Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 Speaker Cable Your Silence Speaks Loudly
I thought I was done with cable reviews for a while. My fascination with the German-made Ramses II cables was still going strong. So when I received an email inquiry from Norwegian cable designer Knut Skogrand requesting I give his cables a listen, I apologized and said I wasn’t interested. Some months passed and Skogrand wrote to me again, stating his cables were making news in the audio press. I responded, "Congratulations to you and your cables. Now you really don’t need a review from me!" To which he replied "...these [reviews] are the reason I want you to hear them. I think you will like them too." Without thinking I replied "Okay, send me pair and I'll get them out to one of my writers." "No,” Skogrand replied, “I want YOU to listen and review my cables." Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed.
After lengthy email correspondence with Skogrand I found the SC Air Markarian series to be the best of the three models offered - and also most expensive at nearly $7,500 for a 6-foot pair - $7,385 to be exact. Skogrand borrowed the name “Markarian 421” of one of the closest (approximately 400-million light years) and brightest blazers (a compact, high-energy quasar) in the night sky. An almost ironic name in that I found this cable to have such a low noise level, providing a jet-black background, that I’d bet even the great Galileo would have been envious!
Few of the many cables that have passed through our offices have been sufficiently impressive to warrant a review. Fewer still excite the senses enough to earn a Most Wanted Component award. But after a few rounds with the Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 speaker cable, I found it worthy of both a review and of our prestigious MWC award.
The SC Air Markarian is an attractive and somewhat stiff cable. The stiffness is due to fact that Skogrand uses a special PFA tubing to facilitate his air-dielectric topology. There is a down-side to this structure: crimping, bending or placing the cables in tight locations may damage them so ample space is a necessary requirement. The positive and negative runs of each speaker cable are built separately and use Ultra-Pure Ohno Continuous single Casting (UP-OCC) 12 gauge copper wire. The exterior of SC Air Markarian 421 uses attractive polyolefin heat-shrink and silk brocade sleeves.
Their Skogrand website reads, in part, "The SC Air Markarian 421 offers solid core copper leads suspended in air within a framework of ultra low dielectric fabrics and PFA tubing. With this complex cable build we have achieved an effective dielectric constant of 1.0018 with a signal transfer speed of 299253,8 km/h or 99.82 % of the speed of light making this one of the fastest speaker cables in the world—only rivaled by the Centaurus A..." (the Skogrand model just below the Markarian 421). I'm not a scientist or technically astute so to me these statistics mean little. But in the final analysis it's the sonic performance that matters.
I compared the Markarian to the Ramses II despite the former being far more expensive—the Ramses are used to going up against big guns! The Ramses possess an airiness, three-dimensionality and harmonic rightness in the upper frequencies that are said to be the result of its ribbon design. And the Markarian 421's air dielectric may very well be the source of its incredible lack of noise. This single attribute gives it a level of purity in the high frequencies that rivals the Ramses II. Add to that, a level of inner detail and dynamic contrasts that I have not experienced before. And it doesn’t stop there.
Your Silence Speaks Loudly
That eerily quiet backdrop to the high frequencies bled right down into the midrange, giving voices (male in particular) an added sense of body and tonal acuity. Consider all this, I wasn't too surprised the mid- and lower-bass demonstrated a remarkable swiftness to the snare - a quicker kick-drum while the upright and electric-bass gained in dynamic swing and intensity. Hence, the music came alive.
A perfect illustration of these qualities is the absolutely gorgeous rendition of “Kothbiro” by violinist Regina Carter, from her latest CD, Reverse Thread. This is a breathtaking mix of traditional jazz themes seamlessly blended with African rhythms (the original version of this song, sung by Ayub Ogada, is also highly recommended). This song also features Yacouba Sisscoko on kora, a 21-string African harp-like instrument that gives this song a strange and beautiful sound. I should also mention that our own Alvester Garnett is the featured drummer on this CD. As a result, I was able to hear some of the un-equalized pre-production songs in my home. On more than one occasion, Alvester traveled directly from the recording studio straight home to hear it on his rig, or to my house where we'd listen intently for each change. Fortunately, very little EQ and noise shaping was added to the final mix. This resulted in an excellently recorded jazz CD that blew up the jazz radio airwaves while gaining commercial success as well (Stereo Times received honorably mentioned in the CDs liner notes). I mention this because if there is a CD that I know intimately, then Reverse Threads is the one.
Surprisingly, the even-tempered Markarian 421 cables infused each musician’s play with an improved sense of urgency and rhythmic life. In my experience, infusing "life" into a system is perhaps the most difficult thing to accomplish from any cable or component because it demonstrates that forever-difficult task of properly aligning the frequency balance. This sense of balance certainly caught my eye (and ear) by remaining neutral no matter the music or source. The Markarian 421 delivers these sonic attributes as though seeking neither fame or fanfare. Amazingly, and contrarily to most other cable designs, the Markarian 421's neutrality is its greatest strength and most other cables greatest weakness.
In terms of an overall balance, I can imagine that the Markarian 421's clarity and liveliness could, with some systems, sound a bit too transparent, especially for those preferring a more laid-back and relaxed performance. The Markarian 421 isn't a tranquil sounding cable nor does it want to be. On the contrary, my impression is this cable gets close the design goal of sounding like no cable at all. That means it imparts no restrictions, signature or personality on a system. Its only goal is to faithfully reproduce what's coming downstream. There are no absolutes when it comes to taste—this level of truthfulness to the audio signal is not necessary something that every listener, and every system, will find desirable.
The positive result in my system was undeniable but now I wanted to see if they were verifiable elsewhere. As usual, “elsewhere” refers to my neighbor and co-conspirator Dennis Parham (hereafter DP). Now, DP is a big fan of the Ramses II, his current reference cables. He jumped at the opportunity to hear the Markarians but unfortunately he required eight-foot runs, and these are only six. Moving his Sunny loudspeakers was the only option, but we both decided against it since it would add too many variables. However, he did come over and hear the cable in my system and found them more dynamic, quieter and possessing an ever-so slightly faster pace and rhythmic flow than the Ramses II.
The Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 speaker cables are among the least colored speaker cables I have heard. I congratulate Knut Skogrand for developing a cable that infused my system with a heightened sense of musicality by lowering the noise floor and improving dynamics. Unfortunately, these cables are not cheap. But I have heard other, more expensive cables that did not impact my system nearly as much as the Markarian 421s. Highly recommended and my Publisher's Choice Most Wanted Component for 2012!
Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 Speaker Cable
Price: EXPORT USD: 1,5m $7,385.00