Hi-Fi
January 29, 2013

Skogrand cables – stairway to sonic heaven

By WL Low

 

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, they are 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 could hear what he heard, 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. The hand-built 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 has a knot every 2 inches or so apart from each other and it seems as if 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-free purposes. All these layers makes the cable thick and stiff, so it is not advisable to bend it aggressively when routing the cables (gentle curves are best suited in this case), or you may weaken the core and eventually break the cable altogether. I have another minor complaint about the use of extremely thick electro gold-plated spades – due to their chunkiness and smooth gold-plated surfaces they are hard to be locked by the speaker terminals on the amp and speakers, and the stiffness of the cables makes things worse. 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 were 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 kiss is still there, the moist lips, gritty teeth, exchange of fluids and that juicy twirling tongue, but the feeling is more intense than you remembered it to be. So it was with my familiar music, and I mean all music genre. It 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 himself so that we can hear the way it was intended to be conveyed, the mood, the feelings and truly be touched. There is an emotional connection to the music being played.

 

However, this is an audiophile blog, so hi-fi artifice must be presented nevertheless. The Skogrand possesses a rather warmish tonal balance, and at first listen, I thought the highs were slightly rolled off on the extreme top end. On further listening, I changed my perception –  the highs were NOT actually rolled off, but rather presented in a more laid-back fashion that I am used to. The highs were  velvety smooth with “nano particles”  – the treble was the finest and most fluid I”ve heard. There is also real bite and attack when the drum kit cymbals came crashing too. The mids have dense volume, yet sounds clear and articulate at the same time. Like the few modern cables I tested recently, the Skogrands are also bass champs. The bouncy and tuneful bass, which underlies the whole musical spectrum, provides 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 them.

 

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 was often reminded how natural musical instruments sounded through the Skogrand, re-producing all the harmonic textures and truthful timbres (we are talking about non-amplified instruments here, of course!). This I place squarely on the darkest of backgrounds, indicating a truly noise free and transparency factor of the highest levels. Never before have I heard my system sound like this. If you”ve been following my audio adventures (or misadventures) long enough, you”d know I am a sucker for these hi-fi 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 in music reproduction via a hi-fi system, which only the most high of of high-end systems will do, but the Skogrands did very well at that. All theses tiny hi-fi artifacts add up to a whole lot of realistic musical performances.

 

Sound staging and imaging are further proof that if you can afford the cake, you can eat it too! My room walls and whatever boundaries, be they real or imagined, were banished and were replaced with acoustics of the place in which the recording was made, be it a studio on a studio album, or hall acoustics 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. 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-track recording artifact). If you heard that via the Skogrand, don”t go messing with your hi-fi, go blame the recording and mastering engineers instead!

 

Another look at the spade terminations of the speaker cables.

 

While all the above hi-fi attributes maketh a good cable, the best cables are the ones that just transmit the signal, and never impose its sonic signature on the music.

 

Evidence of its sonic prowess came by the fourth song – I was listening to Hitman by David Foster & Friends – when I got the first of the many goosebump experiences I had while the Skogrand was  in my system. Not many components, let alone hi-fi cables, gave me this many goose bump experiences, with familiar or new music materials. There were also times when the music moved me till my eyes got a little moist, yeah I know, what that means is 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 all these emotional touchy-feelly elements that earn the Skogrand Markarian 421 speaker cable the kudos that it deserves. And it is in these elements, the way the Skogrand makes the rest of the system hardware disappear, and leave only the music behind, 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 plugged in the RCA interconnects from the same Skogrand range into 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 for that matter via the Skogrand Markarian 421 RCA interconnects. Only dark silence emerged from the sound stage background. I thought the Skogrand interconnect shared all the hi-fi 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 offered too much of a good thing. While the combo pushed the au naturel organic qualities to the max, I found 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 disadvantage at play here. I can”t be unless I could have a pair of Skogrand Markarian 421 XLR interconnecst to confirm what I heard. Since these are Jo”s cables, they were made to suit his system”s operating topology, not mine. In his room Jo did not heard that “over boiled” softness (as like when instant Maggi mee is cooked for too long!). So it is 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 concerns over the RCA vs XLR, I heard very densely filled imaging properties, but I did wish for firmer imaging outlines as heard through the AQ Sky. No bad thing here, I think it is just a matter of preference and system compatibility, perhaps. I also found the triangle in the orchestral performance ringing with more conviction and its post attack harmonics hanging around just a little longer, before fading into the darkness of nothingness. The all Skogrand combo further put more layers between the front images and back instruments, making the whole staging and imaging presentation more 3D.

 

Adding the Skogrand interconnect into 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 US dollars! No small change indeed, but if one has the system of high enough stature, and is committed to the singular objective of extracting the best musical enjoyment out of the system, $$$ notwithstanding, the Skogrand can actually take one”s musical journey to audio nirvana, at least until the Divine One Himself decides to speak to you.

 

The plastic flight case in which the Skogrand came.

 

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 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 listen to. 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 components, let alone a cable can do that to such accomplished levels, that puts it so far ahead of the exotic cable pack race today.

 

It”s one of those hi-fi components that even if any self-respecting audiophile doesn”t buy it, he/she should at least aim to audition it once in his/her life time. At the moment in Malaysia at least, there is only one place where you can hear em” Skogrands, and I think most of you would know where to go by now. Start queuing up, please!

 

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