[SoundStage!]Ultra Audio
Back Issue Article

March 2002

Ultra Intro

When the American Psychiatric Association convenes next to update version IV of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- the bible of shrinkdom -- Obsessive Audio Euphoria as a mental condition ought to be on its agenda. And if truth be told, I, like most of you who visit this website, among other sources, am deeply ill, and I volunteer to be a case study should the APA seek assistance. Until then, let me share this obsession, this almost unnatural love of the extreme with you.

You know, my fetish to spend big dollars on a quad of rare NOS Raytheon 6SN7s for my Audio Aero Capitole amp; or to convince my friend Mitch Singerman to drop in some Hovland caps, Hexfreds and beefier power supply cap into the JoLida JD603 CD player so as to turn a giant killer into something even more; or to call around in a frenzy, seeking out an inductively driven preamp to be able to squeeze the the last nanoliter of microdynamics from the Halcro dm58s in my possession; or to drive Jim Weil of Sound Applications around the twist until he finally agrees to deliver chapter and verse to my electrician (who knows already that I have a sickness) on an audiofillet-grade installation of a pair of dedicated 20A lines; or to spend hours badgering good-guy Joe Fratus of Art Audio to grace me early-reviewer status with one of his proposed 60W SET amps (you read that correctly!) said to manhandle low-impedance speaker loads, like those of my Prodigies, like no great shakes; or, speaking of treating low-impedance-handling exotica, sweet talk Arturo Manzano of Axiss Distribution to send along the P1000 Accuphase amp, with 1000 watts (hence the signifier) said to hold an unwavering rock-solid demeanor even when presented with a crushing 1-ohm load that would cause most other amps to move into infarct turf, or…hell, I think that last sentence, as if it came right out of a James Joyce novel, ought to give you a fair picture of just how deeply I am afflicted (and you too, bubba, if you’ve read this far).

Actually, I enjoy this disorder and the fact that it has kept me up unreasonably late much too often. And I desire to push this condition to even farther reaches of the outer, often freaky, limits of audio reproduction. Even more, I’d like you to join me in this journey. I’d be flattered if you became a co-conspirator in my exploration of this condition, because ultimately it’s a communal, a tribal, disease anyway. You see, finally, the goal is simple enough: It’s about the music, about how it makes us feel, how it connects us to the long-forgotten past, how it behaves Zoloft-like, how in the presence of music you and I experience a watershed of emotions, and how the music somehow just makes the world seem right, period.

While pricey products may seem to predominate the texture of this column, its real soul will be how well the damned stuff reproduces music (see my reference above to the JoLida CD player). This column will also, over time, be much more than gear. It’s projected to evolve, to grow, to cover a broad spectrum of interest, but it will all depend on your input -- good, bad, controversial, laudatory, hateful (we all have opinions, eh?) and so on.

Welcome to the journey, enjoy the trip, and write me about "Ultra Audio," damn it!

Sahuaro (from left): Jet Stream and Slip Stream power couplings, plus power tails; Sublime interconnects and speaker cables. Photo by Andre Harrell.

Sahuaro Wire Drives Engineers Around the Twist, But Why Is It So Damned Musical?

Early in your discussions, Ron Paquette will tell you, "The position paper I’m working on states that electrical and mechanical resonances are essentially the same thing." And that’s the statement that riles the engineering brotherhood. Whoever hears it uttered experiences enough instant anxiety to fuel bleeding ulcers. Paquette, ever affable, will go on to further explain the theoretical basis that girds the foundation of his cable and power-cord projects under the company name of Sahuaro. Paquette: "Physicists don’t deny what I’m saying; it’s the engineers who have problems with it." Pause, then he’ll go deep on you: "Most physicists agree that at the time of the Big Bang, the single existing particle split, becoming a physical particle and a photonic particle, which is electrical in nature. So, while there came to exist two particles after the split, their essential characteristics, which had been unified before the split, did not change much after the split. And the only difference between the mechanical resonance and electrical resonance, which is the nature of the interaction we’re talking about, is the frequency at which each occurs."

Before Morpheus drags your carcass off deep into slumber from all of this, let me tell you up front: If Paquette’s derived designs represent his theories, as crackpot as they may seem to the crowd that swears by measurements alone, then he may be onto something. The Sahuaro Sublime interconnects and speaker cables, as well as the oddball power cords and their podlike equipment interfaces, called Jet Stream and Slip Stream, have spent roughly a year with me, and damn it, they are exceedingly fine pieces of work that deliver on Paquette’s promise of musicality from knocked-back resonances.

