Z:Axis Audio Reference I2S Cable

LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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Hi Everyone,

Just a interesting update on my long-standing Zanden 4-box digital front-end...a change to my I2S cable which was designed by Zanden expressly for this 4-box digital system to connect the Transport to the DAC. After over 10 years (and trying 2 other I2S cables during that time and not finding anything that came close to the Zanden), I have now agreed to buy the Z:Axis Audio Digital Reference I2S cable.

About the Cable - From the Manufacturer Website
100% hand built in the UK, our Ref series I2s cable combines the high quality Telegartner RJ45 or Neutrik NE8MX6-B modular terminal connectors, our proprietary 99.99% pure silver hand polished conductors configured for dedicated I2s digital transmission only, not to be used in an ethernet application. We have taken the design of this critical interconnect to it’s ultimate solution and found that this specific to I2s design has produced a significant sonic improvement over using a CAT6/7 type cable, with more textural detail, space, bass weight / punch and speed, timing /pace all improving in our test system. It is immediately obvious that there is a broader tonal gamut reaching deep into the bass frequencies that make the music less ‘greyed out’ than previously experienced.. This of course becomes our reference and is always available on demonstration. This cable has completely outperformed far more costly options from some very well known brands, hence if your digital equipment has an I2s implemented connection over RJ45 (not HDMI yet) then you really should try this cable to discover what your source is really capable of. The HDMI Version will be available mid 2021.. As there is no ‘standard’ I2s implementation, please enquire specifically for the components you wish to connect.

Zanden Digital and the Zanden I2S Cable
The entire ethos of the Zanden digital has always been entirely about natural purity of tone, delicacy in its ability to handle detail and extension. It was for its time extraordinarily detailed and remains so, but in the context of the latest digital is not quite in that rarified air of ultimate detail imho. However, it is shockingly good when properly isolated and driven/powered. And it retains even to this day a uniquely natural, pure tone of digital that (for a surprisingly large number of long-in-the-tooth serious audiophiles) remains at the top of the heap in terms of long-term listenability, purity and 'natural' live recording presentation.

Well respected, super-upper echelon audiophiles like Audiocrack still have kept their Zanden 4-box after all these years for a reason. Of the 12 Zanden 4-box owners I have communicated with over the years, only 1 has given it up for another digital system.

The cable is a custom-designed I2S cable for this digital system and for 10 years easily bested 2 other cables that were brought home for audition. Why? Natural tone and in one case, the level of detail and strength of signal were much stronger with the Zanden. And for many years, I assumed: a) I2S did not matter much anyway and b) as a Zanden-designed cable, it would be hard to beat because it was not only well designed by a revered digital designer...but the cable had the 'home court advantage'.

Zanden I2S Cable vs Z:Axis Audio
Along comes Paul Stratton, the founder of Z:Axis Audio in the UK, who has a clear commitment to pure materials, technical research in his designs (both power designs which look and apparently are superbly built based on real fundamentals...though I admit, I am no techie.)

As per the description above, he aims to build a real state of the art I2S cable for ethernet connections. And he brings it by after we acquired one of his isolation cabinets custom-built for our amplifier (which is a work of art by the way and works superbly well and looks like high end luxury furniture since it was custom matched to our existing furniture with piano gloss sapele finish wood and smoked glass.)

The cable is immediately set up to 3 separate disadvantages:

1. It is up against a Zanden cable...so designed by the manufacturer of the digital equipment itself
2. It is brand new...so not broken in.
3. I use Entreq wraps around both ends of the Zanden because it has helped shield it from further EMI/RFI at both ends, and it works well to ensure greater detail, lower noise. (My test is always understandability of complex choral music...whether or not I can understand more words or not.) In this case, I remove the Zanden cable...but do NOT add those Entreq wraps to the Z:Axis Audio Reference.

3 days later...


I put the Zanden cable back in (with all the Entreq wraps)...and it is like the sound got deflated by around 25%. Flatter, weaker signal and literally words that were clear as a bell become less distinct and actually something that (from memory) I always accepted I would never understand.

