JENA Labs Symphony long 12' RCA's
Also listed & Available separately:
JENA Labs Twin 4 in 8' Speaker Cables Spades to Spades.
Feedback Magazine Reprint
The Tie That Binds
. . .Geez dude, I am
By Rick Gardner,
Jena Labs, Symphony Speaker
Cable and Balanced
First things first . . . if you are going
to understand this review, you need to know
about the listening room, and since I have
moved into a new house.
Necessity can be a mother, or so they say.
Since my last writing I have uprooted the
family unit and relocated to the historical
Irvington District in northeast Portland,
Oregon. Sufficient time has elapsed to allow
recovery from the trauma of moving, almost.
Perversely, we chose to purchase a century
old Craftsman "money pit" complete
with knob-and-tube wiring and a veritable
menagerie of period wallpaper that still
baffles me (even as it is slowly disappearing
in the inexorable, if glacially paced remodel
we will be engaged in until we die). The
house is much like the two of us . .
. past our prime, more than a bit eccentric
and simply overflowing with charm and personality!
One of the negotiated conditions of this
most recent house hunt was that I got my
dedicated listening room. You would think
once this condition was agreed to things
would be relatively simple. We had sufficient
funds to afford a house of reasonable size,
even in Portland's grimly inflated real estate
market. There were lots of houses on the
market, scattered throughout the various,
distinctively different neighborhoods that
comprise Portland. All I really needed was
an unimpeded shoebox sized room of reasonable
volume, and I am not a perfectionist. What
could be so hard?
We looked at over twenty houses, while our
determinedly cheerful agent kept repeating,
with greater and greater urgency, "Now
help me understand what is wrong with this
room for your stereo
. . ." All the while I knew she was
adding mentally to that sentence, You
Finally, and against our better rational
judgment, our hearts were won by this big
old Craftsman house on a quiet street, within
walking distance from Lloyd's Center and
countless shops and restaurants. The intended
listening room? A former second story "sun"
room, 14' 9" x 19' 6". Hardwood
floors over heavy sub-floor, over heavy and
closely spaced joists. Once we add carpet
(good). Lathe and plaster construction (very
good). Neat storage places conveniently located
at either end for built-in storage of all
of my audio media (really good). Heavily
framed, smallish windows, all on one wall
and easily draped (good). 100 amp electrical
service to the house and a labyrinth of knob-and-tube
wiring, daisy-chain connecting God-Knows-What
(really bad). Seven and one/half foot ceilings
with black floral wallpaper (really awfully
Run heavy shielded line up from
the mains with external shielded conduit
and install a dedicated breaker box and lines
with the best quality breakers we could bully
our electrician into finding for us. Punch
a ground down until Chinese people complained.
Hospital grade outlets. Tear out the ceilings
and vault them to nearly eleven feet (asymmetrically)
. . . pack the overhead space between the
new ceiling and roof and front wall (behind
the speakers) with doubled solid polyurethane
insulation panels, cut to fit.
Finish the mix of lathe and plaster and sheet
rock with heavily textured stuff. Theatre
weight drape (with thermal backing) over
the windows. Non-rubberized pad and a good
carpet. Throw up the requisite ASC traps
and panels in the predictable places
. . . add some paint, some flexible zone
lighting, some pocket doors and shelving
. . . and . . . voila!
With the incomparable ESP Concert Grands
arrayed in front of the long wall given plenty
of depth and lateral space to breath . .
. the listening area arranged against the
back wall (under the high part of the ceiling
vault, just like in a concert hall) and equipment
racks tucked away against the short wall,
I was ready for sonic nirvana.
Oops, one slight logistical problem. For
various reasons, I have always had to put
equipment racks between the speakers, but
the new room allows me to get them out of
the way. Only one problem . . . I needed
thirty feet of balanced interconnects from
the line-stage to the power amp. Compounding
this problem is the fact that Sean from ESP
now lives in England and only comes back
every few months (Sean built all of my wire).
Damn . . . what to do?
Wait, I am a reviewer! I can call one of
these fine wire manufacturers and they would
surely be willing to supply a review piece,
until Sean comes back and I can have him
build a permanent replacement . . . right?
Aaaaaaaaaaa! Wrong answer. I couldn't get
Nordost and Goertz to even return phone calls,
let alone supply product. Ah the lot of a
freshman reviewer who doesn't work for Stereophile.
