Now I am in the audio business for some years now, and I had enough chance to listen and touch some cables, that require respect by their sheer size. Among those were the Argento FMR, Siltech from the Single and Double crown series, Neotech Formosa, Kubala-Sosna, MiT, Transparent and our own Polish Audiomica Miamen & Pearl Consequence. With one word, cables, where the amount of used materials can be calculated in kilograms. But when the Chillout guys appeared with the Acoustic Zen I was happy, that my amplifier is standing on the lowest shelf of my rack, and my loudspeakers have terminals mounted just above the ground. The reason for that was the highly noticeable weight of those cables, what on one hand allowed to look forward for extraordinary auditory pleasures, but on the other required the system to be adapted and excluded any bookshelf speakers other than full range Harbeth, Spendor, PMC or Trenner&Friedl. We deal here with a clear case of adjusting the size of the cabling to the size of the audio components, and as we are talking about American market, this should not come as a surprise. It is well known, that everything is bigger on the other side of the ocean.
And now (half) seriously – I started my acquaintance with products from that brand a long time ago, from the inexpensive interconnect called Wow, which really caused a wow-effect!. The current contact with the cables tested called for completely other words, which for sure could not be used as names for them, but about that later. All models came packed in nice textile-foil zip pouches, which do not protect the contents from mechanical damage, but were perfect to protect against chafes and above all can be nicely folded and placed in a cabinet when unpacked. This is a simple, yet effective solution, especially for people not having too much storage space.
Starting with the most modest, in terms of size, interconnect Absolute Copper, we can see, that the Californians did not save on materials. Solid, bolted plugs, which, at first sight do not differ from the ones used in the cheaper and more expensive models, clear directionality markers on the sleeve with the manufacturer logo and product name, placed around the braid with silver and gold threads make a very positive impression. Flexibility and placement behind the stereo system is satisfactory, however due to the solid plugs protected by a few centimeter collars from heat shrink tubes ask for some space.
The most awarded cable from the whole set – the power cord Gargantua, now in the II version, is a clear example, how you can sell a product just by its looks. The Gargantua is gorgeous, and frankly speaking, it is a waste to place it (or them – about that later) behind your audio system. Not only does it look like an expensive, luxury product, but it is also manufactured with care and solidity of watches made for special forces. Solid Neotech plugs are covered with shrink tubes, and the lustrous braid looks quite resistant to external environment, so that even during many years of normal use there should be no visible wear. So we can easily skip protecting the cable with household means, like alimentary foil. In addition, despite the significant cross-section, it is quite flexible, what allows to easily place it behind a rack.
For desert I left the loudspeaker cables, dedicated to bi-wiring, called Double Barrel, which are absolutely monstrous. Compared to the Telos Platinum Reference tested by Jacek in January, or my Signal Projects Hydra, look like trinkets. To make things easier, the high frequency and low frequency wires are slightly different, not only by the color of the braid, but also by length. And while the first difference is only of aesthetic nature, the second one is a result of precise calculations regarding the cable parameters, to match them perfectly. The tested pair was equipped with convenient angled, bolted banana plugs, which allowed to connect both runs of the cables and use them fully even with single wire terminals at the loudspeakers (the amplifier side is always single).
I already mentions challenges in comforting the Accuphase E-600 before, so I will not do that again, I will just say, that I plugged the Acoustic Zen in tiers, starting with the power cords and finishing with the interconnects.
I do not know, if this is due to double shielding, big cross-section of the conductors (8AWG), or the Constant Air Twist geometry, but the Gargantua can give a substantial shot of energy to the system. They are an audiophile equivalent of a revitalizing mixture of guarana, caffeine and other substances designed to awaken even the most sleepy individuals. Starting with the removal of all existing barriers limiting the bass, its volume, scale, immediacy and sheer, destructive power. But to be able to witness that, you need to experiment a bit. When the Gargantua was used to power the Gigawatt power strip, or powered the amplifiers, I perceived the changes only positive, with the sound source things got too dense. The sound got a bit oversaturated, what at first resulted in an incredible palpability of the first planes, but during longer listening sessions showed some shortcomings and simplification in the precision and clarity of the further planes and proper reconstruction of the sound stage. Anyway, using the two cables supplied according to my initial experiences (to power the strip and the amplifier) resulted in complacency, that the system has an absolutely efficient power lane, and secondly freed layers of spontaneity and pageantry, which were, as it turned out, hidden in the system. What is important, getting higher volume, span of the spectrum of dynamics was not accompanied by any signs of slowing down or sluggishness. Power came with agility and pageantry with masterful attention to detail and proper gradation of the sound stage with naturally drawn virtual sources and very readable, even in back rows, texture of the instruments. Regardless if the CD or turntable played classical music (“Adagio” Karajan), synthetic pop (“Rarities” Selah Sue) or metal (“Empire of the Undead” Gamma Ray, “The Ballads IV” Axel Rudi Pell) there were no chances of clogging.
