[SoundStage!]The Y-Files
Back Issue Article

February 2001

EAResponsible Wiring II

The scene

It’s a sunny, cloudless December afternoon here on Blueberry mesa. You admire the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Christos range and Mount Taos straight across the plain. Life is good. The UPS guy is by now accustomed and comfortable with the welcoming routine my two free-roaming wolf dogs bestow upon any visitors to "my" portion of the open mesa. He drops off a little package, which I find when I return. Since my first installment on cable break-in, AudioDharma’s Cable Cooker 2.0 has become full-production reality. I now gaze upon this new arrival with confidence. If you remember, the solid testimony of the cable manufacturers had validated that cable break-in is a very real phenomenon. Of course, our own experience over the years said so plainly all along. Wasn’t it reassuring, though, to collect independent verification regardless? It allayed suspicions. Cables undergo a change for the better over time. To say so does not mean that our obsessive lunacy has finally peaked and dropped off the far side of our audiophile flat earth into lost-in-space neurosis. Would this novel device render a worthwhile improvement in this arena? One way or the other, I was now properly equipped to answer that question.

Participating party pants

Jerry Ramsey of Audio Magic, Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable, and Caelin Gabriel of Shunyata Research had volunteered cables to underwrite my little experiment with actual ammunition. They’d sent identical sets of cables. I could now perform a comparison between virgin and conditioned cables on the fly, and repeatedly so if necessary. I much prefer that real-time flexibility over making claims based on aural memory. I don’t consider memory, especially the aural kind, terribly reliable. Frankly, I distrust reviewers who compare a component’s Mk. II iteration against its predecessor, which they heard many moons ago. Maybe their hearing faculties record impressions on some portion of their biological hard drive to be inspected under the bright light of objectivity just so at a later time. In my case, I’d rather rely on comparisons in the present moment.

Comparing never-played cables against some that had survived the non-stop cardiovascular current aerobics on the Cooker for 24 hours would determine the degree to which I could perceive cable break-in. What it wouldn’t show is whether non-stop music playing alone couldn’t accomplish the same thing. Fortunately, I had a spare set of Analysis Plus Oval 9 shotgun biwire and Oval-In interconnects. I would pre-condition these raw vegetables on the Cable Cooker 2.0 and then compare them to their siblings that had been on constant roast in my system ever since they first came to market. This particular mano-a-mano was the wrestling match I was most curious about. Would this Dharma Box prove victorious? I would then feel convinced that I had discovered a new and affordable cure for the cable affliction. While some consider it merely illusionary, many listeners openly recognize its existence but still fret over what exactly to do about it

What to inhale

To evaluate the different interconnects, I would replace the Acoustic Zen Silver Reference cable that I had recently installed between the Perpetual Technologies P-3A digital engine and the Art Audio PX-25 single-ended amp. My gain provision is an optional attenuator directly fitted to the amp. This allows me to proclaim good riddance to any preamp with my evil less-is-more grin. The speaker cables would insert between the amp and my Triangle Ventis XS speakers, while the power cords under comparison would plug between the power conditioner and the amp. My Sound Application CF-X conditioner is the system’s sole central power source. It is thus ultra revealing of changes in the cord that connects it to the Cryotech high-conductivity wall socket. Swapping that particular cord affects all components plugged into the conditioner and thus multiplies its effects in a powerfully logarithmic fashion. But it would also shut down every single component, and we all know how long solid-state devices like CD players and DACs take to thermally stabilize. Not a good idea. I decided on replacing my PX-25’s resident Audio Magic Clairvoyant instead during the power-cord testing. Properly heated up in advance, transformers and tubes radiating comfortable warmth, a momentary power-off would result in the least amount of sonic alteration that wasn’t a function of changing cable components but a matter of the electronics not returning to life quickly enough.

This test itself would, of course, be limited by the amount of cable I had on hand. Don’t consider it etched-in-limestone gospel. Call it well-informed gossip. If confirmed by other users, you should really pay attention. As it stands, do prick up your ears already.

How to smoke it

Before we proceed to the finals, let’s inspect the actual device. How it works has already been explained in part I. Whether it works we shall find out shortly. But alas, how do you use it?

Here’s the front and back panel of AudioDharma’s Cable Cooker 2.0.

The back features a simple lit-when-on power switch and a mini jack for the unit’s in-line power supply that sports an IEC socket for a user-provided power cord. The action is up front: two pairs of diagonally mounted five-way speaker binding posts, two pairs of high-quality RCAs, and one pair each of BNC and XLR sockets for digital interconnects. The Cable Cooker 2.0 uses two series circuits, one for low-level and one for high-level cables. The low-level terminals on the left half of the unit are the Cooker’s outputs. The corresponding inputs are on the right. The flow of energy in the low-level circuit circulates from left to right in an endless loop. The speaker terminals are arranged in pairs, with the respective upper terminals the outputs (amp end) and the lower the inputs (speaker end). Hence the high-level flow chart proceeds from upper left to lower left, then from upper right to lower right and back to upper left.

