I consider it a privilege to be selected to review the top-of-the-line Flux Series cables by the Japanese high-end manufacture Furutech. There are at least three groups of people that might find that statement a bit odd. First, there are the seasoned audiophiles, who must think I'm crazy for volunteering to swap each and every reference cable out of my system, install the sample cables, and then replace them with the reference. And then perhaps once more install the samples. And of course when the review is finished, once again remove all the sample cables from the system. Is all this trouble one must go through to write a review worth it? The second group that might find this statement odd are the non-audiophiles, many scratching their heads as to why one would "review" not only "a" cable, but a host of cables where each wire might cost more than their entire sound system (if they even have a system). Of course there is that third group, audiophiles (Flat Earthers, some may derisively call them), and non-audiophiles alike that get quite agitated as they implore that cables make no difference in the sound of a system. As far as they're concerned, as long as one uses a sturdy cable with reliable connectors, one's system will still perform at its best. One can attain good sound without using pretentious audiophile-approved cabling. I'm all for using sturdy cables with reliable connectors, but experience has proven again and again that cables can make a very positive difference in the sound of a high-quality audio system.
I usually start a cable review by insisting that changing the cables on one's entire system is the best way to evaluate a particular brand of cables. But since I am not a salaried employee of Enjoy The Music where my entire day consists of busying myself with my systems intersperse with listening to full album sides, then writing about my experiences, I instead installed the Furutech cables in small batches. Usually a cable company will send me enough cable as to supply the most important links in my system, for example, the power amp, the DAC, linestage and phono preamp, speakers, etc. Scot Markwell of Elite AV Distribution, Furutech's US distributor, was nice enough to send me a slew of cables, more than enough cables to re-wire my entire system with no input, receptacle, or output left untouched, including most of my second system downstairs. I swapped them for my reference cables over the course of a few weeks, instead of spending an entire evening (or two or more) genuflecting behind the equipment racks. Thankfully, Furutech cables are quite flexible, even though most of them are rather thick in diameter. These flexible cables made them much easier to install then some of the garden-hose-thick cables with the intractability-of-pipe-cleaners I've had the pleasure of installing in the past. The only problems I had installing them was not the fault of Furutech -- the back of my equipment racks have the look of disorganized phone closets. And so we return to the notion that certain audiophiles must think I'm crazy that I volunteered to undertake such a task, and there were times during this review that I tended to agree with them.
Furutech Powerflux Power Cable
I used the Furutech Powerflux power cables in every available component in my main system that had an IEC outlet, other than the Sound Lab electrostatic speakers. A Pass Labs X350.5 power amplifier's power cord was connected directly to the Virtual Technology wall receptacle which was one of two dedicated 20 amp lines in this listening room. A Balanced Audio Technologies (BAT) VK-3iX preamplifier, Pass Labs phono XP-15 phono preamplifier, and the DAC de jour which these days is a Wadia 121 Decoding Computer, but occasionally a M2Tech Vaughan or Benchmark DAC1Pre, had their power cables connected to a PS Audio Power Plant AC Regenerator, which in turn had its Furutech Powerflux power cable connected the wall receptacle of the second dedicated power line. The Basis Debut V turntable has an AC motor, its Furutech power cable was connected to a separate PS Audio Power Plant, and then another Powerflux cable connected the Power Plant to the wall receptacle.
Furutech Lineflux Interconnect
Lineflux interconnects with XLR termination was used between the DACs and the preamplifier, the phono preamp and the preamplifier, and to connect the preamplifier to the power amp. Interconnects terminated with RCA were used mostly in my second system, and there this system used only one sets of interconnects, to connect the DAC's variable output to the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Six monoblock tube amps.
Furutech Speakerflux Speaker Cable
Furutech Digiflux Digital Cable
Furutech stresses mechanical integrity in the construction of their Digiflux cable, and this enables their "Pure Transmission" technology to enhance not only each element of signal transfer, but to deal with problems such as contact resistance, grounding, and noise rejection. Furutech accomplishes these tasks by constructing the cable with a double-layer shield to deal with the noise, plus, there are three layers of insulation; a polyethylene skin, air foam polyethylene, and a skin of high-density polyethylene. The connectors are nonmagnetic rhodium-plated Alpha OCC conductor carbon-fiber finished RCAs.
Furutech USB Cable
Time For A Listen
When installing the Lineflux cables into the system I felt as though privileged to use them, as these interconnects definitely have the look and feel of a lavish, cutting-edge audiophile product. The cables had weight, the connecters attached smoothly, and when locked into place each connection seemed seamless. Combined with the sleeve's "feel" made me confident in using them. These intangibles may be very meaningful to an audiophile who just paid good money for these luxury goods.
