Positive Feedback ISSUE 67
may/june 2013

 

At the Kipnis Studios... Skogrand Hand-Made Speaker Cables and Interconnects
by Jeremy R. Kipnis at KSS™

 

Introduction

Like it or not, cabling and wire is a necessary part of any audio system; without it the audio signal (analog or digital) has little chance of traveling between your components and to the speakers. But beyond this obvious statement, it is a fact that wire is used throughout our audio, video, and media laden world to transfer power and audio information (the signal) inside every audio (and video) device we own and use. And a cable is just a wire designed to transfer signal between components (rather than just within one). And this necessarily adds the requirements of: connectors, soldier, insulation, and specific construction methodologies; necessary to produce a commercially viable product. But here is where much of the problem begins when it comes to sound quality differences experienced by astute audiophiles and engineers.

When I've read most cable reviews (up to this point), what I've come away with is that they are essentially a variable "Tone Control", subtly changing the presentation one hears through speakers (or headphones). This is because (like most products) any observations about audio performance are based upon differing sound qualities heard during comparison listening sessions, using other brands and designs of cables. Thus, all observations about wire and cable's fidelity are relative to other wires and cables; there is no external empirical reference because the performance variations are produced through a complex interaction between the cables, their length, the materials used, the geometry utilized, and the systems they are operating within. So a typical review statement might be limited to, "When I substituted cable X for cable Y, the treble became accentuated, causing the sax and percussion to be more pronounced and move forward in the mix, towards my listening position." Essentially, a cable substitution is like utilizing selective equalization to change the frequency and phase characteristics of a playback system in one way or another (and to differing degrees with frequency) that can make a more or less pleasant if subtle improvement (or detriment) in the overall presentation fidelity. Certainly, nothing too dramatically different sonically; offering a variation in the range occupying the last 2-3% of a systems overall sound quality, at most—sometimes at outrageous prices costing more than a luxury automobile.

I've been studying the sonic variations that arise when trying different speaker cables, interconnects, power cords, and digital audio & video connections, for more than four decades. My first "Audiophile" product in this category was the original Monster Cable speaker wire (1980); a specially stranded arrangement equivalent to 12-gauge copper wire in a clear jacket (saying Monster Cable™). And moving up from the then standard of 16-gauge lamp cord (also stranded but with a brown opaque plastic jacket), there was certainly a comparative improvement in both the presented dynamics of good recordings (louder and more voluminous presentation than without Monster Cable) and imaging (noticeably more 3-dimentionality and fleshing out of instrumental size) heard via Electro Voice Series D Speakers, which we owned at the time. The improvement was sufficient to warrant adding another set of these early "Audiophile" speaker wires to an identical pair of Surround speakers in the same room; this was an early Quadrophonic Audio System mated with an equally early Home Theater design of mine, centered around a an ADVENT (and later a Kloss NovaBeam) Projector. Why and how these differences in sound quality appeared would become the subject of a good part of my professional recording career; first beginning at Chesky Records as Producer & Engineer, and later for RCA/BMG, Sony Classical, Warner Brothers, and my own label, Epiphany Recordings Ltd.

Beyond any scientific explanation I might offer you for how or why a particular wire or cable sounds different from system to system and between one component and another (see below), I have been struck by the importance of this variation in sound quality, particularly as it applies to the making of recordings; not merely playing them back. When I first started working for Chesky Records in 1990, it was clear how much better their releases sounded because they were using a very simple capture system: based on a single stereo-coincident microphone (a Stereo AKG C-24), which captured the sound of the musicians and the acoustic they were playing in exceptionally naturally and neutrally balanced manner. This was connected directly to both 15-IPS Stereo Analog Tape and a unique 128-times oversampling Analog-to-Digital (ADC), creating first generation masters. So the first thing I started experimenting with were the interconnects between the microphone and the 1st generation recorder/ADC. And this made a substantial difference in the sound quality of the albums we were producing!

This result begged the question: "What other areas of a recording chain's audio fidelity are effected by wire and cable choices?" Since the answer was obviously a resounding, "Quite a few!", I decided to conduct another experiment. At the time, I was appointed Remastering Director of the Reader's Digest Record Catalog (RCA/Decca 1959 - 1984), which was originally captured on 15 IPS ¼" Stereo Magnetic Tape. It was these 1st generation Master Recordings that I began using to compare and contrast the differences achieved while copying the audio through various cables from many different manufacturers of the era: now familiar names like Audio Quest, Cardas, Goldmund, Kimber, Mapleshade, Nordost, and Straightwire (among others) were each systematically substituted (in identical lengths) for industry standard brands, such as: Canare, Mogami, Panasonic, Radio Shack, RCA, and SONY cables, etc. The results I observed were diverse, and not always as expected (like an scientific enquiry); but the necessity to improve the wiring we were using during recording and playback was unquestionable and profound in its sonic implications Thus, over the course of a year (during 1991), all interconnects, power chords, chassis wire, and components that contain wire (resistors, capacitors, transformers, circuit board traces, etc.) were systematically tested to ascertain which brands, wire geometries, insulation, and raw materials did the least damage to the audio signal we were recording for posterity (see Chesky Records albums JD & CD 41 - 238)!