The above was amplified by introducing the Double Barrel into the “bloodstream”. The mentioned pageantry gained a new dimension, it reached new levels and showed, that size can, and in this case surely does, matter. Here was no place for sentiments. Pure adrenaline, 4 and a half pound steaks and roar of twelve cylinder muscle-cars, the best you can get in the States. The amount of current pushed into the speakers seemed proportional to the weight and diameter of the tested cables. The breath and momentum of the presented music called a smile on the face, which would need to be surgically removed after longer listening sessions. But the most important characteristic to mention, is the care for details, which are cared for, caressed and proudly showed to the whole world by the Acoustic Zen. This is a certain novum, as nothing gets lost in the almost Hollywood-like, proprietary plenitude of things, nothing becomes obscured by the breath taking momentum, but remains just as clear as during a leisure cruise. For the Double Barrel it did not matter, if I wanted to listen to the rough, saucy and full of pugnacious riffs “Going to Hell” The Pretty Reckless, or the massaging the internal organs “As I Am” Alicia Keys. And it was the last mentioned album, that showed the class of the loudspeaker cables. The opening part of the title piece, lasting not even two minutes, bewitching “Nocturne No. 20 in C Sharp Minor” of Frederic Chopin, is a certain prelude to the future, synthetic variations in the hot R’n’B rhythms. From the piano, engulfed in analog noise to the pulsating beats, the Acoustic Zen went fluently and naturally, there were absolutely no, even smallest, rasps. The whole was served dense, with a slightly darkened timbre, and with delicately brightened treble. In addition the wide and deep sound stage allows the sounds not only get enough speed, but also does not result in the impression, that the first plane soloists will have a sneak peek into our bowls or glasses. There is no irritating offensiveness, but a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon instead. I am sorry, I got carried away for a moment, but the AZ really allow you to take a deep breath and sail to wider seas in terms of repertoire. If you thought that grand symphonic music sounds too narrow, I warmly recommend to try out the tested speaker cables, and if the home budget would survive this, to add at least one Gargantua to them.
The most normal, not only in terms of size, but also the sound, turned out to be the Absolute Copper interconnect, which is a certain puzzle to me. The puzzle is, that while we received the cable for testing this cable was listed on the pages of the distributor, but while I am writing these words, it just disappeared from there. And in addition, on the manufacturer’s pages the photo of the cable disappeared. Is this some kind of magic? It does not matter, what matters is that we got the cable for testing and had time to listen to it. And there was a lot to listen to, because I had some concerns about the way chosen by the manufacturer during its design. On one hand it would be sensible to keep the “company sound” and further upping of dynamics and tempo, but on the other hand, we could use a bit of modesty and common sense, and exactly this is represented by the Absolute Copper. While keeping the “intellectual property” of its brethren on the given level, it slightly tempers their spontaneity, directing the attention of the listener to the events happening in the midrange. Compared to my Organic it is not as saturated and cannot show the treble in such deep and juicy timbres. It calls for a certain restraint, and in some sense deeper thought, rather than for youthful lack of thought, although it is far from abstemious conservatism and depravation of the musical material from the intrinsic emotionality. Due to that character it is so neutral, that it easily matches every system, and that regardless of the preferences of its owner. It is also worth remembering, that my ECI, as well as the tested at the same time Accuphase E-600, not even mentioning the Ayon work better when connected with XLRs and while using the RCA connectors, I have the impression, that some things escape.
The dozen days of testing of the Acoustic Zen were very pleasant to me. I could not only verify with my own ears what can be heard in the upper segments of the price list of this American manufacturer, but I could also confront my fond memories from times, when the budget Wow called for blushes on my cheeks from excitement. This time even the beautified memories did not stand the proof of time and had to subdue to present times, which turned out to be of much higher class. And this is good, because tearing the layers of mysticism and sweetness from our memories allow us to set higher thresholds to our own expectations, and the cables provided by the Krakow based Chillout Studio put it really high.
Distributor: Chillout Studio
Acoustic Zen Absolute Copper – 6 600 PLN 1 2x1m
Acoustic Zen Double Barrel – 9 800 PLN / 2×2,4m; 11 400 PLN / 2×3m
Acoustic Zen Gargantua II – 6 900 PLN / 1,8m
Acoustic Zen Absolute Copper
– Interconnect consists of zero crystal ribbon copper
– Acoustic Zen’s patented Constant Air Twist geometry.
Acoustic Zen Double Barrel
– mid-hi pass is loaded with 10 awg 6N multi-stranded zero crystal copper wrapped in Dupont™ Teflon™
– low pass is loaded with 8 awg 6N multi-stranded zero crystal copper wrapped in Dupont™ Teflon™
– Electrical isolation is accomplished by correlating circuit geometries with patented Constant Air Twist.
