March 15, 2010
Analysis Plus Black Oval 12
Speaker Cables and Micro Copper Oval-In Interconnects
Anyone who’s read
my past cable reviews has probably figured out that I don’t have much patience for
hype, marketing claims, or junk science. My cynicism about cables came to me the
old-fashioned way: I was ripped off. I believed one company that waxed lyrical about what
made its cables so much better than the other animals in the zoo, only to discover
that my $500 speaker cables were made of 14¢/foot wire from Home Depot. When I confronted
the company, they responded with hundreds of words of absolute rubbish, all of which
seemed to say, "Hey, stupid, you don’t understand cables." Maybe not, but I
know snake oil when I see it. None of this has anything to do with Analysis Plus.
Analysis Plus Cables is a division of Analysis Plus Inc.,
an engineering, design, and simulation firm made up not of marketers but of engineers and
mathematicians, with a reputation solid enough to land work from huge companies that have
problems they can’t solve on their own -- companies such as Airbus, ITT, Motorola,
and car-parts giant Magna International. In other words, Analysis Plus knows what
they’re doing. For proof, look no further than the design "white papers" AP
has posted on its website. They don’t just claim their technologies are good, they
prove it with measurements.
What sets Analysis Plus cables apart from the rest are
their patented woven oval designs. According to AP, woven oval cables offer two advantages
over conventional cables: reductions of "current bunching" and "skin
effect," physical phenomena that cause audible distortion in music signals
transmitted via round cables. What’s more, says AP, these effects are cumulative --
as frequency increases, distortion worsens. AP claims that its woven oval cross section
provides a path of lower resistance for electrons, and that this lower resistance in turn
reduces the tendency of electrons to want to move toward the outside of the conductors,
aka the skin effect.
The Black Oval 12 speaker cable ($239 USD per 8’ pair)
and Micro Copper Oval-In interconnect ($315/1m pair) were the first Analysis Plus cables
I’d had in my system, but I’d often heard the company’s brilliant Silver
Oval speaker cables in publisher Doug Schneider’s system. From those sessions I took
away several findings, the most significant being that the lustrous Silver Oval cables
sound fantastic enough to whet my appetite for trying some AP cables in my own rig.
One thing I’ve always liked about Analysis Plus cables
is their look. The Black Oval is easy on the eyes, though admittedly it lacks the
jewel-like gleam of the Silver Oval. Still, the Black Oval’s high-purity copper
conductors feature AP’s patented hollow-oval cross-section braiding. Both the
positive and negative conductors are visible through the jacket of clear dielectric, the
negative side identified by a thick black stripe. To each end of the review samples AP
fitted copper banana plugs, using high-compression cold welding. The
fit’n’finish of the connectors was excellent, with no hint that the bananas
might ever come loose.
The Micro Copper Oval-In interconnects came in two
varieties: a single-ended pair terminated with brightly polished, gold-plated, locking RCA
connectors, and a balanced pair with Neutrik XLR connectors. Unlike with the Black Oval
12, the copper conductors comprising the Micro Copper Oval-In aren’t visible; all you
can see is a braided black sleeve covering the inner workings. It looks quite elegant,
especially in contrast to the beautiful, gold-plated locking RCA connectors that terminate
the single-ended cable. As it’s an interconnect, the Oval-In is much thinner than the
Black Oval 12 speaker cable. In fact, compared to every other cable I have on hand (aside
from the near-microscopic Crystal Cable Piccolo), the Micro Copper is downright svelte.
With the rear-panel areas of many audio systems looking like fire-hose graveyards, I
appreciate a cable that doesn’t look as if designed to transmit kilovolts.
System and setup
The Micro Copper Oval-In interconnects linked a Simaudio
Moon CD3.3 disc player and Moon i5.3 integrated amplifier, while the Black Oval 12s
connected the i5.3 to a pair of Focus Audio FS8 speakers. Power cables were the
Synergistic Research T2 on the CD player and T3 on the amp. Both the banana plugs and
locking RCAs held the AP cables to their respective components with fierce tenacity. I
like a cable that stays where it’s supposed to and doesn’t loosen over time. I
gave the entire AP loom a week of 24/7 break-in before doing any serious listening, then
removed the speaker cables and auditioned the Micro Ovals with my trusted Supra Ply 3.4/S
speaker cables for a time before bringing the Black Oval 12s back in.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that there was
something to Analysis Plus’s claim that they know how to reduce cable distortion. The
swirling swishhhhh of brushes on snare drum in "Lonely Town," from Bill
Charlap’s Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein (CD, Blue Note 94807),
sounded full. There was also a sense that the sound wasn’t limited to the flat plane
of the drum head, but instead emanated from a sphere of energy radiating out of that
flat plane. There was also a greater naturalness to the tone of tenor saxophone, as in the
lead-in solo that opens "Tenor Cadenza," on Chick Corea’s Time Warp (CD,
Stretch STD-1115). The same was true for trumpet and piano, as shown to great effect on
Ray Brown’s Some of My Best Friends Are . . . the Trumpet Players (CD,
Telarc CD-83495) -- for example, the interplay of brass and piano in "Clark’s
Tune (Legacy)," in which Terry Clark alternates between flugelhorn and trumpet,
cueing off Geoff Keezer’s piano, and vice versa. To my ear, brass should bite without
sounding too metallic, and piano should sound more like a stringed than a percussion
instrument (I really dislike the sound of hammers hitting strings). The Micro Copper
Oval-Ins brought forward these ideals far better than I normally expect relatively
inexpensive interconnects to do.
