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Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Digital Source: Musical Fidelity A5 CD, Accuphase DP55, Quest for Sound SQ12 [in for review]
Amplifier: Musical Fidelity A5, McIntosh MA2275, Onix SP3, Sphinx project10
Headphone: Musical Fidelity Xcanv3, AKG K701
Cables: Zu Gede, Zu Libtec, Consonance Billies
Power Cords: Cobalt Ultimate
Powerline conditioning: Monster Power HTS5100mkII
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics and speakers, Standesign stand
Room size: 15' x 30' opening to 3 other rooms. Short wall setup
Review component retail: Slinkylinks R-series RCA ($450/1m pair), RS1-series RCA ($500/1m pair), XMF-series Balanced ($450/1m pair), IBW biwirable speaker cable ($1000/3m pair)

The best cable is no cable at all. If you've been in the audiophile game for a while, you've probably heard this more times than you care for. If your experience matches mine, you've usually heard it from the mouth of a salesperson trying to have you leave the store with a pair of cables two inches thick, impossible to bend behind your equipment rack and capable of emptying your wallet faster than they can propagate a signal.

Thankfully once in a while a company gets a few steps closer to the Graal: Crystal cable, Stealth, JPS Labs, they all have all been reviewed in these pages and proven that advanced technology and unlimited cash resources can get you very close. Zu cables and their B3 architecture have also taken a giant step in the right direction and if you bring the trivial question of cost into the overall equation, their level of exaltation suits me just fine. But what if a company took a completely different approach and made the no cable mantra not only their goal in terms of sonic signature but design, manufacturing and cost as well?

How would such a product -- designed with the minimal amount of metal, air as a dielectric, no shielding and fully industrialized assembly for cost containment -- sound in comparison to what would seem more ambitious cable architectures? Would the absence of shielding be an issue? Would the ultra simplified design translate into added clarity? Would the much reduced amount of metal hinder signal transmission especially lower at frequencies - or bring reduced distortion?

Those are the questions I set out to answer when I was first introduced to the Slinkylinks cables from New Zealand. I am a firm believer in the KISS principle of Keep It Simple Stupid. I don't believe in cables as tone controls and neither do I believe in implementing redundant solutions to take care of issues generated by the previous technology used. If a cable needs a fifth type of shielding to take care of the distortion or artifacts generated by the previous four, then something is fundamentally wrong in both the logic and technology applied. So from this standpoint, Slinkylinks and I were already on the same wavelength before the first note of music came through any of their cables.

Slinkylinks cables, despite their toy-reminiscent name, are not child's play to manufacture and their design is anchored around three basic principles which company founders Simon Holbrook and David Irvine believe to be at the heart of making a cable without a sonic fingerprint.

The first of these design fundamentals is that silver is the only metal really suited for durable signal transmission. Copper will oxidize over time into a form that does not conduct electricity and a copper cable's performance will hence slowly deteriorate. On the other hand, silver oxides are highly
conductive and fighting 'silver rust' is actually unnecessary. For this reason, Slinkylinks use ultra-pure silver wires (99.9999%), and each cable is comprised of 4 to 8 of those strands while nothing is done to save them from air contact. On the contrary.

The second principle the designers adhered to is that plastic dielectrics are detrimental to signal integrity. As the signal progresses through the metallic conductor, surrounding plastics (including Teflon) get electrically charged and start interacting with the signal itself. Pursuing their belief that less is more, Slinkylinks opted for the best dielectric available, air (theoretically, a complete vacuum would be better yet but it does get complicated to implement). By encapsulating each silver wire in an individual hollow tube, 96% of the conductor's surface area is exposed to air, the remaining 4% being punctually in contact with the plastic tubing but with limited impact on the sound. The expected benefit of air is mostly a reduction in phase shift which other dielectrics are said to induce.

The last fundamental concept in Slinkylinks' design philosophy is that capacitance is the ultimate evil due to its propensity for releasing energy in a non-linear time-delayed fashion which impacts the integrity of the transmitted signal. Because capacitance comes from conductive materials run in parallel, reducing metal content to its absolute minimum will significantly reduce the negative effects that both dielectrics and massive metal conductors can have on the sound quality. To achieve their goals, Slinkylinks use four to eight extremely thin conductors (0.25mm or roughly gauge 30) per cable instead of the more common low-gauge approach. One of the claimed benefits is much tighter and more detailed bass but I'll report about on that later. In addition, Slinkylinks elected Eichmann bullet plugs for their RCA interconnects because of their very low metallic content and hollow, low-mass banana plugs for their speaker cables. Finally, they banned any sort of metallic shielding from their design, wrapping the four hollow plastic tubes into another clear plastic sheath instead.

