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Cosmos, Nataraja, and Samadhi - an Experience
as reviewed by Greg Weaver
For going on three decades now, I've had to accept the fact that all cables have their own sound; for whatever reason, some add to, subtract from, or on occasion, even synergistically multiply or divide, the sonic attributes of the components whose signal courses through them. If there is anyone out there reading this who doesn't yet know that cables are components (my first audio axiom), just as real and causative as a pair of loudspeakers or source component, you have some education still ahead of you. If you haven't experienced that a cabling change alone, in an otherwise highly musical system, has the power to affect the difference between boredom and boogie, between yum and yuck (which, by the way, are the only two real mantras), do not pass go; do not collect two hundred dollars.
I have discussed this phenomenon at some length over the years, to the point that I now find the prospect of reviewing new cables several times a year to be an undesirable chore; an arduous experience, one to be avoided at nearly any cost. With that information out in the open, when Joe Cohen offered me an opportunity to witness the PranaWire experience first hand, I leapt at the prospect.
Ever since my first encounter with Joe and the introduction of his PranaWire Nataraja cables during the 2003 CES/T.H.E. Show, they have been on my short list of cables to more closely audition, as every system I have ever heard them matched with has had something very special to say musically. One of the most moving musical experiences I had witnessed to that point, and not just at a show, had come at the voice of the Cain & Cain/electron luv/PranaWire combination that year.
Decked out with PranaWire, this electron luv/Cain & Cain room from CES 2003 STILL stands out as one of the most musical experiences I've ever had at a show.
What's in a Name
"So, what's with the names," was the first question from two different visitors to my music room while I had the PranaWire products in house. Because Joe is a long-time student of Zen, he has chosen names of Sanskrit origin. Having lived at both the San Francisco Zen Center and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center through the 1970s, many will consider him fortunate to have been around for Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's last year. He has also had the privilege of sitting with Dainin Katagiri Roshi. Though that should take some of the mystery out of their derivation, let me share some direct translations.
Prana: The body's energy, spirit, or breath.
Cosmos: The universe, or whole of creation, especially with reference to its order, harmony and completeness.
Nataraja: The dancing posture of Lord Śiva, literally, The King of Dance.
Samadhi: Contemplative sitting, practice which produces complete meditation, meditative absorption.
Joe's background in the cable game is both extensive and passionate, and begins back in the 1980s. Readers who find such information compelling will want to check out the very insightful information Joe has shared at videohifi.com.
While I won't go too far into the specifics of the cable design, Joe uses only the highest quality materials available to fabricate these scintillating products. All PranaWire cables are entirely hand crafted, from start to finish, including hand polishing of the custom-made silver ribbon conductors. In fact, this fabrication process is so intense that a set of cables can take two weeks to complete. But due to the fact the various processes are applied to various cables under simultaneous construction, lead times for orders are usually six - eight weeks.
Beautiful custom-made silver ribbons in preparation for hand polishing
How can that be, you ask? Well, start with one hundred percent U.S. sourced four nines pure silver ribbon conductors, custom made to Joe's specifications. Subject these ribbons to hand polishing and then further, to multiple chemical and metallurgical treatments. Next, wrap them in twenty-four layers of natural and proprietary space age insulating materials, including four different copper foil shields with 51 drain wires each, all in an intricate and proprietary manner. Finally, hand-terminate each with the greatest care using the highest quality terminations from Oyaide, Acrolink, or Bocchino, and see how long it takes you!
The finished product is so remarkable in appearance that you can't possible mistake them for anything less than what they are; handmade works of art, conduits that let music flow in the most emotionally connective and melodically expressive manner I've yet experienced. Grand but not lavish, tactilely pleasing and with both luxurious yet robust appearance, their unmistakable level of craftsmanship evokes a pride of ownership superior to any other cable I've ever had in house.
Bi-wired pairs of Cosmos speaker cable and a custom terminated Cosmos interconnect (9 meters) attached to the Wavac SH-833 amplifier from CES.
One of the reasons PranaWires sound so remarkable is the resultant low level of interaction between layers Joe is able to achieve. According to Joe, one should, "Keep in mind that an audio signal does not travel through a conductor passively like water through a hose. Rather, the signals complex relationship with the conductor unleashes a host of primary, secondary, and tertiary interactions in the conductor, the dielectric materials, and the space surrounding the cable. In fact, cables generate their own autoimmune disease whereby stray signals may re-enter the signal path out of phase. Shields couple magnetically with conductors as well as with each other. All materials used in their execution interact triboelectrically, generating static by the very fact that everything is always in motion. Nothing is at rest, even at rest. Noises are everywhere. High frequency signals and pulses abound. In addition, lest we forget—conductors are excellent antennas."
Avoiding the use of synthetic materials wherever possible is also crucial to Joe's design philosophy, though that decision is not solely based on his preference for an ecologically sound manufacturing process. Rather, the inherently complex nature of his design dictates that the materials employed interact well with each other. For example, Teflon and PVC may have desirable dielectric properties, but they have very poor triboelectric properties when placed in proximity with silver, for instance. As the complexity of a design increases, the chances of generating undesirable results grow exponentially.