Returning to the Z:Axis, I can define the sound as a combination of 2 fantastic qualities: far more RESOLUTE and retaining Zanden's quality of natural purity. The signal is STRONGER, DEEPER, more resolved, more resolute. It also allowed me for the first time to hear the mumbles on certain house music that always seemed well, like a mumble. The bass propulsion increased dramatically...20% in terms of snap, dynamic power/hit. I suspect it is not 20% louder at all...but rather the lower noise floor means that the dynamic soft to loud of the bass hit appears far more dramatic.

2 days later...

I decide to make it a 'fairer fight' by putting the Entreq wraps on both ends so that it is like for like in comparison with the Zanden cable. And suddenly I can literally S-P-E-L-L the mumble now...letter for letter. It is not English, but more like a made up set of words...but I can literally spell out the 15-20 letters. INCREDIBLE.

The bass, the thwack...same power but more detailed.

And while I have not mentioned it much til this point, the Z:Axis preserves all of the purity, tone, natural presentation that is intrinsic to the ethos and original design of the Zanden digital. Zen-like.

Conclusion
A keeper. Something which you put in, forget about it and enjoy. No going back. Exceptional value. Done.
 

CKKeung

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Thanks LL21!
May you share with us some photos and the link of the shop/manufacturer?
 
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defride

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Congrats on the new cable, always fascinating to hear that the little things that 'shouldn't' make a difference can make such a difference.

I picked up an RCA pair from Paul last week, Z:axis Infinity. I'd been using a modest Atlas Hyper DD pair between the Brinkmann TT and phonostage and hadn't been happy with the sound. There was a tilt toward an unnatural glassiness to the presentation that had me scuttling back to my SP10.

I was surprised at the difference the Z:axis cable made, even from cold the glassy character disappeared and images solidified coming across more present/palpable. That and some further tweaking has transformed the Brinkmann, really enjoying it now.

Paul is meticulous and well worth seeking out, rather than just take the sale he's currently building a cable he feels may be better suited as a phono cable to compare to the one I have here.
 
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LL21

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Congrats! Sounds like a great result and entirely consistent with what I have heard for myself. Enjoy.
 
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Uk Paul

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LL21 Thank you for the detailed and unexpected write up, I'm obviously very pleased that you were open to trying this build, specific to the Zanden 4 box CDP.. Given time it will improve still further, subtle but definite. I'm looking forward to hearing it all once the dust settles!

Your description coincides with what we heard using the top level Ayon digital via it's I2s connections and DoP input, (if anyone has this gear this is the way to go) though Ayon don't build a cable specific for this position like Zanden do..

Just to point out that this Reference I2s differs to an ethernet cable and is not swappable, it is very different internally which in part is why the sound is considerably better; it is dedicated to I2s only! We are working on the HDMI version, which will be custom spec to order as there is no I2s standard, various manufacturers use RJ45 or HDMI, but vary the pin assignments, so each build is bespoke and there should be no reason why we can't apply this to a RJ45>HDMI hybrid and vice versa. Hopefully we will have an Ypsilon DAC 100 (!) here to test the HDMI as I believe they utilise the Pink Faun board / pin assignment. An equal development process has gone into our MicroPath Reference USB cable which is also available to order now..
And thanks to Defride; nice to see you here and love your profile pic ;).. Glad the Brinkmann managed to stay put and all is sounding fantastic now :)
Thanks also Howiebrou for the link, we have a big photo shoot planned far all cable and Symetrica products now that covid is becoming less prevalent so the website will get a major makeover later this year..

Rgds to all//

 

howiebrou

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Jun 29, 2012
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LL21 Thank you for the detailed and unexpected write up, I'm obviously very pleased that you were open to trying this build, specific to the Zanden 4 box CDP.. Given time it will improve still further, subtle but definite. I'm looking forward to hearing it all once the dust settles!

Your description coincides with what we heard using the top level Ayon digital via it's I2s connections and DoP input, (if anyone has this gear this is the way to go) though Ayon don't build a cable specific for this position like Zanden do..

