ANCILLARIES – CABLES, MAINS, SUPPORT, GROUNDING & THE NETWORK

These are the areas of the system which get most ignored but seeing as the level of electronics now begins at such a high level for reasonable money, these parts of the system are now more important than ever before, second really only to the Loudspeaker. With the rise in streamed and stored digital music, the home network has also become absolutely crucial and improvements made here often completely transcend the normal £/performance ratios we are used to.

“Ancillaries” then is a bit of a misnomer because these parts of the system are not ‘supplementary’ or ‘supporting’ but as important as any other category of product. Moving to a good loom of cabling, a decent suite of mains cables, or installing a Shunyata mains distribution block or an Entreq grounding box, will often be an even bigger sonic upgrade than moving your Amplifier or DAC one rung up the manufacturer’s ladder. And that even holds true if you are using our cheapest components. Even small network improvements like a better USB or Ethernet cable can also effect bigger sonic improvements than actual box upgrades.

Let me illustrate this with a short story. I have a good customer who lives local to me. He has a great system and we have done many upgrades together. Vitus Dac module to Masterpiece Dac. Avalon Idea to Avalon PM1 speakers. Melco Zh streamer to Melco Zs. Vitus RI-101 to Vitus SIA-025 Integrated. Most of these are upgrades in excess of a £10,000 spend but if you ask him, he will tell you that sonically the 2 biggest upgrades he ever did were installing Tara Labs ONE speaker cables and then also a Shunyata Omega USB cable on another occasion.

Quite a few people find it difficult to enjoy this side of the industry and some struggle emotionally to pay good money for what is a series of wires or metal feet, which offer little in the way of pride of ownership or purchase excitement. I can completely empathise with that position but can only implore you to rethink everything that your head and heart is telling you and not neglect or compromise in these areas. An expensive wire is expensive largely because of the time consuming R&D that has gone into it and because there is no shortcut and you cannot get the same sorts of improvements by buying cheaper cables or somehow making your own.

As a dealer I know first hand just how much more you can extract from all these boxes when pushed with the best ancillaries. It is quite staggering. These amplifiers, preamps, DACs, streamers, CD players we all love buying, they are capable of so much more than most people have ever heard.

CABLES

Speaker cables and the USB cable (or primary digital cable) have a profound effect on a system. The global level of resolve and transparency of the entire system will be completely governed by these two cables and to a slightly lesser extent, the other signal XLR and RCA connections. You might have the best DAC in the world but if you are using a £500 USB cable you probably aren’t even hearing half of what it can do.

Our signal cable range at Lotus is very simple. We focus on just two brands. We do not believe in seasoning using cables but rather to open and reveal the system with the lowest noise wires possible. A cable should ideally not be heard. It should be linear, perfectly neutral with the best composure and dimensional stability possible. No frequencies should be manipulated, it should just reveal the system as best as possible at a given pricepoint.

When we began with Tidal Audio back in 2016, so neutral and invisible was its performance that it forced us to re-evaluate all the wires we sell. We trialled over 10 high end cable brands from all different parts of the globe and Tara Labs was the only product line that was not shown up in a Tidal system. That is to say, it possessed the same level of naturalness and linearity to still be imperceptible when employed in an all Tidal setup. Today it is the main cable we employ in most systems with a range that starts at very reasonable prices but then extends upwards to the highest levels seen in the industry. Our other main cable brand is Tidal who offer both the ‘Reference’ and ‘Assoluta’ ranges. The same level of neutrality and naturalness, they are supremely musical and fit beautifully into all the systems we build.

Now we do sometimes sell other cable brands that can “treat” a system. For example, add warmth, calm a forward system down, imbue it with extra energy, smooth out a system or make it sound a little sharper and more biting, but these cables do not comprise the main suite of offerings and I do not put them on the website. They are used only if necessary. The best systems do not need extra “seasoning”.

For our digital signal cables we have a third brand to join Tara Labs and Tidal and that is Shunyata. Their USB and clock cables are world class and do some very powerful things to a system when installed.

MAINS

Mains cables follow the same principles as signal cabling. Our power cords do not warm or smooth out the sound or give a false sense of extra detail or aggression; they simply add more refinement, more space, depth, transparency and dynamic range. They lower noise across the board. They get you closer to the true sound and potential of your dac or amplifier and hence closer to the music and your artists.