Ever since then, my experience with different cables (as well as connectors, soldier, insulating jackets, shielding, cable elevators, etc.) has been shaped by this simple fact: a connection from one component or device to another can (at it's absolute and very best) be transparent to the signal being conveyed; adding nothing and subtracting nothing. But (mostly) cables and wire color the sound by subtracting real audio information and adding back a variety of audible distortion by-products; many of them both audible and measurable. The result is an every increasing difference between the source component's audio output and the results heard at the end of the playback chain: the speakers. Short of going wireless (which creates its own family of problems and limitations in audio fidelity), what is a recording engineer (much less an astute audiophile) supposed to do to get the most musical information and highest audio reproduction out of one's audio (and home theater) system, without going crazy testing and listening to each and every possible cable choice, there is?

skogrand cables

Amazingly, after years of not really getting particularly further on this issue... along comes a scientific and audio surprise. Last year, after returning from the New York City Audiophile Show 2012, I happened upon an audiophile network page on Facebook wherein a hand-made interconnect and speaker cable from Norway was being toted as the least destructive audio conduit thus far; heard by a whole bunch of people, from all over the world and walks of audio life. In my four decades of examining this issue, I have collected a lot of great examples of wires and cables. So I can say with some degree of authority that the speaker cables and interconnects created at the hands of Knut Skogrand must be considered the "Most Transparent" sounding currently available in high-end audio, today!

The reason for this turns out to be very simple (even if the cable itself is not):

1) an all Air Dielectric Construction (eliminates capacitive discharge distortion = smearing & intermodulation)

2) the Highest Grade Single Crystal (UP-OCC) Solid Core (SC) Pure Copper Wire (prevents electron modulation noise at crystal boundaries = lower noise floor)

3) Completely matching and Identical +/- Lead Construction and Geometry (removes phase and frequency variations = soundstage shifting)

4) a Hand-Built Design, made & supervised by the Designer (guarantee of quality and audio performance = precision product)

From Knut Skogrand at Skogrand Cables:

Our cables are manufactured in a small workshop in the mountain hills of Norway. We stand firmly within a thousand year history of cautious and sincere laboring towards our goals, in unison with the Norwegian tradition of highly skilled craftsmen taking pride in delivering their utmost when thinking through and constructing our products. This tradition of sincere consciousness is clearly seen in everything from our wooden stave churches to our world leading oil production technology.

We started out with this (design):

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/6974912.html

As we found ways to improve on the materials and frameworks we found results improving drastically. The entry level Skogrand SC Air is still built with the improved knowledge from this outdated patent. We still call this the DIY Skogrand. It lacks the major breakthroughs, but it has the same ground principle when it comes to achieving the air dielectrics.

skogrand cables

SCI Markarian 421 - balanced, shielded, XLR (Rhodium Connectors)

We have distilled the knowledge of cable manufacturing and signal transfer theory and developed this to another level of performance completely. 

Our cables have proven their unmatched performance both in-house through testing and with reviewers, testers and clients worldwide. Their ability to deliver is enjoyed in a great variety of setups including tubes, solid-state, speakers of all designs and size; in digital PC driven environments as well as fully analog dedicated vinyl settings.

The Product

Interconnects sent for this review:

1) 2 x 3m SCI Markarian 421 RCA/RCA unbalanced: black silk brocade sleeve: $8980 USD
2) 2 x 3m SCI Markarian 421 XLR/XLR balanced: green floral silk brocade sleeve: $8980 USD

skogrand cables

SCI Markarian 421 balanced and shielded XLR, blue silk brocade sleeve

Both interconnects have copper braided shields that are elevated away from the leads.

Speaker Cables sent for this review:

1) 2 x 3m SC Air (Spade to Pin): $2350 USD
2) 2 x 3m SC Centaurus A (Spade to Pin): $4750 USD
3) 2 x 3m SC Markarian 421 (Spade to Pin): $9350 USD
4) 2 x 1.5m SC Markarian 421 (Pin to Pin): $7550 USD

The basic differences in construction (between the least and most expensive models) are that the SC Air  has 13AWG leads that are suspended in a Teflon framework, while the SC Centaurus A's  copper leads are suspended in a tube framework with ultra low dielectric fabric. And, finally, the SC Markarian 421  has slightly thicker copper wires (12AWG) suspended in a tube framework with ultra low dielectric fabrics. The build time of an SC Air pair is about 2 days (16 hours), while the Centaurus A and Markarian 421 are finished in respectively 3 and 5-6 days.

