Interconnect RCA + loudspeaker cable + AC power cable
Acoustic Zen Oscar-Link + Epoch + El Niño
Price: Oscar-Link – 500 zł (0,5 m)
Epoch – 1000 zł (2,4 m), El Niño – 720 zł (1,8 m)
Polish distribution: Pro-Mal
tel. 48 12 267 00 11, 510 841 574
WWW: Acoustic Zen
Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski
Cables from a company, housed in sunny California, USA, Acoustic Zen are mostly know for its AC power cable Gargantua, which stirred up the audio community, especially in America. I maybe unjust for other products from that company, but this is the impression I got from product reviews and show reports, where this company gets mentioned. And, at least at first glance, it looks as it should be different – and following the trail of the “non-believers” (although this is not a question of belief, but experience), we could say, that this must be different. Robert Lee, the founder and main constructor of this company, is a trained violin player, and he should laugh at such things. But Lee is an example for the fact, that musical education, when allowed to surpass the limiting “dogmas” and put the non-belief at side, can lead to unexpected results, by opening the ears to reality.
Acoustic Zen is not the first company Robert Lee is involved in, because he did found it in 2001, when he left another American cable manufacturer, the company Harmonic Technology – a company he actually co-founded (in 1998). Both companies are connected with the technology the conductors are made with – in both cases those are long, singular crystals. This methodology in Acoustic Zen is called Zero Crystal. It is important, that Robert Lee is a pioneer of this technology, and Harmonic Technology was the first company to use it. The technical data and information about the construction of the cables, as well as the product philosophy can be found in the White Paper. I’ll just mention, that according to Lee, the Acoustic Zen interconnects, digital cables, loudspeaker cables and power cables are made with the best available components, like pure silver and copper, both with 99.99997% purity (6N), and the conductors are placed in Teflon tubes, and are wound together in such a way, that the cable geometry should not change, even if the cable is bent hard.
Although the company became known for their expensive products, for testing we selected a set of cables, composed of the interconnect Oscar-Link, the loudspeaker cable Epoch and the AC power cable El Niño. In the end the test appears in an issue devoted to budget hear. This is why the last two are the cheapest propositions of this manufacturer, and the interconnect is the second cheapest, the cheapest one being the Action 2.0 costing only 330zł for 0.5m. We would need to pay 2200zł for the whole cable set, what, for audio standards, is a fair price.SOUND
For testing the following discs were used:
The Zen Acoustic interconnect sounds with a very “colorful” sound. It is very tonally rich, and each of the sub ranges is shown in an attractive, but not exaggerated way. It reminds me vividly of the sound of Harmonix cables, but not the former company of Mr. Lee, I do not know those products, but Harmonix from Japan, the product of Mr. Kiuchi, who is also responsible for Reimyo gear. Here also everything is very vivid and saturated. Different, than in my Acrolik, the treble is very vivid in the Zen, stronger, and more “boosted”, as if the sound was more “ripe”. Such a ripe fruit (sound) is just plain sweeter. It is hard to say, if this is “too much” or “just right”, because much will depend on the system, the cable will be plugged in. For sure it will not make any mess in the sound, because while the definition of the sounds is not as precise, as in the mentioned Acrolink, then still a splendid union in the whole sound spectrum, not favoring anything, and the overall politeness of the sound – this is a very good term to describe it – result in a cable, that will not destroy anything, in contrary: it may increase the attractiveness of many systems. Especially those based on tubes – the bass region is strong here, not “boomey”, but just plain strong, well controlled, and at the same time edgy. And those are qualities often lacking in a tube. And we are not talking about hardening the attack, I would even say, that the attack goes in delicate, with a certain “delay” – but not washed out! – but that there is a kind of energy, that is discharged quickly there, where the bass drum hits, on the contrabass low notes, etc.
The top end is quite strong, but we should follow the bass trail, and not the brightening trail. This is the top range known from tube devices, where it was not castrated, but where people tried to extract most of the “tube” from the “tube” – like in the preamplifier CAT-777 Reimyo etc. I tie another parallel to the Japanese product, but it is hard for me to get rid of it. The Zen does not boost the midrange. Because this subrange is surrounded on both ends with such strong playing, it will not sound that “go-ahead”, like the treble or bass. But by far this is not “loudness” type playing, but the energy here is not as high as from the frequency range extremes. I spoke about a good tonal balance, and I confirm that, because there is no withdrawal of the midrange – it is all about energy. And this is easy to define in this case, because the cable is incredibly dynamic – really incredibly. And although microdynamics is more important in the description, in the macro range we have a rather explosive picture, than a calm one, rather going forward, than static. My Acrolink is more restrained in that aspect, and in more expensive system it will fare better. But taking into account the huge difference in price, and with what type of electronics the Acoustic Zen cable will work, then this can hardly be regarded as a flaw. Like I say – this is a very “colorful”, dynamic cable, with splendid frequency range extremes and a nice midrange. It will sound best in a system, that needs some animation, but not by brightening (this can be achieved by regulating the tones in the amplifier), but by increasing energy, something that does not only pertain to a static measurement (frequency response), but also with the way it behaves in time (energy). There is no smudging, slowing down, but at the same time this is not the master in terms of coherence and resolution. It is very good.
The loudspeaker cable seems to follow the same path, with the difference, that all elements I mentioned were intensified. Here it is closer to the loudspeaker cable Acrolink Mexcel 7N-S20000 than to the Harmonix HS-101EX Equisite, while the interconnect from Mr. Lee was very similar to the Harmonix. The sound of the loudspeaker cable Epoch has many accents. When the cymbals hits, then it really hits, when it is a contrabass, then it is alive, it reverbs, but it hits even faster. The timbre is close to that, what is shown by the interconnect, but the upper midrange is clearer here, and better defined.
