Analysis Plus Oval Nine Cables

Analysis Plus Oval Nine Cables
Having A Cow Over Cables
Stuart McCreary
Associate Editor for hardware, Positive Feedback magazine
8 May 2000

“The Oval Nine cable is so good and so inexpensive that it really deserves, and gets, a solo review. The big-buck cable boys are going to have a COW over this one.”

Oval NineI really hate doing cable reviews. Every reviewer has their favorite gear, their area of individual expertise. Because of an extensive project I called “Tube Fest” where I auditioned over 25 tube amps for my personal edification, I guess my area of expertise is, by default, tube gear. To give a tube amp a fair shake, you have to try several system permutations and that includes finding complimentary cables. I’ve always had several cable species on hand and without fail, they have sounded quite different when used with the tube amp of the month. It makes me wonder if I am really reviewing amplifiers or the cables…I mean, MAN, are these things persnickety. But that doesn’t fully explain why I detest cable reviews. Alright then, I’ll come clean. Why do I hate them?…let me count the ways.

High-end audio is a very subjective pursuit. In many cases there is no absolute right or wrong, better or worse — just likes and dislikes. In every review I write I emphasize that my preferences are based on my personal “hot-buttons,” my unique room acoustics and system interactions and also the type of music I prefer. I am, therefore, an expert in only one respect: I am the world authority on what Stu likes. I happen to think that speaker cables and interconnects are the most subjective, system dependent pieces in the hi-fi chain. I know what I like when it comes to cables, but I doubt whether my likes have universal application. It is particularly maddening that some readers may actually limit their selection and ignore cables that I (or some other audio pundit) may have recently passed over. One size definitely does not fit all!

The audio cable industry has often committed the worst offenses in price gouging. They’ve left a very bad taste in my mouth that I can’t quite get over. I’m reminded of this each time I’m presented with a new cable. I happen to think that most high-end audio equipment is grossly over-priced, but the cable gurus really take the cake. I’ve priced out what it costs to have a commercial wire fabricator construct cable with 5-nines OFHC copper, high quality dielectric, jacket, connectors and packaging and let me tell you, the average audio cable company is charging way more in mark-up than are the component manufacturers. I take great personal pleasure in discovering affordable products that outperform (read, “bitch-slap”) their over-priced kin. Nowhere is that pleasure more sublime then in the category of cables.

Lastly, there’s just too damn many of them! I used to think there were far too many speaker manufacturers, but in recent years, it’s been the proliferation of cable companies that has mostly closely resembled the reproduction rates of rabbits and viruses. With the advent of home computers, design software and high quality off-the-shelf drivers, now, just about anyone can successfully design a half-decent loudspeaker. Consider how much less knowledge and technical expertise is required to make a wire that reasonably transmits a low-level electrical signal over a short distance. Anyone can be a high-end audio cable manufacturer….and nearly everyone in audio has, or at least has thought about it.

So….. (I do get around to the real story, eventually) when I was contacted out of the blue by Steve Pennock, VP of Sales for Analysis Plus, Inc. and was offered a review set of their speaker cables and interconnects, you can just imagine the drone-like lack of enthusiasm with which I greeted his offer. I knew nothing about this company, what their stuff cost, or whether they were based in Idaho and made their cables out of bailing twine. The only reason I grudgingly agreed to give it a listen was because their stuff had been used with the Bel Canto and Von Schweikert equipment at CES and I hadn’t heard of any homicides at the show.

I guess God sometimes smiles upon the ignorant, or in my case, the pig-headed. I had no expectations, bias or agenda when, after sitting in my closet for several weeks, I finally decided to put a bi-wired set of the Oval Nines on my Tyler Acoustics, Taylo Reference speakers.

I’ll dispense with the usual pre-break-in saga. Suffice it to say, as usual, the raw, out-of-the-box cables didn’t come close to their final state of performance. This cable replaced a bi-wired set of Harmonic Technology Pro-Nines and since the HT cables had previously waxed all comers, it was a tough act to follow. There is a bit of a story here. I was one of the first HT converts and had turned my pal Clement Perry of Stereo Times on to them. I had had the pleasure of meeting with Jim Wang and Robert Lee in my listening room and had discussed with them some cosmetic changes and the need to aggressively price their product in a what I considered to be a flooded market. They obviously took my comments to heart because the HT cables that soon appeared looked great, sounded great, and, thank goodness, were priced great as well. I don’t want the following comments on the Analysis Plus cable to undercut my enthusiastic support for the HT cables. The fact is, HT makes a wonderful product and in some systems (more on this later) it may be the preferred cable. Remember just how subjective this all is.

