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Positive Feedback ISSUE47
Cable Cooker™ Pro - A Gourmet Delicacy for the Ears
as reviewed by Myles Astor
It's leftover news when it comes to using pink noise and environmental sounds, special CDs, etc. and/or devices such as the Gryphon Exorcist to reduce the extremely long break-in times of many audio components, cables and systems. What is news, however, is that even these signals, possibly due to the maximum possible signal levels, don't fully condition audio interconnects, speaker cables and AC power cords. As a consequence, many audiophiles aren't realizing the full potential of their many times, sizable, monetary investment.
Enter the many cable conditioning devices. The first commercial cable burn-in device to cross my reviewer's plate was the flimsy and difficult to use Duotech that reportedly used a low voltage and current saw-tooth signal to treat audio cables. By contrast, the Duotech's effects were very minimal compared to the results obtained treating one's cables with the late Bob Crump inspired and Tony DiGiovine designed G&A Transforms MOBIE (maximum overdrive break-in engine). Reviewed some eleven years ago in Ultimate Audio, I found MOBIE markedly improved the performance of well played sections of Nordost Quattro Fil interconnects and Moonglow digital cables.
Recipe for Success
The latest iteration of the audiodharma Cable Cooker™ represents the newest generation of high-end audio cable burn-in devices. Like the Duotech, there's no comparison between the MOBIE and the new audiodharma Cable Cooker™. Built like a tank and designed to condition virtually all audio/video cables whether outfitted with RCA, BNC or XLR connectors and spades, bananas or bare wire, the Cable Cooker™ leaves no operational detail to chance. The instructions are thoroughly and clearly written and readers are strongly urged to read the accompanying manual before attaching cables.
As it stands now, audio excellence az offers three versions of the Cable Cooker™ with the differences between the standard and Pro version boiling down to two things. First, the Pro version is designed for heavier usage and comes equipped with extra sturdy speaker binding posts for those heavier speaker cables (and thick spade lugs). Another option for audiophiles running insanely heavy cables is equipping the Cable Cooker™ with the optional Cardas binding posts (equipped as standard on the new Anniversary Edition and as a retrofit for all Cooker 2.5 owners). Second, the Pro version includes a bridging circuit allowing for the simultaneous treatment of interconnects, speaker and power cables without any loss in signal intensity.
2009 saw the introduction of two very noteworthy upgrades to the Cable Cooker™. The first, and possibly most significant modification, was the introduction of the extended frequency sweep response (EFS) circuit. Previous Cable Cooker™ treated the cables with frequency sweep of 40Hz to 18kHz; the current model conditions cables with a frequency sweep covering a range from DC to 40kHz, effectively more than doubling the older models sweep response. According to Alan Kafton, the audiodharma manufacturer distributor, the signal produced by Cable Cooker™ consists of a swept square wave delivered with steady-state high-voltage and high-current. Although the unit is designed to simultaneously burn-in interconnects, speaker cables and AC power cords, the Cable Cooker™ employs slightly different circuits (based upon their current levels) to condition each cable type. The interconnect or "low-level" circuit delivers approximately 120 mA; the speaker cable/power cable circuit or "high-level" circuit delivers approximately 1.9 Amperes. Voltage delivery is near-identical, the caveat being since the draw on the interconnect circuit is less, the voltage can read a bit higher, depending on the gauge and geometry of the conductors used.
The second and most recent modification involves the cryogenic treatment of all circuit boards, switches, connectors and internal wiring inside the Cable Cooker™. According to Alan, blind listening tests revealed that the cryogenic treatment, "improved low frequencies and translated into more musical information."
Every Cable Cooker™ is served with several delicious side dishes that allows for the simultaneous treatment of all the cables in one's system. These accessories include extra barrel connectors to daisy chain multiple interconnect cables together as well as one reverse male/female 3-blade/IEC adapters for burning in one power cord. Additional adaptors for the daisy chaining of multiple AC power cords or even more ICs are also available at a modest cost. Audiophiles with analog front-ends MUST order the optional DIN to RCA adaptor for conditioning phono cables and internal tonearm wiring (especially important because of the low voltage/current levels generated by the cartridge making it dubious that this wire is ever completely burned in). All adaptors are now supplied with full cryogenic treatment as well.
Cooking time depends upon a number of factors including the cable's dielectric material, the wire gauge, number of conductors and the complexity of winding geometry. Alan's initial recipes for cable treatment were slightly conservative; with time, experience and end user feedback, he's steadily increased the recommended cable cooking times. Typical recommended treatment times range from 2 to 2½ days for ICs, 3 to 4½ days for speaker cables and 4 to 5 days for AC power cords. After cooking, is necessary to let cable settle back in. Some users have reported some residual harshness that is reversed by playing music through the cables. Periodic cable "recharging" is also strongly recommended by the manufacturer to maintain the highest performance as all cables retrograde over time.
