Antipodes Audio – Revised Komako Interconnects

by admin on January 23, 2011 · 10 comments

in Cables, Stars

By Andy Fawcett

By dint of fate, and the long evaluation periods to which all of Audiophilia’s writers subscribe, publication of my previous review of Antipodes Audio’s Komako interconnects coincided exactly with the release of a substantially revised model. While the original cable’s blend of innovative technology, fine materials, complex construction, startling performance and excellent value had left me no choice but to recognise it as an Audiophilia Star Component, the practical and (to a much lesser extent) sonic concerns I’d identified were already well known to designer Mark Jenkins, who had set about addressing them. The result is what you see; a thoroughly revised Komako, claimed to build significantly upon the strengths of the old. Fortunately, Mark was just as keen for me to sample them as I was!

I will not repeat the in-depth examination from that earlier review; if you have yet to encounter this New Zealand company and their unique cable technology, you may wish to familiarise yourself with it as a precursor to what follows. Suffice to say that the company’s self-produced (and completely unparalleled) silver wire, infused with gold and platinum and coated in a protective film of organic oil, remains unchanged in the new cable, as does the use of unbleached cotton for the dielectric. The most obvious difference is the RCA plugs; a brand new, proprietary design comprising gold-plated, high copper content conductors and an impeccably-finished barrel made from anodised, aerospace-grade aluminium rod. They replace the oversized silver Xhadow connectors previously used, which allowed the bulky cable to be properly terminated but were blamed for compromising its performance in the bass. They also mean that every single component employed in the cable’s construction (except the solder, presumably!) is entirely proprietary, and found nowhere else. Note that a new XLR plug, designed along similar lines, graces the balanced option.

Also changed are facets of the cable’s unique ‘Antipodal’ geometry; the product of some innovative science and credited as the foundation of the Komako’s supreme phase-coherence, inherently high level of noise rejection and system-to-system consistency. Mark is able to exert such precise control over the cable’s sonic properties (treble extension, soundstaging, transient attack and so on) by manipulating specific aspects of this geometry, that he is placed in a position similar to a loudspeaker designer; that of needing to ‘tune’ the cable’s capabilities to achieve a balance favourable to the majority of likely customers and their systems. Early versions of the original Komako were, as I understand it, somewhat detuned to a level thought appropriate for its target market – but adoption in ever more upmarket systems saw its geometry moved closer to the company’s flagship Reference model in the version I reviewed. With this latest revision, both cables now effectively share the same geometry.

In Use

Upon removing the cables from their robust protective packaging, the new version is noticeably more slender of girth than the old, and also a little more flexible. With the increased length of the plug and strain relief assembly, though, you’ll still need 6 or 7 inches of clearance behind components. The attractive new RCA plugs slide on easily, grip different socket styles snugly, and their lithe profile addresses the problem with those oversized Xhadow plugs; the limiting factor, if space is tight, becomes the thickness of the cable itself.

The original Komako’s aggravated behaviour during burn-in, and the lengthy period it took to settle down (in my system, close to a month to achieve a measure of stability, and almost four months for the bass to come good), was another area to receive Mark’s attention. Unspecified changes to the intensive ten-day, multi-stage preconditioning process to which he subjects all of his interconnects had, according to early feedback, radically improved the situation. Sure enough, the new cables sounded very listenable right from the off, with little sign of the marked (though temporary) aberrations of the originals. In a complete turnaround, the bass was remarkably tight and well balanced almost from Day 1; over the next ten days or so it shed a slightly ‘wooden’ quality, while the treble filled out and a representative measure of transparency and resolution was achieved. Subsequently, though, the new Komakos entered a ‘dull’ phase where the treble became recessed, so it took a total of three to four weeks of normal listening before they attained their ultimate equilibrium (if not quite their ultimate performance, which has continued to improve subtly week by week). This time, the whole burn-in process had been undramatic and entirely stress-free.

Sound Quality

Despite the disorienting effect of the burn-in period, I felt I had a good handle on the differences between old and new versions … but careful and extended comparative listening (once I was comfortable that the new cables had fully settled down) caused some re-evaluation, and is the source for what follows. For simplicity’s sake, I shall borrow inspiration from a reader of the first review and use ‘K1’ to signify my first set of Komakos, ‘K2’ representing this revised design.

