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Positive Feedback ISSUE 63
SC Air Speaker Cables - the Spatial and Detail Resolving Champions
as reviewed by Jim Merod
It's impossible; it seems to me, not to be intimidated by humongous Rolls Royce monoblock amplifiers that cost half the price of a grand hacienda on Maui. The sheer heft and bulk of such behemoths immediately suggest sonic pulchritude, audio nirvana, and all those elusive qualities of musical presentation that define ultimate sonic goals and personal aesthetic hopes.
Nonetheless, no amplifier has yet earned my absolute admiration, though a few continue to carry my real world audio needs with ample class and dignity. When it comes to speakers, I have at best ambivalent tolerance and, at worst, disdain despite virtues impossible to overlook with the truly best available from elite speaker gurus at elegant establishments such as Magnepan, Vandersteen, Genesis, Acoustic Zen, KEF, Trenner and Friedl, Wilson and other distinguished audio hang outs. From my experience, it's literally impossible to be awed or knocked off one's feet by speaker cables because they feed the inherently flawed and never less than disappointing sonic output of speakers that inevitably attempt the impossible: to recreate real sonic truth with thoroughly convincing reproductive vivacity. On one hand, speaker cables are only as good as the speakers they mate with. On the other hand, no speaker cable I've ever heard, lived with and/or used for any length of time has ever improved the innate harmonic and dynamic limits of the speaker it feeds.
The problem is mine. I've spent a significant chunk of three-plus decades enveloped within the near sonic field of live music. The good fortune of an on location recording carrier carries with it the down side of knowing (recognizing, suffering) the imitative shortcomings of reproduced sound. Perhaps the latent sound of finger nails on chalk board that I attribute to speakers should be broadened to include every inch of the audio capture and delivery chain. Bear with me, if you can, as I bracket grumpy irritations to report the brilliant surprise that Skogrand's not inexpensive but, also, not in the least underwhelming speaker cables gave my guarded expectation.
Enter Skogrand's Lumpy Dignity
Audiophilic nuts are profoundly familiar with cable swapping mania from which no musical peace can ensue. The dedicated audio person is a victim of his or her restless pursuit of "betterness"—sonic betterment, musical enhancement, mo' betta boogie-woogie audio funkyness. And, man, can a cat spend gobs of time and barrels of moohlah on that mostly futile search. Thus, the "big two" audio print journals and the mega-one or two audio cyber rags: everyone can use assistance here, even if the variables of audio logistics defy easy help. And, importantly, audio aspirants need assuring and reassuring that it's not a fixed game. The ordinary audiophile is not likely to have dozens of cables to plug in and out of a sound system on an almost constant basis. Unluckily, many audio reviewers are condemned to that fate, as if the plethora of options boosted attention or lent joyful relief.
Follow me here... my nearby professional colleague and ranking superior notified me one day that he had these new, more or less un(market)-tested speaker cables in the somewhat useless length of five feet. What to do? Perversity's incipient curiosity got the best of me again. So two pairs of Skogrand cables showed up and I lost no time moving equipment around so that I could give two sets of mini-length speaker cables a go. In truth, that was a challenge, not impossible but, nonetheless, not effortless. I'll give you the outcome right now. The drudgery of all that moving, shifting and hauling was genuinely worth the trouble it extracted. Skogrand's cables—the SC Air Centaurus A more expensive than the quite similar looking "SC Air"—are wonderful. I set my speaker system up so that I could, once everything was in place, switch each pair of cables between my Maggie 3.7s and my Acoustic Zen Crescendos. I used three amps to run the speakers through a comparative gambit of amp and speaker differences: (1) a highly-reviewed McCormack DNA 125" platinum" (torque'd with a large Plitron transformer taking it beyond DNA-225 output); (2) a NAD M-2 digital integrated amp; and (3) a highly-modified McCormack DNA 0.5 amplifier hound dog that sings when other hounds bark. This configuration let me try each speaker, as well as each speaker cable, with each amp. The two McCormack amps were fed by the prototype "Lady Day" edition of McCormack's increasingly legendary VRE-1 preamplifier. As the obscure Arte Johnson's weird character, Wolfgang, used to say on Saturday Night Live... "verrrry interesting!"
Pursuing Kierkegaardian Unscripted Postings
Swapping cables in and out is tedious. I recommend that sane audio fanatics find cables they like a great deal and live with them as long as possible. I do not take that advice myself because swapping out and in comes with my territory as an audio writer. My good pal, Professor Michael Golden, is a musicologist and he asks the provocative question (of himself, his students, and other scholars), "why music?" The question is far deeper than you realize at first, but I’ll trope on my pal's provocation: why cable swaps?
The great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard emphasized, repeatedly (nauseatingly), the prevalence of doubt and uncertainty in matters of ultimate meaning. That condition of cognitive distress produced the need for unwavering faith in transcendental glory even as the faithful suffer self-fragmentation and ongoing anxiety. Why call this self-disablement into evidence here? Simple. The cable swapper enacts the misery and hope characteristic of Kierkegaard's noble philosophical knight in pursuit of a shred of possible redemption in a flawed, dehumanizing world. Why pay good money to drive yourself bonkers? You tell me.
So my annealing suggestion here, rendered above, comes to this. You can do a whole lot worse, when you choose speaker cables, than purchase either model of Skogrand's just flat out and totally musical wires. These lumpy sonic partners are wonderful. Here is the difference I've discovered between them.
The higher priced Centaurus owns a predilection for crafting a large, warm, harmonically sophisticated soundstage. They are musically-enhancing no nonsense cables that remove any trace of self-generated sonic eccentricity. They deliver exactly what any audio dorko persistently craves: music accurately rendered, impeded only by the limitations of the audio gear that drives his musical world. The harm in a system employing these cables will be, not in the user's stars, but in a system that is not as transparent and elegantly balanced among audio elements as these lovely speaker cables truly are.
The lower priced SC Air cables are of a piece with their weightier brothers. On one side, I found—consistent across each iteration of amps, speakers and cable choices—a similarity of tonal shadings and harmonic layers between the two versions of Skogrand wire. On the other side, the lesser priced version has a somewhat quicker dynamic attack and a slightly more ethereal transient decay. The former cables enjoy a mellower, wider and richer audio footprint. The later (and I cannot rightly say "lesser") cables enjoy a sense of musical delicacy that showed up regardless of amplifier and speaker choice.
A serious music-loving audiophile could do much worse than purchase either set of these Skogrand wires. One can pay a lot more money and receive a lot less musically in return. That puts the matter backward. Here it is straight down the middle. I like both of these speaker cables a great deal. I respect these cables a lot. I could—and have—lived with these cables for a long stretch and never felt cheated or at a loss. These Skogrand cables are not analytical. They are not "lush" or boosted toward any deviation or extreme of sonic accuracy in any way I could discern. They are truly "honest" speaker cables. Every time we come across such cables -- speaker wire that delivers a truthful musical envelope—we are in the presence of subtle differences of "audio accuracy" and "unflawed musical reality." And only that... differences, shadings, nuances. Skogrand has placed itself in the slowly enlarging circle of great and very good speaker cables. It is uncertain territory that tests "audiophile" attention as well as the accuracy and musical truth of one's carefully assembled sound system. Here's a toast to two terrific musical creations, regardless of length. Jim Merod
SC Air Centaurus