Good breeding

If familiarity breeds contempt, cable companies breed like rabbits. In the few short months since our launch, I've been contacted by three already - none of which I'd ever heard of before. I always ask solicitors, especially of cables, to explain what makes their product unique. By way of reply, evasive mumblings about "best you've ever heard" are far more common than hard facts.

Which brings us to today's review subjects. Of all the relatively new cable companies old enough to have proven staying power -- by still being around -- three in recent memory have risen to the top like cream: Jim Wang's Harmonic Technology; Robert Lee's Acoustic Zen; and Mark Markel's Analysis Plus about whose emergence I wrote three years ago.

Unlike High-End electronics manufacturers who get away with short and exclusive lines, cable guys, to do a real business, must penetrate the realms of extreme affordability where numbers are sold. This inevitably means video and component cables. Just look at a cable company's offering in those terms. It'll tell you quickly who's serious.

Analysis Plus qualifies not only on that count. Or having garnered unequivocally positive reviews. Or having established a solid domestic and international dealer network. Their designs are also backed by the kind of real-world documentable engineering which --I've tested this -- receives unanimous praise from electronics engineers outside the cable arena proper. It makes perfect sense is the swan song I hear when such designers study the firm's patented hollow-oval geometry and rationale behind it.

Such sensibility imposes its own rules. Markel's insistence on verifying performance claims with measured data has, for example, prevented him thus far from investigating cryogenics. He doesn't deny that it couldn't make a worthwhile difference. Not at all. His problem is that to consider its potential implementation, he'd feel forced to do sophisticated research. Explain why and how it works - with attendant measurements and graphs. For the time being, he's tending to a bigger kettle o' fish - running an international business.


One very high profile reviewer told Markel that before he inserts any new statement cable into his system, he always calibrates his ears first with a run of Oval 9. He considers it his affordable reference.

So do I. A shotgun biwire run of Oval 9 has graced my system ever since it was first released. Despite having upgraded pretty much every other component in the system since, this massive copper cable has remained a trusted constant. It proved gracefully free of inciting any niggling doubts as to whether it constituted "a weak link" - and you know all the scenarios that can set our audiophile doubts a'twitching to point fingers. Those fingers never even unfurled when considering the Oval 9.

I've also tried AP's Silver Oval-In interconnect. While good, I found it eclipsed by Acoustic Zen's Silver Reference. It cashed out with larger harmonic bills, more bloom in the upper midrange. The AP's timbral richness seemed a bit stingy by comparison. Not as fleshed out or developed. Not thin, mind you, just not as - voluptuous. I've always wondered whether my preference for the Oval 9 speaker cable vis-à-vis the interconnect was due to the silver-plated copper of the latter. What would a High-End pure copper interconnect by Analysis Plus sound like?

Such idle ruminations were reawakened when a friend recently asked me what I thought of the new Analysis Plus solo-crystal wires. What bolo Bristol sires? I hadn't heard a thing. Had it been that long? It seemingly had. Last time I checked, only Acoustic Zen and Harmonic Tech were in the zero/single crystal business.

A call to Markel confirmed that I'd lost touch with the goings-on at his firm. To update my ignorance, he sent over some of his four-conductor Oval 8 speaker cable ($870 for an 8ft pair with AP's gold-plated T-spades) and Solo Crystal RCA or XLR interconnect ($399/1m for either termination). He added four 1-foot jumpers so I could "daisy-chain" the single run of Oval 8 from the Avantgarde DUO's midrange horn to the tweeter and subwoofer enclosure. A single-wire pair of Oval 9 in residence would serve as the peaches-to-peaches comparator with the newly hatched.

To assess the merits of the Solo Crystal interconnect, I'd perform comparisons against its more expensive brother, the Silver Oval-In, and the competing AZ Silver Reference. During one of my less inspired -- clumsy and inspired by laziness more like it -- system changes, I had broken my Mapleshade/inSound 1m Excalibur Ribbon interconnect. It sounds wonderfully open, fast and transparent. But as I stated in my review, treat it with care. Did I heed my own bloody advice?

Anyhow, Excalibur had momentarily gone the way of Camelot and would not see active duty until the return of King Arthur - ahem, Art, the local UPS driver. With these preliminaries eliminaried, what's this new Analysis Plus stuff sound like?

Interim connection

Dhafer Youssef's intense "Tarannoum" on Malak [Enya, 9367-2, 2000] with his unhinged, full-throttled neo-Sufi vocalizing over Renaud Garcia-Fons' elegantly sonorous bass turned out perfect example to show off differences between the two A+ cables.

Plainly, the Solo had more midrange body. The spread of its harmonic envelope extended away from the slightly treble-lized Oval-In whose upshifted tonal balance rendered the same vocals leaner.

A similar filling out of warmish substance occurred with Garcia-Fons' bass, Patrice Héral's cymbal work and the sharply blown upper registers of Markus Stockhausen's flügelhorn. The sense of tonal shift was quite obvious even in Youssef's oud - less silvery zip hovering mist-like around the strings, more coppertone second-order harmonics. But don't read some "tubey" euphonics into this, or any of the often concomitant triode thickness that sometimes undermines rhythmic spunk. This cable-induced shift was purely a matter of timbre, a slightly different composition of harmonic spectrum. The Oval-In's emphasis in the HF "white noise" haze around Deepak Ram's breathy bansuri flute was not inherently faster - just a more lit-up perspective.

