MG AUDIO CABLES
PLANUS I SPEAKER CABLES - $350/6-FOOT PAIR
PLANUS II SPEAKER CABLES - $850/6-FOOT PAIR
PLANUS CU INTERCONNECT CABLES - $500/1 METER PAIR
PLANUS AG INTERCONNECT CABLES - $1,000/1 METER PAIR
BRIAN BOEHLER, MARVIN BOLDEN and JAMES DARBY
MG Audio is a new cable company that is offering some recently developed and released products that focus on value, solid design, high grade materials with minimal marketing and engineering snake oil. There seem to be so many new “cable” companies sprouting up that most audiophiles approach this product category with a high dose of skepticism and for good reason. How can a simple interconnect cost from a low of $5.00 to over $20,000? We have all grown cynical of this situation and frankly don’t know what is real value based on real parts cost/reasonable mark-up and what is clever marketing and luxury pricing for the sake of saying you own some of the most expensive cables in the world.
Most reviewers don’t relish trying to describe what a set of cables do to the sound of a system. Have you ever read a review where the cable took a reasonable system and turned it into a world class beater? Really, can a cable make that much difference or are we talking about hyperbole that leaves you shaking your head? Well, cables can and do make a difference, but how much, what kind and how does that equate to the price/performance ratio? That, dear readers, is where we come in. We will do our best and work our hardest to give you the real, unvarnished dope on cables we review, just like everything else we put our ears and minds to.
In this instance, we have the opinions of not one, not two, but three seasoned reviewers on the case, including our publisher James Darby who usually focuses on other aspects of a stereo system, but that’s another little wrinkle to this review you’ll just have to wait to be revealed.
WHO IS MG AUDIO?
MG Audio is a combination of two gentlemen that have been audiophiles for over 30 years. The two come at this venture from different perspectives but ultimately complement each other very well. Lee Matuszczak, Head of Product Development, worked for the government for 35 years. He has a BS in Electrical Engineering and worked in the Electrical Design Division and Electric Power Lab for Reclamation. Lee designed electronic systems for a variety of federal facilities, including computer-based control systems, test systems, and electronic controls. He then spent 12 years working on government computer security managing cyber security systems and personnel for Reclamation. Lee is a typical engineer on the one hand but willing to “listen” and admits that sometimes what he hears does not correlate with what is happening based on science and math. Lee is now retired and enjoying his free time designing/building speakers and making cables.
Greg Graff is the Chief Operating Officer and approached this venture from the musician side of the equation. Greg played bass guitar, stand-up and electric in a number of jazz and rock bands. Greg just listens to the result and isn’t particularly concerned about the science and math. He just wants the intricate tapestry that is music to come through the technology and ultimately engage the listener. I believe this combination of different approaches and perspectives has led to some exciting discoveries that are manifest in their current range of products.
THE BEST LAID PLANUS
MG Audio currently offers two speaker wires and two interconnects. Both speaker wires are the flat, ribbon style for which Nordost is famous. The speaker wires and interconnects have the legs of the conductors running side-by-side to minimize both inductance and capacitance. The difference between the two models of speaker wires is the dielectric materials used and the widths of the raw material which is copper. The Planus I is their reference level speaker wire and uses mylar and acrylic for the dielectric. An 6 foot pair of Planus I cost $350 which is quite reasonable in the world of uber expensive cables. The Planus II is slightly thinner (foil gauge) and wider in width and uses Teflon as the dielectric. This is their state-of-the-art speaker wire. An 6 foot pair of Planus II costs $1000. Both speaker wires are available in standard lengths of 6, 8, or 10 feet.
For interconnects, MG Audio offers the Planus CU (Copper) or the Planus AG (Silver). The only difference between the Planus CU interconnect and Planus AG interconnect is the type of foil used, one copper and one silver. They both use Teflon as the dielectric. The Planus CU is cryogenically treated but the Planus AG is not. Extensive listening found that silver does not react in the same positive manner as copper. Both interconnects are available in either meter or meter and a half lengths. The Planus CU costs $500 in one meter length and the Planus AG costs $1000 in one meter length. Silver is very expensive on the world market and is reflected in the pricing of the silver interconnects.
All standard length speaker wire and interconnect come with a 30-day money back guarantee, assuming they are returned in saleable condition. Custom lengths for both the speaker wire and interconnect are available, but do not have the 30-day money back guarantee. Additionally, single-ended interconnects are not offered in lengths over 1.5 meters since they are not shielded but can provide longer lengths in balanced configuration. Custom terminations are available, but may entail an extra charge. I suggest that you contact MG Audio with any questions about prices for custom orders. Also note, they do not recommend bi-wiring with Planus speaker wire because the wire’s topology is not designed for maximum performance in this configuration. How’s that for honesty from them?
