by Francis Morrin
On the face of it, I would seem an unlikely character to review cables – I am a scientist by day. On all those internet forums you will see engineer after engineer describe how these cables measure exactly the same as one another so how could they sound different. Its all rubbish they say, designed to part the fool and his money. I have a slightly different viewpoint. Yes it puzzles me how these things can sound different – and yes you see, there’s my point exactly. I cannot deny that cables sound different – I have heard it with my own ears. So if they measure the same, how can we possibly explain the sonic differences? Well the only explanation I can come up with is that we aren’t measuring the correct parameters. That’d do it alright.
So some time back I saw the owner and designer of a new line of cables ask for feedback on a large forum dedicated to the DIY community. Mmmm I thought….. tough crowd!! I admired his pluckiness in going there – I mean, virtually all these guys will have made their own cables, have heard them against the top brands and will know what good results can be achieved with small outlay. The central tenet of these new cables was a special, pretty complicated weave pattern which gave the cables maximum rejection of interference at the price of a little extra capacitance. The manufacturer was straight up about the materials used – the goal is to design a very good sounding cable using off the shelf plain vanilla wire and connectors.
So I jumped…. I emailed off to Frank from Blacksheepkable.com to enrol in his feedback program. Frank elected to send me 2 sets of his cable, one set of his Mars interconnects (approximately €50, some discounts available) and one set of his Venus speaker cables (approximately €100 for a 4 meter set). My system could not accommodate the short Venus speaker length so the honour of that review fell to Simon Stroughair (see his review here). I stuck with the Mars interconnects….
The cables are packaged in a no-nonsense plastic wallet and are very flexible to handle – a real boon to those of us with a snake pit behind our equipment racks (guilty m’lord!). The terminations are fairly standard off the shelf ones but have neatly fitted heatshrink over most of the body of the connector – which aids gripping them a lot. Unusually, the cables are not marked right and left – I added a little red tape to one cable to help identifying each channel. So my first task was to allow the cables extended time to burn in. I hooked them up to my squeezebox and left it on repeat for about a week giving a decent burn in time of 150hrs+. Call it superstition, but first duty on hooking them up to the main rig was to put on the Isotek system rejuvenation disc. I can’t tell if this disc actually works or not, but hey, it sure doesn’t hurt anyway.
From the very first listen, I was impressed with the sound through these cables. They had no trace of harshness, grain, or veil that I have heard from other cables. I set up my preamp with my normal cables feeding one input and the Mars feeding a second input. To achieve a reasonable comparison, all I had to do was swap the ICs at the back of the source (in my case my Pass D1). However, I found that I tended to leave the Mars in for extended periods – there was very little reason for me to go back and check for sonic changes from my existing cable set. The sound from this IC is very smooth and perhaps ever so slightly warm – but I do mean slight, so much so that I have to come clean and say that the warmth is more of an impression than certifiable fact. After keeping the Mars in my system for a couple of weeks and becoming quite used to its sound, I decided to change back to my own regular reference set ( a DIY set with WBT locking connectors and silver-in-teflon twisted pair topology). There was much less of a difference than I expected. Yes, there was a bit more detail and clarity with the silver cables, but it was small. I would imagine that in the majority of systems, the very slight warmth these cables have would be an asset. Often times such warmth can muddy the soundstage, tending to clump the various performers and instruments into a lump. Not so with the Mars – all the sounds came from exactly where they should – a really nice bonus to have. These cables seem to me to suit exactly the market they are aimed at perfectly – real world systems that do not reach the dizzying heights of 5 figure dollar sums. I think they would fit the bill for the normal systems that most of us have. If you are in that top bracket of high end ownership you probably aren’t interested in €50 ICs anyway!
The only real quibble I have with these ICs is that on my set one of the connectors was pretty tight – and the fact that there wasn’t the usual right and left marking on the cables. That said, my set were a trial pair so perhaps production samples are indeed marked in the normal way. All in all, these are fantastic value for anyone in the market for a new cable set, and should rock the boat with the major manufacturers significantly.
“Shigaclone” DIY player based on the 47 labs Shigaraki transport
Pass D1 DIY dac
Twisted Pear Buffalo DAC with discrete output stages
BNC cabling for digital, Silver plated copper ICs and speaker cables
Pass DIY symmetrical B1 buffer (DCB1)
Pass DIY F5 amp
Sachiko horns with modded FE206e drivers.