The result is an elegant, flexible and clear cable (you can see the very fine silver wires when back-lighting the cables) that just does not like to be bent at very sharp angles to avoid damaging the very fine silver strands. It needs to be handled with care especially when plugged and unplugged multiple times to prevent damage between the connectors and hair-thin conductors.

The interconnects arrive rolled into metallic boxes for protection and are provided with instructions on how to gently unroll and handle them for maximum durability. Let's put it this way - these cables are not for a Rock band on tour. They would not take the abuse. Yet I did not have any problems with them over the past few months despite numerous pluggings and unpluggings. The Slinkylinks interconnects come in three different flavors - RCA with either copper or silver bullet plugs and XLR with Amphenol connectors. The balanced cables also differ from the single-ended variety by using 5 silver strands instead of four (2 each for phase and anti-phase, one for ground).

The speaker cables too are available in three different flavors; two for single-wiring differing by their type of connector (copper hollow bananas or silver pins) and one for bi-wiring also using the copper banana plugs. A bi-wiring set actually requires two cables per side (or eight silver strands). The eight strands of a cable are connected at the amplifier end and split into two banana plugs at the speaker end (instead of the more conventional four connectors found in most bi-wiring cables). You will therefore need one cable for the positive side and another separate cable for the negative return but Slinkylinks makes things a little easier by providing cables with red and black terminations for each side which helps keeping track.

Reviewing these cables actually turned into an adventure that helped me tremendously to better understand the nature of the various components I own but if I look at it in this positive manner today, I have to admit that I struggled over the first few weeks of the review period as component matching really seemed to be a big issue at first.

All the cables I have had in house in the past all burned in within the first hundred hours, sometimes a little longer. The Slinkylinks took a solid 300 hours to reach their peak [unexpected for a cable making so much of its lack of conventional dielectrics and complex geometry - Ed.] Unlike the Zu Gedes I use as reference, the Slinkylinks do not display big swings in mood or quality over the burn-in period. Rather, it is a slow and progressive improvement which leads to a more refined and integrated treble as well as more detailed and deeper bass. Once burn-in was over, I could not detect any significant difference in how the various Slinkylinks cables impacted my systems (thankfully since their claim is to have no sound of their own) with the exception of the silver vs. copper Eichmann plugs. Those did have a detectable character. I'll be reporting on the Slinkylink family character rather than each cable individually unless warranted by a specific part of the review.

When describing the Slinkylinks signature sound -- or as I am more and more inclined to say, its lack thereof -- the focus has to be put on the midrange. To put it plain and simple, it is the most natural I have ever heard. Period. The Zus are great in that register but the Slinkylinks just seem to remove a few veils that were obscuring the music until their arrival. The result on discs with a tremendous vocal presence like Leonard Cohen's Ten New Songs [Columbia 501202-2] is a feeling of closeness and intimacy with the singer that I had never experienced. In "Here it is" the chorus voices are both clearly delineated while at times blending with Cohen's own in a fashion reminiscent of what one would expect in a small and intimate concert room. The signature sound of these cables is not what it does to the music but what it does to the listener - a very close encounter with the recording event, a level of detail and lack
of distortion that just translate into an admirably true to life listening experience. Leonard Cohen's deep voice came through unfiltered and each lip parting could be heard very clearly and so was a slight vibrato deep in his chest that I did not know was even there.

Because of this level of micro-detail reproduction, soundstaging also was of the highest quality, with a lot of ambient cues, well positioned and stable (the SQ12 CD player among all its qualities is a soundstaging giant and makes it easy to detect small differences in cables and if anything, the Slinkylinks helped refine and solidify this already outstanding trait).

As interestingly to me was the fact that this cable had none of the typical weaknesses typically associated with silver cables in the upper register. Treble reproduction was extended yet very elegant, with shimmering highs and no aggression or harshness at all. Sibilants were strikingly free of tizz and so was all metallic percussion. I love Shostakovich's 11th Symphony and have for a long time. The one and absolute reference recording in my mind was made by Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra in 2002 [LSO0030]. One of its many distinctive characteristics are the bells resonating at the end of the 4th movement. In most other recordings I have heard, one struggles to hear the bells over the orchestral mayhem. In Rostropovich's recording, the bells toll clearly without overwhelming the orchestra but most importantly, their harmonic complexity is phenomenal. As their sound lingers for very long
seconds after the music has ended, it is alive with resonances that alter the sound as it fades away. The Slinkylinks gave this extremely complex decay a new life, revealing even more subtle shades I had not noticed before. My only reservation -- which is actually praise for the Slinkylinks -- is that I would not associate those cables with the excessively bright speakers and obnoxious tweeters that plague the Hi and Mid-Fi markets these days. These New Zealand cables are all too true and unforgiving on top to suffer fools lightly.

