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Lunatic Fringe: Omega Mikro Cables
For solid engineering reasons, the Omega Mikro cables are the most different-looking cables I've ever encountered. Designer Ron Bauman of inSound explained in person. "Omega Mikro follows the less-is-more approach -- eliminate all conventional insulation to avoid dielectric absorption and time-delayed release of signal portions, and use the skinniest conductors possible to transcend skin effect."
In terms of the Planar 4 speaker cables, the high-level conductor is reduced to a half-inch-wide ultra-thin copper foil with a hand-applied layer of silver on only one side. The shield is a loosely woven fishnet "stocking." It carries an 18-volt DC bias from a little maple battery box that accepts the cable's tiny lead wires. The Ebony interconnect is equally bizarre. It consists of a solitary 56-gauge copper conductor inside a narrow silver tube, with the hot and return legs physically separated inside their own tubes. Stare inside the custom RCA jack. The space between the central prong and cuff is empty. Where'd the conductor go? Relax. The wire is simply too thin to be seen with the naked eye. This interconnect also jacks into outboard boxes via tiny outrigger wires, not for DC but proprietary radio-frequency control.
Things get wackier. The matching DC-biased Planar 3 power cords come in blue and red versions. The only difference is the direction in which the internal conductor is wired. I've come to believe that cable directionality is created with use. Electrons find the path of least resistance through the molecular lattice of the conductor. Cable directionality can be reversed with extended exposure to current traveling the other way. According to Bauman, not. He had me swap the otherwise identical power cords. The difference hit me over the head, and it's not something that break-in will cure. While the "wrong" cable will improve slightly with use, it will be trounced by the "right" one cold out of the box. Bauman explained again. "Prior to manufacture, all incoming raw-wire spools are tested for directionality. Make two cables in opposite directions, test by ear and mark the spool accordingly."
That's fine for interconnects and speaker cables. With power cords, inSound can't be sure in what direction the transformers of your components are wound. Placing opposite-oriented wires, transformer and power cord, in series is bad for the electrons, says the Omega Mikro brain trust, hence the dual cords. A quick listen determines whether your transformers are left-wound, correctly wound or so wound up you can't tell the difference. Just kidding. The difference is plainly obvious -- one cable blooms, the other is dull and constricted by comparison. Simply return the wrong cord to its maker.
Race cars and grocery carts
The speaker cables in particular are fragile and can't be stepped on -- forget about free-roaming pets, kids or clumsy housekeepers. This eliminates the largest percentage of real-world music lovers who would fall for the sound in a heartbeat. Like all high-level cables, the speaker cables prefer to be suspended off the ground. That supports full development of the electromagnetic field around the conductor, which is audible. The little lead wires on the speaker and low-level cables prefer not to touch each other or the metal of stands and racks. Nothing will short out if they do, but the sound will suffer. Ditto for the biased hot and return shields on the speaker cable -- if they touch, both cable legs end up carrying a common rather than separate shield. The sound suffers again. To squeeze the last ounce of performance from these wily exotica, careful cable dressing is a must. (For $25 USD in parts, I built myself 12 cable elevators.)
I then just had to wrangle with Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio. He's used to it. He distributes Omega Mikro cables. He's also a combat veteran and marksman-like straight shooter, so I quickly shot first. "Lloyd, couldn't this stuff be constructed to be more user-friendly and less, ahem, radical?" He simply shrugged his shoulders and pointed to winning races. The fastest car is hot-rodded for ultimate speed. Comfort, convenience, mirrors and decent shocks are thrown out the (missing) window. Take Ron's friend and Omega Mikro co-conspirator, Pierre Sprey, proprietor of the Mapleshade music label. His entire studio's wired with these cables. The sound quality of his recordings is legendary.
It thus seems that Omega Mikro is for the seriously dedicated go-fast music lover who is willing to suffer for beauty. And things of beauty they are, these cables. The suffering is relatively minor if you can dedicate your room to your hobby, have a swollen purse and aren't a reviewer who disconnects things on a regular basis.
Good and bad reasons
I've covered every single reason why you should avoid these cables at all costs -- except for one. It's the same reason why you should want these cables: They're so much better than anything you'll likely have encountered before. Their performance validates the seemingly wigged-out construction. Why else would anyone possibly take on the excruciating agony of terminating 56-AWG conductors?
Yes, you could find religion with these cables. I considered my previous wire high class -- Analysis Plus's finest had eventually been replaced by Acoustic Zen's best, neither of them chopped liver by any stretch. Hadn't I loved that sound just a day ago? Sure enough. I just had no idea that something this superior existed.
Imagine yourself entering a semi-dark room. You'd try to discern what it contained. Once your eyes adjusted to the half-light, you'd possess a solid enough impression to never bump into anything while you were moping about. You'd even enjoy a certain level of detail and depth perception and consider it all perfectly normal. Call that my pre-Mikro experience. Now hit the light switch. Presto, the Omega Mikro transformation: the whole system lights up like Cape Canaveral at take-off and the music's infused with the breath of life -- speed, air, extension, definition and subtleties that obviously were significantly curtailed before.
This difference was clearly major league and of more-than-component caliber. Once our hardware journeys reach a certain level of maturity, it's baby steps forever after. Drastic improvements of this sort no longer happen. The steep price tag of the Omega Mikro cables suggests that anyone who'd even consider them owned such a matured system already. Unless some other cabling exists that equals it (and so far I haven't even remotely come across a competitor), rewiring your rig with the OM stuff will have you skip a shockingly large number of miniature steps in one giant leap. That's certainly the scale of transformation that occurred in my current setup -- Cary CD-303, Bel Canto PRe1, Audiopax 3880 monos and Avantgarde Duos, all plugged into an Audio Magic Stealth B II Power Purifier. I had one pair each of A7 and Ebony interconnects (A7 between CD player and preamp, Ebony between preamp and power amp), a pair of the Planar 4 speaker cables, and two Planar 3 power cords.
SoundStager Bill Cowen, usually quite conservative about how excited he allows himself to get over anything audiophile (I guess he has a life), was also entranced by the Omega Mikro experience. Here's his excuse:
This feedback suggests that the astonishing results in my system are repeatable elsewhere. I can envision the mocking glee of the all-cables-sound-the-same brigade. Are we all nuts? It seems that way. The Omega Mikro cables are very expensive due to the extensive hand labor involved. They do look funky. They are fragile and require not just monetary dedication. Like anything of ultimate performance, they demand certain sacrifices. However, if you can stomach those, you'll be rewarded with performance that transcends what "mere" cable should be capable of and in fact is so radical that investing equivalent funds in seemingly more substantial hardware upgrades will seem like a silly waste.
Granted, I don't have the scratch to itch my lust -- but I would if I could. I'm reminded of the dying Gurdjieff's passing words to his disciples: "You're all screwed now." That's how I feel like going back to my house cables -- and, mind you, they're very good in their own right. Should I then retreat into my audio cave and belligerently chant "Om, Om, Om"?
Your chants ain't working?
Don't worry. Ron Bauman and Pierre Sprey have created a series of cables called Clearview that are based on the same design priorities but eschew the complex and costly hand labor. Interconnects start at $69 per pair. Fully tricked out, they don't exceed $335. The most expensive speaker cable is $395 for an eight-foot set. A matching power strip is $195. If this stuff even faintly echoes the Omega Mikro revelation, it would count as a legitimate lobotomy in my appointment book. I'll report on this no-brainer proposition shortly.
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