Listening #84 Page 2

Regardless, I wasn't surprised that the audible distinctions were small: Common sense, which used to grow wild around these parts, would lead one to believe that replacing 5% or 10% of all the cabling in a domestic audio system shouldn't be that noticeable.

In a roundabout sort of way, that point of view is echoed by another cable maker, the New England–based Nordost Corporation. Earlier this year, Roy Gregory—who joined Nordost after departing The Abso!ute Sound and Hi-Fi+, the latter of which he founded some years ago—got in touch to say that he and Nordost founder Joe Reynolds had distilled their thinking on cables and accessories into something they call a foundation theory. Key to this newly articulated approach are the twin ideas that all of the cabling in a domestic system should work together as a single component within the system (Gregory likes to describe the sum of a system's wiring as its loom, a term I also find appealing), and that the cabling must likewise work in concert with the remainder of the system's foundationie, those products that provide the physical and electrical support for the system's primary components. A single inferior link puts the whole thing at risk; one superior link, on the other hand, can be a waste—quite possibly a very expensive one.

Commendably, Roy Gregory says that these ideas are, or at least should be, more or less non–brand-specific: Any domestic music system, using virtually any brand of cables and accessories, will benefit from this approach, as long as those cables and accessories manifest a certain level of quality and non-bullshittiness (my word, but I'm certain that's what he meant).

To demonstrate Nordost's foundation theory in action, Roy Gregory and Joe Reynolds visited my home in August, freighted with products from three separate categories: platforms and other accessories made by the UK company Vertex AQ, intended to tame stray mechanical energy; electronic accessories and a power strip from Quantum Resonant Technology, of Santa Monica, California, for controlling high-frequency radiation and mains pollution; and, of course, a variety of cables from Nordost.

What Gregory and Reynolds had in mind was to essentially reinstall my hi-fi using the products described above, making sure that not only would every cable in my system be from the same designer and manufacturer, but that each should be of the same quality level as all the rest: none better, none worse. I demurred, partly in deference to the Stereophile policy that forbids us from borrowing review samples that we won't actually review, partly because I have limited storage space, and partly because, given the painstaking care with which I've installed and adjusted my Thorens TD 124 turntable and EMT 997 tonearm, I was worried that things might break or go out of adjustment. After an e-conversation with John Atkinson and the assurances of Mssrs. Gregory and Reynolds that my record player could skip this trip, I gave the go-ahead.

Quantum Mechanics
Gregory and Reynolds got busy and stayed that way for the better part of 90 minutes, during which time I peppered them with an assortment of inane questions. (Q: "What do you think about cable risers?" A: "In a very high-resolution system, everything makes a difference." Q: "What's inside the Quantum RT boxes?" A: "Integrated circuits and other bits.") When the work was done and the cartons set to one side, I was invited to reaudition the last recording we'd listened to, before all the bustle began.

Brothers and sisters, let us pause and reflect: 25 years ago, it was possible, even commonplace, for an audio reviewer to set up his readers with some overwrought tale of an improbable tweak, then to elicit surprise with the inevitable "I was literally blown away" (Midwest US), "My jaw literally hit the floor" (East Coast US), or "I was gobsmacked" (England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies). Those days are gone, thank God; only a few amateurs on the Internet appear not to have received the memo.

Nevertheless, the full suite of cables and accessories around which my system was rebuilt that day had had a clearly audible effect: a change that the majority of listeners would regard as a change for the good. We listened for a while, ate dinner, then listened some more. When I retired for the night, I left my system just as Roy and Joe had left it, with all their products and ideas in place.

The next day I listened again, and while I remained pleased with my system's performance, I noticed that it didn't sound entirely like my system anymore. One man's lack of substance and color is another man's abundance of air, I suppose—but in this case the one man was me and the other man was, well, pretty much everybody else. But speaking as an audio enthusiast more than as a reviewer, my idea of an improvement is simply more of what I like: substance, color, clarity, presence, scale, drama, flow, momentum, impact, humanness. The entirety of the foundation-theory tweaks, for want of a better word, gave me a little more of some of those things—clarity, presence, and impact, in particular—but they also pushed my system in an airier, less fleshy-and-bloody direction than I like.

Now: Even prior to this visit from Nordost, my system had hewn to some of the ideas articulated in their foundation theory, at least as far as cabling is concerned. Except for my digital music sources, all of my interconnect pairs were designed and made by Shindo Labs, which also made my amp and preamp; my speaker cables were designed and manufactured by Shindo's German distributor, Auditorium 23 (and approved by Ken Shindo as the best alternative to his own speaker cables); and all of my AC cords are from Shindo. Even my EMT tonearm is wired with Shindo wire—and when I rebuilt my Thorens TD 124 turntable, I hardwired in place a Shindo AC cord. I claim no prescience, great or small: This is merely the approach that seemed most sensible.