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July 2014
Best Audiophile Product Of 2014 Blue Note Award
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
DanaCable Onyx Interconnects by Gingko Audio
Oxygen free RCA cord provides excellent value!

Review By A. Colin Flood

 

  This is not my first interconnect rodeo show. Eight "oh my gosh, what the hell have I been doing?" years ago, I plowed through a stack of subtle silver cords only to find one gold champion. (See two-part "Silver Shoot-out," July 2006.) Back then, a few friends and I listened mostly on my office bookshelf system. This time, alone and together with friends, I listened to dozens of the same new and favorite songs on half a dozen different interconnects on several different home theater music and movie reproduction systems. I compared the $195 DanaCable Onyx cords:

Always wonderful and expensive Clarus Crimson (review coming), $995

Almost as wonderful and yet still expensive Clarus Aqua (also to be reviewed), $495

My aging Monster "Silver"* twisted pair with 24k gold contacts, discontinued, about $40

Basic Monster Interlink 250 twisted pair with 24k gold contacts, discontinued, about $20

Amazing, award-winning gold champions, DACT Dual Connects, discounted, $428

 

DanaCable Onyx Interconnects by Gingko Audio

 

Cords Have Connectors
I do not want to make a mountain out of a molehill (16th century idiom). Nevertheless, let's re-iterate some imprecise terminology casually floating through the halls of tweaking audiophile jargon: interconnects are cords, but cords are not cables, and cables are not wires. Connections between components generally use RCA interconnects, also called patch cords. They have RCA connectors or plugs at each end. A cord with a plug connects source to amplifier, pre-amplifier to amplifier, components to power outlets. Loudspeaker connections, with or without connectors, to amplifiers are cables. A cable is a bundle of wire strands. It can either have, or not have, terminating connectors. You can't run a cable from component to component. Neither cords nor cables are wires. You can run a single bare wire strand without connectors from source to pre-amplifier or from amplifier to loudspeaker, sure. But a bundle of twisted wire strands is a cable. When terminated with a connector, a cable becomes a cord. An interconnect with RCA plugs is a cord.

The DanaCable Onyx are interconnecting patch cords. Their connecting ends are made of a solid feeling anodized brass plugs in a dark gray color. The plugs are also the same shiny dark gray. The bodies of plugs have a knurled band of either gold or dark gray at the end. The knurling makes it easier to twist the plugs off and on – no small matter for reviewers making several dozen swaps between ˝ dozen cords on three different systems.

Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio is the exclusive distributor of the DanaCable product line. He answered my questions with his usual fast and responsive emails. Vu has 23 years at Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies in electronics. He has a Masters of Engineering in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech. Gingko Audio makes amazingly effective Vibration Isolation Platforms (VIP). I have and enjoy their Cloud 10 VIP. He says the DanaCable design philosophy for interconnects is to minimize capacitance (C). Given the higher impedance of low-level components (such as preamps, sources such as CD players, etc.) capacitance is the primary culprit to attack.

"

 

Pareto Principle
Robbins says he is "basically an SET tube amplifier nut, who loves to fiddle with all the parameters associated with those glowing bottles." Though he made changes to bias currents, plate resistor values, and was getting better and better measurements in the lab, it wasn't transferring to what he was hearing in his system. "That's when I rolled up by sleeves and began measuring everything, he says, "I mean everything!" Robbins discovered that his cables were holding his system back. The result is his cable designs. DanaCable was born. "I am a believer in the Pareto principle," Robbins says. This is the law of the vital few, the principle of factor sparsity, "which basically states that 80% of a problem lies with 20% of the causes. You solve those 20% and you are 80% of the way there!" (Harvard business school taught me this also.) The cable designs are just the beginning for him. Robbins has a DC coupled vacuum tube pre-amplifier design, with no capacitors in the signal path, which "makes the prettiest 5-Hz square wave signal you have ever seen." He says, "it has the deepest, tightest bass response these ears have ever heard."

Like my Big Ole Horn system, Robbin's reference system is also tubes with large, solid-state sub-woofer support. His system is a highly modified 845 SET tube amplifiers running from 100 Hz up, through a custom crossover, driving uber rare French Orthophase ribbon speakers, circa 1965, then a custom 1/4 wave stub tuned 12" center sub driven from a bridged 800-watt solid-state amp to provide tight bass. "It is something to hear, Robbins says, "because just when the tube amps are starting to run out of their 15-watts, the 800-watt amplifier is running out too! Shows you how much more power is in the bass of music as compared to the rest. The Fletcher-Munson loudness curves don't lie!

 

Cords Have Direction
The models are not broken-in, though Vu says cords and cables do need break-in. Once you break the cords into a certain direction, keep it that way.  To facilitate this, Gingko prints DanaCable at one end and Onyx at the other end of the cord. Keep the break-in direction from DanaCable end (source) to Onyx end (sink). It does take a while for the cord to settle down when you flip the direction. He says the crystal in the material actually settles as electrons move through them. Like the nap of the grass falling one way on a putting green, the electrons settle in one direction.

