- Written by Jason Victor Serinus
- Published on 30 October 2008
As mentioned above, I auditioned the Electric Bamboo on several occasions, at one point with a different brand of interconnects. My sonic impressions, even taking into account variations caused by the switch of cabling, were virtually identical.
I also listened to top end extension. Thanks in part to Nordost Valhalla cabling and Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Bullets, my highly upgraded Talon Khorus X Mk. IVs sound remarkably open, clear, and transparent on high. But with the Electric Bamboo, I felt the highs somewhat damped compared to the Thor. It was as though the triangle on the opening section of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances had a curtain drawn over it, dulling and minimizing its impact. It rang less in space, and seemed to die off faster.
Here’s what I wrote after that first session:
First impressions can be deceiving, at least some of the time. There are also times when one hopes one’s first impressions are wrong.
That, at least is what I hoped when the Electric Bamboo came my way. Writing this shortly after Dave and Jim brought the unit over and we hooked it up, I’m hoping that moving around all my Nordost power cables, disconnecting a reconnecting my Nordost digital cable, and moving around the speaker cables ruffled the feathers of my system. For whatever reasons, the sound of the first movement of Reference Recordings’ fabled disc of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (Eiji Oue cond.), with everything in the system connected to the Nordost Thor, was very different than the sound when everything was connected to the Electric Bamboo.
For starters, the triangle and cymbals had much less resonance. It almost sounded as though a damper had been put on them. They sounded thinner, softer, and less consequential; there was far less of a sense of them ringing and resounding in space. Equally striking was the diminution of natural breath sounds around the woodwinds (clarinets, oboe, and the like), which are somewhat exaggerated on the recording due to Keith Johnson’s close mike.
While the sonic picture did seem, in one sense, cleaner and less uncluttered through the Electric Bamboo, I could not help feeling that the very resonance of the acoustic had been deadened. It was as though the Minnesota Symphony had moved to a considerably drier hall, in which overtones around strings and other instruments were harder to discern.
Dave told me to expect better bass control through the Electric Bamboo. In one sense, bass did seem tighter. What I could not tell, however, was whether it actually was tighter, or if instead, some of the bass resonance that my system has trouble controlling had been eliminated. In other words, was the bass really tighter, or was there just less bass to muddy up the picture?
When I changed recordings, there certainly was less booming of Ron Carter’s double bass on the first track of Chesky Entre Nous CD with sensational Brazilian vocalist Rosa Passos. But on listening further, I realized that what had initially seemed like better bass control was actually due to truncated bass. The bass sounded more in control because I was hearing less of it.
I also felt that coloration throughout was somewhat homogenized. Sharp contrasts between sweetness and raspiness were minimized. Everything seemed brought together in an unmistakably warm, sweet, but minimally contrasted mix. This was not a sound I was accustomed to hearing, either at home or in the concert hall.
On the positive side, the soundstage certainly seemed wide and deep. I in fact sensed more three-dimensionality. But, again, was that only because a host of overtones and complex harmonics had been diminished, leaving more of the core? I begin to wonder what wire I’d find inside, and how it might compare to the Nordost Valhalla used in the Thor.
Finally, one of the great things about the Thor is that its star ground does a superb job of eliminating component interaction. Even though I’ve got my two digital components connected to the Electric Bamboo’s two digital outputs, and my tube amps and analog set-up connected to the analog outputs, I’m hearing some buzzing through the right speaker which I did not hear before.
But today is Friday. Tomorrow is another day. I look forward to discovering if there’s a difference after everything settles in. My experience will determine which unit, the Electric Bamboo or the Thor, remains in the reference system.
My longest critical listening session was held with Bob and Ori in attendance. For several hours, we went back and forth between the Electric Bamboo, Thor, and PS Audio Power Plant Premieres. Because I’ve previously reviewed the Thor, and will soon review the Power Plant, I shall confine my comments to the Electric Bamboo, with occasional reference to the other units.