This is why all the brass sections of the world, like the one from the Tina Brooks disc True Blue will love it. The ability to form the attack, so that it does not hurt, but approaches the live sound, is exceptional here. There is no doubt, that the live sound, was very high on the priority list for the designer of the Epoch. Such a sound will bring any system alive. And again, this is not done by “boosting” treble or bass. This is something else, something more.
In rather transparent systems, set to retrieve the maximum of information – like mine does – we should think, if we do not want something more settled. Although such kind of energy comes handy everywhere – I just mean, that there can be too much of the “good thing”. In jazz, like on the mentioned Tina Brooks disc, or with the splendid disc Smokin’ at The Half Note Wes Montgomery, playing with Wynton Kelly Trio, energy is an element worth gold, yet in quieter repertoire, in brighter systems, we should think twice, before plugging the Epoch in. And although in that case, there is probably an error somewhere in the system, the loudspeakers, or the electronics, need to be changed, yet in such a situation the cable may not prove to be the best solution. Nothing will be hardened, or brightened, but the sound will be too much to the front, there will be lots of it everywhere, while in music sometimes some peace and quietness is also needed. But if we want to have something palpable emanating from our speakers at home, what would not mess up anything, the Epoch will do it for us with every single disc.
In the interconnect Oscar-Link the midrange was a tad in the shadow of the frequency spectrum extremes, while the loudspeaker Epoch played the midrange incredibly strong and vivid. So I was very eager to try how they perform in combination. Et voilà! – It works! The treble was a little tempered, and the midrange gained. The incredible energy and bass remained. In both cases the depth of the stage was good, but the first plane was most important. In a system, this element of the sound was underlined with the palpable, vivid virtual sources, that were shown a little in front of the loudspeakers. The voice of Jack Johnson exploded with joy, reproducing well, what must have happened during the recording session. This sound worked also well with electronic music - Diorama from Her Liquid Arms was interesting and rich. And only sometimes, in more compressed fragments, the upper midrange sounded too strong. But the recording was the culprit for most of the time.
The last part of the jigsaw was the power cable El Niño. Different to the interconnect and loudspeaker cable, which I compared directly with my cables, I just plugged in the Zen into the system, thinking, that it will probably be supplementing other cables of this manufacturer already owned. In the system it replaced the Acrolink 7N-PC9100, what was a kind of mean, as – in my opinion, but I need to base on something – it is the best power cable I heard (until I did not hear its successor, the model 7N-PC9300, but about that in the next issue of “High Fidelity”). And the change to El Niño showed quickly why this is the case, enforcing me in the impression, that each złoty spent on the Japanese cable paid back the tenth fold. To know where I am, I plugged in a standard computer cable – and that was it: El Niño is the cheapest way of changing a system without changing its components. From the more expensive Acrolink, the Zen differs mostly by weaker vividness and the lack of the richness of the sound. On the other hand, from the computer cable it is different by much better organization of everything, incredible quietness, and a kind of certainty it brings to a system. El Niño calmed down the vividness of the tested cables, bringing order and damping the treble. The sound was not as palpable as before, with the twenty times as expensive (!) Acrolink, this is why we need to confront our expectations with what we hear. In absolute categories, comparing it with the cable you get in the box, we had a sound, that was more tonally balanced, richer, with more internal quietness, better arranged. I had everything I usually get with good power cables.
As usual, you need to test every one of the elements apart, in our system, and ask ourselves, what is really expected from the sound. The Zen Acoustics cables sound with an incredibly energetic, internally rich sound. The incredible bass will bring any loudspeaker alive. But the upper midrange and the first plane are accented quite strongly, this is why you need to listen for yourself. But it is not hard to imagine, a subtle, tube based system, which lacks some life, where this set will prove itself not in 100%, but in 110%. I will just add, that the tonal palette is surprisingly rich, in which those cables resemble Japanese products. And for me this is a unanimous recommendation.DESCRIPTION
The interconnect Oscar Link, despite the not so called price, is made in a very attractive way. From outside it was covered with a blue mesh with a gold thread, with very solid, screwable RCA plugs. The cable is quite flexible, so there should not be any problems in leading it. The cable was made from copper wires with 6N purity made with Zero Crystal technology (with a single, long crystal on the whole run), made in a slow process of casting and special cooling of the metal. Both runs, the positive and negative, were twisted together and secured, so that the internal cable geometry does not change. The cable is double shielded. Due to a pseudo-balance architecture, the Oscar-Link is available with RCA and XLR plugs. The cable is directional.
The loudspeaker cable Epoch also looks very nice, and is easy to lead. The wires were also made in the Zero Crystal technology and have 6N purity. The cable is available with spades (Zero Crystal) or banana plugs (and this version was tested), also in bi-wire version. I did not mention that before, but will do it now: the conductors are placed inside tubes made from Dupont Teflon, and are twisted in a way, that keep geometry even when bent. It is worth noticing, that this type of construction, Teflon tubes, is used by another American manufacturer, the company Tara Labs. The cable is directional.
El Niño is the cheapest power cable from this manufacturer, and yet it was equipped with a high class Wattgate IEC plug. The mains plug is a classic one, only with gold plated connectors. The conductors are just like in the other cables – 6N Zero Crystal copper in Teflon tubes. The cable is double shielded.
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