One thing that is very unique about MG Audio cables is that they use two different spade lugs. One end has rhodium spades while the other end uses silver spades. They say they have found that that prefer the sound of the silver spades on the amplifier end, but you may prefer them the other way around. Otherwise, they are not directional.
This brings us to the first discussion point that needs to be understood clearly by all perspective buyers. These are hand built cables that use copper or silver foil as their conductors. Think of how you handle aluminum foil and how easy it is to rip the edge. In raw form as a foil, the conductor is extremely fragile. Now the good news, once cut and encased in the dielectric material, the foil is safe from tearing and forms a cohesive whole that is sturdy if not overly robust. In other words, this isn’t like typical round wire with strain relief that allows you to grab the middle and give it a yank. It isn’t typical round wire that you can step on and essentially handle roughly. This is foil; it should be handled carefully, not bent, and not just thrown around. If you have a rack where everything is crammed together because of space limitations, this may not be the best cable for your situation. How’s that for honesty from us?
The next discussion point that needs to be understood clearly by all perspective buyers is that these cables are not shielded. If you are in an area that has proven to be a problem with EMI and RFI, these un-shielded cables might not be your best bet. Lee and Greg believe that shielding affects the sound and is in conflict with getting the open transparent sound they are looking for. As in the example above, if your system is crammed together in a rack and there is little room, these cables potentially have two issues you should be very clear about. You want the cables to breathe versus having multiple cables cross over and under the Planus cable. Whether for EMI/RFI rejection or for safe handling and not getting twisted, turned, or mis-handled, you want to handle these cable sets with reasonable care.
We don’t want to overstress these points but want perspective buyers to clearly understand the right situation to maximize the sound quality and longevity of the product. The 30 day opportunity to try the cables is a good suggestion. These foil cables break in fairly quickly and will leave you plenty of time to experience what they do in your system. Have you noticed that some heavy duty round cables are not broken in completely within the 30 days which limits your auditioning period? Not a problem or concern with these cables.
Each approach to cable design has its champions and detractors. Associated propaganda in cable design tends to be absolutist; it attempts to prejudge our minds. Bling does the same for the eyes. All of it is designed to have us buy in prior to any audition so we hear what we think we should hear. We suggest you ignore the hype and listen with your own ears, in your own system, and in your environment. We have an opinion and a desire to help inform you, but we want you to trust your own ears and perceptions.
Planus I and Planus CU
by Marvin Bolden
Most of the time as reviewers, we look to review items we have heard that spark our interest/curiosity or there is a buzz out there about a piece of equipment and we want to hear what it's all about. This time I did something different and drank a little of the Kool-Aid that a manufacturer wrote in their ad thinking just maybe I would come across something I could tear apart. Well, I couldn't have been further from the truth. Let me just start out with stating unequivocally, “THESE ARE THE BEST CABLES I HAVE HAD IN MY SYSTEM”. Now that we got that out of the way, we can get to the details of the review.
The MG Audio Design website makes some fancy statements like: “MG Audio Design, LLC is now offering to the general audiophile community one of the most neutral, transparent, detailed and musical speaker wires on the market today. The design is based on physics and good engineering practice, not voodoo. The result of this design is that you can hear more clearly into the musical performance, catch details you have never heard before, and better capture the emotional expression of the artist(s). The speed, detail, transparency, and micro-dynamic shading are unmatched by anything on the market today, except our other (much more expensive) speaker wire. The bass is quick, deep and tight, not flabby or bloated. The mid-range is very open and articulate, not muddled. The top end is pure and sweet, not tizzy or glassy. The sound-stage is deep and wide with a holographic quality. Its musical intimacy is unlike anything else you have ever heard before in a wire”.
Now doesn't that make you want to just go out and hand over your hard earned cash to the tune of thousands of dollars? No? Well it made me want to rip them a new one and put them in their place. That's just the Stereomojo way.
I contacted Greg Graff, COO at MG Audio Design to ask if he would like to have a pair of his speaker cables reviewed. Greg informed me that one of my fellow cohorts at StereoMojo, Brian Boehler had been listening to his upper end cables. It didn't take me long to get in contact with Brian and he came up with the idea of a double review, Brian doing the review on the more expensive cables and little 'old me doing the review of the entry level cables.
The cables that I am going to review are the Planus I speaker cable and Planus CU interconnects.