Specifications (from the manufacturer)

SCI Markarian 421 Interconnects

Dielectric Air
2 (3 for balanced) x 24 AWG / 2 x 0.511 mm
Shield 100% coverage tinned copper
Shield suspended away from conductor
Conductor spacing: 4.00 mm
Framework Ultra low dielectric constant material suspended over PTFE tubing
Crosslinked Polyolefin heat shrink
100% pure silk sleeves
Ultra Pure Ohno Continuous Cast Copper (UP-OCC) Solid Core (SC) pure copper leads
Twisted pair
RCA connectors: Rhodium plated OCC center pin, Copper alloy rhodium plated body. 17mm wide barrel, non-magnetic housing.
Capacitance 3.048 pF/feet
Inductance 0.37uH/feet (DC)
Inductance 0.34 uH/feet (HF)
DC-resistance 0.0842 Ohm
Velocity ratio 1.00 (HF)
Attenuation 0.004 dB/km/sqrt (frequency)
Area 0.205 mm^2 (square-mm)
Area 404.0 CM (circular mil)
Diameter 20.1 mil
Diameter 0.511 mm

http://www.skograndcables.com/pricing/sc-markarian-421-order-page

SC Air Speaker Cables

Estimated burn in 120 Hours
Dielectric Air
2 x 13AWG /2 x 1.784 mm diameter
Virgin Teflon framework
Virgin Teflon standoff between leads
Crosslinked Polyolefin heat shrink
Balsa wood framework on cable ends
PET braided sleeve
Solid core (SC) pure copper leads
Dual twist with full turn every 5.5"
Gold spades or z banana plugs
Capacitance 4.47 pF/f
Inductance 0.26 uH/f (DC)
Inductance 0.23 uH/f (HF)
DC-resistance 0.0069 Ohm/m
Attenuation 0.002 dB/km/sqrt (frequency)
Area 2.500 mm^2 (square-mm)
Area 4934 CM (circular mil)
Diameter 70.2 mil
Diameter 1.784 mm

http://www.skograndcables.com/pricing/sc-air-order

SC Centaurus A Speaker Cables

Estimated burn in 120 Hours
Dielectric Air
2 x 13AWG /2 x 1.784 mm diameter 
Ultra low dielectric fabric and PTFE tube suspension framework
Dual lead construction
Balsa framework on cable ends
Crosslinked Polyolefin heat shrink
PET Braided Sleeve
Gold Z banana plugs or spades
Capacitance 5.79 pF/f
Inductance 0.21 uH/f (DC)
Inductance 0.18 uH/f (HF)
DC-resistance 0.0069 Ohm/m
Attenuation 0.002 dB/km/sqrt (frequency)
Area 2.500 mm^2 (square-mm)
Area 4934 CM (circular mil)
Diameter 70.2 milDiameter 1.784 mm

http://www.skograndcables.com/pricing/sc-centaurus-order-page

SC Markarian 421 Speaker Cables

Estimated burn in: 120 Hours
Dielectric Air
2 x 12AWG /2 x 1.954 mm diameter - ultra pure solid core copper leads
Ultra low dielectric fabrics and PFA tube suspension framework
Dual lead construction
Balsa framework on cable ends
Crosslinked Polyolefin heat shrink
Pure Silk Brocade Cable Sleeve
Gold z-banana plugs or spades, XLR or Speakon.
Capacitance 4.57 pF/f
Inductance 0.25 uH/f (DC)
Inductance 0.22 uH/f (HF)
DC-resistance 0.00575 Ohm/m
Attenuation 0.001 dB/km/sqrt (frequency)
Area 3.000 mm^2 (square-mm)
Area 5921 CM (circular mil)
Diameter 76.9 mil
Diameter 1.954 mm

http://www.skograndcables.com/pricing/sc-markarian-421-order-page

Pricing Structure

The general pricing structure can best be described as… expensive; hand-built products usually are! Export price lists from six of the most expensive and presumably best cable manufacturers shows that there is a 466% to 520% mark-up (on average) from manufacturer to buyer. 

When you purchase a Skogrand Cable, you are paying for top-end materials, hand-built labor… by an individual (or two), and the best performance gained through individual audio evaluation and improvement compared to the mass market competition, which can often take years to introduce a particular discovery or upgrade. 

In reality, you are purchasing the best sounding cables money can buy, as of the time of this writing! But how does this really make any sense when one is selling a product?

skogrand cables

Skogrand SC Markarian 421 Black Edition

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Skogrand SC Centaurus A Speaker Cable

Knut P. Skogrand Our products are not affordable to all. That is not a goal. There is a huge selection of competing products that are quite effective at delivering analog signals. You can even use the infamous coat hanger if that is your cup of tea. We do not deal in "good enough" or "great". Would you prefer having an original Munch painting (like The Scream) in your possession or a souvenir shop reprint of same? Our work is audio art, we create ultimate audio gems that are as beautiful as they are capable of signal transfer like no other competing product. The pricing mirrors this.

The idea behind the build approach is quite well known though not fully recognized by all. It is in all simplicity: Air—creating analog audio cables with dielectric properties as optimal as possible. Our closest competitor, Nordost, has achieved 80% air dielectric. That's the best factory made air dielectric cables that I know of. Our cables are more than 99.28% air dielectric. We achieve this by putting a 5.5" gap between every point where the leads touch the second dielectric. This is but one of the finer points that combine into our cable builds to make them the best in the world.