Mixing the Ingredients
As is often the case, there's a little more to this review than meets the eye. What led in part to the Cable Cooker™ review originated from a telephone conversation with Alan where he took exception to where I wrote in my CRL Gold interconnect and speaker cables review (http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue35/crl_cables.htm), "unfortunately, breaking in cables is an inexact science; like drugs, just because a little bit is good , more is not necessarily better. So all CRL cables are prepared "medium-rare" eg. on the conservative side and it's clear another 50 to 100 hours of playing are required for them to sound their best. Still for someone running a tube amplifier, 50 to 100 hours sound a whole lot better than 200 or 300 hours of playing." Alan first pointed out that the CRL cables needed far more time on the Cable Cooker™ to sound their best (an observation noted in my review). Next, Alan suggested that audiophiles who reported that Cable Cooker™ degraded the sound of their cables often didn't treat long enough (many changes are occurring during the burn-in period until the cable is ready to be served) or didn't let the cables properly settle in before evaluating. Remember that cables that are disturbed (moved, bent, twisted, etc.) need additional time to settle in; when moved around, many cables exhibit a loss of instrumental focus, frequency extremes and transparency.
Alan suggested the following methodology to evaluate the Cable Cooker™ burn-in process. First, cook the new or used cable(s) for 24 hours. Then place the treated cable(s) back into the audio system and play music through them for several hours. It's at this point that the sonic changes should be noted. Then the cable(s) should be retreated for another 6 to 8 hours and then the same evaluation procedure repeated. (given my schedule, I did the best I could.). This process should be repeated until the cable is thoroughly broken-in (Alan also happy supplies some rough guides for treating different brands of cables).
The first listening sessions involved treating a well used section of the excellent sounding Cable Research Labs phono cable along with a new length of Cardas Golden Reference interconnect running from the Technics RS-1500US tape deck heads to the outboard Bottlehead Repro tape preamplifier. Each cable was treated for varying periods of time and the sonic changes noted. Next, I compared the effects of the Cable Cooker™ on two well played, identical lengths of ESP Reference AC power cords. One section of the ESP was treated with the audiodharma and then compared to second used, but untreated length. Last but not least, the Cable Cooker™ was used to treat a well used Sound Applications AC line conditioner. Analog LP sources for the cable treatment comparisons included Carlos Chavez's: "Toccata for Percussion Instruments" from Music for Percussion, Vol. 1 (Gale Records GMFD 1-76-004), "Quodlibet (Fragments) fur wier Singstimmen mit Generalban BMV 524" from J.S. Bach's Quodlibet (Telefunken SAWT 9457-A), and "Nardis" from Bill Evans at the Montreaux Jazz Festival (Verve V6 8762). On the analog tape side, the musical selections included 15 ips/2 track copies of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia), Count Basie and the KC7 (Impulse) and The Weavers Reunion at Carnegie Hall (Vanguard).
Dinner is Served!
Remarkable sonic improvements were noted in all treated cables, be they of interconnect, AC power cord—or even the Sound Application AC line conditioner persuasion. The first and most noticeable sonic improvement occurring within the first 12 hours of treatment was a significant decrease in the cable's noise floor eg. transparency. Bear in mind that the degree to which the listener will hear this increase in cable transparency depends in large part upon the noise floor and settling time of the rest of the system. In my case, the newest generation conrad-johnson has made significant inroads in the reduction of the unit's noise floor and any sonic changes in the cabling is instantly revealed. Next, was an increase in the sense of instrumental (and singers) focus and dimensionality and recording space. In fact, these qualities continued to improve until the cables were fully cooked. The lowered noise floor had an impact here too, allowing more information through and giving the ear more cues to reconstruct the recording event. Another significant change for the better was the cable's low frequency performance. Low frequencies were tighter and more defined; this improvement was the impressive with the Sound Applications AC line conditioner. Lastly, instruments demonstrated far greater transient attack and less rounding of notes.
Now for some specific observations burn-in process beginning with the CRL phono cable. After 12 hours of conditioning, there was a sizable increase in the already impressive sense of space and transparency on Quodlibet. Instruments and singers on Quodlibet sounded more dynamic and focused, though a touch grainier sounding. The harpsichord was more fleshed out and vibrant without being bright. In addition, the harpsichord displayed much better transient attack, better stopping and starting of notes, internote silence and clarity. On the Chavez piece, drums and percussion are better separated; triangles project much more.
