by Simon Stroughair
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we even start: I’m not sure I believe in cable sound. At least, the part of me that likes to think I’m as a scientist isn’t sure. If different cables sound differently, surely an experienced listener should be able to identify such differences without knowing which cable is playing? Except in controlled conditions, such listeners invariably fail to reliably identify differences. For a long time, this was enough to convince me that cable sound is all in the mind. I stuck to this view doggedly since, apart from everything else, this hobby was significantly less expensive that way.
Over time, however, I began to realise that I was missing something. There was a certain magic, a realism that I just wasn’t attaining despite good components, speakers and room treatments. I borrowed some Nordost Heimdalls and…well…let’s just say I bought them. Then I changed the cabling to Kubala Sosna Fascination, once again hearing improvements within my system. Before long I was attending demos of stratospherically-priced Nordost Odins, hearing obvious improvements over the only-slightly-less-stratospherically-priced Valhallas. So, the differences are there to my ears, but I’m still not sure my brain quite believes them. Are some cables fundamentally “better” or “worse”? If they really do sound differently, are they merely expensive tone controls? Are they completely system-dependent? I don’t have good answers to these questions, but some cables (e.g. Nordost) have consistently impressed me, and I’m starting to believe that the double-blind results don’t tell the whole story. And no, I’ve never done a blind test myself.
Given such doubts, I always find cable-sampling a tricky business, so it was with a degree of trepidation that I took delivery of Blacksheep Kable Venus speaker cables for my first ever review for Tír na Hifi. I’m not fond of too much AB-ing — I find that living with a component or cable for a while is the only way to unlock its charms and deficiencies — but I couldn’t resist do a comparison off the bat. A quick switch of cables using Lyle Lovett’s North Dakota for comparison with my K-S cables immediately threw up some interesting results. This song is a touchstone of mine but, if you’ll permit me to wheel out the tired cliché, I heard subtle details I hadn’t heard before. Early days to be sure, but definitely a promising start. At 4,200 Thai Baht for a 2m pair (less than €100 at current exchange rates) these cables cost a fraction of those currently in use in my system. I was immediately impressed.
The cables themselves are a reasonably attractive design as cables go, the black, white and red braiding suggesting a certain amount of audiophile cred. They don’t possess that garden-hose-heft beloved of those with something to prove, but nor will you be running them under any carpets. Of course, when it comes to the man-cave, such questions of beauty are irrelevant…
I tried to leave the cables alone for a while, dispensing with critical listening in order to give them time to bed in. When I came back to them a week or so later, I was once again struck by how solidly they performed. There was no initial sense of disappointment that so often accompanies a change of component. In fact, my initial feelings were more along the lines of “why did I buy those expensive K-S cables if these are so good?” Well, over time I was able to answer that question, but it was a closer run thing than I had expected.
So, what’s good about these cables? Well, that initial sense of detail continued to surprise me again and again, there’s no doubt that the Venuses let a lot of information through. Audiophiles familiar with speaker cables that seem to strangle the sound (I’m looking at you, Van den Hul Cleartrack) will be impressed that no such problems exist here. Frequency extremes, midrange detail, imaging are all there in abundance, and everything sounds coherent and of-a-piece. There’s no sense of any tilt in tonal balance, the sound isn’t overly dark or bright, there’s plenty of meat on the bone, and in short, the cables punch well above their weight.
The limitations when compared to the K-S cables became clearer over time, however. The detailed sound comes at the expense of a slightly synthetic upper-mid. It’s hard to explain, but instruments with a rich harmonic content seem to lack the liquid naturalness of the more expensive K-S cables, and cymbals, violins and other acoustic instruments suffer. There is also a slight softening of leading-edge definition, something the ceramic driver on the Kharma speakers clearly reveals. It’s hard to say whether this will be as obvious with other driver materials, but I’d expect electrostatic users to notice a significant difference in this area. Apart from that, there was a slight shortening of front-to-back depth in the soundstage, but this effect was relatively minor. Any shortcomings experienced were of the nit-picking sort, and when price in considered it’s hard to be excessively critical.
All in all, I continue to be impressed by these cables, and while they don’t offer the ultimate class of more expensive designs, they come pretty close. Definitely worth a look and a listen.
Associated Equipment used for review:
CD Player: Wadia 581SE
Preamp: Kharma Matrix P 1.0
Monoblocks: Kharma Matrix MP150
Speakers: Kharma CRM3.2 FE
Interconnect: Kubala Sosna Fascination
System Supports: Finite Elemente
Room treatments: GIK Acoustics