Associated Equipment:
Analogue Front End
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
Power Conditioning
Accessories
 
 
SignalCable

High-End Quality on A Shoestring Budget!

                                                                                                 Frank Alles

February 2004

Specifications:

Analog Two Interconnects $49.00 for 2’ pair, $5 each additional foot; uses premium, gold-plated Scosche Platinum RCA connectors. Bullet plugs are optional for an extra $25 per set.

Double Run Single-wire Speaker Cables
Price: $109 per 6’ pair; $6 each additional foot.

MagicPower – Power AC Cord
$59.00 for 3’ length, $4 each additional foot; uses Marinco 15A hospital grade, male plug and Marinco IEC320 15A IEC connector.

SPDI/F Digital Coax Cable
$29.00 for 2’ length, $3 each additional foot; true 75-ohm, RCA or BNC connectors. (Note: an AES/EBU version is available for $39 for 2’ length.)

MagicPower Digital AC Cord HC
$59.00 for 3’ length, $6 each additional foot; uses Marinco 15A hospital grade, male plug and Schurter 15A IEC connector.

SignalCable
Signal Group Inc.
89 Oakridge Road
Pleasantville, NY 10570
Tel: (917) 957-8508
website:www.signalcable.com                                                    e-mail: sales@signalcable.com


High-End quality at downright cheap prices? Emphatically, YES! It can be done! I’ve never thought of audio cables as “jewelry,” but with high-end prices being what they are, that is exactly what the elitist cables have become. As a veteran audio reviewer and longtime audiophile, I have seen the prices of “high-end” cable products escalate to stratospheric heights over the past decade or so, and I have to wonder where, or if, it will stop.

Personally, I’m tired of all the hype and logarithmic markup strategies that high-end companies use to lure well-intentioned audiophiles into paying their wallet-thinning prices. I’m also weary of paying high prices for cable jewelry and then finding a cable for half the price three months later that sounds as good or better. Enter SignalCable’s Frank Dai.

Frank (like me) is also tired of the escalating prices of high-end cables. Accordingly, he made the decision to take matters into his own hands. Frank has developed a line of cables using premium-quality materials and connectors that he sells at honest, down to earth prices. His strategy is simply to market his products direct to the consumer, charging a fair and reasonable markup for his labor and business costs—no R&D surcharges, no distribution and retailing networks, and no nonsense. You have to love it! I mean, who, in their right mind, would do such a thing when the prevailing “wisdom” appears to be, set prices at whatever the market will bear?

But are they any good?

Unfortunately for SignalCable’s competitors, the answer to the above is yes, they are plenty good! There are many who simply will not believe me when I say that these modest, unassuming cable products can compete with other lines at over 10 times their cost; but that is the simple truth. For those of you with too much money, or for those who need to have the most expensive cables on the market mainly because they are the most expensive, read no further. This review is meant for those who crave true high-end performance at almost disappointingly low prices. For shame!

My first listening comparison involved inserting SignalCable’s SPDI/F Digital Coax between my CAL Icon II CD player/transport and my Modwright/Perpetual Technologies P-3A processor in a system using solid-state amplification and Klipsch Chorus speakers. The SignalCable coax replaced a half-meter of Sonoran cable that I thought sounded quite competent and musical. Frankly I had no idea of what to expect.

Playing Dire Straits’ "On Every Street" (Warner Bros. 9 26680-2) CD, my immediate impression was that dynamic contrasts were presented more vividly and the bass had tightened up. Further listening revealed a better sense of focus, with excellent rhythm and pace. Vocals and midrange instruments retained their immediacy and character and were not diminished in any way. Lyric comprehension appeared marginally better.

Curiously, I preferred the same type of Sonoran digital cable to the SignalCable coax in my big rig between the Perpetual Tech P-1A correction engine and Bolder-modified ART DIO converter. I felt the Sonoran was a bit more immediate sounding through the midrange and lower treble. This could indicate that system-dependent synergy is a key factor in optimizing any cable choice. Also, the possibility exists that I may have had a better result if I had used a second SignalCable coax between my transport and the P-1A instead of the Harmonic Tech digital cable that remained constant. The fact that my margin of preference was slight speaks highly for the SignalCable digital coax in any case. Bottom line: this is one of the best digital cables I’ve used, and it costs an abashed $29!

What really shocked me was inserting the MagicPower Digital AC Cord HC (high current) on my CAL Icon II. This 12 gauge, Teflon-insulated cable made me sit up and take notice. Listening to the intro to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack CD (MCA MCAD-11103), “Pumpkin And Honey Bunny,” I was amazed at how clear, dynamic, and lifelike this soundtrack became. The soundstage expanded and there was a greater sense of depth and space around the performers. Hey kids, this soundtrack has a parental advisory for explicit lyrics, so you might not want to let it rip in polite company. 

Also, Samuel Jackson’s edification, Ezekiel 25:17, is especially convincing when the gunshots break the calm; the shell casings hitting the floor is a nice touch. All of this was rendered with an extra dose of realism through the MagicPower HC. I’m not taking it out of my system, and you can’t make me!

As good as the system sounded after installing the SignalCable digital coax and AC cords, there was still something that was bothering me. It was a slight edginess (for lack of a better term) that kept the sound from being totally natural. So, on that note, I decided to insert a pair of Analog Two interconnects.

