A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range

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genjamon

A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« on: 19 May 2015, 12:46 am »
Alright, guys, bear with me.  This review is a result of the past year and a half of experiences with the full range of Dave's cable products.  It's really really long, but I hope organized effectively enough to navigate, and I hope at least somewhat useful to some of you.  Thanks so much, Dave, for all your generosity through all the incremental stages of trial auditioning of your cables!

It’s been a year since I last shared my thoughts about Dave’s Cables, now ZenWave cables.  At that point, I had just upgraded to Dave’s D4 interconnects, which had just come out.  Since then, Dave has created his full line of speaker cables as well as his power cables. 

I’ve kept in touch with Dave over the past year and have actually had the great pleasure of auditioning his full line of cables products at this point (although not the new power conditioners).  Dave has been so generous with his auditioning policy with me, and since I’m one of the few that have heard his full line of products, I feel the need to share a review of my experiences.
As context, here are my past impressions of his full line of interconnects.

 (Original Sept 2013 D1, D2, and DD impressions)
http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=118081.msg1271022#msg1271022

(DD and D3 follow-up in Dec 2013)
http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=118081.msg1281965#msg1281965

(D4 – May 2014)
http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=118081.msg1326840#msg1326840

(more D4 - May 2014)
http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=118081.msg1327690#msg1327690

(speaker cables – May 2014)
http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=118081.msg1326843#msg1326843

My Past Year with ZenWave:

Since October 2014, I have had a series of auditions with Dave’s cables. 

From October to early February, my system consisted of the following:  Mac Mini -> Lampizator Level 5/4 -> TRL Dude preamp -> Job 225 amp -> Tekton Lore (tweaked) and also a Line Magnetic 518i integrated SET amp based on 845 power tubes. 

From February to present, I have been using Spatial Audio M1 speakers instead of the Lores, and I have continued to swap back and forth between the Line Magnetic and the Dude/Job combo.  I also upgraded to an Auralic Aries from the Mac Mini.

Here’s my sequence of auditions with Dave’s cables and the purchasing decisions I have made:

October/November – PL14 power cables (one with Neotech connectors, and one with upgraded FI50 carbon fiber connectors), and also 20 gauge SMSG silver/gold alloy speaker cables

   Results: bought the FI50 power cable

January/February – three PL power cables with FI-50 connectors, two PL cables with Neotech connectors, 17 gauge SMSG speaker cables, 20 gauge SMSG speaker cables, 14 gauge SL speaker cables, two pair of D4 interconnects with WBT RCA’s rather than Mundorf RCA’s (for comparison with my two pair with Mundorfs)

        Results: bought two more PL11 power cables with FI-50 connectors to run from wall outlet to Pi Uberbuss and from Uberbuss to amp, leaving the Aries and the preamp the only items without FI50 PL power cords

March/April – auditioned another Neotech PL14 on the Auralic Aries, continued comparisons of older Mundorf D4’s with newer WBT D4’s

       Results: swapped to newer WBT D4’s, and bought another FI50 PL14 for the Auralic Aries power supply

May – one last comparison of WBT/Mundorf D4’s once the FI50 cable arrived for the Aries

       Results: happy with my decision to swap for the WBT D4’s – strongly considering buying another FI50 power cable for the Dude preamp, but hard to justify this high of a cost for a component that is only in use part of the time

Now for a summary of my listening impressions of each type of cable:

PL power cables – how good is this litz wire anyway?

I had previously heard the benefits of the litz wire in Dave’s 20 gauge and 14 gauge SL speaker cables, which pretty easily replaced my Clear Day shotgun speaker cables.  They just reduced noise and harshness, giving a lot more stress-free spatial resolution to the sound.  I had high hopes for the power cables and thought it worth a try.

