Hemingway Audio Z-core Beta Cables: The follow-up by Mike Wright
It’s been ten years since I was first exposed to Hemingway Audio cables. In March 2012, Dave Thomas reviewed the Hemingway Audio Prime Signature cables. At that time, or shortly after, I was writing for the “SoundStage! Network” and was able to get a hold of the Hemingway Prime Reference MkII cables that were supposedly the next level down from what Dave had. I remember feeling that if the Prime Signature cables were better than the Prime Reference MkII, they had to be something special.
I had not heard of cables that could take a system and elevate its performance without changing speakers or electronics. I’m reminded of the old Michael Jordan Nike commercial with Spike Lee; “Is it the shoes?”
In this case, it’s “Is it the cables?”
A couple of years ago, Olu Sonuga from Dynamic Design gave me his top-of-the-line digital AC cord and asked me to try it on my DAC, which at the time was a custom-built design from Gilbert Yeung of Blue Circle Audio fame. It improved the performance of my entire system—one power cord. I couldn’t believe it. Here I am, experiencing the same thing with the Hemingway cables.
An audiophile friend of mine, who tries to attend all the Audio Shows he can, was in a room, the Hemingway suite, to see who this cable manufacturer was that I’m always touting as the best cables I’d ever heard. When he mentioned my name, surprisingly, they remembered me after more than ten years and asked him to have me get in touch with them for another review opportunity. A few weeks later, I received an email from a delightful woman named Nicole Jung, who would be my contact at Hemingway. We discussed their cables and what might be the best fit for my system. After telling her the cable types and lengths I needed, I gave her my shipping information. Jung told me they would like a review on their newest Z-core Beta series cables. A couple of weeks later, I received a shipment of a full suite of the Z-core Beta cables. I was thrilled to get these cables considering most of their other cables were going to Germany for the Munich Show. Unfortunately, I would not have enough power cords for each component and my bi-wired speakers. So, I would have to do a lot of switching. But enough of that. On with the review.
Key Kim reviewed the Z-core Beta cables back in 2019 (here). I was not aware of this initially, but once I pointed this out to Nicole at Hemingway, she let me know that they were still interested in my review as a follow-up to Key’s, given my history with their products.
The Z-core Beta series cables came neatly and securely packed and used twist-ties instead of zip-ties, which I thought was a nice touch.
They arrived nicely packed in a black velvet bag. The Betas are nicely finished with a black mesh material, and both IEC connectors are made in a vibrant metallic blue. There’s been a lot written concerning Hemingway’s Chief Designer, Doyung Jung, and their FMCF technology, but Nicole wanted to share these thoughts with the readers:
“Our biggest concern and what we want to let people know is the importance of cable in sound. We’re at a lot of shows, but as you were already aware that most the people aren’t aware of how important cable is to sound. The founder of Hemingway Cable made the cable because he wanted to feel better and have a more realistic sound. As an audio enthusiast, he bought a lot of good speakers at first, and then tried all the amplifiers that were good and expensive, but he couldn’t hear what he wanted. And then what he figured out was a cable problem. It was believed that cables could solve the fundamental cause of the poor sound quality. As all the enthusiasts who have used Hemingway cables know, the sound we seek is not a low-pitched excessive boomy sound or excessive high-pitched sound, but a realistic life-like sound that plays and sings in front of our eyes. Our goal and what we want to inform is that we want many people to feel and recognize this part. To make the cables today, simply put, we use patented technology for magnetic field control called FMCF. And we have patented we have all the connectors and components that are self-made and anodized to aluminum, and the wires are 100% copper. The production of all cables is also handmade, with 30 people working for the production.”
How It Sounds
With only a few cables on hand, I had to figure out how I wanted to approach listening to the Betas. Do I throw everything into the system at once and throw caution to the wind, or do things a little more systematically? I decided to start cautiously and go one cable at a time. After consulting with some of my audiophile friends, I decided to start with the Beta power cord on the DAC, figuring I would ease into this evaluation. To my surprise, there was a little bit more of an improvement than I was expecting. Almost immediately, I began to hear more detail and an openness to the upper frequencies that came to me as somewhat of a surprise with Betas. I knew it would sound good; it was just better than I thought.
I had just been listening with some friends a few weeks earlier, and they enjoyed how the system sounded. Adding the Beta power cord made me feel like I had to have them over again. They had missed out on the best parts of the music after I inserted the Beta. Bass notes sounded more “cleaned up” and were more defined and had more impact.
There was also more transient information. Music took on an air of being more tuneful and sounding more right. It was as though certain pieces of music were beginning to make more sense than when I had played them. Not that I didn’t know my music before, but it was accompanied by a more relaxed, communicative vibe, like coming into your favorite live jazz club and listening to Branford Marsalis playing his sax for you as you connect to his sound.
