Skogrand Purist Ignis Speaker Cables
With last year’s winter season rapidly approaching, along with the inevitably colder weather here in the upper Midwest, having an opportunity to spend time with good products for review was most welcome. So when I was approached by our illustrious editor Clement Perry (aka CP), I was most enthused with the opportunity to review this company’s new flagship speaker cables. Over time – I had read about other cables in the Skogrand cable lineup including CP's glowing remarks and high praise from elsewhere. Along with this – any cable product carrying the distinguished name “Purist Ignis” certainly was intriguing and worthy of me checking them out.
I often read, or hear other reviewers mention, how much reviewing cables can be rather tedious and somewhat challenging. No question – it can be easily far more exciting to get your hands on some new and innovative electronics and/or beautifully crafted speakers, you know – things that everyone wants to see when they enter your listening room. These are often the most visible objects in our precious high-end audio systems. However, getting the reproduced sound just right is also largely dependent on what connects these components to one another. As such – the once lowly cable, albeit interconnect, digital, power cord and/or speaker, have emerged to a heightened level of recognition and value in the overall sonic performance of high-end audio systems. Also commensurate with this change in status – pricing has also gone through the roof, in some instances, with many cable products far eclipsing the cost of expensive electronics and even speakers. Not saying this is right or wrong but more to illustrate the point that cables perhaps are being recognized for the significant contribution they make to help your system sound as good as it possibly can.
Over the years – I’ve had experiences with all sorts of cables and truth be told, I have often been far more impressed with sonic improvements in my system by changing cables than any other piece of equipment. At times, the dreaded break-in time has been almost excruciating but the end result has also been worth the wait. Not all cables require tons of break-in time with musical signals running through them before they provide optimal performance but it’s often been my experience that suggests cables typically don’t come into fully optimized mode until a fairly significant amount of playing time has occurred. At a minimum – whenever installing new cables in my system, at a minimum, I always allow several days of constant music signal running through them before attempting to do any sort of serious listening. Sure I’m curious when something arrives and from time to time, I will sneak a peek but I also do not allow my naïve enthusiasm to get the best of me and follow my tradition. Also, whereas I am not an engineer, nor technically astute enough to fully understand what the break-in process actually does, I know that from extensive listening over many years – it is often best to do as the manufacturer suggests and don’t try to take short cuts.
These cables arrived in protective cases that seemed to very effectively withstand the perils of their shipment all the way from Norway. Opening the case with a high level of anticipation exposed a very attractive set of cables, actually two pair of speaker cables, with what appeared to be excellent craftsmanship. The Skogrand cables are handmade and with exacting care given. The terminations were with gold finished spade lugs and the overall look was quite exquisite. Once in my hands – they felt very solidly built and although somewhat stiff, they were also workable and I had no problem getting them dressed appropriately in my system. I don’t often think of cables as being attractive but for sure, these speaker cables actually are. The design of the outer jacket along with the fabric used is definitely eye catching and artistic.
As with any other product and particularly cables – I was all set to provide these gems all the time they needed to settle in before they started producing their magic. And, the good news is that in time – they did just that. However, getting to this level wasn’t something that simply happened overnight. In fact – it was quite the opposite and getting these cables to a point where I considered their overall performance to be anywhere near what I expected, it took quite some time. Throughout the break-in period – I provided a constant flow of musical signals running through them for needed conditioning. According to the designer, Knut Skogrand, it should have been something around the 300 hour mark for complete break in. Not sure why it took longer at my place and through conversations with the designer – there were some insights as to what happens when cables are going through this process.
For starters – these particular cables were brand new and without the advantage of having been in someone else’s system for an extended period of time prior to arrival at my place. I would venture to say that it took me almost twice the amount of time for a complete and thorough break-in. Sure there were incremental sonic improvements during this time line but until I reached full break in, I felt the cables simply were not at their peak performance. Don’t get me wrong, they actually sounded quite good, but I was waiting for something special and where the manufacturer had described to me through a series of email conversations. I was expecting something quite on the order of wonderful sound with these cables and I was yet to hear it.
