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RMAF 2014: Thrax, Sutherland and EnKlein

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Logo - Blue VectorI like Dave Kleinbeck of EnKlein Cables. A lot. That dude is smart as hell and has a sense of humor rare in this industry. That is, he’s completely bent. That sort of combo needs to be cherished.

His cables are crazy, thought. I mean that in the best way, but wow. When you get a smart guy to do hard work on something complicated and subtle, the results can be excellent. I wish I could afford them! But let’s pull things apart a bit.

First up is the shielding. The literature describes it as EMISS, short for “electromagnetic Interposition Shielding System”. Dave calls it “Dragon Skin”. EMISS is a 4-part shield that leverages “super-metal” alloys of cobalt, nickel, aluminum, copper and steel. This shield “protects” the signal from interference and also reduces EMI generated by the cable itself. Four layers? Yep, and that’s just the shield. As for the conductors, well, they have a patent pending on their cable topology. Nifty. This year, the EnKlein team released a flat-ribbon USB cable called TReK (prices start at $2,500 for 1m). It’s big, it’s yellow, and it’s all Dragon-skinned. And since i have one here at home, I can assure you that it rocks.

But I’m not familiar with their more run-of-the-mill offerings. You know. Their analog cables. The new David line leverages a silver/silver-copper hybrid wire and also now features Dragon Skin tech. The price is a … high … and starts at $16k for speaker cables and $14k for interconnects. Fine, these cables are admittedly expensive, but aside from the materials and R&D, apparently they’re also extremely difficult to make — each David speaker cable incorporates over 100 parts and can take up to two days to make.

Given how prohibitive the cost-to-entry is for the David, EnKlein has introduced a radically more affordable line, called the Prairie Fire. This line has been recently upgrade to v2 status, and like the David, moves away from ribbon conductors and adds EMISS. Pricing starts at $1,700 for interconnects and $2,647 for speaker cables. Unlike the silver Davids, the Prairie Fire are all copper, and while also skinned with Dragon tech, here the full scale has been reeled back to “only” 3-layers of shielding. This is the cabling that was used here at RMAF.

The electronics were all from the Nixie-tube loving Sutherland Engineering. The $4k N1 preamplifier winked at me, I’m pretty sure; analog tubes for digital readouts is very cool, in my book. It’s single-ended only, but does come with a remote for volume, input selection and mute.

A pair of Sutherland amplifiers ($3k each) led off rack to the newest kid on the block the Spatial Edition phono preamplifier. This phono pre was sitting on the table, next to the rack. As if it needed the extra attention, or as if we were likely to miss it. The coppery face plate and wooden enclosure were enough to signal a big departure, but with that said, I was shocked that the sticker price on the new flagship was going to be $21,000.

So, what does all that get you? A 3-D architecture.

There are six layers to the construction. This does all kinds of neat things for layout optimization, but here’s the summary:

  1. Two vertical relay boards. One for gain settings. One for loading settings.
  2. Signal path layer. All point-to-point, hand-wired with solid silver wire. All signal path wiring is elevated by Teflon stand-offs.
  3. Solid copper ground plane
  4. ⅛” thick fiberglass foundational layer, completely shielded from signal components
  5. Solid copper power planes
  6. Multiple fil and electrolytic power decoupling capacitors on the bottom

More features:

  • Gain settings: from 55 to 74dB, in 3dB steps
  • Loading options: from 10Ω to 1270Ω, at 10Ω increments over 127 steps
  • Single-ended and balanced inputs and outputs.

The turntable was a Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L.

Speakers in the room were … varied. Which is where the story of the room begins to unravel. It all started so well …

On Friday, I found some Joseph Audio stand-mounts. Not sure what was going here, but they just never came on-song.

Later, I saw Dave wheeling in a pair of stand-mounts from Thrax. Locking these in proved challenging.

Ultimately, neither set seemed to “settle in” in time for the show, so depending on when you traveled through, you were treated to some degree of disconnect. I’m told that by Sunday, the irregularities had been largely addressed, but I was unable to make it back through.

Next time ….

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.