I immediately enjoyed the 14 gauge PL power cable with Neotech connectors.  In the past year, I had had some extensive comparisons of Triode Wire Labs 14+, Pi Audio power cables, and Core Audio Technology Katana power cables.  These all easily bested my previous and significantly cheaper Signal Cable and Pangea power cables.  And the Katana cables are what ultimately won out over those others.  I thought I had a real bargain going with the Katana’s.  And they’re really excellent cables for the money – offering much better spatial resolution, lower noise floor, more details, and a certain sweetness as well than the Signal/Pangea level was offering.  They and the others made me a believer that power cables can make a significant difference and are worth investment.  But I also thought I’d found a pretty good sweet spot in the scale of diminishing returns, and that larger expenditures for more expensive cords would probably only bring marginal and diminishing returns.

I was wrong.

The Neotech PL cable was the first step in realizing just how wrong I was, but just the first step.  I also had on hand at the same time a PL cable with Furutech FI50 connectors, but I’ll share what I learned from that down below. 

For now, let me just say that on my Job amp, it was obvious that the sound with the Neotech PL cable was simultaneously much more detailed and spatially resolved, and significantly warmer and more musical than it had been before.  It was an obvious change for the better and didn’t take much listening to hear it.

FI50 connectors – are they really worth it???

The first time I inserted the PL cable with FI50 connectors, I had a smug grin on my face.  It was on my Job amp, and I actually think I preferred my Katana power cable.  It certainly wasn’t better, and maybe just a lateral move.  On the other hand, the Neotech version was really an improvement.  I was smiling because I was glad I hadn’t just bought an FI50 version, and happy I was going to enjoy the Neotech version and take the savings to the bank.

So, I listened to the Neotech on the amp, swapping between Dude/Job and Line Magnetic integrated for a couple weeks while my Line Magnetic tubes and transformer burned in, since it was a brand new unit at the time.  While I was doing this, I stuck the FI50 PL on the Lampizator to see if some time did it some good.

After a few weeks, I was ready set to order a Neotech PL for the Job and send back the FI50.  But I decided to do one last A/B comparison between Neotech and FI50 connectors on my Job amp.  The rest of the power cables were the Katana’s throughout the system.  Keep in mind that the Neotech and FI50 versions have the exact same actual wiring – the only difference is the connectors. 
I’ll be damned.  The FI50 on the Job amp sounded – FANTASTIC!  WAAAAAY more inner resolution to the instruments, way lower noise floor to the sound in general than the version with Neotech connectors. 
DAMMIT!!!! 

So, I forked over the cash to Dave for an FI50 cable.  It defies any sense of logic to me that a power cable connector can make so much of a difference, but I know what I heard, and it was obvious.  It also defies logic that cable burn-in can be such a game changer – and now add to that power cable connector break-in!!!  Shaking my head in utter disbelief, but caving-in to what I hear.
And keep in mind that selection bias and self-deception are not very relevant here.  I hadn’t purchased them, so didn’t have an incentive to celebrate my new audio jewelry.  I also had thought I already heard the Neotech sound significantly better, and was looking forward to maintaining that same impression. 

Like I said, I was wrong…

How few FI50 connectors can I get away with?

These things are seriously not cheap.  They’ve been $400 upcharge on top of the cost of the wire itself and Dave’s labor – which is on SALE from Furutech’s actual retail prices of around $600 for a set.  But, they’ve ONLY been a $225 upcharge from the standard Neotech connectors.  I’ve paid a lot more than $225 for a wide range of audible but not transformative upgrades to my system over the years.  I’ve also spent a lot more than $225 for “upgrades” that didn’t really pan out or were only lateral moves.  I’d really rather not have to spend the extra $225 multiple times over, but then again if I’m willing to upgrade power cables to begin with, then I should probably just spent the extra $225 if it offers sizeable value relative to benefits from other ways to spend that money.

So, I got this huge shipment of cables from someone that was returning them to Dave.  He works with a well-known speaker manufacturer and was testing the full range of Dave’s cables for a while.  Dave had him send them to me before I sent them back to Dave.  This was an amazing amazing treasure trove of multiples of Dave’s full range of cables.  So I had a crazy month trying every conceivable cable combination I thought would have any real value.

