If you read my SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier review in Issue 78 of Positive Feedback Online, you know how impressed I am with the audio designs of Mr. Shirokazu Yazaki in Tokyo, Japan. (second from the left in the photograph below)
It is my opinion that Yazaki-san is one of those rare gifted listeners/designers with an ‘enlightened ear’ that is able to translate the sound of live music into electronics, and his Real Sound Amplifier is one example of that.
While I was conversing with Yazaki-san while writing the SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier article for Positive Feedback Online, he told me about two vintage American cables that he was very impressed with, and has been using at international audio shows to demonstrate his SPEC audio electronics: Western Electric WE16GA wire used as speaker cables, and Belden 8402 microphone cable used as RCA interconnects photo above).
So you can bet that when Yazaki-san told me about these vintage American cables that are creating a sensation in the Japanese underground constructeur audio scene, I paid close attention.
Yesterday there was a knock at the door, and the DHL driver handed me a package from Tokyo, Japan. What was inside? If you guessed it was Western Electric WE16GA wire to try as speaker cables, and Belden 8402 microphone cable fashioned into RCA interconnects, you’re exactly right.
It turned out to be perfect timing, as my audio pals Leo, Pete, Ron, and Stephaen were coming over for some audio fun & games later that evening. Our friend George has been traveling, so he was not able to attend (we missed you, George!). This is a great group of guys who happen to be very skilled listeners with lots of audio experience, like over 200 years worth between them! Translate that to they’re a tough crowd to impress.
I’ll tell you about the vintage Western Electric WE16GA wire used as speaker cables in a future post, as I haven’t had a chance to give it a listen yet, but in this post I want to tell you about listening to the Belden 8402 microphone cable as RCA interconnects last night, and some very promising first impressions.
Yazaki-san made me two Belden 8402 RCA interconnects to try: one 0.75 meter pair to use with my Auditorium 23 step-up transformer (above), and one 2-meter pair to use from my vintage McIntosh MX110Z preamplifier to my vintage McIntosh MC225 & MC240 stereo amplifiers, or vintage McIntosh MC30 mono amplifiers (last night we listened with the MC225 in the system).
The 0.75 meter length for the pair of Belden 8402 interconnects was recommended by Jonathan Halpern (Tone Imports) for use with the Auditorium 23 step-up transformer that I’ve been using for my Denon 103 & EMT TSD15 phono cartridges, and which was pressed into service last night with my Ortofon SPU Classic GM MKII cartridge, until a bespoke SUT arrives for it.
Jonathan also recommended we use the Switchcraft SWC-3502A RCAs and Kester 44 solder (above) with the Belden 8402 microphone cable, which coincidentally created an All-American vintage-style cable!
The Switchcraft SWC-3502A’s were not available from Yazaki-san’s parts provider, but the Switchcraft SWC-3502AAU’s were, so he used those. The Switchcraft SWC-3502A and Switchcraft SWC-3502AAU are essentially the same plug: they have in common a brass center pin, plug housing, and handle; with a nickel-plated center pin, plug housing, and handle on the 3502A; and a gold-plated center pin & plug housing, and nickel-plated handle on the 3502AAU. I thought the gold plated pin & plug housing with nickel handle made for a very attractive combination with the brown Belden 8402 microphone cable. I really like the Switchcraft SWC-3502AAU RCAs.
The Belden 8402 microphone cable is a two conductor low-impedance cable, which Belden describes as “20 AWG stranded (26×34) high-conductivity TC conductors, EPDM rubber insulation, rayon braid, TC braid shield (85% coverage), cotton wrap, CSPE – Brown Chlorosulphonated Polyethylene jacket”.
