TOWNSHEND AUDIO F1 FRACTAL REFERENCE SPEAKER CABLE, 2 METER PAIR
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Continuing forty years of development, the F1 Fractal™ speaker cable is Townshend’s first new speaker cable in fourteen years. Further refinements incorporate the most complete isolation methods and are entirely constructed by hand, taking days to complete. These and other audio housekeeping rules marry together to achieve the most transparent and neutral connection between amplifier and speakers imaginable.
The no-compromise option for sound quality.
The F1 Fractal™ speaker cable combines Townshend’s remarkable Fractal™ proprietary treatment which increases the conductivity by an amazing 12% with its impedance-matched cable geometry to bring you the most transparent, accurate and captivating speaker cable envisagable.
One of the most interesting aspects of this approach to speaker cable construction is the importance of impedance matching, derided by many, is is in fact of vital importance for undistorted, ultra-clear sound. The details of this work are covered in the white paper “The Sound of Music and the error in cables" authored by the founder of Townshend Audio, Max Townshend.
Two Fractal treated pure copper strip conductors are spaced with ultra-thin PTFE insulation with no adhesive and surrounded in flexible polyurethane polymer for truly comprehensive vibration damping. This entire construct is then encapsulated by a super-strong flexible conduit for ultimate protection, within hard-wearing woven polyester braid.
Each end of the cable incorporates house-keeping electronics to ensure stable operation with ALL amplifiers and features radio frequency interference reduction circuitry. All contained within a machined solid aluminium capsule, that also works as a transition between the twin-strips and the wire tails.
The Ear – 5 Stars Award Jason Kennedy-
“When I brought the F1 Fractal Speaker cables back to the listening room the transparency was immediately obvious and to a game changing degree that I have never encountered with cables, in fact I’ve rarely come across as big an upgrade anywhere. It really is like upgrading to an amplifier of twice the capability and price, or perhaps like the change from a Class A/B amp to a Class A, there is simply more information, a heck of a lot more.”
Rafael Todes - Allegri String Quartet
"I’m not a great believer in cables. They are not the sort of thing I enjoy reviewing.
Differences are fairly small, and you have to listen long and hard for differences that may not be obvious in a blind test. Using the Townshend F1 Fractal speaker cable was a different ball-game. I have various sets of expensive cable in the house, which shall remain nameless, and having swapped in and out the various cables, it rapidly became apparent that what the F1 Fractal were doing was blindingly obvious, and highly significant."
Listening to a Hi-Res recording of the 2nd Brahms Serenade, the F1 was removing a level of smudge and dirt from the music, the bass was tighter and cleaner, much easier to understand musically, but perhaps the largest difference was the 3-d chiselled soundscape they were creating.
I could suddenly hear the layering of the orchestra, where the instruments were located precisely in space, and with such clarity.
Changing back to the previous cables, the sound stage became completely two-dimensional, collapsed and it was as if my review system was no longer of a “high-end” persuasion.
Changing to the F1 was removing the greatest block in the system, and was making the greatest difference."
Speaker cable of the year 2018 Townshend F1 Fractal
“Townshend Audio has long been the company that never does it the way you expected, but always does it right. There’s a deliciously left-field approach to Townshend Audio’s design criteria that sweeps aside convention and makes something at once different and brilliant.
So it is with F1 Fractal, the latest in a long line of ‘break the rules’ loudspeaker cables.
Townshend mathematically calculated the optimum relationship between inductance and capacitance, for lowest distortion, caused by reflections in the cable. The result is fractal wire, which uses two closely spaced, ‘Fractally-treated’ pure copper strip conductors that are now insulated with ultra-thin PTFE, encased in synthetic rubber, and clamped within a strong, flexible conduit trimmed with woven polyester braid.
The ends of the cable are terminated in a metal enclosure containing an RLC network to prevent unstable amplifiers from oscillating, to reduce distortion, and to act as an RF filter. According to our review, “the bass is really tight, precisely formed, so the attack of the double bass section is absolutely clear and keeps time very well.
I am not aware of any colouration in the mid-band or top, meaning the F1’s yield an airy sound packed with detail.” Our reviewer concluded that “The lack of reflection in the cables, I think gives a clue to their greatest strength, which is the ability accurately to portray lifelike 3D space in a way that I have rarely heard from a speaker cable.” Rafael Todas HI-FI+ Issue 166
Product of the year 2017 – F1 Fractal speaker cable
"It’s not just about fine detail, F1 Fractal also produces bass that is more concrete and real than anything else I’ve encountered. Bass that gives the image a solidity and presence that creates a ‘being there’ sense of palpable reality, it really is in the premier league. That has always been a strength of Townshend cables but here it’s joined by a level of resolution that’s hard to match. It’s not dead neutrality either, it’s vibrant musical cohesion that produces the most spot-on timing you can hope to find."Jason Kennedy The Ear.
