May 182011
 

One area of audio debate which can be guaranteed to set off wars is that of whether audio cables make any difference and even more so can a mains cable alter or improve the sound of a component it is hooked up to.  Well I guess it will be no surprise to those that know me that I fall firmly into the yes camp on both propositions. Over very many years of being an audio enthusiast and music lover (not mutually exclusive activities) I have many times heard both audio and mains cables make a difference in many different systems and many different types of components. However these differences are sometimes very subtle and require many repeated listens to tease out the plusses and minuses and on other occasions only a few swaps are required to do this. Every so often the differences are much more pronounced and easier to spot. In the case of the topic for this review I found myself pretty much in the middle ground with a product that made obvious differences and also presented more subtle changes.

A few months ago I was approached by David Brook of Mains Cables R Us to review one of his own branded mains cables and after a few exchanges of Emails he sent me a 2 m The Ultimate mains cable – terminated with a Furutech Gold plated UK mains plug, Furutech gold plated IEC connector and a HIFI Tuning gold 2 audiophile fuse, UK Retail price £395 – to review.

I normally request fully run in cables, be they audio or mains in order to minimise the time period for conducting a review; it also cuts out any doubts I might have as to whether a product is performing at optimum. David had agreed to send me a fully run in cable but alas a customer requiring a fair number of these cables meant my fully run in one went elsewhere. A less than ideal situation arose in that I would be sent a brand new cable to review. However rather than miss out on doing a review I agreed to take the new cable.

Initial listens with the new cable suggested strongly that it required a lot of run in. In saying that I realise fully that I am now treading into even more precarious territory, the topic of run in or burn in. Well I have heard this phenomenon many times in the past so I am no stranger to hearing it or knowing that it is always best to assume run in being necessary to hear what any given item can fully do. In the case of this Ultimate Mains cable, I informed David of the less than satisfactory performance from the off and he suggested a period of 100 hours being required to fully run in the cable.

History

Mains Cables R Us while a new company to me have been trading for 10 years and during that time period David Brook has tried numerous power cords from various manufacturers and spent a substantial amount of time researching the ‘Conductivity of Metals Used in Hi-Fi’ and during that research David examined the ‘conductivity and in particular which metals are best regardless of any other factors, the best being pure silver and 2nd being copper.

This led me to conduct further research as the conductivity charts are non-debatable and based on the laws of physics, in a hi-fi cable environment countless other factors are taken into consideration but for the time being I ignored all those and concentrated purely on which metals were best at conducting electrons. As pure silver is the best conductor known to man it was considered first at length and trials conducted but it was felt that there is too much negativity against silver as it can sound over bright (too much treble) in many hi-fi systems’

David goes on to explain the next steps ‘One of the colleagues I conducted my research with is based in Cyprus where UK mains plugs are used, he was involved in testing power cords the same as me for many years and about 18 months ago we came across a cable which is manufactured in Japan and uses a particular type of copper (we were already veering towards copper after dismissing silver for the above reasons), the cable in question used what many consider the purest copper available, UP-OCC which stands for ultra pure ohno continuous cast copper, invented by a Japanese professor (ohno) and the only machine in the world that casts copper with virtually no impurities, otherwise known as single grain copper.

The best analogy for this is driving your car down a road, with UP-OCC copper it would be like driving on tarmac, with other forms of cheaper copper such as the so called oxygen free and tough cast copper it would be like driving over a cobbled street, the UP-OCC wire has no boundaries to interfere with signal flow (so called single grain copper)’

With the above discovery Mains Cables R Us decided to use this cable but they ‘found it was not readily available in the UK so we imported a small quantity and set about experimenting with different plugs and sockets to determine which sounded better. This area of our investigations is still on-going as the major manufacturers like Furutech, Oyaide and Wattgate all bring different qualities to the table. One thing was certain, the cable terminated with Furutech connectors sounded magnificent, Beta testers who trialled the made up power cords also agreed and the Ultimate power cord as we call it was born.’

David Brook feels the decision to go with copper as the material that makes up the Ultimate was the right one as he explains here ‘The decision to choose pure copper cabling has proven to be a good one, it is not silver plated or pure silver like most of our competitors, some do specify UP-OCC copper in their cables but it won’t have the extensive amount of shielding which has not been mentioned previously, using a good conductor is important but with the amount of interference in the mains supply from wireless internet, mobile phones and house-hold appliances the shielding around the cable is more important now than ever before. We are happy to report that the Ultimate cable has extensive amounts of shielding to reduce RFI/EMI and that is part of the reason it sounds so good.’

