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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear; Raysonic CD128 [on long-term loan]
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual [on loan from owner]; Melody HiFi I2A3 [on long-term loan]

EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; Canary Audio CA-308s; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; Eastern Electric M-520
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby with Omni Harmonizer

Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: € 1,800/2m

"No!" That's what I meant to say when I realized the trap I'd just stepped into. Reviewing power cords just isn't my idea of fun. Sue me if you don't get that.

"I'd be honored" is what came out of my mouth instead.

You see, this Argento Audio Flow cord was a gift from Hong Kong importer J.Lam of Audio Exotics. I'd been his guest during my first Asian RoadTour. I don't know about you but in my book, turning down a gift is exceptionally rude. Especially when the presenter has gone through quite some trouble procuring it - and you've got wants-it lust, Gollum style. In this case, it was the very first sample outside of Denmark, the very first public sighting period. And it was bequeathed to me, no strings attached. Hot damn. The timid suggestion for a review came days later when I gathered up my belongings to fly home. I collected the Flow sans wooden box from Linnman's system where it had gotten cooked a bit. You see, everyone there was curious as beaver about this new power cord. I'm convinced Linnman laid secret ears on the thing for a few sneak impressions while nobody was watching.

That's because this unshielded, pure silver wire brand from Hamlet's turf in Denmark's Holstebro has become the de facto cable house brand for AE, with the demo system and that of prime customers done up exclusively in this costly stuff.

As it turns out, Argento's original designer joined electronics maker Vitus Audio two years ago. The Flow is the first design authored by the remaining Argentoist who's kept the cable faith. Not that there was anything wrong with the present lineup, I'm told. Au contraire. But Ulrik Madsen was keen to prove himself not just as a caretaker of a company whose products had been codeveloped by a principal since departed.

He was keen to make his very own mark, something my Hong Kong hosts anticipated with tangible excitement. According to them, Argento's Serenity Master Reference models set an impossibly high standard to meet. And the claim accompanying the brand-new Flow was meet - for considerably less money. In my book, that turns 'meet' into 'beat'.

So there I was, cable review abstinence and holy vows all shot to hell by one single generous gesture and my weak-willed inability to say no. Lest you feel sorry for me, hold the thought. The Argento-fied systems I heard in that city -- at AE's and Marvel's if you refer to the report proper -- had exhibited such a high level of musical resolution that I had zero reason to fret over performance potential.

No, it'd be writing about it. Expensive power cords not only lack sex appeal, they seem preposterously positioned when $2,000 can buy you a brilliant CD player like the Raysonic CD-128 and half that a top-class valved headphone amp like my Yamamoto HA-02. From a cred perspective, writing about costly power cords is about as no-win a proposition as audio reviewing can generate.

Here's the thing though. Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry might as well have been about No Cable, No Sound. And though it's a pisser extraordinaire, cables -- the expensive kind we'd all love nothing better than ridicule to shreds -- can become the make it or break it proposition. Kondo fans know exactly whereof I speak. The special Kondo sound is reliant on using the matching cables. If you don't believe that, ask the Kondo owners who vote with their own sore wallets.

In today's instance, long-time audio nut Marvel had worked his way through Stealth Indras, Jormas, Purists, Siltechs and all other contenders to the throne known or unknown to me. I'm not kidding. To every cable brand I could muster, he merely nodded his head as having tried it. He pronounced the top-line Argentos he purchased over the years a cut above everything else. Stuff like NordOst Valhalla didn't even figure on his serious list. Gasp is the word.

It's one thing to write off reviewer hyperbole as fancy smoke from ivory towers. It's quite different when you've got a hard-working civilian -- married, with kid -- who's paid retail to acquire such exotica. You hear his system only to think, damn, that's truly excellent sound. If he then tells you that his Argento Audio cables are a big part of the magic... well, you'd be an incorrigible pompous ass not to trust his assessment.

Marvel and J.Lam run nothing but Argento's finest. Serenity Master Reference. So confession time it was at my local church of audiophilia. I outlined to the attendant minister the sins I was about to commit. I asked for blank check forgiveness. Instead of demanding 10 Hail Maries from me and threatening fire and brimstone, the bugger wanted to know whether he could hear the Flow after I was done with it. There's just no bloody redemption in this racket.

But let's get earnest. Down to brass tacks. Argento Audio has been around since 1991. They believe in and conduct short-term ABA and ABX tests as well as long term live-with-it tests. Core data for their cables include 99.997% pure silver conductors; elliptical cross sections; optimized crystal structuring and surfacing by long-duration low-temperature annealing followed by long-duration 2-stage cryo treatments (gas-cooled to -193C and then immersion-cooled by liquid nitrogen) plus polishing; and vibration-attenuating construction using a proprietary damping compound dubbed VDM®. Connectors include Eichmann Silver bullet plugs, Bocchino pure copper XLR connectors, Neutrik XLRs, Xhadows and Argento pure silver spades, all cryo-treated. All models share the same materials, basic unshielded construction and reliance on torque rather than solder terminations. The complexity and extent of conductor treatments as well as connector quality varies with model. The top power cord also separates hot, ground and return legs into discrete cables. Argento speaker cables are not available with banana terminations since those are deemed sonically compromised. And there's no US representation at the moment.