The choice of copper gives cables with virtually no crystal borders. This again lets the signal go uninterrupted through the whole cable length:

http://www.stereophile.com/content/essex-echo-1995-electrical-signal-propagation-cable-theory-page-4.

You can make perfectly good cables without optimal dielectrics and cable manufacturers with automated production are simply forced to do this. The reason being that automated cable production excludes the use of the best suited low dielectric materials due to heat issues. Neither is there yet a plausible way of mass producing cutting edge air dielectrics as the insulation is extruded directly onto the leads.

Another vital factor to take into account is the geometrythe distance between the leads and the interrelationship between them... Our choice after severe testing ended up with 24AWG UP-OCC copper wires lazily twisting around each other individually encapsulated in air with a distance of well under 6mm. They are suspended in air in a way that makes them stable yet not completely cemented - they float but are interrelatedly fixed.

Some of our secrets will remain in the dark, but with the Skogrand cables you will not need cable elevators. The wires are elevated within the cable framework. Another treat is the cryo treated Rhodium connectors that we use for the SCI Markarian 421s—they carry the signal flawlessly from the wires, and the locking RCAs ensure a tight and perfect connection to the components.

As mentioned earlier the signature trait of our cables is to let the system perform with its full potential without interfering in any way. What makes our cables truly special according to reviewers around the world and our customers is that they give an utterly precise and truthful reproduction of what any component has to offer at its best. There is no distortion, no limitation, no added noise (or distortion). Some audio enthusiasts buy cables to achieve a certain sound. If their setup lacks in bass presentation they might buy a cable that boosts bass (or subtracts treble and midrange). We do not offer that as we believe that a cable should tell you exactly what your components are capable of. So we have created cables that do not add or subtract anything from the audible frequency spectrum. Instead they are totally balanced, neutral and literally source independent. They don't mask any deficiencies of a setup but let you instead find out where the strength of your setup lies and what—if any—components could do with an upgrade. This alone makes them priceless as reference cables in any audio setup and they quickly become a cherished and most truthful companion on the audio journey.– Knut Skogrand

Review System (at Kipnis Studios & Epiphany Recordings Ltd.)

(items in italics are on loan from the manufacturer)

DIGITAL-to-ANALOG decoders

PS Audio PowerWave DAC II (with Bridge Card)
Theta Digital Generation VIII DAC (Mk. 3 updates)
Ultra-Analog A/D D/A (Custom Pro Tools Recording System)

DIGITAL SOURCES

Mark Levinson No. 51 DVD-A Transport
Mark Levinson No. 37 CD Transport
Macbook Pro 17" 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7 . 8 GB 1333 MHZ DDR3 / 10.8.3 OS
Audirvana Plus (Memory Music Player for iTunes, v. 1.4.6)
Pure Music / Pure Vinyl Recorder (LP High-Rez Remastering System & Memory player for iTunes
Decibel (Memory Music Player for iTunes)

ANALOG SOURCES

ELP Laser Turntable (Custom Line-Level Output Cards w/ RIAA Correction)
Technics SP-15 / SME 3009 Mk. 3 Arm / Shure V15-MRx Cartridge
TEAC 6010 ¼" 2- track & 4-track Stereo Reel-to-Reel Player

PREAMP / VOLUME Controls

Audible Illusions Tube Preamp / Phono Stage
Ultimate Attenuators (x2) – (31-step Laser Matched Resistors w/ Penny & Giles)

AMPLIFICATION

Crown Macro Reference (x2) Class A Modified
Carver VTA20S Tube (x2) (Pair running in Bridged Mono)
Mesa Boogie Baron Stereo Tube Amplifier (with adjustable feedback and variable Triode-to-Pentode performance)
McIntosh MC2102 Stereo or Mono (x2) & MC2301 Monoblock (x2) Tube Amps
Mark Levinson No. 31.5 Monoblock (x2)

SPEAKERS

Symdex Epsilon 3-Way Loudspeakers (Built in 1993 by Kevin Voecks and Leeland Wallace in Gloucester, Massachusetts - USA) w/ Subwoofer (self Powered 12"): Cambridge Soundworks (x4)
MAD (My Audio Design) Baron 2-way Loudspeakers
Ologe FIVE 2-way Loudspeakers

Snell Music & Cinema Reference Full Range 4-way Tower Loudspeakers
Snell Music & Cinema Reference SUB-1800 (18") Passive Subwoofer (x4)
Bryston Stereo Subwoofer Crossover (x2)

INTERCONNECTS, WIRES & CABLES

Cardas Golden V Cables, Interconnects, Power Cords, Digital Connections, Microphone Cables
LessLoss HPLC Power Cords

AudioQuest Ruby Speaker Cables & Interconnects, Glass Optical and HDMI Cables
Monster Cables M1 & M1000 Speaker & Interconnect, Pro 500 Microphone Cables
Mapleshade 1st Generation Experimental Speaker, Interconnect, and Digital Wires
Straight Wire, Kimber, Goldmund, Nordost, Sony, Panasonic, Radio Shack, etc.

