I have been using a full compliment of NBS Monitor-0 cables for the past 12 months and now I feel qualified to make an assessment of these interesting and very high quality products.
Initially I was instructed to replace every cable in my system with the Monitor-0 cables. This included all power cords, interconnects, digital cables and speaker cables. NBS stresses the importance of all Monitor-0 cables in order to get the full benefit of the NBS sound.
I replaced every cable in my system with Monitor-0 cables and I let the cables settle in. I broke them in with music for 3 months before I allowed my curiosity to prevail. I then started replacing each NBS cable, one at a time, with my previous reference cables. I was interested to see just what each cable added or took away from the overall sound.
After many months of switching back and forth, I have formed a few opinions on the Monitor-0 cables. First, the negatives. There are two things that work against all of the Monitor-0 cables. First, they are very expensive. The cost to set up my system ran nearly $60,000. Second, they are very heavy, stiff and inflexible. There are several connections in my system where it is very difficult, even bordering on impossible, to use the cables because of their weight and stiffness. When you use NBS's extremely well-shielded cables, which offer perhaps the best shielding in the industry, you end up with cables that are not user-friendly. They are big, stiff and heavy! They are not for everyone on this basis alone.
All of the NBS Monitor-0 cables have the same "family of sound". This is a conclusion that is shared by two of my friends who also use the Monitor-0 cables. I describe the quality as full-bodied, rich, warm, tending to highlight the lower frequencies. This is not a negative for most systems. In fact, it is a sound that most listeners will prefer. It lends itself more to solid-state electronics than to tube electronics. The NBS "signature" sound is audible on all of their cables, even the power cords. There are times when I fell it is exactly the "flavor" I want and there are times when I feel that a "lighter" more transparent sound is the direction I want to go. By combining the NBS cables with other cables a balance can be reached that offers a bit of both schools of sound.
For me, I find that using all Monitor-0 cables does not yield the best results. By carefully mix and matching with other cables, the results are stunning. I realize that NBS advises against this, but in my system that is what works best.
Cables such as the top-of-the-line Nordost, represent the opposite tonal balance to NBS Monitor-0 cables.Which is right? Neither! Both! It depends on what you like. Currently, in my system I use a combination of both. I can state that there will be many golden-eared audiophiles who will prefer the Monitor-0 sound to anything else available - at any price. There will be some who will not. But that's high end audio for you. These cables are definitely class A state-of-the-art worthy. Any system that benefits from a full bodied and powerful bass type of sound will mate beautifully with NBS. I have had experience with previous NBS cables and all of them, even the less expensive versions, share the same general sonic signature. The new Monitor-0 cables share the full rich quality of previous NBS offerings but have greatly improved in the area of transparency. There is nothing overly dark sounding about these cables. When comparing them to the Nordost cables one could argue all day if one was too dark or the other was too light. The truth is beyond me and frankly I can enjoy both cables in spite of their differences. I see that Larry Alan Kay recently wrote in Absolute Sound, that he uses both in his system as well. Not surprising as we both use Trios and tube amps.
If your preference is a light and transparent type of sound, or if you use a tube-based system that is already full, rich and warm, then the NBS cable may not be for you. After all, it really is a matter of personal preference.
The audiophile community seems to be split evenly between those who prefer detail, powerful bass, digital and solid state on one side and those who would rather listen to analog and love their tube electronics and electrostats and horns on the other. I am in the latter camp. My system is based on Avantgarde Trios, Single ended triode mono amps and a tube line stage and phono stage. I enjoy both analog and digital and use very high quality front end components. I value a musically natural sound, transparency, staging and dynamics. The less I'm aware of my expensive and impressive array of components and the more I'm drawn into the music the happier I am. With that said, there are several places in my system that cling to the NBS Monitor-0 cables. If you can afford them, they definitely warrant an audition.
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