Thursday, April 7, 2016

Sablon Audio - Corona Reserva power cord and Panatela Reserva speakercables

Introduction

I asked Mark Coles of Sablon Audio to tell me a bit more about his company, his design philosophies and sonic goals. Here is his response in verbatim,

"Sablon Audio started five years ago, when its founder Mark Coles reached the stage in life where he believed he could make better high end cables than the numerous examples he had bought over his audiophile 'career'. Sablon's ambition is to give best of breed performance across all cable applications at a much lower price point than its peers, by removing the distributor function and selling either directly or via enthusiast dealers.

The name 'Sablon' comes from the French word for 'sand', a happy memory of my childhood growing up on the beautiful beaches of a small island called Jersey. The product naming hierarchy is based around cigars since others had beaten me to 'wine' themes! The Panatela range covers the signal cables, whilst Corona is used for the thicker power cables. The latest model range has been designated Reserva as it is an extra special edition. 

All designs are formed using solid engineering principles, and executed with a blend of exceptionally high grade wires and connectors, finished in sonically non-invasive covers. Prototypes are evaluated on a broad range of systems, from Kondo to N-core, from Avantgarde to Zu, from Lampizator to Wadia, by testers with diverse musical preferences. Their insights are collated and evaluated in the context of their systems and tastes, before iteratively progressing towards a final design which will delight the majority of audiophiles. Part science, part art. This approach has been vindicated by awards from 6Moons and Positive Feedback for both the original Panatela / Corona range 3 years ago and again, more recently, for the latest Reserva models.

Key sonic objectives are to achieve exceptionally high level of resolution, whilst maintaining musical engagement and an even response over the full frequency range. This requires a low noise floor and sympathetic electrical characteristics. Sablon doesn't publish test data as I believe that not all that matters measures and that our ears are far more sophisticated measuring devices.

I sometimes use the analogy that designing audio cables is rather like being a chef as one needs to continually sample and adjust seasonings to achieve a desired overall flavour. A key element of my approach is to build Sablon cables by hand from carefully selected individual wires rather than simply chop lengths of bulk cord off a reel. This approach is more time consuming to build but gives more flexibility in finding better sounding conductors. By having a deep understanding of the sonic qualities of each individual component, one is able to combine the virtues of wire / plugs / geometry / cover synergistically. Inevitably, there is a sonic synergy when using a complete loom of Sablon cables on account of shared design values and this also replicates the context in which they have been developed.

The Corona Reserva power cord under review represents several generations of development of the popular Corona model range. I had literally run out of scope to enhance the earlier Gran Corona cord without replacing the wire itself and, essentially changing the DNA of that cable. It was a big step, however a necessary one. I managed to find an exceptionally high purity copper wire with great transparency and musical qualities, and this is deployed in a braided geometry using 7awg / 10mm sq per polarity together with a shielded ground line. A laboratory grade carbon-based noise reduction agent is applied and the exceptional Oyaide 004 platinum / beryllium plugs are fitted. The outer cover is a sleek Havana bronze woven material, with the overall form factor now being slim and highly flexible. As for the resulting sound quality, well I will leave Eric to tell you about this......."

Description

The Corona Reserva power cord and Panatela Reserva speaker cable are quite unusual and stand out in the world of high end audio cables. Both are very light, extremely flexible and easy to route. They also lack the usual macho trappings - no Anaconda girth, nor fancy box / flight case. While these cables are not cheap, they are not exorbitantly priced. If you so wish to purchase them, you need not resort to a life of crime to finance your acquisition. 

The Corona Reserva came finished in a nice fabric cover, and was terminated with the excellent Oyaide P/C 004 plugs. Finishing was professional, with neatly applied heatshrink and construction - no home made looks here.


I really appreciate the flexibility of these cables after having dealt with too many power cords with a mind of their own !




The speaker cables had an interesting feature - short fly leads on the speaker end to facilitate biwiring. My review sample came terminated with spades, and banana plugs for the flying leads. If your speakers are single wired, you can simply attach the flying leads into the main speaker terminal, assuming you are dealing with five-way binding posts. If you have any special needs, get in touch with Mark to have something custom made for you. My review set was terminated with Xhadow plugs, although Mark later informed me that he would be making switch to Oyaide plugs for future production. I rather liked this feature - you save the cost of having to buy a set of biwiring jumpers.