I think it’s worth saying here that I don’t feel Mains cables R Us not manufacturing the actual inner cable used in the Ultimate is not a huge deal for me. The path they have gone down is a common enough route (many audiophile cable manufacturers don’t make the cables they use in their products. In fact the number who actually do is quite small) of trying many types of all ready existing cables to find one that serves their purpose. I feel that this is a valid option, though I do understand why some cable companies are less forgiving of this approach as they make their own cables from beginning to end. For me though ultimately it is how it sounds in a system that is the true test and not whether it is 100% totally made by the company or only 50%. In saying that it would be remiss of me if I did not point out that all Mains Cables R Us Ultimate power-cord cables are assembled in the UK with a choice of Furutech connectors. The Ultimate in for review retails for £395 and uses gold Furutech connectors (also available with a Neutrik mains connector for £25 less) and the Ultimate 2, which uses the much dearer Furutech FI-50 rhodium plated carbon fibre IEC and matching UK rhodium mains plug at £695 for a 2 m power-cord (review of this cable coming soon)

Actual construction quality of the cable is very good, with excellent fit and finish, with the only slight negative and a common one with many audio cables and that is these are quite stiff cables and thus need careful cable dressing. In my system this power-cord required a slight degree of shaping to fit into the space/layout I am forced to use. I feel it important to mention this aspect of things but I don’t want to overemphasise this factor; so will say this, at no time did I find the cable unwieldy or overly hard to work with or use, just that it is a stiff cable and not an easy flex cable.

With the history and development of the Ultimate power-cord outlined all that remains now to do is to see if it is as good as David feels it is. Let the testing begin.

Listening System

Needing to have easy access for swapping the mains cables over (1) the Ultimate and my normal reference (for use with the Marantz SA7 and also my Moon Andromeda) (2) Analysis Plus Power Oval 2 power-cord I decided to use my Marantz SA7 SACD player whose position in my system afforded the access I required.

During the period of this review my normal reference system changed. Initial listening was done with my Meridian G02 pre-amplifier, G56 power-amplifier and Anthony Gallo Ref3.1 speakers. However the arrival of an AirTight ATM 300 power-amplifier (review coming soon), required a change in speakers to a pair of Ruark Equinox’s which are considerably more easy to drive than the Gallo’s which produced a less than ideal sound with the 8 watts the AirTight had on hand. So some of this review has been conducted with that combination but also as I was putting it to bed a few more changes have also occurred.

Things have been pretty busy here recently with quite a number of items coming in for review and with the arrival of a Stereo Knight Silver Stone B&R Reference passive magnetic pre-amplifier (review coming soon) I needed a suitable amplifier to match it and my quest for such has taken me down a slightly unusual road to the one I normally travel down.

Some months ago I tried a DIY amplifier (Copper Box 2A3) (3) based on the front end of an Audio Note On-Gaku and rear end of an Audio Note Neiro with no real success (unsuitable for the context in which I was trying it) but I had a gut feeling it would suit the Stereo Knight pre-amplifier (as it has) and therefore my final set up for the review of the Mains Cables or Us cable is as follows: Marantz SA7, Stereo Knight pre-amplifier, Copper Box 2A3 power-amplifier, Ruark Equinox speakers and Audience AU 24 mains cables (pre-amplifier and power-amplifier) Audience AU 24 RCA to RCA cable (pre-amplifier to power-amplifier), Deltec Black Slink XLR to XLR cable (SA7 to pre-amplifier) with Mavros Atlas speaker cable.

I think it is also worth pointing  out at this point, that despite the changes in system components during the course of this review (not my normal practice to change so many components during a review) the Mains Cables R Us ‘Ultimate’ power-cord consistently had the same sonic effect, which is why I have chosen to only include my findings during the later part of the review; when the Copper Box amplifier was part of the system.

Music Used

A lot of different types of music was used during this review but I will keep my comments in the main focussed on only two albums.

Robert Downey Jr – The Futurist


Nitin Sawhney – Beyond Skin


Listening

My methodology for this review was very simple listen with my normal cable in place and after listening to one track to swap for the Mains Cable R Us power-cord and listen to the same track gain, making sure I achieved the swap over as quickly as possible; something despite the relative ease of access was still a little awkward to do.

Robert Downey Jr track Kimberly Glides. Since first hearing this album a number of years ago it has become a firm favourite of mine both for reviewing and listening for pleasure. This particular track has a wonderful open sound with nicely rendered acoustic and simple instrumentation, Guitar, upright double bass, piano and drums.

Using the Mains cable R Us Ultimate the soundstage opened up slightly gained a bit more width and depth with improved definition in the mid band and treble over my normal mains cable. The bass gained more weight and extension and definition in the bass also improved. The bass solo towards the end of the track had more articulation, weight and scale, with the better separation of instruments the cable gave me allowed me to follow the bass lines still when they were pulled back into the mix and the drums and piano came more to the foreground; something the Analysis Plus Power Oval 2 obscured slightly.

Robert’s voice had more air and space round it and percussion gained similarly, with the shimmer and decay of strikes on cymbals having better resolution. It was now easier to hear the decay following a strike on a cymbal recede into the acoustic space it was recorded in.

I should state that these differences were not massive but were fairly obvious with the only big difference between the two power-cables being that the Mains cables R us Ultimate pushed the soundstage outwards slightly more that the Analysis Plus one did. However the slight forwardness was matched by an increase in front to back depth too.

