CABLE TEST/ Z Audio - Spider cables series
Do you remember Igor Paljar, the man who heard too much? Last year I wrote about the audio cable constructor whose system made me take a deeper peek through the window and saw a completely different HIFI world. Back then I wrote about the wondrous workshop and timeless space in which one of the most unusual HIFI products with which I met come from. In the following story, I will describe the sound and structural philosophy behind the Z Audio cable.
In order for you to understand what I’m writing, I have to point out that Igor Paljar is characterized by a distinctive approach to the construction of the cables and that he thinks out of the box when it comes to HIFI. Namely, Igor Paljar comes to the final solution looking at the environment and the time in which the cables are formed.
They are the result of the compound of physical and mechanical phenomena that surround us, i.e. the material and the spiritual. I still didn’t breach all the way in Igor’s exceptional world, and it’s hard to feel everything that it contains, but on the other side I can very specifically talk about the sound of the cable that I got to test. We’re talking about interconnection and speaker cables, and the power cord from the Spider series. Otherwise, from the Z Audio workshop come out HIFI cables in three qualitative levels i.e. series – Spira, Spina and Spider.
According to Igor Paljar’s words, the cables from the Spider series are characterized by increased immunity to external vibrations caused by music playback, which means that good sound balance is accomplished, and an accurate timbre is preserved properly due to the lack of microphony. Placing the conductors of the cable construction on the external part of the main construction from which it’s separated (isolated) by thin nylon threads, has helped avoiding microphony. This way the time delay between the instruments that we listen to when playing music has been eliminated, which allows us to fully enjoy the sound due to the homogeneity which has been preserved to a great extent thanks to this construction.
Research and structures resulting from this work have proved that the mechanical characteristics surrounding the conductor are largely responsible for the final sound result. This implies the implementation of conductors and dielectrics on the qualitative level of the chassis structure in terms of its own resonant characteristics, i.e. the compatibility with the resonance of the entire cable system. Furthermore, Igor Paljar says that the Spider construction is excellent for pampering HIFI systems by carefully selecting certain varieties of Spider cables, of specific resonance.
As far as the geometry of the conductors, all three series of cables – Spira, Spina and Spider, use the same basic structure. However, each series requires conductors that are optimized to work in such an environment because of the characteristic resonance of the chassis, so that at a first glance they are all identical, but differ in the capacity and inductance, as well as in the use of isolators and type of base on which a specific geometric structure is built. In the best Spider models the insulator is hybrid in order to achieve the desired mutual resonance of the conductors which occurs due to their work, and which is necessary to make the complex Spider structure optimally exploited in relation to the basic Spider model.
The conductor used for signal cables is OC silver, while copper is used in the power cords. The dielectric for all three series cable is raw, untreated cotton which is applied in the form of a spiral around diametrically placed conductors, in a uniform interval which is defined by a hand-operated machine.
Thanks to the mechanical construction, the new conductor specimens don’t differ in the sound as in the classic manufacturing process of production of the geometry, where it can happen that an identical cable model might have a different character from the previous specimen. Polyethylene and cotton insulators in a hybrid configuration are used in the Spider top offer models. With this technology, the contact area of the insulator and the conductor (be it cotton or polyethylene) is reduced to only a few percent. With this, the construction gets closer to the ideal of laying the conductor surrounded by air, but with the possibility of a more precise mechanical control of the geometry structure of the conductor by the application of certain types of dielectrics, according to the need of the targeted cable constructions as a total unit.
On the other hand, the idea of the construction of the Spider cable came up mostly by studying the spider web, or through Igor Paljar’s endless conversations with his son Filip. The children’s fascination with the natural construction, which reads as one of the most extraordinary creations of the animal world can easily be mapped onto the cable construction. Hardness, isolation, vibration, threads, crystal components, and other, can be linked to both worlds, animal and material, that is, with spiders and Z Audio cables.
Such inspiration and symbiosis of two different worlds graces Igor Paljar’s thinking, and it’s this segment that most impressed me in this story. Following these events, I finally accepted the unusual appearance of the cables and said to myself that cables of such design philosophy simply cannot look anything but so. I conducted the testing in a few steps. First I connected to the system and listened separately each cable, and ultimately I put all three at once. The testing started with the Spider speaker cable (1055 €).