Strong ego alert

If your audiophile ego can put up with their quirky construction (your untutored friends will laugh at you) and with the special space demands of the even more quirkily constructed power-interface modules (your friends will develop hiatal hernias from laughing even harder at these), then you too may experience newfound clarity, spaciousness, instrumental array across and into the soundspace, presence, layers and layers of harmonic textures, and above all else, music, damned glorious music. And to hell with your friends, the jealous SOBs.

According to Ron Paquette, and product distributor Alan Kafton of audio excellence az, the design goals are twofold, yet, based on Paquette’s theoretical perspective, intimately interlinked: minimize, control -- nay, eliminate -- EM contamination and mechanical resonance. Banish these muckers of the waveform, and you effectively push aside the very distortions that decimate recorded music’s ability to sound like the real thing. Here’s Ron again: "In a cable, there’s the insulation’s mechanical resonance, the mechanical resonance of the wire itself, as well as an electrical resonance moving down the conductor. There’s also an electrical resonance of the music or the frequencies, and the bandwidth electrical resonance traveling down the same wire. Each of these resonances interferes with the others, affects them, feeding back on them, so what you end up with, if you’re lucky, is something that represents the original signal yet, which isn’t true to the original. You’re getting distortion." And for the last eight years Paquette’s tried just about everything to eliminate that distortion at every point of possibility. And, if hearing is worth anything, he’s done exceedingly well.

Sublime interconnects

Of the Sahuaro items under evaluation, the Sublime interconnect pays the least amount of attention to resonance control, save for the sturdy, locking OFC-copper RCAs, which Paquette claims resonate the least of those available today (with the exception, natch, of the push-on type found on Sahuaro’s Supreme top-of-line IC). Each IC contains two solid-core copper conductors running side by side: one positive, one negative. Paquette notes (1) that the runs are separate so as to minimize the EM-field saturation and resonances common to concentric designs, and (2) that Sahuaro makes no marketing claims of specialness regarding the nature of the copper itself (more on this later), though he considers the gauge of his wires proprietary information. Each conductor is encased by a "somewhat exotic plastic insulator, in that it’s made especially for Sahuaro, though in fact, there’s nothing especially fancy about it either." Ultimately, what you hear, according to Pacquette, is due to the "quality of the execution" of design and combination of parts choices.

Sublime speaker cable

As his technological ground in resonance control improved, Paquette noticed that he needed less and less wire. "The more wire or conductor mass we used," he explains, "the greater the sonic penalty." He also found that as resonance and EM contamination were eliminated, the quality of copper became increasingly less relevant, at least in the sense that it was ultra-pure or single-crystal. Sahuaro, he says, uses good copper and that’s that. There's no need to proclaim benefits simply for marketing purposes, is how Paquette seems to view this issue. The same for capacitance: "As we focus more and more on the resonance, the capacitance has been rising with little effect on the upstream and downstream gear." Of course, as with the IC, the speaker-wire gauge is proprietary (think, bell-wire gauges), but suffice it to say that the outer braided cover floats loosely around two solid-core conductors running parallel to each other. One is insulated with a plastic chosen for its minimal resonance; the other is insulated with a coating of baked enamel and then moisture proofed to prevent oxidation. Finally, Paquette says each of these long pieces is "fretted" in an arithmetic progression that depends on the speaker cable’s length (he notes that this "fretting" is a term that hints at the same kind of resonance control on his wire that frets provide on a finger board).

The last three inches or so of the cable, at the speaker end, are actually a separate section utilizing the same wire, although both pieces are now baked with enamel two microns thick, which gives them an insulation rating of 1500 volts. The negative and positive pieces are arched in yet another proprietary configuration for further EM and resonance control, and then soldered (which is said to add still more resonance control), to their corresponding longer polarities upstream.

Slip Stream and Jet Stream power coupling and power tails

If the preceding hasn’t been funky enough for the engineering crowd, the power side of Ron Paquette’s designs kills them. Essentially, the Slip Stream and the more expensive Jet Stream are mesh-surrounded pods that interface between equipment and the power-cord section. The power-tail sections, which plug between pod and wall, consist of a solid-copper core, braid-covered (they feel like 10-2 or 12-2 Romex) with an Eagle three-prong male plug at one end and female receptacle at the other. The pods are plugged into these power tails.

The complexity of the internal structure in each respective pod determines the level of resonance control. The specially configured, custom-built material within each pod is said to bleed off electrical and mechanical resonances, which allows a cleaner signal to get through to your speaker. Additionally within the pod, the positive and neutral wires are arched and curved in a manner that "externalizes the field of radiation away from each conductor, minimizing the contamination between conductors." For added effect, the ground, which is run on the outside of the pod, is detachable should you need to float it for improved sonics. As you move up the price scale, construction and attention to resonance control improve.

