Signature Series BI-WIRE Speaker Cables
PROFESSIONAL REVIEW! - Jimmy Hughes, HiFi+ Magazine
Based in Riggins, a town in the Pacific Northwest region of the USA, Snake River Audio is a small specialist company, hand-crafting high quality audio cables. It is near Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in the whole of North America; an area famed for its wild natural beauty. Its product categories are named after venomous snakes. Nice!
The range includes Interconnects (analogue/digital), Speaker cables, Power cords, and falls into four price/performance categories; the Adder Silver series, the Cottonmouth Gold series, the Mamushi Magnetic series, and the recently introduced Signature series. The latter are available in ‘Cottonmouth’ or ‘Mamushi’ formats.
The Adder series features high-purity (0.999%) silver wire, while Cottonmouth employs 24ct gold-plated OFHC copper. The Mamushi option is available in a choice of silver or 24ct gold-plated OFHC copper, and features a capacitive woven design with magnetic shielding to reduce RFI. There’s a choice of balanced/unbalanced configurations.
Snake River’s flagship Signature series is available in either Cottonmouth or Mamushi formats, and combines pure silver with 24ct oxygen-free high-density copper in a hybrid cable designed to give the best features of both. A new range of Boomslang digital cables was recently announced.
All Snake River Audio cables are now cryogenically frozen to improve performance, and subjected to a minimum of 200 hours ‘burn in’ before being shipped. This should minimise running-in times – though the company still recommend allowing a certain amount of time for the cables to fully settle.
We were sent three cables to test; a 3m long Cottonmouth AMP series power cord (£1,396.90) – a pair of 3m Cottonmouth Signature bi-wire speaker cables (£1,591.90) – and a pair of Mamushi Signature Interconnects (£1,202). At these sorts of prices, you’d expect top performance, and I wasn’t disappointed!
I started with the power cable. Snake River Audio offer two variants; the standard version has 15amp capacity and consists of six cross-woven strands. But there’s also a 20amp 10-strand AMP version for big power amps. A 1m length AMP cable retails for £1,006.90, but add £195 for each extra metre.
Given the number of things I have to improve the quality of my mains supply – specialist cabling, and purification devices from IsoTek and PS Audio – I’m always mildly surprised when a cable comes along and singlehandedly makes an audible improvement. But that’s just what the Snake River Audio’s AMP did. Using the cable to power a Musical Fidelity AMS CD player (my power amp takes a 20A flat pin plug, so couldn’t be used) I noticed an improvement in terms of clarity and focus. The music seemed to sound ‘firmer’ and more solidly projected. The background seemed slightly quieter, and overall the sound was cleaner.
Okay, it wasn’t a massive difference, and I’m not sure I’d want to pay nearly £1,400 to get it. But, considering how many widgets I have installed to improve mains quality, and the fact that my mains is pretty clean to start with, it’s amazing the cable made any difference at all. Physical construction is first-rate; SRA’s AMP cable feels built to last.
Next I tried the Mamushi interconnect, using it between the AMS CD player and a Classe CP-800 preamp. The Classe has an excellent in-built DAC, and overall I’ve chosen to listen via this rather than the AMS’ own DAC and analogue output stage. Using the Classe’s DAC provides a shorter, simpler signal path – and improves sound quality.
But, such was the improvement wrought by the Mamushi Signature interconnect, I now preferred to listen via the AMS’ analogue output to the Classe’s DAC! The Mamushi Signature delivers greater tonal range and body, and increased naturalness. There’s an amazing ‘rightness’ about the sound. The musical presentation is solidly focused yet pure.
The Mamushi cable is very thick and chunky – more like a speaker cable than an interconnect – and it’s not very flexible. You need around 15-20cm gap between component and rear wall to give the cable space to gently curve in the required direction. And, as if sounding great wasn’t enough, the Mamushi looks beautiful too. The covering has a shimmering red/blue metallic hue that really catches the eye. The build quality of these cables is excellent, and the presentation – Box, Bags, Serial Number Certificate – is good. Like the sonic performance of the cables, it’s quietly impressive without being excessive. Your money goes on the cable, rather than fancy packaging.
Finally, I hooked up the Cottonmouth Signature speaker cables, and once again noticed an immediate improvement in clarity and coherence. As before, the music seemed to sound smoother and better integrated, with an inner clarity that enabled the ear to follow delicate backing vocals and instruments more easily.
Bass sounded very solid and powerful, while middle frequencies were liquid and precise. The upper frequencies were clean and beautifully smooth, yet incisive and detailed. The music seemed more unified and integrated – a coherent whole working towards a common aim, rather than a collection of individual instruments and voices.
For over 15 years, I’ve used Townshend Isolde cables, and not found anything I liked better. But these Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Signature speaker cables gave an unforced clarity and integrity my regular cables lacked; creating a sense of the music ‘happening’ effortlessly and coherently in a manner that sounded natural and real.
Snake River Audio cables are sold in pairs (except for power cords and digital interconnects) with matching serial numbers, but can be ordered in custom lengths according to individual requirements. UK buyers can audition SRA cables at distributor Mackenzie Hi-Fi’s demonstration studios in Wellingborough.
Since some buyers may end up purchasing without actually having listened beforehand, the UK distributors offer a two-week money-back guarantee on cables held in stock. For cables custom-ordered, the returns period is seven days and there may be a re-stocking charge. Of course, cable choice is a very personal thing, and every room/system is different.
All I can say is that I’m deeply impressed with these Signature SRA cables, and would certainly use them myself. They’re among the most natural-sounding and ‘musical’ cables I’ve ever listened to, so I’d be very surprised if you bought some and were hugely disappointed with the results.