ZenWave Cables and SurgeX ZenWave Edition Review 
Home Theater Accessories AV Cables
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 15 January 2016

Cable manufacturer ZenWave Audio, out of Lafayette, CO, is headed up by Dave Cahoon, a passionate audiophile who has been on a mission to build the highest quality products, at the fairest price, with top shelf parts and materials. Reading on, you will see that he delivers on his
promise in many ways. ZenWave products are designed and built stateside, and can be ordered directly from their well-organized web shop.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I tend to avoid cable manufacturers who tout ultra proprietary, pseudo-scientific features coupled with marketing campaigns to appeal directly those who crave exclusivity above sonics. Yes, there are audiophiles who shop for cables based on price (the higher, the “better”), dubious technological claims, and believe it or not, appearance and product name. “The Golden Dragon Silver Moon” interconnect sounds a lot more intimidating than a bland model number.

First let’s start with the basic raw materials that all cables require, the metal. According to Dave Cahoon, “Neotech supplies lots of cable manufacturers, the highest end...if you google UPOCC audio cables pretty much every cable company that comes up will be using Neotech's wire or completed cables. Neotech is the only company producing wire using the OCC patented process, Furukowa used to but stopped in 2013 in favor of a less costly process. Also, many cable companies built their reputation using Neotech wire, then switched to a cheaper alternative.”

I received an entire loom of ZenWave cables for review, including one pair of D2 interconnects, which start at $325, one pair of D4 interconnects, which start at $950, three PL11 (11 gauge) power cords, which start at $529, and a set of SMC15 speaker cables, which start at $572. The SMC speaker cables are UPOCC copper cables. There are also SMSG silver/gold alloy speaker cables available starting at $1190, which are the equivalent to the D4 level of interconnect cable. The SMC are equivalent to the D2 level of interconnect cable.

It is important to discuss the quality of the wire and connectors in these cables, because they are equal to or surpass far, far more expensive cables. The D2 uses Furutech FP-108(R) RCA plugs and 4x Neotech 20 gauge EC-UPOCC cotton insulated litz wire. Each 20 gauge wire contains 256 strands of individually insulated 44 gauge UPOCC copper wire braided around a flat film core. The Ultra version uses WBT 0102 platinum-plated silver plugs. The standard XLR version uses Furutech FP-700 Series with gold plating and Furutech CF-600 Series with rhodium plating for the D2 Ultra XLR.

The D4 RCA uses the WBT 0102 Nexgen RCA plug with silver contacts with platinum plating, and for XLR, the Furutech CF-600 Series with rhodium plating. The wire is custom Neotech UPOCC Silver/Gold Alloy. This is a proprietary alloy made specifically for ZenWave.


The PL11 power cords use Neotech connectors and plugs, and a proprietary UPOCC copper litz with cotton insulation conductor wire. The superb Furutech FI-50 connectors/plugs are available for a $299 premium. The PL11 is impressive in build. Note it is also available in 14 gauge, and with custom terminations depending on country.

ZenWave speaker cables are available with a choice of wire gauge, and with either banana or spade connectors, from which you can choose a from a variety of the very best Furutech, Neotech, or WBT products. All cables are custom assembled based on your configuration.

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Set Up & Listening

The ZenWave cable loom was spread out across two systems and used with multiple components. In the main system the D2 and D4 interconnects were used with several USB DAC units and between a Rogue RP-5 tubed preamp (review in progress) and several power amps, including a Simaudio 760A, and an Audio Research VS55. The PL11 power cords were used on the preamp and power amps, and the speaker cables ran between the amps and both Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 and Bryston Mini T speakers. In the office system, the cables were used with an Onkyo M5000R power amp, an iFi Micro iDSD DAC, and a Tisbury Audio Mini Passive II.

I decided to add the cables in layers, so to speak, starting with the interconnects, then the speaker cables, then the power cords. I gave the cables a good three or four days to settle in before even paying attention, and when I did I realized there was a new sense of overall clarity, depth, and precision. This was the highest resolution I had ever experienced with either system, and there was an absolutely spot on balance, tonally.

I knew this was going to be a tricky review after several weeks of critical listening in that I was going to have to figure out a way to describe the sound of “nothing”. It was like hearing a direct link from component to component and amplifier to speaker. Also, the power cords were among the most impressive I have used, and that goes for models costing as much as five times more, with similar connectors. The task at hand is similar to trying to describe the clarity and of the purest water stream without sounding pompous.

Then it dawned on me the perfect word to describe ZenWave cable is indeed purity. The shimmer of a lightly struck cymbal, the strum of an acoustic guitar, and the presence of a close mic’d vocal were so pristine, and so precise in their location on the imaginary soundstage we call recordings, it removed much of the need to suspend disbelief.

On various albums by the terrific British band, Field Music, the superb interplay between the bass and drums, the smart electric guitar parts, and the arty arrangements were so easy to follow and groove along with, it was smile inducing. The track “Each Time Is A New Time”, from Field Music (Measure), was addicting. So were the arty lead off tracks from their fourth album, Plumb, “It’s About Time”, and “Start The Day Right”, complete with Beatlesque flourishes and a string section.

