Antipodes Audio Kokiri Digital Interconnect

by admin on December 13, 2010 · 22 comments

in Cables, Digital, Stars

by Martin Appel

After reading Andy Fawcett’s wonderful review of the Antipodes Komako analogue interconnects my interest was piqued. I emailed Mark Jenkins at Antipodes and requested the Kokiri digital cable for review (I do plan a follow up to Andy’s review with two pair of Komakos in my system). Mark was happy to oblige but first he informed me that he had changed the cable terminations to his own design. This improved its performance over the generic ones he had tried. Also, he had made a slight change in the geometry of the cable.

Before shipping the cable he put some time into pre-burning — much appreciated. I won’t go into all the construction details other than to say it’s of high purity silver. Andy’s review covered the construction so well, that I highly recommend you read it and peruse the Antipodes website.

My reference digital cable is Acoustic Zen’s MC2 = Zen and is also all silver construction. It has served me very well for quite sometime. As such, it was with great anticipation that I awaited its challenger’s arrival. Let the games begin.

The cable arrived in its doubly protected packaging in pristine condition and immediately went into the system for burn-in. I’m using my Marantz SA-7s1 as a transport connected to the digital input of my DEQX 2.6P’s internal DAC. I let it burn-in for at least 150 hours before I started listening, and played music through it for at least another 100 hours before judging.

My first impression was how similar these two cables sounded. That’s a good thing. As time went on, differences made themselves known. The Kokiri was open and dynamic with accurate musical timbres. Separation of instruments in space was also excellent with perhaps the edge going to the Kokiri. Images were solid and three dimensional from both cables with the Kokiri having a slightly fuller character and the Acoustic Zen being slightly more focused. Still, very close. As time passed, it became apparent that the MC2 = Zen edged ahead in portraying more inner detail greater textures whereas the Kokiri had a smoother, slightly warmer presentation. Vocals, particularly, were glorious with the Kokiri, full bodied and rich. These characteristics often compete and depending on the interaction within your system one may be preferable over the other.

Bass performance also showed differences. The Acoustic Zen had a tighter, more, well defined sound, whereas the Kokiri’s bass was fuller and bigger with equal depth and impact. Again, what’s your preference?

Another area of performance where differences manifested themselves was high frequency extension. The Acoustic Zen was further extended then the Kokiri and this extension seemed to give images a little more height and snap. On the other hand, the Kokiri allowed for some of my harsh sounding CDs to be more listenable, reducing ‘digititus’ and edginess making the CDs more palatable (sounding more like quality analog).

In conclusion, this was a tough call as the Kokiri was so good — there was no clear winner. Most of the differences between the cables were subtle. After several sessions of critical listening with different gatherings of audiophile friends and musicians, there was no unanimity of opinion. Certain CDs sounded better with one cable and some with the other. There were some very spirited discussions at the house.

Suffice it to say that Mark Jenkins of New Zealand has joined the ranks of top cable manufacturers and produced an excellent digital interconnect that will win many fans. Highly recommended.

Associated Equipment

Amplifiers: 4-Hephaestus HMA-1000 Monoblocks
Speakers: Levy Acoustics
Preamplifier: Marantz SC-7S2
Phono
Preamplifier: AQVOX 2 Ci Mk II.
CD source: Marantz SA-7S1
Analogue source: Avid Volvere/SME IV arm/Cartridge: Shelter 7000
Speaker cables: Acoustic Zen’s Absolute, Wasatch’s Ultama (no longer being produced)
Power Cords: Acoustic Zen’s Absolute and Kaplan GS Copper
Interconnects: Acoustic Zen’s Absolute (xlr)
Accessories: Herbie’s Audio Lab Tenderfeet, Black Diamond Racing Cones, Soundcare products, Acme Audio Labs wall outlets
Surge Protection: Brick Wall 2R and 8R Surge Protectors
Power Conditioning: PS AUDIO Power Plant Premier
Processor: DEQX 2.6P Modified

Musical Choices

Reference Recordings RR-96CD Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances Oue/Minnesota Orchestra
Pablo OJCCD-744-2 Clark Terry/Freddie Hubbard/Dizzy Gillespie/Oscar Peterson: The Alternate Blues
Telarc CD-83373 Ray Brown: Some of My Best Friends…The Piano Players
Capital 72434 94756 2 5 Frank Sinatra: Sinatra Sing for Only the Lonely
Telarc SACD-60042 Moussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition-Maazel/The Cleveland Orchestra
Napua Davoy-ALL I WANT, www.napuadavoy.com
Nuforce LIVE BLUPORT JAZZ SAMPLER Blueport

email
website
Price: $330USD 1m.
Source: Manufacturer loan

Manufacturer’s Response

Hi Martin

Thanks for letting me see the review prior to publication, and for the time you have taken to get the measure of the Kokiri digital cable. You have hit the proverbial nail on its head in your review – particularly in terms of contrasting how our digital cables sound different from conventional digital cables – and I expect that is the best way to help your readers assess whether the Kokiri might be right for them.

