Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference II & Hologram II
Acoustic Zen is an American company that has never belonged to the group of the most recognized cable manufacturers such as Cardas, Audioquest, Nordost and Tara Labs, but its products are well-perceived by audiophiles because of the sonic qualities and conductors used inside them. The brand was founded by Robert Lee, who previously created Harmonic Technology cables. It's no wonder that the products of both brands combine more than just the name of the founder. There's a similar philosophy and materials, with special regard to the metal of which the conductors are made. Americans were among the first who began to use mono-crystal alloys. Methods of obtaining wires with long crystals are different, but the idea is quite simple - the less microscopic barriers in the conductor, the clearer and less distorted signal.
The technology used by Acoustic Zen is called Zero Crystal and it's applied to the silver and copper of high purity. We can start our adventure with these cables from the Oscar Link interconnect per $126 or from well-known Wow model at the price of $211. One of the most well-known products in the offer is the Gargantua II, and we will look at it closer in our review of high-end power cables soon. But first we would listen to a set consisting of Reference Matrix II interconnect and Hologram II speaker cable. Theoretically these wires are not of the same series, but their appearance and price category suggest that they may be a harmonious pair.
Design and functionality
The set supplied by the distributor consists of the medium priced products from the Acoustic Zen offer. Cables come to us in zipper covers. This is an elegant and very practical solution, which by the way will save us some space at home. We can also avoid the embarrassment if one of our friends notices in our garage a large, wooden box, and we'll have to tell them that it's an empty packaging of our audiophile cables.
After unpacking we knew straight away that these are serious products. The the weight and the jacket of the cable are the proof of it. Hologram II is thick like a thumb of an adult male, but - interestingly - it doesn't look like an ordinary wire wrapped in a piece of garden hose and secured with shrink tubing. When I see thin ends of wire, protruding from the very thick armour, I begin to wonder what is the real role of it. But here there is no doubt that the thickness is the result of conductor's width. You can see it close to the plugs, where the hose splits into two strands. Both are quite bloated and clearly twisted. The wire is enclosed in a purple jacket with a silver outer braid protecting the cable from damage. The meshwork is doing great with all kinds of abrasions, but it is also a great toy for cats. I know this because I listened to the Hologram II a few years ago, and I clearly remember that the cable looked like sort of a dusting brush. My fellow's cat apparently had fun with it. From the manufacturer's photos, I conclude that spades is preferred form of confection, but comfortable banana plugs are also available. The plugs are placed at an angle, which is a very wise idea in this case. Hologram II weighs a lot and ordinary, simple banana plugs could just break. After placing the plug in the speaker terminal the screw on the back should be tightened. A pin disposed within the plug expands gently from the center, which locks it in the socket and increases the contact surface. The cable is directional and the arrows are placed on the model name's label.
Matrix Reference II is also directional and ended with screwed plugs. Installation of this interconnect is a little problematic, because we have to push and tighten each plug at the same time. However we should manipulate only one pin, because the wire is quite solid. Owners of devices with high quality sockets screwed into the housing have nothing to worry about. But if you have more common socket soldered directly to the circuit board and not screwed in any way to the back of the device, you have to be careful, and above all, check if the spacing of sockets for left and right channel even allows for installation of thick interconnects. I did it with the Naim system, but as far as with the CD Player it went quite smoothly, I had to be very careful with the preamp. Due to the stiffness of the cables, you should also leave some space behind the devices. 20 cm is rather a necessary minimum.
American cables are often seen as the ones that set the reference level of bass' depths and efficiency. Acoustic Zen confirms this stereotype, presenting massive, full range sound, built on a grand scale. Mono-crystal conductors have some kind of magnet which activity is revealed from the first minutes of listening. The sound is smooth, but still detailed and aerated. If I had to do a very thorough analysis of the band, I would say that the breakthrough of midrange and treble is slightly recessed, while the top has the correct intensity. Sometimes the highest tones are delicately highlighted, and then music becomes light and pearly. The highs don't have a stereotypical, nervous character, associated with cables made of pure silver. The sound of the whole band is very pleasant and refined. The treble is a great counterbalance to the deep, fleshy and caloric bass. These cables are not like a sandwich with goat cheese and sprouts, they are rather like a solid portion of beef in a creamy herb sauce with salty fries and a bit of salad. Maybe this is not the dish which should dominate in our menu, but many guys would be delighted. It's a similar case with those wires. For sure they were not created to constitute a pattern of neutrality that could be closed under a glass dome in Sèvres. But what is wrong with it, if they sound really cool...
Two big pros of this American set are also features that puzzle me at most. The first is the general realism of the sound. In the performance of these purple snakes we can relatively quickly notice some characteristics - a deep, sometimes even bold bass, smooth, and finally warmed midrange and nicely aerated, sparkling treble. Theoretically this is contrary to the idea of striving to achieve true and faithful sound. However here the sound is very tangible and direct. And this is not in contradiction with the fact that the cables give a bit of self-signature to the music. We see the show acted out right here and right now. Another huge advantage is the soundstage. American wires helped to squeeze all the best from the loudspeakers used in the review. The soundstage built with their participation was always huge and well organized. Despite the momentum I didn't feel lost in the mass of the sound. This wasn't a clutter at all. Probably because the foreground sources were always solidly mounted on the base line, and therefore a good foothold could always be found in the music. The whole stage was pushed slightly forwards, but further plans weren't empty. The stereophony probably intensified the effect of realism and intimacy of music.
Build quality and technical parameters
Matrix Reference II interconnect cable consists of 96% Zero Crystal copper with a purity of 6N and 4% Zero Crystal silver with a purity of 7N. Each weave of silver and copper conductors is insulated separately with teflon in order to improve signal coherence. Acoustic Zen applied its own technology called Constant Air Twist. Conductors located in the teflon tubes are twisted so the geometry of the cable can not be changed even with the powerful flexion. Interconnect has double shielding and is available with RCA and XLR plugs. The Hologram II speaker cable uses only copper conductors with a purity of 6N. Polyethylene filled with air is the insulator here. The wire comes in either mono or bi-wire configuration.
B&W 683 S2, Albedo HL 2.2, Kudos Cardea C2, Naim CD5 XS, Naim NAC 152 XS, Naim NAP 155 XS, Unison Research P40, Tellurium Q Black, Cardas Clear Light, Albedo Geo, Enerr AC Point One, Enerr Symbol Hybrid, Enerr Holograph, Cardas Clear Beyond, Ostoja T1.
Excellent cables that combine the pleasure of listening with a chunky bass, a concert-like soundstage and a very high realism of the presentation. According to my classification they are dangerously close to the hi-end level. Even if they don't put the fidelity to the original recording in the first place (and probably even their biggest fans will admit they don't), I'm sure they love music and give a lot of fun with listening. Particularly recommendable for systems which need a better filling in the bass range, a little bit of warmth and open, direct character.
Conductor material: Zero Crystal copper and silver
Technologies: Constant Air Twist
Dielectric: Teflon, polyethylene, air
Prices: Matrix Reference II - $551 (pair), Hologram II - $1098 (pair)
Manufacturer: Acoustic Zen