At one point – I decided to simply start over so I removed the cables from my system, put my reference cables back in and recalibrated my ears to what I was previously accustomed to hearing. After about a week or so, I put the Skogrand speaker cables back in my system. Surprise of surprises - literally within a relatively short period of time, the sound seemed to almost completely transform from what I had heard previously. I should also mention that I was actually running two separate pairs of these speaker cables and specifically for bi-wiring purposes. It occurred to me that perhaps the break in time was somehow impacted due to this hookup configuration where possibly each cable pair did not receive full conditioning during the initial break-in period. Again, I am not an engineer and can only report what my ears were telling me. Bottom line – what I was now hearing was significantly improved over what I had heard before and I was now quite impressed and thoroughly enjoying the sound of my system with these wonderful cables in place.
One thing I should mention and that is how important it is for a reviewer to allow sufficient time to acclimate themselves to whatever product they are auditioning and assessing the inherent strengths and/or weaknesses of a given product. It is far too easy to assume that our cherished reference system holds all the musical truth and that whatever sonic differences that comes with the review product may be a departure from the truth. I can say for me that over the years I have at times been blessed with finding a product that in fact, betters what I have in my reference system and if I’m in a position financially to pursue it – there have been instances where I simply bought the review sample. That’s not always possible given the fact that financially one of the potential challenges is over exposure to some really fine products and not having the wherewithal to actually make a purchase each and every time this happens.
Making Beautiful Music
OK, so what does this have to do with the Skogrand Purist Ignis speaker cables? Simply put – I’m a real advocate for cables and have had the good fortune of hearing noticeable sonic changes in the overall sound of my system when I’ve replaced some cables. The Skogrand cables under review similarly provide that type of temptation due to their overall sonic strengths. Fortunately I was able to observe the sonic character of these wonderful cables over an extended period of time and feel quite confident in my overall assessment of their performance capabilities. I should also mention that in order to make sure I had the so-called house sound of Skogrand cables in my house; I requested and received a one meter pair of their Markarian 421 balanced interconnects. Even though my reference IC’s are up to the task, I simply wanted to ensure synergy of sound with the same brand of cabling throughout my system.
Once these cables had been in my system and without being disturbed, the sound they delivered an elegant sense of rich harmonic textures and tonal colors. The sound was big, open, smooth, clear, dimensional and sweet. The sound also had a very quiet background and a very neutral tonal balance. They were perhaps ever so slightly warmer than my reference cables. They also provided a nice sense of fullness without bloat or loss of articulation. For sure, the sound wasn’t anything like being on the cool or lean side of the sonic equation. The sound had a relaxed, slightly laid back perspective. This was in contrast to my reference cables where the stage perspective tends to be more up front and vivid by comparison.
With the Purist Ignis cables in place, they actually allowed me to crank up the volume a bit more than I’m accustomed to yet my system maintained its composure and with no apparent signs of strain or distress. The music simply became louder without any sort of shouting type sonic qualities - just an increase in gain. Also, soundstage ambiance with these cables was also revealed very impressively with subtle musical details emerging from a quiet black background and with a smooth, realistic sonic character. The sound did not illicit edgy or overly sharp transients but instead portrayed the music with a wonderfully natural sonic character. This is similar to what I observe when attending a live concert – that sense of loud but also relaxed. Live music typically does not come with an edge – transients extend from the stage smoothly and float in the air in a very open manner. The Skogrand Purist Ignis cables excel at portraying reproduced music a very authentic sonic character. Bottom line – these cables deliver a replica of the real thing and in a very convincing manner.