The cable is unterminated on both ends, meaning that bare wire sticks out of them. Personally I don’t have problems with this, and neither did the amplifier nor the speakers, so the connection passed without major problems. There is a long-standing debate on whether is it better if the cable is terminated or not, in which one side claims that any termination creates an unnecessary obstacle in the way of the signal, while others will say that it has nothing to do if the termination is well done.
In any case, I made a comparison with Transparent Musicwave Super MM2 cables (around 2500 €) that make up the standard part of my system. Audio Z proved to be a very good detail and tonal balance cable. I haven’t noticed excesses or the cable tendency to highlight a specific part of the frequency range. Moreover I would describe them as moderate character cables that hold the music together.
The disadvantage I noticed was in the impossibility of presenting the finest detail, so that a certain dose of transparency was lacking, however, the cables provided sufficient insight into the musical fabric. The piano and string instruments sounded convincing, this is the biggest plus. In addition, I was surprised by the quantity of authority and power of the organ performance at the lowest registers. If I take into account that the cables didn’t deduct anything in terms of speed and time lag, compared with Transparent and so far mentioned, I would say that the Spider speaker cables impose as a good choice for those whose system gravitates toward a fast, open and lively sound.
However, whether the Spider speaker cables will impose as an ideal solution in the future system, primarily depends on the rest of the same system, so I recommend listening before buying. I have to point out that there is a possibility that the Spider speaker cables will furtherly close the picture in darker systems because of its, so to say, reclusive character. Next in line was the Spider power cord (500 €). I tested it on Pass X250.5 output amplifier and the Classé CP-800 preamplifier with integrated DAC. I have to admit that the difference in the power cord drastically diminished since I have the above mentioned output amplifier.
The point is obviously in the fact that Pass is less responsive to the change of power cables versus the previous Classé amplifier. I was convinced of that before testing the Z Audio power cable when I connected the cables from other manufacturers. I’m not saying that there was no difference compared to a standard Audioquest NRG-2 power cable, but neither did the tectonic plates move because of the difference in the sound.
Not even in this case an earthquake happened, so I had moments where I could hardly detect differences in the sound. Usually such a listening, that requires a superhuman effort and an expert ear, awakens autosuggestion so in the end you are not sure what you are listening to and if there is even a difference in the sound.
However, by connecting to the preamplifier / DAC, things have changed significantly for the better. Greater detail and spaciousness was immediately noticeable. Music was given more homogeneity and the whole stage furtherly stretched in all directions. In those moments my smile stretched on my face because I knew that the system took a step to a higher level. The more I listened to music, the more I noticed a fine polishability of the detail with an excellent stratification. Overall, I would describe the sound as a refined and devoid of the shackles that have prevented it to expand its splendor.
Past experiences of changing the power cable on a preamplifier / DAC usually resulted in exaggerated treble area or splitting sounds on the atomic level. Of course, such listening soon turned into a masochistic act and it distanced me from further listening. Fortunately, this was not the case. On the contrary, I could calmly live and enjoy the music for a long time with the Spider cable in this position.
Whether the Spider power cord will bring a shift in the sound in your system, obviously depends on where you use it. Perhaps in your case it will make a difference on the amplifier, i.e. the opposite of me. There are no rules. Without doubt, the star of the evening, figuratively written, was the Spider interconnection cable (500 €). It was clear right away that it was a purebred HIFI product which will leave indifferent very few people. Excellent detailness, precision and tonal balance, are just some of the elements that characterize the Spider cable.
I was surprised by the throughput that the Spider entered the music with a great timbre of the instruments. My enthusiasm reached its peak when I could clearly feel each guitar or violin string. These subtle vibrations were transferred in the space, where I enjoyed without any restraint a fantastic presentation of high-fidelity sound. The soundstage maintained its stability so that with the change of the interconnection the picture didn’t move forwards or backwards.
The comparison with Sumić Audio Black Hole 5+ interconnects of my own system, wasn’t possible by the principle “listen, put another one, compare”. The Spider interconnects that I got to test have RCA connectors, while the Black Hole 5+ has XLR connectors. As the XLR connection is a few dB louder than the RCA, in such comparisons the victory often goes to the XLR cable because by nature the human ear detects louder things like better.
In order not fall into that trap, I listened for a long time one cable, then another, and I tried to see what made the difference in that cumulative period. The Black Hole 5+ in my system replaced the several times more expensive Audioquest Niagara cable (about 1850 €) because it is simply better in all the parameters. It also proved to be better than the Transparent MusicWave Super MM2 interconnect (around 1900 €). There were other candidates who have succumbed to the Black Hole 5+ cable including the new Sumić Audio Overture (800 €).
But to my great surprise, the Spider proved to be a worthy opponent. I cannot say that it is deprived of sound seals like the Black Hole 5+ cable, because it still lags behind in terms of neutral character, but it still retains a satisfactory level of the previously mentioned tonal balance. Where the Black Hole 5+ shines, the Spider almost reaches it. In other words, it breathes down its neck. The surprise is even greater when you consider in which price range is the Spider. While I would recommend the purchase of the Spider speaker and power cable, but not without first listening, I can say that you won’t make a mistake even if you blindly buy the interconnect.
Great job and praises to Igor Paljar! Overall, perhaps the biggest drawback for potential buyers will be the appearance of the cable. I don’t mean the color, type of connectors and the like. The point is the structural nature, because the Z Audio cables don’t have a standard size. They require a lot of room to maneuver and are not as flexible as most HIFI cables. So if you have limited space, and the HIFI shelf standing against the wall, forget about the Z Audio cables. Yet, for such cables, especially for interconnection, it is certainly worth moving the shelf away from the wall and make them space.
In addition, Igor Paljar has seen the convenience of standard audiophile cables (oxymoron!) as a disadvantage, because it is precisely this convenience that prevented the manufacturers a higher quality construction solutions. As a bonus this story about Igor Paljar and the Z Audio cables, I will describe a recent event. One evening, around 8pm, unexpectedly the postman rang the doorbell. At first I thought that it was a mistake because normally expect the postman around noon with letters, I mean – bills. However, he held a long package in his hand and offered me an invoice to sign. I looked at the postman and at the package and I thought about how come I don’t remember ordering a rifle or fishing rod.
A glance at the label and I figured out that the package was from Igor Paljar and that it certainly contains the Z Audio Spider digital cable which Igor Paljar told me about around Christmas and promised to send it. Ha, here it is finally! When I opened the package, I gasped again because Igor surprised me again, this time by the packaging of the cable which was placed in a wooden grid box, and it releases by pulling a ‘fuse’. I have to admit that I’ve never seen a more original audio cable packaging. Great!
It is a digital AES / EBU cable that I compared with the Audioquest Raven cable in the next days, placed between the DAC and M2tech EVO USB / SPDIF converter. I must emphasize that in my audiophile internship I noticed the slightest difference in the sound between the AES / EBU (XLR) cable and that replaced the DIY Mogami with the Raven cable in order to obtain peace in the house and that I would not ever think about that kind of cable. USB cables are another matter with which I will deal with in another occasion.
The Spider digital cable has been playing in the system for days without any sign or intention of leaving. It copes equally with the Audioquest Raven cable (around 800 € at the time of its market launch) which may speak about the quality of the cable itself and about Igor Paljar’s great achievement in this segment.
In the end, I won’t hide my satisfaction, not only for meeting Igor Paljar, but also for having a concrete opportunity to listen to his products. I would sum up this story by saying that that this is a brighter side of HIFI. About the fact that the HIFI gives life purpose not only to the one who listens, but also to the one who creates. I look forward to going to Istria again and meeting with Igor. I’m sure we’ll talk about music and HIFI in spring or summer, but also about small things like – spiders.
Speakers: Wilson Audio Sophia 3
Power Amplifier: Pass X250.5
Preamplifier/DAC: Classé CP-800
Source: Mac Mini (Mid 2010/Maverics)
Software: Fidelia, Audirvana Plus
USB/SPDIF converter: M2Tech HiFace EVO
PSU for M2Tech: Soundness
Speaker Cables: Transparent Musicwave Super MM2
Interconnects: Sumić Audio Black Hole 5 Plus (XLR)
Digital Cables: Audioquest Raven AES/EBU (XLR), Nordost Blue Heaven USB
Power Cables: Audioquest NRG-2, Audioquest NRG-3, Wireworld Stratus
Power Distribution: Supra MD06-EU MKII
HIFI rack: Rondo
Room: Acoustically treated, 8,5 x 3,8 x 2,8 m