Cottonmouth Gold power cable 15A US/IEC
PROFESSIONAL REVIEW! - Steve Travis, Colorado Audio Society
I have to admit that I have not been an advocate of cables in the past, however I have had a minor conversion in the last 5 years, where I have experienced a sizable improvement in system performance due to a change in cables. This has been both educational and somewhat humbling since I dismissed cable technology for so long as, ah.. Snake Oil.
So why did I volunteer to review the Snake River Audio cables when offered the opportunity? Maybe it was because the company is homed in Idaho and I have always liked Idaho; or maybe it sounded fun and I did not know what I was getting into. For whatever reason, I received a full complement of cables to review: a power cable, interconnects – both XLR and RCA, and speaker cables.
I realized that I needed a methodology to follow with this review so I decided to start with my phono stage using the XLR interconnects and then add the power cable to my phono stage as a two step experiment. I would later add the speaker cables to produce a total Snake River Audio solution. As a second phase, I would move on to digital, using the RCA interconnects and then add the power cable. I also selected a group of six albums to serve as my reference as I switched the cables in and out.
My phono stage is a Simaudio LP5.3, without the optional and separate power supply. It has both RCA and XLR outputs and I usually use the XLR for most listening. This offers the opportunity to compare the RCA directly against the XLR cables. In this scenario you are obviously comparing the amplifier design, differential vs single ended, as much as the cables. I happen to own both RCA and XLR version of the Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects and have spent a considerable amount of time comparing between these two outputs before deciding that I prefer the more detailed sound of the XLR over the warmer sound of the RCA. What would the result be from switching in the Snake River Audio interconnects?
Snake River Audio makes three levels of interconnects all named after snakes: Adder, Cottonmouth and Mamushi. I reviewed the Mamushi interconnects which are their high end model. All of their cables are handmade in the USA and are of high build quality. The Mamushi cables are finished in a jacket that is of a vibrant blue and purple color and they definitely stand out. Connecting the XLR into my system was easy. The cables are not the most flexible cable out there but they are not the stiffest either and you get an impression of a solid connection when you push them into their proper positions.
I listened to my first two albums, Grover Washington’s - Mister Magic and Fleetwood Mac - Rumours, both albums I know fairly well. The sound seemed more fluid and a bit more relaxed. There was nice high end detail and tonal balance. The drum strikes had more sharpness and definition and there was better inner detail for the instruments. This was not a night and day type of a change but it was a definite improvement. On the Rumours album, the song – The Chain, the bass was great. I’m kind of a picky bass person but if you have heard the tonal texture of a good bass you recognize it and this was it. Lastly, the sense of space, meaning the three dimensionality of the sound was improved. I don’t get great imaging in my system but it was getting better with the Mamushi interconnect.
I moved on to Heart - Dreamboat Annie and had more of the same experience: great bass, improved inner detail. Previously when I had opted to use the differentiated output over RCA I gave up some warmth in the sound but now the warmth was back and I had all the detail to.
At this point I deviated from my planned listening material to play Nazareth – Close Enough for Rock ’n’ Roll, a high school ‘ish rock LP which I’ve always liked. It sounded great with drums, cymbals, distorted guitars and vocals. I then switched back to my Nordost Blue Heavens and replayed the LP. The sound was noticeably flatter and while the bass was still good, it was not great. Also I noticed that the music seemed lower in volume when going back to the Blue Heaven. I’m careful about keeping my volume control consistent but with the Mamushi, the dynamic impact was improved and it gave a sense of louder volume.
By this time I had a couple of hours of listening under my belt and the sound seemed to be improving. It might be that I was just getting used to what the Snake River interconnects could do but I think there may have been a modest amount of settling-in that the cables were achieving. I can’t explain it but the more I listened, the sound was continuing to improve.
Add A Cottonmouth
So now it was time to add the Cottonmouth power cord. In all the world of electronics, the improvements made by power cords have to be the hardest to explain. To say I’m skeptical is an understatement but as I stated at the beginning of this review, I have witnessed the positive effect they can have. I plugged in the 2M Cottonmouth which is a substantial hunk of cable and prepared to struggle to hear a difference.
I started with Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus, I love this album. Big surprise, I did not have to try to hear anything, it was a clear change. The soundstage opened up, the attack of the piano was greatly improved and the low level bass detail was improved. Impressed but I wanted more validation, I went back to the Rumours album. The texture of the bass came across with much more detail; this was wild. I then tried Nora Jones - Come Away with Me and then switched back to the standard power cable. Once again a significant difference, a more compressed, less full sound when using the standard power cable. Still very pleasing but with less coherency, vocals were more strained. When more than one instrument was playing, it was more difficult to distinguish between them. The sound seemed to lay the vocal on top of the other instruments instead of making the music seem like a whole. It was still pleasing but not as good as it was with the Cottonmouth power cable. The Cottonmouth made a huge difference.