Fast forwarding ahead another 12 hours, the sense of dimensionality, recording space and localization continued to improve. The aforementioned graininess was now gone. Each singer projected even more. There was far better delineation of the tonality, drum head resonance and decay of the many types of drums on "Toccata for Percussion." The "fog" or murkiness surrounding the various drums was largely gone.
It was at the 48 hour point where the cables came into their own. The improvement in the sound of the CRL phono cable was as significant as might be obtained by upgrading to a better cable. Quodlibet sounds more natural, with each voice clearly separated and awash in ambience. There is greater midrange clarity and transparency. There's even more instrumental layering on the Gale recording. Upper octaves are far cleaner and less congested. Shaken instruments have more rattle and roll.
Finally with a total of 72 hours under their belt, the phono cable had settled in with even more subtle, low level details emerging such as the feeling of the skin of drums radiating, and greater low level decay of cymbals and gongs. Transparency has reached a new level and there is less garbage between notes and greater harmonic integrity. (I always find it fascinating how the ear can adapt and listen through certain types of noise; it's only when they're missing is the error of commission noticed!) Cymbals have even greater solidity.
Much the same results were obtained with the Cardas Golden Reference interconnect. After 24 hours of treatment, the Basie tape exhibited less glare coupled with greater midrange presence. Instruments were more focused though the upper octaves but sounded a touch muted. On Kind of Blue, Davis' trumpet was brought more into the mix and not buried in a fog. With the Weavers, there was an even greater sense of the audience singing along with the group. With another 7 hours of cooking, Kind of Blue sounded even more transparent and revealed a wealth of harmonic information. The Weavers possessed a greater sense of the old Carnegie Hall acoustics. Jumping ahead another 12 hours, Kind of Blue showed improved bass extension and transparency. Brush strokes sound more realistic, delicate and detailed. KC7 sounds even less edgy. Finally at the 67 hour mark, begin to hear more subtle inner details such as even more of the audience clapping and coughing. There's a striking increase in the sense of energy and dynamics on all instruments especially on the piano on Kind of Blue.
Trials with the ESP AC cords were handled slightly differently than for the CRL or Cardas cables. In this case, I had two used pieces; one AC cord was treated while the second length was used as control. And there is one more complicating factor with evaluating the sound of new (and even broken in) AC power cords in one's system. It was pointed out to me by Rick Brown designer of the ESP cables that every time you change brands of AC cables—or in this case, treat the cables—the capacitors in the power supply need to reform. This capacitor reforming process takes based on his experience around 15 hours of playing; until then, AC power cords tend to have an edgy quality to them.
After treatment, the AC cord was reconnected to the cj TEA 1bc phono stage for evaluation. By 48 hrs of treatment, singers on the Bach's Quodlibet were better separated and more fleshed out using the treated ESP power cord. There was more recovery of ambience and sense of space again with the treated cable. Evans' piano displayed far better control and harmonics through the midbass, though the piano sounded slightly edgy and compressed. At the 96 hour mark, much of the aforementioned concerns cleaned up. Evans piano is decidedly less mechanical through the treated cord. His piano is far less mechanical sounding and possessed a greater sense of dimensionality. The bass is more prominent and occupies its proper space in the recording.
Last but not least, tried using the Cable Cooker™ on my Sound Applications AC line filter. Now I'm somewhat puzzled by why an AC line filter is sensitive to what it sit upon as well as break-in. Whatever the reason, after treatment, the Cable Cooker™ treated Sound Applications line filter possessed far better frequency extremes, quietness and dynamics.
It's clear that normal musical signals are of an insufficient level so as to thoroughly break in audio interconnects, speaker or AC power cables. Treating both new and used cables with the Cable Cooker™ not only elevates these cables performance levels but result in a sound improvement that might not even be realized when upgrading to a different cable.
For tube equipment owners, the Cable Cooker™ is priceless. No longer do audiophiles have to watch 300 hours tick off from the lifetime of their precious tubes, especially given the difficulty in finding good sounding tubes nowadays. In addition, the Cable Cooker™ is a dream come true for turntable owners (many of which are also tube equipment owners): tonearm wires can finally see enough signal level to be broken-in.
Finally, the Cable Cooker™ would seem to be the perfect item for a group of individuals, audio clubs—or even high-end dealers—to buy and share. And best of all, as improvements in the Cable Cooker™ are made, update prices are more than reasonable.
This is one accessory that no self respecting or group of audiophiles should be without! Myles Astor
Cable Cooker™ Pro
Dimensions: 12 x 6 x 4¾ inches (w x d x h). Weight: 7 lbs.
Audio Excellence AZ