"Max Townshend has been an interesting and highly creative force on the British and International audio scene for the past 43 years, making huge contributions in many areas. Examples include The Rock turntable with its floating stabilizing paddle, supertweeters, and the Allegri preamp — the closest thing to a straight wire with gain. For the last 30 years, however, Townshend has increasingly focused on the role of vibration in audio, designing a family of Seismic Isolation products, to dampen unwanted isolation from the hi-fi system. While a relatively modest operation, Townshend is a mighty David to the industry’s Goliath!
Cable manufacturers tend to divide up into two sorts. There are those who listen to a vast number of cables, make their selection and market existing cables dressed up in artful sleeves. Then there are those who approach cable design from the ground upwards, using first principles and innovation. Townshend falls into category number two.
If I may be permitted to expound some of the thinking behind the design of the cables; the amplifier has effectively zero output impedance and the speaker load is mainly resistive with a nominal 8 ohm speaker having about 6.5 ohms resistance and the remainder reactive, comprising inductance and capacitance. Any speaker cable also has inductance, capacitance, as well as a small resistance. The value of inductance and capacitance is determined by the geometry of the cable, so the wider the spacing, the higher the inductance and the lower the capacitance and vice-versa. The optimum relationship between inductance and capacitance, as determined by computer modelling, for lowest distortion caused by reflections in the cable, is derived mathematically by making the ratio of inductance divided by capacitance equal to the resistance impedance of the speaker squared.
To achieve this correct ratio the cable must have a relatively high capacitance and low inductance. Townshend’s Isolda cable has used this design since 1980 to great acclaim using DCT treatment. (Townshend was the first UK adopter of this technology.) The new refinement is to use Fractal wire instead of DCT, a secret process that Townshend has developed. The two closely spaced, Fractally-treated pure copper strip conductors, which are now insulated with ultra thin PTFE, are encased in synthetic rubber and clamped within a strong, flexible conduit trimmed with woven polyester braid. The ends of the cable are terminated in a metal enclosure containing an RLC network to prevent unstable amplifiers from oscillating, to reduce distortion and to act as an RF filter; i.e., acting as an antenna. The cables, while flexible, look substantial.
Reviewers don’t like to change cables, it’s a pain in the proverbial because in our line of work we need a steady reference system into which we can drop new bits of kit. Reviewing cables isn’t so bad, you can kind of put them in and listen, but there are many who consider that it doesn’t make sense to put a speaker cable from brand A in a system where all the other wiring is by brand C. And there is a degree of logic in this, although it’s quite possible to mix and match cables with fine results, it’s easier to hear what a given manufacturer is trying to achieve if you listen to their products in context. What causes the biggest headache is if a cable you swap in is dramatically better than what it replaces, do you live with enlightenment for a while and then go back to something clearly inferior and come to terms with it or do you switch to the new cable. As you can imagine the temptation to do the latter is very strong but it does undermine the reference nature of the system. I have been happily using Townshend’s Isolda speaker cable for nigh on 20 years now, largely because I haven’t found anything better especially when it comes to bass extension, timing and image solidity. Some find it a little restrained in the treble but I suspect that that’s because it was designed to reject RFI (radio frequency interference) so it doesn’t ring at high frequencies which produces a brightness that works in some systems. Isolda works particularly well with a wide range of loudspeakers and amplifiers, even those that don’t like its high capacitance thanks to networks that Townshend builds into the terminals at the amplifier end. So I was surprised when Max Townshend said that for F1 Fractal he had made some major steps.
Like Isolda this cable has a pair of flat ribbons of copper in very close proximity in order to keep out RFI, but where the dielectric (insulation) on Isolda is polyester Fractal has a very thin strip of PTFE, a highly regarded dielectric found in the majority of high end cables. The strips of copper are smaller but more importantly they are housed in a flexible PVC conduit and damped with a polyurethane polymer. The conductors are therefore clamped all round to stop vibration, something that Townshend Audio have been eliminating in speakers and electronics with their Seismic isolation technology for years.
It might seem bizarre that cables are sensitive to vibration but look around the next high end show you visit and note how many brands are using cable elevators. Even fairly down to earth companies have noticed that raising speaker cables off the ground has a beneficial effect on the sound. Last time I went to visit Ken Ishiwata in his Eindhoven lair I noticed what looked like home made wooden cable elevators in the system, it’s worth trying with any cable and can be done with cardboard tubes and elastic bands if you’re handy with a craft knife.
The isolating method that Townshend employ means you don’t need elevators and provides consistent damping for the full length of each cable. But it can’t be made with a machine because the polymer needs to be poured into the casing as a liquid so that the conductors are held in the middle. This labour intensive approach makes Fractal expensive but as you will read it reaps rewards that are at least commensurate with the asking price.