Life is funny. Some initial disappointments
are fortuitous precursors to something infinitely
better (witness my first marriage). Our fearless
editor, David Robinson suggested I approach
Jennifer Crock, of Jena Labs fame. Jennifer
and I had spoken briefly in the past, but
I hadn't really gotten a chance to talk with
her. After some interesting conversation,
she graciously agreed to build a set of her
top-of-the-line Symphony interconnects for
I'm not really sure what I was expecting,
but I certainly didn't get it! See. . . I
am not particularly enamored of the whole
wire thing. Sure, some wires sound better
than others, but I have always found the
differences less than overwhelming, certainly
nothing to flip a major switch over, as many
reviewers are wont to do. As often as not,
I have found the match between components
and wire the more significant issue. This
is the only way I can
explain my ho-hum response to many highly
I suppose, like most speakers, the ESP Concert
Grands in my reference system are idiosyncratic.
Their full, rich, emotionally holographic
presentation is at least somewhat at odds
with the hyper-detailed presentation much
favored in HIFI. This is not an equivocation,
but readers must always understand the written
review in light of the reviewers references
and their own desires and preferences. However,
I have heard a lot of wire on a lot of different
systems, from Sean's custom stuff to Audioquest,
Cardas, Kimber, Tara, Transparent and many
others. Well, none of those more pedestrian
prepared me for this experience.
Twin Eleven Speaker
Cables with Cardasâ
First, the wires are . . . well . . . pink.
It seems that exceptionally pure copper (better
than six nines (99.9999) is a rosy
. . . pink. Apparently there are only two
wire foundries on the planet who are able
to consistently achieve this level of purity.
Each 18 gauge wire consists of 127 ultra
fine copper strands encased in a transparent
material she says is "similar"
to Teflon, but without the fluorine (apparently
fluorine is a bad thing). For the Symphony
interconnects, Jennifer neatly braids seven
stranded runs of this precious 18-gauge copper
in flat braid configuration. Termination
is with either customized Cardas Rhodium
over copper on brass RCA's or, in my case
with imported Neutric XLR's.
I routed the interconnects up from the power
amp and along the wall behind the Concert
Grands, using antique insulators taken from
the removal of the knob and tube wiring .
. . worked great. I popped them into the
back of the BAT VK-5i line stage, stuck in
a CD and fired my system up.
The moment coherent light touched pits, I
knew something very special was happening.
Cold out of the bag, I immediately knew the
rest of my wire was history. A few days later
and I was awash in pink . . . Symphony Digi-Link,
digital RCA interconnect, balanced pieces
for the Timbre DAC and the BAT PK-5 phono
stage and a "split eleven" SpeakEasy
(six leads to the bass, five to the mid and
treble) speaker wire.
I am embarrassed to say this but sometimes
I forget how important this foolish stuff
(audio) is to me. I found myself overwhelmed,
tears welling up, listening and pondering
on the fact that while wondrous adjectives
are common in our hobby, there are a very
small number of designers and products where
superlatives are not only suggested, but
demanded. This is simply the
best wire I have ever
heard. I am thinking it may well be
the best wire you
have ever heard too. The overall effect on
my system easily equals or surpasses active
I suppose a responsible reviewer will remind
the reader of the inevitable synergistic
effect of matching wires and other components,
in the process of declaring universal excellence.
Yeah, OK . . . consider yourself reminded.
However, it is still the best I have ever
Jennifer suggested the wire would benefit
from break-in, but not to expect huge changes.
I think she is understating this. The wires
just got better and better over about thirty
hours, with minor improvements up to about
the fifty-hour mark. Some of what the wires
do, I think I understand . . . but there
are some things that still baffle me. Let's
start with what I do
Extension and Transparency
I would reasonably expect wire
at this price
point to sound open, extended and highly
transparent. However, I was not expecting
to have my definition of these words pushed
to their very limits. Frankly,
they make everything else have
heard sound wiry, fogged and closed-in at
the frequency extremes. I found myself sadly
contemplating the ability of the ESP Grands
to resolve whatever they are fed, and the
vagaries of creative versus business success
that doomed ESP to obscurity.
Resolution and Smoothness
You can often get one or the other, but the
hyper-detail that so frequently passes for
HIFI resolution with many sets my teeth on
edge. "Incisive" often sounds like
"incisors" to me. A presentation
that allows me to hear the individual peas
in the gourd quickly looses its charm, when
it robs the emotional content of the music
and renders most "average" recordings
unlistenable. At the other end of the continuum,
smooth sounding stuff often obscures important
musical details. Not here. With
the Jena Labs products you will hear
new things from your most familiar recordings,
more than you may have thought was there,
and you will hear less too; less bite, less
tizz, less hardness . . . a lot less.
If the Jena Labs wires did only these things
as brilliantly as they do, they would still
be extraordinary products . . . but we are
Ok . . . so much for what I DO understand,
now lets talk about what I DON'T understand.
