The Omega Mikro DC-charged ribbon cable has an immediately recognizable, obvious and powerful effect. Simply put, it strips away fat faster than Jenny Craig. Think gastric bypass. Think 2% lean steak tartar premium beef as a result. Common audiophile ways of describing this would be clarity and speed. What does that sound like? Like the literal removal of thickness, gunk and micro detail confusion which -- theory alert -- regular cables incur via dielectric energy storage and time-delayed release.

Eliminating the dielectric altogether makes everything more brilliant but also leaner; more present but also sharper. A system outfitted with this type of wire, depending on overall tonal balance, could eventually cross the thin line from healthy and attractive leanness to first haggardness, then terminal anorexia; meaning no midbass and lower bass weight. Extension, yes; excellent articulation yes; but no mass.

Overdoing this trimming of fat would veer into thinness without foundation - too much angularity and treble prominence without sufficient roundness. Put differently, how many Omega cables your rig could handle is subject to experimentation and personal taste. Freshly joined Ken Micallef, another fan of the 'judiciously applied OM effect', actually verified this very prediction as a result of going Mapleshade full-hog. In his setup, it acted like a very productive master thief. It cleaned out his coffers below the midrange to remove the lowest 1.5 octaves. It had Ken defect into the Cardas camp for speaker cables to redress overall balance.

In my personal setup -- given its ability for end user calibration via the Audiopax TimbreLock; the Avantgarde crossover and bass attenuator; the rise time factor of the HMS speaker cables and the impedance adjuster of the matching interconnects -- I enjoyed the heightened presence, midrange lucidity and cloudless treble very much.

I did not readjust any of my variable system parameters. I could afford to throw overboard this amount of excess ballast: add this amount of midrange/treble prominence vis-à-vis lower mid/upper bass oomph and not suffer the eventual agitation that would come from hyped-up speed, merciless transients and treble sizzle at the expense of weight and warmth. As with the prior practical warning about this cable's physical makeup, its sonic makeup too is more extreme than the norm. It mandates careful consideration, to insure that how it interfaces with your musical life will be all'round positive and not a win-some-lose-some proposition.

Simply put, the moment that any specific audiophile quality attracts undue attention to itself, the sought-after holistic balance has been sacrificed. Speed for speed's sake is going nowhere fast. Detail for detail's sake equates to the 16-minute synaptic melt-down of watching the attack on Zion in the final Matrix chapter. Due to Mapleshade's recipe in general, and the upper-crust Omega Mikro potency in particular, these products have far greater propensity for unsettling this balance than others. This doesn't disqualify them sonically at all. It simply means that 'more' won't necessarily equate with 'better'. One or two skillful insertions of this fat-trimming cable effect into a system might be sufficient and desirable. More dieting could make your system too bright, zippy and bereft of heft like most of Sprey's recordings. Or, as I said in my review of the Reimyo DAP-777 DAC about the Mapleshade effect, "one can benefit from doses of its Aspirin thinning/declogging action without underwriting the whole concept."

That makes the S/PDIF interface the perfect place to experiment with the Mapleshade sound. As the first cable juncture of a digital system, you'll be left in no doubt as to its effects - and if you like what you hear, you'll get away with a single cable rather than the two required in the discrete two-channel analogue domain. I personally truly admired what this one Planar Ebony did for my system: Heightened immediacy of the kind that occurs in high-altitude alpine conditions where colors get more intense, the light is brighter and the air thinner. However, for the $2,275 asked, I couldn't stomach its finite survival prospects in the real world of clumsy hands and landing flies. The way I see it, reliability is part of ultra performance. And reliability is far from the Omega Mikro Ebony's strong suit.

In my book, that makes it somewhat of an engineering curiosity run amok. Somebody oughta tell Mess. Sprey and Bauman to return to earth and design for real people - not fringe extremists who'll happily suspend their wires with yarn, never dust behind their equipment racks and don't mind turning their living rooms into mad scientist laboratories. Incidentally, folks who sell these cables report an inordinate amount of post-sales repairs to keep their customers from crying wolf. Call me old-fashioned; but for two big ones, I want a cable that doubles as a fly swatter. Which, stunning sonics notwithstanding, does disqualify this Ebony effort for most. However, should your priorities embrace its idiosyncrasies, take a listen - there's nothing else as transparent, unfettered, fast and acute on the market. And unlike fast living, this won't burn out your adrenal glands in a hurry to turn you into an energy-zapped zombie. Here's the bumper sticker for Omega Mikro's Planar Ebony then: Adrenaline junkies go over the edge.