When I added to the mix the Black Oval 12 speaker cables,
it was more of the same, though happily this didn’t lead to an excess of any
particular attribute. What the Black Oval 12s did do was tunnel down into the true
nature of particular recordings. For all its bouncy fun, Michael Buble’s "I Just
Haven’t Met You Yet," from Crazy Love (CD, Reprise 520733), sounds shrill
-- producer Bob Rock emphasized the treble far too much for my taste. Although this track
sounded no better through the Black Oval 12s, it didn’t sound tamed, either. This
made me realize that these inexpensive cables were doing a fine job of letting signals
pass through them without altering them to any great degree.
Changing musical tack, I really enjoyed the bite of David
Stuart’s early-1980s synthesizer on "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," from
the Eurythmics’ Ultimate Collection (CD, Legacy 73799); the bassy depth of
Rick Allen’s thunderous drums on the title track of Def Leppard’s Rock of
Ages: The Definitive Collection (CD, Island 464702); and the energetic pace and
Michael Hutchence’s (sadly missed) vocals on "New Sensation," from The
Best of INXS (CD, Rhino 78251). But, as I noted with the Michael Bublé recording, the
Analysis Plus cables passed along the ugly as faithfully as they did the good: for all its
manic pace, "Dr. Feelgood," from Mötley Crüe’s The Greatest Hits (CD, Motley 380), still sounded as one-dimensional as a playing card.
The AP cables’ midrange performance was borderline
intoxicating. Astrud Gilberto’s heavenly voice flowed so easily from the Focus Audio
FS8 speakers that it was almost possible to forget that I was listening to a recording and
not a live performance. There were some instances of her higher pitches melding with the
orchestral accompaniment in "Once Upon a Summertime," from Gilberto’s Verve
Jazz Masters 9 (CD, Verve 519824), but this seemed to be a fault of the recording and
not the cables. Holly Cole’s huskier voice was also a pleasure to hear with the AP
cables in place -- "Moonglow," from Shade (CD, Magada International
528103), provided a particularly fine showcase for the singer’s rich tone and her
mastery of soft, nearly whispered singing. I especially enjoyed Cole’s spot-on tonal
and tempo match with the piano as she sings "that moonglow gave me you." I often
pay particular attention to this part of the song, because lesser equipment can mask the
dividing line between singer and piano. This wasn’t the case with the AP cables --
they indicated where that line was, but didn’t throw up a fence and post guards to
keep the sounds of singer and piano player from mingling a bit.
For my first experiment, I substituted the Micro Copper
Oval-Ins for my trusty DH Labs Pro Studio ($8.95 per foot) and TARA Labs RSC interconnects
($295 per meter pair), while keeping the Supra Cables Ply 3.4/S speaker cables ($18 per
meter) in position. There was a wholesale increase in focus with the Micro Ovals. It
wasn’t quite like sharpening an image in a camera lens, but more as if someone had
given that lens a good, thorough cleaning. With such a cleaner image, more detail was
apparent than with either of my own cables, but with no sensation that the cleanness had
been achieved at the expense of dynamics or bass.
When the Black Oval 12s replaced the Supra Ply 3.4/S
speaker cables, I noticed a continuity of that clean sound (the Supra itself is a neutral,
clean, quiet cable), and more similarities than differences between the two brands. Where
the copper conductors of the Analysis Plus cables have a hollow oval weave, Supra (another
"real" cable company) uses a rectangular weave of dense, tin-plated copper. And
unlike the AP cable, the Supra is shielded from outside interference. These differences
aside, the two speaker cables are largely cut from the same cloth. With quieter tracks,
such as "Moonglow," I found that the Supras had the edge, possibly because of
their shielding, while the Black Ovals delivered better pace and bass on such tracks as
Jack Johnson’s "Times Like These," from On & On (CD, Universal
075012). I also give the edge to the Black Ovals in the midrange when they were combined
with AP’s own Micro Copper Oval-Ins.
On the interconnect side, I definitely preferred the Micro
Copper Oval-Ins to my stalwart TARA Labs and DH Labs interconnects. That they lived up to
their billing of being more current-friendly than other designs was highlighted by their
greater detail, focus, and transparency than the other two cables. The APs were better
conduits of electrical current, period. If I were shopping for interconnects within the
range of prices of these three models, I wouldn’t hesitate to go for the Analysis
Plus. On the speaker-cable side, the choice between the Supra Ply 3.4/S and the Black Oval
12 is more difficult, but if I were buying the AP interconnects at the same time, the
Black Oval would be the better choice. There’s something to be said for cable
I like Analysis Plus for their strict adherence to a no-BS
philosophy -- something exceedingly rare among makers of audio cables. They allow other
people, including reviewers, to speak on behalf of their products. That shows not only
integrity, but also a great faith in their product line. In my mind, that faith is well
placed -- the AP cables I’ve experienced are great performers outright, and in their
price classes are among the very best.
The Black Oval 12 speaker cable and Micro Copper Oval-In
interconnect are easy to recommend, with this additional endorsement: When I needed
in-wall wiring for my home theater, I bought Analysis Plus’s Blue Oval speaker cables
and IW interconnects, which are very similar to the Black Oval 12 and Micro Copper
Oval-In. Because I knew these cables were going into the wall and would be there
permanently, I thought long and hard about which to buy. But after I’d listened to
the Black Oval 12 and Micro Copper Oval-In, the decision was an easy one.
. . . Colin Smith
Analysis Plus Black Oval 12 Speaker Cables
Price: $239 USD per 8’ pair.
Analysis Plus Micro Copper Oval-In Interconnects
Price: $315 USD per 1m pair, single-ended or balanced.
Warranty (both): Five years parts and labor.
Analysis Plus, Inc.
106 1/2 E. Main St.
Flushing, MI 48433
Phone: (888) 579-0386
Fax: (810) 659-3303