. The cables are thick, something like a ¾" across, and have a slightly oval cross section.
When a manufacturer sends me only one interconnect, I place it at the single most observable spot in my system chain-between my superbly transparent Channel Islands Audio VPC-1 passive preamp and the Source Component Electronics Harmonic Recovery System. After running in the Cobra on my video system for something like 100 hours, I compared it to several cables on hand retailing for $1000, $700, $400 and $300 respectively.
This is a very open, detailed cable, much more so than I had expected, especially at its reasonable $150 price point. Deep bass is somewhat slighted and a bit slurred when compared to my $1000 Harmonic Technology Magic™ One interconnect. Midrange is very truthful, if just the slightest bit forward. Treble is articulate, detailed and fast, allowing for image and soundstage performance traits on par with some much more costly entries, like the Harmonic Technology Truth-Link and Pro-Silway Mk II. Dynamic shadings are handled very well also, coming closer to the $400 and $700 interconnects than I would have imagined. The overall balance, when considering the minor lightishness in the lowest registers, was tilted slightly toward the upper registers. Nevertheless, it is a serious contender in the under $250-$300 price range and should be on your short list to audition. I am really looking forward to examining the pricier sibling in the near future.
Harmonic Technology Harmony Series Cables
When Harmonic Technology's President Jim Wang phoned to say that he was announcing a new entry-level cable line, even more affordable than the excellent performing Precision-Link interconnect and Pro 12 Melody speaker cables, and that HT was going to represent the Furutech line of accessories and connectors here in the United States, I was of course eager to play.
The new product line, called the Harmony series, is very attractive in its opal/pearl colored exterior jacket. Because this new jacket is manufactured from UL/CL-3 grade PVC, it is approved for all in-wall applications as well as normal duty in any standard audiophile application. The Harmony Link comes standard with HT locking RCA's priced at $79 a meter, or $95 a set for balanced (XLR) termination, and their quality of the construction belies their humble pricing. The Harmony Wave speaker cable, $129 for an 8 foot set, shares the same jacket in construction and color, and uses a small gold plated spade. These cables look and feel great and are manufactured from the same solid OCC single crystal copper that HT is now justly famous for. The more important question was how would they sound.
I used the same substitution technique here as with the Herren Cobra, placing the Harmony Link at the critical connection between my Passive Preamp and the SCE Harmonic Recovery System. While the Harmony Link could not quite keep pace with cables costing from 4 to 12 times more, it DID do some remarkable things. Most significantly, it retains that wonderfully rich Harmonic Technology flavor, that overall delightful broadband relaxed and rich tonality, top to bottom. Bass was surprisingly coherent for a cable in this price range, and the treble, while not quite as open as the more pricy entry's, was well detailed and harmonically rich - another well known signature of the HT lineup. Space was rendered a bit "smaller" and less open, but was not constricted. It just seemed as if the music was being played in a slightly smaller venue. Transients were very good, as was the dynamic capability of the Harmony link, especially the macro variety.
I have to admit that I was quite shocked with the overall performance of this cable. Other similar priced and well thought of entrants from companies such as DH Labs, Monster Cable, Tara Labs and AudioQuest, while quite competent at getting the job done, do not offer the timbral neutrality and rhythmic competence I noted from this new unassuming and attractive cable. Most of the other cables I've heard at this price point are considerably more aggressive in the upper regions and do not pass this level of bass continuity. I can highly recommend this cable for anyone looking for an extremely affordable and musically involving cable. It will be an ideal cable for anyone building a music or video system on a really tight budget.
After similar break-in duty in my Home Theater, the Harmony Wave 8-foot speaker cable was trotted out against some pretty serious competition, with price tags ranging from $600 to $3500 a set. Though Jim sent me two sets for my biwire configuration (which worked very nicely in fact), I felt it made more sense to examine them in a situation more indicative of that of the average target user, so my results here were observed with just a single set. To use them in my system in the more typical single wire configuration I had to use 30" jumpers between the two sets of input posts on my Von Schweikert Audio VR-4 Gen. III SEs. I'm embarrassed to tell you that the jumpers cost more than twice what the Harmony Wave speaker cable set retails for, but I felt it necessary. I should also note that, the Harmony Wave may be purchased in a biwired configuration, one set of terminations at the amplifier end, two sets at the speaker end, for just $139.
As with the Harmony Link, I was very impressed with what this modest $129 cable could do. The remarkably similar overall sonic signature to the Harmony Link was immediately apparent: full, rich frequency balance, remarkably coherent and aligned mid bass and open, harmonically accurate upper registers. While it may seem easy to pick on a cable this affordable, the most apparent weaknesses were an obvious slighting of information at the two bottom octaves (20-80 Hz) and a slight congestion under dynamically taxing passages.
