Cables. Few things in highend audio
are as controversial as cables. First audiophiles can be divided
into two camps; those who believe that cables can make a
difference and those who don’t. When we take a closer look at
those who actually believe in the sonic benefits (or deficiencies)
of cables, we find a mass of different opinions about the
materials used in and the principles used to create cables. Not to
mention system matching, every serious audiophile knows and
respects the importance of system matching. Or do they? Cables
range from the standard copper cable included in your basic
all-in-one setup to outrageously expensive constructions the size
of garden hoses, built from materials that most of us will never
recognize. So where’s the sense in all this, where’s the thin line
of cable choice drawn?
Of course I don't have an
all-encompassing answer to this question. As far as my own
opinions go, I do believe cables have an important place in every
system and that they do indeed affect the overall sound. When I
began my latest "cable testing round", I was aware of quite how
much good cables can differ from each other in terms of overall
sonic performance, but maybe not fully to what possible extent.
This testing process ended with me acquiring two pairs of Siltech
interconnects (the brand has been something of a long-time trusted
choice in my different systems), but it still left me with my
loyal long-time companions, two pairs of Dunlavy Z6, as speaker
cable. Not long after this whole messy project had been brought to
a momentary halt, I was offered the chance to test a pair of
Nordost Red Dawn Rev II speaker cable. I was familiar with Nordost
as a brand; having tested some of their cables earlier, but the
Red Dawn is the most expensive one I’ve tried so far. Let me be
clear in telling You that the speaker cable wasn’t hooked up for
very long before I went running for the interconnects to complete
the setup. Taking into account the unique construction and nature
of the Red Dawn cables, I decided it’s time for Highendnews.com to
get its first dedicated cable review in some time.
As stated, Nordost has something of
a unique approach to cable design. You won’t find any "garden
hoses" in their product range, as most of their cables are, well,
flat. Nordost claims that their technology is derived from the
space industry and gives a significantly higher level of sound
reproduction that other techniques. All Nordost cables have solid
core conductors, either flat rectangular solid oxygen free copper
conductors or fine micro litz round conductors, that eliminate
skin effect and magnetic field interactions. The precise conductor
spacing (using a only 5mm thick extrusion of FEP) keeps
capacitance and inductance on a very low level which, according to
Nordost, results in cables that transmit signals at over 95% of
the speed of light. The logic behind this is that "faster"
transmission results in better accuracy and clarity of sound. And
clear they are, but more on that later.
All Nordost cables are handcrafted,
and all loudspeaker cables are by default terminated with "Z
Plugs". This is a lightweight banana plug that produces a very
tight fit with the speaker terminals of the component it’s
connected to. Even though I had my suspicions about using banana
plugs, I have to say that the connection I got with the Nordost
cables rivals that of any of the spade-equipped cables I’ve
connected to my speakers so far. Even though Nordost will supply
their cables with spades, the Z-plug supposedly preserves the low
inductance and capacitance of the cable and is thus the
According to Nordost, their cables
are also extremely durable thanks to the FEP coating. This despite
the fact that they look a bit "flimsy" when lifted out of the box.
Once I got used to the fact that the cables actually can be
handled normally I had no further problem in this area, except for
the fact that the lightweight material wouldn’t settle on the
floor like I wanted. As a whole the Nordost Red Dawn cables made a
good impression as far as build quality goes. And
that’s to say the least. It’s also fair to point out that Nordost
offers a lifetime warranty for all their models.
The Red Dawn speaker cable consists
of 19 silver-plated OFC (99,999999%) conductors, and is said to
carry musical signals with up to 94% of the speed of light. The
interconnects use 20 conductors per channel, with the same
material choice as the speaker cable. The Nordost website provides
quite a nice amount of data on the cables and their specs, a nice
thing in a world where many manufacturers offer nothing more than
fancy pictures and nice marketing talk.