We chose three very different selections:
- From Blue Coast Collection - The E. S.E. Sessions, Track 2, “Slow Day,” by Jane Selkye & Chris Kee. This is a demonstration-class hybrid SACD of acoustic music, recorded and engineered by Cookie Marenco.
- Mahler Symphony No. 2. 1st movement, opening 5+ minutes, Iván Fischer conducts the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Channel Classics hybrid SACD. One of my Records-To-Die-For (R2D4) in Stereophile.
- Lyle Lovett: “North Dakota” Track 4 on an MCA disc
With the Electric Bamboo, I felt the edge a bit blunted on Mahler. Strings and brass did not have as much as much bite or zing. The sound was also a bit warmer than I was accustomed to, the colors more homogenized, with less depth and air around instruments. The performance did not touch me as much as usual on an emotional level.
On “Slow Day,” I heard less sibilance on the edge of the voice and guitar. (This is not in itself a bad thing if a system tends toward sibiliance). Where the Thor conveyed an extremely quiet background around Selkye’s voice and guitar and Kee’s acoustic bass, enabling vocal and instrumental color to stand out in all its glory, the Electric Bamboo lessened this effect. I also thought there was less control on the bass, with more indistinct pitches.
We then listened to these tracks on both the two PS Audio Power Plant Premiers here for review, then the Nordost Thor. Finally, we returned to the Electric Bamboo. I again noted how colors seemed more homogenized, especially on “Slow Day.” Most disturbing, on an uncompressed hybrid SACD whose stereo CD layer was carefully engineered, when Selkye at one point sang loud “woo hoos” high in her range, the volume actually seemed to decrease.
Eliminating the Cable Effect
Toward the end of our comparison, it occurred to me that, since the wiring in the Nordost Thor is similar to that in my Nordost Valhalla interconnects and cables, it might be possible that the Thor sounds better when paired with Valhalla cabling rather than cables from other manufacturers. If this were indeed the case, the Thor would have an unfair advantage over the Electric Bamboo in my system.
I thus determined to listen to both the Electric Bamboo and Thor using cabling from another manufacturer. When I sent an email to David noting my desire to do this, he offered to bring over cables that he thought would blow Valhalla out of the water. To quote:
We’ve compared our friend’s cables with those from Virtual Dynamics, the Analysis Plus Golden Reference, Genesis 1.1, and other cables such as Cardas Golden Reference, Tara Labs. 8. I’m sure they’re better than Tara Labs the Zero. I’m sure they’re much better because they’re much better than the 0.8. All the cables are RCA, and the speaker cables only have banana plugs. These are great for the highest level audio system a person might own. They’re made by Cryoset, and we’ll be a dealer.
Now this is interesting, I thought to myself. Tara Labs the Zero interconnects, which David has not heard but I have, cost almost $15,000 meter. (For all I know, the price has gone up in the past year). In the extremely expensive reference system I heard them in, they sounded fantastic. Yet David is sure that his babies, which list for $300 on the Cryoset website, are better. Well, maybe they are. Only one way to find out…
The Final Test
A few weeks later, David brought over Cryoset interconnects and speaker cables. Because the Talons are not set up for banana plugs, I decided to make things simple and stick with the interconnects in order to possibly put the Electric Bamboo and Thor on a more even playing field.
For our first experiment, we listened to the Mahler using the Thor/Cryoset combo. I found the sounds on high rather excruciating. Instead of a refined sound that drew me in, I encountered one that made me want to run for cover. (I also noted less bass than the somewhat bass-shy Valhalla, but that didn’t upset me the way the highs did). Within short order, I cried Uncle.
Quickly we switched to the Electric Bamboo/Cryoset combo. Ah, that was better. Highs were now tamed to listenable levels. Not that I particularly liked what I heard, or thought it “better” than the sound with the Thor. It was just that, with highs dulled and colors more homogenized, the entire gestalt became more acceptable. Certainly there was less detail than before. But what I did hear was certainly listenable and pleasing, at least on a surface level. It’s just that I wasn’t drawn to listen any longer than necessary to get a good sense of what was going on.