All Natural. No artificial flavors or colors.
That in essence describes the Shunyata Omega interconnects and speaker cable.
Artificial chocolate flavoring often has an initially intense taste that awakes the palate with a “bang.” But after a few seconds, the taste rapidly fades and is often replaced with a “metallic” aftertaste that reveals its manufactured origin.
In contrast, natural cocoa may not provide as great an initial “bang”, but the flavor lingers, revealing subtitles, hints of its origin, its “breeding” if you will.
When this analogy is applied to music, it relates to the ability to detect the tonal character of the instruments, the subtle differences in technique used by the musician, the layers or complexities of the composition so keenly and carefully crafted by the composer, and indeed, even the genius of the engineers who record, mix and produce the final product (whether digital or vinyl).
For those of us who listen predominantly to classical and jazz, being able to identify these characteristics is part of the musical experience. True, we want coherency and fluidity, but we also want to appreciate the individual talents of the members of the ensemble, the composer and conductor.
So we describe an amp, DAC, turntable or cable in terms of articulation, tightness of the bass, brightness of the treble, emphasis of the midrange vs other octaves, separation of the instruments, soundstage dimensions, etc. In essence, we are looking for the subtleties of flavor, color of the ingredient— is it all natural or artificial?
With this in mind, I evaluated the Shunyata Omega cable. (Note that I did so in comparison to the Shunyata Sigma, latest version, cables which in a previous review, I concluded were clearer, more articulate, more accurate, more cohesive than the Nordost Valhalla 2s I had been using.)
The Omegas presented more music and less sound. Sound can be anything that vibrates the hairs in our inner ear, noise or signal. Music has meaning, soul, movement. The Omegas presented the signal as music and I often found myself air conducting, eyes closed, enjoying a live performance or even joining into the song. The presentation was more realistic, more enlivened, more genuine, evoking more involvement and emotion from me as listener.
The soundstage is wider, in some cases remarkably so to the point I felt positioned on the conductor’s platform. The stage is also much deeper. The horns were clearly at the back of the stage, a soloist front and center, a singer well separated (recording allowing) from the instruments and backup chorus.
The bass was impactful (at times I could feel the vibrations from the pedal notes of the organ) and definitely not blurry or muddy (again, recording permitting). When a great organ reverberated a chord of pedal notes (e.g. Bach or Poulenc), each could be discerned, but without detracting from the impact of the chord itself. There was excellent articulation so that you could discern the method of “plucking” the strings of the double bass in a jazz trio, or the bowing of the violins in an orchestral piece such as Vivaldi’s Four Season.
At the other extreme, I thought my hearing had long lost the ability to hear the upper most octave notes of the smallest pipe (1 cm?) of the organ or smallest chime or triangle.
Fortunately, it was only an issue of losing such fragile notes in the ether of noise, rather than presenting it distinctly, clearly, separately as the Omega was so capable of doing.
Also, so often I have blamed a recording for “brightness” by which I mean a harshness or shrillness, of the violins’ high notes. At times, I have shelved an LP as poorly recorded because of the screechy character of the strings. The Omegas tamed this tendency to such a degree, that I had, in several instances, to A/B the Sigma with the Omega just to “find” the passages where this was an issue; it simply disappeared for most of the recordings. (Alas, a few really were poorly produced and even Omegas could not salvage them.).
At first, I worried that this was achieved by clipping or “rounding” the treble. So, I had a friend who is a semi-professional musician come and listen (blindly, he only new the cables as O and S or Black and Grey). He concurred with my observations and agreed that there was no clipping. We discussed how to convey what we were hearing and concluded that the best analogy (and perhaps most accurate) was to think of a sine wave. The Omegas were NOT decreasing the height or width of the wave.. no clipping. Furthermore, the wave was smooth (he used the term “buttery”, but I protested that descriptor would suggest poor articulation or homogenization of the sound which he emphasized was the opposite of his intention). There were no “jagged” edges as the wave rose and fell, just a smooth, natural swell and abatement. The articulation certainly also derived from a near total lack of “noise” which to continue the analogy, was achieved not by clipping the wave such that a space was artificially created, but rather allowing the wave to come completely to the bottom of the trough without allowing that trough to be raised by noise.
All Natural, no artificial flavors.
The midrange was clear, articulate and in association with the bass and treble revealed what my friend called “layers” of the composition and orchestration. If so desired, I could track any particular instrument or section of the orchestra, band or small ensemble, even when the composition became very “dense” with each section presenting its own “melody”. Yet, close your eyes and the presentation was completely coherent, integrated. The subtle nuances of flavor and color distinct yet blended. (OK, got to say it: Stirred not shaken.)