While we’re giving directions, remember that cables -- unless specifically designed asymmetrically with one-sided floating shields -- aren’t directional out of the box. They become directional through use. If they have arrows on their jackets, do use the arrows accordingly when you install the cables. This will serve as reminder when you take them out and want to re-install them properly. The issue of directionality is important when you use the Cable Cooker 2.0. It burns directionality into treated cables to an exaggerated extent since the intensity of current flow that generates the actual break-in is higher than a regular music signal. This directionality can most certainly be reversed, but you would have to first "go against the grain" and undo the benefits of your original conditioning session.

Accordingly, for interconnects both analog or digital, have the directional arrow point from the left to the right jacks of the Cable Cooker 2.0 while speaker cables should be oriented top to bottom, one per side. For shotgun biwire, use the lower terminals for the dual ends, either via stacked spades or with a split banana/spade arrangement. With a power cord, use the included male and female IEC adapters with Deltron ends in a diagonal arrangement, from upper left to lower right. Plug the cord’s male/wall end via the adapter into the upper left speaker terminal, and the female/component end via its adapter into the lower right speaker terminal.

The Cable Cooker 2.0 allows simultaneous burn-in of multiple sets of cables at once. As the included barrel-type RCA repeaters for daisy chaining clearly testify, this timesaving option is in fact encouraged. It works. With spade-terminated speaker cables, a bolt-and-screw arrangement will allow the same arrangement. For multiple banana-terminated cables, a quick sprint to your local Shack will get you the banana barrels you need.

Once you have hooked up the cables you intend to treat, power the unit up. The left LED will turn red to confirm action status, while the right one will glow green to confirm continuity and a closed-loop circuit. This feature can prove useful with a suspected "dead" cable. Simply connect it to the Cable Cooker 2.0 by itself. If the green bulb fails to light, your cable’s continuity is disrupted. You need to inspect the terminations or otherwise test it for internal shorts or severed conductors. Think of the Cable Cooker 2.0 also as a handy continuity checker.

And that, folks, minus a day or two worth of silent operation, is it.

The ongoing high

Let me be blunt: Anyone who claims there isn’t a clearly audible difference between virgin and properly conditioned cables, at least from out of the bunch I tested, is clearly hard of hearing. Let’s qualify how hard. Audio is full of differences. Some are so minute and precarious that the tiniest sneeze of self-doubt or applied honesty returns them repeatedly into the realm of imagination and wishful thinking where they belong. Then there is the type of difference that is clearly different but not necessarily meaningful outside the immediate occasion where such difference was first noted. Our communal audiophile ear lobes do, however, quiver in unison when word gets out that a certain gizmo causes differences that do matter, are readily demonstrable and repeatable, and get us significantly closer to the illusion of life music. The Cable Cooker 2.0 effects improvements that squarely belong in the latter category and span the gamut from shit-eating grin to a "that’s impossible" voluntary lobotomy.

The Kimber Kable Hero and Audio Magic Excalibur II interconnects, in comparison to their pre-conditioned siblings, appeared both a little ragged on top and dynamically enclosed. The word that came to mind during the repeated A/B/A cycles was actually "constricted." They sounded constricted and energetically strangulated. Both conditioned cables sounded as though playing louder, as if some microscopic physical blockages had been removed to let more information come through. The cables acquired air and bloom that was absent in their virgin mates. The most profound improvement occurred in the bass. The differences in extension, slam and impact were anything but subtle.

Here’s a portion of an e-mail exchange I had with Caelin Gabriel that seems tailor-made for this juncture:

Think of current as water in a down-hill stream. The streambed (sand and rocks) is analogous to the cable conductor (metal). The waves and ripples of the stream are analogous to the EM field of the cable. A component like a CD player only pulls a relatively small amount of current on a continuous basis. This is similar to a stream where the water flows slowly. It does not have any significant amount of turbulence. The water flows between and around the sand dunes and rocks on the bottom of the stream. This is analogous to electrical current flowing across valence shell boundaries and around impurities in the metal. When you substitute a high current component (or burn-in device) that pulls very large amounts of current, the whole situation shifts. This is similar to a scenario where a rainstorm overloads the stream to cause large and turbulent current flows. The sand and rocks on the bottom of the riverbed are picked-up and sent downstream. In severe cases the course or shape of the stream is changed. This is what also happens in an actual conductor. The micro-pathways that have been established through minimal current flow are radically altered. The current will now have to form new pathways through the metal. The impurities of the metal become more significant obstructions. If that cable is put back on the intended device that only pulls a relatively small amount of current, the effect is similar to when the storm passes and the stream slowly returns to its normal current flow rate. The large gouges and channels in the streambed have the capability to process a high rate of water but the reduced flow rate now causes the current to change its pathways. You have seen this effect in a wide flat river delta where high current caused large deposits of sand but under normal flow rates the water only passes in narrow channels within the streambed. In the same way, current in a conductor will alter its pathway under low current conditions.

