When Stephen Creamer first contacted me, he offered me the entire compliment of Nirvana Cables for review. He insisted that every interconnect and speaker cable in my system be Nirvana. At first I thought he was just being overly generous by lending me ample product for the SoundStage! review, or that perhaps it was to span reviews over months. But now, after extensive audition of the Nirvana products, I realize his intention all along was that the cables be reviewed as an entire system--as one. My findings were, just as he explained to me, that together in a system they have a working synergy. So for the most part, I'll be reporting on their entire effect on my system. However, I still found unique enough aspects of performance to describe individually.
I see no use trying to keep a secret. I am going to jump to the closing minute of the 3rd period and tell you right now that the Nirvana cables are the best set of cables I have ever used in my system. Inserting these cables elevated the performance of my system to a level I could never have previously imagined. As well, the Nirvana cables wove seamlessly in and out of a variety of speaker, amplifier, and DAC swaps, and performed transparently and wonderfully throughout. Ultimately musical, unbelievably transparent, and extremely versatile are just a few of the descriptors I can attach.
Before I continue to describe the virtues of these cables I want to make a few things clear. I do not believe that the value of your cables should exceed the value of the rest of your system. Cables are an integral part of your system; however, your components should be brought up to 'snuff' before you lay down heavy coin on cables. Maintain balance and common sense in your system since there are some fine, reasonably priced cables on the market. Although improvements were apparent with moderately expensive equipment, I could not fully appreciate the neutrality of these cables until I received some incredibly transparent and highly resolving components for review. It was at this time that I found previously used cables to be a limiting factor. This is where the transparency of the Nirvana cables could be fully exploited. Until you are at that level of equipment performance, the bulk of your money is probably better spent elsewhere. As well, I am a believer that cables should be matched to equipment, not the other way around. However, when you have reach that plateau and your goal is sonic Nirvana .
THE COMPANY, THE PRODUCTS
Nirvana Audio is based in Long Island, NY. Their main business is audio cables. Nirvana's owner and designer, Stephen Creamer, has a simple goal--make the most sonically transparent cable possible, allowing the listener to hear the music through the equipment and nothing else. Right now Nirvana offers only one premier cable line, which unfortunately, based on their price, will exclude a large area of the market. Plain and simply, most people cannot afford, or perhaps are not willing to pay this much for cables. The cables are the S-L Series Speaker and Interconnect cables and the Transmission Digital Interface. It is for all the above reasons that I feel lucky to be in a position to audition a product of this caliber.
Stephen has told me that if he could build these cables and sell them for half the price he would. I know he would certainly sell a whole lot more if he did. But according to him, the high quality materials, the meticulous craftsmanship, and the precision construction just can't warrant it. For a complete and more thorough technical low-down on the design I suggest you visit the Nirvana web-site (www.nirvanaaudio.com).
|Nirvana S-L Series
||Nirvana S-L Series
As expected at this price point, the Nirvana cables are functionally and aesthetically first-rate. I received two meters of S-L Speaker Cable, a three meter S-L Interconnect for preamp to amp, and a one meter S-L for DAC to preamp. The Transmission Digital is 1.5 meters in length. Both the speaker cables and interconnects are housed in fairly hefty, yet flexible, dark jackets. They look smart. The interconnect and speaker cable conductors are of ultra-pure copper "based on a symmetrical litz type design of multiple gauge individually insulated strands cabled in a geometry that is proprietary to Nirvana." Printed lettering on the jacket is tastefully decorated in gold. The S-L Interconnects are terminated in beautiful black WBT-0144 locking RCAs. The speaker cables use heavy duty gold spades.
The Transmission Digital Interface (see right) is a "copper /silver combination reflecting a purity normally reserved for laboratory & aerospace applications." The outer jacket has a goldish-black, mesh-like appearance. It is very flexible and weaves nicely behind the equipment rack jungle. My review sample is terminated with RCA connectors (it is also available with BNCs).
Before we get into the discussion of their sound, I want to tell you that I do not want to dwell on the typical areas of performance. Why? Laws of diminishing returns set in fairly early for cables. You can buy extremely good cables, keep your sanity and credit card balance in line, and achieve great performance for less. Therefore, I believe a cable designed to be a reference, such as the Nirvana cables, should have a base level of performance as a pre-requisite. For example, they should have no problems with, say, a lack of bass or high frequency extension. They should be totally clean sounding--grain-free, yet highly detailed. There should not be obvious colorations that exaggerate any aspect of the performance such as a pressed forward midrange to add presence or a tizzy top end to heighten apparent detail. Nor should they caramelize or unnaturally smooth-out the sound to give a more analogue-ish or tube-like character. The soundstage should be deep and wide where the recording warrants it. Imaging should be specific and separation between instruments, vocals, ambiance, etc. should be readily apparent. Am I asking too much? Hardly! There is just no excuse for compromised performance at this level. There are a few great cables, like the Nirvana Cables, that fit this bill and offer stunning sonic performance. On top of this, these cables in the upper echelons should offer something special, something that allows us to place them on a pedestal. The Nirvana Cables fit this elite group. Therefore, it is the sonic attributes that go above and beyond the call of duty that I want to elaborate on.
