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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE run one channel each, the other shorted out
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Mk 1.5
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Zu Cable Ibis, Zu Cable Birth on Definitions; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: $1,077/8'/pr

Ignorance in audio is exceeded only by our collective willingness to embrace and foster it. If someone ever came out with a book of audio aphorisms, this would have to make the opening chapter. It's not that audiophiles are dumb. Most of us simply ain't engineers. Worse, neither are most reviewers (or manufacturers for that matter). We are thus nearly predestined to repeat, ad infinitum, certain maxims. Their apparent truths seems based mostly on stubborn longevity. The cable sector in particular is crowded with creative claims. Its makers -- of claims and cables alike -- often lack access to the truly advanced test gear necessary to design something that is both novel and verifiably superior (rather than just different to spin a successful marketing campaign). Naturally, serious R&D data is available from the telecommunications industry (whereas by the time military breakthroughs are declassified, the really hot current stuff is still unavailable to us civilians). The IT sector in general concerns itself with very different bandwidths, signals that aren't music in the first place and cable lengths that are measured in mega miles rather than a fistful of feet. And none of their concerns are subject to critical listeners who sweat subtleties that are often beyond our ken to measure or account for.

High-level research into audio signal propagation for our applications limits itself to a few well-positioned audio companies. They are in possession of the requisite engineering muscle and laboratory equipment. They do conduct serious research into cable geometries, metallurgy, insulation, shielding and termination techniques that are backed up by solid science. The rest is fluff, repackaging and deep margins. Analysis Plus is one of the science-driven companies in this sector. It's an engineering firm that was founded in 1993. Its principals have performed contract work for NASA, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi and others. Among those others? The world's largest audio cable manufacturer. He didn't want to use the findings for marketing purposes he'd paid Analysis Plus to specifically generate on his then-current designs. (If you'd seen the results, you'd understand. The signal that went in did not look like the signal that came out.) Principal Mark Markel and his design team then decided to build up a cable that would incorporate the design features they had identified as necessary to solve the shortcomings of the famous cables they had just professionally tested.

Thus it was that Analysis Plus the cable company spun off from Analysis Plus Inc. the engineering consultancy. In December of 1999, I came across the firm's Oval 9 speaker cable and wrote up an introductory article for SoundStage!. It closed with a sage but casual "let's just hope our audiophile circus won't disappoint their expectations." 5 years have since past. The product catalogue under the trademark black'n'purple Analysis Plus logo has expanded to include cables for the professional musician and recording engineer; bulk cable and specialized Jokari wire strippers to work with the firm's patented hollow oval geometries; connectors; video cables including component, DVI and Toslink; 9 different home audio interconnects; 8 different speaker cables; and two power cords. Today's Big Silver Oval is the newest entry. It increases the company's former 12-gauge silver-over-copper design to 9AWG mass and elongates its hollow oval cross section "for even better performance".

Ever since my first exposure to these gents from Michigan, I have recommended especially their Oval 9 speaker cable and Solo Oval interconnect to anyone who's asked for value-conscious performers. As the reviews have poured in, colleagues who enjoyed familiarity with some of the financially truly twisted offerings have confirmed that even against very expensive comers, the Analysis Plus cables hold up scarily well. Though five years old, the Oval 9 continues to be an excellent cable for a very fair price.

You could think of today's subject as the Silver Oval 9. There's merely one differentiator other than its silver braid - the negative leg terminates in a round rather than flat black pigtail as the positive half does. On my Oval 9 and Solo 8 cables, both pigtails were stacked 'ribbons'. Everything else about the newcomer looks as expected, including those big no-nonsense gold-plated spades. To gauge the newcomer's voice, I'd compare it directly to its stable mate, the Solo 8 - one copper, one silver/copper. One 8 gauge, one 9. For system context, see photo below: Zanden digital separates into ModWright SWL 9.0SE into AudioSector Patek SEs into Zu Cable Definitions.

The Analysis Plus loudspeaker cables benefit from a very solid foundation. That's likely at least partially a function of sheer gauge (conductor mass) and perhaps even the firm's claims for how their geometry prevents "current bunching". Whatever the exact reason, nobody would ever accuse these wires of being lean, zippy or in the least bit wan and malnourished. If bass was unduly prodigious, things would get too warm at the expense of fine midband detail. That's patently not the case. But it's equally true that we're talking about a buxom, robust presentation. Think antithesis of the lit-up, zippy, super spacious but lightweight sound Omega Mikro champions. Think high-power tube push/pull like a big VTL or ARC for that aspect of the presentation. For the sake of pigeon-holing, you've now got a decent notion about these oval cables. Beyond such generalities, I'll be using the Zu Cable Ibis speaker cable (which mirrors the internal hook-up wire used in my speakers). It'll make today's assignment more meaningful by way of comparison outside Analysis Plus. As you would expect, engineering rather than tinkering-driven companies will produce cables that don't commit any wicked measurable crimes. They'll be essentially neutral and thus more -- rather than less -- similar.

