The Analysis Plus Oval 9 and Silver Oval speakers cables are excellent products, but are not interchangeable. Their sonic signatures are sufficiently different that the silver cable should not be considered an upgrade for the copper. Let’s take a step back and first look at the copper Oval 9. All comments below apply to the bi-wire versions of these cables, since my Merlin VSM-SE speakers are biwireable, I have always used them this way and never acquired jumpers to enable single wiring.
Side bar. I have often argued that a good equipment review should evaluate the component under test in at least two different systems. This would identify compatibility issues and highlight the real strengths and weaknesses of the component, and not just how it happens to perform when connected to a single component at one end and possibly another component at the other end. There is comfortable logic to that argument. It would be like taking a test drive on a winding mountain road and not finding out how the car cruises at high speed on the freeway. How can you predict how the component might perform in your system unless reviewers tell you how it performs in a variety of other systems?
However, my evaluation system has been very carefully – some might say obsessively – assembled over many years to yield very high resolution, wide-band neutral sound with a variety of sources, and that one critical characteristic that eludes most systems I’ve heard: pleasure. (See the Zen Page.) Also, my system is electrically benign, the preamp has standard input and low output impedances, the amplifiers have a relatively high input impedance of 100k ohms, and the speakers have a mild impedance curve and are relatively efficient. In other words, acoustically and electrically, the system used to evaluate these cables is neutral, ultra-revealing, and easily reproduced. The one caveat I would mention is that if you use very reactive speakers, such as some ribbon designs, they may present such an unusual load that the speaker cables would perform differently in your system. Uncommon but possible. Back to the case.
The Oval 9 replaced JPS Superconductor, which had been in-situ for over a year. Break-in passed really quickly; the cables settled down to about 90% of their final sound in about 5 hours, with the remaining 10% slowly developing over the next 40 or so hours. After those 5 hours, several changes in sound were immediately apparent. First, the midrange and treble became much more balanced with eachother. Where the JPS had the oft-noted speed and vibrancy, the Oval 9 was more relaxed and coherent without losing any detail. The JPS had a tendency to sound “hot”, and the AP avoided this completely. In fact, more detail was apparent, especially hall size and spatial cues, than with the JPS. In a three-week comparison with Harmonic Technology Pro 9+ bi-wire speaker cables, the area of very low level detail and spatial cues was where the Oval 9 was again superior. Otherwise, these two cables were remarkably similar.
Bass impact and depth also improved with the Oval 9, and the increase in bass detail was especially welcome. There was similar midrange presence and voices were delineated about the same with both cables. Overall, the AP Oval 9 gave a relaxed and detailed presentation without any tendency to highlight any one frequency range. No “tipped up highs” or “forward mids” at all. After about one year in my system, the performance remains very dimensional, dynamic, and balanced from low bass to high treble. Very nice.
So, its springtime. For some reason, this seems to be the season for love and upgrades! I brought in a bi-wire pair of Silver Oval for evaluation. The sparkling silver glistening through the clear jacket is very attractive and much better looking that the half-clear/half-purple jacketed Oval 9. And the Silver Oval is much smaller, 12 gauge vs. the Oval 9 which is, well, 9 gauge. After the first cut on the Well Tempered Reference table, I was enjoying the extra detail that seem to be a hallmark of silver cables. The Nylons, a cappella, was particularly intriguing with a sharply defined delineation to each voice. There was no apparent blurring or blending of the voices; each one stood out absolutely as an individual. I was starting to dig this silver! Turn the record over.
About half way through the 2nd side, this extra detail slowly started to become an intrusion on the performance, like I had a bad seat for a great performance. It was like turning up the focus or detail control on a monitor TV and seeing the pixels in too much relief from the overall picture. There was a small but noticeable highlighting of upper midrange and treble that took about 30 minutes of listening to become an issue. It was almost as if there was a dip between the midrange and upper treble because cymbals did not seem to have much body, although they would ring and “tinkle” like it would never end. It is not a good thing if your cymbals tinkle too much. Voices never sounded strident or glaring, but were more forward than with the Oval 9 cables. Bass notes had a bit more detail with the silver cable, while the gut-thumping impact I enjoyed with the Oval 9 was somewhat lessened. I played another couple of records, “master recordings” from Sting and Janis Ian, to see if the regular pressings were to blame, and then literally pulled the plug. In my system, the Silver Oval was just too much of a good thing due to a bit too much apparent detail that was out of balance with frequencies in close proximity to the “hot” treble.
With the very fast and extended Atmasphere OTL amps, the Oval 9 was the obvious winner. I’m back to using the copper Oval 9, a great cable, but don’t take the Silver Oval off your shopping list. It would be an ideal cable to try in a system using components with a “classic tube sound”, such as some from Cary or Conrad Johnson, or many SET amplifiers. In these systems, the Oval 9 might sound dark, but the Silver Oval could be just about perfect. Where the Oval 9 is an almost universal speaker cable, and an excellent performer, the Silver Oval is a bit more particular about the company it keeps.
OVAL 9 Overall Rating:
SILVER OVAL Overall Rating: 5 LPs