I meant to include the Furutech NCF interconnects as part of a big XLR interconnect comparo that included Cardas and AudioQuest. Over time, I had to break the review up because a) I don’t like doing comparos in the first place and 2) comparing XLRs or any kind of cables is fraught with the possibility of screwing up the A/B protocols. No one’s been able to pass an blind A/B comparison on cables yet–isn’t that the narrative among skeptics?
After a few months of burning in and swapping and waiting for review amplification that actually had XLR inputs, I realized that the Furutech Lineflux NCF interconnects were languishing, relatively unused over the course of their stay. I stressed out a bit and tried to find a way to use these in my system…NOW.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Furutech noticed, too, and they sent me a message asking if all was well. I mentioned some of the obstacles I had faced, and before I knew it I was offered the new Furutech PowerFlux NCF-18 power cords to replace a couple of the Furutech Powerflux power cords I’ve used consistently for the last decade. I sighed in relief–I no longer felt the need to scramble desperately for some XLR inputs, and power cords were definitely a product that I could install and use immediately.
As the late Tom Sizemore said in Saving Private Ryan, “we’re definitely in business!”
What Is NCF?
If you’re not aware of Furutech’s NCF technology, however, it’s fairly simple. NCF stands for Nano Crystal² Formula, which is a compound the Japanese company developed a few years back. Furutech’s research showed that this crystalline material was able to “generate negative ions that eliminate static” and “converts thermal energy into far infrared.” Furthermore, NCF acts as an effective damping material.
I’ve been using Furutech’s NCF products for many years, starting with the original NCF Booster which is a cradle-type device that sits underneath your cables. Then I tried the NCF Booster Signal L cradles, which were a more affordable version of the Booster that could be used in greater numbers along the less critical mechanical and electrical junctions. (The original Booster is best used on the power cord that gets plugged into the AC outlet, and on each speaker cable–and perhaps one more at the power amp.)
From there I tried the NCF Clear Line, which is one of those self-contained cylinders that gets plugged anywhere on the same electrical circuit, and now I’m trying out one pair of Furutech NCF interconnects (XLR) and two of the NCF power cords. I’m also going to use every other NCF product I’ve kept along the way just to see if the cumulative effect on the noise floor is the same as other products I’ve tried over the last couple of years. That’s the one of the main reasons I returned to these NCF products after exploring so many other noise suppression approaches. Deep down, I’ve always felt that these different products are part of the same team. They’re not competing–they’re working together.
Inside the Furutech NCF Interconnects and Power Cords
First of all, I’ve been using the same loom of Furutech cables for well over a decade now. They’re from the top of the line, or what was ten years ago: Speakerflux 06 speaker cables, Lineflux RCA interconnects and Alpha PS-950-18 power cords. Back when I was an importer and distributor, I did a room share with Furutech using this exact loom. After the show, Furutech asked us to hold onto the cables so we could continue to be room partners in the future. I was more than happy to use Furutech for many years–I was very confident about the sound quality of this loom, they cables looked shiny and expensive and impressive in the exhibit rooms, and I always had some killer cables to use in my own reference system if needed.
Over the years, I’ve reviewed many different cables from many different brands. Some I thought were pretty nifty, others less so–although this mostly occurred with so-called budget cables. But the Furutech cables have endured. I consider them just on the warm side of the spectrum, which is to my taste. My other two reference looms are from Cardas, which is slightly warmer, and AudioQuest, which is closer to neutral. The longer I use these three brands of cable, the more I realize they have a lot in common in terms of how they react with my ever-evolving systems. All three are consistent and reliable, with just a small amount of sonic differences to qualify as those slightly different flavors of ice cream we all love to mention in this hobby.
Then I started reviewing all those Furutech NCF products, and I realized I had stumbled onto something unique. The Furutech NCF Boosters, those small but hefty trestles for all your cables, were truly my first venture into the world of noise suppression. I heard a difference by merely putting my ear close to the woofers of my speakers and immediately noticing a reduction in the electronic presence I heard when I merely laid a loudspeaker cable upon that cradle. Once I had experienced the improvements that NCF yielded, I started investigating grounding systems, power conditioners, ethernet switches and components that use expensive raw materials known to reduce inductance, which creates noise.