As we published at the top of this review, Planus 1 speaker 6ft. pair is $349 and Planus CU interconnect is $500 per meter pair. Not exactly cheap but well within reach for a lot of us. As Brian put it, these cables are not for the rough and tumble; treat them with respect and you should be fine. The Planus I speaker wires use thin copper foil as the conductor and mylar/acrylic for the dielectric.
Planus CU has been cryogenically treated to maximize signal flow through the wire. The cryogenic treatment allows the CU version’s performance to be about 80% of the performance of the AG version.
We had a mix up at the beginning as Greg sent me the speaker cables and two pair of balanced interconnects. Since I only use RCA cables, I had to wait a couple weeks for the interconnects to arrive. As I waited, I decided to burn in the speaker cables but little did I know that this would be the beginning of the “system overhaul”. These speaker cables took my system to another level. These are the most neutral sounding speaker cables I have had in my system. At first, I thought they were a little thin sounding in the bass but after more listening the bass was still there just tighter/quicker and more balanced with the midrange and treble range. The first thing that caught my ear was the blackness of the background, total silence in the mid-range.
The bass with my Usher speakers can sometimes overpower my 12' x 15' x 8' room. There is a closet door to the right of my seating position and when the bass is heavy that door rattles and I have to open it to stop the rattle. With the Planus I's the bass is not flabby/bloated and as a result I did not find them exciting room modes. The bass is fast and textured without typical slowness or bloat. The CD that I use for bass testing is the sound track from The Pirates of The Caribbean and boy can it make that door rattle. My reference speaker cables, Wireworld Solstice 5.2, have great bass but they can be a little tubby at times. The Planus I's are tight and textured with layers of detail. Female vocals as heard on Natalie Merchant's “Tigerlily” are quite smooth with no sibilance whatsoever, it just flows. This is further demonstrated by the voice of Kathy Mattea from her “Coal” CD; you feel the sad emotion coming through in her voice as she sings about the life of coal miners.
In comparison with my Straley Reality speaker cables, which have stood the test of time as they have been unchanged for quite some time, they are neutral but can at times hit you in the face with slightly astringent highs. Both the Wireworlds and Straleys appear to have more powerful if not deeper bass output as witnessed by my closet door, but the bass of the Planus I just sounds right and properly balanced.
Switching out my reference Wywires interconnects for the MG Audio Planus CU brought a total surprise as the Planus CU showed my Wywires made female vocals bright. Also with the Planus CU, the placement of the vocals was properly placed in the sound stage and everything sounded more natural.
I loved the sound of the Planus CU in positions from source to preamp and preamp to amp. In my system, I found a balance that was pleasing to my ear when I put the Wywires at the source end as they provided a little more upper bass energy. Putting both pairs of Wywires back in place to make sure I was hearing right, there is more punch to the sound but the MG's are just so damn smooth that you just sit back and close your eyes as the music flows.
The MG Audio Design Planus series of cables prove that you don't have to spend a fortune on cables to get extremely good sound. The only minor downside to these cables is you have to be mindful that they are not as robust as a round wire. I would recommend when moving speakers around that you disconnect the cables since it would be very easy to puncture them with spikes.
Bolden Reference System:
Speakers – Usher 6381
Amp – Opera Consonance Cyber 800 tube mono blocks
Preamp – Belles 21a
Source – Virtue Audio Piano M1 cdp
Interconnects – Wywires
Speaker cables – Wireworld Solstice 5.2, Straley Reality
Power cables – 6sons Audio, Virtual Dynamics
Planus II and Planus AG
by Brian Boehler
One perspective that I want to share is what a cable is made of is not as important to me as the overall experience of the cable. The difference in raw material type such as copper, silver, palladium, gold, etc. can be overcome and destroyed by the use of bad dielectric or bad cable geometry. While each component of the overall cable is important, it is the combination of all these elements into the final product that really makes the difference between competent and magical.
I’ll start with the top end Planus II speaker cable. The cable is thinner (gauge) than the Planus I but much wider. The cable has more bass energy while still retaining a speed and clarity in the lower regions that is unique in my experience. Many cables claim to have great bass energy, but they never address the fact that they are slow, bloated, and flabby. In the vast majority of cases, the bass is of a different cloth than the lower midrange. In nature, we hear bass in the same context as all of the other sounds up and down our hearing range. In stereo equipment, we hear slower bass that does not integrate well with the other aspects of the sound spectrum. Large slow drivers (woofers) compared to small fast drivers (tweeters).
