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Positive Feedback ISSUE 68
Planus II Loudspeaker Cables
as reviewed by Tom Gibbs
One night earlier this year while surfing about the web, I came across a link to the Audio Asylum blog referencing a brand of speaker cables I'd never heard of from MG Audio, a company based in Colorado. They manufacture a selection of hand-built loudspeaker and interconnect cables. The ensuing capsule review on AA was nothing short of a flat-out rave. The blogger in question basically exclaimed that he felt like "he'd won the audiophile lottery" when he was able to get a pair of the MG audio Planus II speaker cables on Audiogon for around $500—they normally retail for about $1200. Now, a nearly $1200 cable is really out of my comfort zone, but this guy just went on, pretty much ad-nauseum, about how these cables had transformed his system. This really piqued my interest. In what was a curiously strange coincidence, within a couple of days the owner of MG Audio, Greg Graff, sent an email to Dave Clark offering them for review. I jumped at the opportunity, and the Planus II cables showed up at my house a few days before I left for Axpona in Chicago.
Anyone who reads my articles knows that I approach the audiophile experience from a very cost-conscious method, and I have to be perfectly honest with you—I've really never been one to just blather over cables. And that's not to say that I don't believe in using good quality cables, I do—I've just never felt the need, or perhaps, more realistically, had the requisite dough to spend a lot of time experimenting with exotic cable designs. My current system includes interconnect and digital cables from the likes of Audioquest, DH Labs, Blue Jean, and Monster. I've owned the same pair of Monster M1 speaker cables going on twenty years, yet at the time when I bought them I really felt they were extremely well-made cables that pretty much represented the current 1990's state-of-the-art in cable design. I really flinched at spending $150 for speaker cables, it just seemed like a ridiculous amount of money at the time, but I was driven by my audiophile passions. I constantly hammered away at the logical side of my brain to convince it of the wisdom of the purchase. I'm currently running my system in fully balanced mode, and to accomplish that I had to acquire several sets of XLR cables, bought from Monoprice for about $30. I thought I'd at least give them a try for so little money, and over the last few months, they've proven to be really well made and musically satisfying.
Greg Graff sent the Planus IIs out very quickly, and I had the opportunity to take a good listen for a few days prior to leaving for Axpona. The cables I received were a trade-up from a previous owner, and were well-broken in when I hooked them up to the Zu Audio Omens. I honestly heard quite a difference right out of the gate. The music seemed to have a more natural ease in its presentation, with more air on top and an overall improvement in musicality. I got the opportunity to meet Greg at Axpona; we had lunch on the afternoon of the first day and talked at length about his design philosophy. He's an incredibly pleasant and knowledgeable person who's very much in touch with the audiophile aesthetic. His loudspeaker cable designs totally reflect that. I bumped into him a few other times over the weekend and spent some time in the Soundfield Audio room where he was exhibiting. The combination of his cables and the Soundfield Monitor II speakers produced some pretty intoxicating sounds. After spending the weekend with so many exotic hardware and cable designs, I was anxious to see how my impressions of all the esoterica compared with the HRT/Emotiva/Zu/MG Audio system waiting at home.
A little bit about the Planus IIs
All the Planus wires use unique flat-cable geometry and only vary by wire thickness or conductor. The Planus interconnect cables are available in an AG version where the wires are silver for those so inclined. The Planus speaker cables use a copper foil conductor that's wrapped in a Teflon dielectric. The Planus IIs measure about three inches wide and a little over an eighth of an inch thick. The next step up in line, Planus III cables, are both wider and thicker, due to the heavier gauge of the copper foil used in that model. All Planus model cables are terminated on one end with silver spade lugs, and on the other end with rhodium spade lugs. MG Audio recommends connecting the silver terminated end to your amplifier and the rhodium end to your loudspeakers—the difference is indicated by the MG Audio logo on the end with the silver spades. The spades are configured so as to work with just about any binding post available, and Greg recommends using care when attaching to both amp and speakers. While the cables themselves are rather stiff, the terminated ends are a bit delicate (though not fragile) and care should be taken to avoid damaging the terminations.
