Townshend Audio F1 Fractal Speaker Cables

Some months ago Max Townshend posted an article on some research he did into speaker cable design. That article took flack from the usual suspects. I don’t know anywhere near enough EE to weigh in, especially not when I don’t even hold a lot of stock in engineering solutions to audio problems anyway. My view is engineering is fine for cars and bridges, things we understand really well. Audio is not one of those things and so I take a wait and see approach and view even articles like Max’s as stories. Narrative. Nice if the story turns out, but the proof is in the pudding.  

This does not mean I don’t find the stories interesting, or take them seriously. We had a guy here recently, flaxxer, who posted the same article.  This is where this becomes one of those stories about how this site can actually be used to learn and grow.

Flaxxer it turns out is a long time audiophile with massive experience with and respect for Max Townshend. So I get in touch and it turns out he knows another guy who had been building high end cables also on the same ribbon design Max pinpointed with his research. I call the guy up and we have a real nice chat. Massive experience, learned a lot.  

We also had Anton_stepichev with his Contour System thread. This I found interesting because of one thing he said about wire, that because wire is directional but the strands in stranded wire aren’t going the same direction solid wire always sounds better than stranded. The ribbons in F1 are solid not stranded. Hmmmm….

So, now we have a guy who came to the same conclusion as Max- closely spaced ribbon conductors are best- only he arrives at this same conclusion by a completely different path. Max is engineering by math and physics, literally calculating the optimal spacing from first principles, while Josh is working it out by trial and error and listening, following a fascinating line of reasoning he related to me on the phone.

The speaker cables I have are already pretty good. Synergistic Research Element Copper Tungsten Silver with Active Shielding. But while these were pretty much the best when they were new, they are now some 16 year old technology. As amazingly good as they sound I have seen other stuff that has been even more amazingly good. So my spider senses are tingling. Not in the market for price no object cables that for sure would be better. But if I can do better for something a lot more reasonable? Up my alley.

Anyway, DHL delivered these things last Wednesday. Mine came in a fancy metal case like Porsche Techquipment or something. Maybe I can use the case for records? Inside along with the cables was a ziplock bag I thought would be an Owner’s Manual full of useful information like “not for use underwater” that kind of thing. But no, it was just some nice glossy reviews. And… the cables!  

The F1 is a very flexible speaker cable. Because it is a ribbon however it is not equally flexible in all directions. This makes it really nice with cable elevators because the cable bends the direction you want it to go but has a little more stiffness so it doesn’t sag between the elevators. Sweet! At either end, amp or speaker, the pigtails are extremely flexible in all directions. So it winds up being a very flexible and easy cable to connect after all.  

Max puts a network at each end to eliminate RFI and help certain amps that might otherwise have instability issues. This is one of those technical areas I hate having to get into. But it is kind of important here to understand. Rather than write a lot about it here though I will link to a hopefully better explanation from one of the reviews. They are talking about Isolde, but it all applies equally well to F1. What I find interesting in all of this is the idea that some amps are designed to be unstable unless presented with a load that electrical engineering seems to show is the preferred load for good sound!  

Townshend claims the F1 are not directional. I’ve not swapped ends to say for sure but I have a perfect record spotting directional wire sound and these are either going the right way or there is no right way. They sound right is what I’m saying. None of the directional wire I ever tried- including fuses- ever sounded right unless it was going the right way. Townshend also uses a special “Fractal” process on their copper. Better than the Deep Cryogenic Treatment Max developed, now widely copied, the Fractal treatment remains a closely guarded proprietary secret. This Fractal treatment is one of the main differences between Isolde and F1 cables.

Finally we get to the listening impressions. Well, almost. None of this stuff is ever absolute. Everything is always relative to everything else. The F1 are being compared to no ordinary Synergistic CTS. Mine are using Tesla power modules modified by Michael Spallone with hardwired caps and diodes. These are in turn hardwired into my power conditioner. They are all coated with TC, wrapped in Omega E-Mats, and run off an Audio Consulting isolation transformer. The CTS cables themselves are wrapped end to end in Omega E-Mats and the spades are of course treated with TC.

These are not subtle upgrades! Each and every one of these tweaks individually was a big improvement. All of them together elevated the CTS way beyond the level anyone who has heard them stock would even imagine. They are deeper, wider, blacker, more dynamic and way more natural sounding than when they left Ted’s shop.  

So that is what the F1 are up against. Okay, so how do they do? Well, not good enough to blow the tweaked and modded Synergistic out of the water straight out of the box. Within a couple of hours though they were getting pretty close. In terms of tone and truth of timbre they were definitely better. Only thing missing was a bit of depth and sense of natural ease. That was about when it hit me, “This is without TC!”

I know some don’t get that this stuff matters. Too bad. It does. It matters a lot.

