Furutech NCF Cable Booster-Signal
Sometimes, you can't help but get giddy about a product that most everyone is going to gripe that, "It can't possibly work!" But the fact is the highly debatable yet finely engineered Furutech NCF Booster-Signal I've been lucky enough to be closely reviewing these past few months clearly improves the clarity, focus, resolution, and musical enjoyment of just about any otherwise free hanging or gently lying-about cable you may be using in your high-end audio playback system. "What, what, WHAT?!?!" I hear someone saying, far away in the Internet. As though the mere fact that elevating or "Boosting" a cable off its normal path might even begin to make an audible difference much less a repeatable one, and yet here I am saying just that. The difference I hear and measure when using these Booster-Signal I've concluded is one for the better, and this after decades of exploring this "floating" topic. You are just not going to believe how far back this whole "Cable Elevator" thing goes or the actual real world implications if this technology and the physics that turns out to be true, unless you are brave, and read on.
Cables And Zip Cord – Why They
Well, you might imagine that non-descript cable, also called "zip" or "lamp cord" can't really offer up much in the context of a high end audio review, with all we know or speculate about, today concerning cable fidelity. So when grappling with the concept of raising those cables and cords up off the floor and hearing a supposed difference in sound quality, one easily might ask, "Is it real or did I imagine it?" It turns out if you have a bunch of ordinary unshielded audio cables in near proximity to each other, and they are all tied together rather than just loosely hanging there, separate. The resulting audio going through those cable begins to sound different! Likewise, if any of those cables carry a really low level phono signal from a turntable cartridge (or microphone in the case of production), it really changes the sound quality when you tie everything together, tightly, or loop cables all together on top of each other. And that's just the beginning.
By 1980, Noel Lee had successfully created Monster Cable. Through a series of careful experiments in both wire technology and perceived value for effort and brand, all in his garage on a ping pong table, he began the high-end cable market we celebrate today as audiophiles and engineers. Also, I as a burgeoning audio (and video) engineer and so realized the importance not just of using better cables to improve signal flow from the amp to the speakers, but also realizing a new level of fidelity between components thanks to the first high-end audio interconnects he introduced within a couple of years.
These were a new breed of product, designed from scratch to both look superior and also to pass signal in a manner that suddenly sounded like music instead of just mere Hi-Fi! Lee's now famous 1979 CES demo A/B demo'ed his 12-gauge Monster Cable versus the average 16-gauge "Zip Cord" easily and audibly proved his point that 'cables do matter and affect sound quality in ways we can easily hear and improve upon.' Am sure in the distant reaches of "The Cloud" I hear a plea of, "Oh, please. You're not going to go on about cables all sounding different; again, and again, are you?" Gosh, yes I am. This is because they do all sound different; especially when heard:
1) Connecting high resolution gear hooked up to...
2) Fine speakers listened to under...
3) Quiet conditions with the...
4) Full attention given on the part of the listener.
If you don't think you hear a difference between two different audio interconnects (or speaker cables) when compared carefully:
A) Under these conditions and...
B) With the same music played at...
C) The exact same levels (often with someone else doing the actual switching and using a meter to measure both voltage and SPL levels).
Then consider yourself lucky! The rest of us audiophiles and a few well trained engineers and musicians must contend that everything sounds different; even the same stuff from one time of day to the next in the exact same system!
A Cottage Industry Abounds – How To Tell Them Apart
Furthermore, it may very well be that it is not the electrons moving back and forth as alternating current inside the cable conductors (at all) that represents the audio (or video) signal but actually the included sum and difference of otherwise unidentified electromagnetic field effects outside the cables. So even if all other electrical factors inside the conductors were the same, each of the above cables would still sound (and measure) differently in a high-resolution listening situation because of the other materials used around the conductor.
Roger Skoff, noted CEO and inventor of the XLO Brand of cables back in 1990, is fond of extolling a certain test he invented that anyone can do at any time with a spare speaker cable (or interconnect) and a little listening patients. By cutting the jacket off the interconnect (or speaker cable) and leaving the conductor untouched, one can hear the precise effect that any cable jacket has on the signal passing through it by A/B listening with and without the cable jacket in place. His observation, mine, and most likely yours (if you undertake this audio experiment) will be that the same cable sounds noticeable different when heard with the same music playing and the jacket removed while listening versus having it on.