First up, nobody likes to look a fool so I can say with some relief that the K1 remains worthy of the praise lavished upon it – it is, by any measure, a remarkable cable. Very little needed to be changed, and fans of the original can be reassured that the K1’s astonishing resolution, transparency, energy, coherence and huge soundstage have found their way in full measure into the successor. The K1 is still very much a model of neutrality and tonal evenness, yet its bass now reveals a slightly leaden quality, appearing a fraction heavy and slow next to the more dynamic, supple, focussed and expressive bottom end of the K2. I detected, too, the merest hint of sweetness in the K2’s treble that was lacking in the K1 and, while hardly a departure from neutrality, this would likely help its balance in most systems. These improvements are credited directly to the new RCA plugs; the change from silver to copper connectors should also, according to conventional wisdom, result in a marginally smoother and less overtly detailed sound … which is indeed the case, though Mark attributes it more to the optimisation of other aspects of the plug’s construction than to the conductor material itself.

Otherwise, I think any owner of K1s will be thoroughly surprised at the scope for improvement that has been found in the K2; I certainly was. Readily apparent is that the K2 has a ‘bouncier’, more rhythmically engaging quality and an improved sense of flow. Along with still greater microdynamic prowess – directly audible in music of particular transient richness, though generally perceived as a nimbler, more precise quality to the presentation – the K1’s vibrant sense of musical energy is undiminished, yet the feel is more relaxed and refined, more spacious and effortless, more dynamically assured. The K2’s increased smoothness is implicit and natural, the result of a complete absence of electronic glare or grain. Resolution of tonal/timbral/ambient information is increased and, together with a still more coherent solidity to the soundstage and improved layering of depth perspectives, the firm impression is given of a more nuanced and complex picture of the same musical event, yet one that is assimilated by the subconscious brain with even greater ease.

While these various improvements were inevitably highlighted by the intense nature of comparative auditioning, few in isolation were particularly large – after all, it was not weaknesses of the original design that were being addressed. In combination, though, they became very significant. There is an even more profound organic wholeness to the K2’s sound, allied to a transporting sense of purity and unflustered ease that renders music hugely communicative, intelligible and – to revive a theme from the first review – authentically natural. Indeed, I found myself relating to the sound of my system differently when the K2s were installed. Where the K1 delivered music with an exhilarating directness and clarity, the K2’s more refined presentation and potent rhythmic integrity adds an irresistible sonic honeypot, luring the listener ever further into the music before drowning you in the sheer pleasure of it!

Conclusion

What Mark Jenkins has achieved with this new, revised version of the Komako interconnect is a testimony to the technology underpinning Antipodes Audio’s cable range. By relatively minor adjustments to the basic elements of the cable’s construction and geometry, a sonic balance has been achieved that is both distinctively different and recognisably the same! Owners of the original can be reassured that nothing they love about it has been lost; instead, those same elements have been refined, rebalanced and surpassed, into a sonic whole still more intoxicatingly reminiscent of live sound. Keen to look after these customers, many of whom will not have owned their cables for very long, Antipodes is offering a generous trade-in allowance – the terms of which I shan’t detail here in case they change, so check with the company. My experience indicates unequivocally that it is an offer well worth taking up.

There’s one more item of good news. Cost savings stemming from the proprietary plugs and improved production techniques have seen the cost of both RCA and balanced XLR variants dropped to US$550 for a one meter pair; a 40% reduction in the latter case. An unconditional 45-day refund policy offers a safety net, though I gather it is a long time since anything found its way back. Already offering conspicuous value at the original price, to my mind this cable has just put a bullet through the heart of the competitive $500 market sector.

I remain convinced that the Komako is a genuinely important, not to say ground-breaking product. That it now sounds significantly better, and costs substantially less, just makes the lustre on its Audiophilia Star shine all the brighter!

