Among the top of the heap topics to generate nuclear exchanges on audio forums would be, ‘do cables make a difference/improvement over basic cables?’ And this type of hotly debated thread, be it signal cables or mains cables focussed will usually end in circular arguments between those who can hear differences and those who can’t, with the discussion usually ending in hurled insults and other unpleasantness – ultimately ending in the thread being closed. I think it fair to say that there are few topics so divisive in audio circles as cables.
I do often wonder why some folks can hear the differences and others can’t? I don’t believe its down to expectation bias or placebo effect, though system transparency and listening ability may explain why some can and some can’t, but closed minds may also be a factor in why some are unable to hear what swapping a basic freebie mains/signal cable for a better quality dedicated audio one can do.
While thinking about this I questioned the methodology I was considering for this particular review, which would have seen me compare to my known reference cables – Audience AU24, TCI and Analysis Plus. Instead I have decided to go back to basics and compare to the ubiquitous freebie IEC mains cable supplied with most audio gear.
Mark Grant Cables have been gaining quite a reputation for high quality products – mostly cables – over the last few years and offering quite high achieving products for modest money – a big bang for a small buck – and certainly my experiences with the Mark Grant HD1000 interconnects awhile back confirmed what many were saying online, that these cables punched way above their very affordable retail price – so I decided to see if the same can be said of Mark Grant mains cables and after a few email exchanges I was in possession of two Mark Grant DSP 2.5 mains cables to review, one silver plated and one gold plated.
The system used for this review comprised my normal reference components but with the addition of a Micromega Data and Dialog CD transport and DAC, other front-ends used included: Marantz SA7 SACD player and AMR DP777 DAC. Amplification used: Balanced Audio Technology VK300 se integrated amplifier, Gallo Reference SA amplifier. Speakers Anthony Gallo 3.1 speakers. All equipment was housed on Clearlight Audio Aspekt racks and cabling was a mixture of Atlas Mavros speaker cable, interconnects and also High Fidelity Cables CT1 interconnects. Mains cables were Audience AU24, Analysis Plus Power Oval 2 and the review silver and gold Mark Grant 2.5s. No mains filters, conditioners or regenerators were used but I did use a Mark Grant 8 way mains distribution block during the review and I would have included this but alas this item is now discontinued.
The main test front-ends (1) for this particular review was the Micomega Dialog and Data CD transport and DAC and despite the somewhat vintage nature of these items very useful they proved to be indeed in getting to the bottom of the thorny issue re do mains cables make a difference? and further more an improvement in sound quality? Lets see.
Thomas Dolby – aliens Ate My Buick
The Dali Demo Disc
Dead Can Dance Into The Labyrinth.
and various others over the few months the review took place.
Taken from Mark Grant’s website
‘Mark Grant 2.5 Silver: High performance three core 2.5 mm fully shielded mains cable. High purity copper conductors. Tightly twisted core construction – more twists per foot than any ‘off the shelf’ power cable and Designed to achieve maximum performance at a realistic price.
High quality shielding consisting of an extremely flexible high quality clear outer jacket made from mylar polyster film, a dual over lapped layer of aluminium foil and then dense tinned copper braid.
Fitted with MK silver plated Toughplug and high quality Martin Kaiser silver plated IEC connector to fit most AV equipment etc.
This is a custom designed and built cable, you cannot buy this cable anywhere else. This is NOT ‘CY’ or ‘SY’, it is a custom design.
Every cable is hand assembled and tested in our own workshop in Yorkshire. The only way you will know if this can make a difference to your system is to try at home, you are welcome to return cables for refund within 30 days, so try at home and decide. It is very rare that anyone returns a cable.
Retail Price £55
Mark Grant 2.5 Gold Plated as above except – Fitted with MK gold plated Toughplug and high quality Martin Kaiser gold plated IEC connector to fit most AV equipment etc.
Retail Price £60′
Both cables were very flexible in use and came fitted with an MK toughplug – which slid in and out of the sockets I used with ease and a nice solid feel and a fairly basic (compared to the Wattgate and Furutech’s used by other companies) IEC plug at the other end. Both the MK toughplug metal parts and IEC internal metal pins are nicely plated, either in silver or gold and overall the fit and finish was to a high standard. However if I have any criticism – a small niggle – then it was at the IEC plug end of the cable was quiet hard to fit into most of the equipment sockets I tried during the course of the review – this comment goes for both review samples.