What I wanted to know was this: How did the new Flow differ from its predecessors? There had to be a story. Sterling performance and a sterling hole in the wallet want a good story to go with it. I was keen to hear and share it on this about one inch wide and surprisingly flexible cord given its girth though it naturally does not bend into the narrow sides of its elliptical profile. The Flow is dressed in fashionable off-white fabric that can get snagged and will be prone to getting dirty. It's terminated in three-inch long aluminum barrels on either end. Those will stick out your component or wall plate and mandate double that distance in clearance before the cord will go from horizontal to fully vertical. 6" of minimum clearance it is thus per side, a bit of an inconvenience when considering my chosen Crystal Cable Ultra's ultra-slinky 1/4" profile with impervious Kapton shielding and resonance control geometry. Hey, the priest didn't threaten with fire and brimstone. I do get to complain a bit.

Here's the background on the Flow. It contains no off-the-shelf solutions. Everything is custom and a lot of attention has been paid to resonance control. The machined aluminum barrels hide matching machined polymer inners that are conjoined with non-settling glue dampener. The VDM compound is then injected into the cable under high pressure and vacuum. The special elliptic two-way tubing -- non-resonant and very heat resistant -- increases flexibility and lowers weight over an equivalent circular tube. The hot and neutral conductors remain unshielded while the ground is shielded to protect against products like switch-mode power supplies and
digital that dump high noise to ground (the only application where Argento believes shielding is sonically benign).

Hot and neutral conductors are multiple ultra-high purity individually isolated polished copper ribbons stacked and twisted. A stack for each polarity is then placed on either side of the elliptical tubing. Teflon-insulated pure copper Litz with pure copper shielding becomes the ground. All components are cryo-treated in a 48-hour three-stage cycle. Modified Oyaide gold/palladium-plated connectors dress the ends and were chosen over pure copper or silver connectors after "intense trial and error listening tests. This was a surprise to us because we thought that the pure metal connectors would be superior when we started the process."

Flow's total cross section is 6.5 square millimeters for hot/neutral combined and 1.5 square millimeters for the ground. The key differences to Argento's SMR Power model are "dramatically increased precision through the use of only custom made components; much larger conductor surface area leading to a faster and more detailed sound; much higher flexibility; shielded grounding; and the Flow power cable makes the VDM damping available in a lower price range that previous, being less than half the price of the SMR Power." As Ulrik added, "the split between me and my previous partner happened around 2 years ago. Previously, we'd developed the products jointly. Now I do all of it myself which allows me to realize some of the more expensive-to-develop ideas I had for cables. The Flow is the first widely available product that is the result of these ideas (the extremely limited SMR Extreme Edition being the first)."

There you have it on the Flow. If all the talk about resonance control in power cables has you irritable, consider that many esoteric Japanese powerline conditioners are nothing but passive outlet multipliers, albeit often excessively immunized to mechanical vibration. There is a very serious school of thought that considers resonance attenuation in power delivery of utmost importance. So don't kill the messenger. Go with the flow. Where to step into it though?

Call me crazy but to me, digital sounds worse turned on and off in repeat succession than a simple tube amp that's already reached thermal stability and just gets powered down for the three seconds it takes to swap a power cord. Hence the Yamamoto would become the focal point for the Flow's prowess vis-a-vis my customary Crystal Cable Ultra. Unlilke more finicky valve amps, it passes signal seconds after being powered up so down time is non-existent.

I'll be candid. One glance at the turn radius insert above and the girth comparator adjacent will tell you my feelings going into this comparison. Unless the Flow brought something very obvious and superior to the table sonically, I'd not be inclined to get very excited. Yes, don't look a gift horse in the mouth is the old proverb. But when it comes to reviews, the gloves are off. I want cables that drape easily and disappear not just sonically. I'm not hot on cables that make you consider how to put your components so they can fit in. On that subject, the Flow starts me off on the wrong foot - not half as badly as some others, granted, but still nowhere near the pretzel tie-me-in-a-knot convenience of Gabi van der Kley's wares. Now that my conscience is clean, what about sonics?

I cued up Karim Baggili's Douar [Acoustic Music GmbH 319.1363.2] as reviewed by Marja & Henk. They burned me one of their killer copies. Think EAC, Plextor, Nespa, Furutech Demag. It's disquieting how good this copy sounds compared to most commercial pressings. The music is 24-carat gold, essentially the soloist multi-tracking himself on various guitars and oud, with subtle percussion here and there. It's an album full of tone, decay, space, no added bass that could confuse the issue and thematic simplicity to allow focus on the elementals rather than getting overwhelmed by complexity - a perfect entry into taking the measure on a new component. Once you know what to listen for -- in what performance aspect the differences operate -- you can turn up the challenges without getting lost.