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

website
Price: US$550 for a one metre pair (RCA or XLR)
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan

Equipment

Analogue: Linn LP12 / Lingo PS / Ittok LVII / Audio Technica OC30
Digital: Meridian 507, Audia Flight CD Three
Amplification: Custom-built AC Magnum dual mono P200 pre and power
Speakers: Acoustat Spectra 1100 hybrid electrostatics
Cables: MAC Reference & Mystic, Antipodes Audio Komako interconnects / MAC Shotgun speaker cable / MAC Burly, HC amp; Digital power cords
Accessories: Sound Mechanics Performance isolation platforms (on each source component) / Target & Sound Organisation stands / Aerolam & RATA Torlyte shelves / Herbie’s Audio Labs isolation products / Eichmann Toppers / Caig ProGold /Belkin PF40 power conditioner

Manufacturer’s Comment

Thanks to Andy and Audiophilia for taking the time to audition the latest Komako. This is the third iteration of the Komako, but in reality the current version is simply the Komako I originally designed. Several aspects of our cable manufacture are not done by any of the large cable manufacturers, such as the application of gold and platinum damping to the wire, and the use of cotton insulation, and so when we design a cable the key problems emerge when we have to shift from prototyping to commercial manufacture. At last the Komako is where we intended it to be, and in our view it is more neutral and more accurate in the time domain than the previous iterations. Improvements in time domain accuracy provide liveliness and fine detail resolution at the same time as greater smoothness and naturalness, and Andy’s comments bear out this improvement in the latest Komako. We don’t expect to make any further updates to the Komako for some time.

Regards
Mark Jenkins
Antipodes Audio Limited

website

16 Bingley Ave
Epsom
Auckland 1023
New Zealand

Ph +64 9 6244244 or +64 27 4545004

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01.10.11 at 8:55 am

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin Appel 01.10.11 at 4:02 pm

Hi Andy, I find myself in total agreement with you on these KOMAKO’s. I’ve been listening to a pair foe the last month and they are quite special, competing and eclipsing cables costing 3-5 times their price. I don’t know what the REFERENCE can add that it doesn’t already have. Any lusher and it could be overkill. Needless to say I shall keep at least one pair to go along with my KOKIRI digital cable. Mark Jenkins should be congratulated for getting his cables so right, so be the first on your block to get them.

roy harris 01.10.11 at 8:11 pm

at the risk of sounding pedantic and philosophical, i would say that , using the concepts of mathematics, it is impossible to describe the sound of a component.

i will spare the reader a mathematical proof. in fact a review of a component is really a report of the perceptions of a stereo system containing the reviewed component.

perhaps a debate will ensue.

Mark Jenkins 01.10.11 at 11:50 pm

I will bite Roy, though I am not really sure whether I am agreeing or disagreeing with you.

I could equally argue that it is impossible to describe the sound of a violin. The violin doesn’t have a sound. If a violin plays in a vacuum then I hear no violin. I don’t see a cat, I only receive light energy that is modified by the presence of a cat, and my past experience of such sensations tells me that I see a cat. But turn off the light and there is no cat to be seen - it is only the light that I see when I think I see a cat. When the violin plays in air, the sound pressure changes on my ear send electrical pulses through a network of neurons and I recognise the information as similar to that experienced with other violins. But it is my brain that is creatting a perception of sound from the information received.

One of the most important features of hearing is the recognising of sounds heard before. Patterns in sound that are unfamiliar, or can’t be related to something experienced before, are confusing to the brain. This isn’t pedantic or philosophical, but crucial to this topic.

When we hear what seems something like a violin, but the information is sending confusing signals indicating the violin might be made of some wierd combination of cardboard and steel, and that the phase relationships don’t allow the location of the violin to be discerned, then our brain may conclude we are listening through a medium that is distorted, and the violin isn’t actually present - and therefore, that the brain should disengage a little, as there is no point wasting energy trying to process distorted information that doesn’t make any sense. This is why stereo systems fail to some degree to communicate music to our brains, because the brain has to interpret what it is hearing first.

The tendency is to think of stereo system distortions as simply broad-based amplitude errors, such as reduced bass or accentuated treble, and this might support an assumption that a component inserted in a system will simply be adding to or offsetting existing amplitude distortions, and so can’t be evaluated in an absolute sense by those means.

