NBS Cables

Stereo Times

"Nothing But Signal...baby. NBS Monitor II Audio Cables"   
by Henry Wilkenson

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 any system.

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 balance.

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.

In Closing
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.
Associated Components
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.






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NBS Audio Cables   5583 West 78th Street Edina, MN 55439 U.S.A.   (952) 848-1100
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