TWEAKS and ACCESSORIES

LessLoss Blackbody Ambient Field Conditioners (x5)
Magic Hexa Vibration Control Feet - 4 feet (x2)
Solid Tech Rack of Silence w/ Feet of Silence (x5)
Auralex 4" Studio Wedge Foam 2' x 2' Panels (x6)
ASC Special SQUARE Tube Traps (x2)
DIRAC Live Room Calibration Kit
Equitech 100 KVa Balancing Transformer (x2 : separate Digital and Analog services)

1st Observations

Interconnects

I received the following package via UPS International (end of May 2012):

skogrand cables

The Skogrand shipping case (which came in a separate bubble wrapped box)

Inside the heavy duty flight style case, 3-Tiers of Skogrand Speaker Cables as well as Balanced & Single-ended Interconnects (all 3-meters in length—at my request). After unpacking both the Skogrand Markarian 421 Rhodium RCA-RCA & SCI Markarian 421 XLR-XLR interconnects I can say that they look and FEEL just splendid—like living creatures (no I'm NOT kidding)! They are extremely unusual in design by comparison to any other cables I have seen or owned.

I have run into several "Air Dielectric" cable designs, over the years. The best of them sounded like "nothing at all" Of course, after living with anyone's cable design for a length of time, certain colorations tend to become evident; demonstrating that all cables have some signature that they contribute to the sound, depending upon implementation. The apparent improvement in sound quality, heard here (something also measurable on my iPad 3's Frequency Spectrograph), are consistent with the overall transparency achieved using an air-dielectric design. These include:

1) Dramatically more open and extended soundstage proportions, extending well beyond the left and right edges of the typical Stereo loudspeaker triangle (60 degree equilateral).

2) Both louder and softer apparent dynamic contrasts, featuring substantially "blacker blacks / quieter quiets"; leading to greater resolution of ambiance and accuracy of instrumental timbres.

3) Holographic rendering, with greater volumetric fill during loud passages, showcasing a continuous presentation of location and distance cues; both in front of and behind the loudspeaker line.

So as I first substitute the (balanced) XLR-XLR cable (from the PS Audio PowerWave 2 DAC (or Theta Gen. VIII Mk. 3 DAC) to the Crown MonoBlocks and later the Carver VTA20S (a pair in mono at 40 watts a channel) in place of the more typical Monster Cable Pro 500 Microphone Cable (a 2-way High/Low Network Twisted pair—a fair bet for $80 USD per 50') that I've been using in regular rotation for 7 years, my initial sonic experience has been noticeably transformed. From what was (typical for Monster) a somewhat flat and dark sounding presentation to a much more open and precisely delineated soundstage, with holographic imaging of a very high order (by comparison).

What do I mean by "open" and "holographic" much less of a high order? Have a listen to the Weber Overtures (Hanover Band / Roy Goodman ; Nimbus 0 CD NI5154)

I've owned this great recording of Weber Overtures on Nimbus Records since it first came out, in 1987. It is a stunning and visceral sounding album that "Rocks the House" with a full range system; with it's large and blatty brass section, wide and tall soundstage (courtesy of the Calrec Soundfield Microphone), and lengthy acoustic reverberation of the Church setting. With the Skogrand Balanced Interconnects substituted for the Monster Cable, there is immediately much more acoustic information resolved about the room in each of the tracks I listen to on this album. Instrumental sizes and shapes suddenly become much more obvious, along with their physical position in the room (a church in this case); just like someone turned on bright hall lights and suddenly you can see everything! The effect of changing that one critical line level connection was like cleaning a dirty window and suddenly being able to visualize depth of field that was previously muddied or blurred, entirely. This is a BIG difference for the Epiphany Recordings Ltd. Master System; perhaps as much as a 6% improvement overall, in a system that already had very excellent resolution of ambience, and visceral imaging, anyway.

skogrand cables

SCI Purist Ignis (white and silver), SCI Markarian 421 and SC Purist Ignis top right

Upon further review and comparison, I find that the Skogrand Cables are more OPEN sounding than the Monster Cable Pro 500 Microphone Cable in several discernable ways...

The increased "openness" presents itself like an aural picture wherein the musical performance is heard through a proscenium opening (an arch). But when the Skogrand interconnect is substituted (as the only difference in an A/B variation), the resulting aural picture removes that proscenium arch from containing the soundstage (the limits of the left and right loudspeaker location), offering more spatial and timbrel information that resolves ambience and localization cues out in the room; well BEYOND the left and right position of the loudspeakers! The soundstage even extends all the way in back of me (using a two channel 60-degree equilateral triangle orientation between myself and the loudspeakers).

