Like its distant relative, the RMX Reference Ultra power cord,the Marigo Apparition Reference Series 3 coaxial digital cable looks like the product of substantial design efforts and materials--and both of these, in true Marigo tradition, are brain-teasingly complex. The reality of the digital signal, according to chief Marigonian Ron Hedrich, involves not so much adhering to the 75-ohm specification for coaxial digital transmission but rather maintaining the constant impedance of the signal by handling ever-present impedance anomalies. These, Hedrich argues, create reflection within the cable and thus smear the sound. And we don't want that.
Marigo's solution to the impedance conundrum is to use ultra-thin wire for its conductors. In this spirit, the wire in the Marigo digital cable is so fine and delicate that it has to be tinned in a solder bath controlled to within +3 degrees of the ideal temperature or it will dissolve. The cable uses multiple thin strands that are then surrounded by 17 layers (!) of custom-engineered dielectric, followed by an outer PVC jacket, and finally a heavy silver braid. The jacket and braid aim at controlling the outside world by preventing demon RFI and EMI from invading and thus ruining all the work done within. The Apparition Reference uses custom-made locking RCAs with OFHC center pins that are plated with silver for better signal transmission than normal gold-plated pins, although it can also be terminated with BNC connectors for the same cost. Marigo does not make an AES/EBU version of the cable.
In describing the Apparition Reference and the gyrations he went through to develop it, Ron Hedrich let an interesting phrase slip: "minor things are important." Hence, the Marigo digital cable is the product of hundreds of prototypes, each designed and built via well-founded principles but ultimately made "to be used in the real world" (another phrase of Hedrich's) where humans will listen to recorded music with it. Each cable is carefully assembled and terminated by hand, no small feat given the extremely thin conductors and all those layers of dielectric to work with. It's also the most physically unique cable of any kind that I've had in my system--all silvery and metallic, thick, very heavy, but surprisingly easy to bend. The Marigo digital cable also has a pleasant maple scent to it. As Hedrich explained, this comes from the corrosion inhibitor sprayed on the cable's outer silver braid--and has nothing to do with my initial hypothesis of increasing sonic sweetness. Darn.
The equipment lineup used to audition the Marigo digital cable is virtually the same as the one recorded last month in my review of the Marigo power cables: CAT SL-1 Signature linestage (with grrrrrreat new tubes from Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio, e-mail: Kevin@UPSCALEaudio.com), Quicksilver M135 and Clayton M-70 monoblocks, Timbre TT-1 DAC, and Wadia 20 transport. Speakers were my reference ProAc Response 4s, with a pair of Merlin VSM Gen. 3 R/Cs in use at the tail end of the review period. Interconnects and speaker cables were the JPS Labs Superconductors, which never cease to delight me. I also had a brief tryst with the Genesis Digital Lens, but alas it was not to be....
The Marigo Apparition Reference is the most sonically recognizable digital cable I've ever had in my system--and by a wide margin. Plug it in and you'll first notice an increase in apparent bass depth and weight--no kidding--and then an improvement in the focus of images that's very seductive. These aspects of the Apparition's sound are not--not--the sorts of things that all digital cables do. In most cases, your choice of digital cable will ride more on a certain cable's ability to clarify the music or perhaps remove a level of grain from the treble--or add a touch of warmth. The Marigo cable sounds exceedingly clear and free of grain, and even soothes your audio chills, but it also improves bass and brings life to images. Impressive stuff.
In fact, it's almost necessary to talk about the Marigo cable in the kind of terms used to discuss, say, amplifiers--so clearly audible are its effects. I threw many recordings at it, just to see if I could trip it up. Long-time favorites like Holly Cole's Temptation and Greg Brown's Further In had tremendous body and thus real vividness--not the thin and etched brand of sound that's somehow considered vivid. In particular, Brown's deep, lazy voice occupied the space in my room that I know my racks do. Thus, the sonic illusion of a performer's physical presence has never been greater than during the Marigo cable's time in my system.