This included adding another three FI50 PL cables to the one I already owned.  It meant I could add one cable at a time to the system and hear each additional improvement.  I also had a couple Neotech PL cables in the box, and I was able to A/B the Neotechs against the FI50’s on each additional component.

After all that experimentation, I have absolutely no hesitation recommending the FI50 version over the Neotech version.  The Neotech version is a really good power cable.  But the FI50 is an exceptional power cable.  Furthermore, going FI50 version from wall to power conditioner in addition to those to DAC and amp/integrated was a major improvement.  Larger in fact than any other power cable contribution.
But here’s something to confuse you.  Just putting the FI50 cable on the power conditioner without having them on the other components didn’t do much.  In fact, it might have actually sounded worse.

Lesson: lowering noise floor in the power supply through these connectors is a compounding value in the system.  If the cables to the components aren’t of sufficient quality, you can’t hear the improvement of the power feeding the power conditioner.  But if they are of sufficient quality, you hear a BIG difference there.

Amazing.

Finally, I thought I was done after this round of experiments and buying two more FI50 cables – two 11 gauge for the amp/integrated and from wall to power conditioner, and one I already had on the DAC.  But I had just gotten delivery of my Spatial M1 speakers, and I had the Auralic Aries on the way.  I asked him to keep a Neotech PL around to try on the Aries when it was sufficiently burned-in and once the M1’s had enough time on them.

I thought the Aries was supposed to have a great linear power supply, and didn’t think it would be sensitive to power cable at all – it’s just streaming bits to the DAC after all.  Wrong again.  The Neotech PL made a really significant positive difference over the Katana cable.  It was at least as much a difference as any other position I have tried.  So, I ordered one (final?) PL cable with FI50 connectors.  At this point, I know if a component can be helped by a PL cable, the FI50 is going to be even better than the Neotech – hands down.

And, once that last FI50 cable arrived, I did actually compare the Neotech and FI50 on the Aries power supply.  The FI50 had a more subtle impact here than in other parts of the system, but a very important one.  It removed what I'd call a "plastic-y" nature to the sound.  Certain music, especially acoustic guitar, strings, and whatnot, just sounded more "real".  There was an artificiality to their sound that was suddely gone.  It wasn't necessarily more detailed/resolved than the Neotech - and it wasn't a "veil" or layer of hash that was removed.  It's not really analogous to another change I've heard before, but just an artificiality that was removed - is best way I can describe it.  More realistic.

I also did one last trial run with the Neotech version before returning to Dave.  I tried the Neotech vs the Katana on my Dude preamp.  In the past, this tube rectified beast of a preamp with more power supply capacitance than any amp I’ve ever seen has been very muted in the effects of power cables.  I’ve heard some differences, but not that significant.  This time around it was different.  With the noise floor in the entire system down to very low levels due to the benefits of FI50 PL’s in literally every other part of the system, the Neotech makes a quite significant positive difference to the sound of the Dude over the Katana.

Now I just have to decide whether it’s worth shelling out yet another nearly $700 for a power cable to a component I only use at most half of the time.


Sonic attributes between Neotech and FI50


I’d say the Neotech excels at providing a quite resolved sound with no strain, but warmth to go along with it.  What the FI50 brings to the table is another level of resolution through the minimization of noise floor in the system, and this can have different sonic effects in different positions.  On digital equipment like the DAC and the Aries streamer, it results in reduced hash, more instrumental tone/body/warmth, less digititus and more organic sound overall, greater instrumental and spatial resolution.  On an amp, it results in much tighter and more articulate bass with no overhang like what is present with the Neotech, and cleaner/clearer mids and highs.  The Neotech version certainly plays at a high level, but the FI50 takes it to a very other level.  Highly recommended if you can afford it.


SMSG speaker cables – ummm, and I thought D4’s were expensive…


The SMSG speaker cables are definitely more resolved than any other speaker cable I’ve ever had in the system.  But I just haven’t gotten them to gel in terms of musicality.  The level of detail they’ve offered has always impressed on first listen, but I found myself less and less engaged with the music in a soul-ful way, only in an intellectual way.  I have some other speaker cables from Cable Research Labs for $400 that are copper, and while not having quite as much resolution as the SMSG, they offer a bit more warmth and organic character while not giving up much in the resolution department.  I still assume at a certain level of system performance and with the right speakers, the SMSG will take the system farther than almost any other speaker cable out there – especially with a somewhat efficient and warm/romantic speaker. 

