In his bittersweet directorial 1992 big screen debut, Mr. Saturday Night -- expertly acted but flawed as a script -- Billy Crystal's comedian Buddy Young practices the sleek art of the takeaway. A variant of this is standard MO also with the best of salesmen. Sensing customer reluctance to their doggone closing antics for example, they might throw in the clincher. "Well, you probably couldn't afford it anyway". Then they resolutely walk away from mid-conversation to let you ponder the embarrassment, of having an underpaid salesclerk think you couldn't pay for his lousy wares if you really wanted to. What unthinkable nerve!

Buddy Young milks laughs and effrontery by turning expectations on their heads. "See what I did?" he'll then ask to break the ice of shocked reactions. Following buddy's proven recipe -- on how to undermine the best of friendships -- I too should set you up now. I'll declare how the digital link between transport and DAC is the most crucial cable interface in the entire system; the most profound consideration any audiophile worth his colors could possibly make; the place where, if you missed, you'd never recover no matter how many ducats you waved at downstream components. I'd then practice my takeaway skills by expounding, in ludicrous detail, how I couldn't tell one bloody iota of difference between the two cables under review today. To really have fun, I'd follow up with a Krupinski; explain how 1s and 0s are binary ones and zeros, period; how cables make zero difference in the digital data domain; how only brainwashed morons would buy into the cable hype - then rave about the unbelievable wholesale improvements the latest unobtaininum, overpriced digital cable would make in your system if you just weren't so pettifully poor that you couldn't afford it. Nerves of steel, bad taste or both?

To tell you another truth, I wrote this intro before starting the comparison listening. I thus set myself up as well. See what I just did? In one corner of today's refereed match, greet the robust Japanese Furutech Digi. Reference. Its massive hexagonal aluminum barrel isn't at midpoint like the Kimber Kable standing wave dampers on their Palladian power cords, but approximately between the first to second quarter transition of its total length. An e-mail to Furutech solved the mystery. According to their M. Hayashi, said barrel isn't a resonance damper at all but rather, is filled with their proprietary compound GC-303. Thats the same material lining the insides of Furutech's power line conditioners as well as Yamada-San's Zanden Model 5000 DAC in MkIII and IV incarnations. Similar in functionality to Stillpoints' ERS cloth and, in this practical circumferential application, to Mark Hampton's hollow Z-Sleeve, the passive GC-303 absorbs RF and EMI by sheer proximity as a quasi zero-gauss chamber. Extensive listening sessions at Furutech determined the precise positioning of this barrel relative to the overall length of the cable.

In the other corner, applaud Mapleshade's $2,275 top-effort from its Omega Mikro line. It's a fragile gent who had his custom RCA connectors screwed to the inside of the shipping box to prevent trashing his thin wave-treated copper ribbon conductors. Those are sheathed by gossamer-fine fishnet stockings to avoid dielectric absorption while carrying a mild DC-powered charge once the three color-coded pigtails have been plugged into the wood-trimmed battery box. Being highly directional as all Mapleshade cables, the end with the battery pigtails is the receive end and connects to the load or DAC.

Confession time: Despite its stellar sonic performance, I view the Planar Ebony's concept brief as somewhat of an affront to practicality. Did I say the cable was fragile? Thrice during long-term listening, my Zanden DAC's sudden clicking indicated problems with signal lock. This was always rectified by physically rearranging its draped sleeves. We're talking a cable that worked flawlessly out of the box, was thereafter merely carefully positioned on a shelf, with nothing but the rare fly possibly touching it. Unsuccessfully inspecting the Omega Mikro up close for any possible damage [the mere idea that a digital cable could get damaged by routine freight handling or simply sitting there bothered me] revealed a further curiosity:

At each conductor's half-way point, the wrinkly ribbon is spliced with solder joints to insert a miniscule solid-state network encased in clear dielectric. Said proprietary invention, I learned, significantly minimizes internal reflections. I truly admire unconventional ingenuity and herculean efforts to advance the sonic state of the art. From a certain point on forward, I also feel that certain extremes can approach recklessness. For many, this pushed-as-far-as-we-know-how-to cable will be a practical nightmare - why is why Pierre and collaborateur Ron Bauman of inSound just introduced the $335 entry-level Omega Mikro digital cable dubbed Zephyr. It eliminates the DC bias and uses sturdier ribbons but also implements this mysterious network, albeit a simplified version thereof.

Pierre Sprey considers his digital cables the Omega Mikro R&D category which offers the most drastic performance delta to his competitors - and anyone studying the Mapleshade catalogue will already be hip to Pierre not being exactly shy about making grandiose statements even over modest cork and rubber contraptions. Now, prospective owners are advised not to dispatch Kaputnik complaints to 6moons if their circumstances conspire against the kind of practical care which successful employ of this fragile cable demands. We warn you upfront: No pain, no gain - so don't complain. Here's what I will tell you about the Furutech in the meantime. It arrived with a certificate attesting to the use of Japanese-sourced PCOCC-grade copper in both the 30/0.18ø center conductor and 0.12ø stranded braid. Twin dielectrics of high-density thin polyethylene (claimed to reduce capacitance) surrounded by foamed polyethylene are encapsulated by a tri-layer shield. The first layer is a PCOCC 0.12ø stranded braid; the second made from special glass fiber and copper-yarn stranded braid said to resist mechanical vibration; the third a nylon fiber braid. The final outer casing is a flexible vinyl jacket for resonance attenuation, with barrier layers of special paper tape throughout to "stabilize internal construction and enhance electrical properties". The latter are given as
  • 25Ω/KM max conductor resistance
  • 1000 MΩ/KM min. insulation resistance
  • AC 1000 V/min. dielectric strength
  • 75Ω characteristic impedance
  • Nom. 50 PF/M capacitance

The Furutech, as per request, was terminated with BNC connectors on each end but RCAs or XLRs for balanced configuration are available as well. Incidentally, all metal parts on Furutech Reference cables are cryogenically treated and subsequently demagnetized, a combined treatment Furutech dubs Alpha Process. The Planar Ebony wasn't available with BNCs and thus arrived with RCAs. Time for these cables to have a go at the music, connecting my Cairn Fog v2.0 transport to the Zanden Model 5000 MkIII DAC.