At first I only received the Red
Dawn speaker cable for review. I connected this one, picked up my
jaw from the floor after the inital impact, and then listened to
music for a week. However good the setup sounded I couldn’t shake
the feeling that something was missing, so I picked up two pairs
of Red Dawn interconnects from the local dealer. All of the cables
were demo examples, so no additional burn-in was necessary.
I run my Dunlavys biwired, so the
configuration of the speaker cable was ideal. I connected the
single-wire end to my Audionet AMP I power amp, and the biwired banana
plugs to the terminals on my SC-IV´s. Like I already said, the
connection achieved by the Z-plug left nothing to be desired. And
even if I’ve always been a supporter of sturdy spade lugs for
cable termination, I must say the Z-plugs really made life easier,
as the cable terminals on the SC-IV´s (and all Dunlavy-models) are
recessed into a small "cup" on the back of the speaker. This is
really a pain when connecting heavier, less flexible cables. Given
Dunlavy´s present state of affairs we’re quite unlikely to see any
improvements in that area, so I’ll just have to live with it.
The following step was to replace
my Siltech interconnects with the Red Dawns. After figuring out
how the RCA´s worked the installation was easy, with very good
connection as a result. I still prefer the locking WBT´s of the
Siltechs to the "springy" RCA´s of the Nordost cables, but as far
as connections go I think both will do their job just fine.
Wow. That was my specific first
reaction when the first notes of music wafted out from the
speakers and into the room. At this point I was using the Nordost
Red Dawns as speaker cable, but my own Siltechs as interconnects.
The musical presentation was better defined, more transparent,
airier, and more detailed. The details were most evident in the
treble, a traditional Achilles´ heel for the Dunlavys but a strong
suit for the Audionet-components. The audible changes in the bass
and midrange were smaller, but at the time they also felt very
significant. My first impression was definitely that the Red Dawn
were better cables than my Dunlavy Z6´s in every conceivable way.
After listening to the superbly
extended, detailed and clear treble and excellent overall sound
for about a week it was time to replace the Siltechs with
interconnects from the same Red Dawn-series. I had expected more
of the same wonders that I experienced with the speaker cable.
Time would show me that this was partly true, but that the result
was in fact a very two-bladed sword. The bulk of the testing was
done with Red Dawn-cables as both interconnects and speaker cable,
only at the end of the review period did I switch back to the
I don’t really have a collection of
"reference recordings" that I use specifically for reviewing
equipment, but some records have, for one reason or another, found
themselves in the top-loaded mechanism of the ART V2 more often
than others. Some of these records are also the ones that are
interesting to take a closer look at by now....
A long-time favorite of mine,
Charles Lloyd´s "The Water Is Wide" (ECM 1734 549 043-2), is an
otherwise nice recording, but one with some excess sizzle to the
cymbals from time to time. With the Red Dawns in the system, the
overall presentation of the music had excellent detail and air,
but the excessive sizzling had become bit more prominent. On the
other hand, the drummer’s brush stroking the membrane of the snare
drum had never been so clearly rendered before. The piano also had
a slightly harder edge than usual. While this was in no way
annoying by itself, when combined with the slight treble sheen the
music tended to sound a bit colder than it had before the change
of cables. This was also evident with the sound of the guitar,
which was good in itself, but a bit fuller when the Siltechs were
in the system. Still, the soft exclamations by the band members
drew me into the music just like before, so I was still far from
having an artificially hard-edged sound on my hands.
The next one to come along was Pink
Floyd’s "Division Bell" (EMI 7243 8 28984 2). Even though this is
a Pink Floyd-record without Mr. Waters, and even though it only
features mediocre sound and some quite artificial soundscapes, I
can’t help but like it as a whole. There’s something inherently
special in most Pink Floyd records, and this one also has some of
it, so it’s been spending countless hours in my different setups.
