January 26, 2013

So Grand! Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 Speaker Cable & Interconnects.

Skogrand SC Markarian 421 speaker cables. All Skogrand cables are hand made to order.

To the few of us in the know, these cables have come to be known as "So Grand"! Skogrand Cables aren't exactly new, but on these shores, we're practically about the first people to have heard them, thanks to my buddy Jo Ki, of LS3/5A fame. He bought the best interconnects & speaker cables that Skogrand had to offer, called the SC Air Markarian 421. For now, available direct only from Skogrand's web site. Jo told us recently that he heard god speak to him, while he was listening to music. He wanted me to confirm if I heard what he heard too, and that's how the Skogrand cables ended up in my place  for a good few weeks.

First let's examine the cable's physical attributes. The Skogrand SC Markarian 421 range of solid core copper cables are stiff. They can be quite a handful, and it seemed like I was wrestling with a pair of Anacondas in the palm of my hands. The hand build quality is solid of course, and very well finished too. The outer jacket deserves a special mention as this is not your normal clear heat shrink, rather it contains a knot every 2 inches of so intervals and it seems some air is trapped inside so that the actual cable conductors never rest directly on the floor. Inside, there is further insulation with the use of silk and cotton fibres. The solid core conductors are thick gauge and hollow in the core, to trap air for dielectric purposes. All these layers makes the cable thick and stiff, so not advisable to bending aggressively when routing the cables(gentle curves are best suited in this case), or you may weakened the core and eventually break the cable altogether. I have another minor complain about the use of extremely thick electro gold plated spades, due to their chunkiness and smooth gold plated surfaces, the speaker terminals on the amp and speakers find it difficult to lock them down, because of the resistance to bending on the cables it self. Like I said, they're a handful to handle.
Note the knots on the outer transparent heat shrink tube, not your normal cable dressing!

The first Skogrand that went in to my system are the speaker cables. Listening to music through them was like as if you are just re-discovering your first kiss all over again. Everything you've remembered from that first experience is still there, the moist lips, gritty teeth, exchange of fluids and that juicy twirling tongue, but only more intense that you last remembered it to be. So it was with my familiar music, and I mean all music genre, was like as if I was re-living that first time I listened to all those music, but only with so much more insight, and the way the artist expressed so that we can hear the way it was intended to convey, the mood, the feelings and truly be touched, establishing an emotional connection to the music being played back right in front of us.

However, this is an audiophile blog, so hifi artifice must be presented nevertheless. The Skogrand possesses a rather warmish tonal balanced, which at first listen, I though the highs were slightly rolled off on the extreme top end. On further listening, I change my perception that the highs were NOT actually rolled off, but rather presented in a more laid back fashion that I am used to. The highs were of the velvety smooth with nano particle like finest and most fluid I've heard. There is also real bite and attack when the drum kit cymbals come crashing too. The mids have dense volume, yet sounds clear and articulate at the same time. Like the few modern cable I tested recently, the Skogrands are also bass champs. The bouncy and tuneful bass, which underlies the whole musical spectrum, providing a solid foundation for the mids and top end to work their magic. The bass has slamming and dynamic qualities too, when the music calls for.        
The extremely thickly gold plated spades, which are a bitch to work with. However, once you hear the way the Skogrands sound, all is forgiven and forgotten!

I am often reminded how natural, musical instruments sounded thru the Skogrand, re-producing all it's harmonic textures and truthful timbres(we are talking about non amplified instruments here of course!). This I put squarely to the darkest of background, indicating a truly noise free and transparency factor of the highest levels, never before heard like this in my system. If you've been following my audio adventures(or mis adventures!) long enough, you'd know I am a sucker for these hifi artifacts.  Despite my initial feeling that the highs may be rolled off, I eventually came to the conclusion that the Skogrands actually played within the widest bandwidth which my system allowed. Dynamic contrast and shadings in musical scores are often not easy to achieve is a music reproduction via hifi system, which only the most high of ends will do, but that, the Skogrands did very well. All this tiny hifi artifacts adds up to a whole lot of realistic musical performance facsimile.

Sound staging and imaging are further proof in the pudding that if you can afford it, you can eat it too! My room walls and what ever boundaries, be they real or imagined, are banished, replaced with acoustics of the place in which the recording was done, be it studio on a studio album, or hall acoustic, if it's a concert recording. It gives real meaning to the term "breathing the same air as the recorded musicians" or "swimming in the same water as the fishes"! The Skogrand acts like a teleportation device, beaming one to the event, not the event in to one's hifi room. Sound stage scale versus imaging size is spot on in "live" recordings, but some things can appear somewhat bloated, or out of proportion with some studio album recordings(that's probably some multi tracking recording artifact). If you heard that via the Skogrand, don't go messing with ye hifi, go blame the recording and mastering engineers instead!
Another look at the spade termination of the speaker cables.