“I was laughing inside. A cable this good, at this price, gives me a case of the Scottish giggles.”

Waiting for the cable to break-in gave me some time to examine the Analysis Plus, Inc. white paper and web site ( Whoah!… What’s this!? Real world engineers with real engineering? They all have at least Masters degrees in electrical engineering and their VP of Research has a Phd. in physics and worked for the US Naval Surface Warfare Center and the Oak Ridge Laboratory. Hmmm…..not the stuff of your average garage variety cable clipper. I won’t try to get into the technical details of the product here. Frankly, I’m not qualified to do so, but I will refer the reader to the Analysis Plus web site for an excellent discourse on what makes their products special. I will also direct the readers attention to the unique properties of the oval geometry: the minimal skin effect, minimal current bunching , lowered inductance and the apparent excellent EMI and RFI rejection of the oval braid. I note this latter point and give it particular significance because it directly relates to my own listening results.

Then I looked at the price. Then, I looked again at the price. Surely this stuff can’t be top of the line cable going for $299 an 8’ pair!? This was significantly less than the Harmonic Technology wire! Oh boy, if this stuff is any good its going to really shake things up. I can hear the big dollar cable gurus pissing and moaning already.

Lets cut to the listening chase, shall we? The system I dropped these cables into is, in my humble opinion, simply stunning. Front end source was the Sony 777ES SACD player. The preamp was my custom Reference Line Preeminence passive with stepped Shalco attenuators. The Reference line fed the audiophile passive version of the TDS, which in turn sourced the new Bel Canto Evo digital amplifier. The speakers were the Tyler Acoustics Taylo References – full range, stacked pyramids with outboard crossover. Reviews of the 777ES, Evo and Taylo’s are all in the works. These are amazing times for Stu’s Place. Each one of these products has, in their own right, set a new standard in my listening room. Put them all together and its mind-boggling, rubber pants, yadda, yadda time. I ‘ve had the usual cast of characters over to Stu’s Place and they all have joined me in declaring that everything that has come and gone before is damned to mere “goodness” and can no longer be considered for “greatness.”

This cable has a very wide and very balanced bandwidth. What I mean by this is that it has very good bass extension and high frequency detail without leaving anything out in the middle or over-emphasizing either frequency extreme. All too often, you listen to a speaker cable that really grabs you with its bass depth, but it sounds bleached out and overly lean in the midrange; or, a cable has amazing high-end extension, leading edge impact and detail, but it lacks a good bass foundation; or it has the most mouth-watering midrange you’ve ever heard, but is missing…. Oh, heck, you get the picture – you seldom get true balance and superb performance in each major category : bass, midrange, treble, dynamics, soundstaging. This cable is very good to superb in each category and as is so often the case in audio, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Taken as a whole, I must say that this is the best cable I have yet auditioned in my system.

“What I hear with the Analysis cable sounds an awful lot like what I heard when I eliminated some EMI and RFI problems in my system through the use of Ferrite blocks and Shakti stones.”

Wait a second…did I just say that!?…Yep. You heard that right. It’s a pretty strong statement and I was smiling as I wrote it. No, actually I was laughing inside. A cable this good, at this price, gives me a case of the Scottish giggles.

I’d better back this up with a little more detail. One of the things I was dealing with in this new system configuration was its amazing transparency and detail. The sony SACD player is unlike anything digital I have ever heard. A tremendous amount of information is now making its way into the signal stream– levels of detail, layers of depth and truth of timbre the likes of which I have never heard. The Bel Canto Evo amplifier lets it all come through without coloration or veils. In this context, the Oval Nine cable sounded more balanced and natural than the Harmonic Technology wire. Going back and forth between the two, I found that the Harmonic Technology wire tended to emphasize the upper treble, giving a zippy, leading edge emphasis that was more fatiguing.

The Analysis Plus cable really showed its worth on cymbals. I heard more brass, less tin (tastes great/ less filling). The cymbals sounded more like Zildjians than pie plates. That’s what a subtle shift in balance can do for you. Too much top-end emphasizes the strike of the cymbal to the detriment of the resonant shimmer. It also shifts the timbre to that of struck tin or steel instead of that of rich brass.

