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Furutech Audio Reference III Interconnects & Speaker Cables Review

Constantine Soo contemplates the Furutech factor via the company's new Audio Reference III interconnects & Speaker Reference III cables

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Furutech Audio Reference RCA CablesThe Furukawa Background

The high-end audio industry of the 80s saw the ascent of high-performance cable manufacturers that advocate the application of Oxygen Free High Conductivity (OFHC) copper, as a means to pushing the performance envelope of an audio system.

Rather than the 100% removal of the oxygen content in the conductor as indicated by its name, the OFHC actually involved a more condensed packing of copper crystals in a meter of cable, so that a signal now only has to cross the spaces between 400 grains of linear crystal, contrasting the 1500 pieces in non- OFHC copper. This specimen was soon succeeded by the Linear-Crystal OFC (LC-OFC), a longer grain of copper crystals that numbered 15 grains in a meter.

Then, in 1986, a professor Ohno of Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan pioneered a continuous casting process that yielded one single grain of copper crystal to the length of 1,125 meter at a diameter of 0.1 mm. This process had come to be referenced to as the Ohno Continuous Casting process (OCC). The professor then entrusted his method to Furukawa Electric, a major power transmission and telecommunications conglomerate that identified distortion and noise as the most detrimental elements inflicting every audio system, while the high-end audio industry was still in its infancy in cable technologies.

Furukawa Electric refined the OCC product with its own process that pushed the content purity of the OCC to greater than 99.9997%, and patented the end product internationally as the Purity Copper OCC, or PCOCC®, and the “Pure Transmission” maxim was coined since 1987 to this day to signify both the company’s expertise as well as the ongoing efforts of its employees.

The first three Furukawa Electric products to feature the PCOCC in that year were the FD-1005 Hi-Fi Audio Cord (37 strands/0.16mm), the FV-1005 Hi-Fi Video Cord (7 strands/0.4mm), and the FD-2010S Super PCOCC (2 x 37 strands/0.16mm). These initial Furukawa™ products already utilized two layers of polyethylene of differing densities as the first step in wrapping, which are in turn wrapped in a 95%- coverage, braided layer of PCOCC consisted of 24 groups of 7 strands of the 0.12mm-thick copper, and then wrapped under a soft PVC outer layer. At that time, this cable already employed 24-karat gold-plated center pin made of PCOCC, plus niceties such as non-magnetic aluminum shell and the crimping technique. In addition to offering its own PCOCC products, the company subsequently marketed its PCOCC cables as OEM products to various clienteles all over the world.

Furutech

In 1988, a group of individuals formed Furutech, a non-affiliated private enterprise, and approached the electric giant and became the worldwide distributor of the Furukawa PCOCC cables. In the years before 2000, Furutech has begun researching into developing its own refinement technology diligently, with the goal of advancing the performance properties of the PCOCC technology. Thus, when Furukawa Electric discontinued sales of its own PCOCC cables eventually in 2000, Furutech showed its confidence in the PCOCC technology by introducing their own “Two-Stage α (Alpha) Cryogenic and Demagnetizing Process” and applied it to the Furukawa™ Single Crystal Copper.

According to Furutech, the new cable, named α (Alpha)-OCC, “made for even quieter backgrounds and a more refined sound while tightening up low frequency extension and control, a problem with original PCOCC.”

The first stage in the “Alpha Process” improves electrical conductivity for power and signal transfer, by utilizing super-refrigerants, or liquid N2, to achieve temperatures between -196 to -250C in the manufacturing process to induce deep, conditioning cryogenic freezing of all metal parts. This process relieves internal stress of the molecules by changing their molecular structure and then re-binding them in higher density to achieve higher stability.

The second stage further enhances conductivity of the same parts by engaging Sekiguchi Machine Sales Co., Ltd’s patented Ring Demagnetization treatment, in exposing the same parts to controlled magnetic attenuation for total elimination of magnetization. Furutech told Dagogo that, “All metallic parts used in Furutech products go through the Alpha Process treatment to keep all connectors, conductors, and metal parts in a perfect stress-free, stable and highly conductive state.”

Furthermore, Furutech’s present products have progressed to the point where even their most affordable products are given the same manufacturing precision and special plating techniques as received by the top products, such as a total application of non-magnetic, hyper-pure materials.

Hence, the “Alpha Process”-treated conductors are named α Conductor categorically, and the new Furutech’s cables are of the following materials: α-OCC, αμ-Conductor (silver), and αμ-OFC (silver-plated copper).

The rest of the Furutech product comprises the following:

* 2 20-ampere AC Power Distributors
* 8 15-ampere AC Power Distributors
* complete line of cablings in the “High End Performance Reference Series Cables”, including power
cord, speaker cable, RCA and XLR interconnects and digital cables
* complete line of μ-Conductor “High Performance Evolution Series Cables”
* i-Link digital cable, HDMI digital cable and DVI adapter
* an assortment of “Silver Series Video Cables”
* 15 interconnect and speaker cable types in reels
* 5 “High End Performance 20A Connectors”
* 4 “High Performance Power Cables”
* 16 power connectors/sockets/outlets
* 19 power/IEC connectors, 11 RCA and XLR connectors of various performance levels
* RD-2 Disc and Cable Demagnetizer
* RWL-1 Tuning Panel
* NANO Liquid Contact Enhancer
* PC-2 Disc Pure Cleaner
* and a lot more.