The Big Silver Oval performs very much like the Oval 8 but, especially at higher volumes, adds a bit more aura around a singer's voice. The kernel of the tone remains the same but the halo around it has slightly more energy to reach farther into the surrounding space. In audiophile terms, more air. Accordingly, certain hashy events like cymbals and triangles rang out and sparkled more while their initial impact felt sharper. On the virile climaxes of the various tenors on Vicente Pradal's La Nuit Obscure, the monster high notes seemed louder. Whether they actually were or whether the leading edge was more defined is debatable - but the effect amounted to the same.

A smidgen hotter incisiveness also was apparent on upper bass transients such as drums and vigorously sawed double bass. I must stress that these differences between the two ovals weren't earth-shattering by any means and more apparent at higher than lower levels. Both models belong clearly to the same family of sound and merely diverge subtly. What I found interesting was my preference for the new cable over the Oval 8. Last time I'd listened to the silver-over-copper version -- the predecessor to the Big Silver Oval in other words -- I clearly favored the Oval 9 then in-house. This would indicate that the added conductor mass of the new cable has added body to weigh down the overall presentation while still retaining the 'edge' of heightened articulation apparently introduced by the conductor's silver cladding.

Inserting Zu's Ibis priced similarly to the Big Silver proved far more different. By comparison, both Analysis Plus cables sounded more diffuse, an effect somewhat similar to how minor tape hiss acts like subliminal dither. By removing it, the background of the Ibis was overtly inkier, the images against it more focused and concrete, a touch smaller but firmer and more defined. This also allowed the very subtle ambient cues encoded in Pradal's echo-y recording venue to come further to the fore.

This observation reminded me of one I recently made between 300B SETs and the solid-state Patek SEs. I talked of a rain of translucent ash introduced by the valves that seemed to fill the formerly crisp air of the transistor amps with millions of fine see-thru particles. Their introduction meant that outlines weren't quite as sharp, the space between virtual performers denser and the overall impression one of more softness and less precise articulation. One could argue higher noise floors or slower rise times. One could argue lesser timing coherence. Either of those aspects could introduce a
sense of softness, a minor loosening around the edges, an increase in inter-performance density, a fine diminishment of PRaT. To conclusively determine what exactly creates these sonic observation case would require sophisticated measurements, something we aren't set up to do. More importantly, the effects were clearly audible. They made both oval cables sound a bit 'thermionic' in traditional terms - not as precise as the Zu but not blurry either, just a bit fuzzier and softer. Those qualities strike me as the perfect antidote to the zippy, slap-you-around type HiFi sound popular in certain quarters. Between the Oval 8 and Big Silver Oval, the latter retains the heft and mass of its copper brother but then adds a modicum of leading-edge sharpening with an associated increase of apparent air on top. The extent of this difference is similar to tube swapping. The core signature of the amp remains untouched but slight shifts of emphasis can be dialed in - fine adjustments in other words, far smaller than swapping out actual amplifiers. Ditto for the two Ovals.

The new Big Silver Oval by Analysis Plus is easy to work with and, by virtue of being flat, can even be routed underneath carpets or throw rugs without leaving telltale ripples to trip over. It produces a weighty full-bodied sound with a modest increase of apparent resolution over the Oval 8 especially above the upper midrange. It's an overall still forgiving cable and not the last word in ultra resolution, precisely why it would go over well in many solid-state systems that tend to err on the side of transients rather than subsequent bloom. Though I don't personally own current-hungry cock suckers for speakers, it's a well-known truism that increased conductor mass means higher current-carrying abilities. One thing you don't want to do is strangle such speakers with wires that are challenged in that department. The Big Silver Oval would be a prime candidate not to. It does current without condemning you to cables the size of a weightlifter's wrist.

In closing, if Mark Markel's team's design brief for their newest cable was to step up apparent resolution without stealing from their signature Oval 8/9 sound, they've succeeded admirably without punishing prospective buyers with yet another pricing insanity in this sector. Not that I'm really surprised. Even the costliest Analysis Plus product -- their "heirloom" gold cables -- are less than certain leaders in the silliness races and were originally conceived for the professional recording engineer who'd consider it a business expense and essential tool for day-to-day work. And unlike the off-the-spool repackaged variants, the hollow oval geometry does require custom manufacture, in this case a small company that specializes in cables for the medical sector to be in possession of the complex machines that can weave Markel's geometries. The Big Oval Silver at essentially one grand for an 8' pair is a fair value and especially recommended for systems in search of body and a bit more relaxation than their somewhat nervous temperament currently exhibits. Yes, relaxation. Despite the silver cladding of its copper conductors, the Big Oval displays none of the lean or zippy characteristics commonly ascribed to this metal. To return to the generalities implied by this review's opening, it sounds like "a lot of copper with just a skoch of silver". The core signature remains copper - lots of copper. The silver appears as a mere spice, like a touch of salt in a sweet to perk things up.
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