Michele Surdi
Review component retail: €3/metre

All audiophiles are bastards. We're not in it for the music. You can get all you want with a set of freebie earbuds. We're not in it for the gear, even. We're in it for the snark, for the pure fulfilling joy of comparing our superior discernment and expertise with the soul-destroying ignorance, gullibility and vulgarity of other practitioners. As for reviewers? We know all about them. One of the blogs I read is the fetchingly named Dr. John Cheaptubeaudio. Though for reasons unexplained, the good doctor seems to dislike 6moons. I find him experienced, entertaining and literate. The last by the way is hardly a given considering the spelling issues which afflict a great many self-styled pros. Also, Dr. John is a Tannoy and Klipsch man like me. This explains my interest in his detailed and laudatory evaluation of the 13-gauge Belden 9497 cable. Now, I'm not much of a cable guy. I've been around that block and some ten years ago settled contentedly on my current Van den Hul loom. But, the idea of a specialized vintage-oriented wire for my high-efficiency throwbacks was tempting enough to send me on a surfing expedition. A few clicks later I was laughing merrily at the ovine docility of audiofools. Dr. John's well argued personal preferences have apparently sparked a feeding frenzy for what is, by Belden's own undisputable account, the original twisted bell wire aka the bane of so many audio adolescences, mine included. As I was idly checking prices gazing at Youtube marketing come-ons and meditating on the folly of mankind, I was most unaccountably pinged by an email which confirmed my Paypal order for 10 metres of the very same Belden bell cord from a Japanese source, for an overall price of some €50. Now, since I am not one to follow the herd, there can only be one rational explanation for this phenomenon. The Devil made me do it. Bell fire and brim tomes.

So, to put Satan behind me, I decided on a skeptical comparison of the Belden 9497 with my similarly priced Van den Hul Skyline. This is still in the bare wire category but boasts a carbon screen, 14-gauge oxygen-free untinnned copper and a proprietary sleeve in an overachieving little package which works equally well with my Klipsch Heresy 3 and as a flexible alternative to the massive old-fashioned Inspiration cables which are the dedicated connection to my Tannoy Canterbury SE. These last are the very same model owned by Dr. John who however has no love for Van den Hul wire. Before beginning I must state my position on this kind of thing. One, all cable reviews are taste and system dependent and as such, essentially meaningless. Two, all cable reviewers are despicable, particularly those who begin by stating that cable reviews are meaningless. Having taken my stand, I shall now proceed. I find that both the Klipsch and Tannoy benefit markedly from biwiring. Accordingly, I cut the 9497 to suit. As for terminations, I did what I obdurately do with smaller gauge cord: stripping off, not altogether effortlessly, a centimetre or so of insulation, twisting the stubs when necessary and screwing them down in the appropriate terminals after swabbing them with isopropyl alcohol. I'm no good with solder and, in any case, tin doesn't do a thing for conductivity. Upstream gear was my usual Nagra CDC as a straight-up Redbook player, with my custom 3wpc Tektron TK 6EM7S Ref integrated SET described here on the Heresy while the Canterbury sang along with the CDC in its CD/pre configuration driving the hallowed Firstwatt F5 through Van den Hul The First and Integration carbon and/or copper interconnects. These choices were meant to represent a determinedly retro tube setup on one hand; and a severely purist contemporary combo on the other. Musical offerings were Alessandrini's excellent rendition of Monteverdi's Vespro and Janis' equally classic Kozmic Blues, both at the volume settings appropriate to such fare.

Reviewer rhetoric firmly mandates that at this point I should scurry across the floor to retrieve my fallen jaw while nursing my smacked gob. Not so. The Belden bell wire was far from unlikable particularly on the SET-driven Heresy, sporting a disciplined midbass bulge, a warm and woolly Quad-like midrange and inoffensive if imprecise highs. The Skyline, to my taste and in my setups, trounced it in every department including deep bass, staging and air. I am perfectly willing to believe that Dr. John has obtained better or simply more pleasing results with his equipment. What I do know for certain is that with the aforementioned caveats, I prefer the Skyline. Do I get a doctorate for that?

All in all, a civilized difference of opinion then. Still, the bastard in me kept crying out for blood. This led me to try out the Nagra/Firstwatt combo and the 9497 on my resident Harbeth P3ESR nearfield monitors. This was a signally mean thing to do since the Skyline in this setting perfectly complements the Harbeths' strongest suit - their uncanny capability of being both revelatory and forgiving. Now, to my knowledge nobody advocates using 9497 with insensitive BBC-bred shoeboxes and there's a reason. The results were clearly revelatory of the cable's contribution but the forgiving part was equally clearly MIA. Having given the Devil his due, a penitential mood set me on a diametrically opposite tack by tweaking the Tektron/Klipsch pair with a nostalgic Belden 8402 interconnect which I had acquired at Jeff Day's suggestion.

As a crowning antiquarian touch, I stuck on a genuine Fifties vintage power cord dutifully salvaged from my father's historic Pamphonic 3000 integrated when the dear old thing finally went belly up some years ago. In keeping with the regressive nature of the experiment, I then played Rollins' 1956 Saxophone Colossus on my backup CD player, the very deserving and tube-friendly Rega Apollo-R. This time though, jaw and gob remained unmolested. The end result was clearly in a different aesthetic league. I say aesthetic because while the sonic hallmarks remained largely unchanged, the overall effect was the opposite of dull. The midbass bump translated into rhythm and the less than significant highs into intimacy, with the masterful van der Gelder mono cut providing an appropriately focused sound picture.

Now for the nitty gritty, the price/value ratio. My eBay perambulations gave me a possible street (or should that be sucker?) price of circa €3/metre for the 9497. Hardly a steal. The Skyline [blue, left] is by my lights a far better all 'round deal. The Belden 9497 however can legitimately be considered a connoisseur tweak for vintage equipment and recordings. And... it's also rather cute.