|Sablon Audio Introduces – The Robusto Power Cord
On a recent visit to Clement Perry's place for one of our usual early afternoon listening sessions, I was fortunate enough to arrive at the exact time as his mailman. He had a huge box that CP was signing for just as I was pulling into his driveway. Of course, this isn't out of the ordinary as many boxes seem to find their way to CP's house. But my curiosity was tweaked by this particular package. "What’s in the box?" I asked. Sensing my curiosity, he coyly replied, "Let’s see." He opened the box and revealed a pair of anaconda-sized AC power-cords with the words “Sablon Audio Robusto” inscribed on them. I asked about the company and he told me that they were based in the UK and that the cables were designed by a guy named Mark Coles. Then to my surprise, he looked at me and said, "Why don’t you check them out?"
First chance I got I looked the company up on the internet and found lots of interesting information on them and the Robusto AC power-cord. Feeling that there might be something to these cables, I decided to take CP up on his offer and take them for a spin.
I’m always interested in what’s new in audio, especially in these tough economic times. Reports of businesses closing their doors due to the lack of sustainable revenue are old news. Why then would someone introduce yet another fancy after-market AC powercord in an industry already overflowing with them? I reached out to Mark Cole to find out just what the method was to his madness (an in-depth Q&A with Coles can be found at the end of this review).
During our discussion, Coles mentioned that Sablon Audio was launched about 18 months ago, and that the name Sablon comes from a particularly charming area of Brussels visited by Coles and his wife during their courtship. From where they lived in London, it was a short trip via a high speed train called the “Eurostar,” which travels through a tunnel under the English Channel. “For me, Brussels epitomizes a decadent self indulgent pleasure, not unlike a good hi-fi system should,” said Coles. This is an interesting perspective given the affordable price of the Robusto compared to the “decadent” costs of cables in this industry.
I guess the exclamation point to Coles' statement is the astronomical cost of a high-end audio system. Many of these I personally encountered at various hi-fi shows and homes I’ve visited. Any audio hobbyist or music lover, regardless of his or her budget, should be able to appreciate and/or aspire to the best they can afford. The Sablon Audio Robusto is a perfect means to that goal.
Now that I’ve had a chance to get to know the man behind the Robusto, it was time to put it through its paces (pardon the pun). Installation of the Robusto was fairly uneventful, given the size of the powercord itself, it was still malleable enough to insert one cord into the rear panel of my Behold Gentile 192 integrated amplifier and another into the Nova Physics Memory Player. I then connected both powercords into the Bybee Wire AC conditioner.
When I powered up my system, right out of the box, with no burn-in (virtually ice cold), the Robusto AC power-cord was unveiling musical passages with clarity and detail, so much so that I had to assume that the cables I was reviewing were already burned-in. That was until I read about the cable’s design characteristics. It stated that each Robusto powercord is pre-conditioned before delivery using an Audiodharma Anniversary Edition cable cooker (simply put, cable cooking means employing a device that pushes a signal through a cable at hundreds of times beyond the original cables specs). Post cable cooking provides a more perceptible presentation of what the cable can and will do right out of the box, it is said.
I began my audio journey over 40 years ago, during that time I have auditioned, sampled and or purchased components and cables all requiring burn-in, some requiring hundreds of hours of it in order to meet the manufactures specifications or their claims of a proper period of optimization. I like to refer to that burn-in period as being as exciting as watching grass grow. I recall, calling CP and sharing my "out of the box" impressions of the Robusto powercord and his response was, “Let’s just give them a week or two and see if you’re still impressed by them.”
I’m pleased to report that after about 300 hours, my impressions are still the same. The sonic differences after their installation were that perhaps the Robusto became a tad smoother. With the Robusto in my system I was clearly reminded of why I always preferred the organic bloom of a tube audio rig. My solid-state system took on a sonic character that was more natural in tone and instrumental timber, with a dimensional rightness compared to other more expensive AC powercords I had on hand.
Prior to installing to the Robusto AC powercord, I was using various other cords from companies like Acoustic Revive, Sunny Cable Technology and Bybee Technologies. All of the aforementioned powercords have been reviewed favorably in the Stereo Times over the years. I too, found each of these cables to perform much like CP and Mike Silverton wrote about. In the end, the Bybee is my reference as it has control on the music unlike any powercord I've owned thus far.
The first CD I played is one of my favorite live recordings, Eva Cassidy’sLive at Blues Alley [Blix Street]. The band members were Christ Biondo (bass guitar), Keith Grimes (electric guitar), Raince McLeod (drums), Lenny “The Ringer” Williams (piano), and Eva Cassidy (vocals, acoustic & electric guitar). Blues Alley appears from its cover photo on the CD to be a small jazz club. I’ve used this CD in my reviews because of the sonic qualities in the recording. This CD can render an intimate relationship between the artist, the audience and this club’s ambient environment. The AC powercords previously mentioned did a credible job with this recording. The Acoustic Revive, for example was a tad more lit up in the upper frequencies, while the Sunny Cable and Neotechs were musical but somehow less involving. (perhaps because they lack the brilliance at the top-end the Acoustic Revive imparts?).
However, with the Robusto AC powercords in the system, the sound was more tangible, authentic and lifelike, with a tonal rightness that felt as though I was transported from my listening chair into Blues Alley at a table closer to the stage.
I could sense the audience’s involvement in each song by the level of their applause and comments, there’s even a trailing echo in each track of this CD which hints to the size of the club. Track 12 titled, “What a Wonderful World,” a Pete Seeger classic made famous by Louis Armstrong, is sung by Cassidy as though it was written especially for her. The Robusto AC powercords own a holographic presentation, revealing Eva's emotional rendition of this song as if it was her life story. The Robusto allowed for a more realistic voice - which is very hard to come by - in addition to an excelled pace and rhythm. The Acoustic Revive and Sunny Cable AC powercords reminded me that I was listening to a very good recording while the Robusto took me closer to the event.
