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Thank You, For A Real Good Time: Two Premier Cable Products: Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval Speaker Cable and Argent Audio Pursang S Interconnect Cables

 

January 2006


The lights dim. The audience comes to a quiet hush. In the low light, trumpeter Terrance Blanchard makes his way to the small stage, accompanied by his bandmates. His trumpet flashes in the spotlight – a unique creation of shining smooth metal with no mouthpiece on its end, only an opening into which Blanchard begins to softly blow. This night, Blanchard and his band are putting on a Hurricane Benefit for his hometown of New Orleans, where both Blanchard and another band member have lost their homes to Katrina’s wrath. As if recreating this natural event, Blanchard at first breaths quiet sighs into his horn, with his head down. Then, out of nowhere, he blasts upwards with such force on his horn that the literal screams that eminent from his instrument send us all into a state of wandering, far from joy, security and home. He continues this emotional journey, slurring notes up and down his trumpet’s register, against the backdrop of heavy blues and African rhythms pulsating from his bass and guitar players behind him. Blanchard seems to ride the slipstream between these notes, cascading from Calypso beat to American blues. We are held spellbound by this creative force, and the sheer SOUND of this brilliant artistry.

If you are like me, searching to capture a small piece of this kind of life-affirming live musical event in our homes with our audio equipment, then stay with me a moment as I tell you about two wonderful cable products, to “nudge your system in the right direction”, as Robert Harley so aptly puts in his Complete Guide To High End Audio [3rd Ed. Acapella Publishing].

ANALYSIS PLUS BIG SILVER OVAL SPEAKER CABLES
If you are already a fan (like me) of Analysis Plus speaker cables, particularly their venerable and affordable Oval Nine series, then you may wish to find a new home for those Oval Nines, save money in your audio stash account and audition a pair of the new Big Silver Ovals in your system. At $835 for a six foot pair, you’re going to need to gather some extra acorns over this Fall for your nest, but don’t worry: if you think the Oval Nines were good for the price, wait till you hear how the Big Silver Ovals will improve on them, depending upon your system’s components and its musical potential. The Big Silver Oval is constructed of 9 gauge cable of pure silver over a stabilizing strand of oxygen-free copper, woven into a hollow oval geometry in an oval-coaxial configuration. According to Analysis Plus’ congenial President, Mark Markel, their patented hollow oval design uses the braided conductor in their cables more efficiently, maintaining a low resistance value. The result is claimed to be a minimizing of current bunching, skin depth problems and frequency blurring, and a maximizing of transparency and realism.

The Analysis Plus Oval Nines have been my favorite speaker cables in their price range, notable for their resolution in the treble regions and uncanny weight in the mids and lower registers. Everything from piccolo to piano comes to life with these affordable cables in my system, doing quite the honor to Heifetz’s sweet violin tone or the deep plunges of Dave Holland’s bass. I still recommend them unconditionally to those looking to polish their listening systems with a new glow of aliveness and dexterity for a very reasonable price. Substituting the Big Silver Ovals for the copper based Oval Nines, I was concerned that I would be faced with either hard crystalline resolution and bracing highs from this new silver based cable, or far worse, days of trying to break in such lightning transients hoping to uncover cool, refreshing breezes of ample detail, yet harmonic rightness in the sound I sought. However, after only a few hours of listening to the Big Silver Ovals connecting the Pathos Logos integrated amp or the solid state McIntosh 501 monoblocks to either the Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers or Focus Audio’s Signature 68SE monitors, my fears were completely unfounded.