I asked Yazaki-san how he planned to construct the interconnects, as there are a couple of different conventions for connecting a shielded two-conductor cable to RCA plugs. Yazaki-san told me, “One conductor is connected to the hot of the RCA plug. And the one more conductor is connected to the grounding of RCA plug with the shield of the cable. In my opinion, the audio signal has AC component, overlapped with DC component and AC current flows forward and backward. And so the conductor to the hot could flow AC forward current and the other conductor to the grounding could flow AC backward current under the same condition. And also grounding, one conductor and the shield could bring out the lower impedance for grounding.”
So in Yazaki-san’s method, one conductor goes to the RCA pins (hot), the other conductor goes to the plug housings (ground), and the shield is connected at each end to the ground. This is a little different connection method than is traditional here in the USA, where the norm is to connect one conductor to hot (pins), one conductor to ground (plug housings), and connect the shield only on one end (normally the preamplifier end) to the ground. Connecting the shield to ground on both ends has some potential risks, decreasing the effect of the shielding slightly, creating the possibility of a ground loop in some applications, and creating the possibility that noise voltages or currents from the shield can get on the signal conductor (Henry Ott, Reducing Noise in Electronic Systems, second edition, page 58). However, I found no issues at all with Yazaki-san’s connection method in my system, and as you’ll read in a moment, it sounded fantastic.
Think about this for a moment: It turns out that back in the day that Belden 8402 was the choice for microphone cables in a fair number of recording studios (and other pro-audio applications), so there’s a reasonable chance that for your beloved recordings, the live music went to the microphone, down the Belden 8402 microphone cable, and onto the master tape. Part of what you and I associate with ‘the master tape sound’ is unsurprisingly the sonic characteristics of Belden 8402 microphone cable.
Leo, Pete, Ron, Stephaen, and I played a bunch of different mono & stereo records and had a blast listening to music. So how did the Belden 8402 microphone cable sound as an RCA interconnect? Fantastic! Even with zero time on them, straight out of the package from Tokyo, they sounded amazingly good. Smooth and natural, very refined, timbrally realistic, beautiful tone color, and terrific musicality. Yazaki-san regards the Belden 8402 microphone cable “as some kind of ultimate” and I wouldn’t disagree.
We did a little A-B listening with my normal reference, the seriously good Sablon Audio Panatela interconnects ($950 USD for a 1-meter pair), which those of you who have been following along, know that I really love.
The Belden 8402 and Sablon Audio Panatela interconnects sound totally different from each other in the way they’re voiced, yet they’re both fantastic sounding interconnects. So which pair of interconnects was the favored pair in our listening sessions? It was actually a split decision. Two listeners preferred the Sablon Audio Panatela interconnects (Leo and Stephaen), two preferred the Belden 8402 (Pete and Ron), and one called it a draw between them (me).
The bottom line is that I think the Panatela and Belden 8402 are the two best interconnects I’ve heard in my hi-fi experience, and as I get more time on the Belden 8402’s I’ll follow up with more detailed impressions and comparisons.
Here’s the tricky part: the Belden 8402 is non-existent in the USA from the normal audio outlets. Sorry about that. You can find it from a few pro-audio providers, but it’s sold from Belden in 500-feet spools as a minimum order, so it’s hard to find shorter lengths.
So you’re probably wondering how much it would cost to build a 1-meter pair of interconnects using Belden 8402. Well, about a $1000 USD.
Kidding! Belden 8402 sells for about $2.75 USD per foot or less, depending where you buy it. So it’ll cost you less than $50 USD to build a 1-meter pair of interconnects. It is an incredible bargain.
I searched high and low for someone who sells it by the foot here in the US, and I found one pro-audio supplier that was willing to sell it by the foot (10-feet minimum order), Best-Tronics Pro Audio in Tinley Park, Illinois. Here’s a link to their Belden 8402 page where you can buy it by the foot.
I would like to thank Mr. Shirokazu Yazaki for so generously telling me (and now all of you) about the Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects, and for making two wonderful pairs of interconnects for me to try. Thank you!
I’ll have much more to say as I get some more time on the Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects, but I can tell you this – it’s time to get out your soldering irons!
Much more to come!