As the saying goes….”the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Appropriately, the proof of enjoyment with these cables was in the listening and listen I did. Reaching into my stash of favorite recordings (i.e., both old and new) – first up was the stellar Ray Brown recording titled Soular Energy. On this recording and particularly the cut titled “Cry Me a River” – not only is Brother Ray featured doing his thing on the acoustic bass; you also get some really excellent (and exciting) piano playing from the fabulous Gene Harris. With these cables – Brown’s big bass produces solid, powerful, robust, tight and controlled sound throughout this recording. Harris’ piano comes illuminates the stage with its very clear, open sound including sharp attack of the keys as Harris tinkles the ivories. Another favorite tune from this recording is “Sweet Georgia Brown” and here you find these two artists once again weaving a tapestry of sound that is both enchanting and wonderful. Brown provides a walking bass line on this tune that really becomes the anchor. Harris and others complement the sound also in a very lyrical and exciting manner.
Moving to another outstanding recording, this time I pulled up Ahmad Jamal’s recording titled Blue Moon. Throughout this CD – Jamal is a monster on the piano and plays with a level of energy much more like someone much younger in years than he. His killer companion is the superb Herlin Riley who is percussionist extraordinaire. Listening through the Skogrand cables brought forth a generously open ambient soundstage that allowed both the piano and multiple strikes on the drums to emerge with lots of energy and impact. This particularly selection is loaded with all kinds of subtle, dynamic musical clues and having these cables in place allowed them to come forth with ease and clarity.
Switching to vocals – I found myself pulling out one of my all-time favorite recordings and none other than Shirley Horn’s recording titled “Here’s To Life.” This particularly recording is loaded with luscious sounds including Shirley’s floating piano as well as her exquisite, lightly whispering style of vocals. Listening with the Skogrand cables – there was excellent weight to the constant running bass line. Additionally, the bass sounds were rendered with a warm, full, powerful and yet delicate manner. On top of this was Horn’s delicate piano along and from time to time – delicate, rich strings. One of my other favorites is Diana Krall’s recording “Only Trust Your Heart.” Although different in tonality and overall style than Horn, Krall’s voice and piano playing are delicious rendered on this recording. Additionally, Christian McBride brings forth a solid bass-line throughout and again – the Skogrand cables flesh out the sounds of this recording most authentically and with great musicality.
A couple of other recordings helped to further demonstrate the Skogrand Purist Ignis capabilities as well. For example – listening to Joey Defranceso on his CD titled Estate the sound was wonderful. Also the cymbal work and brushes came forth very smoothly with open delicacy and excellent shimmer. Joey’s Hammond B3 emerged with a rich, full, gorgeous sound quality that was very engaging. Similarly, Manu Kache’s excellent recording Neighbourhood, on the ECM label, provides a wealth of detailed sound emerging from a quiet, black soundstage. Again the Skogrand cables do their thing and strut their stuff musically.
DESIGN PHILOSPHY, TECHNICAL DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT
As part of this review and with being half a world apart (i.e., Norway and Minnesota respectively), communications between the designer and me were typically via cyber space- specifically email. So as I pondered the overall intentions regarding not only the name of these cables but also their development, I posed a series of questions that are included below:
Question: how did you come up with the name for this particular cable?
Response: Ignis is Latin for fire, or a beacon of guiding light (i.e., pyre, lighthouse). As it has become quite spectacular, we decided to call our top performing cables Purist Ignis. Spearheading cable performance globally we found it fitting for it to be named the guiding light of purist cabling.
Question: What are your overall goals with this latest cable design?
Response: We wanted to push past the limits of signal transfer speed and signal preservation that was already lined out by our other cable models.
Question: With your success of other cables in your lineup, where did you get the inspiration for the SC Purist series speaker cables?
Response: With the work already put into our other models, we knew there were ways to push performance even further.
Question: What is your overall design philosophy and what issues are you attempting to address with these latest State of the Art cables?
Response: We strive to offer products that will let the connected components perform at their very best without constriction or added coloration. We want our clients to know that when they are using our products, they can rest assured that there is no other manufacturer that can offer the same level of performance and that with the Skogrand Cables in their setup – they will have to look no further. Our motto is to deliver Pure Audio Joy.