The Big Silver Oval’s character, right out of the box, was a deeper, more visceral and musically alive version of what I love about the Oval Nines. The Big Silver Ovals immediately reminded me of another “Big” guy getting lots of press these days: that would be “Big Papi” (aka. David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox) who “has power to all fields.” Here, the Big Silver Oval had similar power to all sonic fields, with quick, deep bass punches, fleshed out midrange (with more to explore than with the Oval Nines) and tons more nimble, vibrant treble than the Oval Nines. For example, let these Big Silver Ovals “shake the plaster” off John Hiatt’s title song from his new hybrid SACD recording, Master of Disaster [New West 6076] as they capture the grit of Hiatt’s deep, husky voice and convey the warmth and air of the strumming, catchy guitar licks. The sax solo on this cut now had an added expansive and breathy tone, with no glare or harshness even into its higher registers. The rocking feel of Hiatt’s feel good rhythms really gets an added dose of adrenaline with the Big Silver Ovals in place. Likewise for my man, Lou Reed, whose bitter denunciation of greed and racism in the live version of “Dirty Boulevard” from Perfect Night Live In London [Reprise 46917] gets a mean new workout with the addition of the Big Silver Ovals. Connecting the Big Silver Ovals to the Harbeths delivered all of the great midrange weight that I adore these speakers for, and pushed Reed’s irascible lyrics to their edge of raw emotion, without any hint of harshness or glare. Slashing guitars and the power bass driving this live cut were held perfectly in focus with lots of air surrounding the players. Finally, the great image dimensionality of this particular live recording was wonderfully preserved with the Big Silver Ovals, as individual instruments were literally hanging in a three dimensional space. I also especially liked the Big Silver Oval’s synergy with my Big McIntosh solid state amps’ rolling and wide bass character, never letting that lower register get too out of control or too fat on these rollicking numbers. Bass definition was clean and quick with these cables added to the mix, providing great visceral impact as that felt on Babatunde Olatunji’s mesmerizing percussive recording, Circle of Drums [Chesky SACD 295].

Moving from percussive rock to the harmonic richness and delicacy found on such recordings as violinist Jennifer Koh’s creative Violin Fantasies [Cedille Records 900073], the Big Silver Ovals took the emotion of this recording to another level of enjoyment. On Schubert’s “Fantasie in C Major,” Koh and pianist Reiko Uchida work beautifully together to weave a fascinating version of this piece, ranging from Shubert’s playful jesting to his great solemn moments. At one point, Koh remains transfixed on a very high, light treble note that literally disappears into the soundstage. With the Big Silver Ovals, Koh’s light touch on her bow and the full harmonic tone of this fragile, high treble note was captured perfectly without any glare or any letting go. I have heard this piece many times on my systems with other cables where this high soft treble disintegrates into either a soft screech or simply a note without substance or any natural wood body attached to it. Not so with the Big Silvers, as they consistently rendered such violin treble notes delicate, alive, tonally precise and non fatiguing. The same results were discovered on Uchida’s delicate accompaniment on this disc, as his piano comes across without glaze and with lots of tonal detail and harmonic rightness. The nimble playfulness of Uchida echoing the rising and falling melodies of Koh’s violin in the next section of the Schubert piece was again perfectly rendered with the addition of the Big Silver Ovals in the mix, and I even sensed the smiles on the artists as they wove through Schubert’s ingenious playfulness in this section. This illustrated the character of the Big Silver Ovals: they brought the level of my systems up another notch in terms of natural feel, aliveness and harmonic rightness. Everything was just a little more natural, more alive and dynamic, and this allows one the pleasure of moving a bit closer to the emotional impact of the music and the intentions of the artists involved. In this, the Big Silver Ovals remind me of my other favorite speaker cables in this price range – the David Series from Virtual Dynamics, which I reviewed awhile back. Analysis Plus has come up with another great cable product, one that is highly recommended to audition as a possible next step in polishing an already satisfying musical system.

ARGENT AUDIO PURSANG S INTERCONNECTS
Speaking of harmonic rightness and musicality, I want to make a complete circuit of this cable review by turning from speaker cables to interconnects, to let you know about my favorite interconnect cables these days in my systems: Argent Audio’s Pursang S. Both Clement Perry and myself have reviewed Argent’s Pursang speaker cables and Argent’s more expensive offering, the Pursang S speaker cable and Pursang S digital cable, in these pages. We have both loved the expressiveness and natural quality that these premium cable products brought to our very different listening systems. Ric Cummins, the talented and effervescent audiophile behind Argent Audio, winds by hand his Pursang S interconnects from silver wire and employs an asymmetrical topology claimed to cut down on any “cross talk” between positive and negative through their magnetic fields. All of this research taken from Ric’s extensive experience with building his justly famous Rosinante speaker line in the past.