An alternative way to think about it is that the problem is not one of amplitude, but of timing. Timing errors can be quite small and subtle but meaningful enough to confuse the brain in its recognition process, as our brains are highly sensitive to timing information. A ‘warm’ sounding timing error is not balanced readily by a ‘cold’ sounding timing error. To use a taste analogy, you don’t get a balanced taste, you get sweet and sour (which isn’t necessarily unpleasant). When you substitute a component that is introducing high levels of timing errors with one that introduces much reduced timing errors, you should expect the listener’s brain to find the music less confusing, more real, and for the music to be easier to engage with. Taking this viewpoint, the new component doesn’t so much have a sound, but has a reportable relative effect on the coherence of the perceived sound. In order to report on that effect in a way that is useful to others needs multiple points of reference, such as experience with the sound of real instruments/voices in real spaces, experience of a lot of components/systems, and comparisons with other viable candidates.

One of the problems, I think, is that we tend to think and talk in terms of tones and amplitude, so better time domain accuracy might be described as more tuneful bass, or smoother treble. This may be how we perceive things or maybe it enables more analytical description. I tend to evaluate stereo systems and components by asking myself does it sound more natural, more real, more clear, more present, and am I enjoying the music; but though these are very important, they seem very vague when describing it to someone else.

Andy Fawcett 01.12.11 at 4:27 am

G’day Marty. Didn’t know whether you’d got the Komakos going in your system yet; I think you’ll find they get even better over the next 2 months. Also pleased - and relieved! - that your impressions on the performance/value equation tally with mine. I agree - listening to the K2 it’s almost impossible to imagine that the Reference could advance markedly on it … but I didn’t imagine the K1 could be so significantly improved either! I doubt that added lushness is part of the formula, even if the Reference’s gold conductors might suggest as much.

roy harris 01.12.11 at 2:36 pm

let me elucidate on my last statement.

the sound of the stereo system is observed, the dependent variable.

lets say there are 7 components in a steeo system. at the time of purchase , those 7 independent variables are not known.

in addition, one’s recording collection is also not known.

clearly, there are more independent variables (components and records), than dependent variables, so that it is not possible to identify the sound of any one component.

in addition, i suspect it would be nearly impossible to construct an equation relating what a stereo system sounds like as a function of the components of the stereo system.

thus it is clear that a review constitutes how the stereo system is perceived when the reviewd component is substituted for one of the components already part of the existing stereo system.

that is, comparing the sound of the stereo system with the reviewed component to the sound of the stereo system with the original component determines the affect of the reviewed component upon the sound of the stereo system, rather than provide knowledge as to what the reviewed component actually sounds like.

Greg Hickmott 01.13.11 at 1:56 am

Guys, if you think the new Komako is good then you must try the new Reference. After only just over three weeks the sweet, sweet bell like, absolutely clear tones of guitars , rock steady audio images, coming from , an eerily silent background ………………………….absolutely stunning and addictive…………………….is that enough to whet your appetite. Great Publication you have here too.
Cheers, Greg Hickmott
Mount Maunganui, NZ

admin 01.13.11 at 8:10 am

Many thanks for the kind words, Greg. And welcome.

Mark’s cables have become favourites with our writers. I’m sure one will try and snag a Reference for review.

Cheers, a

James Lewis 01.17.11 at 5:16 am

Since having the K2’s for a few months now, for the first time ever I don’t have that feeling or desire to upgrade anything in my system. It just sounds so right…the music just flows.

Analogaholic 10.13.12 at 11:08 am

Roy Harris, you have no idea, about mathematical concepts, philosophy, logic or correct use of the English language. Mark has provided you with a standard response, entertaining your wanting to try to wrap your head around a fairly simple concept. Everything has its own sound. If I were to run gigawatts of audio signal through your body and use you as a conductor, you would have a different sound signature to the interconnects. Your sound signature would likely be a confused mix of sounds, which is no coincidence. To clearly demonstrate you can determine what one component contributes to the overall sound as part of a continuum or equation, replace your speakers with no speakers, and tell me if that provides a quantifiable effect on the sound reproduction of your system.

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