Just to point out that this Reference I2s differs to an ethernet cable and is not swappable, it is very different internally which in part is why the sound is considerably better; it is dedicated to I2s only! We are working on the HDMI version, which will be custom spec to order as there is no I2s standard, various manufacturers use RJ45 or HDMI, but vary the pin assignments, so each build is bespoke and there should be no reason why we can't apply this to a RJ45>HDMI hybrid and vice versa. Hopefully we will have an Ypsilon DAC 100 (!) here to test the HDMI as I believe they utilise the Pink Faun board / pin assignment. An equal development process has gone into our MicroPath Reference USB cable which is also available to order now..
And thanks to Defride; nice to see you here and love your profile pic ;).. Glad the Brinkmann managed to stay put and all is sounding fantastic now :)
Thanks also Howiebrou for the link, we have a big photo shoot planned far all cable and Symetrica products now that covid is becoming less prevalent so the website will get a major makeover later this year..

Rgds to all//

Paul, do you still make those racks with the white, waffle style (for want of a better description)? I couldn't see it on the website. Thanks.
 

Uk Paul

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Howie, yes we can still do them though I removed them from the website as the main focus has become the cables and Symetrica which occupy most of my time now. LL21 has the damping tech in his cabinet for his Gryphon Mephisto we built last year.. By all means let me know if you need some info!
 

LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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LL21 Thank you for the detailed and unexpected write up, I'm obviously very pleased that you were open to trying this build, specific to the Zanden 4 box CDP.. Given time it will improve still further, subtle but definite. I'm looking forward to hearing it all once the dust settles!

Your description coincides with what we heard using the top level Ayon digital via it's I2s connections and DoP input, (if anyone has this gear this is the way to go) though Ayon don't build a cable specific for this position like Zanden do..

Just to point out that this Reference I2s differs to an ethernet cable and is not swappable, it is very different internally which in part is why the sound is considerably better; it is dedicated to I2s only! We are working on the HDMI version, which will be custom spec to order as there is no I2s standard, various manufacturers use RJ45 or HDMI, but vary the pin assignments, so each build is bespoke and there should be no reason why we can't apply this to a RJ45>HDMI hybrid and vice versa. Hopefully we will have an Ypsilon DAC 100 (!) here to test the HDMI as I believe they utilise the Pink Faun board / pin assignment. An equal development process has gone into our MicroPath Reference USB cable which is also available to order now..
And thanks to Defride; nice to see you here and love your profile pic ;).. Glad the Brinkmann managed to stay put and all is sounding fantastic now :)
Thanks also Howiebrou for the link, we have a big photo shoot planned far all cable and Symetrica products now that covid is becoming less prevalent so the website will get a major makeover later this year..

Rgds to all//

Great photo...I recognize it!

As for 'custom spec', even though I know you are speaking of technical configuration/wiring, I can say that this cable FEELS like a custom Zanden design expressly made for this Zanden 4-box set ...it really is just more of what makes the Zanden great.

More resolved, more resolute, firmer in its notes, and thereby through this firmity more definite in its details. But it does not provide that significant extra detail through SHARPENING...it does it thru resolve of the existing signal whereby having surer footing, more solid grounding means that the details simply surface and are freed more easily.

From the opening of the special case, the description of the work, the finishing of the cable...all the way through the first note and beyond...a feel of timeless quality and a reverence for the details that matter. Very impressive.
 
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Uk Paul

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Thank you Lloyd..
 

Addicted to hifi

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Great photo...I recognize it!

As for 'custom spec', even though I know you are speaking of technical configuration/wiring, I can say that this cable FEELS like a custom Zanden design expressly made for this Zanden 4-box set ...it really is just more of what makes the Zanden great.

More resolved, more resolute, firmer in its notes, and thereby through this firmity more definite in its details. But it does not provide that significant extra detail through SHARPENING...it does it thru resolve of the existing signal whereby having surer footing, more solid grounding means that the details simply surface and are freed more easily.