For most of my audition time with the Big Silver Ovals, I utilized the Pursang S interconnects, and man, was I in for a treat! Compared to some very good quality interconnects like the reasonably priced Acoustic Zen WOWs or the premier Kimber Select 1030’s, the Pursang S interconnects were simply unrivaled for their increased sense of natural flow, and bringing out the best of what my system could offer on my favorite recordings. For example, one of my favorite reference discs these days (check out my review in these pages) is Doug McLeod’s brilliant Whose Truth, Whose Lies? [Audioquest CD1054]. Listen to “Norfolk County Line” and luxuriate in Dave Kida’s brush technique, which suffuses this tender ballad with a tantalizing backdrop. With other interconnects mentioned, Kida’s brush on drums is present and accounted for. However, with the addition of the Pursang S, every detail of Kida’s brush work is revealed in all of its glory and sophistication, even down to being able to sense the circular, stirring motions of brush on snare head, as well as how Kida’s hand utilizes different pressures and weight to his brushes to gain different percussive emphasis. The Pursang S interconnects brought this kind of natural touch and seemingly unimpeded path from front end to amp in every genre of music I threw at it, ratcheting up Phil Lesh’s pulsating electric bass on the Grateful Dead’s “Loose Lucy” From The Mars Hotel [Arista 14007] (with Robert Hunter’s great lyric: “She’s my yoyo, I’am her string”)—to the wood and air surrounding Billy Drewes’ luscious clarinet accompaniment to Rosa Passos and Ron Carter on their expressive disc, Entre Amigos [Chesky SACD 291]. The sheer natural quality of these interconnects were most astonishing on the pure combination of human voice and percussion, revealed in all its splendor on the playful number by Clark Terry, “Finger Filibuster” from another Chesky SACD standout disc, Portraits [SACD 267]. In this dynamite offering, Terry plays off Lewis Nash’s percussion with his own brand of vocal eclecticism, ranging from whispers, purrs, grunts and scats, to dazzle and amuse. With the Pursang S making the connections, the conduit to Terry’s every breathe was made perfectly in space, air and timing. For the first time, I heard the distinct sound of air escaping from his throat on his laughing gulps, saw his lips moving to form his great mouth gags and all of this was truly present – getting me a touch closer to the live recorded event. I have been listening to a lot of SACDs lately, with my intrepid partner, Alex Peychev’s APL modified Phillips 1000 player at my side. The insertion of the Pursang S interconnects served this medium to the max, allowing the natural flow and sense of recording spaces in well recorded SACD’s to really shine through. Case in point: Telarc’s SACD recording of Michael Murray playing the organ at Boston Symphony Hall in “Encores a la Francaise,” [SACD 60634] (which also contains a wonderful recording of Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra). With the Pursang S interconnects in place, there was a noticeable improvement in the distinction between the high treble notes of the organ, creating more of a distinct, natural feel, rather than simply presenting powerful blotches of organ color. The only other interconnects that came close to this realism and detail were the Analysis Plus Golden Ovals – a prodigious comparison indeed. With the Pursang S in the mix, the powerful organ bass carried out into the spaces of the great Hall, illuminating more of this natural acoustic space and taking full advantage of the Ascendo System F-3 loudspeaker’s great natural, holographic skills.

Coming back full circle to the great live performance of trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the title of his newest recording is Flow, [Blue Note 91FEQ] a word which aptly sums up what I think of the Pursang S interconnects. The insertion of Pursang S interconnects captured my attention with their natural flow and harmonic rightness and raised the bar of my listening enjoyment tremendously. Their purchase cost is undeniably quite substantial in these tough economic times, but making premier cables by hand as Ric Cummins at Argent does, one pair at a time, must not come cheaply in the current market economy. I highly recommend their audition as icing on the cake of a true reference listening system particularly in regard to their natural treble and their ease of resolution throughout the entire listening spectrum. Paraphrasing the Grateful Dead at the blistering conclusion of “Loose Lucy:” “Thank you, Ric, for a real good time!”

Nelson Brill
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Specifications:
Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval Speaker Cable Pricing:
$835 for 6 foot pair
$1077 for 8 foot pair

Pursang S interconnect pricing:
$1075 for one meter pair

Company Information
Analysis Plus
106 1/2E. Main St.
Flushing, MI 48433
Tel: (810)-659-6448
Website: www.analysis-plus.com

Argent Audio
4812 Tempe Street
Lawrence, KS. 66047
Tel: (785)-331-4123
Website: www.roomlens.com
E-mail: godasse@lawrence.ixks.com