D4’s – the Mundorf vs. the WBT connector question

Well, since I had some of the new cables on hand in the big box of cables back in January/February, I thought I might as well swap with the older ones I had from last May to see if there was any audible difference.  I didn’t think there would be.  Oops again.  There definitely is a difference.  I wouldn’t say one is absolutely better than the other.  The Mundorf has a lighter overall tonal balance – tipped toward higher frequencies – with a bit more high frequency energy.  If your system is a bit too rich, too slow, the Mundorf would liven it up a bit more than the WBT connector type would.  If your system could use a touch less incisiveness, a bit more body/warmth, the WBT’s would be more your ticket.  This is definitely a fairly subtle effect, but I found it to be consistent across multiple types of amplification, multiple speakers, and across a wide range of experiments with power cables which are outlined above.  Since it’s been a consistent experience, albeit subtle, I thought it worth mentioning.  Overall, I have consistently preferred the WBT’s presentation, so thought it worth paying Dave a bit to swap out my cables with new ones and sell the old ones at a discounted “demo” price through him.  Both cables offer the same levels of resolution that I could hear, so it’s really just a matter of subtle flavor.

Overall comments on cable auditioning, system synergy, and the compounding benefits of cable upgrades

I have been amazed throughout this whole process about the importance of system synergy that comes into play in what you hear with cable changes.  There were many times when a cable swap didn’t sound positive initially, but then after improving another part of the system and then returning to do that same A/B cable comparison it was a night and day positive improvement.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Cable improvements don’t work as just incremental upgrades.  An awesome interconnect can sound like absolute garbage when you put it in – if your power is feeding your source garbage noisy power and this is making its way into the signal.  That awesome IC is doing a great job of passing along that garbage noise.  You might be tempted to think a lower cost copper IC is better because it’s warmer and more organic sounding, but you’d be wrong because that lower cost IC is just covering up all that noise with its own form of noise.  And that’s just one very specific form of conundrum I encountered this past year.

Given the level of system complexities and modifications we all experiment with on a regular basis in this hobby, it’s very challenging to get a firm grip on what the truth really is.  The only way I can see past it is through generating a lot of personal experience playing around with all these variables over a period of time and developing an ability to see past the current listening experience to see potential sources of noise or whatever filtering that a cable might be doing to diminish the signal integrity/quality in some way.  It’s not easy, and I can see the appeal of just giving in and going with less expensive and torturous options that still sound pretty darned good for the money.

But I can say that if you do have the time, money, and energy to get into the weeds with this, there are definitely new levels of system sophistication that can be unlocked.  And that no component is performing to its best if high quality power cabling/supply and signal cabling has not been addressed. 

And furthermore, the effects are compounding.  Initial introductions of FI50 power cables were really powerful improvements, but with those in place on components, the segment from wall to power conditioner was nearly transformative.  And none of those effects would have been as audible if I didn’t already have stellar D4 interconnects.  And I might not have caught the elimination of that slightly plastic haze over the tone of instruments (compared with the Neotech PL) when I finally inserted the FI50 on the Aries streamer power supply – if I didn’t already have the benefits of FI50’s elsewhere and D4 interconnects. 

I’m extraordinarily grateful to Dave for providing me the liberty to experiment over the past 8 months or so with all of these combinations.  It has not only allowed me to make the upgrades to my system that seem like the best bang for the buck, it has provided me invaluable new insights into the way I hear my system, think about system synergies, and plan for upgrades.  I hope this write-up in some small way helps any others on this journey to think about their audio setups and about cables in more critical and sophisticated ways – as the very complex systems that they are – and quite sensitive to even small changes in very surprising ways.