Many factors are in play here, not the least of which is a capacitive effect where the plastic cable jacket actually charges up and holds onto the passing signal for a tiny instant of time before discharging back into the same signal, and thus distorting and corrupting what's passing by on the conductor at that moment. Essentially, with no jacket (therefore no capacitive smear) sounds better, faster, less like listening to a stereo recreation and more like live sound that has not been amplified. "Jeremy, are you serious?" It may seem far fetched, as I explore this idea with you, but go ahead and try Skoff's little experiment and come back here and tell me you heard no difference, at all! Yet, there is more.
Testing & Listening Comparisons At Chesky Records
I took great orchestral pieces of music like Respighi's Pines & Fountains of Rome, Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's 9th, and even Strauss' 2001 opening to "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and I recorded them, over and over again, through different cables from the Ampex R2R to a custom George Kaye / Ultra Analog 24-bit A/D converter – the centerpiece for all Chesky Records digital albums. So imagine me cueing up these precious (one of a kind) original two-channel 15 ips analog master tapes (no noise reduction) and recording the exact same music through a couple of dozen different interconnects (including balanced three-wire XLR, since we are in professional audio territory). And here is what I discovered.
If you take upwards of 25 different interconnects and "record", "measure", and "listen" to the qualities each imparts (or withdraws) from the original signal passing through it, you will get 25 different variations on that original signal. So that even the very best choice among them will still exhibit some noticeable characteristics that some people say they can hear or infer performance from; terms like bass, slam, transparency, impact, depth, sweep, crackle, even smear, pop, twang, sibilance, and hiss are often used to describe variations in sound quality among them.
But while some of these qualities can be ascribed to both certain recordings as well as certain gear, my goal in making the comparisons was to find the least colored sounding cable to use during my transfers (with RCA/BMG engineer, Bill Allen) of these historic RD analog tapes, particularly through the exceptionally transparent 128x-oversampled Sigma-Delta analog to digital process. Again, since these were destined for audiophile CDs still available for sale today. It could be argued that cables are actually like tone controls, adding and/or subtracting various parts of the whole signal to subtly change the sound. And in my experience, in addition to frequency changes, there are also notable cases of improving or destroying clarity and focus, altering perspective, widening or foreshortening soundstage dimensions, even tampering with the timbre of instruments and the human voice.
So it becomes relatively easy listening to these 25 subtly different variations to quickly eliminate any majorly colored contributors, followed by finalizing on the one of three that actually let the signal through: unimpaired, unchanged, and (largely) unaltered. And among this group of three contenders, their were specific characteristics of design that contributed (in my opinion) to the overall transparency of sound I heard (and measured) through these examples. This includes design elements such as conductor purity, geometry of the cable, type of dielectric used, shielding or not, and jacket materials, not to mention length. This is already a long and complicated list of potential design strengths or weaknesses for anyone to juggle while making a product, and if it weren't for recording the varying results again and again using the same source tapes and analog to digital playback chain (one of the finest in the world at that time), I can easily imaging most folk and even competent audio engineers simply getting fed-up with the apparent minutia of it all.
Enter Furutech – Uniquely Engineered High-End Audio
After nearly a year making careful observations of all things that effected signal performance in my audio and video productions (and just for fun), It became clear that Furutech was right: everything makes a difference, and at some level make for a heightened appreciation and experience of your media and of what's actual possible in modern signal communication. This is especially true even when we're speaking about simple two-channel stereo coming from sources streamed a world away and from time immemorial. Yes, microphones and speakers make the single largest differences in sound quality when making a recording. But so does where you put those mics and speakers. Thus when everything is set-up and producing great sound on both sides of that mic or pair of speakers, astute system owners can still make changes and find ways of potentially improving signal reproduction that are noteworthy and repeatable; even in our humble audio listening rooms, today.