Vestiges & Claws, in 24/96 FLAC, showcases the mystical talents of Swedish singer songwriter Jose Gonzalez and his mix of Tim Buckley stream-of-consciousness with modern, alternative flourishes. There is an elegance to his productions that draw the listener in. Interestingly, this is how I began to feel about the ZenWave cables. They draw you into the music with sonic elegance. The track “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” is a hypnotic chant over syncopated percussion, and it was mesmerizing via the ZenWave system as when I saw Gonzalez perform it live earlier this year. I rarely get that connection.

A recently discovered album, Into Forever, 24/88 FLAC, by Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra, is treasure trove of exotic jazz pop, for lack of a better descriptor. The ZenWave loom was up to the task of unravelling the incredible mix of instruments, soaring melodies, and the unusual flourishes. The track, “Badder Weather”, featuring vocalist Josephine Oniyama, is just stunning, and played right into the strengths of the ZenWave cables. Namely, precision of tone, timbre, and the ability to recreate the space inherent in the recording. Piano, acoustic bass, drums, and harp all had their own location in the mix yet jelled as one coherent whole.

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The SurgeX ZenWave Edition Installation & Use

I introduced the ZenWave SurgeX once I was sure I understood the performance level of the signal cables and power cords. I normally use power conditioners in both my systems so I was curious to see if I would notice any drop in performance, or additive/subtractive qualities. I used it in both systems and had all components plugged into it. The unit is very rugged, more compact than others I have used, and mechanically silent. The basic ZenWave SurgeX starts at $950, with upgrades available.

I asked Cahoon about the design parameters, and noted, “the SurgeX you received has 8 outlets, 6 of which are Furutech GTX(R), the others are Furutech FPX(Cu). I do this for a demo so the receptacles can be compared if desired. The SurgeX comes with it's own 20 amp power cord. It requires a 20 amp IEC inlet to conform to code as it is a 20 amp appliance. I also mod the SurgeX SEQ, which has 14 outlets as well as sequential startup and shutdown and a LCD display with wall voltage and protection status.

The SurgeX ties all the power grounds together at one point, so it's best to plug the entire system into it to reduce noise and improve grounding. My power and IC cables use heavy-gauge ground connections as well that help reduce SCIN (shield current induced noise). I have not run into a component or system whose performance is degraded by the SurgeX.

 

Cahoon also notes “the SurgeX plus my cables also provides a lower impedance ground connection between components than most, which lowers the noise floor together with the emi/rfi filtration the SurgeX provides. The result is less noise and a more relaxed presentation. Compared to plugging into the wall or random boxes and using "regular" cables I've heard systems transformed from ordinary to something special, and good systems transformed into state of the art. Cables and power can make the difference between an ordinary listening experience and one that really draws you in.” Cahoon notes that upgrading the wall receptacle, preferably to Furutech, for consistency, would be the last piece of the puzzle that can optimize the entire system.

So let me end the suspense. The ZenWave SurgeX worked exactly as advertised and I experienced that mythical amazingly low “noise floor” often vaguely discussed. It is one of those things where “you know it when you see it”, or in this case, you know it when you hear it. It manifests itself is tighter, more precise bass, more sophisticated treble, more articulation of transients. I found only pluses with the ZenWave SurgeX, with no downsides whatsoever. Dynamic contrasts were totally intact on very familiar recordings.

The fact that the ZenWave modded SurgeX was providing results on par with much more expensive units was certainly an eye opener. This is a product that can be customized beyond the basic unit, and of course, if you need more receptacles, the larger scale SEQ model would fit the bill.

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Conclusion

I came away more than a bit impressed with ZenWave Audio after spending several months with their products. Their interconnects, speaker cables, and power cables are absolutely top shelf in sonic purity and build. ZenWave also makes digital cables, but unfortunately I was not able to try them as the DAC units I had on hand only accepted USB. But they are built to the same standard, and with the same grade of components,

While ZenWave products are not “cheap” they are absolutely fairly priced, if not underpriced compared to competing products in my opinion. All ZenWave products are made in the USA to boot. They also sell DIY parts and offer free domestic shipping. Consumer friendly audiophile manufacturers like ZenWave get my applause. Recommended highly for those looking for ultra high value and high performance audiophile cables.


Specifications


ZenWave D2 Interconnect Cables: Starting at $325
ZenWave D4 Interconnect Cables: Starting at $950
ZenWave PL11 Power Cables: Starting at $529
ZenWave SMC15 Speaker Cables: Starting at $572

www.zenwaveaudio.com


Review System 1


DAC: iFI Micro iDSD w/ iFi Micro USB 3.0
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Server: Bryston BDP-2
Preamp: CIAudio PLC-1 MKII, Rogue RP-5
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Simaudio 760A
Speaker: Bryston Mini T
Cables: Stager Sound, Acoustic Zen, Element Cable, DH Labs, iFi
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks and Svelte Shelves, Shakti Stone, Bryston BIT-15, Salamander rack

Review System 2


Music Server: SOtM sMS-100 w/ Battery XPS
Preamp: MicroZOTL 2.0
DAC: iFi Micro iDSD w/i iFi Micro iUSB 3.0
Power Amplifier: REGUM Audio BLACK RGi35ENR , Onkyo M5000R
Tape Deck: Sony TC-350
Speaker: Magnepan MMG
Cables: Stager Sound, Transparent, DH Labs
Accessories: Cable Pro Noisetrapper, iFi iPower, Audience aR6

 






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