With the present setup and the Red Dawn-cables, the music sounded
even more eerie and spacious than before. Low-level resolution,
especially in the upper register, was the best I’ve heard from
this disc in my listening room so far. The bass was dry and very
tight, but ever so slightly weaker in impact than with the
Siltech-cables. David Gilmour´s vocals were also a bit more
recessed than usual, and sounded a bit thinner, but not alarmingly
so. Still, the ambience of the whole recording was transferred
into the listening room in a way I’ve rarely heard before, while the
individual instruments and elements of the music stayed very
Paul Stephenson once again sounded
ever so polite on his album "Light Green Ball" (Stockfisch SFR
357.6023.2), which has been given a fantastic sound by Stockfisch
mastering guru Günter Pauler. Especially the sounds of the guitars
are very special on this album (and on many other
Stockfisch-albums). While the guitars again sounded like they were
lacking a bit of "body", the sound of the guitarists´ fingers on
the strings brought a very authentic feel to the whole music.
During this listening session I also suddenly noticed that the
huge Dunlavy had all but disappeared, so naturally did the music
float into the room. The voices of the lead and background singers
were also nicely separated.
One thing I realized was that some
of the minor quibbles I’ve had with the sound more or less
disappeared when I switched back to my Siltech interconnects but
kept the Red Dawn speaker cables. Basically the sound gained a bit
of midrange fullness and warmth, as well as some bass impact, but
without losing any of the brilliant top-end sparkle I had gotten
so impressed by at the very beginning of the review period.
Overall impression: Very
clean, fast and detailed with a slightly analytical nature. Not
prone to veiling or softening high frequencies.
Balance: A tad to the bright
side, with an extremely lean and quick lower register.
Resolution: In the treble
it’s the most detailed cable I’ve ever heard. Excellent
performance in the midrange, even if the Siltech-cables used for
comparison seem to be able to dig out some extra minor details. No
quibbles about the bass, excellent resolution.
result with my present setup in my present system. Can’t imagine
this cable sounding very veiled in any system, though.
Realism: Hard to define
regarding a cable. Did not seem to add or subtract anything from
the music in any significant way.
Treble: As stated this was
the strongest point of the Red Dawn in my system. Excellent treble
clarity, nuance and extension. With some recordings it was almost
"too much of a good thing", but in this case the recording was
just as guilty as the cable.
Midrange: Natural, if
somewhat cool reproduction. Some singers and instruments placed at
the midrange frequencies seemed a tad more recessed into the
soundstage. That fact was more prominent when both the
interconnects and speaker cables were used.
Bass: Taut, fast, lean. I’ve
heard more bass impact with other cables, but the Red Dawn’s speed
and lack of excess roundness also made an impression.
Dynamics, visceral impact:
No dynamic restrictions were apparent. Excellent reproduction of
transients, but was bettered by an inch in this area by the
I’ve seldom had such a focused soundstage combined with the kind
of layered depth I had during this test. Even with large
orchestral works every instrument seemed precisely placed on the
stage, with no "wandering". The airy sound also helped the
speakers in the "disappearing act".
- Resolution, especially in the
- Transparency and soundstaging
- Image focus and clarity
- Z plugs on the speaker cables
Points to develop:
- Slightly cool and recessed
midrange, apparent with vocals. Midrange resolution not quite as
spectacular as the treble.
- The extremely lean lower
register might result in a "thin" sound with some setups.
- Probably needs careful system
matching in order not to sound too clinical.
Cables have been likened to many
things; "spices", "tone controls" etc. One thing that remains
apparent through it all is the need for careful consideration
before inserting a new cable into a system, especially when
considering the costs associated with many cables these days. I am
very happy to have tried out the Nordost Red Dawns, they certainly
did not disappoint. My system has a sound that can probably be
described as a bit to the "cool" side, with the
Audionet-electronics and Dunlavy speakers. That might very well be
the reason for the seemingly cool midrange and somewhat
lightweight bass. On the other hand, the Red Dawns gave me a
top-end resolution and sparkle that I’ll dearly miss. The Red
Dawns might not be the premier choice for anyone looking for
traditional-looking, heavy cables, but anyone looking for
high-quality connections and signal transfer should give them a
try. If you feel that your system lacks that last bit in treble
extension, or if it sounds stuffy and veiled, then the Nordosts
probably represent a good place to start. If, on the other hand,
you have an overly analytical presentation, then the Red Dawns
might not be your cup of tea. In my case the best combination was
with the Red Dawn speaker cables and the Siltech interconnects.