The sonic benefits of the Powerflux cables are very similar to the Lineflux interconnects in that rather their presence drawing attention to themselves, they "merely" increase the benefits present in the components in which they supply power. The word merely is in quotes because, as I mentioned above, this is a trait that is more difficult to achieve than one might assume. Although I stated that Furutech's Lineflux interconnects were a paradigm of "do no harm", yet the Powerflux power cables may be the cable that displays this characteristic to the greatest degree. OK, I'm aware that I can't objectively measure how much a power cable comes to the unattainable absolute of a direct connection to the power supply that is coming into one's home. In fact, I doubt that any audiophile would want this direct connection in that the raw power supplied to one's home, because it is, as a rule, garbage – loaded with radio frequency interference (RFI, or sometimes called electromagnetic interference (EMI)), other noise, and irregularities that a power cable may be called upon to "clean up". Furutech manages the signal by insulating, shielding, and mechanically and electrically reducing the distortion that is caused from the raw power lines. The sound of both my systems was improved by supplying this cleaner power to every component to which they were connected, and as they were able to accomplish with the interconnects, let each component sound more like the component it was meant to be.
The benefit of the Powerflux was patently evident when connected to the Pass Lab X350.5 power amp. This beast draws quite a bit of current from the wall – its power consumption is rated at 600 Watts, and can power the speakers with its 350 Watts per channel at 8 Ohms, and a prodigious 700 Wpc into 4 Ohms. The Sound Lab electrostatic hybrid speakers present to the Pass Labs amplifier, as they would to any amplifier, a difficult load. The Sound Lab speaker's impedance dips very low, even when playing music rather softly. The sound of the system with the Powerflux power cables enabled the amp to perform its best. Best of all, the Powerflux cables did not change the character of the amp in that it didn't sound brighter or duller than usual, nor did it sound more detailed. But it did sound more musical, in that the instruments sounded more like real instruments being played by human beings. Even when playing electronic music, where the "naturalness" of the music cannot be appreciated in any form whatsoever, the music had more impact, and sounded more as the musician or musicians (programmers?) intended. I felt as if I was being drawn into the music rather than just a passive observer. The Sound Labs have always sounded enveloping; their forward character is a benefit rather than a detriment, in that they envelope the listener in sound. Using the Powerflux to power the amp, the speakers continued to behave as they normally do. But now, their sound was even more enveloping, with a soundstage that placed me inside the venue of the recording if the recording was up to it. These subjective impressions were dramatic, but changes to the inherent sonic character of the power amp were not.
It might just be the audiophile in me, but this is impressive-looking cable. It is a weighty, thick speaker cable with a purple-hued outer sleeve, and like the other Furutech cables connection was a breeze, and very uneventful – other than me gushing over the appearance of the cable itself. And even through this is a "modest" system, it was evident that the Furutech Speakerflux cable was a fine sounding cable, much better than even the Cardas cable I use on and off as a reference. The Cardas cable is far from one of the most recent offerings from this brand, so it's hardly fair to compare them head-to-head, but still, the Cardas made a very nice speaker cable even as far back as when this model was manufactured. Yet the Furutech was light-years ahead of it, even if just considering something as simple as its blacker background. The lower noise floor was not immediately noticeable; it wasn't until other traits such as an increase in microdynamics brought this aspect of its sound to the fore.
I've been on a John Zorn kick of late; I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps because he's been in the local arts news due to his 60th birthday celebrations, but since he's always in the local arts news that might be the case. One album I played was his recent The Concealed in which in 2012 he composed pieces for a group of musicians which featured the Nova String Quartet based in Omaha Nebraska, the drummer Joey Baron, and pianist John Meldeski. This is an interesting combination of players, not to mention the music they play on this album, which mixes modern classical, klezmer, jazz, Sephardic and Spanish flavored dance, along with what only can be described as John Zorn's personal approach to composing. After listening to the entire album in one sitting, it was obvious that I might want to reconsider calling this system "secondary", as it delivered one of the most convincing Red Book performances in my home that I can remember. All the instruments sounded more lifelike than I ever remember them, all this from a recoding that to its credit was likely recorded using Pro Tools, nary a morsel of analog recording equipment to be found in the control room. I wasn't able to use Furutech power cables in this system, "only" the interconnects and speaker cable, but they transformed the system in ways I did not expect. The system now had an ease about it that seemed to bring me closer to the recording, and somehow, without changing any of its intrinsic character, bring me closer to the musicians and their music coming forth from the speakers. I realize this is, again, an über-subjective way of describing the changes that occurred, yet I can only explain this because the Furutech cables, especially the Speakerflux, lowered the background noise of the system, and thus increased not only its micro- and macro-dynamics but also increased its transparency to the source. If one were to place themselves in the studio with all of the musicians of the Zorn album, most likely the balance between the instruments would be much different than what is presented through the EgglestonWorks speakers. The recording's sound quality is excellent, but as expected this studio recording's soundstage is man-made. Nevertheless, the instrument balance is perfect, and there is enough studio ambience to imagine the ensemble recording the piece in the same room donning headphones, with Mr. Zorn nodding his head in rhythm to the music. The instrument's timbre was quite realistic, especially the tonality of the strings, made possible at least in part because of the Furutech cable's ability to be true to the source.
