August 15, 2007Analysis Plus Black Oval 9 Speaker Cables and Micro Copper Oval-In Interconnects
When I ran into Mark Markel, president of Analysis Plus, at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he showed me a new version of his Copper Oval-In interconnect, and mentioned that there was a new version of the Oval 9 speaker cable available. At the time, I didnt think much of it -- most manufacturers are continually changing their product lines. I later realized that, with the exception of one power cord a few years back, I could recall no other Analysis Plus product that had been revised since its introduction. This is unusual for a company many of whose cable designs have been around for almost ten years -- a long life for an audiophile product.
I probably should not have been surprised. In my conversations with Markel over the years, Analysis Plus seems to be an engineering-driven company that markets its cables as having "Scientifically Verifiable Quality." Im guessing that when they do redesign a cable, its because theyve continued their research and development into improving their designs, their materials, and their manufacturing methods. The resulting cable will then, presumably, perform measurably better than the one it replaces, and will not simply be a new version developed as a marketing ploy to sell more cables.
Still, I was a bit hesitant to review the Black Oval 9 speaker cables and Micro Copper Oval-In interconnects, because Ive been so satisfied with the performance of the original Oval 9 speaker cable and the more expensive Solo Crystal Oval interconnects already in my system. Although the new versions of these cables might measure better than their predecessors, I wondered if the differences would be audible. I requested the Micro Copper Oval-In interconnect and Black Oval 9 speaker cable and endeavored to let my ears decide.
The Black Oval 9 speaker cable ($545 USD/8 pair) is yellow and black, rather than the purple and black of its predecessor, but otherwise looks nearly identical. This moderately heavy, nine-gauge cable is somewhat flat: about 3/4" wide by about 1/4" thick. Analysis Plus (AP) claims that the dielectric has been improved, for a lower inductance and a faster risetime. The Black Oval 9 comes terminated with heavy-duty, gold-plated T1 spades machined from a solid block of copper; it can also be ordered with banana plugs or pins.
The Micro Copper Oval-In interconnect ($315/1m pair) has high-quality, gold-plated, non-locking RCA connectors, and can be ordered with Neutrik XLR connectors at no additional cost. Its slightly less than 1/4" in diameter -- skinny by audiophile standards, and much thinner than the original Copper Oval-In. According to Mark Markel, the Micro is so much thinner because AP has used a single, relatively thin layer of Teflon rather than the two thicker layers of the original Copper Oval-In. Otherwise, the conductors and construction remain the same. The Micro, too, is said to have a faster risetime than its predecessor.
In its cables, AP uses a patented design of copper conductors braided so that their cross section describes a hollow oval. This is said to reduce "current bunching" and "skin effect," which AP claims cause measurable distortion in signals transmitted by cables with conventional round or solid-core conductors. Because of current bunching and skin effect, as the signals frequency rises, so does the cables resistance to it, which distorts the signal. AP used computer simulations to develop the hollow-oval design, which, they claim, distributes the signal more evenly throughout the conductor, meaning that resistance is not affected nearly as much by the signals frequency, and this in turn results in lower distortion. You can read more about APs cable designs at their website.
These cables are not the most attractive products youll ever see, but they seem well made and are quite sturdy. The Black Oval 9, especially, feels solid and substantial while being relatively flexible. Due to its thinner construction, the Micro Copper Oval-In is even more flexible, and can easily be routed behind an equipment rack full of tightly stacked components. Shrink-wrap with the AP logo and directional arrows cover the interface between the cables and the high-quality connectors to give them a tidy, professional appearance. The Micro Copper Oval-In and Black Oval 9 arent cheap -- but they arent particularly expensive either, considering the relatively complicated construction of their unique geometry, and especially by Ultra Audio standards.
System and Setup
I used a pair of Micro Copper Oval-In interconnects with RCA connectors between the analog outputs of my Pioneer Elite DV-45A universal player and the inputs of the Anthem Statement D2 A/V processor I use as a preamplifier. Another pair of Micro Copper Oval-Ins, this time with XLR connectors, connected the outputs of the D2 to a pair of Bel Canto e.One REF1000 monoblock power amplifiers. The Black Oval 9 speaker cables connected the Bel Cantos to my Paradigm Reference Signature S8 loudspeakers. Although mine is a multichannel system, I used it strictly as a two-channel rig to review the APs.
The first thing I noticed when I installed the Micro Copper Oval-Ins and Black Oval 9s in my system was how clean everything now sounded. Not that my system had sounded veiled or congested before, but the imaging was now extremely precise, and there was a speed to the sound that enhanced the sense of pace. Sometimes a slight tendency to leanness can be mistaken for transparency, but that wasnt the case this time. The bass was still all there, but now it was surprisingly taut. The piano on "Oh Mary," from Neil Diamonds 12 Songs [CD, Columbia 8296947762], is buried behind Diamonds vocals and the acoustic guitars, but it was now more easily identifiable. Not only that, but it was now reproduced with very little of the blurring and overlapping of tones that can occur when reproducing a pianos deepest sustained notes.