Mark admits this is the case but sites a tight fit being preferable to a lose one in his view. This is a fair point as once plugged in most customers will leave a cable in place unlike HiFi reviewers who plug and unplug cables fairly regularly.
I gave each of the cables approximately two weeks of use – both at the same time – and listening intently at the beginning of that period, the middle and the at end showed some improvements in performance, but this improvement was not as large a one as I have heard with some other cable products but give the Mark Grants a few weeks use and things are definitely more open, detailed and coherent across the frequencies than was the case upon first use out of the plain plastic bag these are supplied in – no fancy pointless packaging here to up the final retail price.
Normally as stated during my preamble I will compare products in for review to corresponding items in my reference system and while I did do that with these cables, in the main I chose to use the Mark Grant 2.5 mains cables in the way a customer might if they were upgrading from a basic equipment supplied mains cable – the one free in the box to a specialist cable.
Its always good to go back and revisit previous experiences in audio to re-examine – if need be – one’s sacred cows and during the course of this review I did do that only to find that as I had numerous times before that specialist mains cables do make a difference to equipment that in the case of these cables offered a significant improvement in musical reproduction over the basic freebie leads.
Having spent a few weeks listening to the Micromega CD spinner and DAC – with the Mark Grant 2.5s connected – and thoroughly enjoying the experience switching the pair off momentarily (2) to plug the basic IEC cables in and then returning to listening there was quiet an obvious shift downwards in sound quality which was very marked in comparison to before. How so ? You might ask.
All of my reference recording that I use during reviews sounded flatter, less airy, lacking in depth and a degree of detail. Fine nuances in the music were absorbed and less clear and these details were to be found right across the frequency range from nuances in bass, vocals and cymbal work for example. The best way of putting this is that the various elements of the music had become homogenised, with less definition and as such it was harder to listen into the structure and nuance of the music. Tracks that I knew well engaged less than before and overall it was like someone had smeared Vaseline all over the window.
I was quiet shocked by this initial impression – albeit I was to a degree expecting a drop – and in order to rule out switch off/on drop in performance I used the transport and DAC with these cables for a few days and while there was a degree of accepting the drop in performance towards the end – possibly listener acclimatisation – it was still clear to me that overall using the basic kind of mains cable was holding things back a great deal. I took extensive notes and as I know the tracks intimately even after a few days the overall effect was the same, so I switched the Mark Grant cables back in taking care to minimise switch off/on performance drop by undertaking the procedure as quickly as I could and listening to the opening bars of Dead Can Dance’s The Carnival is Over was incredibly sobering, like a sun flower opening up to the sun. All the elements that were missing with the basic mains cables were restored to the music and repeating the same with other reference tracks revealed the same experience – switching the Mark Grant 2.5 cables in was like cleaning the windows of Vaseline.
The degree of improvement was quiet marked, so much so that I would be really quiet shocked if others could not immediately hear the improvement and yet many claim they can’t. I am not sure how to square that particular circle but the remit of this review isn’t to do that so I will move quickly on.
I could spell out in great detail all the various places were details were once again more easily audible but a list of time points etc would make very boring reading however Budapest by Blimp by Thomas Dolby regained its acoustic, clarity – the obscured levels of detail such as the multiple levels of vocal layering, bass articulation the massed voices of the football chants near the end all regained their missing clarity.
I also tried the Mark Grant mains cables plugged into the transport or the DAC to see if there was a preference to the order in which the difference/improvement was more obvious i.e DAC and freebie into transport and vice versa. Both options showed improvements but the DAC to the greater extent when the freebie was in use benefiting greatly from the plugging in off the Mark Grant 2.5 and the transport to the slightly lesser extent, though the use of the Mark Grant into the transport at the same time as the DAC sounded best.
Differences – Plating.
