Acoustic Zen interconnects, AC, and speaker cables

If the devil is in the details, then Beelzebub has taken up residence in the collections of cables we use to connect our components. Reviewing the stuff is tough enough, but things are even more difficult for the average audiophile: Inevitably, the wire that sounds fabulous in the store or in your friend's system doesn't work worth a hoot in your own system, and you're left where you began. Equally inevitably, the wire that does work best carries a price more often seen in Tiffany's or Harry Winston. It's enough to drive a hi-fi nut to drink. So relax, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, and sit right back to hear the tale of Robert Lee and his amazing wires...

In 1998, Robert Lee and his then business partner, Jim Wang, founded Harmonic Technology, which quickly developed a reputation for making cables offering outstanding sound at reasonable prices. In 2000, wanting to further push the ultimate edge of the performance envelope, Lee struck out on his own under the Acoustic Zen flag. The name alone suggests what Lee was after with his new designs: the musical enlightenment that comes only from hearing the nothingness in the sound of the cables.

Cable constructions
The wire in every AZ cable is made with the Ohno Continuous Cast (OCC) process, which drastically reduces the number of crystal boundaries in a given length of wire. According to Lee, the thousands of boundaries between the metal crystals in a typical cable result in a lengthy break-in period—the signal must burn in the path of least resistance through the cable. (Lee seems to be correct about this. I have had lengthy, tedious experience with high-performance cables that have taken up to 500 hours to finish breaking in; listening through all those hours is not an enjoyable process. The AZ cables gave about 90% of their ultimate performance fresh out of the box, and stabilized completely within 40 hours. That alone makes them something of a marvel.)

Furthermore, each crystal boundary is, in essence, an extra barrier to signal propagation through the cable. There may be only a handful of crystals in 1m of OCC wire—AZ claims that, in many cases, there will be only one or two crystal boundaries in any individual strand of wire in its cables. This, proponents of the OCC process assert, is the true path to neutrality, wide bandwidth, and coherence. If they and Lee are correct, AZ cables are the wire equivalents of a simple signal path in an amplifier: fewer parts, fewer places for signal to be lost or for anything to go wrong.

In his designs, Lee directly addresses such relevant performance parameters as capacitance, inductance, and resistance, all of which are minimized to the lowest practicable levels. AZ's construction technique is based on "constant air-twisting," in which multi-gauge groups of conductors are arranged in a constant twist on the outside of air-filled Teflon tubing. The resulting dielectric is mostly air, and the rest is Teflon—next to air, the best dielectric. This, says Lee, provides a high common-mode rejection of noise and improved resistance to electromagnetic interference. Finally, the interconnects are double-shielded, using both copper foil and braid, to minimize pickup of residual radio-frequency and electromagnetic interference.

Along with cartridges, cables are the jewelry of audio, and AZ's designs and finishes have the jeweler's touch. All lugs and terminators are made of pure OCC copper and are gorgeously finished. They certainly feel like jewelry. The cables are all heavily jacketed and shielded, and over the shielding is a fishnet of some sort of plastic (Teflon?) that gently glows when the light hits it. Very snazzy-looking.

The Silver Reference II interconnects are the top of AZ's line of interconnects and are made of pure seven-nines silver. Besides featuring the construction techniques described above, each conductor is individually insulated with Teflon tape.

Company Info
Acoustic Zen
800 Los Vallecitos Blvd., Suite P
San Marcos, CA 92069
(760) 471-4899
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