Accurately describing the Slinkylinks' lower register was the more challenging part of writing this review because bass reproduction seems to be very component dependant. When I first tried them between my Musical Fidelity A5 CD player and McIntosh MC2275 amp, bass mysteriously shrunk (both extension and detail) and this phenomenon was aggravated between the Atoll CD200 and IN200, like inserting a few dB of attenuation below 100Hz. If one relied on measurements, this phenomenon should be impossible because the Slinkylinks claim to measure flat to within 0.1dB from 10Hz to 100kHz. Yet bass attenuation was clearly audible with both players. As I continued my experimentation, results improved significantly when I used the RCA interconnects between my Accuphase DP55 and Onix SP3 but what finally convinced me that the Slinkylinks could do fantastic bass was the arrival of the SQ-12 CD player currently in house. Instantly both cables and player seemed to match flawlessly, with deep, tight and detailed bass, where nothing was missing at all. Don't expect boomy or floppy bass with this combo, it's all about tight impacts, details and, to my major surprise, depth as well.

This proved particularly true in my headphone system where I used the copper bullet-plug interconnects between the SQ-12 and Musical Fidelity XCanV3. The addition of this cable has completely transformed that part of my music system, adding a tremendous level of presence and intimacy to the slightly recessed midrange of the AKG K707 headphones and turning a somewhat dry treble into a very sweet and detailed top end while adding depth and detail in the bass.

I have chosen the copper bullet plug version for this use (and am actually acquiring this set as my new reference) since I found it to be a little more liquid (less dry) and dynamic than the silver even though the latter seemed to have the deepest bass (it may have been by contrast with its leaner midrange and upper bass) and a little more overall detail. Both are great matches for a headphone system and it really came down to personal preference - the silver version goes even further in the lean and ultra-detailed aural aesthetic Slinkylinks favors, just a little too far for my taste but perhaps not yours.

Returning to bass reproduction, I also tried the balanced cables between the SQ-12 player and McIntosh amp with great success, now getting all the qualities of the Slinkylinks above 100Hz and a great improvement below (compared to using the A5 CD player as a source) but not quite the same bass weight as with my balanced Zu Gedes which overall sound fuller and meatier. On greatly recorded discs, the Slinkylinks do dive into music like no others and extract the ultimate level of detail but on poorly recorded material, they are a lot less forgiving than the Zu Gedes (and those are not of the forgiving type by any means). Both cables are exceptional in their own right - the Slinkylinks dive deeper into the music getting you closer to the event than ever; the Zus a little more forgiving and fleshier, easier to listen to overall but just a little removed from the event. As mentioned earlier, those observations applied word for word to the speaker cables as well. In my main speaker system, I did ultimately favor the slightly fleshier Zu Libtec/Gede combination but the treble detail and midrange presence of the Slinkylinks remained unsurpassed. With the Rogers LS 3/5as and Onix SP3, neither speaker cable really shone however and I still prefer the pure copper Cobalt Audio Ultimate for its lower midrange fullness and slightly soft top end which enhance the Rogers so well. That said, the Slinkylinks interconnects did inject a more than welcome dose of life and detail in that system.

Over the months I have spent with the various Slinkylinks, a few things have become very clear. These cables are not your stereotypically bright and aggressive silver cables (I have a pair of those to know). On the contrary, they have a detailed and sweet treble of the highest quality and a midrange with a haunting presence and intimacy.

Still, they are not for everybody. First, they will not cotton to all gear. If I were to venture a guess, the more analog-sounding the source, the better the match. At least that's what four CD players I tested them with indicate but I did not have a turntable to push the experience all the way. The fact that those cables are so sensitive to the source should not discourage you from trying them as the reward for a perfect match is absolutely fantastic and the penalty reasonably small - the US distributor offers both individualized advice and an unconditional 30-day in-home satisfaction guarantee which should give you enough time to make up your mind.

Second and most importantly, those cables do music in a raw and naked fashion, intimate, sensual and ultra revealing. If you are not into this kind of sound, their honesty will make you uncomfortable but if you have fallen to the dark warm side of SET amps, don't hesitate. Treat yourself to an additional dose of excitement without threatening bankrupcy.

That's not to say such systems will be the only ones to benefit from the slinky magic. High resolution headphone systems will gain an extra level of involvement and I would bet that most turntables would highly benefit from a little silver injection. The one thing the Slinkylinks will never do is act as tone controls to offset deviations in your system. If anything, they will make those deviations sound a lot more obvious and may trigger an irresistible desire to upgrade equipment to find out just how true music can get when it is not being strangulated. Just consider yourself warned. If ever you taste the raw and untainted music Slinkylinks delivers, you might want more - a lot more.
Manufacturer's website
US online reseller's website