While all the above hifi attributes maketh a good cable, the best cables are the ones that just transmit the signal, and never imposes it's sonic signature on the music. For all it's sonic prowess, by the fourth song, I was listening to Hitman, by David Foster & Friends, I got my first of the many goosebumps experience while the Skogrand remained in my system. Not many equipment, let alone hifi cables gave me this much goose bump experience, with familiar, or new music materials. There were also times when the music moved me till I moist my eyes a little, yeah I know, what that means I am a SNAG(Sensitive New Age Guy), in contemporary terms! Hey, these guys don't only appear on Sex & The City you know?

It is for all these emotional touchy feelly elements that earns the Skogrand Markarian 421 speaker cable the kodus that it deserves. And it is in these elements, the way the Skogrand makes the rest of the system hardware disappear, and only the music remains, that makes it priceless.
Top: Skogrand SC Markarian 421 uses Xhadow RCA plugs. Bottom: My reference Audioquest Sky XLR interconnects. 

All the above observed was only while the Skogrand speaker cables were in my system, I next plug in the RCA interconnects from the same Skoprand range in to my system, between the Bryston BDA-1 DAC and Pass Labs X0.2 pre-amp, replacing my long term reference Audioquest Sky XLR pair. I know, there's at least 6db of noise reduction advantage to be had from the balanced cable configuration, but I heard no peeps, hiss, hum, hash or any kind of noise floor for the matter, via the Skogrand Markarian 421 RCA interconnects. Only dark silence emerge from the sound stage back ground. I thought the Skogrand interconnect shared all the hifi attributes and sonic signature with the speaker cables. The interconnects got out of the way just as well as the speaker cables.

In fact sometimes I thought the all Skogrand combo shared too much of a good thing? While the combo pushed the au natural organic qualities to the max, I find the whole musical canvas just a tad too soft for my taste, compared to when the AQ Sky's were still in play. I could not be sure at this stage if it's the RCA's single ended topology disadvantage at play here? I can't be unless I could have a pair of Skogrand Markarian 421 XLR interconnect on hand to confirm. Since these are Jo's cables, they are made to suit his system's operating topology, not mine. In his room Jo did not heard that over boiled softness(as per when cooking Maggi 2 minute instant noodles!). So it most likely a system compatibility issue more than anything else.
Another look at the beautiful hand termination of the Skogrand SC Markarian 421 interconnects.

Despite having brought out the above concerns for the RCA vs XLR issue, I heard very densely filled imaging properties, but I did wished for firmer imaging outlines as heard thru the AQ Sky. No bad thing here, I think, just a matter of preference and system compatibility issues, perhaps. I also found the triangle in the orchestral performance rings with more conviction and it's post attack harmonics hanging around just a little longer, before fading in to the darkness of nothingness. The all Skogrand combo further put more layers between the sound stage front imaging and back instruments, making the whole staging and imaging presentation more 3D believe able.

Adding the Skogrand interconnect in to the mix pushes the performance envelope of the system further, but at this stage, the point of diminishing returns has long been breached, as so often happens in the world of high end audio. The Skogrand Markarian 421 speaker cables cost more than 8k, and adding the interconnects will set you back a further 7k, all in cold, hard American Dollars! No small change indeed, but if one has the system of high enough stature, and is committed to the singular objective to extracting the best musical enjoyment out of the system, $$$ not with standing, the Skogrand can actually take one's musical journey to audio nirvana, at least, that is until the Divine one himself decides to speak to you.
The plastic flight case in which the Skogrand came packed with.

And there I was, on the eve of what was supposed to be the end of the world(see, even the Mayans get it wrong sometimes), I sat there on my throne, listening to god speak to me, thinking that my life as an audiophile would've come full circle, and complete if you will, if the Skogrands are the last piece of equipment I'll ever listened to again. There's this quality of completeness which the Markarian 421 exhibited each and every time I listened to music through it that makes all the right sonic cues to the discerning audiophile, yet all is not lost because in the end, and the only thing that matters, is that the Skogrand cables put music on the altar. Not many equipment, let alone cable can do that to such accomplished levels, that puts it so far ahead of the exotic cable pack race today. If that's not "So Grand!", then what is?

It's one of those hifi gears that even if any self respecting audiophile doesn't wish to buy, should at least aim to audition, once in his/her life time. At the moment in Malaysia at least, there is only one place you can hear em' Skogrands, and I think most of you would know where to go by now. Start making that orderly beeline queue!

For more infomation and purchase enquiries, please visit http://www.skograndcables.com

6 comments:

Wang said...

Big E,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and it is one of the most inspired reviews I've read from you in a long while.

I've heard the So Grand cables and I agree with your findings.

Big E said...

Felix,

Thanks for your kind support.

Need inspiring products to produce inspired reviews.

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