Nope, I’ve not switched hats. Nor am I losing my marbles. I didn’t review cables in 2011. And I’m not reviewing cables in 2012. I just don’t review cables. I’m happy to have a quick listen (perhaps) and maybe offer a few comments if time permits. Here, I’m repaying a loaner debt (as a blog entry and not a formal review). Credit where it’s due (and all that).
August 2011. “I would like to offer you a demo pair of our Skogrand SC Air Speaker Cables so you can get to know these cables on a setup that you are familiar with. Will a pair of 2.5 m with banana plugs do? Or we can manufacture a shorter pair. If you prefer other termination we also offer spades.”, came the email from Scandinavia.
Two days later I had a tracking number. The Norwegians had sent me some high(er)-end speaker cables…
Knut P Skogrand has kindly stood by patiently for six long months until I found myself reviewing an amplifier/loudspeaker pairing worthy of more luxurious connectivity: REDGUM RGi120ENR (AU$3990) feeding Spendor SA1 (AU$2900) with which they exhibited ultimate smoothing/polish. REDGUM/Spendor combo aside, they’re mostly too rich for this guy’s audio palette (which is more attuned to budget boxes). A thousand buck loudspeaker cable with a thousand buck integrated? Computer says no.
Knut’s Skogrand SC Air loudspeaker cables boast “twisted pure solid copper leads suspended in air” sleeved in braided polyurethane. A 2m pair heads out of the factory to your door for US$790 + shipping. Cheap they ain’t.
With this in mind, I dispatched the SC Air unto a buddy who has a thing for tinkering with new wires, a real taste for the high-end and whose desktop system has remained constant for a year or so. He penned the following:
“Witch doctor. Snake oil. Pittdown fossils. Alien autopsy. High-end cable. You get the picture.
Few topics arouse such heated debate in audio circles as the benefits of expensive cables. Some people hear God speaking to them, some people don’t. Cables in audio are a bit like religion. Godless heathens can stop reading now!
For those who have some interest in whether the wire between your amplifier and your speaker can make your system sound different and – controversy corner here we come – maybe even better, read on.
Let’s imagine that you win the lottery, and your prize is a lazy $2 million. Your long suffering wife, used to skimping on non-essentials like shampoo and toilet paper to fund your repeated cycle of audio gear, says you can choose one component to upgrade and one only. You choose the cables. She looks at you suspiciously. But hey, it’s $2 million. This will hardly make a dent. She smiles benignly at your unusual show of restraint.
It’s a modest system, just a DAC and amp and two speakers, so your cable requirements are minimal. You decide on Nordost Odin. You’re keeping your digital cable, so you only need two 1 meter power cables (for your DAC and amp), a 1 meter set of interconnects (DAC to amp) and 3 meters of speaker cable – single wired. All this can be yours for roughly $75,000.
If you haven’t won the lottery, but are still keen to here what cables can do for your system, then you’ll probably be looking at something more sensibly priced. Darko doesn’t review cables. However, he’s wiped the spittle from the mouth of a crazy audiophile (me) and sent me some product for review.
The Skogrand SC Air come in a rigid plastic airtight case in “Pelikan” style – commonly used by photographers. It’s hard to imagine a safer way to transport cables. The review pair was terminated with banana “Z” plugs at both ends – my favourite termination. As expected, the Z plugs worked well with every bit of equipment I tried them on. The black and purple heatshield looks smart and the cables are flexible and light enough that I encountered no difficulty working with them, even in a slightly confined space and with a 90cm drop from the speaker terminals to the ground. Indeed, the teflon housing for the cable (all sheathed in a braided PET sleeve) has nodules which make the cable particularly easy to bend (and then stay bent).
So, the cables are extremely well packed, look terrific and are easy to work with. So far so good. Let’s listen. Let’s see if the balsa framework, and sealed-in Norweigan Mountain Air sound good combined with the pure copper wire.
Test gear for this job was a a computer feeding a Peachtree Audio Decco2, in turn driving pair of ProAc Response 2 speakers. This is a desktop system and listening was near-field. While not quite full range, the Response 2s will reach down to 30Hz.
Ahead of the Skogrand SC Air, I began with a pair of Audioquest Rocket 44 cables, which run to about $400 for a 2m bi-wired pair. The Rocket 44s are a good quality intermediate cable, with good tonality, snap and weight in the bass. They don’t have the sheer resolution or engagement of high end offerings, but they’re a competent all rounder and so provide a good basis from which to start a comparison.
On switching to the Skogrand, the initial impression is that they are airy and light but also offer deep and well articulated/controlled bass. The bass in particular is impressive and well defined. They are also very quiet, so I assume the shielding is working more effectively than with the Audioquest in my busy office/computer environment. There is also a slight impression that they may be rolled off or smooth in the treble, which I often find when switching to a quiet cable. However, the fade on guitar strings is natural and these are clearly a cut above the Audioquests…
…Four hours later, and any sense of them being rolled off is completely gone. What remains is a cable that is slightly on the smooth side, but still reveals a high level of detail. They are tonally neutral and weighty in the lower frequencies without any bloom. String instruments and the human voice are rendered with notably natural timbre.
This slight smoothness was well suited to the digital front end in use, and although the sound is relaxed I did not feel that any detail in the music was sacrificed. That sure is saying something as ordinarily I have a preference for the slightly harder leading edge (of silver cables).
While these cables may have rivals in the price range in terms of sheer aural performance, the Skogrand SC Air are on par with anything I’ve heard at this price. Moreover, unlike some of the contenders at this price point, there is nothing of the DIY feel about the SC Air’s construction. They look, feel and behave like absolutely high-end equipment should…and are a delight to work with.
In summation: a very good cable that will outperform most things up to its price point (and some beyond) and one that comes in a very impressive physical package.”
Further Information: Skogrand Cables