Leading edges were not as ragged and edgy with the Analysis wire. This is particularly beneficial when listening to non-SACD recordings. With SACD the beautifully clear twinkle and shimmer of bells, cymbals and plucked strings is so spectacular, that these cable differences are rendered almost insignificant. On conventional CDs I can plainly hear the difference and I appreciate what I hear from the Analysis Plus cable. I guess that graphically you could say that I heard what was more of a true square wave, with less leading edge distortion and ringing.

I used a number of the DMP hybrid SACD recordings for this analysis and specifically for vocals and soundstaging, I used Kallen Esperian, American Treasure (Pro Organo 7047) and Patricia Barber, Café Blue (Premonition Records 737-2). I was impressed by the way the Analysis Plus set the vocalists further back in the soundstage. The vocalist became a part of the ensemble, rather than a separate, close mic’ed, in a booth performer. This was particularly clear on the Café Blue recording. The HT cable pulled Ms. Barber too far forward and emphasized throat and nasal sounds– high frequency, low level whistles and rasps. In contrast, the Analysis cable gave Ms. Barber a more natural chest register and dropped her back to the same approximate depth of field as her drummer and bass player.

Listening to track 8, Ode to Billy Joe, I heard a big difference in the finger snaps between the two cables. The HT cable again emphasized the leading edge transient to the detriment of the fleshy dull sound of skin on skin. I thought the Analysis cable sounded more like the real thing. Having my neighbor and listening friend stand just behind the speaker and snap his fingers confirmed it. There was no doubt that the Analysis cables reproduction of a recorded finger snap sounded more like the real thing.

I should also mention that in my system, the Analysis cable had a more solid, integrated low bass foundation and a slightly more rich midrange. The low bass was more continuous with the mid and upper bass range, so that it did not call much attention to itself, even though it was appreciably deeper than what I heard from the HT cable. With the SACD player and Evo amplifier (which have amazing top-end and if anything, are a touch dry) midrange richening was a welcome and I believe, more accurate response.

What I hear with the Analysis cable sounds an awful lot like what I heard when I eliminated some EMI and RFI problems in my system through the use of Ferrite blocks and Shakti stones. When I put these things in my system, I at first thought I had lost much of my top-end life and sparkle and wanted to take them out. It was only after extended careful listening did I realize that what I thought was top end “liveliness and sparkle” was really a low level halo of EMI and RFI hash surrounding the instruments and vocalists. It took some time to get used to hearing performers coming out of a more pure black background, but once I did, I knew it was closer to the reality of live music. I think that what I appreciate in the Analysis cable as greater balance and a lack of spitty, zippy, leading edge high frequency signals may be superior EMI and RFI rejection from the oval braid configuration. I honestly came up with this thought on my own before I went back and read the Analysis Plus White Paper in detail and found that one of the claims for their oval braid was superior EMI rejection. I just love it when my listening is corroborated by some measurable physical property.

Now, being true to my word on the subjective nature of cable reviews and my desire not to diminish the accolades previous heaped upon Harmonic Technology, let me describe a system where the HT cable may actually be preferred over Analysis Plus. Any system that leans towards the rich and full-bodied side of the spectrum, such as a system built around a classic sounding tube amplifier; or a system that sounds a bit dull and lacking in top-end sparkle; or, one that places the performers too far back in the stage, will probably benefit from and prefer the Harmonic Technology cable. It will ameliorate most, if not all of these conditions quite nicely. On the other hand, if you describe your system honestly (and have the ears to truly tell the difference) as neutral, transparent and detailed, you may, as I do, greatly prefer the Analysis Plus Oval Nine cable.

These comments are limited at his time to the Oval Nine cable because I haven’t had the time to fully evaluate the interconnects and the Silver Oval speaker cable. Comments on these will have to come in a follow up article.

In conclusion, let me make this plain in my own inimitable style. The Oval Nine cable is so good and so inexpensive that it really deserves, and gets, a solo review. The big buck cable boys are going to have a COW over this one. The good Scotsman in me takes considerable delight in this (while pulling up my kilt and mooning the collective lot of them)! In an industry where accusations of “snake oil” and “audio jewelry” abound, it is refreshing and exhilarating to find a company of unassuming, non-audio-obsessed engineers who let good science dictate their product design and that design is vindicated by the most critical test instrument of all- the golden ear. Thank God they didn’t hire a high-end audio consultant to assist them with their pricing and marketing. I can only imagine what they would have ended up charging for these things.

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