These comments go for both the Gold and the Silver versions of the 2.5 mains cable but as expected the different plating materials do alter the sound slightly, though not as dramatically as might be expected but pretty much in keeping with the general perceptions re the plating types in audio cables. Using the gold plated 2.5 cable mean’t that music was reproduced with a slightly warmer tonal balance and using the silver plated 2.5’s mean’t a slightly cooler/brighter balance – though not spot lit or unnatural. Please note that these changes were not overly dramatic and were in fact quite subtle but noticeable, and being honest, I wasn’t expecting this to be the case as it so often is in signal cables – go figure.
The Elephant in the Room
I can hear many asking, did you compare these to your reference mains cables? and the answer is yes I did and while the Mark Grant 2.5s offer a significant jump in performance over basic cables so to did my Audience AU24 and Analysis Plus Power Oval mains cables (greatly more expensive than Mark’s cables, AU24 £1445 and Power Oval 2 £500) over the Mark Grant 2.5’s and in similar ways to how the Mark Grant 2.5’s improved music reproduction over the basic freebie mains cables they were compared with.
The question I can’t answer – regarding this – is that jump in performance down to the cable material/construction used within those other cables, or is it down to the superior connecting furniture used and not so much the cable that Mark Grant uses for the 2.5s? However to be clear, I am not sure if that is the case or not as I was unable to test such a proposition not having Wattgate IEC plugs or Furutech mains plugs to hand – equally not wanting to butcher Mark’s cables – but fitting such connectors would be an interesting experiment (3)
Doing this review was a most interesting experience as it allowed me the opportunity and the excuse to re-examine one of my foundational audio experiences (4) and opinions that mains cabling makes a difference in equipment performance over basic cables and also that cable burn-in is also a reality and as such those sacred cows remain firm and unchallenged.
The Mark Grant 2.5 Silver and Gold mains cables offer a significant improvement in sound quality over the freebie cables most manufacturers supply with their audio equipment, and as such I recommend these cables most enthusiastically – especially as their modest cost returns such a large improvement in sound quality.
Mark Grant offers a 30 days return policy – as long as goods are returned in same condition as dispatched – so you can try either a Silver 2.5 or Gold 2.5 mains cable entirely risk free – now that is an offer too good to refuse.
Products – Mark Grant 2.5 Silver and Gold mains cables.
Retail Price (UK) Silver 1m £55 Gold 1m £60 Longer lengths also available.
Source of Loan – Manufacturer
Mark Grant Cables http://markgrantcables.co.uk/
Grant Multimedia Limited
9 Birch Lea
Telephone: 01482 887717 – 9 am to 6 pm UK GMT time
(1) I also used various others items an: Oppo Blu Ray player, HP computer monitor, Panasonic Plasma TV, several vintage tuners, power supply to a laptop and in all cases improvements in performance were obtained though the really surprising one was by using a 2.5 cable into a laptop PSU which should have made no audible difference – using the laptop as an HD music server – but it did, not a major improvement admittedly but enough of a one to justify – in my opinion – getting a Mark Grant 2.5 cable to use for this purpose, though this would be no substitute for a linear power supply.
(2) I hate doing mains product reviews as switching kit on and off quickly and plugging and unplugging mains cables is a right royal pain in the ass; the anxiety level high that each time one does it the equipment might not switch on again after each swap, never mind trying to achieve all this quickly enough that stability of performance is not lost or at the very least reduced so little that full performance is regained quickly.
When in the HiFi retail trade all the CD players were kept powered up during the day and some allowed you a little time to move and plug in with little loss of performance but some such as the Wadia’s (301, 302, 861 etc) went off very quickly so I jokingly referred to an activity called the ‘Wadia dash’ this referring to the amount of time taken to unplug the player get it to the demo room and powered up again. Of course pre booked demonstrations this was never an issue as systems were set up and left on overnight ready for the next day, but a walk in request for a demonstration required much running around to get items into place as quickly as possible and keep their performance optimised and with Wadia CD players of the time this was vital.
(3) Having spoken to Mark about this he told me that he is more than happy to fit any type of plug or make to any of his mains cables and just for the price of the desired connectors.
(4) This early audio experience dates back to the late 80s early 90’s were playing around with Kimber Power Kords – and a little later on Sonic Link mains cables – offered huge gains over the basic freebie cables I had been using, blissful to the improvement this simple swap out could bring.
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