Have we now come to the point where we have to think of cables and interconnects as
components instead of afterthoughts? Deep down, I often wish that I could honestly say
that there isn't anything to all of this cable stuff, then I could simplify my life and save
a good sum of money at the same time. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you
choose to look at it, "CABLES MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE" in acheiving the best sound from your
system. This is right up there with "ALL POWER AMPS DO NOT SOUND THE SAME". Life was so much
simpler back in the old "Stereo Review" days when we only had to make sure the amp lit up.
Life isn't as simple now, but is sure got better since the installation of the Monitor II
series of cabling from NBS.
The NBS Monitor II cables, which are the subject of this review are near the top of their
extensive product line. The acconpanying product literature states that particular
attention has been paid to the design and construction of these cables in order to
ensure that RFI (radio frequency interference) and EMI (electromagnetic interference) are
kept at bay. In addition, every cable "employs the circuitry of a Passive Frequency Inductance
Network", (PFIN) and employ the use of silver shielding. The RCA connectors of these
cables are made of gold-plated beryllium copper and use a specially plated chromium
barrel that is said to reject RFI and EMI. I have no idea as to what a PFIN is or how it
works but you only need to pick up one of these cables ato know right away that these are
some very serious and very well constructed cables. Given the sheer weight and heft of
them along with the materials used, I can see why they are so expensive.
Anyone who live in an older multi-dwelling building in an urban setting knows what RFI and EMI
are. In my building, it is the worst that I have ever experienced. All of those strange clicks,
pops and buzzes that were thought to be part of the system noise floor are actually due to the
interference and noise that is riding along the house wiring. Two good sources of this noise
are your P.C. and microwave oven. These and other offenders from all along the power grid are
throwing this stuff back into the electrical lines. Throw in the CB equipped taxicabs passing
by and it's a wonder that you can hear anything close to music from your system at all.
One of the first things I noticed about Clement Perry's system was that when it was at rest but
powered up, it sounded as if it were completely off, there was complete silence. He has gone to
great lengths and has been very successful in purifying the power feeding his system.
You can readily see how the elimination of electrical noise will always improve the sound of
If you have read any of a number of audio publications, you always hear of "veils" being
lifted. Whenever I heard this description of one component or another, I always have the
image of multiple weddings or something. This "veiling" is a strange phenomenon because
you are generally not aware of its existence until it's removed. The resulting clarity
can be jaw dropping. Once you have experienced the new found clarity and the new level
of detail that has been revealed, you can never go back to the old sound. This is not to say
that the sound has to become etched or hard, just more revealing of the information contained in
the source material.
Cables alone will not usually accomplish this end. Since I added th P.S. Audio Power station
to my system, I have solved my power problem and greatly improved the overall sound of the system.
I have have not had a chance to audition the Richard Gray Power Station but I hope to in the near
future. Compared to the Audio Prism foundation 3 that I was using, the P.S. Audio makes a night
and day improvement. The Prism is very good for as far as it goes, but the bottom line is
it still is only a filter. Given this, it's not really a fair comaprison.
NBS cables do their part in keeping the nasties from reentering the system. At their worst,
a poor cable, whether A/C or interconnect, will act like a receiving antenna and allow a good deal
of the RFI that you worked so hard to get rid of to re-enter the system. I was unable to detect
any extraneous noises with these cables in place. As I said before, these interconnects
are heavy and very stiff. Care must be taken not to crimp them and possibly compromising
the internal shielding.
The N.B.S. Sound
Overall, these cables have a rich tonal balance that comes down somewhat on the warm
side. I think that the very full lower midrange and upper bass is responsible for this.
Everything that I listened to had a more liquid quality that I found to be pleasant.
The perspective seemed to be a bit recessed, as if I was sitting a little further
back from the performance. This effect was not to the extent that it masked musical
detail to a great degree, but it was noticeable. On several CD's that I have this was
a benefit. On Monk's "Straight No Chaser" (Columbia Legacy reissue), Charlie
Rouse's sax is very hot and it sounds as if the microphone is down the mouth of the horn.
While sitting in the near field, this can be somewhat relentless. The NBS cables tended
to tame some of the more excessive characteristics of this recording. I know, there are those
who will object to this as "editorializing" but in this case, I appreciate this quality.