Our mains cables come from Shunyata and Tidal. We also specialise in the Shunyata distribution blocks. These are highly advanced filtering units that improve the sound significantly. Again, the magnitude of improvement they bring to a good system is usually quite startling for most customers.

SUPPORT

How your equipment is supported is fundamental to how it sounds. If you ever want to find out first hand, simply lay it all out on a hard wood floor one day, it will sound distorted, rough and bright with so much vibration transmitted through each chassis. Or put it all straight to the carpet and see how soft, smeared and undynamic it soon becomes.

All equipment inherits the sound of the surface it is sitting on to some degree or other. Also equipment does not like vibration, either structure borne or from pressure waves in the air. There is also vibration inherent in electronics that begins in the electronics themselves. Our main way of supporting equipment is not by using fancy hifi racks with huge price tags but by employing stillpoint feet. Stillpoints are a very advanced technology which lower mechanical noise in equipment and increase sound quality uniformly across all parameters.

That said, you still need furniture to house a system and we sell an exhaustive range of racks from Neo, Box furniture and Stillpoints themselves. They have all been designed to sound good, even without the use of additional stillpoint feet and they offer a huge variety of finishes, looks and designs.

Speakers always have their own support system provided by the manufacturer. Usually a series a spikes in the cabinet or stand. Some manufacturers also make more sophisticated isolation feet to include with their speakers. Stillpoints under speakers though will always improve their performance dramatically, more so than any alternative product we have ever encountered. The loudspeaker has the propensity to colour the sound more than any other component and is subject to the most mechanical vibration so stillpoints employed here are actually even more powerful than when used under electronics, turntables and mains blocks. If the budget is there then Stillpointing speakers at Lotus is a formality. Better control, precision, dynamics and transparency, especially in the lower frequencies.

Stillpoints @ Lotus Hifi
GROUNDING

Entreq from Sweden brought equipment grounding to the masses. At first, much of the industry was sceptical of its validity but all along the early adopting dealers knew that it was one of the easiest and most powerful demos you could do for a customer. Five years on and there are now a plethora of companies who realised that Per Olef and his team were onto something really important, and who now manufacture rival grounding products albeit with a fraction of the knowledge base and 15 year experience of the team at Entreq.

Grounding involves connecting spare signal sockets (RCA, XLR, USB, RJ45) into a passive grounding box that contains an array of metals and minerals and acts as a drain point for stray pollutants and noise inherent in all equipment. The result is a remarkable cleaning of the system with greater clarity, depth, texture, dynamics and overall transparency.  A system that has been “Entreq’d” is layered and dimensional, tangibly alive with a sense that instruments and performers have been precipitated into the very air in the listening room.

Entreq Grounding @ Lotus Hifi

Quite simply, until you have grounded your equipment, you have not fully unleashed its full potential. It is cumulative with all other system enhancements, even a dedicated mains ground spike so you can only realise this upgrade by grounding and until you do, the system will be running some distance below it’s maximum true ability.

THE NETWORK

Most of our systems are plugged into the home network these days. Our streamers and servers are attached to the network to be controlled from our Ipads and if we are not playing files directly from a network attached hard drive, we are using streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz, pulling music from the deep recesses of the web.

The problem is the home network is a large and very complex source of noise. There are many noise factors with USB and ethernet cables, phase noise from consumer grade network clocks, noise from cheap router/dataswitch power supplies and even clock phase noise maybe as far back as the distant servers run by the music streaming companies. A few years ago it was assumed that these pathways would have no effect on sound quality but truth is that the contribution is really quite profound.

The home network has such a large effect on sound quality that it should be viewed as another discrete component of the Hifi system, no different from say a preamplifier, a set of speaker cables or a phono stage. It should be considered and thought about, optimised and upgraded in step with the rest of the system. Here at Lotus we offer audiophile grade switches from Melco and Entreq and Taiko, Audiophile routers from Waversa, high quality linear power supplies from Plixir and audiophile grade ethernet cables from Shunyata. Customers routinely report sonic upgrades that completely blitz all the normal £/performance ratios that we are used to with more traditional pieces of equipment.

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