A close-up of the speaker fly leads

The cables were run-in by Mark before shipping, but I still felt that they needed a week or two of use to settle in. They probably didn't like the long flight in the cargo hold of the plane as they traveled halfway across the world from the United Kingdom to Singapore !

Sound Quality

The power cord after the initial settling-in time (about two weeks use) struck me as having a dense and warm tone, with a nice glow to the music. I put down the words, "warm, dense and liquid" in my notepad. After an additional month of use, the sound opened up further, gaining control and speed, leaving only a very subtle glow. This cable could be a poster child for cable break-in - there was a marked difference after extended use.

My evaluation period happened to coincide with a personal buying spree of fountain pen inks. Hence it seems appropriate to draw some analogies between this cable and ink of the finest and most exquisite level. The Corona Reserva would therefore be best described as an ink with outstanding density and vibrancy, with beautiful shading. I did not test the Corona Reserva for water resistance though - Mark would have my head !

Bass quality is outstanding with a deep powerful response, coupled with tight control and just the right amount of wetness. Substituting the Sablon with other cables I had on hand showed just how good the Sablon was in this respect. 

Vocals were presented with a slightly laidback quality, with a natural voicing. There was no emphasis of sibilance, and neither was there smoothing over of detail - the vibrato effect of my favourite singers were delivered in a crystal-clear fashion. 

The top-end was very well behaved and detailed, with excellent clarity, control and lack of hash. The balance between the transient and decay was ideal, without any undue emphasis on either aspect.

The Sablon had fine resolving power, with very good retrieval of micro-detail. This was presented in a very natural way, without the overly etched presentation or tipped-up balance that some lesser cables sound in an effort to sound more detailed. Throughout the frequency range, I observed a natural fluidity and lack of grain that I generally observed only with only the finest cables.

Another key strength of the Sablon was it's ability to convey the three-dimensionality of the instruments and vocals, with a lifelike reproduction of both the instrument / voice and how they filled up the surrounding acoustic space. 

These cables just sounded so right after the many hours of listening I put on them. I found them to have it all - powerful bass, natural midrange and high frequencies, good dynamics, and excellent detail. Tonally, they were very close to neutral, with a very subtle shading of warmth and liquidity.

I really loved the way they reproduced the music in my system. Piano had grandeur and impact on the lower notes, and outstanding attack and harmonics on the higher notes. Similarly, Hillary Hahn's bow glided gracefully across her violin strings yet seared with such burning intensity when required, while the low notes from Janos Starker's cello carried great authority and articulation.  

I found the Panatela speaker cables to sound very much like their power cord sibling, save for one caveat - the effect of the deep bass response seemed more obvious here. Due to the difficulty in changing the speaker cables on my main system (my Vivid Giya G4 have underside mounted terminals - changing cables is really a two person job), I tried the Corona Reserva in my main system, and both the Corona and Panatela Reserva in my bedroom system. I found their performance to be consistent in both systems, and their combined use to be synergistic.

Good as the Sablon twins were, they do not have universal appeal. Some audiophiles like a more "raw" presentation and may find the Sablon to be too civilised and well behaved. I tend to lean somewhat towards the middle, and found the Sablon to be just nice.    

Conclusion

I was suitably impressed with the Corona Reserva power cord and Panatela Reserva speaker cables - impressed enough that I have arranged with Mark to purchase some cables from him. 

Sablon's pricing may not be seen as affordable by many, but I can assure you that their products deliver outstanding value for money given the level of performance offered.

This will certainly not be the last word from me on Sablon Audio - Mark has shipped to me a number of his other products. Needless to say, a review on a full Sablon loom will be forthcoming.

Highly Recommended

Sablon Audio

e-mail : contact@sablonaudio.com

Corona Reserva power cord
5 foot length with Oyaide P/C 004 US plugs
Price - USD 1,950 

Panatela Reserva speaker cables
8 foot length
Price - USD 2,950

All prices include expedited worldwide shipping



  



3 comments:

Herman Yu said...

Hi Eric, how this Sablon power cable compare to Acrolink 7N-PC7500 in your opinion.
Because I am looking for power cable for amp.
Thanks.

Herman Yu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Teh said...

Hi Herman, I've done a write-up on both. You can have a look. The Corona Reserva has a slightly warmer tone BTW. Both are great cables.