That’s what listening sounded like after inserting the Hemingway series cables. The sonic pallet was coming in an array of colors not limited to your 64-color box of crayons, but sonically, there were shadings between the shadings as though you went right to the 256 colors. The dynamics were slightly better, but what was also noticeable was the spacing between the instrumentalists across the soundstage. And the feeling that the air was more defined, meaning that the decays sounded more extended, and sounds reverberated with more detail, such as upright bass strings vibrating more, drum strikes sounding more distinct and defined. Please remember this occurred when I placed the AC cord on my DAC. My next move was to put their XLR interconnects between the DAC and my preamp.
Yet again, there was another level of improvement. Only this time, it was as though I was hearing another layer of musicality than just minutes before. Everything was enhanced. The improvement was akin to going to a more powerful, more vibrant zoom lens on your camera; only, instead of the visual improvement, this increase was to auditory senses. Now, seemingly, I’m working with a 512-color pallet where you give up even trying to identify musical shadings and enjoy the music. The bass was more detailed and tuneful, with more weight and extension.
Here are some of my musical references used for this review. For female vocals, I listened to quite a bit of Lizz Wright’s “Dreaming Wide Awake” [Verve]. I love Wright’s warm, rich vocal tone and her phrasing. Great vocalists, such as Cassandra Wilson, have a way of making songs all their own, and Lizz Wright is no less accomplished. The track I returned to on this offering was A Taste of Honey. Wright sings this selection with a bluesy, almost sad tenor, but the musicians do an outstanding job filling out this track. Many vocalists surround themselves with musicians more than capable of taking over the recording. Still, this group of performers, guitarist Chris Bruce, bassist David Piltch, drummer Earl Harvin, and Glenn Patscha on keyboards, makes this album a dual treat. The Hemingway series Beta cables afforded me such a natural sonic landscape. One of my favorite vocalists, Jane Monheit, sings on Mark O’Connor and the Full Swing Trios “In Full Swing” [CD, Odyssey SK 87880]. One of my favorite tracks on this disc is Honeysuckle Rose. It features fantastic contributions from fiddler O’Connor and guest trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. I have always been taken by Monheit’s purity of tone and timbre, and her songs always seem nicely arranged. The Betas allowed me to close my eyes and feel the presence and clarity of the performers on another level. Sinne Eeg is slowly becoming one of my favorite vocalists, and this recording is becoming one of my references for female vocals. The recording is Sinne Eeg & Thomas Fonnesbaek working together on Eeg-Fonnesbaek [Stunt]. Eeg’s vocals are mesmerizing with their tonality and purity. I enjoy listening to her and Mr. Fonnesbaek on upright bass on this recording. They are excellent virtuoso performers but are even more splendid together. This magical pairing was especially notable on tracks like Willow Weep for Me, Taking it Slow, and Body and Soul. Previous cable insertions enhanced the performance of my system; however, the Hemingway Beta series interconnects elevated the system performance to a level akin to upgrading loudspeakers or electronics.
Adding the Hemingway Beta series speaker cables also improved my sound. However, compared to my reference Silversmith Fidelium the difference was not as apparent as I thought it would be. These minor sonic differences may be more about the excellence of the Fidelium than any shortcomings of the Hemingway Beta series speaker cables. The Fidelium held its own quite masterfully with a cable many times more expensive. It would have been interesting to have another set of speaker cables or a pair of Hemingway jumpers to use in this comparison. Still, I had to combine the Fidelium and Hemingway Beta series speaker cables to satisfy the need to bi-wire. To get the feel of what the Beta speaker cables were capable of, I switched to one of my friends suggested recordings by a band called Blue Tofu. “Blue Tofu” [CD Baby] is one of those indie-pop groups that rose to popularity in the early 2000s. Their self-titled album is an interesting mix of Tim Story’s (who’s done some work for Wyndham Hill), atmospheric electronica, and Andrea Mathews’ ethereal, moody, and seductive vocalizations. I enjoyed listening to the whole disc but particularly enjoyed the tracks A Battle Between, Chemical Cupcake, Limestone, and Gabriel. The Beta speaker cables allowed me to hear the distinct and detailed low-end on this disc and what can best be described as the airy, spatial mid-range this recording possesses. It’s different to describe, especially with electronica, but that’s how I would explain it.
When we get around to discussing such things, most of my friends always ask me what’s the best cable I’ve heard. I would always have to throw in the caveat “not including audio shows” because some excellent cables come through CES and AXPONA, and I can’t hear them all. But I tell them, in terms of what I had heard in Chicago-area audio salons, in friends’ homes, or even in my home, it would be the Hemingway cables. This sentiment was always based on that review I did back in 2012 for SoundStage! I never talked about them much after that because they were too expensive for me, and I knew I’d probably not get the chance to own some. So, instead of talking about a good glass of bourbon, let’s talk about beer. Still, if the subject of cables would come up, it was based on my experience from long ago. My time spent with the Hemingway cables, this time around, was even better than my initial experience with them. Perhaps this could be due to the length of time, being ten years older, wiser, and having a more experienced ear, not to mention a much more sophisticated system.
