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Furutech Custom Cable System Review

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Furutech Custom AG12 Tone Arm CablePain of cable

I apologize in advance for making this review as much about my beliefs, as it is about the products from Furutech. I’m not as passionate about cables as most, but I do agree they are important. Because I don’t do (and really don’t want to do) many cable reviews, I feel it is necessary to state my prejudices about this subject. I hope that after you have read this diatribe/manifesto, you will be able to “read between the lines” of this and future cable reviews of mine.

Finding the reasons why cables sound different has been needlessly complicated by pseudo-science and conjecture. I am of the opinion that the differences between cables can be explained. Actually, I think everything can be explained, especially if you embrace the idea that there is a certain degree of randomness that must be accepted. This would explain why one person survives a plain crash, or someone is pulled from a building two weeks after it collapsed. There is no amount of computer modeling and science that can take account of every possible variable, their interactions, and how a small input in one part of the equation can produce a dramatic difference somewhere else because of compounded interactions. If you accept that capacitors and resistors can sound different, and they certainly do, then the same must be said of cables, which exhibit capacitance, resistance and inductance. Add to that the effects of shielding and mechanical damping, and the idea that “wires is wires” starts looking as ridiculous as “watts is watts” and “perfect sound forever”. By the way, the next time some digital wonk tells you that digital is accurate, ask them if a CD or mp3 can accurately reproduce a 10KHz square wave. That should shut them up. And forget about compressed audio—it looks awful on a scope. In truth, nothing can produce a theoretically perfect square wave because it takes infinite bandwidth. But the comparison of CD and/or low-bit-rate digital to the ordinary analog formats can embarrass digital.

My Criteria

I find it difficult to parse out the relatively small differences (relative to the huge differences when comparing speakers and cartridges) between cables. When comparing cables, I think some people are comparing apples to oranges, which can cause mass confusion. Comparing a simple twisted pair to a coax design can lead to conclusions that have more to do with the problems of the reviewer’s system and that system’s environment. In this review, I compared cables of similar geometry and materials.
To help myself choose a cable, I made a list of things I needed, such as length, single ended, balanced, bi-wired, high current, low signal level, appearance, price, etc… I think the criteria are germane to what Furutech is doing on price points, features, and build quality.

The first criterion that must be met is budget. When an audiophile is shopping for cables, he, and the handful of dudettes, must decide an appropriate budget for his system. A $5K set of speaker cables won’t turn your Dynaco ST70 and JBL L100s into Audio Note and Harbeth. It’s probable that the better move would be an upgrade in speakers, then amp, then cables that fall in line (pricewise) with the associated components. There are plenty of good cable choices from dirt-cheap to insanely expensive, and you should approach system purchases with a strategy. It can be helpful to write down your strategy and objectives, and refer back to them regularly. If your objectives or strategy changes, amend your checklist.

Consider again the ST70 and JBL speakers. There’s not much you can do with the cabling or accessorizing that will fundamentally change the sound of either speaker or amp. Cables do act as tuning devices to some extent, but mostly they deliver the signal to where it needs to get, while the better ones will try to do the least amount of damage as possible. If the sound in your system is muddy and soft, a “fast” or “bright” set of cables will probably just let you hear the distortion from the amp or sources better. If you really don’t like your system, chances are no amount of cable swapping, tube rolling, or other accessorizing will dramatically change the sound. This is taking for granted that you don’t have a completely inappropriate cable in your system, which does happen.

After you have decided on your budget, you must carefully consider those features/attributes that are most important in your system; features are what I broadly consider the second criterion. If you have long lines from preamp to amp, or amplifier to speakers, you should consider things like shielding, capacitance and inductance. Any of these variables can conspire to ruin the sound. If you are driving power hungry speakers, you should buy speaker cables that have low resistance. If your power amp is sensitive to the environment, in that it likes to oscillate or picks up local radio stations, you might want to consider shielded speaker cables. They aren’t very common, but are available. I’ve heard PA systems pick up radio stations through the speaker cables. The cable acted like a big antenna and injected the noise into the feedback loop, where it was amplified. Strange stuff, and hard to diagnose.