As I mentioned earlier, I do listen to electronic music. It seems as if lately I've been listing to it almost as much as music created in real time in a real space. The extremely prolific electronic composer Pete Namlook, who died unexpectedly at the age of 51 of a heart attack, had by this time released 135 albums with his name somewhere in the credits, most of it on his own Fax label. His music, both via digital and vinyl, spends an inordinate amount of time playing on both my systems (Pete Namlook's given last name is Kuhlmann, which is pronounced "cool man"; he simply reversed it and uses the "k"). He uses a mixture of vintage and modern synthesizers to create his genre of music, which had its heyday in the mid to late 1990s. His is very unique, but can be compared to others in the field of European ambient electronic musicians who with he often collaborated. Soon after I installed the Digiflux, I put on his 1995 release Ambient Cookbook, a four CD set where he compiled his work along with others he has worked with over the last few years. For an album that has "ambient" in its title, it's awfully difficult for me to delegate it to the background, and I have a pretty good feeling that many other listeners of this album, as well as the rest of his music, are playing it at full volume while paying full attention. The Digiflux didn't seem to increase the frequency response of the system, nor did it change the character of the source or DAC. It made the music more intelligible, and made it easier to appreciate the music's inner details. There were points in the music where the reverb trails seemed to go on forever, and could easily be heard underneath the next note that came after it, whether it was coming from the same instrument track or not. I've been listening to this type of music long enough were I am sometimes just as interested in the sound that he is creating as the musical composition. Yet he has a style that enables me to get lost in the music very easily regardless of why that is. The Digiflux made it easier still, because it enabled me to appreciate the individual sounds and the composition at the same time, creating an organic whole out of a music that is as man-made as it comes.
The same goes for the Furutech GT2 USB cable. I feel when using the Furutech, with its 24-carat gold plated connectors, the connection between the USB output on the computer and the USB input on the DAC are making as much contact as is possible and so all the signal that could possibly be transmitted is being transmitted. My faith in this excellent connection, along with the silver-plated Alpha-OCC conductors that are doing their job, makes me rest easier because I feel as though the cable is delivering every digit to the DAC. Yes, this might sound simplistic (it is), but to be honest, the sound of the USB cable didn't impress me as much as the other Furutech cables. But still, it's much better than the generic verity, and on par or better than any other mid-priced USB cable I've heard. In fact, as Furutech is well known as a company that sells cable components, it is no accident that my reference USB cable looks awfully similar to the Furutech.
Just for fun I burned a 192kHz/24-bit file of the Abbey Road LP from the relatively new digitally mastered Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box Set. Rather than join the on-line skirmish as to whether this record was a blessing, curse, or somewhere in between, I'm just enjoying it for what it is, a new issue from Apple Corp. from a 2009 48kHz/24-bit digital re-master of what some call the greatest rock album ever. I lucked out in that my pressing has a very low amount of surface noise, and since my LP playback system blows away my digital front-end in most respects, I often feel I'm listening to a 192kHz/24-bit digital copy of the album as close to this new digital master tape as any ordinary citizen is likely to hear. This "experiment" yielded what I thought it would – a replica of the LP, the only difference was it was being played through my DAC. The GT2 does a fine job of not injecting any of its own personality into the playback chain, but if you reread the rest of the review this is one of the greatest, but not only, strength of the Furutech cable line. Admittedly, the (much) more expensive Furutech interconnect, power, speaker, and digital cable have much more "more" going for them over the affordable GT2 USB cable, but still, the GT2's strengths lie in its transparency.
As wonderful or flawed as this Beatles re-master
may be, it easy to scrutinize (and enjoy) with the GT2 cable as part of the
digital front-end. The bass is a bit goosed up not due to the Furutech USB
cable, but because of the album's 2009 re-mastering. The treble frequencies do
not extend to the stratosphere not because when using the GT2 cable the system
can't reach those heights, but because that is an inherent limitation of the
resolution of the digital signal pressed onto the record. When there is a
trivial tick or pop on the vinyl it is delegated to a non-musical portion of the
soundstage, just as when listening to the signal through the Pass Labs phono
preamp when it's connected directly to the linestage. The GT2's retrieval of
low-level detail is excellent, and if one wants to consider the detection of the
imperfections of the vinyl "low-level retrieval", so be it. All in all, I'd have
to give the Furutech GT2 a thumbs-up if looking for an affordable USB cable. It
also helps that its sleeve is a beautiful cobalt blue with black, and if looks
are important to you this is just another reason why considering the GT2 USB
cable for one's digital front-end is a fine idea.