Well this has been an excellent week for me regarding matters audio, both thanks to this forum. I was introduced to the music and artistry of Anoushka Shankar and I tried a pair of Mundorf Silver Gold DC cables (NMSGs) very kindly built and supplied by Nenon.
For the past 30 or more years, an argument has raged between objectivists and subjectivists about the degree to which cables can impact sound quality. The argument was already hot during the late Analog era, but the advent of digital data streams added more coal to the fire. How can a cable possibly affect a bit stream, especially one that is filtered and retimed downstream of the cable, resulting in a so-called bit-perfect stream arriving at the DAC? Well unfortunately I don’t have that particular answer and all I have is yet more anecdotal evidence that cables do indeed have an effect of SQ. Objectivists may claim that confirmation bias is responsible and I will admit to being positively disposed to these NMSG cables. So if you think that conformation bias is what’s responsible for what I hear, that’s fine by me, but for those who’ve proven for themselves that cables make a difference, read on.
Nenon has already described in detail how his DC cables are built, which are essentially a JSSG360 screened twisted pair of Mundorf Silver Gold wires with Oyaide plugs to order. I have already described my system, but for completeness, it comprises a highly optimised network based on a dedicated 500Mbps 5GHz wi-fi band, Sean Jacob’s DC3s LPSs and Synergistic Research Atmosphere X ethernet cables throughout, feeding an Innuos Statement and Devialet 440 Expert Pro CI DAC and amps. The network is essentially ethernet cables with wi-fi isolation between the dedicated router and hi-fi room.
My system employs 4 DC3 LPSs, so 4 DC cables....DC3 to Modem and Router are Sean Jacob’s extremely competent twisted pair with ferrite filter while the DC3 to TPLink RE650 wi-fi receiver/ethernet and DC3 to AQVox SE were recently upgraded from Sean Jacob’s cables to a pair of Ghent Audio Neotech JSSG360 7N UPOCC cables. In its initial state with 4 SJ cables handling the network’s DC, my system sounded awesome....tick all the hi-fi boxes of extended shimmering tremble and deep mellifluous bass, soundstage based entirely on the recording venue and its ambient clues. There was nothing about the sound I didn’t like. PRaT was SOTA, timing was exquisite, detail sounded ‘complete’, clarity and purity were reference level and listener involvement was of the highest order. In other words there were no sonic problems to solve and the music was entirely thrilling or moving, depending on genre. Initially I also had a rather competent analog front end, but this digital system eventually trounced the analog set-up so thoroughly that it got traded, no longer worth the fuss and bother of playing LPs.
As I discuss these new DC cables, the first very valid question must be of course; ‘how much can 2 DC cables powering upstream network components actually affect sound quality?” Intuitively I and probably most of you would likely believe “not much”, but that is absolutely not my experience. In fact, “a great deal” is far closer to what I hear. Why? No idea, other than the fact that the digital stream is in fact modulated DC so any DC characteristics that do contribute to sound quality will likely make it through the stream, along with the timed bits.
So let’s discuss the NMSGs.
The cables are solid core, beautifully easy to form and hold their shape 100%. There is no springiness at all so its just a matter of smoothly bending them to fit the exact installation requirements, curving smoothly around other cables and orientating the plugs perfectly, with no strain. LIke all cables, I have noticed some running-in anomalies. I normally listen to my system at a volume setting of -14.5dB. With the new NMSGs I need to increase that to -9dB to achieve the same SPL. Some may say its lower noise and distortion that means I can listen louder, but that’s not what’s happening. I noticed exactly the same thing with the Neotechs...the missing 5dB returning after about 2 weeks of being constantly powered up. I also notice a slight attenuation of dynamics and perhaps slightly less treble shimmer and sparkle....I’m pretty certain that like the Neotechs, this will all return in due course.
Running-in deficits not withstanding, the NMSGs significantly outperformed the Neotechs although I can’t really report any typical audiophile improvements..... frequency extremes were already extended and rich in timbral detail, soundstage was, as mentioned, as big or small as what is on the recording, there is NO listening room identity, only the recorded venue and music is 3 dimensional, and sounds like its being played by the instruments....so from an Audiophile perspective, not much room for improvement. However there were some major improvements, just that they related entirely to the music rather than to its presentation.
The first thing you notice is that the music gains in finesse, inner detail, inner warmth, ease and ‘humanness’. Things like mouth and breath sounds became a lot more complex, detailed and real.
The music is mesmerising, almost hypnotically so, sending shivers of pleasure down your spine.
The harp in Andreas Vollenweider’s Cosmology sounded lively, vibrant and sparkling, with gorgeous decay, that extends down into complete silence....what makes this all the more amazing is that you can sense the silence even while other instruments are playing.
