Product: FlashBack Sales cables
Company: FlashBlack Sales - UK
Approx. price: see text
Availability: factory direct (online)
Reviewed by: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: October, 2005
If you're a fan of old (British) HiFi gear you've certainly felt - at least once in your lifetime - the need for better cables to connect all those DIN-equipped components. Don't lie! Naim Audio, vintage Quad gear etc. they all went with DIN connectors. Sometimes you may have faced with the trouble of replacing cables with different connectors: XLRs at one end, DINs at the other end. Or DIN to RCAs, BNCs to RCAs and so on. To make things even worse there are different versions of these: 4 pins, 5 pins, locking, non-locking plus a pletora of special cables to connect - for example - Naim amps to Naim preamps, with or without external power supplies. Not to mention the special and almost disappeared "Bulgin-type" mains cables!!! NAP 120's, Quad 33/303's etc used this kind of now discontinued mains plug, just to cite a few.
One possible solution was/is buying original cables from the manufacturers, provided these are still in the business and/or have a stock of vintage spares. Indeed, the problem is that certain items are no longer available or, when they are, those don't exactly come cheap. For example, Naim SNAIC interconnects are pretty expensive, at least here in Italy.
Hence, you may wonder whether is it possible to get something better - or, at least, comparable - for less money.
During my experiments with DIN-equipped gear (older Naims, Meridians etc.) I've come across this problem so many times that I was forced to find a solution. The answer proved to be a small (one-man-band) business known as FlashBack Sales, based in Crowle, Scunthorpe, UK and managed by Mr. David Laine and his wife Lyn. They simply make everything you might ever need for connecting ANY HiFi component made on Planet Earth and abroad, from 100 B.C. till present day :-)
Custom needs? Weird connections? Just ask! David is such a friendly and helpful chap that is a real pleasure dealing with him. A real gentleman.
Just to test the quality of the stuff he makes and sells I asked him to send me a Naim SNAIC 4 "clone" and the special cable used to connect the Naim NAP 250 power amp to Naim preamps. First, a brief reminder about the "original" cables from Naim Audio. The SNAIC 4, originally "grey", is now available with a "black" sleeve only. Naimophiles claim the black one sounds way better than the grey one. And they are damn right. The difference isn't subtle, actually. Perhaps the secret is all in the better shielding: since the SNAIC transfers both signal and 24V mains (!!!) shielding must be of paramount importance, otherwise noise contaminations may occour. And we all want to avoid this, don't we?
The NAP 250 interconnect cable is a whole different beast. It transfers audio signal only, from a XLR connector (amp's side) to a 4 pin DIN connector (preamp's side). Believe it or not, this interconnect is nothing else than a pure and simple 3-core mains cable. Gosh! A pure lamp cord. No shield, no fancy OFC copper and unobtanium connectors...a plain and simple 3-core mains wire. 'noff said.
First things first: the service is simply EXCELLENT. Fast, reliable and...affordable. Prices vary from 20 to 40 UKP, depending on lenght, kind of wire and connectors (available also gold plated locking-type DINs!). Even a full 20-days no-quibble refund policy is available, one never knows, right? As for availability of models....just imagine ANY kind of connector, David has it! Even stuff for vintage Quad II's! Did I mention attenuated interconnects? They're in stock as well.
Anyway, since what really matters to us is the way HiFi components sound...here's a kind of a comparison test between FlashBack Sales (from now on FS for short) Naim-clone cables and the original Naim stuff. Scope is limited but it should shed some light on the quality of the wires (and manufacturing) used by FlashBack Sales, in case you need a custom cable from them. My test samples were manufactured using their most expensive wires (Performance series). They feature a heavy braided screen surrounding all the cores. Other options are available: HG (High Grade) and EHG (Enhanced High Grade, I assume). The EHG type has 2 cores, each of which is surrounded with a braided screen. HG, similar to EHG, but each core is surrounded with a lapped screen.
Most Naim users prefer the "Performance" type cable, Quad users prefer the EHG type cable.
The equipment used for tests is strictly Naim gear, mainly vintage, including NAC 32.5, 42.5 and 12 (YES!) preamps, 140, 90.3, 120 (YES YES!) and 250 power amps.
Before comparing the FS clone to the black SNAIC I've tried to compare it to an older grey SNAIC 4. Well, the difference is not negligible and the FS proves to be a clear upgrade over the older stuff. A more refined top end, a firmer soundstage (not Flat Earth territory, so please forgive me) and generally a more fluent musical presentation is what you get and immediately notice. Voices appear less "grainy" and artificial while the lower noise floor lets details to come out easily.
After the successful comparison, a head to head test the black SNAIC 4 was mandatory then! One against the other the two cables are very similar, both as tonal balance and correct timing reproduction. The black SNAIC is - perhaps - a little bit more open in the highs and slightly more refined but in the end it is mainly a matter of personal taste and system balance. Actually it is hard to tell the difference between the two cables though my feelings are that the original Naim is just slightly better overall.
The FS cable is a very good and less expensive alternative to the black SNAIC and certainly a vast upgrade over the original grey SNAIC. If your SNAIC is damaged or if you still use an old grey SNAIC, this is the right cable for you. It's time for a change. For better.
Here the difference is simply stunning and all in favour of the FS clone. Simply put, each and any audio parameter is improved by the FS clone: transparency, precision, pace, rhythm and timing and, hear hear!, there's also a good 3-D soundstage! Perhaps, this is the most noticeable difference: while the standard Naim cable creates a completely flat (Earth?) 2-dimensional stage, stuck in between the loudspeakers, the FS clone creates a 3-D virtual space that surrounds the speakers literally.
Of course, standard Naimophiles wouldn't notice this improvement, since "soundstaging" is something not familiar to strict "Flat Earth" sound philosophy observant. With speakers placed against the rear wall there's little hope to get that "third dimension" of the stage. Everything gets "sprayed" on the rear wall, between the speakers. With the FS cable you literally "discover" the soundstaging capabilities of the NAP 250 power amp. Definitely, an enlightening experience.
And, certainly, one of the best "value for money" upgrades you can perform on a NAP 250. What was already "good" becomes "excellent" and what was barely noticeable becomes self-evident. It is like some extra "air" has been pumped inside the sound of your system.
For audiophiles on a tight budget, this upgrade is simply a must. The change is so vast and evident that you might need some time to become familiar with it. Once you understand what you get, you can't look back (in anger or not, it doesn't really matter :-)). Connecting the old cable again is something that makes you wonder why Naim Audio used such a bad sounding cable with such an excellent amplifier. Of course, if you use your 250 with a non-Naim preamp you don't need this cable. On the other hand, you can ask FlashBack to build an XLR-RCA cable to connect to any preamp with standard outputs.
Before ordering, double check your exact needs with David. Ordering the wrong cables, considering the huge choice, is not impossible. In any case, you have a full no-quibble 20 days "sale or return" policy...just in case. But I'm pretty sure the number of "returns" at FlashBack Sales is extremely low. For orders above 75 UKP postage is FREE worlwide (otherwise is 1.99 UKP).
Let the cables "break in" on your system. Even if the cables don't really need to "break in" your ears certainly do. In a week or so you should be able to understand the way these cables sound. Then disconnect, plug in the old ones and listen again. Then viceversa, till everything becomes clearer.
If you hate the idea of running signal and 24V supply all together in the same cable (as Naim does), FlashBack Sales can build custom cables to separate audio signal and power supply, for minimizing interferences.
© Copyright 2005 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com