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Equipment Review
August 1998

Nirvana Audio S-L Series Speaker Cables and Interconnects

by Doug Blackburn

Nirvana is a company familiar to SoundStage! readers. We’ve had a full review by Doug Schneider before, so I’m going to very quickly give my impressions to add to our growing database of how these cables perform in various systems.

First of all, you may love or hate the WBT RCAs that come with the interconnects. Reviewers tend to hate them because it’s hard to remember which way to turn them to release them from their death grip on the female RCA. If I owned the cables and wasn’t constantly changing components, I’d probably love them because of that death grip on the female RCA. The spades on the speaker cables were slightly large for the binding posts on the amps I used them with, but this was not much of a problem and will insure that they fit the larger posts you sometimes encounter. These cables aren’t particularly heavy or fat or stiff… this means they were very easy to deal with compared to some of the more cumbersome cables.

OK, how about sound quality? In my system, the Nirvana cables earned a place among very best-sounding cables that I have tried. They are notable for their lack of smear, quiet background, and dynamics. Compared directly to Nordost SPM Reference ($1,100/m interconnect and $3,350/single-wire 8’ speaker cable), the Nirvanas are more dynamic, more forward, more detailed and have a quieter, darker background. I think the Nordost’s presentation is perfect, neither forward nor recessed. The Nirvanas put you several rows closer to the action. This gives performances a sense of immediacy that a lot of people like. The sense of speed and complete lack of smear are about the same between the two sets of cables. However, the Nirvana cables reveal more detail than the SPM Reference cables. In my system, this was a worthwhile thing to have.

Comparing the Nirvana cables to Magnan Signature ($1,650/4' interconnects; $995 for 8' single-wire speaker cable) you find the Nirvanas noticeably more dynamic than the Magnan cables. The Magnans have the most recessed perspective of the three cables. The Magnans have a relaxed sound compared to the Nirvanas. Both cables have about the same degree of detail, very good indeed, and both are remarkably smear-free. Both are very neutral-sounding as well.

While the three different cables do not sound alike, all share the addictive smear-free presentation missing from many cables. The Nirvanas are probably the best "maximum system excitement" choice. The Magnans would be your choice if you weren’t looking for anything extra in the dynamics department, wanted a more distant perspective rather than a forward perspective, and you wanted to retain a lot of detail in the music. Furthermore, the Magnans will provide a very high degree of what I’m going to have to call "organic one-ness" with the music. You feel music through the Magnans a little more than you do through the other two cables. The Nordost SPM Reference is sort of in the middle of the other two cables: neutral presentation, dynamics that match Magnan’s, a bit less detail than either of the others, but still the tonality and smear-free character that make them very attractive cables.

I’ve had no difficulties using the Nirvanas with any amplifier or associated component. One amplifier picked up some RF using the unshielded Nordost cables. The Magnan Signature interconnects are quite controversial and unusual due to their 30k-ohm impedance (most cables are 5 ohms or much less). I have encountered three situations where the Magnan Signature interconnects introduced trouble I did not encounter with other cables. With both the Clayton M-70 monos and S-40 stereo solid state amps, I got a lot of hiss when the Magnan Signatures were used. There was so much hiss that nobody could stand using the Signatures as their regular interconnect with those amps. In addition, the Melos MAT-1000 (380-watt triode monoblocks) also suffered from excess hiss -- not quite as much as the Clayton amps, but still more than enough hiss to rule out using the Magnan Signature interconnects with the AI M3A preamp and Melos MAT-1000 combination. I’ve have nothing but perfect performance from the Magnan Signature speaker cable, which is quite different in construction from the interconnect.

Interestingly, using the Nirvana interconnect and speaker cables in a wide variety of system configurations produced consistently predictable sonic results, perhaps more consistent than with most other cables I’ve experimented with. I can’t say they would have been my first choice in every system I tried them in, but they were certainly predictable as to how the system was going to sound when they were inserted in the system. Because the Nirvana cables are so dynamic and detailed, there will be systems where they are not going not be the best choice. One that springs immediately to mind is the Avalon/Spectral/MIT system that is widely advertised by a few well-known high-end dealers. Substituting the Nirvana cables for the MIT cables in that system would produce a sound that would be much too aggressive to please most listeners. However, if your system is made up of pleasant-sounding components with very neutral balance and you are looking for a cable with a little more excitement, the Nirvanas could be just what you’ve been looking for -- a nice pick-me-up for systems that are just a bit reticent. I find this characteristic to complement some tube amplifiers perfectly. But I was surprised to enjoy Nirvana cables just as much with several solid-state amps, like those from Clayton and Warner Imaging.

All three of the wires compared here have a smear-free presentation I don’t hear in wires that have larger conductors. I think this is meaningful, but time will have to reveal whether there is something to this kind of construction. I was planning to borrow the Nirvana cables for only a short-term listen back in January. The fact that they are still here is a testimonial to how hard it is to give them up. Stephen Creamer has some great-sounding products here, and they’re definitely worth your time to investigate.

...Doug Blackburn

Nirvana Audio S-L Series Speaker Cables and Interconnects
Prices: S-L Interconnect - $695 USD, 1 meter; S-L Speaker Cable - $1,295 USD, 2.5 meters (approximately 8 feet)

Nirvana Audio
P.O. Box 448
Lynbrook, NY 11563
Phone: 516-593-4700
Fax: 516-599-1997
E-mail: screamer@nirvanaaudio.com
Website: www.nirvanaaudio.com

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