"It is audible electrons," Vu says, "[sound] flows much more unimpeded. If you take a picture of copper [molecule] at a minute level, it's not like it is homogenous inside the copper. Extruding [the copper] pulls it a certain way" My friend, Phil Rastocny - retired science writer with Bell Labs and author of the $0.99 "Extreme Audio" series on Amazon - uses a rope analogy to explain this. "Ever tie a knot and the pull on it hard? What happens to the knot? It changes its shape, right? This is ‘sort of' what happens inside of a loudspeaker cable and interconnect."

Wires wound by the manufacturer are spaced in the twisting-and-manufacturing process. Rastocny says, "adding signals invokes the right-hand rule of magnetism. This means magnetic fields are generated along the entire length of the wires. Any "slop" in the twisting will make the wires move – just a little. This changes the capacitance or inductance or both of the wire (depending upon how it moves) and therefore the sound. Add heat as in loudspeaker cables, then the insulation also softens and the wires again move. Get the idea?" Vu recommends using the same cords to all of your components connections. If you have to choose only one, he says the source is more important than the amplification. So use your best cords between the source and the preamp first. Gingko has been making the rounds at the high-end consumer trade shows, such as AXPONA. Unlike their wonderful woven loudspeaker cables, Vu did not have measurements, graphs or video for the new cords.

 

Clarity With Clarus
I wrote about the slinky DanaCable woven loudspeaker cables in the June 2014 issue of Enjoy the Music.com, so you can pick up their company background and construction technology there. You probably know about the ubiquitous Monster cords already. I bought some when they first came out. Back when $40 was considered a rip-off for a RCA stereo patch cord. You can read about the DACT connects. So let me tell you about the Clarus. The Clarus line is Pure Copper Ohno Continuous Cast (PCOCC) devised by Professor Ohno at Chiba Institute of Technology. Under a microscope, PCOCC clearly looks smooth and uniform compared to regular copper. Think flat plains compared to craggy mountains. Copper is lot cheaper than silver, which is a lot cheaper than gold. The Clarus Crimson costs twice as much as the gold DACT Dual ICs. So it will be interesting to hear the sonic comparisons between OFC, PCOCC, silver and gold cords against each other!

 

Prejudice And Prejudging
I am not compensated, reimbursed or affiliated with any audio/visual company in any form or fashion except for Enjoy the Music.com. I have no ulterior motives, hidden agenda or professional bias, except to decide for myself what I like. If you read my Reviewer's Bio, you can clearly see I am a Big Ole Horn loudspeakers and audio tube amplifiers kinda guy. I used the Onyx ICs between pre and power amplifiers. This included visiting equipment: Glow Audio Two integrated EL84 tube amplifier, solid-state Audio by Van Alstine integrated Synergy Control amplifier* and solid-state Sonic Craft Opus Signature pre-amplifier and amplifiers (reviews coming). I listened mostly at low 80s dB, on a slow, C-weighted, unadjusted Radio Shack SPL meter, though my free Smart Tools Sound Meter app shows roughly the same levels.

In the interest of full and objective disclosure, I came into this contest with some pre-conceived notions:

From "Silver Shoot-out," that my Monster cords are mediocre quality.

My DACT Dual connects rank among the best, not just in the review above, but also against some XLR and other gold cords in other Suncoast Audiophile Society shoot-outs. (Audio clubs are wonderful for swapping, listening and talking about equipment!)

Around the corner, in another room, unaware of the change, first impression of the Clarus Crimson line on Rastocny's heavily modified Macintosh powered Bozak system was amazing. As if some major component was changed.

 

So these were not single or double blind studies. I saw and knew which patch cord was swapped in and out. I had some idea of the price range of the Clarus and DACT interconnects (ICs). The collar and pin connectors on all of these cords are only slightly different. The delicate white weave of the DACT Dual interconnects and their polymer plugs stood out from the pack. The Bullet Plug* from Eichmann Technology "down-under" won rave reviews from my publisher (See Male RCA Shoot-out, September 2001)

So the question is, could subjective listening tests alter my perceptions? How did the Onyx stack up against far more expensive pure copper, silver and gold cords? Two thousand words and I am just getting warmed up! Let's get into it...

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

The famous Blue Note scale was very kind to the slinky black DanaCable Onyx woven cables. They won four Blue Notes -- Above Average -- scores across the board! A rarity for me. The Onyx IC also did extremely well against far more expensive and exotic competitors. As the Blue Note numbers in the "Silver Shoot-out" show, audible and measurable differences for patch cords are always slight. Rastocny's blog shows that the differences between loudspeaker cables can be merely one or two decibels at certain frequencies. The difference in the Onyx cords was immediately noticeable! We quickly eliminated weaker sisters. Going into the second round, it was DACT and Clarus Crimson in the lead, followed closely by Onyx and Clarus Aqua. Both Monster ICs trailed behind, never to catch up in any category.