Using the solo oud intro to track 10, it took repeat A/Bs to hone in on a small difference which kept nagging me but proved harder to pin down. As Karim begins to insert tremolos and specific beats -- accented notes -- the harmonics get denser and certain attacks glintier than others. The Crystal Cable kept a tighter focus on that action whereas the Argento image spread out laterally a bit and the separation of transients, sustain and reflections seemed to confuse on a very subtle level. A side effect was a minor softening and associated sense of size gain as though you looked at ink just beginning to bleed through paper. Your scribbles will look just a tad bolder on the page but not quite as crisp. Subtle to be sure but my entry into focusing on something other than sameness.

On the jubilant 7-beat dance of the fourth track with plenty of multi-tracking and a walking bass line, this very small shift of performance between Crystal and Argento meant that the former sounded just a tad more reined in and articulated whereas the Flow was a bit bloomier to give it a peculiar sense of space wherein it differed from the Crystal. One thing that had impressed me very much about AE's and Marvel's systems was extreme dimensionality, especially in the latter's glass/stone environ tamed expertly with Franck Tchang's resonators. As small as the Flow version of this enhanced dimensionality was compared to the Ultra in my rig, my entire system is wired with Gabi's best, front to back. What if I were equivalently flowed? Didn't it stand to reason that this characteristic trait would compound, become a markedly obvious quality?

One other, very small difference was that as before when the Crystal Cable Ultra fed the Yamamoto, certain glinty highlight notes -- think fractional sun light reflections off a mirror as you turn it in and out of the incident angle quickly -- stood out more with the Ultra. When court jester Chip Stern quips about the big bux reviewers are paid to split hairs, he's referring also to today's juxtaposition. There are differences but truly marginal ones, with in one corner the €1,749 Dutch skinny cord, in the other the €1,800 Danish ribbon-esque wire. Time for female vocals and my Polish flame Anna Maria Jopek, on her lilting Brazilian-flavored title track from Nienastycenie [Bonaqa/Universal 017 252-2] with a bit of Jazz piano thrown it by Lady Blue Eyes and some good low bass compliments of Slawek Kurkiewicz.

Perhaps because this was denser music, with a lot more stuff going on at the same time, the differences already noted didn't change in aspect but their magnitude increased a bit. The Argento was bloomier and looser, the Crystal more contained and defined. While relevant across the band, it was most meaningful in the bass. The Ultra did a better job of damping the bass which seemed marginally loose over the Argento. Again, we remain in the realm of subtlety and hairsplitting, just less so than on the very simple guitar music. Three hairs at a time rather than one. Considering how closely both products are priced, it seems right that they'd be equals though minor personality traits remain. And again, my assumption would be that in an all Argento-wired context, characteristics just discernable with a single cord would multiply to become more overt as a flavor or quality. Based on my tests, I'll predict that if you focus on structure, you'll prefer the Crystal. If you focus on flow - aw shucks, there you go. It's cute but true. If your room acoustic means that your bass region needs tidying up, the more articulated Crystal signature would be preferable in my book. If your room acoustic is dialed to not introduce any ringing of its own, the Argento's more relaxed way with things might be your poison. In either case, it's very very similar performance in an isolated A/B between these two. That being the case, my nod would go to the Crystal Cable Ultra, for how easy it is to route, hide and get in and out of tight spaces. Thin and flexible is cool.

What you should take away about the Flow is what it isn't. It's not a cable that boosts bass as some designer cords pride themselves on. That's tone control antics. The Flow doesn't produce air or take liberties with timbres. Nor does it zippify transients. As a reviewer, I rely on cable neutrality to hear what the components are doing. Hence my choice for Crystal Cables. As far as I can tell, they're neutral and, in the Ultra, endowed with an exceptionally low noise floor. Consumers on the other hand should season their stew any way they see fit to create the desired results. The Flow, I don't believe, would suit such seasoners. It's doing precious little I can quantify that would make it a seasoner rather than expeditious passer-on. If the Crystal Cable Ultra qualifies for exalted status -- and I strongly think so -- so does the Argento Audio Flow. Those who love to obsess will be tantalized to know that Argento is also introducing a Flow Master Reference version. Obviously it'll be better or no FMRs would sell in an A/B against the standard Flow. How this betterness will manifest is impossible to conceive when you use the Flow or Ultra as baseline. Who needs better than that? Perhaps leave obsession for others to bother with after all? It's not the enjoyment of such expensive cables' benefits that's the issue for most. It's admitting that we use 'em that starts the attacks. So be it.
Manufacturer's website