Switching to the Acoustic Zen Silver Reference (>$800/1m, original version, now in MkII iteration at $948/1m) required faun-like pointy ears - the presentation was so similar now. I eventually felt that the Solo Crystal perhaps handled leading edges with a bit more incisiveness, the Silver Reference sounding a mite mellower in that regard. This difference played out mostly in the realm of rhythmic drive. The bass lines with the Solo Crystal had a bit more curtness, more trenchant impact. Notes in general rose with sharper outlines to add a dose of energy that made the Silver Reference sound more relaxed. Mostly a change in attitude then, like playing on the edge of the chair or leaning back. Neither's right or wrong, better or worse. It's merely looking at the same scene with a slightly different emotional response.

While I could go on impressing or boring you with further musical examples, the observations wouldn't really add anything of note, merit or variety. The Acoustic Zen Silver Reference and Analysis Plus Solo Crystal are as though identical twins. Their mother can tell 'em apart knowing what to zoom in on, but most casual acquaintances would have a rather tough time of it.

You can see what this leads up to, nay? No need to overshoot as Jack Nicholson did over crab dinner in As Good As It Gets. The Analysis Plus weighs in at less than half the Zen's asking price but features equally impressive locking RCAs and a bit more flexibility by avoiding the limited-curvature tube construction of the latter. It also comes in 36% below its silver-clad brother, the Silver Oval-In. What's more, it remedies what to these ears was a minorly off-putting inherent leanness. It does so without incurring any other liabilities in trade - 'cept injured bragging rights for being cheaper.

As always, personal preferences are a function of how cable integrates into a system. Personally, I'd take the Solo Crystal over the Silver Oval-In any day. Compared to the Acoustic Zen which connects everything in my secondary system, my spendthrift bucks with the Solo Crystal now got longer -- and verra hairy -- legs to traverse double the distance. They even purchase a wee bit bit of edge in the PRAT department - small but possibly significant.

In short, Markel's done it. He's hit the famous bull smack on the nose (less painful than penetrating his eye and blinding the poor bastard). He's introduced the perfect mate to his Oval 9 speaker cable: Another affordable go-APe reference, but this time in the interconnect category.

Speaking of which

How does the $399/8ft Oval 9 fare against the $870/8ft Oval 8?

Splendidly. Already being a heavyweight bass champ, the Oval 8 goes further yet, serious fun with the right material, as though adding another half octave of extension - which it doesn't, but the added heft appears that way.

Whether by virtue of a different dielectric I can't say, but the Oval 8 also makes advances in overall lucidity. The word that came to mind was "explicit" - despite an obvious family resemblance, with the Oval 8 the music sounded even more explicit. And unlike the equivalent Acoustic Zen Satori cable in my living room system, neither the Oval 8 nor 9 exhibited upper midbass ripeness.

While the latter can be a welcome boon for speaker systems deficient in that area -- or requiring enhancement to cover up lack of true low bass -- it creates a sense of girth and plumpness that affects overall speed with more linear speakers. The hollow oval bass merely lays out a rock-solid foundation that vivifies soundstage realism and sweetens treble by balancing HF extension with the equivalent reach in the other direction.

Upon consideration though, I do not think that the Oval 8 replaces the Oval 9 as the "hot buy" in the firm's speaker cable lineup. While its refinements were clearly appreciable and highly welcome in my rather highly resolved and expensive reference rig, a less "overbuilt" system might achieve larger returns by spending the balance elsewhere. Simply, the Oval 9 is too darn good to begin with. It has quite closed the doors on massive added revelations.

However - its biwire-ready internal construction makes the new arrival the ideal stand-in for the Oval 9. It avoids the more ungainly double-the-trouble shotgun approach that the latter's geometry requires for the same results.

The value equation

Audiophiles are naturally obsessed about incrementally inching up that gnarly cliff, leading to perfection (or sudden death, loneliness and slightly ungrounded perspectives as their mates might quibble). For every lean'n'mean body nazi getting up in the dark of morning to make it all the way to the top and back, there are hundreds of others every bit as fond of nature but not inclined to be as extreme about it. Of course, they'd like to reach the peak. But if getting there's too painful, they'll settle for just-about.

Compared to the Oval 8, that's the Oval 9. For little financial effort, it gets you way up that mountain, close enough to the flag to report that you've at least laid eyes on it if not touched it. That's why the Analysis Plus remains the unchallenged bargain it's been for years.

To this rare high-performance bargain bin category we now must add the new Solo Crystal interconnect. It's attractive, flexible, solidly built, performs rather indistinguishably against accoladed contenders double its price and is every bit as well-balanced, coherent and right-sounding as its new sibling, the Oval 8. Two -- very sweet -- peas in a pod then, these new solo crystal cables by A+.

Manufacturer's Reply

Dear Srajan Ebaen:

I want to thank you for taking the time to review our new Solo Crystal Oval 8 speaker cable and Solo Crystal Oval interconnects.

Regarding the design of audio & video cables, we feel the geometry is the most important factor. Yes, materials are important and we use the best. However, without the proper geometry, the design is suboptimal.

I would also like to comment on the Silver Oval-In versus the Solo Crystal Oval interconnects using a" best sound" award example and a fine wines analogy.

Awards Example - At the last CES show, Tech TV provided only two awards for Best Sound of Show. The room with all our Silver Oval cables was one of the two rooms chosen. The manufacturers in the room gave our cables credit for helping them win the award.

Fine Wines Analogy - You can have two excellent wines where some connoisseurs will prefer one and other connoisseurs preferred the other.

The most important question is: Which one sounds better in your system? We encourage all music lovers to contact the nearest authorized Analysis Plus dealer and make arrangements for listening comparisons in their system.


Mark Markel, President, Analysis Plus, Inc.