The key design goal with all of our cables is to achieve the highest possible levels of time-domain accuracy. What audiophiles tend to perceive as tonal, dynamic or detail differences between cables is caused by time-domain distortions and how these are processed and perceived by our brains. One of the problems with conventional cables is that they use plastic insulation which smears the signal over time five times more than the natural unbleached cotton that we use – and in a digital cable this naturally adds jitter, because the signal transition is smeared in time. The use of plastic tends to accentuate loud and fast transients more than other areas of the dynamic spectrum, and leads to a perception of more top end extension and leading edge definition. But the truth is that it tends to make the sound more aggressive in loud and dynamic passages, and less musically expressive in quiet and gentle passages.

By using no plastics, and by use of novel geometries, our cables will accentuate the beginnings of notes less, and be more accurate to the way real instruments sound in real space. This translates to natural smoothness and warmth without becoming slow, muddy or compressed. More importantly, we believe our cables are more musically expressive throughout the dynamic range. Conventional cables tend to lose that expressiveness towards the micro-dynamic end of the dynamic spectrum.

Another way of putting it is that a conventional cable draws the outlines more distinctly and obviously, but fills in the body of the music less completely, than one of our cables. Your review makes the point clearly that which cable is preferred will come down to taste and system. If your system needs a little “lighting up”, then a conventional cable is likely to be preferred. We argue that in a system with good time-domain accuracy (little smearing and good phase coherence), our cable will sound more like real instruments in real space, fast yet unfatiguing, and more musically expressive with everything from micro to macro dynamic swings.

Regards

Mark Jenkins

Addendum

About three weeks has elapsed since I submitted the review and with this additional time the cable’s performance took another leap. As such, I understated just how good this cable is. During this extra time period, the cable ‘ripened’ — it has the ability to extend and improve lower frequency performance significantly. I’ve never heard this level of clarity and definition, along with power and sheer weight, coming out of my system. Many of my audio friends ask where am I hiding the sub-woofer? When I tell them I don’t have one they are in disbelief. This also speaks volumes about the Levy Acoustics speaker system’s capabilities.

Images grew in solidity and scale and with greater definition. The soundstage continued to open up and become more three dimensional, breathing more air between and around instruments and performers. Inner detail and articulation, while extraordinary, were achieved without any edge or hardness. Complex musical passages became more understandable and massed choirs sounded more real with the ability to hear individual human beings singing within the various sections of the choir. My digital doesn’t sound digital. Who new 1s and 0s could he so smooth and sound this good with Redbook CDs?

As I said earlier, I unerringly understated this cable’s abilities. Extended listening has revealed these improvements, I would strongly recommend it for an Audiophilia Star Component Award. Some things just get better with age. I’m still not sure it has stopped improving.

Keep listening. Martin Appel

[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the Antipodes Audio Digital Interconnect. Congratulations! - Ed]

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

admin 12.13.10 at 1:27 pm

Great review, Marty. These NZ cables are beginning to show up on audiophiles’ radar. Great quality at very reasonable prices.

Thanks again. And thank you, Mark, for the thoughtful response.

Cheers, a

roy harris 12.14.10 at 8:49 pm

my experienec as a serious listener tells me that there is no better or best anything. it all depeneds upon preference. products sound different but , in my opinion, one is not better, intrinsically than another, because the criteria used for evaluation, differs among persons.

audio is a subjective hobby . i feel that better and best are indicative of (subjective) preference.

one can use this principle in all aspects of life.

i mention this now because marty’s review, in a small way confirms my hypothesis.

audio, especially the outcome of listening, is essentially an esthetic endeavor. it is based more on philosophy than anything else.

Andy Fawcett 12.15.10 at 4:56 am

A good read, thanks Marty. I’ve never had need of a digital cable in my system - though I’ve heard them make a difference in others - but I wonder if they exhibit any broader ’synergy’; did you happen to repeat the comparison (even informally) with both the AZ and Antipodes interconnects in place further downstream?