The Cable Cooker 2.0’s low-level signal, while significantly higher than a comparable music signal, is only a fraction of the strength of the high-level circuit. If, via some odd adapter and following a very American rationale of bigger is better, an interconnect was inserted into the high-level speaker/power circuit, the results that Caelin predicts would not be benign. In fact, he observed with his power cords over the years that a break-in protocol should mimic the intended application in terms of current draw and load behavior. Will the power cord be used on a current-hungry amp or an idle CD player? Using a high-current break-in regime on a power cord destined to provide juice to a CD player will, in his opinion, cause a subsequent adjustment period in which the molecular cable conditions will revert back to the "low tide" versus "flash flood" valence array. To allow me to validate his personal findings, Caelin sent three identical Sidewinder cords. I pre-conditioned one with the Cable Cooker 2.0, the other with an inductive-load fan that I plugged into it and then relegated to the porch for two days. Present outdoor skiing conditions have my internal radiant heat at full boogie. I didn’t need a fan to blow cold air around inside.

While I’m about to describe the differences between virgin and pre-conditioned power cords, I honestly couldn’t tell any difference at all between the cooked and fanned Sidewinder plugged into the amp -- both were equally superior to their raw counterpart. I tried each on the amp and the CD player in case one component would highlight possible differences better. If there was a difference, my ears didn’t cotton onto it or I didn’t know what to listen for. However, I did add another 48 hours to the cooked Sidewinder to see whether I could, in best microwave fashion, nuke it to death. Putting this cord onto the amp didn’t create any difference. Surprisingly, putting it onto the Cary CD-303 CD player caused a clear descent of grit and glare that intruded upon the music and only disappeared when I replaced the cord with the one that had undergone the fan treatment. This seems to prove Caelin’s point. One can overdo this cable cooking business. I frankly didn’t have the time or frame of mind to continue this line of inquiry with the other cables. Hence my report, except for this one Sidewinder, is based on 24-hour treatments. It’s very possible that extended treatment sessions beyond 24 hours would yield even more obvious and far-reaching results. It’s also to be expected that each cable has its own specific time period that yields maximum performance, and that exceeding that time could induce negative effects.

The Audio Magic silver XStream and Shunyata Research Sidewinder power cords, in before-and-after changes, mirrored those of the interconnects. The most noticeable overall effect was different, however. It appeared as though someone had taken a mysterious "air gun" and injected more space between the music’s molecules. This might sound like an odd explanation, but it is, in fact, very descriptive. It’s akin to the changes I heard when I first inserted the Vistek Aurios bearings into my system. Everything expands in all directions at once, gets bigger, more intelligible, more refined and relaxed. There’s a peculiar sensation of airiness and light, of spaciousness and suffusion. To double-check this unexpected result, I couldn’t resist inflicting the treatment on my Audio Magic Clairvoyant cord and a Shunyata Research King Cobra v2 sent me for experimentation. These power cords are both very expensive. They’re their respective designer’s statement pieces and should, in the appropriately prepared context -- an otherwise well-rounded and comparatively priced system -- be considered full-fledged active components as opposed to second-class accessories. In short, I reasoned that these "dialed-to-the-max" efforts would respond even more drastically to the Cable Cooker 2.0’s regime.

I was right but first need to beg indulgence for my procedure. Since I only had one cord each, I needed to resort to aural memory, the very protocol I’ve decried as unreliable in this very article earlier. In order to minimize imaginary contributions that I always suspect creep into this type of approach, I listened to the same music, at the same time of day and offset by only 24 hours. I didn’t listen to anything else in between to keep my aural palate uncorrupted. The changes, from one day to the next, now approached truly drastic dimensions. I’m talking the this-doesn’t-even-sound-the-same sort. Where the XStream and Sidewinder cooking session had given me a significant but relative step up in performance as though reaching, on the same ladder, one or two rungs higher, the increase with these super cords was more like a warp-drive dimensional shift. Things had gotten positively huge. It was the same basic more-space aroma, but think exponentially exploded into infinity. Of course, I couldn’t "go back" exactly to validate this finding. To attempt a partial reality check, I reinserted the mostly virgin XStream and Sidewinder cords to find the dimensional expanse collapse back to normal. Granted, I was now comparing each company’s entry-level product to its ne-plus-ultra gilded effort. Nonetheless, I’m very confident that most of the difference between the raw and cooked super cords was due to the treatment. In fact, if the Cable Cooker 2.0 didn’t do anything else but just turbo-charge one single power cord into such a supernatural performance improvement, I’d consider it an absolute necessity on the spot.

