CFM (Cables For Music) Resonant OnEarth Cable System

Look at the Resonant cable range and as well as the usual suspects (interconnects – digital and analogue, speaker cables and power cords), you’ll find a few interlopers listed in the shape of grounding cables. You might not consider that particularly unusual these days, until you actually take a look at the leads involved…

A Resonant grounding cable consists of what looks at one end just like a substantial power cord, terminated with an AC plug. But at the other end, it splits, almost squid-like, into four chunky flying leads, each terminated with a 4mm banana, a spade or an RCA connector. Overall length is a little over two meters. In what CFM describe as a ‘Level One’ OnEarth grounding system, the four flying leads on each ground cable are connected to the corresponding flying ground sockets on the interconnects or speaker cables, power cord(s) and chassis/signal ground connection of each component, the AC plug on the other end being connected to mains ground, either in the wall, or more likely via a dedicated audio grade distribution block. Take a moment, think that through and it soon becomes clear that you are going to need a (substantial) ground cable for each component in the system – as well as providing any additional hardware, like the distribution block and an extra ground cable to connect that to the wall. Given that the average source component is going to jump from two or three cables to six or seven, you are increasing your cable count significantly, as well as the ‘clutter’ that goes with it. It doesn’t take a gigantic mental leap to conclude that this is going to be neither a cheap nor (in all likelihood) a particularly elegant exercise. Nor are we finished yet. However, what it is, at least in performance terms, is revelatory.

Ground down to nothing…

You could stop here, but CFM suggest another step up to a ‘Level Two’ system, in which (you guessed it) you institute another layer of grounding. In this case, each OnEarth ground cable has its own flying lead/ground link. In a Level Two configuration, these too are connected to the main AC ground via extra four-way grounding cables. That adds another four-way OnEarth grounding cable per four components. Given the modest increase in cable numbers and therefore cost that is going to result and the fact that the musical benefits are all too obvious, the complete Level One system should really be viewed as just another way station on a single, incremental upgrade path. So what I’m going to describe here is the full Level Two performance.

Returning to Víkingur Ólafsson once more, it is hard to believe that this is the same performance, even the same disc. The piano is a solid, cleanly defined presence surrounded by a clear, inky black acoustic space that exists, totally separate from the speakers. It has a stable weight, authority and layer on layer of harmonic texture. But it’s the clarity those qualities bring to the placement of notes and chords, the shape of phrases and the delicacy and articulation of the playing that creates a captivatingly beautiful and arresting musical experience. This is a recording that doesn’t just capture, it revels in the scale and layered complexity of the grand piano. This is a cable set up that delivers all of that scale and complexity, harmonic layering and energised air. The only word to describe the effect is “natural”. There’s an almost total absence of grubby, electronic smudges and fingerprints sullying the musical and tonal purity. Listening to this music on this system, it’s hard to think of anybody remaining unmoved or unaffected and, whilst solo piano is brutally effective in demonstrating the differences and benefits delivered by the OnEarth system, they are just as significant and revealing on every other musical genre, from the extraordinary musical chemistry of the Miles Davis Quintet to the drama and emotional intensity of Kleiber’s Beethoven Symphonies, the driving, riotous power of Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road to the winsome fragility of a Nanci Griffith or Janis Ian vocal. Whatever you play, the ‘Level Two’ CFM OnEarth Resonant cable system will deliver just as much presence and shape, texture, colour and emotional and musical communication as the recording can offer, bringing a natural intimacy and connection to the performance, enhanced by the equally natural sense of proportion and perspective. Impressive on studio takes, the benefits on a good acoustic recording would be little short of astonishing – if they weren’t so effortlessly understated.

Ground Zero!

Going from zero to hero – or at least to a full, Level Two system is no small undertaking, but that’s where the CFM system’s upgradeability comes in. Add a single OnEarth grounding cable to a set up conventionally wired with CFM cables and you get an immediate and obvious boost in performance. Not surprisingly, if you are going to go from a conventionally cabled CFM system to the OnEarth arrangement, by stages, then the place to start is the digital front-end, but I was also astonished by the impact that using a dedicated OnEarth tonearm cable had on record replay. Stop and think for a moment and that result becomes less surprising (given the diminutive size and extreme fragility of the signals involved) but even so, it still pretty much stopped me in my tracks. Either way, the nearer the front of the system you start, the greater the step-by-step benefits, benefits that are as musically tangible as they are worthwhile. As is so often the case, the last link in the chain makes the biggest difference of all, the final step up to the Level Two topology locking all the attributes into a single, coherent (and remarkably convincing) musical whole.