Moving on to digital
My CD player is a Rega Jupiter with another set of RCA Nordost Blue Heavens playing the interconnect role. I tend to like the warmer Rega sound and cued up Florence + the Machine – Lungs. I decide to listen first with my standard setup and then transition to the Cottonmouth Power cord before using the Snake River Audio interconnect because I was so impressed with what it did to my phono stage. Like I said, I like this player and I like this album and I thought it was sounding good. I switched to the Cottonmouth power cable and was rewarded with a more open sound but different than when applied to the phono stage. I had fuller tones and once again a bigger sound with more depth and once again it still sounded louder even though I had not touched the volume control. I was also hearing some random harp detailed that was missing prior and the background vocals were easier to distinguish. Next, I switched out my Nordost Blue Heaven interconnect with the RCA Mamushi. There was more weight to the music, and every time I add a Snake River Audio cable it seems that the volume increases. Detail improved but not to the degree that it did on analog with the XLRs. But the more I listened the more detail that emerged. I played with the set up a little, using just the cottonmouth and then just the Mamushi. Both were an improvement by themselves but the combination was by far the best and I was having a great time with these cables. This was the best my CD player had ever sounded but I decided to go back to analog to complete the review with the speaker cables because I really enjoyed the change made by the Cottonmouth and the XLR Mamushi.
By now I was forming a definite opinion on these cables. I like the effect of the Cottonmouth Power Cable the most. It was a great improvement on my phono stage and made a similar but slightly less impact on my CD player. The XLR Mamushi interconnects are my second favorite. Nice sound and works great with the Cottonmouth on my Simaudio phono stage. The RCA Mamushi was close to the XLR but not quite as defined. Once again this may be the difference between single ended and differential amplifier designs. It was now time to try the Cottonmouth Speaker Cables.
The final link
Cottonmouth Speaker cables are not huge but they are significant in their girth. All these cables have some weight to them and the speaker cable is no exception. They are obviously well made cables. The speaker cables came with spade terminations on both ends. This worked well with my speakers but not so well with my NAD M3 receiver. I’ve heard before that NAD amplifiers can have challenges with some spade connectors but I usually use banana plugs and previously I have not had the experience of a spade connector that did not fit. I was able to get one of the prongs of the spade connector to fit into the bare wire insertion hole of the binding post, maybe not optimal but it made a good connection. I now had a total Snake River Audio cabled solution, if you don’t count my turntable leads.
Starting with James Taylor’s Greatest Hits LP, the sound was once again noticeably different. The bass was thicker but maybe less detailed. I waffled on whether I liked this change. As I listened for the different frequency bands in the music I could not identify a problem such as a missing or an accentuated band. I went through several albums and had the same result. There was detail, there was bass and treble but I was not happy with the overall change. I can’t say that it was worse than my original setup but when I finally went back to my MIT CVT 2 speaker cables, I preferred that sound.
I started to doubt my equipment. I have what you might call experimental speakers, Magnepan 1.6QR which have been extensively modified. Normally they are very detailed and dynamic. After returning to my original setup and rechecking all the components I could not identify any issues. Not satisfied I left the speaker cables for a few days while I considered the problem.
Returning 4 days later, I had found some banana plugs that I could attach to the spade connectors of the Cottonmouth speaker cables to improve my connection on the amplifier end. The banana plugs also made it much easier to move the cables in and out of my system. Additionally I came armed with a recording with strong bass and vocals, Cyndi Lauper – True Colors. I listened repeatedly to my standard cable and then switching to the Cottonmouth. With the Cottonmouth, I had deeper bass and slightly more detail in the low to mid treble. The problem I was hearing was in less definition in the bass even though there was more of it. My assessment is that I needed to reposition my speakers in my room to accommodate the additional bass energy. This is usually a two person affair and I was not willing to go through that effort. I believe that with room treatments or an improved speaker positioning the bass detail could be improved.
Summary: This is fairly easy for me.
1. Buy the Cottonmouth Power Cable. It’s not cheap but it works great, even if I don’t understand why.
2. I can easily recommend the Mamushi interconnects. I like the XLR over the RCA but either are great cables and additions to your system.
3. I recommend that you audition the Cottonmouth speaker cables before purchasing. They are obviously a top rate cable but as I experienced they have the ability to change the way your system performs and you might need to make some adjustments because of that.
In closing, Snake River Audio is clearly an impressive company with high ideals and deserves your consideration. This quote from their web site says it all:
We are so confident in the quality of our cables, that we not only offer a lifetime warranty, but we also maintain a 30-day guaranteed satisfaction policy with each purchase.
And we are very proud to admit that we have never had an unsatisfied customer request a refund!”
System used for all comparisons:
Analog: Nottingham Spacedeck with Grado Reference Master
Preamp: Simaudio LP5.3,
Amplifier: NAD M3
Speakers: Magnepan 1.6 (heavily moded)
Cables: Speaker - MIT Terminator 2 CVT,
Interconnects: Nordost Blue Heaven – XLR and RCA; Kimber Hero RCA
LP Music Used:
Nora Jones: Come Away With Me
Grover Washington Jr.: Mister Magic
Heart: Dreamboat Annie
Willie Nelson: Stardust
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
James Taylor: Greatest Hits
Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus
Cyndi Lauper: True Colors
Nazareth: Close Enough for Rock ’n’ Roll
CD Music Used:
Florence + the Machine: Lungs