This is what it is all about. I mean the search for great components. What goes into your decision to try or buy some hardware? Friends telling you they just found the Holy Grail? A review like this? Salesmen in your local shoppe? Or a home trial and evaluation? The home trial should be the final step in your decision to purchase a new piece of gear, of course, but sometimes you have to rely on one of the other ways to get turned on to the good stuff.
My friends, this is your lucky day.
I recall the moment quite clearly when I overcame my fears of vacuum tube gear and finally auditioned one piece in my system. It was an Audio Note P2SE amplifier, and after traveling down the silicon road looking for a great amp, and finding a few good ones, the little AN was a revelation. You probably know the common virtues: smooth, no grain, and a great midrange that makes human voices sound more real and alive. It was a pivotal moment because after that, my whole system began a transformation that emphasized involvement rather than sound. The moment said, “THIS is what you’ve been looking for”. It was a true paradigm shift.
As in most things audio, that was just the beginning. Research, discussions, and many auditions followed until I bought – unheard – my current reference amps, Atmasphere M60s, and have not had an inclination to change them for more than 6 years. The A-S amps do everything so much better than others I’ve heard, it seems there is no need to keep looking for something better still. The same path led to this review of the Acoustic Zen speaker cables. It is a path that I feel, at this time, I no longer tread.
First, some product information. Both cables were configured for Mono, or single wiring to accommodate my full range Fostex S168 speakers. From the Acoustic Zen Web site describing the Satori speaker cables:
“An incrementally layered, multiple strand, non-extruded, pure "zero crystal" copper cable designed for amplified signal delivery in perfect phase with absolute spectral and tonal coherence; we believe there is none better: state of the art speaker cables that attain extraordinary imaging, ambient detail, and soundstage palpability.” OK, but what have you done for me lately?
The Hologram cables use the same zero crystal copper, but are designed for bi-wiring by having a wire group specifically engineered for high frequencies and another group for low frequencies. In the Mono wired version, both groups are tied together. Before listening, both cables were broken in with a home-brewed device for about 24 hours each. Before finalizing my impressions, both cables received another 200 hours of break-in before a final comparison listening session. I will tell you first about the Satoris, and then add some notes about the Hologram II cables.
You know the scene. You bring home a new component, open boxes, move cables, and switch back and forth, time and again, to try to pin down differences, large and small. Large differences you hear within a few minutes, and small differences can take a few hours to several days or even weeks. A bit more power in the bass here? More shimmer in the highs there? Not sure? One more time… That did not happen when I installed the Satoris. I did not expect Paradigm Shift Number 2 to come from a cable!
The immediate impression was that the upper midrange and high frequencies were shelved down. After about a minute, it started to become very apparent that this apparent reduction was, in fact, a reduction in high frequency sludge, grunge, coarseness, dirt, fog, and distortion. Yes, there was apparently less “there” in that frequency range compared to other cables, but what was missing was not part of the music. After making the mental shift to accommodate this more transparent presentation, one that was different from all the speaker cables I’ve had in the system for years, wonderful things started to happen.
Low level details on very familiar recordings became obvious. Some information had not been heard before at all. Ever. Voices became more 3-dimensional, and the soundstage depth increased by about a third. High frequency harmonics, such as the decay of cymbals, became much more resolved, and lasted far longer than with any previous cable. The impression of increased clarity WITHOUT glare or any sense of hardness was so strong that I knew I would not or could not go back to any of the cables I had used previously. It was not a question of incremental improvement; the Satori cables changed the rules. I’ve been told there are some mega-buck cables that are sonically competitive. If your goal is to spend the maximum amount of money possible on your system, then you certainly have that opportunity and there may be benefits. It will cost at least 5 times the cost of this cable for a meaningful improvement, I suspect.
The Fostex speakers run down to about 100 Hz, so to check out the bass performance, I used the Dynaudio Audience 60 speakers from the home theater system, which are good into the lower 40 Hz range. (The Dynaudios have just one pair of terminals, so bi-wiring is not an option.) The Satoris clearly bettered the previous reference cables with greater bass definition and impact. The leading edge of bass notes – yes, there is such a thing – were heard with more impact. I am referring to that “punch in the stomach” feeling that the bass note started “NOW!”, and not just rolled into the room. The difference in bass wasn’t as profound (and “profound” is exactly the word I want to use here) as the awesome delivery of higher frequencies, but it made the overall presentation very balanced and provided a higher resolution view of the recording from top to bottom.
I do not believe my reference system let me hear the Hologram II cables properly or to their best advantage. Single wired, 45 watts, subwoofers for bass. A cable that was designed for bi-wiring was not really at home here. Having said that, I will refrain from making a more detailed comparison of the two cables, other than to say that I noticed a bit of fuzziness or lack of focus in the midrange and treble compared to the stellar clarity and resolution of the Satoris in my system. My impression is that the Holograms, designed more for bi-wiring with a pair of “bass conductors” and a pair of “treble conductors”, slightly skew the signal when the conductors are put together. In a bi-wire system, however, that impression will probably be different. If your system is bi-wired, check out the Hologram IIs and also a double run of Satori - the Shotgun. The price is almost the same.
I am completely unequivocal about the performance of the Satoris. It was so exceptional that I contacted the factory and asked if I could acquire some raw wire to rewire the inside of the Fostex speakers. I was told that they don’t sell bulk cable. Never one to accept reality without a struggle, I mentioned that I saw someone advertise on Audiogon a pair of “Satori jumpers” with spade connectors. I asked if I could get a pair of “Satori jumpers” of the correct length, but without spades. Hold the mayo! After a few moments hesitation, the really great folks at AZ agreed. It looks like they may be in the bulk cable business after all.
Each Fostex speaker needs 18 inches of wire from binding post to the terminals on the driver. The Satori wire replaced 11.5 ga Cardas wire. As with the speaker cables (8 foot pair), the internal wire again increased resolution and lowered the level of hash and distortion to new low levels, and again increased low-level resolution without glare. With Acoustic Zen wire from the amplifier terminals to the speaker driver terminals, the openness, clarity, freedom from distortion and harshness, and the overall believability of music has improved significantly. Although somewhat stiff and bulky, I highly recommend wiring your speakers internally with Satori cable.
As you may have surmised, the Satoris are the new reference speaker cables. They clearly convey more information than any other cable I have heard. They also clearly convey less information than any other cable I have heard, but this latter decrease can only be considered to be gross cable-induced or -generated distortion. The asking price is the proverbial “steal”, but please don’t. Just buy them at your earliest opportunity. After hearing the amazing Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables, you might get off the cable upgrade path, too.
System: Kuzma Stabi Reference turntable, Koetsu Urushi and Rosewood Signature Platinum cartridges, Window Cable Special Interconnect and Special Phono cables (all balanced), Cardas Golden Reference Speaker Cables, Atmasphere MP3 preamp, Atmasphere M60 mk. II.2 amps, Fostex S168 speakers and Perfect Subwoofers, Dynaudio Audience 60 speakers.
Overall Rating: 10 LPs (8 LPs, revised 4/06 due to improved competition)