My friend plays guitar, so we listened to Friday Night in San Francisco. Every note (and I do believe I heard more notes with the Omegas than with the Sigmas (and the latter had already evoked the response “how can a human move his fingers at that speed”) was clear. My friend pointed out that one guitar had steel strings, the other nylon, and that the techniques were different in terms of the fingering. The notes, faster than 1/64ths, were distinct, and yet, there was that resonance, that tonal character that allowed the distinction in the nylon vs steel. That is detail. Yet, such resolution, articulation, did not detract in the least from the music per se, rather it just deepened the appreciation of the performance. Incidentally, the venue and audience were presented in such a realistic manner that you could really feel part of the “scene”.
I must emphasize that the tonal character, the timbre of each instrument was nearly perfect. Double reeds sounded thus, the French horns were mellow, the trumpet either sweet or purposely “bright” (in positive connotation). The musician playing the tuba (tubist?) could create a smooth sound or a guttural grunt by choice. Tympani had tonal quality as well as resonance. Cymbals shimmered and the sound varied appropriately reflecting whether they were struck, gently brushed or hit. Chimes and cymbals resonated with a decay that, when the musician allowed, could last measures, gradually dissipating. Natural, not artificial.
A particularly interesting example was Hohvaness’ Mount St Helens where he uses what I believe to be sheets of metal that are flexed to create a unique sound which, along with every conceivable drum and percussion instrument, represents the eruption.
All natural, no artificial color.
I did this audition in two steps: first replacing just the XLR interconnect between the preamp (ARC Ref 6SE) and the mono block amps (Rogue Audio Apollo Darks). Frankly, this had the largest impact and by itself provided at least 80 - 85% of the improvement in presentation, regardless of whether I used my DAC or turntable as source.
In step two, I then added the Omega speaker cables (i.e. replaced the Sigma speaker cables but kept the Omega XLR and all other cables the same). This improved the presentation between 15 to 20% depending very much on the recording.
The Sigma cables are excellent, they are not grossly colored and present an honest picture of the recording. They are articulate and except for perhaps an occasional harshness in the upper registers of the violins, tonally accurate. They are not fatiguing and are certainly musical and engaging. They are, simply, very good, in fact, excellent as evidenced by being able to convey 80 - 85% of the improvement provided by the single Omega XLR cable from pre amp to mono blocks.
BUT, the Omegas are at least a magnitude more enveloping, encompassing, engaging, musical. They have a fullness, richness, wholeness without a loss of articulation that presents music not just sound.
Simply All Natural, no artificial flavors or colors.
I suspect that the presentation of the Omega cables, like any cable, depends on the system. My system consists of: speakers are Sonus Faber Il Cremonese. All component power cords are Sigma and are connected to an Everest which in turn is connected via an Omega XC cable to a dedicated 20A circuit. The components are grounded to an Altaira via Sigma ground cables and the Altaira is connected to the Everest by an Omega ground cable. The preamp is an ARC Ref6SE, the DAC is a dCS Rossini Apex, the turntable an AMG Viella and the cartridge is a Sound Smith Strain Gauge with its proprietary “phono amp.” The tone arm cable is an AMG but marked Cardas (I believe equivalent to Cardas Blue Beyond). All interconnects are Sigma, latest version.
I want to thank Steve at JS Audio (Bethesda, Md) and Richard at Shunyata for their generosity in loaning me the Omega cables for audition.
(A) What I have learned in auditioning first the Sigmas and now the Omegas, is that before denigrating a component and purchasing another, try a change in cabling. With the Sigma and even more so with the Omegas, I discovered that I had no where near reached the limits of my system. I didn’t need better speakers or amps; I just needed to free them to show all their capabilities, and that the Omegas certainly did. Perhaps we really need to consider cables as
an essential “component” of our systems and not just “wire.” And, despite the high price, changing cables may be much less expensive than “upgrading” components.
(B) Some of the selections used during the evaluation included (for vinyl)
(1) Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani and Concert Champetre for Harpsicord and Orchestra, Simon Preston and Andre Previn, Angel
(2) Friday Night in San Francisco, Dimeola, Mclaughlin, Deluca Impex
(3) Vivaldi Le Quattro Stagioni Fabio Biondi. Erato
(4) Vivaldi Four Seasons Itzhak Perlman, Angel
(5) Bach Toccata and Fugue BWV 565. Deutsche Grammophon (6) Ellington Jazz Party in Stereo. (Reissue)
And for downloaded digital varying from 16/44 to DSD in resolution:
(1) Michael Daugherty Philadelphia Stories
(2) Michael Daugherty Fire&Blood, Motor City Triptych (3) Hoff Ensemble Quiet Winter Night
(4) Lasxlo Mdarozi Tuba Concerto
(5) Elan Mehler Early Sunday Morning
(6) Peter Boyer. Symphony #1
(7) Beethoven for Three (Yo Yo Ma et al)
(8) Joel Van Lerben Legende