Listening next to Tides from Nitin Swhney’s fabulous album Beyond Skin, I heard similar differences to this track as I had using the Robert Downey Jnr track. Overall soundstage and acoustic definition was improved with the beautiful delicacy of percussion gaining air and detail and the decay of piano notes being clearer and thus easier to follow, if one wanted to. The bass playing in this track also as with Kimberly Glides gained weight and a bit more scale without losing definition.

After concluding the period of power-cord swapping, I listened to Thomas Dolby’s album Aliens Ate My Buick and the beguiling haunting album Tiramisu by the Al Di Meola Project and while listening to each album, I felt that the sound was better than recent past sessions playing these albums on the Marantz SA7, with the Analysis Plus cable in place. Of particular note is the way in which the Mains Cables R Us cable seemed to not get in the way of the intricate time changes and pacing on the Latin tinged jazz rock fusion of Al Di Meola’s album; unlike the Power Oval 2 cable. Using the Analysis Plus cable produced a slightly sat upon and reined in sound with this particular album. The music on Tiramisu excels in quick changes of time-signatures and sweeping dynamics; switching from delicate to highly charged sometimes several times in a given track. While using the Ultimate power-cord I felt that I was hearing all the elements on this recording about as well as I could in the context of this particular system; with the Marantz SA7 as the front end.

I finished my listening session with another South American jazz influenced album Steve Khan’s wonderful jazz fusion album Public Access. The fantastic interplay between Dave Weckl’s drumming and Anthony Jackson’s contrabass was fully preserved and as it forms the bed rock upon which Steve’s slightly avant-guard guitar playing glides across the tracks on this album succeed or fail on how well the foundation supports and propels the music. Timing was also excellent with intricate time changes preserved. I have been listening to this album for many years and enjoyed this particular listening session a great deal.

The slight extra weight and scale given to the music played on my Marantz SA7 did not at any stage push the bass into bloat or boom, even on the over modulated bass of the dance music I listen to fairly regularly and indeed Nitin Sawhney’s album Beyond Skin that is well known for having excellent bass was rendered with nice clean extended lower frequencies.

Conclusions

New companies making any kind of audio cables are pretty much two a penny these days, so when I was approached by David Brook of Mains Cables R Us, truth be told I was a little concerned this cable might be nothing special. However as I found out during the course of this review,  my initial concerns have been proven to be incorrect with The Ultimate power-cord not only aquiting its self well within the context of my system but also bettering a well established and highly regarded American power-cord, by a reasonable margin and at a very competitive price £395 (3) Of course it would be remiss of me if I did not say that it must be born in mind that this review is done within a context and that is very much the system it was conducted in and with the components used. I say this only to point out, as does David Brook himself, that it is necessary for any prospective ‘The Ultimate’ user to try this cable in their own system. In order to facilitate this Mains Cables R Us offer a home trial period.

I think if you are in the market for a new power-cord you owe it to yourself to try David Brook’s Mains Cables R Us The Ultimate out in your own system and I am reasonably sure you will find it both an interesting and ear opening experience. Whether it turns out to be the Ultimate in your particular application, well you will just have to suck it and see to find out but what I can say without a shadow of doubt is it represents excellent value for money, both in terms of materials used (+ fit and finish) and sound quality enhancing ability. You really have nothing to lose to find out so why not give The Ultimate ago.

Neil

(1) One of the hassles/potential problems of swapping mains cables over is the potential loss of warm up time in the audio component being used. By giving myself easy access I was able to swap cables quickly and thus minimise the off time the SA7 had to endure. I would switch the player off, swap cords and power up in about 20 seconds on average. At no time did I notice any loss in sound quality performance due to powering up and down.

(2) Access to the mains input on my Moon Andromeda’s separate power supply is very tight and difficult and thus would make quick power cord swapping very difficult. So I chose not to go down that route.

(3) The Copper Box series of amplifiers are somewhat legendary among NI audio enthusiasts and were the product of the quest of a member of the Ulster Orchestra, to find his own audio nirvana. As far as I know there were three amplifiers made the Copper Box 211, Copper Box 2A3 and one other. All used Audio Note parts, output and main’s transformer, are hard wired throughout and use individual right and left channel steeped resistor volume controls. The Copper Box 2A3 combines the pre-amplifier stage of the venerable Audio Note On-Gaku and the power-amplifier stage of an Audio Note Neiro. One of my particularly favourite audio memories is that of the time I spent many years ago with an original Audio Note Japan Neiro. The sound was breathtaking and beguiling. This particular amplifier, which can be used both as an integrated or power-amplifier is 7 watts Class A per channel.

As I don’t plan on formally reviewing the Copper Box amplifier but in the interest of rounding out this review, I include here a selection of photos both external and internal.

(4) Current retail price of an Analysis Plus Power Oval 2 4ft power cable, fitted with a WattGate 350IEC/Furutech UK plug is £499

Source of Loan Item: Manufacturer

Website: http://www.mains-cables-r-us.co.uk/

© Text and Photos Copyright 2011 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio…..except for Mains Cable R Us product photos and album covers; Copyright belongs with their original publishers.

NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.

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