I managed to work many component swaps into my auditioning of the Nirvana cables. In particular, I found pairing the ultra-transparent Blue Circle Audio electronics with either Coincident Technology's Troubador Loudspeaker or the Von Schweikert VR-3 'tell-tale' in determining cable differences. Overall, I found the S-L Interconnect and Speaker Cable almost subjectively identical in their performance. In other words, inserting each separately to the system (with other cable brands performing the alternate role) imparted the same type of sonic benefits. Whether they are each 100% transparent, or that perhaps they convey the same sonic properties, I cannot be exactly sure. What I am hearing sounds exceedingly transparent. If I were to try to characterize their sound, if they have any at all, I would say they are extremely detailed, highly transparent, and able to convey a huge soundstage. As well, they are very quiet. The entire noise floor of the system seemed to drop a notch, heightening resolution and increasing apparent dynamic range, resulting in musical nuances springing to life.
Digital interconnects are more tricky because their differences are much more subtle to my ears than analogue interconnects and speaker cables. The Transmission Digital Interface's sonic characteristics differed somewhat from the S-L cables. It is one of the top two coaxial interconnects I know of, the other being Illuminati's D-60. In this case, what struck me as odd was that the Illuminati D-60 sounded more like the Nirvana Speaker Cable and Interconnect than the Nirvana digital cable did. The Illuminati had that same huge, smooth, and detailed presentation as the S-L. On the other hand, the Nirvana digital cable seemed more lively. There was more 'jump' and instruments and vocalists took on a more palpable presentation. Furthermore, and it defies any logic to me, the Nirvana cable seemed LOUDER than the Illuminati. It would not be something I would swear to, nor do I think I would pass a blind-listening test to determine it, but it was apparent to me every time I listened. However, remember that the Nirvana cable system is about synergy. It was in combination with the S-L Speaker and Interconnect cables that the Transmission Digital Interface seemed a better match.
So now let's talk about this cable compliment as a whole--as it was intended. In particular, what has endeared me to the performance of the Nirvana cable set is what Stephen refers to as Natural Ease of Musical Presentation. When I first installed the cables I was immediately struck with a recognizable difference to the sound. There was increased clarity and detail for sure, but there was 'something' more. There was 'something' almost unsettling. That 'something' took me a long-while to get a grip on. At the time, I spoke to others and used numerous descriptions to try to convey the message about what I was hearing. For example, there was strange sense of weight and fullness to the sound that was musically pleasing. The performance had a more forceful presentation, yet was not 'in-your-face' to assault you. The music was never harsh or fatiguing, nor was it rolled off and smoothed out sounding. The high frequencies seemed infinitely extended, yet never tipped-up or etched sounding. Midrange performance was disturbingly natural. The lower frequencies were warm yet still full and tight. All summed up I could just say that the music sounded right--more right than it ever had before.
And that 'right' is what I now call Natural Ease of Musical Presentation. Furthermore, I believe that that 'right' sound is complete transparency and has allowed the rest of the equipment in my system to shine through. For the first time in a long-time, this incredible system of components, wired with the Nirvana cables, moved me one notch closer to--yes--sonic nirvana. The 'nature' of the presentation allowed my to connect more fully with the music. It was that connection that I found pleasing and enjoyable.
I am beginning to believe that qualities such as these can only be experienced; perhaps they can never be fully described. I would much rather talk about the texture of the midrange, or the depth of the bass, or the separation of the instruments. These are easy. But what if all those aspects are there and then there is that 'something' more? And that 'something' more is an intrinsic 'rightness' to the sound that no amount of words will ever describe?
The only thing that describes it best is the result of that improvement in sound. The result was that my system sounded simply superb and made me want to listen to music more than I have in the past. Can wire make that much of a difference? To me it did. Perhaps it was not a monumental difference. But it was enough of a difference in this splendid system of mine to make me see their worth. That is why it is easy to call the Nirvana cable compliment I used here my reference.
So it may come as no surprise that I now own the Nirvana cables. This reference has become my personal reference. And it comes as no surprise to me to learn that Chesky is now using Nirvana Cables in their recording. No wire has ever entered my system and been so transparent to allow me to see so fully into each recording, while at the same time possessing such a musically satisfying presentation.
I know that there are many out there for which the cost of these types of products renders all that I wrote here meaningless. However, if you are not limited by those constraints and are in the ballpark for this type of purchase, by all means put the Nirvana cables on your must audition list. But please make sure your components are up to the task first. For the rest of you, I hope for your sake that you find yourself in the fortunate position to try these cables out on your own home system . Do it and find out what Nirvana is all about. And Stephen, if you can bring the performance of these cables down a price that the masses can afford, please do, we will all be better off.
|Nirvana Audio S-L Series