For me this points to the possibility that the Red Dawns and the
Siltechs are on a similar level in terms of overall performance,
but slightly different in character. This review period most
certainly sparked my interest for the even more advanced and
expensive cables in the Nordost range, I am hoping to audition
them one day.
But let’s state it once again, with
cables the rule should always be "try before you buy". In my
opinion the Red Dawn Interconnects and Speaker Cable are
definitely worth that try.
- Cd-player: Audionet ART
V2 standing on Solid Tech “Feet of Silence”.
- Preamp: Audionet PRE I G2
standing on Solid Tech “Feet of Silence”.
- Power Amp: Audionet AMP I
on DIY amp stand (2 x 50 by 60 cm granite slabs, 30kg each, with
damping rubber feet in between. Whole stand supported by
- Speakers: Dunlavy SC-IV
on Soundcare Superspikes.
- Interconnects: Siltech
SQ-80 G3 (cd-preamp), Siltech ST-48 G3 (pre-power amp).
- Speaker cable: Dunlavy Z6
- Mains cable: Custom made
Supra LoRAD for all components.
- Mains filter/distributor:
Siltech Octopus with SPO-20 mains cable.
- Equipment stand: Sound
Organisation 90cm wide 2-shelf stand for cd-player and preamp.
Stand supported by 8mm spikes placed on Target
- Room: ~20 Square meters.
House construction: wooden frame, tile outer wall. Excellent
bass absorption, no significant room resonance under 100Hz
- Room treatments: 4x Svanå
ABCyll absorbers placed at first reflection points. Large
bookshelf covers entire back wall. Heavy rug on the floor
between the speakers and the listening spot. No TV or screen
between the speakers, projector screen (96” Da-Lite)
ceiling-mounted and retracted during all listening sessions.
- Charles Lloyd: The Water is Wide
(ECM 1734549043-2; 2000)
- Pink Floyd: The Division Bell
(EMI 7243 8 28984 2 9; 1994)
- Paul Stephenson: Light Green
Ball (Stockfisch SFR 357.6023.2; 2002)
- Allan Taylor: Hotels & Dreamers
Stockfisch (SFR 357.6028.2; 2003)
- Sara K.: Water falls Stockfisch
(SFR 357.6025.2; 2002)
- Hugh Masekela: Hope (Triloka
- Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances;
Eiji Oue; Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings RR-96CD;
- Rimsky-Korsakoff: Scheherazade;
Fritz Reiner; Chicago Symphony Orchestra (JMCXR-0015; 2002)
- Blue Man Group: Audio (Virgin
7243 8 48613 2 2 CDVUS177; 1999)
- Rammstein: Mutter (Universal
- Oscar Peterson: A summer night
in Munich (Telarc CD83450; 1999)
- Jacques Loussier: The Bach Book
(Telarc Jazz CD83474;1997)
- Jacques Loussier: Satie -
Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes (Telarc Jazz CD83431; 1998)
- Sophie Zelmani: Precious Burden
(Columbia COL 489733 2; 1998)
- Tori Amos: Scarlet´s Walk (Epic
508782 2; 2002)
- Soundtracks from “The Thin Red
Line”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
- + Others
x40 varied and balanced
60 microns extruded silver over 99.999999% OFC
delay: 94% speed of light
- Insulation: Extruded FEP
x20 varied and balanced
60 microns extruded silver over 99.999999% OFC
delay: 94% speed of light
Price (Finland, incl. 22%
- Speaker Cable, 3m biwire:
- Interconnect, 1m RCA: