Having owned and listened to various audiophile stereo equipment over the years,
my goal with my system in my study is to start out with a system that is generally considered to be a “mid-fi” system, and to upgrade in steps, noting the improvement with each upgrade. This is to be a learning experience that will benefit me in the search for the “ultimate” system.
My components in this “starter” system are a Rotel RCD-955 CD player, A Yamaha RX-395 stereo receiver, and a pair of AR PS-2062 speakers. While none of these components are audiophile-grade, they are what I would say are top of the line mid-fi. A note here about receivers – stereo models almost always sound better than surround sound models. One obvious reason is that you only have two channels running off the power supply instead of five. Therefore the quality of this particular receiver may surprise those who have only heard mid-fi surround receivers.
My cables have been what a typical mid-fi user might start out with. My interconnects are Radio Shack gold, and my speaker wire is 14 ga. Radio Shack “Mega-Cable”. The general impression I have had about this system is that although the overall sound was good for mid-fi, the high frequencies seem to be rolled off. This effect is alleviated somewhat by removing the speaker grills, but the sound still lacks some high frequency energy, resulting in a smooth, but rather dull and “dark” sound. I have assumed this was due to the speakers’ characteristics primarily. My review was conducted with the speaker grills off.
For comparison’s sake, I left the CD plugged in to the “CD” input of the Yamaha, and plugged the Zu Disco cables into the “Aux” input, and the other end loose behind the CD Player outputs. All I had to do to compare was to switch cables, then switch the receiver from “CD” to “Aux”. All tone controls were left flat. By the way, the Zu cables are gorgeous, and look expensive. It’s a shame they get hidden behind the equipment.
For the comparison, I used a recording that I was intimately familiar with. Shadowfax’s self-titled CD from Windham Hill is a beautifully recorded work, I first owned on vinyl back in the mid-eighties. I have heard it on many different home and car systems, on vinyl and CD. It is a very ethereal recording, usually classified under “new age”, having both acoustic and electric instruments. After listening to the second track “Vajra” using the Radio Shack cables, I switched to the Zu, and played the track again. Aha! The highs that I thought were MIA were back, including some spacial cues that I always heard when I had Magnepan speakers, or when I had heard the recording on an Audio Research/Acoustat system in the past. I was excited. There were even background instruments that were more audible than before. Believe me, cables DO make a difference.
The next track was Patricia Barber’s version of “Inchworm” off the “Café Blue” disc. The upright bass lines were now absolutely magical. And it was because the high frequency components were well represented. This gave the bass notes that much more “resonance” for lack of a better word. Ms Barber’s vocals were excellent as always, but the sense of realism was enhanced.
Now that the Zu cables had restored some of the “sparkle” to the music, I wondered what a difference there would be on a full-scale orchestral work. So I pulled out my trusty CD of Beethoven’s Ninth, and fired up the third movement, my favorite. Alas, the Zu’s couldn’t make my two-way bookshelf speakers sound much more capable than before. Not bad, mind you, but still somewhat congested when compared to a good full range floorstander. Oh well, we can’t expect miracles every time.
I am very pleased with my comparably small investment in the Zu Discos. They have restored a missing part of the musical expression to the music. My next upgrade in the learning process will either be new speaker cables (Mapleshade?) or to upgrade the capacitors in the speaker crossovers. Stay Tuned!