Cables for Music Songbird Cable Loom with OnEarth Grounding System

The vast majority of cables are relatively simple constructions combining conductors of varying materials and different levels of purity with, typically, some form of shielding to protect the signal from our RF-rich environment. Then, there’s the dielectric structure and, at the important contact point, the connectors which physically interface with the up/down-stream equipment. Some manufacturers take the concept a step further by introducing additional elements such as impedance-matching in-line networks, battery dielectric bias systems, unusual construction architectures, etc. Hong Kong cable specialist Cables for Music adopts elaborate grounding schemes with a view to reducing noise to ever-lower levels. As the entry-point into the ‘High-End’ series, the Songbird cables offer much of the extreme grounding technology dedicated to the company’s super-high-end offerings at a more affordable price point.

There Are Two Paths You Can Go By

In and of themselves, the straight-up Songbird cables feature the ingredients for excellent performance. Sans additional grounding schemes. These are pure copper cable designs terminated with high quality connectors and incorporating a custom ‘Third Generation’ shielding technology Cables for Music (CfM) calls ‘Optimised Shielding Plus OS+1’. The cables are flexible and very well assembled.

Pertinent to this review, CfM offers its ‘OnEarth’ versions of the Songbird cables made for inter-relation with the ‘Master Pro’ proprietary grounding system. For the purpose of this review, I was supplied with the Master Pro-8 grounding cable which, as the model name implies, features eight grounding tails (CfM also offers a Master Pro-4 version).

As an additional potential upgrade path, CfM offers its ‘Cable Optimiser’ CO-P1 and CO-P2 bespoke add-on devices which are cylindrical collars made of undisclosed materials which simply wrap around the cables – in this case, Songbird. While the focus of this review is the ‘OnEarth/Master Pro’ grounding system, I did play with the CO-P2 specifically and found some subtle differences in soundstage size. For deeper insights into CO-P2 check my CfM Resonant cable review here.

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The OnEarth versions of Songbird (interconnects, AC power leads, etc.) feature a grounding cable ‘tail’ terminated with a banana socket which can accept the thin and flexible Master Pro grounding wires, themselves terminated with banana plugs (optional terminations are a ring connector for coupling to a chassis screw, or RCA for connecting to an unused RCA socket, etc.). One end of the grounding wire plugs into the Songbird grounding tail, the other hooks to the dedicated Master Pro-8 cable which has a multitude of tails at one end (in this case eight tails) and is terminated with an AC plug at the other. This AC-terminated end must then plug into a free power socket near your rack/components.

Of course, only the ground conductor is connected here so no need to turn the power on at this AC socket. Check the image below for a graphic on what the scheme looks like.

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Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway…) the OnEarth and Master Pro-8 scheme is a far more sophisticated system then the usual shield mesh and/or grounding conductor the latter of which demands a directivity connection due to the unsoldered/unconnected conductor at the input end. OnEarth optimises the grounding of the cable by referencing it at a point away from the signal-carrying conductors while minimising and drawing away noise from the input, general circuitry and amplification stages.

Cables for Music’s website offers a comprehensive stream of diagrams and information relating to the most effective ways of connecting the grounding scheme and running the Master Pro grounding wires in order to draw the best possible performance.

I asked Cables for Music Founder Calvin Law for his take on the effects of grounding topologies in cables in general and how CfM tackles the matter:

The conventional grounding source of cables is made from the connected components once the cables are connected to the sockets that is the ground reference point inside a component, which is the zero-voltage potential point of its power supply and is also the ground reference point for the whole component. All signal amplifications are carried out with reference to this point. However, this is also the point all the current returning in order to complete the work done of the circuits. As such, this point is highly interfered during the operation no matter if it is also connected to the earth ground from the AC power cord. If the grounding source is directly taken at this point for providing the shielding functions on the connected cables, the interference is directly coupled to the shielding structures of cables that would deteriorate the cable performance.

To deal with this issue, we try to firstly disconnect the ground connection between the component and cable's shieling structure but with the external OnEarth earth grounding connection made for directly connecting to our specialised Master Pro Earth Grounding Cable. The ground cable is specially designed with the use of our patented grounding technology that can optimise the earth grounding characteristics. Once it is connected to the OnEarth version cable, the cable is properly shielded with the optimised earth ground and at the same time completely isolate the component's interfered ground reference point to the shielding structures of the OnEarth version cable.

