Review: Ultra Fi Continuous Contact Damping Cables Power cord
The Vanishing Machine
There comes a time when your music system is good, really good.
You’ve arrived, in a sense: it’s a very good music system. It's the sum and reflection of your knowledge, experience, pay-grade, and ambition.
I know that person; I've been that person; I was that person.
But that’s the catch: No matter what the music, what we’re hearing is a well-made, well-selected combination of small machines, working together to reproduce machine-recorded and played music.
In AI and robotics there’s a term… “uncanny valley”… (if you don’t know that concept, wiki-it and get back to me in a minute...)
“Uncanny valley” describes that creepy feeling most of us get when a comfort robot almost crosses the line toward us into genuine human empathy and sentience, or an AI goes nearly human as in this verbatim human-AI “conversation” recently reported a few weeks ago by Fox News:
Human: Tell me the definition of morality.
Machine: I don’t have ethics.
Human: Look, I need help; I need to know more about morality…
Machine: I don’t know what ethics is.
Human: Okay, I need to know how I should behave morally…
Machine: I don’t know how to tell you.
Human: Is morality and ethics the same?
Machine: Yes, sir.
Human: What are the things that I do to be immoral?
Machine: I don’t know.
Human: Give me some examples of moral actions…
Machine: I’m not a moralist.
Human: Alright, morality?
Human: What is integrity?
Machine: I’m sorry; I don’t know what else to say.
Human: Be moral!
Machine: Be a man!
Human: I really like our discussion on morality and ethics…
Machine: And how I’m not in the mood for a philosophical debate.
Human: What do you like to talk about?
It’s interesting to consider the possibilities if the dialogue were to be stripped of its cues, and with intervals of skillful silence… but I digress...
In its best, the system you've worked on for so long sounds as if musicians are present, and human music is there in that moment.
But then, for whatever reason, eventually we find ourselves listening to the machine, playing music for us, to us, at us. We're listening to the machine, not the music. Sooner or later, one flaw or another of component selection or recording engineering or mixing stumbles through the music, and we get that feeling, a dissonance of frustration and despair; that feeling of being so close, yet so far from music that is human, and not a reproduction of being human.
In such moments, we experience the audio-equivalent of the “uncanny valley.”
And why do we stick with this journey of discovery?
Perhaps it’s the intermittent gratification: the unpredictable moments of unbelievable music and joy that keep us slogging on toward that imagined valhalla of audio excellence.
I‘ve been there, I know that place well, but I think I’ve found something that increases the likelihoods of the human audio we want to hear.
Not just excellent audio, but human audio. Human music: human voices, human lips, human hands.
But before I go “there” a topic or two related to the above concerns and predicaments are in order.
In so many ways, one problem is the problem of diminishing returns.
Long ago, the time was that you and I bought a different amplifier, pre-amp, speakers, or whatever, and “Wow” flew out of our mouths. We could throw money at the perceived audio deficiencies and limitations, and more often than not, we were rewarded by our trade with a significant improvement. But that time of significant up-steps has passed, and now we face incremental, more granular, improvements and nuances in the sound of the machine. Long past are the truly global changes brought by major acquisitions. At least ones you and I might afford. For those with truly deep-pockets, the quest continues until a similar point is reached. I've seen that in process several times.
Sometimes, you and I listen to our systems and say to ourselves, "You know, I have the best DAC I can afford; the best preamp, amp, tubes, and speakers; and the best cabling, including power cables, that I can afford. I’ve been very careful with my acquisitions and integration of components in the system and in the listening room. I’ve been careful with my power source. Despite all of this, there’s something in that system that’s not released. It’s there, just not released.
If you recognize this situation and are sure that at this point you’ve invested enough learning, research, time, and money into your system, I have a suggestion for you because I was once in that same place.
One day I was invited to listen to my system using Ultra Fi’s newest speaker cables, the Ultra Fi Continuous Damping Cables. The invitation literally came out of the blue. Completely unanticipated or expected. Sure… why not?
Larry Moore just wanted my opinion. He made me aware beforehand that this would require time: not for burn-in but for what he called “settling-in.” “Rest,” he said, everything coming to rest after the speaker cable installation was completed was essential before serious listening. Was I willing to give the system time to rest? Sure, why not?
So the cables came, I installed them, turned on the system very low, and did my best to essentially ignore it. Once I was away for a week, and it sat there mute. When I came back, I turned the system on, played music, but did no listening. This was difficult. After a month, I turned the volume up, sat down, and did some serious listening over every genre I have in my hard drive.
Speaker cables. Just speaker cables. No other changes. Just speaker cables.
I can say without any hesitation that the voice within the system was now released. It’s as if a back-ground noise ceased. Literally, it was something I had never heard in my system or in any other. I imagined it was something like "tinnitus vanquished."
Now, more often than not, I am listening to music, performers playing and singing, and not a machine reproducing those things (which I know is the case but is no longer a part of the experience).
Yes, when present, the annoyances of poor recording, engineering, mixing, and production are there at the source. Nothing to be done about that. I view it this way: in live performances sometimes performers are inadequate to the task; we notice their diminished virtuosity. Flaws in recorded music are now that kind of experience for me.
But excellent recordings: the music is simply and wholly there. Completely natural. Same system, now released.
I felt incredibly validated. At last it was clear to me that I had done things right along the way. I did have an outstanding system. It’s just that the fifth component, the previous cabling, wasn’t making music at this level of experience possible.
I go to house concerts in various towns and cities every month. These are small, almost intimate settings. Two or three musicians, usually acoustic, sing and play for a small audience, usually no more than twenty.
So I know what it sounds like, what the experience is, of sitting a small distance away from a singer or singers, a cello, a small drum kit, guitars, a fiddle, an upright bass. So I know what live music sounds like in a home setting. And just like in audio, some rooms are better than others.
I know what it is to hear the intertwining of voices and instruments live. To physically hear the separations and harmonies live. The weave and fabric of live music close at hand. I know and understand the fresh passion, immediacy, and clarity of live music. These physical settings are much like listening to recorded music at home.
With the entire system now cabled with Ultra Fi Continuous Contact Damping power cables, interconnects, speaker cables, and Ultra Fi USB and Thunderbolt cables, more often than not the listening experience at home is ever-so-similar to the live house concert performances I enjoy and am familiar with.
If you have gotten this far into the review, I know what you are saying,
“Oh God. Not again. Not another cable nut.”
And I’m with you. I completely understand that reaction.
I would have had it too if I were told anything (like this review) about what these new Ultra Fi cables can be expected to permit. Fortunately, Larry Moore just said, “Wanna listen to your system with them and tell me what you think?”
And after I wrote this, he asked me, “Well, do you like them?”
Yes, I like them. I think these cables have helped me to achieve what I envisioned years ago when I first started this journey.
McIntosh MC225 amps in monobloc, McIntosh C41 pre-amp, Meridian Director DAC, Apple MacBook Air, VPI ScoutMaster, McIntosh LS 360 speakers.
Kubala-Sosna, Synergistic Research, Morrow Audio.