Interesting comments, Roy. There is certainly a strongly subjective element to audio, but I am often surprised how much unanimity of opinion there is in group listening sessions/comparisons - particularly on specific audible attributes. If asked “which speaker has the superior treble extension/transparency/detail resolution etc.” you’ll often get complete agreement. Hence, you can have some degree of confidence (though probably not a lot!) in concluding that one product has “better” resolution than another, say, in a given system context. Subjectivity seems to apply more to the relative importance each person attaches to those qualities in reaching their overall verdict of “best”.

Martin Appel 12.15.10 at 5:11 am

Well put guys. I ‘m currently burning in 2 pr of Komako interconnects from the Deqx processor to 4 monoblock amplifiers. I should have some observations shortly.

roy harris 12.15.10 at 7:02 pm

hi andy:

i think you are you confuding apples with oranges.

while i might conceded that listeners may confirm the attributes of stereo systems, with respect to certain parameters (perceptions), and there is the possibility to use objective measurement to confirm certain measurable frequency response factors, those facts do not lead to a conclusion that one stereo system is better than another.

to cite your example, if one stereo system is more resolving and extended in the treble, one cannot conclude that it will be preferred to another, which is less resolving and less extended.

facts are one thing, preferences are another.

the presence of resolution may make certain recordings less palatable to the ear for some listeners.

in addition, if you compare a tube amp to a ss amp, one may be more resolving and 3extended, while the other may be more full-bodied and richer. which is better ?? neither. they are different. its all a matter of taste.
SOME WILL PREFER THE CJ TO THE SS AMP.

THUS LESS MAY BE PREFERABLE TO MORE–LESS INFORMATION MAY BE MORE PLEASING IF IT IS ASSOCIATED WITH

admin 12.15.10 at 7:04 pm

You need a better keyboard. Not different, better!

:)

Merry Christmas.

roy harris 12.15.10 at 7:08 pm

hi andy:

i think you are you confuding apples with oranges.

i think you are confusing facts with taste. extension and resolution–facts, may not be preferred over less resolution and treble extension, because the latter may feature certain pleasing subtractive coloration, because of preference.

i don’t doubt the consonance of presence of frequency response phenomena, which may be reported by listeners,but the word “better” is misapplied when it is used with perception or objective measurement. different is still the more appropriate term to describe the example you raised when listeners confirm the presence of certain parameters, or the absence of them.

roy harris 12.15.10 at 7:50 pm

whoops:

some extraneous colloquy. i apologize for the caps.

Tom R 12.16.10 at 1:42 pm

I’m not sure how 1s and 0s can be transmitted better or worse. Either all the bits make it, or they don’t. Somebody explain what I’m missing here.

Martin Appel 12.16.10 at 5:16 pm

Hi Tom, I wish I could but after being in this crazy hobby for almost 30 years it is enough for me to let my ears do the evaluating and try my best to describe what I’m hearing to the readers. I’ve heard many explanations as to why different digital interconnects sound different and some sound plausible but the bottom line is they do. Maybe if we lived in a theoretical world, those o’s and 1’s would sound the same. In the real world every construction method from materials to jacket type seem to have an impact on the transmitted signal. I’ll let smarter people than me out there to try and explain it. Trust your ears.

Keep listening, Martin

James Lewis 12.17.10 at 3:27 am

“I’m not sure how 1s and 0s can be transmitted better or worse. Either all the bits make it, or they don’t. Somebody explain what I’m missing here.”

If all the 1’s and 0’s don’t make it, isn’t that “jitter”? If so, then the cable quality is indeed important.

admin 12.17.10 at 8:38 am

Once again, great questions by our amazing readers. Thanks.

Cheers, a

Tom R 12.17.10 at 12:08 pm

@Marty, thanks for the reply. I definitely understand that the ears are doing the heavy lifting and that there are some real differences heard by you aficionados. I suppose I’m wondering about the technical details.

@James, reliable transmission of bits is trivial, technologically speaking. It easy to ensure that every bit gets transferred (think USB transfer of files - all the bits need to be there for the file to work). This is what I’m wondering about — since there’s a consensus that there is indeed a difference, I’m interested in knowing why.

Obviously there’s a lot more than simple bit transfer when it comes to high quality audio — there’s plenty of components that need to work in harmony to get the best sound possible, and Martin, I trust your ears!