In terms of comparisons, that would be a bit more difficult. My reference system is currently set up to use a pair of monoblock amps, and my speakers are bi-wired. As I mentioned earlier, I could not make a complete comparison with only one pair of speaker cables, one balanced and single-ended interconnect cable and only one AC cord. Still, I can say confidently that in every instance where I inserted a Beta cable, there was an improvement in the sound. Not just something that sounded different, but better. To what degree? There were some differences.
What I found even more interesting was comparing where the Hemingway Beta series cable had the most significant effect on my system. Would the AC cord make my system sound its best on the DAC, preamp, amplifier, or AC conditioner? The sound in all locations was a bit different but always good.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of having the Hemingway Z-core Betas series cables on hand was sharing the experience of having such a great cable with friends. One such experience was an afternoon spent with my friend Keith. He always brings up the discussion about cables, which always gravitates towards my time reviewing the Hemingway cables. I brought the Beta balanced interconnect and AC cord this Saturday afternoon with me. Last year, Keith moved on from his older ARC gear and stepped up to an Aesthetix Mimas integrated to use on his Vandersteen 5’s. I had heard his setup twice before, and, each time, I wondered what he saw in the Mimas. After listening to his system for about 30-45 minutes, we inserted the Hemingway Z-core beta series AC cord on the Aesthetix Mimas integrated.
There was instant magic. Musicians, and even more so, vocalists, were more present. Voices were clearer and projected out more into the room. Tonal colors and pitch differentiation became more pronounced, better separation, and everything was just more musical. Keith had a big grin on his face. Then we swapped out his balanced interconnect for the Hemingway Beta series XLR cables. Everything across the board got even better, musically speaking. The Hemingway Beta’s introduced a level of bass that had both clarity and much more impact that the Mimas made the Vandersteen’s very capable of delivering. We had reached the point where it wasn’t worth discussing what “this and that” change in cable was doing to his system. That would somehow defeat the whole purpose of the visit. We just went on to enjoy the music we heard that Saturday afternoon. I had to confess to Keith that now I finally understood his affection for the Mimas and why he wanted one so badly. And Keith, like a proud papa, beamed at hearing what his Mimas-driven system sounded like with all cylinders firing in thanks in a large pair to the Hemingway Beta series cables.
In terms of that special cable that can do it all, including transforming good-sounding systems into great ones, I have heard Hemingway cables do this several times in more than a few systems. So, this consistent level of excellence must be one of their performance attributes. The Hemingway Z-core Beta series cables faithfully bore out practically everything I have said about Hemingway cables, in general, to just about anyone who would listen to me for the decade. I would give the Hemingway Z-core Beta series cables my highest recommendation for such a level of consistency and excellence.
Hemingway Audio Z-Core Beta cables
Price: $14,000 per 3m speaker cables
$7,800 per 1.5m Interconnect (XLR)
Audio Limits LLC
3132 Acacia Ct
Laughlin NV 89029
Mike’s Associated Equipment:
Tekton Design Moabs
VAC Signature 200 iQ Amplifiers (used as stereo and mono amps)
BSC Audio BSC100m 100-Watt Mono-amps
VAC Renaissance Mk V with Phono
Merrill Heirloom Turntable
Rowland Research Consonance Tonearm
Transfiguration Phoenix Cartridge
Asus Laptop w/Fidelizer Pro, Roon, and JRiver v.26 for Hi-Res Files
Holo May Kitsune III DAC
Marantz SA-7S1 CD Player
Dynamic Design Heritage Balanced Interconnect
Dynamic Design PAAPI
Silversmith Fidelium Speaker Cable
Pink Faun USB
AnnaLyric Power Cords
Essential Sound Product Essence II Power Cords
Power Line Conditioner
Inakustik 3500P (Distributor loan)
Essential Sound Products Essence Power Distributor
Star Sound Apprentice & Rhythm Platforms – for amps
Star Sound Sistrum Rhythm Two Platform Stand
Symposium Acoustics Ultra Platform
Symposium Acoustics HDSE Rollerblocks
Symposium Acoustics +2 Rollerblocks
Adona GX4 Equipment Stand
Epiphany Stand Systems – Celeste Reference Stand
Hemingway Audio Z-core Beta Cables
Power Cord – $4,800 (2M)
Interconnect (XLR/RCA) – $7,800 (1.5M)
Speaker Cable – $14,000 (3M)
Hemingway Audio Cable (Sigma Wire Lab, Inc.)
18, Indeogwon-ro 30beon-gil
Dongan-gu, Anyang-si, Gyeonggi-do
Republic of Korea
Phone: +82 31 424 2646
Stereo Times Masthead
Frank Alles, Mike Girardi, Key Kim, Russell Lichter, Terry London, Moreno Mitchell, Paul Szabady, Bill Wells, Mike Wright, Stephen Yan, and Rob Dockery
David Abramson, Tim Barrall, Dave Allison, Ron Cook, Lewis Dardick, Dan Secula, Don Shaulis, Greg Simmons, Eric Teh, Greg Voth, Richard Willie, Ed Van Winkle, and Rob Dockery
Carlos Sanchez, John Jonczyk, John Sprung and Russell Lichter
Site Management Clement Perry
Ad Designer: Martin Perry