Having heard both the Planus I and Planus II, I can tell you that the Planus II has just that little extra in the bass and lower midrange that Marvin was missing but still retains the speed and texture down very low. Bass and midbass were more apparent and dynamic with bass tightness and speed being astonishing. Instead of bloat or flabby slow disconnected bass we have bass that sounded seamless all the way down to the sub-bass regions, i.e. below 30 Hz.
The top end of the cable is extended but not in a bright or in your face way. The heightened resolution in the top-end revealed details and tiny nuances in performances that contributed to a sense of realness in the musical fabric. A good example would be Jazz at the Pawnshop, Limehouse Blues where the individual noises coming from the audience including their relative position in depth, width and height were clearly revealed. I have never heard a speaker cable so clearly reveal all three dimensions and I have had some very expensive cables in my system.
The midrange revealed vocal inflections better than most cables and had one unique aspect that I have only heard one other time in any cable. The wire allowed the voices including both male and female to have a three-dimensional aspect as though there was a real head producing the sound. It wasn’t a flat face projecting sound but an ambience around the head that made the sound more revealing. Singers like Eva Cassidy, Holly Cole, Norah Jones, Judith Owen, and Patricia Barber just seem more human. That’s big, friends.
There is a level of transparency and clarity which provides a window into the musical landscape that is greater than other cables I have heard. If I had to compare the Planus I and Planus II, I would say the difference in audio capability is small but musically and emotionally significant, if that makes sense. There’s more to a musical performance that the notes and rhythms. There’s that sense of passion that can set a perfectly performed song apart from a perfect, moving, inspirational performance. If you have speakers that can reach down into the low 30’s or lower it is even more significant.
The Planus AG interconnect is very interesting but somewhat frustrating (in a good way). I think the best way to describe what I heard was to say that both interconnects are excellent but there are some differences you need to understand. Both can be characterized as having extreme clarity and transparency. I would characterize the Planus CU as being slightly less open and transparent than the Planus AG. The Planus AG was more able to dig the last little bit of ambience and nuance out of the soundscape. I guess it would be fair to say that it was a little better in almost every area but the differences were incrementally small in scope.
There are a few kickers in the equation that you need to consider. If you have a really good and well-balanced system, then the Planus AG can be “magical”. It can reveal that little extra detail and transparency that makes the sound musically and emotionally significant. It provided that ultimate see-through quality that the Planus CU just can’t quite match. Now, here is the other real kicker. The Planus AG is riding a very fine line between musicality and what many would call the “silver sheen”. I’m not talking about the obvious bright silver sound but that extra detail that borders on too much of a good thing. If your speaker and equipment are on the verge of being bright or not well balanced in the upper octaves, this cable might take it over the edge.
Honestly, I would say, the majority of people would prefer the Planus CU since it is half the price, a touch warmer and slightly more organic sounding. It would play to the strengths of more systems and provide a better overall balance. But - the Planus AG in the right situation is just magical and takes the overall sound to new heights. I spent a lot of time with both interconnects and in the end I was musically and emotionally moved by the silver. I just fell in love with their overall sound. I can think of no better recommendation than I plan to purchase the Planus AG and Planus II cable set as my new reference cables.
Boehler Reference System:
Speakers – Vienna Acoustics Mahler (upgraded)
Amp – Krell FPB-600C
Source – Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2
Interconnects – Various
Speaker cables – Various
Power cables – Cullen Cables, PS Audio Cables
James L. Darby - Publisher
This is an unusual review for an unusual product. MG audio cables are the type of products for which Stereomojo primarily exists and for which we have the most passion: little-known, overlooked and under promoted products that are simply astonishing both in their level of performance and their price point. As hard as we work at beating the bushes for you for those rare gems, they are elusive. But when we find them the mood around here is like a post-Super Bowl celebration. Like the real, original 49ers who traveled across the American wildernesss in stagecoaches in search of gold located in a faraway new territory called California. Well friends, we've discovered a real gold mine here.
After reading Marvin saying, “THESE ARE THE BEST DAMN CABLES I HAVE HAD IN MY SYSTEM” and knowing that he has reviewed a ton of cables over the years, and then Brian who just reviewed the very expensive Cardas Clear Beyond cables and yet stated, “There is a level of transparency and clarity which provides a window into the musical landscape that is greater than other cables I have heard”, I knew one of two things: Either both of these guys have gone nuts or there was something very special happening here. I’m so booked with reviews that I really didn’t have time to audition something else, but I just thought I had to do this. Either way, I had to get to the bottom of it, so I emailed Gary Graff and told him pretty much what I just said to you and asked if he would mind sending me a set of speakers cables and a couple of interconnects to try for myself. I was very open, as always, and told him I doubt if I would would be buying them since my reference cables were (very expensive) top-of-the-line Kimber cables, but I would still like to hear for myself what Brian and Marvin were raving about. Gary said he’d be happy to and sent me a pair of each models, one pair speaker cables and one pair IC’s. I should note that my Kimber Select KS 3038, an all silver speaker cable, in my 12-foot runs cost over $20,000 in today's dollars.