In a way, all of these approaches solved the same problems in different ways. They all lowered the noise floor of my system. I’ve talked to many people about the importance of these noise suppression devices, and how the need for a lower noise floor is paramount in this Age of Copious Wireless Technologies.
While I experimented with a number of products from such companies as AudioQuest, Nordost, Atlas Cables and Ansuz, I kept looking over at my idle pile of Furutech NCF products and wondered if all these approaches were aimed at the same result, sort of like the multiple paths to Nirvana. I lack the technical prowess to answer this question on my own, but my ears think I’m on to something.
Furutech NCF Interconnects and Power Cords Set-Up
One of the many considerations in this review concerned the placement of the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords. I do know that power cords reveal their characters more clearly when you start with the first power cord, the one that gets plugged into the AC outlet on the wall. In my case, that first cord was plugged in between the wall and the AudioQuest Niagara 3000 power conditioner. (In some of these photos, the power cord in the AC outlet is an AudioQuest–that’s just me, swapping around and trying things.) I was going to place the second Furutech NCF power cord between the preamplifier and the source–another prominent vote-getter for the best place to hear differences in your system–but then I realized oops, that’s for the Furutech NCF interconnect.
So the second Furutech NCF power cord went between power amp and the AudioQuest Niagara 3000. And if you’re one of those audiophiles who insist that the power amplifier must always be plugged directly into the wall, I’ll remind you that this Niagara was designed specifically to handle power amplifiers as well, and I’ve never heard a sonic difference between those two configurations while using it these past four years.
I started with this configuration, just the single pair of Furutech NCF interconnects and the two NCF power cords. I took notes. Then I slowly added all of the other NCF products I own–all the Boosters kept the cables off the ground, and the Clear Line NCF was plugged into the same outlet as the Niagara. (It’s possible to plug the Clear Line directly into a spare outlet on the Niagara, but the differences are negligible and I appreciate having a spare outlet available on the power conditioner if needed.)
Other noise suppression devices I have on hand, products from Ansuz and AudioQuest, may have wound up in the system at various points during the evaluation period. And since I’ve had the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords in and out of the system over the last year, they’ve played with a lot of friends in a many different system configurations. As you can see, this is quite the rabbit hole.
The Sound of NCF
Hah! That was a trap! Cables don’t have a sound!
Now that I’ve headed that audiophile trope off at the pass, I do have to return to my history with NCF, and how the Boosters made an immediate impact on the sound of my system by reducing that slight electronic rush I used to hear in most systems. Welp, they work! Let’s write up the review! What I failed to notice, at least until I reviewed the AudioQuest GroundGoody grounding cables, was that there was much more to hear when the noise floor is lowered. Through all these reviews I started to focus on the real reason for reducing noise in your system, which is allowing more of the music to get through to your earholes.
So it’s a nice parlor trick to scoot on up to your favorite loudspeakers and hear the difference a grounding device can make, and to hear those same differences from the listening position. That noise you hear with your head next to the phase plug probably isn’t audible from your Eames. But you should hear something else. And that’s what I heard when I installed the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords in the system.
This is what I hear whenever the noise floor in my audio system has been lowered significantly:
- Your listening room becomes very quiet, so much so that you start to notice how noisy the rest of your house is. You’ll start to notice that your basic bodily functions are pretty noisy as well.
- Transient edges get a lot sharper. There’s no haze, no blurring, just a noise occurring naturally in sheer space.
- Clarity and transparency increases, to the point where inner detail is enhanced. This is when you start hearing things you’ve never heard before during familiar recordings.