If you are an analog junky living in an environment polluted by EMI/RFI, shielded phono and interconnects cables can be an absolute must-have. I’ve heard phono cables pick up noise from transformers, power cables, AM stations (miles away), CB radios (also miles away), cell phones (within several feet), signals from the thermostat to the heat pump, transient “pops” from power switches, and more. All that junk raises the noise floor and causes compression, because a phono stage, preamp or amp might be wasting all its power on amplifying some terribly high pitched squeal. The chances are also good that you can’t hear ultra high frequency noise being amplified. In tube amps, these high frequencies can cause oscillation, and I have seen the plates of power tubes glow cherry red because the amp was amplifying something that couldn’t be heard. An errant signal picked up by the tonearm cable can totally screw up the performance of everything down stream.

For years, it has been known that long interconnects can adversely affect some tube equipment. If you have a tube source or preamp, consult your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer about any known issues with cabling. In severe circumstances, like a tube preamp driving a transistor amp through long cables, the inductance, capacitance and impedance of the cable can dramatically affect the sound. Knowing that you need a low capacitance cable will help you eliminate some choices. Likewise for impedance and inductance. If you don’t know the limitations of your equipment or your surroundings, you can definitely purchase cables that are wrong for your circumstances. This is where a lot of the “this cable blows away that cable” originates. It’s up to the consumer to know what attributes are needed.

Enters Furutech

These are the two things that drive my cable choices: price and features/attributes. Some readers make their decisions on what looks good, or what has the most cache. So be it; it’s not my money. And always remember: cables have complicated interactions with equipment, so my results could be different than yours.

With all that being said, the choices from Furutech are broad enough to satisfy almost any audiophile’s budget and system’s needs. From what I’ve seen and heard, I can recommend Furutech as a go-to company for all your cabling needs. There are only a handful of companies that offer this kind of technology, quality and value.

Furutech offers quite an array of accessories, all which are attractive and have sound engineering to back up their claims. The breadth of offerings is impressive. All claims are substantiated. The quality looks good. And, the value is good. Furutech seems serious about taking a sizeable piece of the cable and accessory market. It is going where only a couple other cable companies have gone: offering a complete line of accessories for virtually any high-end, mid-fi, autosound or video need. While some purists might scoff at car stereo and video offerings, I have a different take on it. It is like a car manufacturer competing in professional motorsports to test the durability and efficacy of their designs. Mobile sound and high-end video can highlight problems that could be hard to detect in a dedicated two-channel high-end system.

Looking at the Furutech home page, you will see explanations and measurements, not opinions or outlandish claims. Some of the interesting features are shielded AC connectors that shunt ground noise, carbon/ceramic plug bodies that dissipate eddy currents as heat, cryogenic treatment of connectors and cabling, and the degaussing of their products with a more controlled process. This last technique uses “patented Ring Demagnetization” technology. The process slowly attenuates the magnetic field, something that is important if you want to degauss something. With “old fashioned” degaussers, it is possible to remagnetize the piece if you turn off the degausser too close to the item in question. For instance, if you degauss the heads of a tape deck (any king of magnetic media), you must slowly move the degausser as far away from the heads as possible before switching off. Furutech seems to do the same thing by carefully reducing power to the “Ring Demagnetizer”, which gradually reduces the magnetic field to nothing.

The Sound

I received sufficient cabling, all manufactured from Furutech’s bulk cables and terminations, from Scot Markwell of Elite Audio Video Distribution to run multiple sources, the amp and the speakers. The tonearm cable was the AG-12 with a straight DIN connector. Balanced interconnects were UP2.1 terminated with FP-601M(G) and FP-602F(G) XLRs. Single-ended interconnects were SA-22 terminated with FP160(G) RCA plugs. Speaker cable was set up for a biwiring with U 4.1t cable and FP203(G) spades. Scot custom-terminated the interconnects and speaker cables per my system requirements.

