Here’s a quick post for the curious. As with many DIYers out there, I noticed differences when trying different power connectors on the same cables. My expectation was that the cable (metal, dielectric, etc) should have a more significant impact over the connectors. I didn’t really have time to investigate while I was finishing up my power cord shootout.
I am not the most experienced in DIY so I contacted Dave Cahoon at ZenWave Audio and he was kind enough to build identical cables of the same length and composition. The only difference being the connectors used. The most popular connectors HiFi enthusiasts use are undoubtedly ones from Furutech.
- Length: 2 meters
- Connectors: Furutech FI-46 (G) NCF – $194.99 each
- Connectors: Furutech FI-50 (R) NCF – $385 each
PCR-14 Copper Ribbon Power Cable ($899 – $1,748)
This cable has all the positive attributes of UPOCC silver with a more realistic tone and warmth. Compared to the D3 cable it is even more accurate, precise, and neutral. It is also not as forgiving or laid back vs the D3 cable. A strong point with this cable is tone… UPOCC silver is amazingly accurate but the tone is a little on the thin side, the silver/gold alloy has a warm and amazingly realistic tone that is superior to any other wire I have used.
From my extensive experience with power cords, ZenWave Cables are probably the best bang for the buck in this industry. Many of their cables outperform cables many times its price. This especially applies to their UPOCC variants (silver & gold). The theme of ZenWave Audio cables is articulation, smoothness, and neutrality.
Furutech FI-46 (G) NCF vs. FI-50 (R) NCF
Once I started critically listening…it was easy to hear the enormous differences between the two connectors. Given the assumption that the cable composition would matter more, I tested the cables across more components and listening systems. After combining notes from weeks of listening, all of them aligned consistently. I have to say…I expected a difference with connectors, but not of this magnitude.
Let’s get to the differences. So the FI-46 (G) is a slightly warmer and meatier sound. It presents music with good footing and tangibility. It’s super smooth with a “heavier” sound. Switching to the FI-50 (R) NCF and you get a very different experience. First off, there’s an appreciable boost in resolution. Recordings sound more “alive” whereas the FI-46 was more calm, laid back, and relaxed. It’s a different mood across all genres of music.
The FI-50 is also quieter with more focused imaging. In addition, it separates and layers out the music far better than the FI-46. In fact, the FI-46 sounds like there’s a thick coating over the sound. Almost like a liquid gel sound – which is great if that’s what you’re looking for. It makes for easy listening but doesn’t breathe out as effortlessly as the FI-50. Consequently, the FI-50 is far more transparent sounding.
Which one is better?
My impression at the end of the evaluation was that most audiophiles will prefer the high fidelity of the FI-50 (R) NCF. Its vividness and openness are just more musically engaging. There’s also more holistic texture and detail which is important to a HiFi experience. Although the FI-50 isn’t as bold when it comes to transients, it relays them with better finesse and clarity. It’s better at preserving the intentional speed of how a guitar is plucked or how a piano note is keyed. The FI-46 is more heavyhanded and tangible but also comes off a little “muffled” and congested. It covers up some of the critical nuances, especially when it comes to stringed instruments and woodwinds.
To conclude, although both cables are 90% the same, they sound very different. To the point which got me thinking…maybe the connectors are more important? That’s kinda crazy talk, right? 🙂
So, what does the cable contribute?
As I was listening, I was trying to figure out what both cables had in common – since they both used the same damn wire. I wanted to know what makes this a Copper Ribbon ZenWave Audio PCR-14 cable. And this is what I came up with.
- Tone. Both are very neutral. Although the FI-46 was warmer, the overall character was more colorless. This is consistent with ZenWave Audio’s philosophy of “not touching the sound.”
- Articulation. The two cables maintained a fantastic grip and control of the music. It sounds very analog yet collected and textured. There are simply no missteps in music. This is a level of precision that I don’t hear from most cables.
- Fullness. The PCR-14s are incredibly grounded and smooth. The music doesn’t artificially float but remains natural and existential. You never get a sense of haze or confusion. Although both cables have good acoustic molding, the FI-50 does add the meat in the right places. The FI-46 applies a broader brush that masks some of the inner details.
At this point, I have to say if you’re a fan of neutral – it’ll be tough to do better than the ZenWave Audio PCR-14 with FI-50 (R) NCF connectors. It’s a technical and musical achiever on many levels. If you prefer a more colored and golden hue, I would still use the FI-50 (R) NCF connectors but with darker sounding wire.
In short, the FI-50 (R) NCF connectors are an enormous upgrade – but are stupid expensive. You’re talking about almost $800 for two connectors for a single build.
When I discussed with Dave from ZenWave Audio about the differences I heard, here was his response:
The NCF material removes some noise and makes for a cleaner sound, but the previous FI-50 without NCF material was also a big improvement over the FI-28. It is amazing how much different AC power connectors can make. In many cases, you’re better off with a decent, basic machine-made copper cable + upgraded plugs vs a more expensive cable with lesser plugs. Furutech makes a lot of connectors available with the upgraded carbon fiber/stainless steel body, such as XLR and RCA plugs, DIN plugs, headphone plugs, and more. And while it’s expensive, it does make a big difference. And I think they are worth it if the price isn’t an issue.
These parts are expensive, but they are also relative bargains for the improvements they make. They look nice and are very high quality. It also really matters what the cable is plugged into. I recommend the Furutech GTX NCF receptacle, and optionally the wall frame and cover. I have the FPX (Cu) unplated bronze receptacle as a lower-cost option. I don’t recommend hospital-grade receptacles as they scratch right through platings on the male plugs.
I’m sure most DIYers are aware of the differences connectors could make but I just wanted to take a deeper dive. After this experiment, I’ll probably be sticking to FI-50s for my future builds. Now I understand why so many high-end cable designers exclusively use these connectors for their flagships. Hopefully, this was helpful! Stay safe and happy weekend!