The interesting thing about this experiment was that prior to the insertion of the MagicPower Digital AC cord, I had listened to the Analog Twos (with standard Scosche connectors) in the system. Although they sounded competent, especially in the high frequencies, I did not feel they were an improvement over my existing cables. But, after installing the MagicPower Digital AC and then reinstalling the Analog Twos, suddenly (as if by magic) the system lost that trace of edginess and started sounding as transparent as can be. Transients were fast and natural with just the right amount of focus and bite. I was amazed, but very pleased by this turn of events. To celebrate I started playing through some favorite CDs, finishing the set with A GRP Christmas Collection (GRP GRD-9574), which sounded absolutely glorious. In fact, I never heard Diane Schuur’s vocal on “The Christmas Song” sound quite as convincing. Listening to the jazzy holiday selections through the Analog Twos proved so enchanting that I had to play the CD twice.

Big-rig time!

Installing SignalCable wiring in my big rig was both educational, and inspiring. I started with a single, 3’ MagicPower – Power AC cord on my John Curl-designed Parasound P/LD-2000 line stage. This is a very well made, 10-gauge cord with the look and feel of true high end. True high end also means that no matter how your components are situated the male AC plug will invariably want to align 180 degrees out of synch with the female AC receptacle. Hmmmm! So using my patented twisting-the-snake® technique, I finessed the feral plug into its intended outlet.

I was rather pleased with my ability to make the hookup without breaking the power cord or my equipment. In truth, the SignalCable cords are more supple and pliable than many high-end cords, but hey, I’m a reviewer and I need something to complain about!

The rewards of my efforts were immediately apparent. There were noticeable increases in immediacy, bass definition, and bass extension. There was also an improvement in overall tonality. The MagicPower AC cord replaced another audiophile-grade, 3’ cord, but unfortunately I can’t recall the manufacturer (really!). I thought the cord sounded fine until I installed the Magic Power AC. Then its shortcomings became painfully evident.

Next, another interesting experiment took place. I had such luck using the MagicPower AC cord on my preamp that I figured they had to sound great on my amps as well. But when I initially installed them, they sounded a bit darker and more plodding—less immediate than my existing cords. So, I put the original cords back on the amps and then swapped SignalCable’s Double Run Single-wire speaker cables for some MIT cables that had performed very well with my Audio Physics Virgo II speakers.

Guess what? Nope, you’re wrong! The sound was good with the SignalCable wires, but it was actually too good! By that I mean that it sounded just over-the-top, or hyper-detailed—this was a double-edged sword. Some recordings sounded absolutely fantastic, while many others became brighter and more analytical than I felt was acceptable and natural. It seemed an interesting mismatch.

My first thought was that the cables needed more break-in time, SignalCable recommends two weeks of break-in, which is shorter than that for most high-end cables. From my experience, the break-in process is short. My samples sounded very good right off the bat and seemed to settle in nicely after about a week of playing time. Although more break-in couldn’t hurt, I had a better idea. I reinstalled the MagicPower AC cords on my Monarchy SE-160 monoblocks.

For whatever reason, using the MagicPower AC cords in conjunction with SignalCable’s speaker cables on the amplifiers was my ticket to musical Nirvana. The system’s dynamics improved and the soundstage grew larger and more lifelike. There was a greater sense of depth and solidity. But what impressed me most was an apparent improvement in linearity or resolution that extended from the lowest bass through the midrange. Indeed, the improvement in lower midrange accuracy allowed me to clearly hear the unique sonic signatures of many different types of brass instruments on the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Perennial Favorites (Mammoth 354 980 169-2) CD. Whether it was a sax, coronet, trumpet, or trombone, I could now discern the particular character of each instrument, and not have to wonder: “What type of horn was that?”

And, although the soundstage grew larger the individual instruments and performers retained their appropriate size and did not become unrealistically bloated. Instrumental focus improved, and transients like plucked guitar strings were rendered with aplomb. Bowed instruments like violin and cello sounded extremely natural and I heard more of the fine nuances and quick changes these instruments produce when you hear them played in a live venue.

Summing up: the whole is greater than its parts

At the almost laughably low prices that SignalCable charges, buying a system’s worth of wiring will not be a burden for most audiophiles. Those who are just getting into high-end audio and spent the bulk of their audio budget on components should be elated to learn that they can buy such high performance cabling at genuine bargain prices.

Admittedly, I do not use, nor can I afford, today’s most expensive, high-end cables. I normally use top-of-the-line cables from Sonoran, Full-Spectrum Audio (out of business), and Harmonic Technology, all of which have been reviewed very favorably in the audio press. SignalCable’s individual products compare very favorably to that of my much more expensive cables. All the customary audiophile parameters such as speed, detail, transparency, tonality, dynamic capability, and imaging are portrayed to a noteworthy degree. Compatibility with other brands and models of cables is hit or miss. However, as a complete cabling system the SignalCable line develops a synergy that is difficult to beat or fault. For the money, nothing in my experience comes close. I will be purchasing multiples of all the SignalCable models I’ve described in this review, and smiling all the way to the bank.
 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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