The Neoteric Listener...
the Mission Cables from Zu Audio
For several months, I've been enjoying the Zu Mission loudspeaker cables in my system, swapping them out occasionally while tinkering with various tweaks and review products, and basically taking my sweet time in writing a review. They came with the Zu Soul Superfly speakers that I reviewed previously in this magazine, and I suppose I should have written about them at the time, but I was curious as to how these cables would sound with a speaker not so, well, Zu-ful. Turned out to be a good move, as I've since been able to test out the Mission cables with my Nola Boxers, Tannoy Eyris 1s, the aforementioned Soul Superflys, and the just recently released Nola Contenders (review pending). For amplification, I've used my Arcam A80 integrated and the Cary SLI 80 integrated previously reviewed. The interconnects for the Arcam CD 82 player were almost always a pair of Stereolab Reference I-700 RXs, although I did switch out a pair of Harmonic Technology Magic Link IIs, on occasion.
These ancillary cables are important because, while I was idly listening and not writing, fellow PFO staffer John Hoffman was putting together an excellent hardware review of these very same Zu Mission cables. Whereas John had the full gamut of the Mission line, however, I only had the speaker cables, a fact that might have some bearing on my experience, as I've often seen the wisdom of a completely matching system of cables. In any event, John gives a wonderfully detailed description of the geometry and materials used in making the Missions (that's why his is a hardware review, as opposed to the affable indolence this column), but I was particularly interested in his observation that the all copper makeup of these cables produced a full tonal balance that "does not cede a significant degree of clarity or speed" to his reference silver ribbon Audio Magic cables. Having no Audio Magic cables of any element, I could only compare the the Missions to what I've used at home for a long, long time: Nordost SuperFlatline MKII and Kubala-Sosna Anticipation speaker cables. Having heard silver interconnects in my system, I can imagine how the Audio Magics might have edged the Zu cables in terms of resolution or timing in John's system, but here at home, the Missions trumped all comers in both categories.
Compared to the cables that I normally listen to, the Missions are exceptionally fast, open, and neutral sounding. The Nordost SuperFlatlines are really quick, slightly lean cables, which make them a good match for the more measured Tannoys. The Mission cables impart a similar effortless delivery, but do so without the attendant brightness that seems to be the standard tradeoff. In my system, in my very small room, the Mission cables produced a sound that was unclouded by any definable excess in low or high frequencies. The Kubala-Sosna cables have a lovely full tone, but the Zu cables have that and a tighter grasp on bass, kick drums, electronic synth tones and the like. Likewise, the Nordost cables are good at producing a lively, immediate feel for the music, but the Missions bettered them by adding much more dynamic range and an even larger soundstage. The best way to describe these cables is that they open up the sound in a very natural way with a variety of differently voiced speakers. They matched well with the Soul Superflys, of course, and really helped those speakers to achieve the slam and immediacy that I so enjoy. I was surprised to find, however, that pairing the Missions with the two Nola models and the Tannoys proved no less beneficial. I never got the sense that the Missions were doing anything other than allowing the speakers' traits to come through. Certainly more so than with other cables I had tried, which is really the bottom line.
Speaking of value, it's usually at this point when discussing cables with fellow neoteric listeners that the tricky matter of price versus performance becomes an issue. The relentless internet quarreling about whether or not cables (or practically anything) makes a difference in sound would make any sane person wonder if buying expensive cables is the way to go or a sucker's move. Four hundred bucks is four hundred bucks, even if that seems like chump change for the battle hardened audiophile. Are they the best cables ever made? Don't know, haven't heard every cable, and certainly not in my system in my shack. All I can say is, I heard a striking difference between the Zu Mission cables and the other ones I tried: much better, more satisfying, and well worth the money. Recommended.
Zu Audio Mission Speaker Cable
Zu Audio http://zuaudio.com