Sunday, December 27, 2015

Speaker cables from Japan - a comparative review.

Introduction

Here are three speaker cables that DO NOT (i) come in elaborate wood boxes with certificates, (ii) have a diameter larger than garden hose, (iii) suspend your equipment in the air with their stiffness, and (iv) have price tags exceeding the average annual household income in most developing nations.

Instead, you have three flexible and easy to strip speaker cables that are affordable enough to be purchased by almost anyone. 

Description

Belden Studio 814 (JPY 1,000 / m)

This is actually the thickest cable of the lot. Internally, there are two insulated conductors, one white and one red. The conductors are stranded copper. I couldn't find any specifications on this cable, except that the wire gauge is 14 AWG OFC.

Nanotec Golden Strada #79 Special (JPY 822 / m)

This is the most exotic cable in the mix, with the copper conductors coated in a nano particle mix of silver and gold, suspended in natural oil as a colloid. The copper conductors consist of 7 strands of 0.5 mm diameter wires.

SAEC SPC-350 (JPY 820 / m)

This uses the all-new PC-Triple C copper conductors. As a result of the closure of PCOCC wire production in Japan, audio manufacturers had to turn to alternatives.

Note that the Belden and SAEC are only available in Japan. Ocassionally, you will come across online dealers that are willing to ship this overseas.

Test Rig

All new cables were run-in for approximately 10 hours before being evaluated. The cables were terminated with the same set of Cardas CAB banana plugs on the amplifier side, and Oyaide SRBN banana plugs on the speaker side. The cables were evaluated in my bedroom system, with the Antelope Zodiac Platinum as source, Gryphon Diablo integrated amplifier and Monitor Audio GX100 bookshelf speakers.

I ocassionally went back to my Acrolink 7N-S1000III speaker cables as a reference point. 

Sound

Belden Studio 814

The Belden 814 is a cut above the industrial varieties available from their usual catalogue (I've used Belden 5000 series speaker cables for other purposes).

You could best describe the Belden as a smooth sounding performer, with a noticeably creamy midrange. Bass has a good degree of thump, with a pleasing bloom. High frequencies are reasonably clear, although lacking in the very last degree of extension.

Spatially, the Belden tends to homogenise images, lacking the clear separation exhibited by the best of cables.

Not a bad cable in all, and very decent for the price.

Nanotec Golden Strada #79 Special

The Nanotec speaker cable has a distinctive sonic house sound, with a recognisable similarity to the Nanotech GS#305 power cable I have. Midrange has a liquid fluidity that would have you craving for more, especially if you like female vocals and slow jazz pieces. 

The absolutely sensuous presentation is matched with good clarity and separation (especially compared to the Belden 814). Bass lines have more power than suggested by the thin gauge of this cable, although I would describe the low-end as tight, fast and well articulated. High frequencies have good sparkle and air too. 

I did not find the Nanotec to be strictly neutral - Jennifer Warnes had added body and smoothness which was not quite true to her recordings.

Artistic licence aside, these are really very nice cables.

SAEC SPC-350

The SAEC is really thin. Each conductor leg (with insulation) is probably no thicker than an uncooked spaghetti strand ! Thankfully, the sound is anything but thin. The SAEC sits somewhere between the Nanotec and Belden, with a warmish tone that is not quite as thick as the Belden, while not as liquid as the Nanotec.

The SAEC has agile bass, lacking the fullness of the Belden but with a bit more heft than the Nanotec. Midrange is best described as effortless and noticeably absent in grain. Vocals are conveyed with the best amount of detail amongst the trio of cables on test here. High frequencies are quite detailed with very good control over transients. However, I found that there is a certain softness to the treble, giving the high frequencies a more mellow presentation. I found the SAEC to be on par with the Nanotec from a staging and imaging perspective, with good placement and dimension. I really like this cable !

Conclusion

The SAEC distinguishes itself in my view for it's even-handed performance, detail and refinement. The less prominent treble won't suit everyone, but it could be a god-send in the right system. The Nanotec was really close, and I could even see some preferring the Nanotec for it's liquid sensuality, but I was left with the feeling that it really favoured certain genres of music more.

While swapping back to the Acrolink showed clear improvements, I was pleasantly surprised at how well all three cables performed, given their modest price tags.




1 comment:

Edmund Mok said...

I have DIYed 2 pairs of speaker cables from Japanese suppliers as well. My first biwired pair used Nanotec SP#79 SR and SP#79 Special, and my second biwired pair used one pair each of Acoustic Revive PC-OCC and PC-TripleC. These were terminated with a mix of Oyaide and Acoustic Revive spades and banana plugs. Instead of spending money on branding, your money can go into better materials. Looking forward to hearing your views on the speaker cables mentioned in your post!