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Cable review basics. It's called boiler plate or the small print you must read before signing any contract. Hifi has no interface standards. Input and output impedances between our equipment are all over the place. Speakers might present a purely resistive load or swing brutally over impedance and phase. Some gear is bandwidth-limited because of i/o transformers. Other kit extends into the MHz range to risk oscillating when cables present the wrong values. Should a combination of wonky gear behaviour and wacky cable values generate wonderful results, common sense predicts an overwhelming likelihood that such results won't be repeatable with 'normal' gear. Meanwhile properly designed cables which conform to science's best attempt at covering all the bases might not get the best from component combinations which really only blossom under very specific—usually impossible to know—conditions.

Without understanding what's what, just how useful can cable reviews really be? Results in one system won't translate predictably to another unless a reviewer went the extra miles. One must experiment with all manner of equipment and speaker combinations to distill down the sonic essence of what are consistent qualities versus what are mere special effects which occur only sporadically (and then most likely without any grasp on our part as to what exactly caused them). One obvious solution to this conundrum are reviews split between different writers who comment on the same product in wildly different rooms and systems. As the reasonable reader appreciates immediately, this presents very real challenges in terms of logistics when contributors live all around the globe. Here Arkana's willingness to provide both Glen and I with product really helped.

You should also know that for years I've given this entire sector short shrift to listen very happily to a complete loom of Zu Audio Event. I acquired the lot for a very good price; it's visually and physically very unobtrusive and super easy to route (think thin and flexible); it works well; and I already own it. Case closed. As is becoming a shared sentiment amongst experienced listeners, single-brand looms—all signal and power wires from the same maker and preferably the same range—are the way to go. This immediately adds to the logistic challenge. One really ought to review loom vs. loom, not isolated links. But digital cables are a very different animal altogether. Whilst the transmission is analog, it's about square waves whose rise/settle times or steepness rely on massive GHz bandwidth to minimize jitter. Many cable designers might author perfectly sterling examples of the analogue cable art yet do not know how to design and manufacture a proper digital cable. Yet a digital reviewer's system sans tape or vinyl sources depends on a quality digital link. And even to provide a complete loom minus the digital cable gets bloated quickly particularly when custom lengths are involved.

Inherent in my Zu scenario was unfamiliarity with current top-crop cable brands because I've not investigated this sector in too long a time. In this scheme of things Zu cables are affordable. Didn't it stand to reason that were I to cross paths with something far costlier that was worth its coin and not simple rape, I'd feel like a college kid advancing from moped to first car? The gap would be large even if the car was modest. With Arkana cables being my first exposure to costlier wires in quite a while, one would expect superior performance. To properly set the stage required at least one more high-class cable loom for some mandatory triangulation. I decided on Absolue Créations since it's what my soundkaos Wave 40 speakers are wired with; and because one of my favorite 'sane money' exhibits at Munich HighEnd 2014 was fully wired with these French cables - the Auris/Boenicke room. If Arkana was superior to Zu and so was Absolue Créations, at least I'd have some means to keep things honest and in perspective. I thus ran reviews on both cable sets in parallel. Here is the link for the Absolue Créations.

As promised, Arkana's connector quality—Acoustic Revive, Furutech—was top shelf. The actual sleeving and trim of their cables was conventional but solid and like many upscale efforts, fitted with little block housings here gussied up in wood.

I'm not sure why such boxes have become custom. Only true networked cables like Transparent, MIT or HMS with their impedance-correction circuits really need them. Never mind, today no costly cable dares to enter the market without name holder boxes somewhere on their lengths. Those routinely grow to silly dimensions and weight. Here Arkana play it conservative. Bling is at a minimum. Audio cables of course pass alternating current. Directional arrows would seem questionable unless asymmetrical shields were involved. Never mind, Arkana have arrows too. For a newcomer it just wouldn't do to not play the game.

Igor promptly chastised me for installing their speaker cable reversed to take advantage of the best match of bananas and spaces to amp and speaker. "Every cable has directionality due to its manufacturing process. Wire is extruded through a spinneret in one direction. We use metals with a crystalline lattice which differs from conventional copper, silver and gold. Our kind of lattice is very sensitive to rolling, hence directionality."

With five rare-earth metals in their conductor quiver, Arkana have opted for colour-coding their sleeves in tandem with their non-scientific naming of—from the top down—purple, gray S.E., gray, blue and yellow metals. Whilst their patent application runs its course, they remain tight-lipped on the scientific names of their conductors. I received gray for the speaker cables as the second-from-the-top option; gray and purple for RCA and XLR interconnects respectively (#2 and #1 in their category); and gray and blue for power (#2 and #3 respectively).

The power cables were terminated for EU Schuko use. Switzerland of course runs its own three-prong sockets which are not shared by any other nation. I actually run all US power delivery gear because when I bought all of it I still lived in the colonies. Apparently Arkana and I had miscommunicated about my power-cord socketry needs. No problem, I had an arsenal of adaptors. I was instructed that these cables would need additional break-in past what the factory puts on. Hence a delay of a few weeks was built into this assignment. When Igor learnt of my AC plug adaptors, he announced a replacement shipment of US-terminated cords to play it purist. Because Arkana cables are multi-paralleled solid-core, they're slightly stiff and can be kinked without proper attention. Whilst I understand marketing's desire to colour-code their product tiers, I must confess that for cables I find anything other than black, dark gray or perhaps white quite distracting. Until we go wireless active speakers, I think most people would rather not see their cables. On that count bright blue and burgundy sleeves are unnecessarily noisy. They're visual targets. Given the high pricing I also disliked the feel of the synthetic sleeving to much prefer Zu's all-black cotton weave. And whilst not as stiff as Franck Tchang's wiry ASI LiveLine cables, Absolue Créations' cables were far more drapeable than Arkana's. Particularly the French power cords were insanely slinky by comparison and far easier to dress in tight places.