The name Fractal refers to the radiation treatment copper conductors are given that enhances its sound quality, this was first demonstrated in the Fractal interconnects that have been available for a few years now and demonstrated a significant upgrade over the purely deep cryogenic treated (DCT) cables that Townshend makes. Having made the mistake of telling the world all about DCT and seeing it copied by all and sundry they are naturally disinclined to share the precise nature of Fractal treatment save to say that it costs £1,000 per kilo and is done in the United States.
The terminations on F1 Fractal are not only rather good looking but they house zobel networks at both ends, which means that whichever way round you use them they offer a constant impedance and won’t threaten the stability of amplifiers that rely on an inductive load. They also have a choke at each end which acts as an RF filter, speaker cables act as big aerials and the noise this produces is usually injected into the chassis of the amplifier, but not here. The cable is finished in woven jacket and supplied with connectors of your choice, I requested the hollow pin type as less is more when it comes to cable terminals and I hope that they will cope with the rigours of reviewing life.
My first real experience of F1 Fractal came at the Indulgence show where I incorporated them into the demo system, which while very good was hardly cost no object, but it soon became clear that this cable is extraordinarily revealing. I was hearing stuff that I had never encountered before, and this in a room that was compromised in many respects, not least as a result of the noise coming from other rooms. When I brought the cables back to the listening room the transparency was immediately obvious and to a game changing degree that I have never encountered with cables, in fact I’ve rarely come across as big an upgrade anywhere. It really is like upgrading to an amplifier of twice the capability and price, or perhaps like the change from a Class A/B amp to a Class A, there is simply more information, a heck of a lot more.
Highs are fully extended but calm and clean like nothing before. Lindsay Buckingham’s steel string acoustic on ‘Never Going Back’ (still the best track on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours IMHO) sounds sublime. It’s usually fresh and zingy but now all the ringing has gone and you’re left with the pristine resonances of a beautifully played instrument. F1 Fractal produced the sort of change that makes it difficult to adjust expectations when reviewing other pieces of kit because everything sounds so much better, well not everything because when set up isn’t quite right or pieces don’t gel with each other that is obvious too. It suddenly became much easier to tell when a stylus was warmed up, which seems to take at least two tracks with the moving coils I’ve been using of late.
It does this because the noise floor is so low, now cables shouldn’t have a noise floor being passive devices but as we know they have characteristics that can make them more or less susceptible to picking up noise and they are prone to ringing. They do the latter in such a fashion that it sounds like enhanced treble shine or brightness on a good day and or with a speaker that’s not too revealing, but put a very transparent speaker on the end of many cables and getting clean, extended highs becomes a challenge. F1 Fractal does extension without the glare that ringing produces, so as long as the source and amplification aren’t producing any nastiness in that area you get sweet, natural highs that reflect those laid down on the tape
Back with the system I stuck on Herbie Hancock’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ (Gershwin’s World, Verve) and revelled in the ease and richness of the piano, the full fat bass and the subtlety with which the trumpet’s quiet burblings end the piece, details that were the revealed in full for the first time thanks to this cable. It’s not just about fine detail, like Isolda this cable also produces bass that is more concrete and real than anything else I’ve encountered. Bass that gives the image a solidity and presence that creates a being there sense of palpable reality, it really is in the premier league. That has always been a strength of Townshend cables but here it’s joined by a level of resolution that’s hard to find. It’s not dead neutrality either, it’s vibrant musical cohesion that produces the most spot-on timing you can hope to find.
Good timing is often considered to be the domain of cables with a slightly forward balance, usually a balance achieved by the subtle ringing mentioned above. But you don’t need that balance to hear how the musicians are interacting with such perfect synchronicity, you just need maximum transparency. 2L’s fabulous Bellezza Crudel (Vivaldi, Tone Wik, Barokkanerne) recording reveals this perfectly, the music is so natural and relaxed yet it has a coherence and vivacity that’s inspiring. It really does open up everything you play, both in terms of analysis of what the musicians are doing and as a musical experience. When you come across an upgrade of this nature it really makes you wonder how much more there is to be heard, but I guess that’s what makes the pursuit of high fidelity so absorbing, you never know how much more there is.
So you can see why cable changes are a problem for reviewers, when the change is this dramatic it takes a while to come to terms with and during that time it’s necessary to adjust ones expectations of new pieces of kit. But in the long term greater transparency makes it easier to hear what the hardware is doing which helps so long as you don’t end up with a microscope that reveals flaws in the hardware that regular cables mask. It’s a balancing trick that means this cable is best suited to more serious kit, but the price should provide that filter, even if it’s the only filter to musical detail left in between amp and speaker."-Rafael Todas
"GEOMETRY MATTERS" Max Townshend