Thanks for the discussion,
Tom

Martin Appel 12.17.10 at 3:35 pm

Hi Tom, what you say is correct and most computer folks are in the camp that says bits in should equal bits out. If it isn’t happening then something is wrong in the transmission or reception of the data. So what is the cause for the differing sound qualities we hear-the cable, the connectors, the source disc, or the equipment doing the conversion to analgue or something else. I’m sure there’s someone out there that could be more specific and let us know. These discussions are always interesting and to have them without rancor is very pleasurable. By the way, the Kokiri is still improving-go figure.

admin 12.28.10 at 2:43 pm

Wow, great addendum, Marty. Nice to hear that things are getting even better chez nous.

Break in is SO important. I always give 100 hours but things still improve, as you know, after a long time.

There are some damn fine burn in discs. So much time saved. One $$$$$ from Purist is amazing. Our own Andy Fawcett has one coming from an Oz manufacturer and will be reviewing it for Audiophilia.

Cheers, a

Mark Jenkins 12.29.10 at 5:22 am

When I read Marty’s original review I asked him to do me the favour of listening to the Kokiri for a couple more months to let me know how they developed. The one big downside of our cables is they are an absolute pig to burn in, and many of our customers tell us that they keep improving for between 3 and 4 months - with which we agree. This is unusual compared with conventional cable designs, we know, and we wish it wasn’t so. I am of course pleased that the Kokiri is now strutting its stuff for Marty, and thanks Marty for your patience.

I suspect there will be a little more improvement to come given the stage I think they are at, based on your descriptions Marty. The cables’ sound goes all over the place before eventually balancing out, but the top end and bottom end are not there at that point, and I suspect the original review was written about that time. The top and bottom have finally arrived, it appears, and the next stage is just a gradual improvement in resolution and naturalness.

Mark Jenkins
Antipodes Audio

admin 12.30.10 at 3:40 pm

I shall have a damn good listen to these cables, Mark, at the July #audiophiliacamp in upstate NY. Looking forward to it.

All the best for the New Year. Cheers, a

roy harris 12.30.10 at 7:33 pm

sorry to “beat a dead horse”.

i would appreciate an explanation as to why the words better or worse are relevant to the medium of audio, whose subject is sound.

can one sound be better than another ?

i understand that different is factual, but to use better or worse, when discusssion transmission of bits, is baffling. why not use, less erroneus, or some other objective term ?
just as red is different than blue, for example, two stereo systems that have different characters with respect to certain parameters are different one is not better than another.

how can one be better or worse, other than on the basis of purely, arbitrarily, subjective, idiosyncratic criteria.

i guess its ok, but sometimes better anad worse , in my opinion are used so subjectively, that it is difficult to extrapolate such terms to the experience of another person who has not had the identical experience of the narrator.

again the world of philosophy is alive and well.

perhaps most discusssions about components are essentially philosophical or moot.

they have no definitive conclusion.

admin 12.30.10 at 8:25 pm

“sorry to “beat a dead horse”. i would appreciate an explanation as to why the words better or worse are relevant to the medium of audio, whose subject is sound. can one sound be better than another ?”

Yes.

roy harris 12.31.10 at 12:41 pm

sound is a physical phenomenon. saying that one sound is better than another is ambiguous and in my opinion not useful other than as an expresssion of ones idiosyncratic opinion. its chatter having a dubious value.

fortunately , we have the opportunity to say what’s on our minds.

fortunately there are others who can intelligently evaluate them or ignore them.

roy harris 01.01.11 at 3:03 pm

in the spirit of the new year, i vow to be more gentle in my critism or comments.

my last post may have been receieved as a bit arrogant. iapologize for the tone.

what i meant to say is that as a reviewer, i try to communicate to the reader.

saying that “i prefer component a to component b” is clear in its connotation.

using the word better is somewhat indefinite and does precisely communicate the intention implied.

since audiophiles use different criteria to assess product quality, which are usually based upon subjective criteria, there is a lack of precision when using the word better.

“i prefer” implies the obvious, but it too does not communicate the justifications for the preference.

i prefer precision when communicating, and so try to avoid using the word “better”. in its place i will comment upon perceptions.

of course, all of the discourse about components does not indicate that knowledge has been achieved, as knowledge can not be derived from experience, since, induction is the basis for empirical generalizations.

admin 01.01.11 at 3:14 pm

“sound is a physical phenomenon”

Yes, and when it hits the ear, all bets are off.

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