– Shotgun design – each „barrel” handling a specific frequency range
– Double Barrel speaker cables are available in spade, banana, or z-plug termination.
Acoustic Zen Gargantua II
– 7 awg 6N zero-crystal cooper and silver
– NEOTECH plugs
– Constant Air Twist Geometry
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon 1sc
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Network Music Player: Olive O2M; laptop Dell Inspiron 1764 + JRiver Media Center
– Turntable: Double synchronous motor Transrotor ZET 3 + 12″SME + Transrotor MC Merlo Reference + external power supply Transrotor Konstant M-1 Reference
– Phonostage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
– Integrated Amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI 5; Leben CS-300F; Accuphase E-600
– Speakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders; Trenner&Friedl ART
– IC RCA: Antipodes Audio Katipo
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio
– Digital IC:Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB Cable: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Signal Projects Hydra
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power
– Power distribution board: GigaWatt PF-2 + Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R
– Wall Socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; HighEndNovum PMR Premium; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips; Acoustic Revive RAF-48H; Audio Philar Double Mode
Looking at our doings from the perspective of time, we rarely received propositions to cable the whole system for testing purposes. We talk to distributors, trying to agree to something, and for somebody having a quite ascetic audio system – a CD player connected directly to a power amplifier, there would be no problems, but my system turns out to be a bit problematic in that aspect. A separated CD player, separated amplification – fortunately with only one stereophonic power amplifier – amplifier and loudspeakers requiring bi- or even tri-wiring do not simplify completing the cabling set. I just want to let you know, where the problem is. This looks like follows: four power cables – and when taking into account the analog set – five, two sets of interconnects – with the turntable three, double loudspeaker cables – with three pairs as second option. This number brings dizziness to even the biggest players on the market, and this is why it does not happen often. However due to some miracle we were able to collect most parts from the counting-out above, and the Krakow based Chillout brought them to me.
Describing the looks, I will confess, that I received a few kilograms of copper cables, covered with nice braids. The contenders are coming from USA and were manufactured by Acoustic Zen. Unfortunately the unity of models could not be kept (each pair of cables is from another series and has another name), and I received: a set of interconnects RCA with the name “Absolute Copper”, two power cables “Gargantua II” and two bi-wire loudspeaker cables “Double Barrel”. Despite the incomplete (please look above) set a big kudos to the guys from Krakow, who did what they could to comply with our requests.
I never make pictures of the tested products before plugging in the tested products into my system, but this amount of anacondas – just like Hi End requires – is worth a family photo, although it will be only 70% of meeting of our needs. As you can imagine, and also see on the pictures, something that comes from overseas cannot be small or light. Everything there must be big, this is a kind of American ego, and in this case it is also true. Each set of cables was supplied in a separate bag, and the cables themselves have silver and gold shining braids, what improves its looks and negates the effect of overwhelming the user with the size. I am sure, that Marcin mentioned about the used plugs, so I will not go into those details and just start describing the subsequent steps of implementing those cables in my system. Willing to verify its influence depending on the function they have in the system, I needed to do it methodically, otherwise it would not make sense at all. However this test is about the general influence of the cables from this company on my system, so I will only briefly discuss the individual performances.
As it usually happens, you start with the easiest part, in this case it was the single set of interconnects, then there were the power cables and finally the loudspeaker wires. A few notes with the reference cables, quick switch and everything became clear. The tested cables had one characteristic in common, which was the density and sound temperature comparable with my Harmonix. This could of course explain the good entrance of the Accuphase A-600, which played well with my cables, and Marcin struggled until he used the tested AZ. However each of the tested wires had its own ‘final touch’. From the three, the interconnects had most to say; with similar saturation to my cables they somewhat quenched the upper registers. It is better to have denser and darker sound than annoying clatter, but fortunately the introduced changes were not drastic. The cymbals reverberated somewhat shorter and were heavier, but there was no veil between us and the musicians, what could impair the joy of listening. The next stem to verify if we can reach the nirvana were the power cords. I will not stop here for longer, as with identical presentation of the individual sound bands as with the interconnect, the treble got some more freedom, allowing the cymbals become more enchanting, however they were still somewhat behind the reference. When I finally plugged in the ultra-thick I inhaled with relief, as the presentation of the sound came very close to desired expectations (treble got some sparks) and only proper repertoire (extreme) allowed to pinpoint some differences between the Japanese and American wires. Such saturated, open and informative musical spectacle, which I expect from a stereo system, allows to get lots of joy from listening, and this American loudspeaker cable gave it to me. Now after the short encounter with the individual cables, I wired my Japanese electronics with the complete set I received, and sat down in the listening chair while playing thoroughly known testing set of music. Due to a lot of similarities of the tested components I had to start from well known material, just to be able to give you some concrete statements about the Acoustic Zen brand, and not only suppositions.