The system seems to have far greater, finely delineated spacial resolution, which makes the soundstage all the more engaging, precise (not etched) and clear, so you can easily follow 2 or more closely related instruments by virtue of their spacial differentiation. This is especially important when sounds differ markedly in amplitude....loud sounds don’t swamp quiet sounds because they are positioned differently in space so don’t interfere. When you increase spacial resolution you hear more low level detail and greater low level detail creates a greater feeling of reality as sounds are revealed that you would normally only hear live.
The soundstage itself is also affected. Lower noise and greater low level detail give the entire sound stage a presence, a shape, texture, dimensions, even when there are no instruments playing....the size and shape of the recording venue becomes easier to hear...there’s atmosphere and air ....space that has a presence...an ‘eyes closed’ illusion that you’re sitting listening in an entirely different space with no relation whatsoever to your room.
The music itself has greater bounce and buoyancy.....with more shape and body to the instruments. Instruments positions are very precisely defined in terms of depth and height within the soundstage. Again this makes individual instruments far clearer in the mix, without any analytical characteristics.
With the NMSG cables, the music has an inner glow and a richness. The music sounds like it is energising the venue....grand piano for example can have a beautiful percussive hammer strike, after which the music blooms out and expands to energise the room, before decaying according to how long the sustain pedal is held. Timbral detail (tone and texture) has always been excellent but with the NMSGs it now remains stable and present down to absolute silence. That soesn’t sound like a big deal, but it again makes things sound more realistic.
Rhythmic flow often feels like a strong undercurrent, subtle but powerful and irresistible, pulling you along with it. Instruments sound beautifully consolidated, woven together to form a glorious whole. Even when they’re only subtly involved in the mix, their contribution can be powerfully intoxicating.
Then there’s the music’s ability to generate feelings. We often speak about emotions, but this goes well beyond that as the feelings are unique to the music....the music changes how you feel, and how you feel changes how you hear the music.....amplifying its atmosphere and your reaction to it.
Take for example Malia’s Celestial Echo. Extremely atmospheric, extended bass with beautiful warmth, tremendous finesse....very pure, very precise, beautifully timed. The bass is round and bounces from note to note.Tomtoms ‘pop’ with dynamic accuracy, even when played quietly. The system creates acoustics that literally play with your mind, making you feel spaced out, because that’s precisely what you’re hearing and experiencing in your ‘head space’
In my system at least, the NMSG cables make the music live and breathe....they bring the music to life. Songs I wasn’t that fond of suddenly blow my mind with their detail, depth and presence. The spatial precision results in improved clarity, purity and the fundamental rightness of the sound. The music creates an atmosphere, which generates feelings that you ‘hear the music through’.
For example the music may make you feel spiritual and other worldly, so your feelings reinforce the music....which is why the listener involvement is so incredibly high....the music and your inner feelings become inextricably linked. I hope I’m explaining this clearly?
Last week I was introduced to Anoushka Shankar’s album Rise. The music, predominantly Sitar, Voice and Pecussion sounds exotic, eastern and literally soaking in spiritual essence. It is beautifully resonant with super long note decay. The music is highly atmospheric....with some tracks having a rhythmic undertow of riptide proportions . On one track the musician playing tabla percussion sounds like he’s only five or six feet away from the listening chair......its not loud, but includes all the clues to make the music extremely ‘present’ and intimate. The music and instruments suit each other perfectly and the pace of the music and development of the Sitar’s notes are so beautifully coordinated they’ll bring tears of joy at their sheer beauty.
Another album that demonstrates the NMSG’s prowess is Jan Garbarek’s Legend of the 7 Dreams. Voy Contando is spacious, airy, hauntingly beautiful. There’s a simple drum beat.....but what makes it very special is the astounding clarity and complexity. The system weaves magical spells in the air, with instruments floating in huge spaces that always puts me in mind of northern larch forests and huge open, cold and lonely wilderness.
At some time I’ve got to stop upgrading my system and instead just enjoy fully what I have. I sense that time may be just around the corner. Nenon is kindly making 2 more cables for my Modem and Router. With the right recordings my system can already present the music in a way that rocks or moves every fibre of my being, takes over my consciousness and creates my mood. More than that I don’t need.
What I find truly amazing about this is that this final touch, the last step that convinces me that I’ve reached the place I want to be sonically, is brought about by 2 DC cables. Even I can sympathize with the objectivists who would poopoo such subjective nonsense....how do 2 DC cables add the atmosphere, the finesse and the beauty that I’m reporting here?
So 5 days in and 2 more cables on the way we’ll see where this leads...suffice to say, if you’re pursuing audio perfection and you’re able to solder competently, you should make at least one of Nenons NMSG cables. I’m pretty certain you’ll very much like what it brings.
Finally, to close this initial assessment a big thank you to Nenon who went to a lot of trouble to buy, build and ship these cables for me to try. They are certainly a surprisingly key component in reaching my own personal sonic nirvana.