There is a measurable improvement, as well, visible as Real Time FFT Spectrograms, created using my iPad 3 and iPhone 5, as well as the respected ElectroAcoustic Toolbox from Faber, and also the DIRAC Acoustic Analyzer Suite; all also available on my MacBook Pro 17" Laptop—measuring microphones include XYZ and Earthworks). These plots clearly show improved resolution above 300Hz, with very fast slew characteristics that I normally associate with the performance achieved by small Planar Magnetic (American) speakers, omni-directional speakers (by a certain German Designer), and certain Super Tweeters. In other words, the sound with the Skogrand Cable was "faster" and less "colored"! But how do you make "faster" and less "colored" sounding cables, anyway?

skogrand cables

Skogrand Cables These are Balsa Wood dowels (found on the split ends of all our speaker cables) that we cut down to 1cm bits and drill through by hand. The material has a dielectric constant of 1.3, and is therefore ideal for our air dielectric constructs. By drilling into the bits leaving only a very small section of the Balsa bit for the solid core to rest on we can get effective dielectric constants down to near vacuum.

skogrand cables

SCI Markarian 421 - balanced, shielded, XLR (Rhodium) Interconnects

skogrand cables

SCI Markarian 421 - unbalanced, shielded, RCA (Rhodium) Interconnect

2nd Observations

Speaker Cables

After such a clear improvement with the Skogrand Interconnects, I was eager to replace the Cardas Audio Golden V Speaker Cable x 3 @ 10' (3-meters) (used since 1993) connecting the CROWN Macro Reference - Running in Class A Bridged Balanced Mode / to the Symdex Epsilon 3-Way Loudspeakers (designed by Kevin Voecks and built by Leeland Wallace - 1993) to great success!

From my notes:

"By comparison, the Skogrand Cables (Speaker) are like looking at the stars through the clearest mountain top air, with no visible aberrations or distortions intruding on the pristine sky. Individual qualities can be heard from each performer in a group (regardless of music and miking technique) to the extent that a vocalist, brass, or wind player's embrasure is clearly and audibly visible (when you close your eyes), as is the size and shape of recording venue room, which are clearly different for each and every recording; even the ones created in the same hall by the same engineers!"

I'm afraid that the Cardas Golden V (always a solid timbrel and spatial performer these 23 years) now sounded thick and constricted in dynamics, particularly on a micro-dynamic scale in comparison to the Skogrand Cables. This requires some clarification, I think: Most reviewers drool over dynamic shading, referring to the overall volume from soft to loud as Macro Dynamics, and the miniscule characteristics that define the acoustic envelope around and between instruments as Micro Dynamics. What they are referring to is really the tendency for audio cables to store and release energy at different rates with respect to frequency; smearing the sound together and filling in the (otherwise) silent moments with frequency modulated echoes (admittedly at a very low level), thus obscuring much of the intricate inner dynamics; the part connecting Micro and Macro Dynamics, together.

Most cables have a very clear disconnect and limitation between designing for accurate instrumental timbre or offering an uncompromising dynamic portrayal, creating unrestricted sound staging that provides holographic acoustic presentation of the recording venue. But this compromise is no where heard from the Skogrand Cables, which offer seamless integration of the very small with the very large in the audio world; both in terms of dynamics, timbre, and spatiality!

Let's listen and examine a practical example, everyone has heard (or owns a copy of) Pink Floyd's amazing album Dark Side of the Moon, in it's entirety.

From the total silence at the beginning through the end of the first track ("Speak To Me") of Side 1, there is a gradual and continuous increase in volume, with individual elements coming into place one at a time and with their own acoustic envelope clearly delineated within the soundstage—a very visceral effect. The heartbeat pulses move rhythmically forward with ever increasing percussive force and size, directly in front of me, and finally in front of the line of the speakers!

Then the clocks, cash register, disembodied talking and laughing all break forth... each in a separate acoustic space, and with different depths and widths to their respective image locations... builds... and builds, but never loses the specific and different qualities of timbre, image size, shape, and position for each within the sound stage. As things progress and become more complex sonically, the artificial acoustic space portrayed has a truly black and velvety quality of nonexistence, behind the mix; as quiet and black as anytime I have heard this album, in the past.

The LP played via the ELP Laser Turntable has the blackest blacks of all (and is analog, despite some people's misinformation about this marvelous non-contact turntable), even with the apparent surface noise of the vinyl seemingly floating and permeating the whole mix; while that vinyl noise is completely absent from the CD and SACD releases (accepting some very low level tape hiss)!

3rd Observations

Subwoofer (Line Level)

(Below, I add a 3-Meter Skogrand Line Level Interconnect to the Left Subwoofer feed, only / the Right side remains Monster Cable)

1) The Bass Harmonic content on the Left side (Skogrand) is now entirely much clearer (read harmonically related and consonant), much more than it was before (Monster M1000 Mk2), as heard on the Right Subwoofer). There is a coherence to the presentation which was not there, before, which is very pleasing and reminiscent of what I hear at live musical events, frequently.

2) The Imaging Overall is now also much clearer, more holographic, and precise in focus as it wraps around me all the way to the back of my listening room (but, again, only on the Left Side where the Skogrand cable is)!