Along with this palpability was a wonderful sense of ease--not rolloff or bluntness, but rather added grace and beauty. Jacky Terrasson's Reach, recorded by Mark Levinson (the man not the company), was just incredible. The big ProAcs, as well as the smaller Merlin VSMs, reproduced Terrasson's piano with consummate realism--the notes hanging in defined space and then decaying in natural time. Now granted, Reach is a great recording that can make just about any system sing. But when it's played on my system with the Marigo digital cable installed the sound is hyper-refined--easily the best reproduction I've heard. Anywhere.
To quantify things, the Marigo digital cable approaches the Genesis Digital Lens in terms of the improvement (and not just change) it wrought on my system. In fact, I didn't even attempt to audition the two together because I knew I wouldn't be able to tell which of them I was hearing, and thus I couldn't give proper credit for the great sound. I know the Marigo cable can't reduce jitter, but perhaps it adds so little jitter of its own that it just sounds like it reduces it.
It's getting to be a habit with me--beginning a review of a Marigo product and then shifting context at some point during the review period. Last month, it was reviewer error (blush) that caused the change in course. This month, an updated version of the Marigo digital cable became available after I began using the original version. I'm still undecided about companies that habitually update their products. Do they deserve praise for constantly making their products better, or do they deserve sour raspberries because their changes only de-value equipment that we've already paid for and drive us crazy pondering the significance of "updating," which is often done at added cost? It's no trouble for me, the reviewer, but it is a cause of concern for those of you who own a previous version of what's now "new and improved."
In Marigo's defense, I've had their digital cable for almost five months, so it's not as though this whole update thing happened over night. In addition, the cable's base price hasn't changed, and the cost of updating a Series 3 cable to the new version, Series 3A, is a mere $40 and includes quick turnaround (normally in a day or less) and return shipping. The new cable uses improved dielectric materials inside and out, and these, according to Ron Hedrich, make for "cleaner, faster sound."
So, is the update an upgrade? Yes, although because the Series 3 cable was already so good, there wasn't much room for improvement. The Series 3A does indeed sound cleaner, and to my ears it also has slightly purer tonality. If you own a Series 3 cable, by all means schedule a makeover for it. The whole process is quick and cheap, and you'll end up with something that's even better.
The thing that's interesting about the niche that products like the Marigo digital cable inhabit is its diversity. You'd think that if every company is after the same thing--the sound of live music--then as the price of equipment rises, the closer it would all be to the ideal and thus would begin to sound alike. That this isn't the case proves not only that there's dead wood at every price point but also that there's disagreement about the goal itself. Well, the Apparition Reference is so good that I can't imagine too many listeners--except perhaps the resident skeptics on the Internet newsgroups (flame on!)--would disagree over Marigo's obvious goal: to create the finest digital cable possible.
It all comes down to value when I consider products that cost as much as the Marigo Apparition Reference digital cable. I've been blessed so far with reviewing extraordinary products by conscientious manufacturers--stuff I have no hesitation in recommending. And the Marigo Apparition Reference keeps the streak alive. The ability of this cable to enhance the enjoyment of recorded music is other-worldly. It offers broad and subtle effects: better bass and image focus, a stunning sense of grace and naturalness, and the endearing ability to raise the level of reality that your system portrays. That's value.
Is the Marigo Apparition Reference perfect? It costs $595 for a meter length, and none of my begging to Ron Hedrich to give the cable away has worked. Can you spend your 595 audiobucks better elsewhere? Only if you don't have digital separates and thus can't take advantage of a coaxial digital cable in the first place--so remarkable is the Marigo Apparition Reference.
There are a great number of digital cables available that offer superlative sound. So you may wonder, do I have to spend nearly $600 just to link my transport and processor? It may be necessary if you want the best sound possible, and in this regard, the Marigo Apparition Reference Series 3A stands much more than a ghost of a chance.
|Marigo Apparition Reference
Series 3 coaxial digital cable
Price: $595 USD, 1 meter