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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime; Raysonic CD-128 and CD-168 [on extended loan]; AMR CD-77 [on review]; Underwood Hifi Shanling CD-3000 Level-2+ [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; ModWright LS-36.5; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual; Melody HiFi I2A3; Eastern Electric M520; Yamamoto HA-02
EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; FirstWatt F4 [on loan]; Fi 2A3 monos; Trafomatic Audio Experience One [on loan]; JAS Audio Bravo 2.3 [on review]
Headphone systems: Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear, Melody/Onix SP3 with KT77s, AKG K-1000s w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; Raysonic CD128, Yamamoto HA-02, audio-technica W-1000s
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby w. Omni Harmonizer; Mark & Daniel Maximus Monitor; DeVore Fidelity Nines; Rethm Saadhana [on review]; WLM Grand Viola Signature MkII Monitor with Sys V and Duo 12
Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; 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: 2 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; Acoustic System resonators
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: Silver Signature RCA 1m interconnect € 690 (shielded, XLR or other version and length by request),
Speaker Silver Signature 2m/pr €1,180, Ocellia Shielded Silver Power Cord 1m €490; NFO Standard, 80cm/pr, starting at €380

MDI. Micro Discharge Interface distortion. The term stems from Dr. Pierre Johannet's research at the French National Electricity institute where it was conducted utterly independent from our small audio industry. Simplified, MDI deals with extremely steep, high-amplitude ultrasonic spikes during all electrical signal propagation. At frequencies relevant to audio, this discharge energy becomes modified to resemble the sine wave component of the signal sufficiently. This causes audible distortion by intermodulation. Additionally, MDI creates positive Langevin ions. Those change the air to less effectively support sound propagation. Or so it was explained by Bernard Salabert of PHY-HP. "Whether they knew why or not, the old Japanese who used water fountains in their listening rooms neutralized certain MDI side effects instinctively." Today, a negative ion generator could of course accomplish the same yet it won't eliminate the causes, just minimize certain symptoms.

Is MDI related to Lavardin's memory distortion? To Osh's micro-inductions de surface? This question is relevant not just because PHY, Ocellia, Lavardin and Osh share being French. Until natural phenomena are fully understood, theories attempt to account for certain observations. In esoteric Eastern wisdom teachings for example, one finds the terms prana and chi which refer to finer energies that operate in the human nervous system. In the West, there are Franz Anton Mesmer's magnetism and Wilhelm Reich's orgon. While language and conceptual frameworks differ, these might be partial descriptions of the same energy. Or not.

When it comes to MDI, its few proponents in audio (predominantly French since the relevant research papers are in French) feel strongly that a systematic avoidance of synthetics in favor of natural materials is mandatory. They can't measure MDI. They only have subjective evidence based on eliminating synthetics from their cables, connectors, electronics and speakers. Sonic improvements reaped from these addresses then would seem to prove the point. That's admittedly a bit simplified along the lines of, I stopped having sex, babies stopped coming so sex makes babies. Partial correlation doesn't equate to complete insight. Yet it can produce solid results (if no more babies were the desired outcome for example).

Back on topic: Is it really MDI? Are other interactions the primary causes? Does it matter in the end? Other designers especially of cables also have embraced the biodynamic route of silk, cotton, rice paper, wood-encased connectors and raw rather than enamelled conductors. Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio is famous for denuding capacitors and stripping off dielectrics with zeal. Yamamoto-San encases his custom caps in ebony rather than plastic. Nor discount aesthetics. Vegetarians may cite health, religion, kindness or sheer aesthetics for their choice. People who are drawn to so-called health foods; wool over synthetics; stone floors and counters over Corian and Avonite - such people could equally prefer non-synthetics for audio, even if for no other reason than conceptual alignment with nature over plastics.

As chronicled in my Ocellia/PHY factory tours, the sound I heard at Samuel Furon's and Bernard Salabert's was revelatory. How much of it was due to mimimizing those immeasurabe MDI effects? The systems I heard in Panjas and Frangouille, front to back, CDP to speakers, had been stripped of all synthetics as much as possible. Would reviewing the Ocellia speakers solo net related results? Would the presence of my ordinary non-MDI-optimized cables undermine matters? To begin, we decided to start off with a complete Ocellia cable loom. It utilizes Salabert's PHY connectors (40-micron silver plate, paper dielectric) and Samuel's high-purity solid-core silver conductors wrapped in paper which are then hand-inserted to length into loosely fitting, custom-sourced mineral-filled jackets. The speaker cables end in bare wire leads to avoid all solder joints.

Then Rob Hubertse from the Netherlands contacted me on behalf of Cees Piet, creator of the NFO interconnects. Those conform to the same MDI concept. Would I be interested to give these limited-edition, hand-crafted cables a whirl? I'd crash my Ocellia party and compare them in an attempt to unearth a common "anti MDI signature" while noting differences if there were any. Cees was game and the game was on. Incidentally, NFO stands for Natural Fibers Only. Müslis of the world, unite?

Don't laugh. Steve Eddy also dabbles in this field. His Q Tao interconnects  feature silk-wrapped and aged (oxidized?) binary alloy conductors with low-mass connectors encased in African blackwood barrels. Mr. Eddy doesn't mention MDI. His preference for organic ingredients could be purely aesthetic. It could be empirical; because they sound better, no clear reasons given or to be given. Sometimes the means justify themselves, not just the end.

Let's not forget SilverFi with its cotton-wrapped interconnect weaves and naked ends on the speaker cables. Reader David Marshall supplied further names past and present that follow/ed the MDI directive, alternately referred to apparently as triboelectric effects: Duelund Coherent Audio, Note products, Jupiter bee's-wax capacitors, Fadel Art's new Aphrodite and, for perhaps the first vocal proponent, Be Yamamura of A.R.T and Yamamura Churchill.

The relevant upshot of all this is simply a tantalizing notion. Natural materials could help make natural sound. For that's surely what my audio adventures in the South of France had encountered in a big way. Natural sound. If its creators insist that it stems from avoiding plastics; that avoiding plastics banishes MDI; that MDI is a scientific fact (and in the words of Salabert, the only significant new audio discovery of the last 40 years), I'm not equipped to challenge their explanations.

How often have we been told that simpler is better only to fall under the spell of complexity and material "advancements" all over again? Could this particular matter really be as simple as avoiding Kapton, Peek, Teflon and other hi-tech materials that find themselves routinely thrown at expensive
cables? How about shielding, the catch word that would seemingly justify the utter necessity for more and more effective RF/EMI-resistive synthetic materials? Naturally, shielding too has its detractors. They claim that shielding suffocates and strangulates the sound while lack of shielding opens it up. Such cute phrasing rings of hollow pop science to alarm those with engineering credentials. And thus the wheel turns. One thing is for certain. Today's recipe lends itself to DIYers. Suitable connectors are openly available. Solid-core silver is cheap through jewelry supplies and cotton, silk or paper shouldn't be that hard to source. Applying such insulation expertly and neatly might require experience and skill; determining which combination makes the best results time and much prototyping. In that light, what Ocellia and NFO ask for their cables doesn't seem criminal at all unlike some of the 'hyper-tech' competition. On to sonics...