The Audio Reference III, XLR-$1,120 1.2mx2, RCA-$990 1.2mx2

The first subject of this review is the Furutech Audio Reference III interconnect. Two pairs of the cable in both RCA and XLR terminations were on hand for comparison. Each of the 1.2 meter cable is an embodiment of 3 primary technologies, namely α-OCC, αμ-Conductor and the GC-303. The construction of the cable is the most complex and elaborate I’ve seen.

First, two twisted cores of 30 strands of 0.18mm of α-OCC, each wrapping around a 1.14mm silver αμ-Conductor, provide signal circulation, which are insulated by a 30% air-foamed High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). The cores are twisted together with cotton yarn, and are wrapped in a 5.8mm thick non-woven fabric, then initially shielded at an 80% density in a primary layer of 0.12mm braided αμ-Conductor and a dual-PVC outer sheath, and sealed once more in a stranded braid made of fiberglass and copper. The construct is finally concealed in a high-durability Nylon yarn braid jacket.

The RCA version features Furutech’s own FP-106R, a Rhodium-plated non-magnetic connector. Unlike conventional RCA plugs, the FP-106R is constructed of a brass locking collet with Teflon insulation, then adorned with Furutech’s high-pin-ratio αμ-Phosphor Bronze Filament center pin. Upon close inspection, this beautiful object presents itself as a work of art. The balanced XLR version, coined FP-601MR and FP-602FR, on the other hand, utilizes brass body and PVDF Teflon insulation, with an αμ-Beryllium Copper and αμ-Phosphor Bronze conductors. These connectors are also Rhodium-plated. For readers of more exotic tastes, 24k gold-plated FP-601MG and FP- 602FG are also available.

And there’s more.

All of Furutech’s cables from the “High End Performance Reference Series” are fitted into a GC-303 module. This module contains a material that Furutech developed specifically for electromagnetic interference absorption. On the cable products, it is housed in a module permanently installed on the outer shell of a cable, in the AC Power Distributor product line, the GC-303 material is bonded to the interior bottom-plate of the chassis.

Furutech even provided a full technical read-out of the Audio Reference III’s electrical properties:

The α-OCC-plated siver Furutech RCA represents perhaps one of the most triumphant implementation of the two metals in a single product, and its abilities in tonal differentiation were quite incomprehensible for around a meager grand.

For a while it was not at the same level of performance as the vastly more expensive Audio Note, its dynamic and texturing dispositions were of such refinement that it conveyed the glory of the $15.5k Harmonix Reimyo CAT-777’s delicate tonality and flamboyant dynamics, as well as a spacious top-end and superb soundstaging from the $2,500 Superphon Revelation III. The Audio Note Sogon LX, on the other hand, exacerbated the budget Superphon’s solid-state persona.

The Furutech was the only cable that I have encountered with enough competencies to do justice to the Harmonix Reimyo to such extent, at the same time not manifesting the level of super-consciousness that would undermine the virtues of the tube champion’s budget solid-state counterpart.

Likewise, connecting the $9k Linn Klimax Chakra 500 Twin solid-state amplifier to the Harmonix Reimyo via the RCA also revealed the $1k Furutech’s superb value, in its unrelenting ability to convey the tonality of the tube preamplifier upstream that would oftentimes be awash along most other similarly priced cabling. This system context represented the only instance in which a sub-$5,000 cable was able to sustain the intricate sound of the Harmonix Reimyo to my satisfaction.

The XLR version was also the only sub-$5,000 cable I’ve used that was instrumental enough in soliciting the fullest tonalities from the Wadia 270se-driven 27ix v3.0 Decoding Computer. Providing a balanced configuration between the Wadia and the Linn Klimax Chakra 500 Twin in driving GamuT’s $12k, 89dB/4Ω L5 loudspeaker, the Furutech liberated considerable more potent dynamic contrasts from its RCA version, due possibly to a lowered noise floor.

The Furutech Audio Reference III XLR was also of such rarity in its balanced suite of virtues that even with budget components, like the $2,490 Krell KAV-400xi integrated amplifier, it never presented a dull sonic adventure, in addition to conveying the budget Krell’s dynamic and output potency. While cables of higher caliber only served to scrutinize the Krell, the Furutech induced a sonic wall of coherency and power. For this factor, I recommend the Furutech as the first choice to readers looking for best values.

The following are specifications on the second subject of this review, the Furutech Speaker Reference III:

Fitted with the same EMI-absorbing GC-303 module and the company’s own FP-201 Rhodium-plated, non-magnetic Pure Copper spade terminals, this time constructed with six bundles of the 20-strand of the α-OCC conductors with a center αμ-Conductor in two twisted cores, the speaker cable is insulated with a 5.1-mm thick air-foamed Irradiated polyethylene to reduce capacitance and vibrations. Also protected by thicker, redundant layers of shielding similar to the Audio Reference III interconnect, the Speaker Reference III, however, belonged in an entirely different level of existence.