I think it fair to say that at this price point and average gauge (2x14 AWG conductors twisted with 2x16 AWG conductors), while one does not expect the kind of absolute control in the deepest regions available from reference grade loudspeaker cables, this cable does a remarkable job in a number of areas. Most notably, it offers that superbly honest rendition of timbre across its range and that relaxed, rhythmic musical involvement. When compared to similarly priced cables, again from well-respected companies like DH Labs, Tara, Monster Cable and AudioQuest, I have to give the nod to the Harmony Wave. It is not flawless, but its faults are much more those of omission than of commission, unlike so many of its competitors that tend to get hard and edgy and thereby, for the most part, offer a much more thin overall presentation. I have to hand it to Jim and Harmonic Technology; this is an exceptional performer at its price point and would be the logical choice for any in-wall Home Theater application, second system or entry-level high performance two-channel rig.
Furutech Terminated HT Pro AC-11 and Fantasy AC-10 Power Cords
Furutech (now part of Fujitsu,) was founded in the 1880's and has made a name for itself in the Pacific Rim with OEM cables and terminations made from the same Ohno Continuous Casting process that Harmonic Technology has traded on since its inception in 1998. It is no surprise that HT and Furutech should combine their efforts to bring a superior product to the US by upgrading both the Pro AC-11 and Fantasy AC-10 power cords.
Jim sent me a pair each of the new Pro AC-11 and Fantasy AC-10 Power cords, each now terminated with the Furutech FI-15 (M) male plug and the FI-15 IEC plug. The contacts inside these new plugs are made from OCC copper and plated with gold, then cased in polycarbonate shells. These new ends raise the cost of the modest 2 meter Pro AC-11 to $200 (with the FI-15 [M]), or $220 (for both) from its pervious $180, while the 2 meter Fantasy AC-10 with the FI-15 IEC plug remains unchanged at $399, and sells for $420 with both installed, according to their web site price sheet. With price changes so modest, I had to know if there was much difference.
The first thing you note about the Furutech fitted HT AC cords is how much more snuggly they fit into both the wall or Power Conditioner socket and equipment IEC receptacle. The resultant sound change is also noticeable - not staggering, but audible. Both cords, after about 40 hours of break in, permitted whatever piece on which they were installed to offer a quieter and more "grain free" background than the "non-Furutech" cord. This allowed for a little more detail and bloom to show through, always good attributes to maximize. They also seem to allocate a bit more sparkle to the presentation, from the lower midrange on up through the highest treble. Also not too shabby. The other attribute that seem affected with the installation of the Furutech fitted cords over those fitted with the stock or Hubbell terminations was, and it was more recording specific, a greater sense of space and a slight improvement of pitch definition in the bass and mid bass.
I don't see how these admittedly slight yet highly desirable improvements, at virtually no cost to the end user, can be seen as anything but a wonderful improvement
November 1, 2002
Greg Weaver, Executive Editor
The Stereo Times
Dear The Stereo Times,
Thank you for such a positive and well written review by your Executive Editor, Greg Weaver. We especially appreciate your closing sentiment, "Kudos to Harmonic Technology and Furutech for marrying these to outstanding products and keeping the prices so real"
We are pleased that you recognize that we have met our goal of designing products that deliver the highest performance per dollar: the new Harmony line of interconnects and speaker cables. We worked closely with our listener panel and dealer network to be certain that this goal was met. Greg's praise indicates that we have exceeded our goal.
Frankly, it is much easier to design interconnects that perform well at $300 than just $79.00 for a one-meter pair. Harmonic Technology has set very high standards for material, connectors and build-quality of our products. We continue this with Harmony-Link, including single crystal wire and special locking RCA connectors. These are features not found on interconnects at these or even higher price points. With this affordability and musicality we think many home theater enthusiasts can enjoy these fine interconnects.
Harmony Wave speaker cable had to be both affordable and continue the standards of grain-free performance set by its big brothers Pro-11, Pro-9 and our top of the line Magic speaker cables. Again, we use high quality single crystal wire and connectors to provide exceptional performance at the price point for both free standing and in-wall applications.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is a common admonition. In the case of our Pro-AC-11 power cord, we thought the straight-through design, single crystal, gold plated construction and the tight fit of the Furutech connectors made offering the upgrade a logical choice.
By offering these fine connectors on our most popular power cord, the ProAC-11, and the mighty Fantasy Pro-10, we can provide another level of openness and transparency, with a very small price increase. We also offer the Furutech connectors alone as an upgrade to any power cords.
At Harmonic Technology we continue to be guided by the principles of delivering the highest performance per dollar. We want to thank the Stereo Times and Executive Editor, Greg Weaver for taking the time to audition our products and sharing his findings in a thoughtful and incisive review.
Jim Wang, Harmonic Technology
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