Tomy2Tone

Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #1 on: 19 May 2015, 01:05 am »
Nice to know I'm not the only crazy one who has experienced the wonders of Dave's cables.  My experience mirrors yours in almost every way. Nice write up!

genjamon

Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #2 on: 19 May 2015, 01:13 am »
Thanks!  I feel like I owed it to Dave to attempt to summarize after all his generosity.

poseidonsvoice

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Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #3 on: 19 May 2015, 01:19 am »
Nice well delineated review. A lot of pearls for perspective Zenwave buyers.

Nice speakers too.

Best,
Anand.

OzarkTom

Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #4 on: 19 May 2015, 01:24 am »
Very nice write-up. Dave's cables made my system sound wonderful, I just need to sell some gear to get me a set.

Tomy2Tone

Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #5 on: 19 May 2015, 01:27 am »
Thanks!  I feel like I owed it to Dave to attempt to summarize after all his generosity.

Definitely! Dave deserves some love for that!

If Audio Circle ever had an annual award show or recognition I would vote the D4 interconnect for Cable of the Year!

DaveC113

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Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #6 on: 19 May 2015, 02:34 am »
Wow, thanks for the write-up genjamon! I agree with your thoughts and it makes me happy to help folks get their systems together, it's always an interesting journey.  :thumb:

genjamon

Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #7 on: 19 May 2015, 03:28 pm »
After sleeping on it last night, I woke up realizing I think I kind of buried the lead with regard to the true value of Dave's top of the line cables.

I recently borrowed a few USB cables from some friends to give those a try.  I had tried several a few years back and found the Db Audio cables provided with their Tranquility DAC to be great bang for buck.  That was before the current rage of separating power legs from data legs in cables, all these various new conditioning devices like the Uptone and iFi devices and so forth.  The clearest and cleanest USB cable I have borrowed was the one that didn't even have a power leg - the MG made by Mike Galusha.  But I didn't like the sound of it - too detailed actually, and not enough musicality.  I preferred the old Db Audio cable - it was must more organic and musical, if not as transparent.  This was with the Neotech PL cable on my Aries streamer.  When the FI-50 PL cable arrived, that impression completely transformed.  Not only was the MG cable cleaner and clearer, it was simply more "real" sounding.  A completely unambiguous and obvious improvement.  I had a friend over who was not familiar with my system, and not that familiar with the music I was playing.  He also hadn't played much with USB cables.  I made a quick A/B/A swap between the MG and Db cables, and it was a slam dunk no-brainer for this guy as well.  Obvious.

Confidence.  That's what Dave's cables have provided me.  With Dave's top level of power cables and IC's throughout the system, I know it's not signal or power integrity or distortions from cables that I'm hearing.  I know that any changes I'm making in other parts of the system will be heard in their full, and I can make honest assessments of them knowing that cable transparency is there.  I've had the Line Magnetic now since October, and I can honestly say I still consider it a trial run vs the Dude/Job combination.  With each addition of another cable improvement, the equation in comparing these two sets of electronics has changed.  To truly know which set I prefer, I feel it has been necessary to get the cable contributions out of the way.

With Dave's highest level of offerings you can be confident that the cables are 99% out of the way.  No cable is ever going to be completely neutral or transparent.  And I know that there are a great many high end cables out there.  Many are probably dressed up and overpriced.  Some might be worth the astronomical prices they're charging - if you're going after that last 1% of performance.  For me, I'm satisfied that I've achieved the 99% level of performance at a fraction of the price of what most upper tier cable makers are charging - and that the biggest gains/changes in my system are now going to be from room acoustics, component changes, and so forth, and that I can honestly assess those changes from here on out.