GamuT L5 Take, for example, how a double-run of Furutech’s single-wiring, 2m Speaker Reference III solidified GamuT Audio of Denmark’s bi-wiring, $12k L5 loudspeaker’s entire spectrum as produced by the $10k Accuphase E-500 integrated amplifier, when the Audio Note Sogon LX silver speaker cables would reveal those imperfections that the Furutech never brought to the foreground. With the Furutech, the GamuT speakers’ reproduction of Evgeny Kissin’s Steinway piano (RCA Victor) or Kiri Te Kanawa’s angelic intonation of “Das himmlische Leben” in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, describing how St. Peter looks down from heaven (Decca), conveyed a most balanced spectral makeup amidst potent dynamics.

Textural makeup of the Furutech/GamuT via the high-purity α-OCC/αμ-Conductor was surprisingly serendipitous, as studio reverberations continued to be reenacted and sustained amidst highly polished sounds of instruments. Again, while the ultimate resolution of the Furutech was lesser when compared to the $12k Audio Note Sogon LX speaker cable, the α-OCC/αμ-Conductor nonetheless produced a resounding top-end of smooth texturing amidst a well-controlled bottom-end.

The Furutech Speaker Reference III’s conquest of the $12,500 MaxxHorn Immersion, a horn-loaded single-driver behemoth with 104dB sensitivity, was rewarding and GamuT L5 riveting. Whereas the Sogon would, again, accentuate certain lesser-formed portion of the MaxxHorn’s spectral reconstruction, the Furutech boded coherently with this PHL-driver-equipped, unconventional Texan exercise in the purging of horn nasality, accompanying the horn speaker in churning out seamless spectral integration from an impossibly small-diameter diaphragm.

Burning-in the Speaker Reference III requires a longer period than that on other speaker cables, and the need to alternate equipment of differing calibers frequently in my household did not help. The Speaker Reference III has received arguably less than adequate playing for a complete burn-in process; and I believe it will sound even more exceptional after a few more months.

Conclusion

All cables incite varying degrees of coloration, and although Audio Note’s high-strand silver Sogon™ cable is the only one with such minimal deviation in dynamics, propagation and tonality that is yet to be surpassed, high-purity copper is the most viable alternative to silver cables for more than the singular reason of cost.

As electric signal transfer is one property of this hobby that we shall never be rid of, we have been earnestly engaging in discovering superior materials and methods, to the end of preserving signal integrity in its electrical transmission. Next to a state of vacuum, silver has been recognized as the more common metal with the highest conductivity next to gold. Cost of silver is prohibitively high, hence copper, with the next highest conductivity, has been the preference for reasons of economics and efficiency.

Recent years’ advances in material and manufacturing process refinement have elevated the potentials of the copper significantly to the point, that the more affordable metal is now generally preferred over the exotically priced silver. Accordingly, voicing of equipment by designers and engineers are performed predominantly with copper as the content of preference. Therefore, in the exception of the best of machines, it is no wild wonder, that a good portion of equipment would produce a sound less coherent when high-strand silver, instead of copper, is employed in the observation of their sound.

Accordingly, where high-strand silver cables would accentuate its superiority in resolution rendition over copper ones, they represent an inadvertent detriment to the original intent of the specific equipment’s designer, whose design philosophy was intended to benefit the larger audience with modest systems and not the super high-end.

It was only when equipment of much higher caliber were partaking the music reproduction process, such as the $26k 47 Lab PiTracer, the $55k Audio Note DAC5 Signature, the $50k M10 preamplifier, the $69.5 k ONGAKU, etc, that the Furutech’s resolution prowess was found wanting – compared with the Audio Note Sogon LX.

In the context where only the Audio Note Sogon™ cables could work to the communal benefits of the super system mentioned above, the Furutech Reference III cables were a beautiful and surprisingly viable solution for the $20k Wadia 270se & 27ix v3.0 digital front-end, the $15.5k Harmonix Reimyo CAT-777, the $10k Accuphase E-550 integrated amplifier, the $9k Linn Klimax Chakra 500 Twin and the $12k GamuT L5 loudspeaker.

But even in earlier days with lesser equipment, no meager copper of any concoction had ever convinced me of its viability in my system, with the exception of a few $5,000+ products of baffling, stress-inducing tonnage.

The Furutech Audio Reference III and Speaker Reference III are technologically advanced cable products, and they sounded as powerful and refined as many of the vastly more expensive copper cable of major makes that I had auditioned. And they are much lighter than many other makes’ best efforts. If your system requires the most resolving cables, and you plan to spend $5,000 and up on cables, then you must audition the Audio Note silver cables. If you don’t want to spend that much, the Furutech Reference III cables are best buys.

Furutech’s $990 Audio Reference III RCA, the $1,120 XLR, and the $1,100 Speaker Reference III, are easily three of the most fantastic in cable investment.

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