Jack English auditions the NBS Signature cables
Excerpted from Stereophile Magazine
NBS, which stands for Nothing But Signal, is a company of few words. Its advertisements make no outrageous claims and contain little hype. In fact, the ads barely say anything at all. The manual that comes with these cables is a two-page description consisting of 94 words. The key words are: NBS, handmade, Litz construction, multi-gauge high-purity copper, precise windings, silvered shielding, and passive-frequency inductance network. The company is essentially one person, Walter Fields...
...Staying with the basic NBS approach (check out that tight-lipped manual), I've decided to let the cables essentially speak for themselves. I rewired my system with Signature cables, with one exception-the connection between my Theta Data or Mark Levinson No.31 transports and my Mark Levinson No. 30 DAC. For that, I mostly stayed with the ST glass, with either an Altis or AudioQuest cable, though I also used the balanced NBS Signature and Madrigal MDC-1 digital cables, Signature interconnects went from the turntable to preamp, DAC to preamp, and preamp to amp(s). Signature speaker cable went from the amp(s) to various speakers. At various times during the course of this review. Magnan, XLO, Cardas, TARA Labs, Purist Audio, Kimber, and ARC LitzLine 2 cables were interchanged with the various NBS cables.
The first recording I listened to with the NBS-rewired system was Chris Rea's, New Light Through Old Windows (Geffen GHS 24232). I had just listened to parts of this recording in a dealer's showroom, and had been very disappointed in its overall sound. I'm a big Rea fan, and had expected much more because this recording had always sounded much better on my own system. With the NBS, the textural substance of Rea's voice was so well-reproduced that I actually thought I could reach out and touch it. While my intention was to simply listen to the tracks I had just heard at the dealer's, I had no choice but to simply sit back and listen to the entirety of this great recording. The richness and harmonic body were captivating...
...To challenge the applicability of the cables in different systems, I used them with three preamps (CAT SL-1 Signature, Melos 333 Gold, MFA MC-Reference), three amps (Audio Research Classic I 150's, Jadis Defy 7, Krell KSA-100S) and six sets of speakers (ProAc Response Fours and Three Signatures, Martin-Logan II Zs, Merlin Excalibur IIs, Clearfield Metropolitans, Swan Cygnuses). The analog front-ends included four cartridges (older/lower- and newer/ higher-output Transfigurations, Benz-Micro Ruby, Koetsu Pro IV) attached to either a Versa Dynamics Model L2 or SMLE Model 20 table with an SME 4.5Vi tonearm. In any of the various combinations that I tried, the NBS cables consistently allowed me to hear what the other components were doing. And once I had the final production versions, the cables drew very little attention to themselves.
As I tried to describe the sound of the NBS, I consistently found myself writing about the sound of the music or the colorations of other pieces of equipment in the system. For example, using the N13S with any number of analog or digital front-end's through various systems, I continued to get lost in the splendor of Chris Isaak's self-titled second album (Warner WI-25536). The resolution and clarity of the vibrato and tremolo effects were "touchable." Isaak's vocal inflections seemed visible, with a stunningly real mix of throat, chest, and moist lips persuasively whispering, pleading, and lamenting...
...Evenings with other friends were devoted to other types of music. For example, My friends, my wife, and I enjoyed comparing various artists' performances of Chopin's masterpieces. We relived Broadway shows, explored the piano mastery of Gonzalo Rubalcalba, Dave Brubeck, and Bill Evans, and reminisced with the Shirelles. Duane Eddy, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, the Temptations, and a host of others from the days of our youth.
In short, we listened to music and more music. Rarely did we discuss audio equipment.
I ultimately gave up my quest to find something to criticize. There was nothing I could find wrong with the Signatures. The NBS's outperformed every other interconnect and speaker cable I have tried in my system. The Signatures were simply a superlative product...
NBS has spared us from hype in their advertisements. Nonetheless, the company represents much of what is both right and wrong with high-end audio. On the downside, its cables are outrageously expensive. A long interconnect can cost more than a complete and sonically respectable Class D system. A complete complement of Signature cables can cost more than a decent car. Unfortunately, products such as the Wilson WAMMs, thc Jeff Rowland Model 9s, or the Mark Levinson Nos.30 and 31, are illustrative of where the high end has gone--much to the chagrin of music-loving, average-income audiophiles.
Sonically, the NBS Signature cables were stunning. While I have not heard every
available interconnect and speaker cable (nor, I assume, has anyone), I have heard
more than my share. There are a number of great cables available, most of them easily
Yet, with all appropriate caveats, I have never had cables in my system that exhibited as many virtues and as few faults as the NBS Cables. The NBS Signatures are, without question, the best interconnect and speaker cable I have heard.
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