Perhaps the most valuable attribute of Jennifer's
wire, and certainly most difficult to understand
and describe, is the sense of quiet, as though
a significant amount of very low-level system
noise was simply eradicated.
It is a familiar life experience to most
of us; we experience something subtlety irritating
in some aspect of sensory awareness (visually,
noise, smells or some uncomfortable emotional
or physical sensation). The exact origin
of the discomfort is outside our conscious
awareness. We just know we are
. . . and then it's gone. Suddenly
and profoundly we
can breathe more easily. We can think more
clearly. Muscles relax . . . we feel peaceful
and contented. This is the most profound
and musical part of listening to music through
these extraordinary wires.
I sought explanation from designer Jennifer
Crock on how this could be. She laughed delightedly
at my description and launched into the "whys."
Her explanation made Douglas Hoffstadter's
Metamagical Themas seem about as intellectually
challenging as the Teletubbies© episode where
they explore the color orange. I know I as
clinically dead through a substantial part
of it (CLEAR!). Do YOU know what phonons
are and what they do? I sure as hell don't.
Jennifer is a dear, but she is out there
Intellectual confusion aside, I will tell
you what I hear. I think a lot of upper midrange/lower
treble energy in digital reproduction comes
out as "noise" because of time
coherency problems. We call this "tizz"
and we all abhor it, while assuming it is
just part and parcel of the current digital
standards. Well, that may not entirely be
the case. Imagine wires that can
sort the tizz and upper midrange crunchies
into something very much like music. Think
about all of the hard, tizzy, overly sibilant
digital recordings you have (especially the
ones where you love the music and hate the
recording). Now, think about those recordings
transformed into something that is not only
survivable, but also actually rewarding.
There are several important audible benefits
of this effect. The typical
edginess and hardness of many
digital recordings is resolved into spatial
cues, which adds enormously to the perception
of realistic space and air surrounding instruments
While the differences between digital
and analogue are still apparent, digital
is rendered in a smoother,
warmer, more lifelike manner. The heightened
resolution and coherency translates "tizz"
into "sparkle." This phenomenon
extends to resolving and calming harsh sibilants.
I cannot overstate this effect in reducing
the perception of noise and edge in most
Although my amplification is a mix of tube
(line stage and phono stage) and solid state
(power amp), I have had a number of recent
comments from listeners that it is very difficult
to discern whether they are listening to
tube or solid state. I translate these comments
to mean that they are hearing a significant
diminution of the "electronic"
signature so often
associated with solid-state amplification,
without the compromises in low-end control
and treble extension present with many tube-based
I realize I have not said much to this point
about the effect of the wire on analogue
recordings. The simplest, coherent description
I can give is "buttery." I am using
this term to suggest the liquidity and harmonic
richness of single-ended tube amplification,
without the artificial sweetness and weird
tonal shifts. Utterly seductive.
The reason why I emphasize digital recordings
in this review is because of the solution
Jena Labs offers to one of the most vexing
irritants of digital reproduction. If you,
like a lot of us, have a large digital
connection, you will find an investment in
Jena Labs wires will dramatically increase
the perceived value of your digital recordings.
These are very important
you may think you know about the vagaries
of connectors (interconnects, digital links,
speaker wire, etc.), the Jena Labs products
are passive components that will open your
music collection to the far corners, and
they warrant the most serious consideration.
Jennifer's wires have driven me deeper into
my large CD collection than I have been for
some time. Recordings I had decided were
simply digital disasters I now find enjoyable.
This translates to finding literally hundreds
of "new" discs in my collection.
most significantly for me, I no longer
pause before selecting a less than stellar
digital recording, balancing my interest
in the music with the memory of annoyance
with the recording. The Jena Labs wires not
only add enormously to the pleasure of listening
to my "core" recordings, but also
add greater value to my entire collection
The Symphony products are the top-of-the-line
for Jena Labs (short of Jennifer's custom
designed products). Jennifer uses the same
materials and construction techniques in
all of her products. Price differences reflect
the number of leads (three, five, seven,
etc.), rather than lesser materials or care
in construction (interconnect prices begin
at $130.00, speaker wire $800.00). Each piece
is hand built by the designer (try to find
that in with any of the majors). This means
that the buyer can purchase the entry-level
wires and upgrade at any time for the additional
materials and labor to add more leads.
are hand-built, artesinal products
(like comparing a Formula One racing car
to a mass-produced BMW or Mercedes), made
with the finest materials available, and
priced accordingly. However, you can spend
a great deal more and not achieve their rarified
performance. These are extraordinary products
and worthy of the often-misused appellation... state-of-the-art.
Weinhart Design is always interested in purchasing quality Audio, LP
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