3) I can suddenly hear inner details of an orchestral recording (Bernard Hermann's "The Naked and the Dead" Overture on Silva Screen Records) that are normally completely obscured (except, that is, on my Kipnis Studio Standard (KSS)™ 8.8 & 12.12 Surround Systems.)

And all of this from just changing a single interconnect on one side of my 2-channel Stereo mastering system—on content below 55Hz = A (3-Octaves below A = 440Hz)!

Stereo Subwoofer Observations

The replacement of the Monster Cable M1000 Mk.1 (1988) by the Skogrand SCI Markarian 421 RCA/RCA 3-Meter pair has made a substantial difference to the presentation quality in the following audible (and frequently measurable) ways:

1) Every recording I play (my own included) sound more different from each other in timbre, soundstage, and dynamics; that is, each recording reveals intrinsic differences in the ensemble, room acoustics, choice of microphones, mixing technique, and even distinct characteristics associated with different takes, times of day during the recording sessions, warm up of the recording equipment, etc. Every little acoustic detail is now much more obvious and easy to recognize, even in dense and loud passages.

2) Because the bass presentation (27Hz - 55Hz) is much cleaner and harmonically connected to the rest of the sound (55Hz - 48kHz) than it was before, there is much greater desire on my part to tap my toes, wave my head, play along, and even start conducting the replicated performance as though I were listening to it, live!

3) Surprisingly (to some), the increased bass clarity, extended pitch accuracy, and sharper acoustic focus produces a much quieter and clearer presentation of room acoustics as a continuous holographic backdrop upon and from within which the performers play; much more like what you will hear with a live acoustic performance. For example, instead of hearing your favorite recording of a group or orchestra coming out of a pair of speakers, or even the group removed from the speaker and occupying your listening room, you are transported to the recording venue, with the correct proportions of the acoustic venue clearly audible around you (even from 2-channel Stereo); the ensemble of musicians clearly descending into the room and away from your location, with continuous holographic layering that feels real. It's what being an audiophile and music lover is all about, I think!

skogrand cables

SCI Markarian 421

Downside

Other than the high price, which is in line with hand-built components made one at a time, there are a few particular characteristics about the Skogrand products I must mention. First, they are fairly heavy, in spite of being based mostly on air (dielectric), and they are also a bit stiff to handle. These two characteristics make it necessary to leave between 18" and 24" of clearance behind any components being connected to in order to allow the cables sufficient room to turn. Don't expect to bend the Skogrand into a sharp coil, especially at the component, because the locking connectors (XLR & RCA) may pull on the input (or output) with up to several pounds of force; depending upon length and displacement.

It is also important to note that like all pieces of art and science that are designed and created by one person, they can only be serviced (or repaired) by that one person. While there is little to break on the Skogrand Cables, I personally am rather brutal on components in my role as an engineer; and it is not unusual for me to damage or break connectors and binding posts during a recording session on location. The only failing that I experienced (in this type of repeated set-up and breakdown of recording and playback equipment) was some heat shrink tearing at the end of one RCA-RCA interconnect. At no time did this pose any electrical malfunction to the performance I obtained. But the damaged interconnect must be sent to Norway and back (several weeks) before I can return them to use in my Recording & Playback system. I am told by Knut Skogrand that his current construction protocol has been significantly improved versus the review versions (made during May 2012) which I have been evaluating, here. Thus, I will be reporting in an addendum (below and in the future) about both my measurements (including charts) and any changes that effect the current product line-up.

Oh well, that is often the price one must pay in order to achieve the best performance, possible. And I must add that having to substitute a lesser and more colored cable in their place is a wake up call to just how much music and performance gets adulterated by typical cable designs. For most consumers, who will set up and then enjoy their system's new found transparency (with relatively few changeovers—which are more typical for me in both my roles as Engineer and Reviewer), I'm certain you will find the manufacturing quality and longevity of the Skogrand brand to be sufficiently high to last a lifetime.

Conclusions

I really must congratulate Knut Skogrand on "The most outstandingly transparent audio wires (Interconnects & Speaker Cables) I have every heard, or had the pleasure to make recordings with." It is clear that the Skogrand Cables transmit one single very clear and non-reverberated audio signal from one end to the other. By comparison to ALL the Multi-Strand Cable designs I have heard, recorded with, and used in my reference systems over the years, these sound and measure as startlingly direct and neutral; adding nothing (or very little) and subtracting nothing (or very little).

The lion's share of the commercial and audiophile Multi-Strand interconnect and speaker cables out there sound thick and slow by comparison to the Skogrand Cables; even the lesser expensive models = SC Air. In fact, transients of brass and percussion sound noticeably more vivid and life-like through Skogrand's products; with a rich, individual harmonic envelope for each and every performer in an orchestra—so you can identify who is playing just by listening, as would happen at a live acoustic musical event if you were to sit fairly close to the players. This contrasts clearly with the largely smeared harmonic envelope imposed upon an otherwise clear and harmonically related signal source by Multi-Strand designs; which by comparison sound like sitting at the back of the hall.