Clark Terry "The Second Set" (Cheskey Records), is a grrrrrreat live recording
at the Village Gate. Here I was presented with a wide stage with a good sense of depth
and layering. The localization of instruments within the stage was excellent as well.
Imaging was very natural, while you could place the performers, they weren't carved
into the stage with razor sharp edges. To my ear, that type of imaging just doesn't sound
natural. The Monitor IIs seem to have the right balance on this score. The ambiance is such
that you are well aware that this is a live recording. Although I didn't quite get a sense
of the size of the room the low level crowd noise was apparent but again with the right
Billie Holiday's "Lady In Satin" (Columbia Legacy), is moved back a little in the
recording venue and that smoothing effect I mentioned previously removes just a little
of the vocal detail from her performance. Still you can easily tell that she is a heavy
smoker and her vocal abilities are not what they once were. Enough of anguish and emotion
of her performance still comes through so that you are aware of her condition.
I've heard this recording on the radio but it wasn't until I listened to it at home that I
really got the point. Just listen to "I'm A Fool Without You" and you will see what
I am talking about.
A Word About Mapleshade
I find that Mapleshade CD's had a very distinctive sound that is very different from the
typical digital fare. It is my understanding that no equalization or multi-tracking
techniques are used in any of their recordings. They remain in the analogue stage for as
long as possible and are converted to digital at the very last stage. To my ear, their CD
is reminiscent of very good analogue recordings played back on a high-end analogue front end.
The results of their efforts are a naturalness that I seldom hear with other CD's.
Form the beginning of the first cut, "Almost Blue", on Kendra Shank's "Afterglow" (Mapleshade),
the clear tone of Larry Willis's piano is most striking. These cables do nothing to diminish
any of the shimmer or the harmonic overtones of this instrument. The decay rate of the piano is
very slow. I believe this characteristic contributes greatly to the overall natural musicality
of the recording. The cymbals are further back but still have the right amount of size and
metallic ring to them. Although all of the instruments are easily located in the sound stage,
they sound as if the musicians are playing together as opposed to being overly etched physically
and harmonically in their own space.
Kendra's voice is intimate with all of her breathy texture and inflections in tact. From the
low-level detail, I get the impression that this recording was made in a fairly large room.
This is a very enjoyable CD, and the Monitor II's allow the entire delicate musical nuance
to come through.
Patience Higgins' "Sugar Hill Quartet" - "Live In Harlem"(Mapleshade), is a gem of a
recording that was recorded at an old time jazz pub in Harlem. Here you have that "you are there"
quality due to the constant low level din that you hear thoughout the performance. The NBS monitors
allow all of this detail to come through clearly. This level of detail might seem to be an exaggeration to
some people, but anyone who has been to this club will agree that this is realistic.
The Monitor II's seem to just give you all of the audiophile goodies that are in the
recording; texture, accuracy of tone, pace, rhythm and huge amounts of presense.
However, if they are not there to begin with, you just will not hear them, that's as it
should be. They will smooth some of the mid range nasties on some bad recordings to a
degree but they won't make a "silk purse" if you will. The sense of depth is appropriate
where it exists on a recording. I never got the sense that any of these characteristics
were overdone. I did notice that the image height was larger overall. Still I could easily tell
when a heavy hand was at work in the mastering. You know, those recordings where the drummer
seems to have eight-foot long arms because the cymbals stretch from one side of the stage to
the other. There are those times when a component can be just a little too revealing.
If I have to choose between revealing or not, I will go with the former.
Overall the NBS Monitor II series cables are very expensive but they do deliver in terms
of performance. Although geared for systems that are much further along on the high-end
scale, I still could hear a nice improvement in terms of a richer and more natural tonal
balance, in addition to excellent imaging capabilities. I must say that if you are in the
market for cables and interconnects of only the highest quality, the NBS Monitors should
make your short list.
All Cabling: Audio Insurgents Mystery interconnects and 5Beta Square speaker cable.
Thiel 1.0 speakers, Audible Illusions Modulus with Mullard NOS tubes. Amplifier: One
heavily modified B&K ST 140. VPI turntable with a Grado Arm and cartridge, AMC CD
6(transport only). Lehman audio DAC+. Accessories: P.S. Audio Power Plant P-300,
The Source Components Harmonic Recovery System.Audio, Audioprism foundation 3
power line filter. Isobearing isolation devices.