Satisfying one of my criteria for cabling, Furutech cables offer good immunity to outside influence. The interconnects were quiet, being free of EMI/RFI and microphonics. It’s easy to appreciate immunity from radiated noise. It means that cable position isn’t as critical, that your music isn’t swamped by hum, and that unrelated noise isn’t injected into feedback loops, power supplies and amplification stages.
What is difficult to hear, but almost as important, is how a cable deals with vibration. You don’t often hear microphonics in cabling, because it’s not as obvious as EMI/RFI, which tends to be really annoying at low levels or when the system is idling. Micro-phonics in cabling usually imparts a confused or congested quality when playing at high volumes. Also, if your system is quite compact (from space restraints or you have a bunch of gear), you might have low level cable runs only a few feet from your speakers. Exacerbating things will be speaker and source choices. When using horns and low-output moving-coils, the cable microphonics and high gain phono stage can turn your phono cable into a microphone. One easy test to see how your cables perform is to rub your finger nail along the tonearm cable with the volume up. There are two possible causes of vibration-induced noise: the cable transmits the vibration back to the tonearm where it induces a signal in the cartridge; or the cable’s capacitance turns the cable into a really crappy condenser microphone. The bad thing is that addressing one problem can worsen the other problem. The Furutech cables did quite well when judged on microphonics. In this regard, the interconnects are in the top 25% of the cables I’ve tried. My gold standard for immunity from vibration is the Purist Audio cables, which take cable construction to extremes: extremely big, extremely quiet, and extremely expensive. You can think of it as acoustic feedback, whether by transmission of vibration to the source or from cable capacitance. The cause is the same: vibration.

With the Furutech cables, there was a great sense of calm when playing at high levels. I heard less congestion and greater clarity. The midrange glare that can be generated by highly microphonic cables was absent. If you get listener’s fatigue, or if your system seams “out of control” at high volume, you should investigate the possibility of cable microphonics. I can recommend the Furutech cables as a good choice.

As regards the Furutech sound, there is a similarity between the interconnects and speaker cables, one that makes these easy to recommend for a wide array of systems. Overall, the sound is a touch warm, with bass heft, good frequency extension, and dimensionality. I heard more difference between recordings than with the other cables in use. Because they are mechanically and electrically quiet, dynamics are better than many other cables. At times, they could sound aggressive on grungy recordings, which means to me that they aren’t too warm or too forgiving. They strike a nice balance between the extremes I’ve heard: some very bright, fast and forward; others dark, syrupy, and euphonic.

With the tonearm cable, there was deviation from the speaker and interconnect cables. The tonearm cable was faster and more analytical than its stablemates. A good pairing for the tonearm cable would be a Koetsu, or a Soundsmith moving-iron. This might not be the cable to have if you are fighting brightness in your system. But to be clear, this cable is not bright in an absolute sense. It is a few rows closer and has more resolution than the other Furutech cables I have heard. If 1 is dull, and 10 is bright, this cable is a 6.5. Also, the tonearm cable is stiffer than the other Furutech cables being reviewed. This might present issues if your turntable has a suspension. It might be that, compared to my regular tonearm cable, this cable was transmitting more vibration into the arm, which gave the impression of a brighter sound. It’s hard to put a finger on some of this. I wish I could say it was definitely one way or the other. Bottom line is that it is very good, but cable dressing/placement might be an issue depending on several variables.

This review can be shortened to a few ideas: the Furutech cables have very little sound of their own; they have good electrical characteristics; they are protected from outside influence; they are attractive; they are easy to use; they are based on an abundance of science; there is a welcome absence of hyperbole; they are affordable; and they subtlety improved system performance in microphonics, shielding and dynamics.

Meeting my goals for technical excellence and value, I find it easy to recommend the Furutech line to anyone from entry level to cost-no-object. Having heard them in very expensive systems, I know that Furutech’s top-shelf cables pull their weight. I take it for granted that just about anything will work in an entry level system, and Furutech has that covered.

However, most systems are somewhere between “mega” and “entry-level”. In my “in-between” system, these cables improved the sound while being affordable, attractive and user friendly. The bottom line is that Furutech succeeds in covering all the bases where many competitors fall short in one or more areas. I recommend these offerings and encourage you to give the Furutech product line consideration if you are in the market for cables.

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