Within the context of my system’s setup, I happen to have a vacant isolated AC power point directly behind the audio rack, in addition to a further four isolated-circuit sockets and a GigaWatt PF-1 EVO 6-outlet power strip (yes, there’s lots of stuff to power-up). So the AC-terminated end of the Master Pro grounding cable plugs in to the vacant isolated power point. I then ran the banana-ended ground leads’ male plugs to the various interconnecting cables’ female banana sockets in order to connect the grounding scheme. Ditto for the AC leads powering the various components. It’s a simple enough scheme to hook-up, sounding more complicated in writing than it actually is in practice (and the graphic shown above does help).

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So I was supplied a number of AC, interconnecting (both RCA and XLR) and loudspeaker cables. I took care in terms of guiding the ground cables through pathways where there were less likely interactions between them and other signal and AC cables. In the Cables for Music universe everything matters. The company even offers suggestions for the orientation of the grounding cables and external CO-P1 and CO-P2 cable optimiser collars (in addition to recently released cable and component support products).

Garden of Earthly Delights

Like its bigger sibling the excellent Resonant cable line, the Songbird cables offer exceptional soundstaging and tonal qualities. Company founder Calvin Law knows his cable concoctions, has a very sharp ear and dedicates extensive time to listening sessions. He aims for neutrality with a balanced sound which allows the music to flow through.

The OnEarth/Master Pro-8 grounding scheme provides an added level of quietness to the sound. There are deeper, darker backgrounds (yes, a clichéd expression which, nevertheless, articulates the phenomenon properly). This allows the finer nuances of delicate music to pop with enhanced levels of detail and with excellent tonal shades. Textural density is excellent and on par with Resonant cables sans OnEarth.

On the title track of Kekko Fornarelli’s Room of Mirrors album, the piano’s tone shines and echoes in the high notes while the decay and ambience retrieval in this recording is spectacular. There’s an ease-of-flow to the way Songbird handles the music, with the ensemble playing in unison, in a holistic presentation, yet also separating the instrumental strands to a degree which allows their appreciation.

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I also found the soundfield recreation properties of Songbird with OnEarth/Master Pro-8 was very impressive. Especially in the depth perspective where appropriate recordings (live ones, of course) presented stunning soundstage three-dimensionality. Of course, the usual suspects were auditioned where the live event capture allowed the full rendering of images in massive soundstages. Ani DiFranco’s Live in Clip, a wonderfully dynamic and spacious recording was exactly that via this cable system. Ditto for Ryan Adams Live at Carnegie Hall and, decades apart and from the same revered venue, Harry Belafonte and The Weavers which all showed expressive and powerful dynamic contrasts with expansive and airy soundfields.

So to reiterate, pinpointing the main benefits of the OnEarth/Master Pro optimised grounding system would see me honing-in on the quieter backgrounds, the ease of the music flow as a result of the lower noise floor. So as expressed above, another very important by-product is the marginal extension of the soundfield in all dimensions. You get a deeper, wider and taller soundstage presentation with hard-focused images placed with steadfast placement – no image shifting here. This last point also speaks to Songbird/OnEarth’s evenly balanced tonal rendering which refrains from accentuating any given frequency band.

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In the context of this review, the launchpad for Cables for Music’s OnEarth and Master Pro optimised grounding scheme was a High-End series’ full Songbird cable loom. That in itself is a superb platform for accurate and musical signal-carrying.

Granted, the OnEarth/Master Pro-8 optimised grounding system introduces an added level of practical arrangement in terms of cable routing making the space behind the components a tad more congested. However, adding the OnEarth/Master Pro system elevated the Songbird cables’ level of excellence to a higher plane of noise suppression and soundfield expansion, so any minor inconvenience or cable-guiding exertion is a rather small price to pay.

Yes, the OnEarth and Master Pro-8 system raises Cables for Music Songbird's performance firmly on to solid, umm… ground. There’s a Songbird who Sings…

… Edgar Kramer
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Associated Equipment

Cables for Music Songbird Cable Loom + OnEarth & Master Pro Optimised Grounding System
Price (Starting from): Interconnect AU$3375, Speaker AU$5910
Warranty: Five Years

Australian Distributor: Magenta Audio
+61 08 8390 1673

Cables for Music
Room 801, 8th Floor, Shui Hing Centre
13 Sheung Yuet Road, Kowloon Bay
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 3990 0256