I could probably come up with a few more, but those are the three areas of improvement I notice first when the noise floor is lowered. While I’ve been able to separate those improvements individually, you notice something different in real time–that everything just seems to work better as a whole. All those musical equations start to solve themselves. Ideas leap out of the speakers and into your lap. You become more engaged with the sound.
Listening with Furutech NCF Interconnects and Power Cords
I’ve mentioned many times that it’s easier to hear the benefits of a particularly product in your audio system after you remove it. As I’ve learned during my big XLR science fair project, it takes a while for cables to settle in. More importantly, it takes time for you to discover those inherent strengths and weaknesses, the things you like and the things you don’t like.
So I let the fully NCF’d system, with the power cords and the interconnects and the boosters and the clear lines, play for months. Then I took it all out.
I didn’t like that at all. My initial impression was that everything flattened out. The overall presentation became less three-dimensional, something I didn’t expect from a bunch of cables embedded with a proprietary carbon-based compound. The best way to describe this was I lost interest in the system. I didn’t necessarily feel this way going the other direction, while installing the NCF products–I could hear the noise floor beating a hasty retreat as I added the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords and all the other devices, but I didn’t notice anything about the imaging and soundstaging. But without the NCF products in the system, I felt less interested in what was going on.
I’m not saying that all noise suppression approaches incur the same sonic results. I have no idea if that’s true or not, although I’m open to a discussion about it. What I am saying is that lowering the noise floor is a fairly linear mission, and you should pick a noise suppression device based on its ability to work efficiently and, perhaps, how easy it is to install in your system so you can hear the benefits for yourself without doubt. Cost, of course, will enter into the discussion among most people. On a product like the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords, it isn’t about plugging in a mysterious little box and expecting it to be a panacea. It’s adding something to your system that you already need.
That’s why I keep telling people to pay attention to grounding and noise suppression in your system. This isn’t a tweak, it’s a basic scientific principle. Try it and determine if it helps. For me it does, and in a way that prevents me from plugging in an audio system without some sort of grounding or noise suppression or power distribution–preferable all three, of course.
After this round with the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords, I’ve come up with a few more observations about lowering the noise floor of your high-end audio system. First of all, you can hear similar improvements whether you’re focused on grounding the system, reducing inductance through the use of materials or, in Furutech’s case, developing a material that yields positive results both in the lab and during listening tests. In other words, I haven’t been able to notice a difference in the “quality” of noise suppression devices since it all seems to be about the “quantity” of noise that’s eliminated.
That leads straight to the amount of devices you need to lower the noise floor of your audio system as much as you possibly can–this is where I hastily inject the phrase “within reason” or “according to your budget.” The effect of all these devices, after all, is cumulative. I couldn’t find an example of when one particular product cancelled out the effects of another. Whether I used the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords by themselves, or with a variety of other noise suppression devices I have on hand, I discovered “the more the merrier.” I would suspect there’s an exception when it comes to devices that are active rather than passive–as I previously hinted, I’m not a big fan of plugging in a lot of components and accessories at one time, in one system.
That flows into one final point, which is more of a gentle caveat. The Law of Diminishing Returns does kick in when it comes to attacking noise. I found that the more noise suppression devices I added to my system, the smaller the improvement. It’s a big jump just swapping out that first power cord that plugs into the AC outlet. The next handful of devices keep lowering the noise floor. But there is a point where you probably can’t hear the lowering of the noise floor any more, despite the fact that it is probably still happening in a measurable way. So that means you can try these devices and evaluate them and stop spending money when you feel satisfied that you did the right thing by diving into this particular rabbit hole.
So why pick the Furutech NCF interconnects and power cords over the other products out there? I suppose it’s this: you’re already getting an amazing product without the NCF. I know, because I’ve used these Furutech cables for a very long time and they’re one of my favorites. The NCF is a gift–it’s like getting two products in one. So while these cables are not inexpensive–the Lineflux NCF interconnect is $2,260 for a 1.2 meter pair, and the PowerFlux NCF-18s are $3,194 each for 1.8 meters–they’re pulling double duty. Highly recommended.