Question: How do you manufacture these cables and how much time does it require to complete a pair?
Response: The Purist Ignis cables are handmade in our small mountain workshop as our other products. The assembly takes only three days. The preparation and calibration of the parts takes just over three months.
Question: How much time is required to fully break-in a pair of these cables? Why is an extended period of time needed for this process?
Response: We recommend one hundred and twenty hours for letting all our cable models to settle in. Some customers speak of immediate improvement while others want longer time (i.e., up to three hundred hours). Due to the PTFE/PFA*(see note below) parts of the framework constructs – there will be a certain amount of standing charge within the cables after manufacturing, handling and transport. Leaving the cables connected to the setup will let the cables discharge and settle in with the setup.
*NOTE: PTFE and PFA are two types of fluroplastics that Skogrand uses to build the inner frameworks of our cables. Their five cable models use four different frameworks to comply with their design intentions. PTFE is short for polytetrafluoroethylene and is a granular molding powder that is used to produce some of the parts used to construct the SC Centaurus A and SC Markarian 421 cable frameworks. PFA is a perfluoroalkoxy copolymer resin that is used to produce some of the parts that we use when building the Purist Ignis cable frameworks.
Question: What do you consider to be the clear advantages for the type of design of your latest speaker cables?
Response: Purist Ignis improvements from the Markarian 421 model include PFA framework components instead of PTFE. There is also less stored static charge, slightly more flexibility to ease handling, superior impact strength, 4.45 times higher dielectric strength and solid core leads floating in vacuum. Additionally, there is a more accommodating inner framework with low-K inner framework enhancements. Mechanical, thermal and biologically treated Ultra-Pure Ohno Continuous Cast copper wires with improved surface quality and electrical conductivity.Wires are scanned to eliminate any grain borders ensuring that every wire length of each cable consists of only one copper crystal. All inner framework materials are scanned and freed from impurities. All wires are matched for exact similarity of size and performance.
Question: What is your favorite type of music? How often do you listen – to both your audio system as well as live?
Response: Personally, I listen to a great variety of music including jazz, reggae, classic, classic rock, hard rock, electronica, folk music and movie scores. It all depends on the mood I’m in or the mood I want to be in. (smile). I listen to one or two of my setups every day and being a musician I and having a family that is fond of playing instruments (and singing); I get to perform and listen to live music every day.
What you get with these fine cables is a sound that excels in overall musicality. They provide excellent clarity and resolution along with natural dynamics, a neutral tonal balance and are true to the music played through them. In terms of cost – they are clearly expensive reflecting the high level of craftsmanship (i.e., handmade) and quality of their construction. The fit and feel of these cables is excellent. Knut Skogrand is a serious cable designer and has developed a very serious product.
My time with these cables has been extensive and I very much appreciate having the opportunity for an extended review period to ensure sufficient time to critically listen and evaluate their overall sonic capabilities. These speaker cables are quite impressive and highly recommended for someone seeking cables that will provide a high level of natural musicality – not hyped up resolution. According to the designer – his company has now completed work on a new entry level cable. Despite struggling to supply an even greater part of the audio crowd – they’ve managed to manufacture a cable that will have a retail price of $995 (U.S.) for a 2 meter pair. Will be interesting to see what name the company comes up with for this particular model.
It should also be noted that Skogrand offers a 30-day money back guarantee. They also provide a variety of terminations for their speaker cables including spades, z-plug/saw banana plugs, pins, speaker connectors and/or unterminated bare cable ends for direct connections. Jumper cables are also offered as well.
Pricing: SC Purist Ignis (speaker cables):
$19,000 – 1 meter
$20,500 – 1.5 meters
$22,000 – 2 meters
$25,000 – 3 meters
$26,500 – 3.5 meters
SCI Markarian 421 Interconnects (balanced, 1 meter pair) - $6.350
Designer: Knut P. Skogrand