One tiny little speck, not even a drop, spread around nice and even on all the spades and back she went. That was all it took. Now it is not even close. Now the F1 are kicking butt. I have to say- and there is admittedly a good deal of guesswork here, but it’s my system and I know it pretty well- I am quite certain that if it was any normal person with any normal set of CTS (or other similar level cables) then it would not be this close, the F1 would be across the board better. Probably even without TC. The F1 are that good.

What am I hearing? It is a little different than between most other cables. When going from one to a better one it almost always comes down to hearing more details, more dynamics, more resolution, etc. While there is definitely an aspect to that here, what strikes me most is what I am not hearing. The more I listen with the F1 the more I get the sense a lot of what we are hearing with other cables is added and not truly revealed.  

Now I hasten to add, not giving credence to the idea cables are tone controls. Not saying that at all. But what I think is going on, not only with cables by the way but with everything, the manufacturers try and get it as neutral and low distortion as they can. But at the margins, as they are extracting the last little bit of performance, then value judgments come in. And they always go with what sounds good. Which they should. No one wants to buy what measures good unless it also sounds good. A whole decade of measures good sounds bad amps proves that one. What I think is going on is Max arrived at an engineering solution that simultaneously sounds good AND measures good.  

The F1 does not sound sterile, and I would not even say that it sounds neutral. Although the reason I won’t say that is too much gear called neutral is flat, lifeless, uninvolving. F1 are not any of those things. They are more like what I’m hearing with Podiums, natural instruments and voices sound real and involving because their natural harmonic signatures are coming through unimpeded, without embellishment.  

Some might not like that, although I can’t imagine why. This is the kind of sound that makes- no, lets- every recording sound good. It doesn’t favor acoustic over electric, winds over brass, percussion over bass, or any of that. It reminds me a lot of when I first heard my Herron, of a lot of instruments suddenly sounding “right”.

Not only the usual classical instruments either. The MoFi 45 of Dire Straits Money For Nothing has a lead guitar that is so biting yet sweetly distorted I would say it cuts but there was no blood so just a love bite I guess. It is searing- but you don’t get burned. Which strikes me as just right.

Last night listening to Tracy Chapman, even Last Night I Heard the Screaming was captivating. (And that is saying something!) The snare attack that starts She’s Got Her Ticket is sharp and dynamic and very, very clearly a drum with body and presence. This record has a lot of excellent low bass on pretty much every track, real interesting bass lines too, and they are all so much clearer now than ever. I could go on with details but probably the highest compliment and most useful to know is this: I find myself wanting to hear the whole side, and flip it over, and go on and on, more than any time in a long time.

This review is with roughly 20 hours on the wire. There is not supposed to be any burn-in but of course it does sound better now than when it first came out of the box. Quite a bit better. But it seems to have settled down now into the long gradual glide path like they all do, where what I am hearing now is pretty much what it will be a month from now- and I can see no point in waiting that long to let you all know about it.


I'm cringing at the thought of asking this question, because I know it could cause a forum war, but....

How does AudioQuest's "Zero-tech" (also a Zero Characteristic impedance technology)  compare to the F1 or even Isolda? Has anyone ever did a side by side?

I have come to the conclusion that with any cable that alters, changes, or supposed  matches or eliminates capacitance or whatever, is probably akin to applying a fix to correct an existing incompatibility between amps and speakers. Now that being said, I did test the F1s, and while they did sound good out of the box compared to my reference cables, they were not in the same league. By no means do I mean this in a disparaging way either. Additionally, I was concerned about how these cables would work with 16 ohm speakers with powered field coil magnets. Well, after my third test with the cables, one of my amps shut down. Hmmm, out went the Fratcal F1 and back my reference cable and all is good in the world again. I do need to test the F1 to see if there is a short from the several removal and installation testing I did. They do not look fragile so I am not sure. 

Bottom line, I believe cables like these are simply not just plug and play, especially the more sophisticated your system is or if you own 16 own speakers…hmm, then why would you need to change anything in that regard. This has been my experience based off experimentation thus far. 

I run the Townshend super tweeter with my Spatial X5s and I can fully vouch for the improved sonics with them.  They did the same for my Revel F208s.   Clearly, it is not just the high frequencies that are improved.

I have only had my Fractals F1 Speaker cables in for 5 days but these are by far the best cable I have heard in my system. Next level up from my Previous Audience SX, Cerious Matrix and my former current Silversmith Fideliums. 
I also have the best Iconoclast wires here and it’s not even close. 
 I have a set of the XLR coming in to see if the can take on the top of the line Iconoclast OCC Gen 2 4x4 .

Townshend really makes system changing products   The Fractals and podiums will elevate any system to new heights    Although the retail prices are high if you engage John at Townshend I bet he can make something work for you .