MG Audio's design philosophy is that the cables themselves should not impart any sonic signature to the sound; rather it should be the very absence of any addition to the sound that is their hallmark. The cables are very well constructed and beautifully made, and I encountered no difficulties in making the correct attachment. However, my wife did complain a bit about the fact that the cables ended up in a vertical position from the floor—the geometry of the cables and their termination made it rather difficult the get them in any other position. She merely felt that they were just begging to be tripped over, etc., but during the entire time they were here in my system, thankfully, no accidents happened.
Listening results - a slight conundrum
Once again, I have to confess to being basically a greenhorn here—I've never really evaluated a truly state-of-the-art loudspeaker cable design. But, I do feel very strongly that I have a firm grasp on what sounds correct and also musical. After a few weeks of careful consideration, I basically just decided to leave the Planus IIs in place full-time for a few months, and then start switching back and forth between them and the Monsters to try and spot the obvious differences. And let me tell you, the music poured forth gloriously over that time through the MG Audio wires—I don't think my system has ever sounded quite so very good!
When the dreaded day finally came to replace the Planus II cables with the seriously outdated Monsters, I approached the transition with a lot of apprehension. I just knew the Monsters would sound like absolute crap in comparison. To my very great surprise, replacing the Planus cables wasn't nearly as painful as I'd expected—the Monsters still sounded surprisingly good in comparison, and made it really easy to make a solid evaluation of the merits of the Planus II cables. First of all, the Monster cables have a more up-front and clinical sound as compared to the MG Audios. The Planus II cables possess a much more laid-back quality, in a very good way. They're way less in-your-face than the Monsters. The Planus cables are very detailed, yet not too clinical, and they present a very silken midrange which is especially apparent on recordings featuring the female voice. A great disc I've been listening to a lot lately is Jennifer Warnes' fabulous record The Well, and one song in particular, "Prairie Melancholy" features an impressively good capture of her voice in a really natural-sounding presentation. Through the Planus IIs, Warnes' voice is warm and silken, and there's plenty of ambient detail, giving a really good impression of the recording space. Through the Monsters, the warmth is still there, but the ambient presentation is a bit more clinical, almost as though the detail is slightly etched. The sound is still remarkably good through the Monsters, but not nearly as liquid as through the MG Audio cables.
Albums featuring jazz and classical (in fact, all acoustic-based music) showed similar results; music that featured strong bass and percussion content benefited from having the Planus IIs in place. Branford Marsalis' amazing Trio Jeepy disc—which, in my opinion, is one of the most well-recorded jazz albums out there—sounded truly impressive through the Planus IIs. One of my favorite tracks is "Random Abstract (The Rage of Tain)." On this track Jeff "Tain" Watt's drum kit just explodes across the soundstage, perhaps one of the most impressively realistic percussion displays ever. Through the Planus IIs there is incredible realism with massive percussion transients. It sounds great through the Monsters too, but through the Planus IIs, the music seemed slightly less colored, and a bit more refined—you just feel closer to the music. The less forward quality of the Planus cables allowed me to play the music at reference levels (often 100+ dBs), with no sense of strain and completely palpable believability, regardless of playback level.
The MG Audio Planus II cables cost about $1000 more than my twenty-year old Monsters, so what does the extra grand get you exactly? Well, you get more and less; more of everything I listen to music for in the first place (realism, dynamics, and ambience retrieval), and less—less coloration, less of an impression that your music is being filtered prior to entering your listening room. Is that difference worth the money? Absolutely! We're at a point where the differences between great audio systems are very minor—in my book, after seeing some eye-popping mega-buck systems at Axpona, the differences are subtle indeed. So, if a thousand bucks for a cable gets you closer to the music, I'm all for it, if your finances permit.
These cables from MG Audio are very highly recommended—the guy from Audio Asylum who said he thought he'd won the audiophile lottery must have a pretty good system, because the Planus II's allow you to hear just how good your system really is, with utter transparency. The difference is like a major upgrade in source components—it's not subtle. Congrats to Greg Graff and company for a job well done! Tom Gibbs
II Loudspeaker Cables