The music

I know what you’re thinking: But what about the sound? Well, there really isn’t much of one, which is a high compliment indeed. To characterize the matter differently: What you get depends on your equipment to a great degree. If your preamp’s ever so slightly lean on top, like the Herron VTSP-1A, for example, that’s what you get, and if it’s more lush in the midband, like the C-J Premier 17LS, the richness is there in unfettered (pun intended) abundance. The same can be said about all the other possible interfaces in an audio system. Your system is revealed. What you get is clarity, oodles of it.

The remaining notes are based on the Sahuaro wires connecting the Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 CD player, the C-J 17 LS and the amazingly open and revealing Halcro dm58 monoblocks feeding MartinLogan Prodigy speakers. For starters, I am struck by how readily subtlety is revealed on Uncommon Ritual [Sony Classical SK62891]. Edgar Myer’s bass lines, whether plucked or bowed, are full-bodied yet almost aptly taut at the same time, while Béla Fleck’s banjo strings have a clarity that is not displayed simply as too-hot-leading-edge transients but with a good deal of overtone structure intact. Without such crucial harmonics, the banjo will otherwise weary the ear-brain nexus quickly.

As well, the spatial layering is spot on, rendered in a simulacrum of reality, but then, honestly, I’ve not heard wire at this price point that has problems in this area. Nevertheless, drum kits seem pushed back more realistically, as evidenced by Roy Haynes’ delicate cymbal and crisp snare work on "Question and Answer" on Like Minds: Burton, Corea, Metheny, Haynes, Holland [Concord CCD-4803-2]. Rim shots reveal both raw metal, hard wood and resonant skin -- plus appropriate impact -- without projecting forward at you in space unnaturally when the energy increases on a leading edge, a problem that is apparent with too many other "revealing" interconnects. Cymbal decay, without sounding tizzy, is also evident, yet each subsequent moment of cymbal attack does not override the softening decay of the preceding notes. It all sounds quite organic to my ears.

And if you want dynamics, just listen to the opening explosive chord played by the Peter Nordahl Trio on "Now or Never" from Lisa Ekdahl’s Back to Earth [BMG 09026-63474-2]. Though the recording consists of piano, drum kit and bass, it sounds so much bigger, so much more present and forceful that it’s as if you were in the presence of the group. As many times as I’ve heard this, its initial impact with this combination of gear and Sahuaro wire always gives me a start, making me wonder whether I’ve got the gain pushed up a bit too high. I know better, but that’s how visceral it feels.

Gear and wire can easily miss much of Ekdahl’s voice too. Her saucy, too-young-girl edge countered by an experienced adult phrasing all too often can lean to a thinness that misses the point when she sings "Laziest Girl in Town." Not so with the rich harmonic detail that the Sahuaro cables allow to travel through to the listening spot. The same can be said of Nordahl’s piano: the notes, the pedaling, the body itself exist in richness and presence.

The Sahuaro gets so much right, provides so much pleasure, it’s a shame to bring up its shortcomings, but here goes. Extension and air, in both directions, are not as ultimate as, say, Nordost’s Valhalla, which costs nearly seven times more. As well, I detect a slight leanness in the upper bass, which may limit the presentation of fullness in several octaves above it, subtly of course, but lacking nevertheless. Too, a minute amount of vocal sibilance is evident, but never in any annoying way. These criticisms should be considered in context, of course. Most systems that will house the cabling will only be improved, end of story.

And then there are those pods, those damned pods. If your rack sits near a wall, you’ll be forced to pull it away from the wall a bit, since the pods eat space more than most power cords, except for those whose thickness requires a wide arc for bending, like the FIM Gold (a super power cord too). The power tails as well, because they are solid core, should be bent slowly and only in certain directions that don’t defy the laws of physics.

Having noted these potential negatives, if I didn’t have the Valhallas as my reference cables, I would seriously consider the Sahuaro connection. I highly recommend them. And if you want much more, consider testing the highest level up -- the Supreme. That’s another story.

...Jerry Kindela

Sahuaro Sublime Interconnects and Speaker Cables, Slip Stream and Jet Stream Power Couplers
Sublime interconnect, $1000 USD per one-meter pair; Sublime speaker cable, $1400 per eight-foot stereo pair (Sublime jumpers available for $100 per pair); Slip Stream power coupler, $650 with six-foot power tail; Jet Stream power coupler, $1200 with six-foot pigtail.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Sahuaro Audio
Contact through:
audio excellence az
940 East Cavalier Drive
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Phone: (602) 277-0799
Fax: (602) 212-9600

Website: www.audioexcellenceaz.com


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