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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 5
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Prana Nataraja, A too brief audition
by Dave Clark

 

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I have recently been fortunate in being able to listen to two exotic and expensive cables—Prana Wire's Nataraja and Audio Magic's Clairvoyant—and can only say WOW! Here are two manufacturers using the same conductor, but at polar opposites with respect to design and execution. Though the results are, as you'd expect, different, both are keepers. The Clairvoyants will be receiving a full review in a future issue, as the prototypes I had differed from the final versions in several significant ways, so this article will deal with the Prana Wire.

Whereas Jerry Ramsey of Audio Magic goes for the "less is more" approach to cable design with the Clairvoyants (no dielectric or shielding—just a very wide silver ribbon and, well wait for the full review next issue), Joe Cohen of Prana Wire finds "more is more" to be ideal. The Prana Wire cable is a four-nines silver ribbon that has been wrapped in natural materials chosen for their "sound" and synergy. To quote from the Prana website: "Our NATARAJA SERIES interconnects are constructed with 24 individual layers of insulating materials, including 4 copper foil shields with 51 drain wires on each shield. The results being: 1) absorption of spurious fields and stray capacitance; 2) mechanical damping and resonance control; and 3) protection against EMI, RFI and high frequency digital pulses." The Prana wire uses cotton and paper as the dielectric because Joe feels that any artificial materials are detrimental to the signal, and ultimately to the sound. This, along with extensive and elaborate shielding, results in a cable that is very bulky and stiff, though it can be bent and worked into place. Unfortunately, the cables are also quite heavy, so care is required in placing them lest things become too stressed.

According to Joe, this has come about through years of extensive listening and experimentation, as well as through picking the brains of other designers. (Joe was at one time the distributor for Yamamura, a company that also stressed natural materials in their cables.) The Prana cable is a thoroughly thought-out and developed cable that is more a work of art—it is made entirely by hand and measured by ear—than a mass-produced consumer product, or one that some DIY guy puts out to make a buck. Even so, the market for cable such as this is limited to the audiophile who wants to own something extraordinary, expensive, and not easy to come by. Of course, if the Prana cables can't produce music, all of this is moot, but based on their construction alone, they are easily worth the asking price when compared to the competition.

Let's get to what they sounded like in my system. The Prana Nataraja cables were very refined and smooth, with a "natural" sense of detail and presence. They showed no hint of brightness, grain, grit, just pure music flowing over the listener without a hint of constraint. When you read "refined and smooth," you might think "rolled off and lacking in detail," not exciting or vivid, and while the latter is to some degree true, the former is not. The Pranas offered plenty of detail and clarity, with none of the bright and overly detailed characteristics of silver. Though they have a nice, even tonal balance with a plethora of color, they can come across as a touch soft, though this in no way affects their musicality. What you give up is that sense of the "blat" a live trumpet possesses, or that last bit of dynamic slam on the leading edge of percussion. They are perhaps a bit too refined, as such can sound slightly restrained. On the other hand, they draw you into the music with a strong sense of comfort and ease, and they reveal all the subtle nuances in your music. Through the Nataraja, notes flourish and bloom into the room, allowing them to develop harmonically. You hear all of the tonal richness and color that is realized by the recording.

These cables speak the music, but from a different perspective or character than that I am used to with the Clairvoyants or JPS. The Natarajas are like driving down the highway in a luxurious limousine, with all the style and comfort one could ever ask for. The Clairvoyants get you there to, but this time in a Ferrari. They were more exciting to listen to, while being just as musical, but music through the Clairvoyants arrived with more force, energy, and "in-the-room-ness." The Natarajas deliver less energy and excitement. Which is better is more an issue of taste and system setup, as opposed to one being right and the other wrong. Each is "right" based on preference and synergy. I could live with either.

Want a lifelike sense of palpability? Want depth and width to a soundstage? You got it, though the presentation puts you a bit further back than I prefer. I heard a very deep soundfield that extended behind the speakers quite a bit, even beyond the rear wall, which pretty much disappeared, as did the side walls. The Nataraja cables produced the biggest soundstage I have heard in my room. The sound simple swelled with little or no perceived limitations to its size. Not to suggest monstrous images, but music was not tethered to the speakers or limited by the wall boundaries. Images were very coherent and palpable, exceeding either of my reference cables.

These are really amazing cables as they offer the listener much that is easily missed or omitted by other cables. Though their presentation is not ultimately what I prefer, which may be the real issue here, I could live happily ever after with them. Since I was only able to audition these for a few days, I was never able to "leave" my reference bias behind. As such, overall the Clairvoyants got me where I wanted to go with all that I desired (I should note that the final version of the Clairvoyants are here and easily surpass the version I had during this period). I am hoping that the Nataraja's can make a longer stay in the future, thereby allowing me to better appreciate all they can offer the music lover. Even so, these are a strong recommendation so those looking for the best of the best.

Retail:
$2450 for 1 meter interconnects and $2650 for 1 meter speaker cables

Prana Wire
web address: www.pranawire.com

Dave,

Thank you very much for your many kind words about PranaWire Nataraja Series cables. They have been a labor of love and obsession. My attempt has been to take this design to its maximum potential, so to hear you say that you feel it belongs among the best of the best is deeply heartening.

Not being familiar with your system it took me a little while to acclimatize. This is one of the wonders of audio—that there can be so many different kinds of right and beautiful sound. As you mentioned, you did not have enough time with the PranaWire cable to leave your reference behind. In a sense, I brought my reference with me.

I also heard the soundstage deepen and widen, the speakers fairly well disappearing. This disappearing act, hearing music in the room in its own aural landscape as opposed to hearing individual drivers in baffles, dazzling though they may be, for me, is one of the hallmarks of "rightness".

My experience with these cables points to their ability to deliver great amounts of energy, reveal the deep growling of the bass notes from a piano as well as the delicate shimmering of the membrane of a drum as it decays. It also points to the Nataraja Series cables having a highly developed "sense of the "blat" a live trumpet possesses, or that last bit of dynamic slam on the leading edge of percussion." These are characteristics I highly prize and listened for keenly in the development of the cable.

A note about the methodology employed in the testing of the two cables: As I recall, you placed Shakti On-lines on both sets of interconnects. It didn't occur to me until later that this could have skewed the test in a couple of ways: First of all we were not hearing your baseline cable without the tweak.  So the question arises, what is its sound without the On-lines? Tweaks and add-ons add an extra variable that may favor one component and not another. Secondly, the Nataraja cable is designed to reduce noise to the maximum level possible. So there might have been a lack of synergy there.  I have worked with noise damping materials for years now and am quite aware of what can happen when you use too much: more is not always better. To really do it right, we'd need to have Ben Piazza come and tweak the system first for one cable and then the next—tall order.

Nevertheless, it may be that in some systems the sense of energy is greater and in others the sense of delicacy and nuance may predominate. I have noticed in very highly resolving systems that a great deal of energy is delivered to what are ostensibly the most delicate passages, giving them weight and body. Only the most stellar amplifiers have the ability to resolve like this. As we get more PranaWire cables into the myriad combinations of equipment people listen to, we will learn more about how they behave with each system.

Again, thank you for your time and your support.

Best regards,
Joe

 

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