What Skogrand Cables have achieved is more than just an air-dielectric combined with great and pure wire, etc., producing an expected improvement in fidelity. It is simply a revelation for anyone listening to music on a high-end system—a whole new era of audio performance! In the four decades I have been comparing cables, never have I been so moved by the results achieved through simple cable substitutions as I have been, here.

The utilization of the Skogrand Cables represents a new high point in the pursuit of musical fidelity and accuracy in any home or professional audio system or recording set-up, offering the following improvements sonically:

1) More Open and Extended Soundstage Proportions, extending beyond the Left and Right edges of the Stereo Loudspeaker Triangle. 

2) Subtler dynamic contrasts, with substantially "blacker Blacks"; leading to greater resolution of ambiance and accurate timbres. 

3) Holographic rendering, with continuous distance cues both in front of and in back of the speaker line; producing a wrap around effect for the centered listener.

The Skogrand Cables are a much simpler design than most any commercial cable geometry, hence less sonic interdependence with the materials used to convey the signal and with far less variability in the electrical properties when connecting different components together; especially recording gear, like microphones. Therefore, even the best of Cardas, Tara Labs, Nordost, and even Purist cables all have more of a sonic signature than the Skogrand Products. It is obvious!

But what really sets apart the Skogrand Cables from the rest is their nearly complete lack of imputed grunge, tonal and timbrel aberrations, and interactive temporal drag and draw on the music (smear). This translates into more immediate reproduction of the source signal (microphones and analog master tapes, in particular); especially if those sources are already clean, transparent, and precise in their sonic portrait, anyway.

A metaphor comes to mind: On the clearest nights, high up on top of a mountain, even the very finest telescopes will have trouble seeing highly distant and dim objects, because the Earth's atmosphere acts like a fluid and scatters the light. But if one removes the atmosphere and it's effects of scattering light (by moving the telescope out into space, like The Hubble), then the results obtained are accurate to a vastly more precise degree—a very "High Order" of accuracy, indeed. And in this case, by simplifying the cable design while utilizing only the simplest and best components available, and also making them entirely by hand, the total lack of distortion in the final audio reproduction offers up only the musical recording you are listening to, much more viscerally and palpably than anything else you will find or hear available on the market, anywhere. Simply put, all of the audio information is finally making it through the cable(s), rather than being drained away and added back in spades (coloration & distortion).

Summary

So, after almost a year of very careful recording, listening, measuring, and other observations of 3-Tiers of Skogrand Cable Products (both interconnect and speaker cables) on 4 different audiophile systems ranging in price from $10,000 to $10 Million, I can say that these are the most transparent cables I have ever come across.

There is a level of intimacy that I am hearing from many, many different recordings that is simply amazing and that normally is an impossibility with lesser wires. Most cables offer a very confused, veiled, congested, and fatiguing presentation, when heard in sharp contrast to well produced audio conduits. Yet, even with the MOST complex musical examples (from CD, DVD, BD, LP, and R2R) there is a sudden freedom from any previous limits of the audio presentation that I have heard.

Without missing a beat, the Skogrand Cables simply disappear, allowing any music or performance to come through uncolored. The direct sonic presentation does not bear any particular character of its own (for once), as is most often the case with any wire, cable, or cord! The Skogrand Cables are truly getting completely out of the way!

The specific level of audio improvement heard (in any high-end system) is much more a function of the transparency of the other components than of the cables. If a system was already using a thin and bright sounding cable to correct for a dull overall system balance, then the addition of the Skogrand would return the system to sounding dull; but that would be the fault of the other system components, not the cable. Do not expect the Skogrand Brand to correct tonal or spatial aberrations inherent in your choice of components. Rather use them to hear exactly what is in the recording, to the greatest degree possible. It is very much like appreciating a fine seat in Carnegie Hall: they are all good sounding seats, but there are some where the clarity and dynamics of the orchestra are perfectly mixed with the sublime and intricate acoustic of a great sounding hall: immediate, breathtaking, and memorable! It is this musical connection directly to the performance and the venue that Skogrand delivers better than any other cable I have come across, so far. Highly recommended!

Jeremy R. Kipnis is a Tonmeister and A/V producer. His expertise includes large-format still photography (a student of Ansel Adams and Youssef Karsh), 3-D cinematography, and audiophile record production (for BMG/RCA, Chesky, Epiphany, Sony, and Warner). His longtime love of cinema and TV fueled the 2008 design and creation of his Kipnis Studio Standard (KSS)™—The Ultimate Home Theater and Audiophile Listening Room, which he designs and creates for select clients throughout the world. He is a six-year Guinness World Record winner for "Most Complex Home Theater & Video Gaming System" (2008−2013). KSS™ can be seen in feature articles and videos visible in 196 countries, and at Kipnis-Studios.com.

His High-End audio label, Epiphany Recordings Ltd (est. 1994), and it's catalog (plus audio samples) can be found here: Epiphany Recordings Ltd.

Addendum to follow . . .

 

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