DaveC113

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Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #8 on: 19 May 2015, 04:07 pm »
Great post genjamon! Explaining this is the topic of the sticky post "Why You Want Neutral Cables and Good AC Power as a Basis For a Hi Fi System" found here:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=127995.0

I do have some plans for a cable that addresses that last 1%... It involves an inert gas dielectric and shielding that has it's own grounding system. They will be stupid expensive but should be the best you can get at any price. :D   My current cables will remain the mainstay and provide the best value for the money though. Currently, the D4 IC cables have been compared to lots of cables in the $5k range and the D4s have always came out ahead so I'd say they are among the best ic cables at any price. The new cables with inert gas dielectric and trick shielding system should soundly beat everything else on the market.  :green:


Text copied and pasted below so you don't need to click the link:  :) 

"I was looking around a forum yesterday and saw a thread where someone was looking for cables to smooth out his system. I have relatively frequently heard people want to use cables to tune their system. To a certain degree this is desirable, but I want to say a few words about this topic and hopefully keep people from going down a path that could end up costing more money and aggravation in the long run.

I agree with the general consensus that it's possible to make choices in cable and component selection to balance the character of the system, commonly called synergy... but this is more specifically about why you don't want to use cables to make large changes in the characteristic sound of a system, why you don't want smooth sounding cables in particular. Why it makes the most sense to choose the most neutral cables for your system that you can. And why good AC power distribution is so important.

First, the question of neutral must be addressed. I intend it to mean affecting the signal the least amount possible, adding the least amount of it's own character to the sound, letting the sonics of the source come through unaltered, sounding as realistic as possible in tone and body. It is a relative thing since we can't compare a cable to no cable. Well... it IS possible, but not practical... so it is a comparative judgement. But I think you get an idea of what I mean.

With a smooth cable, you are trading warmth, which is distortion and causes coloration, for detail. So, you lose detail like reverb and note decay and add a distortion that is the same to everything you hear from your system. A touch of this can be good, and in less than perfect systems, which is almost all of them, desirable to some point. The better the system you have, the less warmth you want... why spend a lot of money on a good source only to have a cable "smooth out" all that glorious detail you paid so much for?

Having neutral cables and good power will also allow you to evaluate potential upgrades much more realistically. How can you really judge a component change with really warm or harsh cables, inferior power quality, power cords and connectors feeding your components? With neutral cables and good AC power delivery you will be able to get a more accurate picture of changes to your system. There's also much less liklihood of wanting to change cables to compensate for the introduction of a new component or tame harshness cause by poor AC power delivery. Good cables and good AC power distribution are the foundation of a good system and will allow you to make choices that will lead to real improvements because you will have less sonic issues like harshness, hardness, too much warmth or bloat related to poor AC power and cables.

The last issue related to this is warmth vs harshness. A good, very neutral reference level cable that is theoretically "perfect" costs a lot of cash. So if you're going to make a less than perfect cable to save money you must decide what the appropriate compromises are. The compromises generally make the cable or part you're looking at sound either more harsh or more warm. For example 4N silver has a thin, harsh sound that is easy to identify when used in cables. UPOCC silver is far more transparent and adds no harshness whatsoever, but costs several times the price... the other alternative to pricey UPOCC silver is using UPOCC copper. This makes for a warmer cable with less detail, but no harshness. This is a far better tradeoff because it complements the imperfections of a less expensive component while harsh 4N silver adds to the issues already present in a less expensive source/amp. Listening fatigue kills the joy of listening to music and it's the LAST thing you want! ZenWave errs on the side of warmth, and delivers as much detail and neutrality as possible for the price. I will give a no harshness guarantee.  :thumb:  "

xsb7244

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Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #9 on: 19 May 2015, 04:36 pm »
May I be blunt.  Awesome!  Best cable review of the year.

Tomy2Tone

Re: A big honkin' review of Dave's full cable range
« Reply #10 on: 19 May 2015, 05:25 pm »

"Having neutral cables and good power will also allow you to evaluate potential upgrades much more realistically. How can you really judge a component change with really warm or harsh cables, inferior power quality, power cords and connectors feeding your components? With neutral cables and good AC power delivery you will be able to get a more accurate picture of changes to your system. There's also much less liklihood of wanting to change cables to compensate for the introduction of a new component or tame harshness cause by poor AC power delivery. Good cables and good AC power distribution are the foundation of a good system and will allow you to make choices that will lead to real improvements because you will have less sonic issues like harshness, hardness, too much warmth or bloat related to poor AC power and cables."


Just experienced this myself. Very true!