Serious competition to the Robusto was the many times more expensive Bybee Technology Golden Goddess AC powercord, which possessed more macro and micro dynamics at the frequency extremes. The Bybee has a special way of "naturalizing" voices and instruments; never in a way that draws unwanted attention, but to let you know how transparent its window - into the music - really is.
The Robusto, by comparison seemed to be the darker and thus the quieter powercord compared to the Bybee. During musical passages with crescendos, it let the notes trail off into obscurity while maintaining its wonderful tube like bloom that's more a testament to its qualities rather than colorations. Hey, what do you expect for $625? It's surprising to find that the Acoustic Revive, which is an excellent powercord, has met its sonic match, especially with respect to excellent high-frequency extension. Against the almost twice as expensive Sunny Cable (Series 500), I simply found the Robusto to posses greater dynamic range and transparency and musicality.
Another favorite CD of mine is Mark Isham’s, Blue Sun[Columbia ck67227]. Chic Corea wrote, ”Mark Isham’s Blue Sun, is a wonderful set of pastels. The variety of color combinations he creates with his quintet is intriguing.” I chose this CD because of its melodic extremes; the low frequencies have caused the walls in my home to become a part of the music and will test the sonic integrity of any system. Track 3 titled, “That Beautiful Sadness,” begins with Kurt Workman using just the snare drum with rim shots to establish a metronome type pace, followed by Doug Lunn’s electric bass which emits a very low rumbling bass line that is in syncopation with the drum beats and taps. Then David Goldblatt’s acoustic piano comes in with hard hitting bell tones reminding me that the piano is a percussion instrument. This is overridden when Steve Tavaglione’s tenor sax starts to play a sad, emotional melodic blues line that invites Mark Isham’s trumpet to paint rhythmic colors, weaving a tapestry of high burnished notes complementing each musician’s artistry, individually.
The Robusto AC powercord demonstrated its true-to-life qualities, fleshing out all the music with its almost tube-like (read holographic) qualities. In the end, the most impressive attributes of the Robusto AC powercords lies in the way it handles musical harmonics and overtones. In my humble opinion, that's a tall order and the most important aspect to musical expression.
I highly recommend the Sablon Audio Robusto AC powercord. It represents an affordable aftermarket component that can be incorporated into any hi-end system with great results. I’m recommending the Robusto powercord as a Stereo Times Most Wanted Component for 2011. The Robusto AC powercord does not get in the way of music it embraces it.
Q&A with Mark Coles of Sablon Audio
DP: What made you start Sablon Audio?
MC: The timing of the launch of Sablon was driven largely by a natural flow of events in the development of the Robusto rather than by market forces. Although the global economic crisis has been both deep and lengthy, I suspect we passed the lowest point some time back. Difficult times however focus the minds of consumers on achieving value in all areas of their lives and, for those fortunate enough to still be contemplating luxury purchases like audio cables, there's still a strong desire to achieve maximum bang for the buck. In my case, well I very much believed the Robusto had merit within its peer group and marketing via a direct sales model allowed me to bring the product to enthusiasts at a lower price level. In terms of marketing, well I'm very much a believer of this world being a small place, not least of all with the global reach of the internet, and have sought to attract a global audience. Whilst the USA forms a significant element of this hobby internationally, I've managed to reach out to customers all over the globe, even as far as the Pacific paradise of Fiji!”
Wow, talk about a global market place. It’s certainly impressive that rumors and testimonials from the international community have welcomed Sablon Audio’s Robusto powercord with high regard.
DP: What did you want to achieve?
MC: My sonic ideal has always been for a full, open and transparent sound with good rhythm and drive. I'm particularly keen on a natural tonal presentation with a low noise-floor to reveal the full decay of notes/ambient detail. In the field of audio, driving down noise is pivotal to unveiling detail and enhancing dynamic range.
From a business perspective, I hoped to bring something a little different to a crowded market place at an attractive price. To do this, I chose a direct sales model to avoid the inevitable dealer’s margin getting passed into the selling price. From a personal level, I also wanted to get to know my clients and understand their priorities better.
My initial objective was to get the Robusto, and hence Sablon Audio, known in the marketplace before contemplating further products. Now that we've gotten ourselves noticed, work has recently started upon a high performance interconnect. This has been approached from an extremely purist perspective, and will be designed to both embrace the standards achieved by the Robusto and also to compliment its character.
DP: What materials did you choose and why?
MC: I chose stranded copper because all of my previous experiences with this material indicated that it delivered a sonically satisfying outcome in powercords.
Experimentation reinforced the view that a large conductor area delivers greater transparency and dynamic scale in powercords and I have used a huge area (16mm sq) of finely stranded soft annealed refined copper within each phase. I also use equal cross sectional areas in both Live and neutral conductors for optimal results in both normal and balanced power supplies.
DP: Do you think the final "sound" of a powercord depends on the system?
MC: I rather believe that the voicing of any component, not just powercords, is innate to its construction and will show through regardless of the system especially when the designer’s priorities are similar and result in a magnified outcome. In the case of Robusto, the unusual geometry deployed was highly influential to its sonic character giving an extremely low, black noise floor and great drive. I wouldn't necessarily say that it fully reflects Sablon Audio's house sound aspirations in all respects and future products may be voiced slightly differently to blend harmoniously with the Robusto.
DP: Finally, what is your reference system comprised of, solid state or tube components?
MC: I’m very much a tube guy and particularly value the natural midrange and harmonic structures they offer. Here’s a link to the details of my system (at the top of the page here) albeit with an outdated photo.
Company Information: Robusto AC powercord
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