I burned in the top-of-the line Planus II speaker cables and the Planus AG IC using my Virtue Sensation integrated amp so as to save my more costly tube gear a hundred hours or so as well as some electricity. I have not yet burned-in or evaluated the lower priced models.
Oh. On a side note, do you notice the nice pictures in this review? Do you also notice what you don't see pictures of in this review? Anything that doesn't specifically pertain to this review such as advertisements - as it is with all our reviews. We hate having to read around advertisements as must be done in every other audio publication. Ever notice that? Yes, we thought you did...
Planning ahead, I deliberately kept Linda out of the loop on this whole situation. She didn’t know anything about the reviews or the cables. When the time came for the first real post burn-in listening session using my regular reference system, I told her we’d be doing one of our famous mystery system substitutions that night, which means we listen for 30 or so minutes in total darkness to our favorite reference tracks, then she leaves the room and I switch something completely unknown and unseeable to her in the dark. I call her back in with a tiny flashlight so she can find her chair and we listen to the same tracks once again. All she knows is that something was changed.
She heard a difference, but what’s really significant is that what she said was almost exactly what Brian and Marvin said and, as it turns out, what I heard as well. The first think I noticed was the overwhelming sense of speed. Attacks and releases throughout the spectrum were much faster and thus more natural and realistic than with the Kimbers. I should mention that I’ve had a lot of different cables even more expensive than my Kimbers in this system over the years, including Nordost Odin, as was not this impressed. The new speed was almost startling! Not what I expected at all. It was all over the place, not just on some plucked instruments or piano. Once I glommed all that, I was particularly drawn to the low end where the speed seemed to particularly stand out. It was fun to focus on different bass lines and tympani rolls and strikes, hearing them better and easier than before.
Soundstage was deep and wide and well layered like the Kimbers. Linda thought she heard greater height in the image with the MG’s, but I’d call it a tie.
Detail. One track we played is a male vocal, a very moving ballad that uses a cross-stick on the snare on beat 2 but adds a single tambourine hit on beat 4. In addition to the new speed and clarity, the tambourine was much more in focus with the metal disks (called “zils”) more delineated. I’m not going to say I heard each individual zil sounding, but I’ve heard many a tambourine in recording studios, bands and orchestras in my life and guess what? I never I heard each individual zil sounding then, either.
I could go on, but I think among the three of us, you get the picture. MG Audio makes cables that are either at or near the state-of-the-art for prices that are much more attainable by mere mortals. Both Marvin and Brian decided to buy MG Audio cables. Will I? I don’t know yet, at least as far as the speaker cables go. I probably will purchases a couple or three IC’s once I’ve done some more exploring.
As for the speaker cables which are the wide ribbon type, one thing I will say about the Kimber cables which are very thick round rope type is that they have been used to death, taken in and out of components and speakers thousands of times, stepped on, dropped, bent, tripped over and suffered scads of other unintended abuses of reviewing for over seven years with no problems at all. The MG’s won’t tolerate that. So I simply don’t know yet what to decide. Hey MG, do you guys do layaway?
So. Brian and Marvin have not lost their minds and once again absolutely nailed the products they reviewed. Thanks again guys for a great job. You are much appreciated!
Here’s what the info that came with the MG speaker cables says: “Planus is a completely different design than most speaker wires. Because copper foil is used in its construction, it is somewhat delicate. The wires should be handled by the shrink-wrapped ends whenever possible. DO NOT pull on the spade lugs as this could damage the termination. It is recommended that and required bends in the wire NOT be made at the ends but in that part of the wire covered with flexible braiding.”
From a pure sonic performance, the MG Planus II and AG are one of the biggest no-brainers we’ve discovered in quite a while. They have proven, at least in their top line, that they perform right up there with cables at ten times their price. You notice, we name names.
If your system is around middle level, you should try the Planus I/Cu combo where a 6-foot pair of speaker wires cost $350 and the one-meter IC’s are $500 per pair.
If you have a more high-performance system, we believe you would do well to try the Planus II/AG team with speaker six-footers at $850 and IC’s at $1,000.
Both models decidedly deserve or most sparingly given Maximum Mojo Award and are top contenders for 2012 Products of the Year.
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