"The Barry Williams Show," from Peter Gabriels Up [SACD, Geffen 0694935362], has an undulating bass line that is difficult to reproduce. I have never heard it sound as well-defined as with the Analysis Plus cables. This tracks muted rhythmic beat can sound dull and monotone through lesser systems, but now it really came alive, as subtle changes in pitch became perceptible. The faster, punchier beat of "Growing Up" was now reproduced with excellent pace that had me dancing in my seat.
This newly clean, uncluttered sound was not restricted to the bass. The midrange and treble were also now crystal clear, but still smooth and remarkably nonfatiguing. The APs pinpoint imaging allowed the voices of Gabriel and the Blind Boys of Alabama to be placed precisely in the complex mix -- keyboards, guitar, percussion -- of "Sky Blue." The resulting soundstage was more expansive than before, yet each instrument and voice was easily localizable in three-dimensional space. The acoustic guitars throughout Diamonds 12 Songs were powerful and expressive and never ceased to impress me as heard over the APs. On "Save Me a Saturday," each strum was well defined with a definite twang as each individual string was struck. The vibraphone floated back in the soundstage, and Diamonds voice was placed directly between the two speakers. I enjoyed this album, produced by Rick Rubin, as much as any of the American recordings albums Rubin produced for Johnny Cash. Through the AP cables, Diamonds deep, rich voice sounded absolutely gorgeous.
"All or Nothing at All," from Diana Kralls Love Scenes [DVD-Audio, Impulse! 4400532479], is one of the finest mainstream recordings of a female voice I have heard. With the Analysis Plus cables, I didnt feel that I was missing anything from this amazing track. More than other recordings played through my system, it sounded as if a performer was actually situated in my room. The effect was breathtaking. Every one of Kralls soulful little inflections was perceptible with the APs in my system. I was even able to identify instances in which her voice was not quite as expressive as I would have liked. This did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the recording. Instead, I reveled in the purity of the sound. There was still plenty to enjoy in Kralls graceful interpretation, and Russell Malones guitar and Christian McBrides standup bass sounded wonderful -- and even better on "I Dont Know Enough About You." The bass was full-bodied, but had that sense of speed and control that defines well-recorded acoustic bass. The clarity of the sound also benefited from Kralls lively vocal interpretation, which on this track is more playful and bouncy.
My reference cables for the past few years have been Analysis Pluss Solo Crystal Oval interconnects ($550/1m pair) and the original version of the Oval 9 speaker cable ($439/8 pair). I expected to hear a similar sound from the new AP cables, and I did. The clean, neutral sound Id been long accustomed to was evident with the new APs as well. What surprised me was just how good these moderately priced cables sounded.
The Black Oval 9 speaker cable had a noticeably more detailed sound than its predecessor, but was still smooth and never fatiguing. Everything sounded just a little clearer, which enhanced my systems imaging. The two acoustic guitars on "Tears in Heaven," from Eric Claptons Unplugged [CD, Reprise 096324502425], were now more clearly defined, the guitar on the right sounding as if situated slightly higher in the soundstage. Claptons voice was placed just to the right of center. On "Hey Hey," the lead guitar and voice were now nearly dead center, the voice set slightly back in the soundstage. The other guitar was placed firmly hard left. With the original version of the Oval 9 speaker cable, these razor-sharp images tended to blend slightly and seem less distinct.
If there was a shortcoming of the original Oval 9, it was that the abundant bass could sometimes be a little too much of a good thing, and not as controlled as it could have been. On "Biko," from Peter Gabriels Shaking the Tree [CD, Geffen 06949362829], the massive drum whacks were fully extended, but not as quick or defined. Diana Kralls voice on "All or Nothing at All" had the same sparkle, but Christian McBrides bass was a little loose, which resulted in the loss of some of the snap that had made it so lifelike with the Black Oval 9.
The differences between the Micro Copper Oval-In and the still available but more expensive Solo Crystal Oval interconnect were less obvious. The detailed sound of the two cables was similar, but there were subtle differences. At times, the Oval-In seemed ever so slightly more transparent. It was more easily able to unravel the densely layered percussion of Gabriels "Red Rain" and "The Barry Williams Show." However, Gabriels voice on tracks such as "Sledgehammer" and "In Your Eyes" had more body and weight with the Solo Crystal Oval, but sounded just as sparklingly clear overall. The Solo Crystal Oval always excelled, with a solid, fleshy sound and a smoothness that did not sacrifice detail. It is definitely a superior interconnect. The new Micro Copper Oval-In seemed lacking only in comparison; it was an excellent-sounding cable in its own right.
Mark Markel says that these new versions of his Analysis Plus cables measure better than their predecessors. That may well be. What I can tell you is that the Black Oval 9 speaker cable sounds much better than the original Oval 9, and that the new Micro Copper Oval-In comes close to the performance of the revered Solo Crystal Oval interconnect. Not only are these new products from Analysis Plus wonderful cables, they also represent excellent value.
Analysis Plus Black Oval 9 Speaker Cables
Analysis Plus, Inc.
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