The standard Bobo Stenson Trio with “Cantando” did not allow anybody and anything to lie during the test for truthfulness. The contour of the contrabass, where the strings and body were ideally balanced, accompanied by the piano and cymbals, ethereally traversing the sound stage, made many visitors to my home live through a jaw dropping experience. The cooperation of the Reimyo with the new cabling went surprisingly well, although when I was summing the individual influences I expected more interference from them. Having said that, I was very positively surprised by the effect, and that is not easy to achieve. Of course small corrections to my reference were clearly audible, but I would regard them rather as slight touches to certain sound bands, and no ruthless corrections. The main effect of the accumulation of individual influences was the slight loss of ethereality. It is difficult to describe, and if someone has not experienced this, he or she may not understand my point of view. It is about the visualization of the virtual sources, but not in the sense of placing them on the sound stage, which was perfectly sized, in all three dimensions, rather by the way how they were created on that stage; something that some of my guests describe as 3D effect. I know, I know, that everybody has such a spectacle at home and most people will probably say, that I am trying to be a wise guy, trying to overestimate the capabilities of my system. But I will just remind you, that I heard a system better than my own, and that during a show – what I clearly mentioned during the review of the Warsaw Audio Show from last autumn, and I admitted that gladly. And yet many audiophiles stay in their trenches of imaginative references, placing things I am saying among fairytales. It is their right to do so, but life is brutal, and someday it will verify their perception of the ideal. Coming back to the cables, the attempt of analysis of the individual sound bands resulted in the perception of slight increase of mass in the lower registers, at the expense of edginess, slight lowering of the gravity point in the midrange and minimal shortening of the reverb of cymbals in the upper treble, albeit without losing breath. Still all of this together it remained a very engaging spectacle, without trying to impose on the listener its point of view.
Now knowing what I am dealing with – a small correction of the master, I could reach for random compilations, a cross-section of various musical styles. Was it the energetic electro-jazz from the well known Naim Label, with which we started cooperating lately, or easy rock with country elements, from the same label, everything had proper timbre proportions. Such aspects as locating the artists on the stage, readability and proper cooperation of instruments, which Naim really pays attention to, were perfect. The amount of changes introduced by the tested cables did not influence negatively the perception of such demanding music even for a moment, and with the increase of mass of the sound, we could randomly chose any disc in our collection, reaching even in areas, which were not often played. Vocals in early music, combined with discs of current jazz ‘divas’ allowed to forget about the world outside. Even electronics from the Massive Attack label, with its synthetic bass, did not care about the change in the tool for drawing virtual sources and kept the lower registers in good condition. The mentioned small differences in the presentation of the sound disappeared already with the first verifying disc, so the further cooperation of the Americans with the Japanese went in good synergy, resulting in full acceptance of the music played from each in every disc by my ears.
Concluding this adventure, I just want to remind you all my references, compared to objective values. I hope that everybody remembers, that I place emphasis on the timbre, which I get with resolving electronics by using appropriate cables. The tested set of cables is very close to mine, what should be taken into account when reserving them for a listening test. Anyway, with a balanced set of electronics those cables will rather help the user, than destroy its sound, and if the system is anorectic in terms of timbre, they will get rid of this anorexia once and for all. If you will not be repelled by the typical American, and quite big for our standards, sizes and cross-sections of those cables, close to a fully grown boa constrictor, I recommend to try them out. Timbre without suffocating breath is a very nice addendum to perception of music. Those of you, who want to try out only one of the tested cables, I would refer to the paragraph, where I briefly described them, but I would like to urge you to approach those descriptions with a grain of salt, as the Acoustic Zen competed against the Harmonix, which are tailored for my electronics, what theoretically placed them in a lost position. This is the reason, that such minor changes should be regarded as big assets, rather than shortcomings. In addition there is our mannered ears, listening room and a stereo set asking for miracles. The audio game is a nice occupation, but you need to have lots of patience and a healthy approach to your own infallibility, as there are no shortcuts.
The system used in the test, a complete set of Combak Corporation.
– Separate DAC + CD player: CDT – 777 + DAP – 999 EX
– Tube preamp: CAT – 777 MK II
– Solid state power amp: KAP – 777
Speakers: Bravo Consequence +
Power cables: Harmonix X-DC-350M2R Improved Version
Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (Section woofer)
IC RCA Harmonix HS 101-GP
Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
Table: Rogoz Audio
Accessories: Antivibration stand for the power amp by Harmonix TU-505EX MK2, Harmonix Enacom improved for AC 100-240V; Harmonix Tuning Room Mini Disk RFA-80i; Acoustic Revive RST-38H platform
drive: Dr. Feickert Analogue „Twin”
arm: SME V
cartridge: Dynavector XX-2 MK II
– Phonostage: RCM „THERIAA”