Joe's unique and involved design approach, in conjunction with his meticulous execution and craftsmanship, addresses a broad range of problems including the prevention of absorption of spurious fields and stray capacitance, achieving mechanical damping and resonance control, providing effective protection against EMI, RFI, restricting static build up and high frequency digital pulses, and maximizing of all triboelectric properties.
Greater than the Sum of its Parts
So, what are the results of this unique construction and attention to detail? Do you remember the first time you heard a really stable turntable? That unmistakable sense of focus and confidence… let's start there. The foundations of the music, its pace, drive, and rhythmic construct, are delivered virtually unaltered. The underlying propulsive structure of the music flows with the most coherence and effortlessness I've yet experienced from any set of cabling. This is no small accomplishment in my experience.
All cables, likely due to some combination of variances in their time domain integrity and dynamic constraints , involuntarily conspire to dilute this highly fragile musical attribute. Most cables, even some of the very best, somehow fragment this critical time construct, creating an unnatural discontinuity that subsequently confuses the musical message. While I cannot say that the PranaWires are impervious to this degrading effect, they do offer the most unrestricted and enlivening sense of musical flow I have ever witnessed. This remarkable lack of smearing of the core rhythmic component of the music aids in allowing the PranaWires to reveal the full color of the musical harmonic structure, yielding a denser, more richly woven musical fabric.
I also discovered a lack of fine graininess that I had never even recognized in other cables prior to their insertion. Once I identified this omission, the result revealed itself as an improved purity of timbre, richness of tone and an enhancement in detail without any elevation in glare. Combined with their broadband accuracy of timbre, they are supremely seductive in their reconstruction of harmonic texture
Their tonal purity and richness only serve to enhance the already noted quality of texture and further, their ability at reconstructing spatial cues. Voices take on a greater sense of reality, rendered with a dimensionality and spaciousness that seems to move you right into the performance. Their ability to communicate the shadings and subtleties of inflection—like those that convey proximity or scale—are simply chilling. It was as if an extra breath of life had been infused into my system when they were installed. It is no surprise that the PranaWire tag line is "Breathing Life Into Music."
Listening to the sounds of woodwinds, you hear the rich synergy of the reeds initial vibration, the subsequent animation of the air by the reed, all combined with the excitation of the air within the body of the instrument, when the recording permits. With piano, the speed of the initial attack as the hammer collides with the string is rendered as a vibrant and remarkably honest assault, again recording permitting. When it comes to reconstructing the compound voice of a stringed instrument, that complex yet inextricable interrelationship of sting, bow, rosin, and wooden body, they are a revelation.
Though at first seeming paradoxical, after examination in a musical context, this next attribute makes utter musical sense. They somehow have an ability to enhance the distinctiveness of individual voices. Yet, at the same time that they allow you to more intuitively focus on instrumental solos, human or mechanical voices alike, they insure that such solo voices are woven more inextricably into the balance of the unfolding musical tapestry. This is a remarkable and noteworthy feat.
These traits were revealed repeatedly, regardless of amplification type, (glass or silicon, class-A to Class-D), choice of source, or speaker selection, with the system limitation constantly revealing itself to be something other than these cables. It was their contribution, or perhaps more appropriately, their decided lack thereof, that finally convinced me to replace my dynamic yet somewhat slightly sterile sounding Marsh Sound Design P2000b preamp with the warmer, yet fully detailed sounding ModWright SWL 9.0SW with upgraded Tung-Sol tubes.
Removing the PranaWire cabling from my system and returning to my previous reference, the Audience Au24 and powerChord system , left the music hollow and wanting by comparison. Instruments invariably lost some degree of their thread of individuality, becoming more homogonous with the rest of the musical cloth. Cymbals lost much of their shimmer and became more "white" sounding overall. Stringed instruments and pianos fell in upon themselves in a congealed form of musical entropy. Everything became at once less natural, less ample sounding, on the whole, more diluted and homogenized.
Samadhi AC cord
Simply put, the PranaWires are without question the most musically expressive cables I've ever had in my own system. Their sonic achievement represents a degree of performance I would not have though obtainable through the installation of "mere" cables. Though I have heard the similarly expensive Jena Labs Pathfinders and Stealth Indra's, and have been suitable impressed by them both, I've never heard them in such an intimate and familiar setting and cannot say with any degree of certainty how closely they compare.
What I can tell you about PranaWire is this; they are the most compelling and musically honest cables I've ever had the pleasure of listening to, bar none. They consistently got out of their own way in a manner I've never encountered before and delivered unfailingly musical and utterly involving sound, upstream equipment and recording permitting. While I would love to point to their shortcomings, these ears found no apparent failings on which to comment. If my budget would permit, they would never have left my music system to make their way back to their gifted creator in Novato. Without any reservation, they have garnered my highest recommendation. They are currently at the top of a very short list for my 2006 Writers Choice Awards. Greg Weaver
Cosmos: $3995/1 meter pair RCA interconnect, $6650/2 meter pair speaker cable
Nataraja: $2495/1 meter pair RCA interconnect
Samadhi: $2250/1 meter AC power cord
 How the conductor affects the resultant arrival times of differing frequencies as they pass through it and how rapidly and consistently that conductor can respond to dynamic changes across the audio spectrum.
 I have recently moved to all Acoustic Zen Technology Cabling, employing Absolute and Silver Reference II interconnects, Hologram II speaker cables, and Gargantua II and Absolute power cables.