By now I’m sure you’ve seen signs that we’re releasing a new interconnect cable. You’re hopefully curious and left wondering whether a more expensive cable is going to make a meaningful difference over our others or even over a black box upgrade.
You’re right to be suspicious of cables in High End Audio; many are sold on all the lovely things they can add to your system and never tell you what they are. So before I talk about our new cable, I want to discuss the biggest villain in the entire Hi-Fi world, namely electro-magnetic interference (EMI). When the audio signal leaves the source it’s pure but on its journey to the speakers through amplification it is susceptible to lots of EMI. EMI comes from nearly everything to some degree (even we give off EMI) but man-made electronics such as mobile phones, wifi and microwaves are among the biggest causes.
Another massive EMI risk to your system is the system itself! Naim’s Statement series is testimony to this as every board has its own layer of internal shielding but for us commoners, this is the main argument for separate boxes (everything else being equal). However, this creates the necessary evil of cabling. No matter how well protected your amplifiers are, if interference manages to get in through the cables then it’s going to cause distortion. This means that higher end systems can be limited by their cabling and the bigger amplifiers only accentuate the problem.
Right now, you probably see EMI as an unslayable dragon but fear not! As our cable’s namesake, Morgana healed King Arthur, so too can we protect your system from EMI – though not with magic.
If EMI could be seen as the evil dragon, the audio signal is King Arthur and the signal path to the speakers is like the quest for the Holy Grail. Hopefully, you’ll agree that there’s no point protecting his from a dragon if he’s still got to pass over dangerous terrain, so how might we make his path easier for him?
This is where the signal conductor comes into play. For the Morgana, we went for Ohno Continuously Cast (OCC) Copper over the standard Oxygen Free Copper (OFC). To make OCC Copper it needs to be of extremely high grade known as 6N (99.9999% pure to be exact), which has half the impurities of OFC. As the name suggests it’s cast in such a way as to reduce the microscopic grain boundaries. Simply put, impurities and grain boundaries impede the flow of electrons leading to distortion and lag; therefore comparatively the OCC Copper has a very agile sound.
You may be wondering why we didn’t follow suit with every other cable company and get it silver plated (or even wholly silver). Silver is used for because it’s marginally more conductive than copper and is thus better for signal transference. It can also reduce the skin effect where by high frequencies cause the current to gravitate to the edges creating capacitance, which in turn can lead to unwanted loss of detail and imbalances.
Whilst it sounds great the price of better detail is brightness, a more fatiguing and cold sound that you may have experienced with silver and silver-plated cables. Naim designed and tweaked their amplifiers to work with copper cables and thus we find the sound a lot more natural and enjoyable. After all, we believe this is what Naim are about; you can get better resolution with other brands, but nothing gets your foot tapping like Naim!
Protecting the Signal
Now that King Arthur is on his way, we need to see what we can do about that dragon. One of the biggest differentiators for this cable over every other cable in the market is the insulator that we use to combat interference and skin effect. Unfortunately, it is also our most mysterious because as was common practice among Witches and Wizards of old who feared that their magic might get into the wrong hands, we feel we must keep this a secret.
What I can tell you about, however, is what we did with the 0v return. This conductor is an interesting one as it has 2 very important jobs. The first is to return a very low current back to the source device (or amplifier, power supply, etc) and carries both signal and power. This was a silly design idea from Naim as interference along here can get into the source and cause problems with timing and imaging. By using a very large conductor (which is a combination of the width of the cable and each individual signal conductor) voltage distortion is decreased and you get a much clear image.
The other job for this (as you have likely guessed from the image) is that by putting a current through it, it acts a shield. The dual shielding not only means it is shielded from the outside world but also from the power conductors in the cable with 4 pin and 5 pin 240 variants. This was another design flaw of Naim’s originals (and why we developed the Hatpin range) because by allowing audio and power to go down the same line they created internal interference. For signal only cables you still get two layers of shielding to protect from EMI – and we could say four if we included the aluminium foil.
You may wonder why we went with the silver-plated shielding and not standard copper. Well the thing about audio is that sound quality is king, much of this understanding has been reached after a lot of testing and we feel that the silver-plated shielding is better then OFC without the draw backs discussed in the signal conductor.
As King Arthur searches for the Holy Grail he must go through many transition stages before he is amplified as a person. Whilst we want these to be as smooth as possible they aren’t as important as the journey itself. This is how we feel about plugs, where we feel that 80% of the benefit comes from the cable and 20% from the plugs. They are definitely not something to be scoffed at, but it is hard for a small company to do the necessary R&D and manufacture custom plugs.
For the XLR and RCA plugs we have decided to go with ETI Technologies’ Kyro range because we found them to adopt a no-nonsense approach to products that is similar to ours. If you are interested in what they have to say about them feel free to check out their site, but we have found that they added a layer of stability, particularly in the low to mid-range and were worth adding to the cable.
As there aren’t any HiFi din plugs around in the various configurations that we require, we are considering the possibly of making our own, but this has yet to be confirmed.
If you’re interested in this cable, we will be preselling over Easter Weekend with a discount. We hope it helps on the path to find your Holy Grail.