Now, some four decades into the process of playing with and comparing cable performance, I find myself reviewing a Furutech product called a "Signal Elevator". And it is here that I can draw upon a really large library of digital audio albums I have listened to during significant portions of that 40 year period. What happens when you play a favorite track or album only to hear details in the performance and sound reproduction that remained illusive or hidden until this point? "Is it real or did I imagine it?" I have often said, and then listened a second or even third time to see if I did hear something repeatable.
Enter NCF Booster Series
In a stunning clarity of luck and science, Furutech brought together the best of their unique technological approaches created over decades of research to produce a simple device that by just elevating or holding a cable, wire, or cord firmly can indeed make a noticeable, worthwhile, and even meaningful improvement in the everyday performance and sound of your audio gear. And here is how they do it. First you start with a Nano Crystal Formula (NCF) resin, this special crystalline material actively:
1) Generates negative ions which eliminate static charge which builds up on the plastic jackets of most cables, and...
2) Utilizes nano-sized ceramic particles and carbon powder to mechanically damp any vibrations through a piezoelectric effect.
With a choice of flat or curved cradle design, open or closed geometry, and adjustable height, the NCF Booster Series goes farther than any other product of this type to systematically remove the last vestige of field effect induced audio distortion and acoustic vibration induced resonances exhibited between two connected components. And, in fact, the scientific approach to finding and dealing with these apparent mysteries surrounding signal propagation have not only improved matters for audio signals but, not surprisingly, video and power, as well. But wait, the best is yet to come!
Jazz: Twin Peaks
Bedalimenti has a special relationship with Lynch where the two spot music for there productions together and work to create Lynch's signature Sound Design is an elaborate cavalcade of synth, reverb, jazz, and odd noises that create an ambient effect like no other. These musical creations have been captured and mixed using both classic vacuum tube and newer solid-state component, with an ear for perfection of balances, rhythms, and emotional connection to the music.
Well, every time I hear these tracks, whether from CD, streaming, or as the soundtrack to the actual show, the qualities of these particular performances and the inherent sound fidelity are unmistakable; even around the corner. And yet, after using said pieces for both enjoyment and as a test signal during reviews made over the last 29 years, I am utterly shocked to hear this music sound anew, fresh, in fact, almost like I had never heard any of it, before! I attribute this as much to the introduction of the NCF Booster-Signal into my playback systems; especially after having used and then removed various types of elevation techniques I liked since 1980.
By this I mean that I have experimented on and off with elevating cables and wires in my systems all the way back to that time when Noel Lee made his first monumental foray into signal transmission. Using the NCF Booster in key spots refines and improves upon the sound already present by removing a layer of confusion from the playback that was previously thought top be inherent.
I'll say that again: Using the Furutech NCF Booster in key spots in an audio and video system refines and improves upon the sound and picture already present by removing a layer of confusion from the playback. "What???" Imagine, if you will, the Twin Peaks jazz soundtrack (or your choice of music). Think of it like a three-dimensional picture of sound, being reproduced more or less accurately as a sonic illusion by your speakers and system as though you were their live with the ensemble in front of you.
That picture of the soundfield travels from the source (let's say your CD or music server) through a process that more or less copies the image (signal) from one component to another, CD to pre-amp, to amp and then speakers, and finally to your ears via your room's acoustic. But when this sound picture moves through cables and wires, it is often subject to distortions that to our ears and hearing determine are colorations or are taken as a given limit to sound fidelity – it's as good as it gets. Yet, when those minor distortions are removed, the resulting sound image is so much clearer, precise, in focus, and suddenly and predictably more detailed and realistic (given the right recording) that one comes to the easy conclusion Furutech got it right with the NCF technology.
What's Going On To Remove Distortion And Hear Truth
Stereo systems are assumed to have a "sound" that is inherently electronic, artificial, and distinct from reality, sometimes good, sometimes bad, unless they are lucky enough to purchase and use exceptional pieces of gear that have been specifically designed and tuned to avoid these distortion elements. I'm sure you can also liken this to the experience of looking through tinted glass in a car or through sunglasses which change the way light is perceived by our eyes, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse but always different from viewing things straight up with nothing in the way.
Therefore, from the opening notes of the bass guitar, and through the synth cords, accompanied by an ever increasing ride cymbal, the deceptive simplicity of the Bedalamenti ensemble is easily captured and revealed in this classic mix from the head of the album and every Twin Peaks episode. Yet as familiar as this track has become, heard on all manner of systems since the fall of 1990, I have always enjoyed those special times when it really stood out and sounded damn real, even for a studio recording. And this continues now for me with track 3 of Audrey's Dance, again with a variety of instruments that include Synths, Clarinet, Finger Snaps, Drum Kit, Bass, Vibraphone, and a healthy velvety sounding acoustic dialed in perfectly around and behind everyone. You can feel the walking rhythm seducing you into following along into the solo sections, and the whole ensemble flirts with itself towards the "C" section, near the end of the piece.
Adding lead vocal and accompaniment, and here track 4 "The Nightingale" presents a much larger apparent sound space, with David Lynch's favorite vocalist Julie Cruise, floating about halfway back and centered high up on stage with the accompanying vocalist(s) imaging even farther back and a little lower in an arc shape. Although the sound capture, mix and presentation have always been a model to me of "how it should be done" getting all the ingredients to this sonic dish just right, the mere introduction of the Furutech NCF Booster-Signal under the head and tail of amplifier's power cord, adjoined interconnects going back to the DAC, and speaker cables that are elevated, the soundscape becomes much more discernibly defines, leaping into a special realm of sonic precision wherein the individual characteristics of each different instrument in a good recording (such as this Badalamenti one and others) can be heard clearly to occupy it's own space, like someone sitting in the room in front of you, and to also offer up a level of inner detail normally reserved for far more expensive gear – the Holy Grail of the audiophile, where everything one plays that's any good at all makes you feel like you're there!
Rock: Kraftwerk The Mix
A) Sound images appear clearly defined and in relief against other sound images in the same mix, where before they were blurred togethe...
B) The Tonal qualities of each sound element are much more unique and distinct, giving one more sensation of listening to real, separate, individual human beings playing; and in the case of totally synthetic recordings and instrumentation, such as with Kraftwerk The Mix, the effect can be even more extreme.
Demonstrating often unheard transpositions between and behind existing instrumentation or soundscapes, objects buried in the mix, are suddenly heard to standout from the background. It's an uncanny experience, usually reserved for those rare occasions with a superior design of gear that is often unique and/or very costly. Track 2 "Computer Love" displays a range of textures, hues, shades, and spatial contours of imaging that are enveloping, caressing to the ears, and rich in a timbral vibrancy normally only heard (again) on much bigger and more expensive systems in much larger rooms. These are rooms that normally get out of the way since they have been acoustically treated.
But. There is also the unmistakable improvement heard to:
C) Pacing and Rhythm, which are both intricately separate and combined at the same time, offering a tangible draw to the ear and one's attention that wasn't easily heard before treatment using the Booster-Signal.
Even when heard around the corner or on the other side of the house, the unmistakable sounds of "More", "Better", "Listen to me now" all come flying out of your speaker and into your consciousness in a way that if you remove all 16 Furutech NCF Cable Booster-Signal and re-listen to the exact same tracks at the exact same level(s), you will not be as impressed nor as drawn in by a long shot.
And given a few minutes you'll be saying, "Damn, this sounds worse." By putting one NCF Booster back in after another until they're all back in and the sound is back! Weird, I know. "Is it the NCF Booster or is it me?" Let's examine this on a more myopic level, shall we, because otherwise you, like myself, might easily conclude that we've been hypnotized by technology in the form of snake oil cable elevators or some other audiophile poofdom.
More Refined & Deeper
Quincy Jones' Soul Bossa Nova track 8, the title track for the movie goes back to his 1962 album of almost the same name; a legendary group of pieces recorded at the early high point of stereo capture and delivery on Mercury LPs to hungry and enthusiastic consumers. The Big Band sound is unmistakable and noticeably larger and more acoustically driven than the previous cuts on the Austin Powers compilation album. But again, with the NCF Booster-Signal in place, and heard at any volume from extremely loud to just a whisper, the specific level of detail and focus, along with a seductive heightened dynamic envelope that clearly resolves much longer detail deep into the background silence (room ambience) is extremely compelling.
Track 12 Call Me Back with The Mike Flowers Pops simply breaths with more life-like pulse and propulsion than I ever recall hearing outside of a rare and expensive combination of gear (where the room was also part of the price). Each track on this compilation has something to offer to both the music lover and audiophile, alike. And as a demo and test vehicle, I encourage you to take it for a regular spin on your system(s). It's also great on headphones and in the car to help you unwind and toe-tap your day away!
How Do I Treat My System With Furutech NCF Booster-Signal?
Without further ado, let's go through this for you, right here: let's start at the Speaker Cable. Can you see how it either hangs there until it eventually reaches the floor, regardless of which end you look at? Now elevate (using your choice of materials or the Furutech NCF Booster) a single offending speaker cable (start on the left side) so that:
A) The speaker end is properly supported (in an NCF Cradle if very thick), and...
B) The amp side is supported (see pictures).
C) Put a support under the middle of the cable so it doesn't touch the floor, but this last tweak makes the least difference, sonically.
Now do the other (right) side. And also put Booster-Signal on the amp's power cord, so it doesn't sag or pull on the wall socket or on the chassis – a tight fit sounds better than a loose one. Those three spots properly cradled on any speaker cable or power cord will make a sufficient difference in sound quality for you to get a very good idea where your system can go in terms of improvement by just Boosting the wires.
Now take that same routine and apply it your Interconnects and any other cables like digital I/O and remaining Power Cords (such as to and from the DAC, turntable, pre-amp, etc.); the most important parts are the head and tail followed by the middle of each cable – it may not make any sense but that sequence of importance will make the most efficient use of your audio dollar. Now there is also the question of using the supplied tie-down (as I mentioned), which is a flexible black neoprene band that can be used to hold down a cable or wire to differing degrees, as well as their being also a more expensive NCF cradle piece that cups and grips vs. the standard flat NCF cradle which can be used singly or in pairs (top and bottom like a sandwich).
The rule of thumb is to secure the cables carefully and neatly without excessively constraining them more constraint equals more damping and this can reach a point where the whole system sounds clean but too dry, seemingly being too damped. Conversely, just laying cables across the NCF cradle has the desired effect but only in spades. So I wound up using the flat NCF cradle and the tie-down bands most of the time, instead using the curved cradle, which only worked for me on extremely thick and round cables that are snake like in size, they naturally were better suited to the curved NCF cradle's shape.
Again, and using several different amps, speakers, DACs, turntables, cables, power cords, and interconnects (balanced and unbalanced) the results were consistent – Boosting is better! Without Furutech NCF Booster Cradles, very good performance could be heard from several different established playback systems. Here at my personal Kipnis Studios (KSS), a system's goal is to reveal and recreate sound accurately. With the elevators I made from three wooden chopsticks and some little string ties, the results were better: Very Good to Excellent sound quality. Yet with the Furutech NCF Booster cradles set-up strategically throughout the systems here under review, the results became Excellent, even Outstanding sound could easily be heard, with a special tangible immediacy that is both startling (since it's so obvious) and provocative... causing one to be drawn into the playback and thus intently listening!
This last observation, where the review process falls away and one simply starts hearing and enjoying the music and performances regardless of the technology and it's set-up, is the goal I believe of a high end stereo music system: it should simply get out of the way and teleport you to wherever the music is. This ability for the Furutech NCF Booster-Signal to consistently heighten and improve fidelity in a subtle yet significant manner can be heard equally whether from Digital or Analog sources, physical media or streaming, MP3 or MQA, music only or accompanied by video, in big expensive systems or with small simple desktop nearfield monitors (as long as they both have the capacity to create a detailed three-dimensional sounding image). Really, trying out the Furutech NCF Booster-Signal in any decent audio system is likely going to blow your mind with how it brings out the best qualities you never quite knew were there in your system, but always hoped would be.
Plusses And Minuses
The sonic view without a normal intrusion of "aural glare" distortion is a listening sight to behear – and for the first time you may actual listen to something through your hi-fi that actually communicates an aural illusion which seems, "Real", "Authentic" "Natural"; not the typical colored, artificial, or constrained sound of hi-fi that most take as read for our hobby and my profession. If you try a little suggestion I have of using a trio of wooden chopsticks tied together in a tee-pee shape, you will get a very rough idea what I have been talking about when it comes to elevating or boosting your cables up off the floor. But to really appreciate the engineering behind the Furutech NCF products, with years of research and proprietary materials used, you will have to try the NCF Booster-Signal for yourself since they employ a significant amount of technology and design in pursuit of ending "proximity based distortion products" that normally inhibit cable performance.
On the other hand, if you are just shaking your head, saying something like, "Dear, dear, dear... Jeremy has gone and hit his head, one too many times. And now thinks we can solve problems that don't really exist, and or are made-up by the snake oil loving audio and videophiles, who insist on tweaking out perfectly fine sounding and looking systems past the point where it can possibly make any real world improvements." Well then don't try it. Or if you do, and you only hear a little something if anything different, then invest your money elsewhere such as a new pair of speakers or a DAC (like the M2K from Italy I'm currently reviewing) can likely make a much bigger difference to you for the money.
No worries, you've just saved yourself a lot a needless confusion, just reading my words, here. And there are plenty of ways a change of gear will elevate the sound of your system, as well. But, if you are like me, and like your system as is (when I'm not changing my gear for reviews), consider what may happen if you suddenly like what the Furutech product does here. There are also many more Furutech products designed to make similar levels of improvement, easily and consistently in just about any worthy audio or video system you may use. Seriously, you may well find yourself totally surprised to hear (or see) improvements using these Furutech Booster-Signal and other products that you considered meaningless until they were too obvious to ignore anymore!
Now I've tested and reviewed the perceived changes from cables and cable elevators starting as early as 1979, presumably before anyone cared. And I did a whole slew of comparative audio tests beginning in 1991 that were recorded and compared double blindly to determine if and which cables sounded less like hi-fi and resolved more audio and musical information when using 1st generation analog tape sources transferred through the best test cables into a 128x-oversampling Ultra Analog A/D – the results were available and recorded at 24-bit/96kHz to double-speed DAT from Pioneer. In each case, a wide variety of informed listeners heard and responded one by one to the test tapes and three clear cut winners being chosen, based on perceived transparency and musical involvement.
Later, we conducted more such tests over the years with accessories like contact conditioners, different jacket materials, shielding versus none, and elevating cables away from solid objects like tables, floors, walls and other gear. In the end, every little change was audible to some degree, and the largest contributors to audio improvement were scored and used for all subsequent recording productions in the making of all albums I've worked on since; this as early as 1991.
Over the last 27 years, I've been lucky enough to keep testing different cables, audio and video gear, power supplies and filtration, and accessories in all areas; including wire management and system vibration tuning. Not surprisingly, things that were important to sound quality all those years ago have been improved upon, in some cases significantly enough to now become important to a much wider and younger audience. This now includes cable Booster-Signal and vibration damping courtesy of Furutech of Japan.
Their attention to details that include field and proximity effects upon cable fidelity have lead them to develop materials (NCF – Nano Crystal Formula) and techniques (Cryogenic Temperature Treatment, Anti-Static, Anti-Magnetic, Anti-Vibration) that when used with most audio and video cables, not to mention power and data wires, make such an improvement in fidelity as to appear magical. Yet, they the effects are real and disappear just as fast when the Booster-Signal are all removed. What develops is an appreciation for what time and engineering in the hands of experts can do to make our daily listening a thing of beauty, again; worthy of taking time to savor and enjoy the experience of being an audiophile.
Sure there is a limit to how well you personally will hear the improvements I speak of when introducing even a few of the Furutech NCF Booster-Signal into an existing playback system. But taken as a whole, if you know and love the sound of your system and then add a few Booster-Signal in key spots (especially Speakers and Amp Power) you are likely to be in for a pleasant surprise, one that becomes increasingly intriguing and intoxicating since it will make your favorites sound new, once again and like you have never really heard them, before. Hyperbole? You be the judge. But you must try the Furutech NCF Booster-Signal, then, and give them a real chance. If you hear nothing improved or changed to your liking, good for you and consider yourself lucky. Otherwise, you will quickly hear things you did not know were in your music library and that demand more and more of your attention to hear anew and (really) for the very first time!