A Canadian who began composing at the age of six, André Gagnon' fusion of classical and pop styles is renown, but not easy to classify. It ranges widely and makes audacious combinations of elements from both sides of classical and pop. In 1975, "Neiges" was on American Billboard's Top 10 for twenty-four weeks and sold 700,000 copies worldwide. He composed music for "The Pianist" movie with Harvey Keitel (1992). Gagnon's "Ta Samba" is a snappy, Latin percussive popcorn rhythm with slashing New Age Techno signatures, symphonic violins and flutes; it is an electronic beat with fast changing and foot tapping melodies. On it, the Onyx IC displayed the same characteristics that I noted on DanaCable's slinky woven cables: deeper bass, higher treble range, clearer, with fuller mid-range. The Onyx had better texture and detail than the Monster cords.

Here again, the Onyx ICs seemed much less electronic in nature. Pizzicato plucking was apparent where it was absent before and now part of the melody. The Onyx ICs were impressive, enjoyable and listenable. The Onyx rendered "Ta Samba" as a much different song by adding the deep end of bass and the high end of brushed cymbals to the rhythm where none existed before. Sadly, my Monster Silver missed a lot of the sound.  Like the cables and interconnects, some songs make it pass the elimination stage. In the semi and the finals, you want to listen to them again and again. Going into the second round, it was DACT and Clarus Crimson in the lead, with both Onyx and Clarus Aqua close in 2nd place. Both Monster ICs fell further behind, clearly out-classed.

American smooth funk/soul-jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. (1943 –1999) is considered by many to be one of the founders of the smooth jazz genre. Washington is credited for giving rise to a new batch of smooth jazz talent that would make its mark in the late 1980s and early 1990s. So of course, I have much of his music. Big Ole Horns love horns! On Washington's "Poacher Man" (Soulful Strut, 1996), horns dance with jungle notes and Catherine Russell's strong female lead in the opening. In 2012, Russell won a Grammy Award for singing on the HBO TV series "Boardwalk Empire." It is hard for many systems to reproduce that many different instruments accurately, with equal enthusiasm and competence. Here the capabilities between the Onyx and the Clarus Aqua versus the Clarus Crimson and the DACT Dual ICs stood out clearly. The two leaders were fuller, more jungle notes, with a golden feel. Their vocals were more forward and exuberant.

Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671 – 1751) was an Italian Baroque composer. Famous in his day as an opera composer, today we remember him mainly for his instrumental music. On his "Concerta for Oboe and Strings, Opus 7," the Onyx was not missing much. It had less body than the expensive cords, which is backhanded way of saying the cord was quite good. It was as if the flute was more electronic and less breathy. The high notes were sharper than the top cords, a tad brighter, but mostly not as rich or golden, as if formed with incomplete waveforms for the notes. Minor criticisms perhaps, when comparing differences worth hundreds of dollars. Overall, I was very impressed with the Onyx cord. Having heard and compared this IC to a few others, I would recommend it to anybody who doesn't want to spend the coin on the more expensive competitors.

For Value category, I would still choose the DACT Dual for golden delicacy and detail, but if that price is not in your range, the DanaCable Onyx interconnecting RCA patch cord by Gingko Audio at half the price is an excellent five Blue Note value.

 

Enjoyment
My own category seems obvious, doesn't it? From one measurement to another, regardless of economic value, how was the level of enjoyment of the product? On Enjoy the Music.com's unique Blue Note scale, I also rate the standard quality Onyx patch cords four Blue Notes for Enjoyment. My listening tests did not disabuse me of my prejudices. Which is an English-style snooty way of saying my Monster cords are still at the bottom of the scale, the DACT Dual connects once again rank up against the best patch cords and the Clarus Crimson line is still amazing.

 

Short and Sweet
Four Enjoy the Music.com Blue Notes across the board! A deliciously competent performer at a very competitive price, with little or no serious short-comings, I am more than impressed with the products I have reviewed so far from Mr. Vu and his Gingko Audio. Vibration Isolation Platforms, slinky woven Onyx black speaker cables and now this, an across-the-board bronze medal winner that comes very close to gold performance, except in price, all make Gingko Audio worth watching. Coming out with amplifiers someday, Misters Vu and Robbins? Be sure to sign me up.

 

Specifications
Type: Copper RCA interconnect cable
Onyx RCA interconnects: O-UI, 1 meter, $195 
Additional length: $50/0.5 meter, RCA only

 

Company Information
Gingko Audio
8 Nicklaus Lane
Farmingdale, NJ 07727

Voice: (732) 946-9439
E-mail: gingko@gingkoaudio.com
Website: www.GingkoAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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