By comparison, the Digi. Reference stepped backwards from the Omega Mikro's intense focus and heightened contrast setting to present a softer, gentler version of the same music - ®chestra's Weeshuis, recently reviewed by our Dutch contributors Marja & Henk and bona fide Blue Moon material if we can figure out a way to make these private releases available to the public at large. With a weightier bottom end but no lack of fine detail, the prior emphasis on the vocal range and treble receded, imbuing the Russian voice with greater warmth and tenderness, the violin with more wood, less metal. Put differently, the vocals didn't sound as loud as with the Mapleshade cable - but the guitar and bass gained in volume to reenter the picture as equals. Flatearthers claiming that digital cables make no difference are clearly living in the wrong century. To my ears, the Furutech represents a more realistically balanced effort that doesn't highlight specific aspects of the performance to, in turn, push others into the shadows.

Where the Mapleshade's fine musical details popped via a jacked-up contrast setting, the Furutech details were more enfolded in the overall fabric but no less present. This was likely a function of the same kind of preternaturally silent backgrounds I also hear with the new Z-Cable Reference wires that sport integral Z-Sleeve technology. As trigger-happy experimenters have already found out, haphazard ERS cloth applications on signal cables can kill the musical spark and dull the performance. The Japanese implementation of GC-303 however -- like the actual sleeve on my BPT 20-amp L-9 Signature cable feeding the BP-3.5 Sig Ultra Isolator conditioner [below] -- clearly avoids the potential risks of energetic strangulation. Knowing where and how to apply such compounds is as important as having access to their potency to begin with.

Alas, the musical energy recovered from eliminating radio-frequency contamination isn't thrust at you like the pelvis of a testosterone-poisoned teenager. It communicates in a more relaxed fashion, like a mature seducer who takes his time. Another way to think of this difference is the unique ways in which superior tube preamps like the Merlin Klimo Plus add body and smoothness while passive units like the smartly designed Sonic Euphoria emphasize transparency and incisiveness. One enhances by subtle addition, the other strips away by subtraction. Both have adherents; which one you favor is a matter of personal bias. The Furutech clearly falls into the former camp. In a system like mine where hornspeakers provide dynamics and leading edge precision, the particular contributions of Pierre Sprey's design philosophy compound, to become amped up and slightly unrealistic. That makes the Furutech more suitable for long-term listening, the Omega Mikro the weapon of choice if short-term exhaustive intensity were the pastime of choice.

In conclusion about the Mapleshade cable, if the pursuit, by hook or by crook, of accelerated transients and emphasized midrange and treble detail were what your system needed; and you could compensate for the loss of substance below 120Hz elsewhere - well, I haven't yet heard a cable that so single-mindedly embodied those specific values as the Omega Mikro Planar Ebony. If, on the other hand, you favored a more relaxed presentation that didn't impact overall tonal balance; that was ultra-detailed without seeming to be; that spoke to you with refined smoothness rather than lit-up pushiness to convince you - out of these two, the Furutech Digi. Reference clearly is the uncontested ticket. Do I really have to add that the aluminum barrel made a great inert platform on which a whole fighter squadron of flies could land to plan their attack on my listening sanity without worries of signal loss?

But seriously, these cables offer such distinctive twin flavors that, just like tube rolling, a well-stocked and seasoned audiophile might well want to keep both on hand to adapt to the mood of the occasion. From edge-of-your-seats thrills of bungee-jumping from a helicopter, to melt-in-your-seat exploits of inner space, today's contestants cover the gamut. And this either/or scenario is not some politically kosher dance maneuver. My wife too loved both presentations, for their own unique reasons.

What I will say? The Furutech Digi. Reference [constructional details to right] is the less 'flashy' but far more universally applicable of the two. It does not entail an upward shift in tonal balance; it's shielded; and it won't give up its ghost when faced with little prying fingers. Its sonic virtues don't telegraph with the obviousness of the ribbon cable, something I consider testament to Furutech's credo of naturalness. Nothing stands out to distract from something else. Simultaneously, the onboard RF/EMI filter makes for a supremely low noisefloor that lets you penetrate way deep into the musical fabric should you feel so inclined. Does it seem as though the American cable got most of the attention? That's because its inherent aural showiness made it easy to pin down its sonic contributions.

The Furutech Digi. Reference becomes definable far more by what it doesn't do, hence one must interpolate from that to arrive at its modicum of warmth, superior bass heft/impact and excellent while not emphasized low-level retrieval that's most impressive in the subdued decays that rebuild the recording venue in your listening space. To return to our opening gambit - how important is the very first cable juncture if you owned digital separates? Clearly, whatever data gets lost here can never be retrieved. Whatever colorations or alterations are incurred will have been multiplied and amplified many times over by the time they actually become audible at your speakers. Or as they say in business as well as pleasure - you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Where audiophile cabling is concerned, the S/PDIF link is this first impression. And although binary ones and zeros might seem impervious to such environmental factors as impedance mismatches, the internal reflections caused thereby, dielectric absorption and re-release, noise pollution, grounding issues and connector quality, today's listening session suggests that they aren't. Different digital cable designs sound plainly far from the same. The final choice about what to use is clearly yours to make. That you have zero choice about this being a pretty important decision is also clear. See what I just did? Poor Buddy Young did have the final laugh after all...
Mapleshade website
Walker Audio distributor website
Furutech website