But I also had speaker cables to check. Kimber Kable’s well-known blue-black braid was my poison for the day. After the requisite 24 hours solitary confinement with the Cooker, I did the swapperoo. The differences were similar to the interconnect cables. The most overt "more" occurred in the bass, followed by a sense of air and sweetening of the treble and a sense of increased loudness, which wasn’t so much louder than an influx of light that illuminated more detail and increased the contrast ratio.

To confirm the improvements, I compared a completely conditioned versus barely played Kimber interconnect/speaker cable set. As expected, the improvements compounded. They were readily apparent when I merely compared single cables, but now they were of the smack-you-on-the-third-eye difference that is easily heard from even another room -- as my wife proved when she asked what I just did.

So far the Cable Cooker 2.0 worked exactly as the manufacturer claimed it would. What about my Analysis Plus cables that had been in constant use for over a year? The Oval-In interconnects took a major leap forward, while I wasn’t certain whether the speaker cables benefited or not. There is no doubt in my mind that the Oval-In cables transformed significantly and to an extent that makes me realize I hadn’t really recognized them for all they’re capable of. Maybe that’s because they’re low-level signal transmitters. They’re never actually exposed to the kind of rotor-rooter current cleaning that the Cable Cooker 2.0’s artificial, non-musical signal imposes like a high-pressure stress. Since I only had one long-term speaker cable on hand, I can’t be certain that others of more complex physical make-up than my beloved Oval Nine wouldn’t react differently. Based on my single-case evidence, I have to say that interconnects probably never break-in with normal use, but speaker cables might if you are patient enough and have the simple-enough kind.

The morning after

At $649 delivered to any address in the continental US, the AudioDharma Cable Cooker 2.0 is an unqualified success. I’d suggest that handfuls of audio buddies anywhere pool their resources and purchase a unit on the spot to use jointly amongst their group, and to have on hand for annual follow-ups as the manufacturer recommends. The improvements wrought are such that you probably couldn’t duplicate them even for the full selling amount with a component upgrade elsewhere. If you go for a timeshare option, you’ll come out smelling like a bouquet of luxury roses and thank me for it.

If you’re a dealer, consider the Cable Cooker 2.0 an absolute must-have guarantee for customer satisfaction. Your business ethics would remain unimpeachable even were you to charge a nominal service fee. It’s so easy to demonstrate the differences beforehand. If you’re selling cable at $100/pair or more, this type of value-added gesture should come spontaneously. If you’re a cable manufacturer, reviewer or wire jock of yet different stripes, a Cable Cooker 2.0 is really mandatory to get your creations or review assignments up to speed and ascertain what they sound like fully woken up. Even if the Cooker only accelerated the natural progression of things -- condensing months of regular system activity into a single day or two -- I’d consider it well worth the price. Seeing that it accomplishes things that real life doesn’t seem to duplicate, at least in low-level wires such as interconnects and digital cables, having access to a Cooker really isn’t much of an option for serious audiophiles. Lastly, with certain cables such as the statement silver-ribbon Audio Magic Clairvoyant power cord, the possible improvements seem head-scratchingly off the scale. From worst- to best-case scenario, this device does the job no matter from what angle I dare it not to work.

See www.audioexcellenceaz.com for details on the AudioDharma Cable Cooker 2.0.

PS: Just before going to press, the unit’s manufacturer excitedly called me about three additional possible applications for the Cable Cooker 2.0 he and certain beta testers are currently investigating. Phono cables conduct the puniest of signal voltages. It stands to reason that the benefits of proper break-in could be tremendous. AudioDharma is thus working on a special adapter that will allow this line of experimentation. Owners of power-line conditioners have reported great results when burning in their conditioners with a Cable Cooker 2.0. By using the supplied power cord adapters, the power cord feeding the conditioner from the wall is plugged into the Cooker’s upper left speaker output while another power cord connects one of the conditioner’s outlets to the Cooker’s lower right speaker terminal. Preferably one would use the outlet of the conditioner farthest removed from the incoming AC line to assure that most of its internal distribution rails benefit from the conditioning. If alternate outlet banks are provided, it seems sensible to use multiple outlets in sequence. Lastly, a well-known designer of tube amplifiers is currently working with hand-built adapters to use a Cable Cooker 2.0 to burn-in output transformers.

In closing, if useful reports on any of these new or even further applications arrive in my e-mail inbox, I will post a follow-up notice on the Talk Online board.

...Srajan Ebaen


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