From the opening of the special case, the description of the work, the finishing of the cable...all the way through the first note and beyond...a feel of timeless quality and a reverence for the details that matter. Very impressive.
Beautiful cables
 
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JayDee

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Beautiful cables
I have been using a Z-Axis Symetrica in my system for a long time. Single handedly the best upgrade my system has had. So mu so i wrote Paul a review. He knows his stuff
 
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Birdwatcher

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Hello, can you please tell me which pins are which one in the 8 poles in the Zanden 2000p/5000s combination?
thanks and best regards, Balazs
 

LL21

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Hello, can you please tell me which pins are which one in the 8 poles in the Zanden 2000p/5000s combination?
thanks and best regards, Balazs
Hi...I cannot, but Paul of Z:Axis who custom-made our i2s cable for the Zanden definitely can. If you email him from his website, he should be able to help.


info@z-axisaudio.co.uk

Hope that helps. Paul is fantastic.
 
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Birdwatcher

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Thanks a lot. Yes, I know that Paul is fantastic. I just had one deal with him with a late night pick-up and long conversation about music, British HiFi scene, etc. A very nice person indeed.
 
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LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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Hi Everyone,

An update for you on the i2s cable...Paul came up with some new elements to his design and kindly let me try one. Short story: its staying! His new i2s reference cable ("SL-D") has evolved out of his work on the SL-777 power cables which we now have with our preamp and our DAC (all else remains Sablon Prince).

The SL-D brings two major benefits:
- bass response somehow improved...no idea how or why...makes 0 sense to me
- the cable seems even quieter by a touch, allowing that much more detail and music to come forward...again no idea why other than that all cables presumably have the potential to be antennae so its not always just the 0s and 1s but what ELSE is coming down the cable along with the 0s and 1s? I have no idea

I think the SL-D is an outright replacement of the original reference i2s cable? Not sure but in our system, it was a definite drop-in 'voice wise' and absolutely superior in the 2 above ways.
 
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LL21

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Hello, can you please tell me which pins are which one in the 8 poles in the Zanden 2000p/5000s combination?
thanks and best regards, Balazs
BTW, if you have the Zanden 2000P/5000S combination then imho not only are the Z:Axis i2s cables 'required reading' but so are his umbilicals for the Zanden which he made custom...AND the Waversa LAN Isolator Reference Plus...it goes in between the Transport and DAC via the i2s connection (so you will need a 2nd i2s cable coming out)...but the Zanden has advanced 10-15 years in clarity, nuance and ability to bring forward inflections and subtleties (ie, as in comparable to current generation digital where despite preferring the Zanden voicing, I did find that the latest gen digital did provide greater detail and insights). Not so anymore.
 
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Uk Paul

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Thank you very much indeed Lloyd for the update on your journey into CD based digital and for the praise placed upon the SL-D i2s, it is always very comforting to hear such positive feedback on a product that has evolved through a genuine and thorough design process which we learned of the positive effects certain design parameters have on an audio signal, whether it be low frequency as in the SL-777 power cable, audio frequencies of the SL 832 analogue interconnects (RCA & XLR), or indeed the very high frequencies of digital interconnects as in the SL-D series. The effect of the particular parameter that has elevated the performance of the SL series is clear to be heard in all applications, and for those interested is available in USB and ethernet form now also.

In addition, applying this to our phono cable from the Viv Labs RF 9 and the RF 7 as used by The General made such a significant impact on what actually made it through to the phono stage has left a permanent image in my brain since that day at The General's when we pulled his whole system together to such an aspirational level it was simply breath-taking.. I think he will hopefully make a return to this forum once his journey has settled..

I should say that if anyone is searching for a top level USB cable we would be more than willing to enter our SL-D USB into any shoot out, just get in touch to discuss it further..

Kind Regards and new years best wishes to all,
Paul

MicroPath Reference SL-D USB.jpg
 
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LL21

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Fantastic news, Paul. I have read and heard many great things about the General, particularly his discerning ear and system. Would be great indeed to read when he has some time to share his experience now in his system with your cables.
 
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defride

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it is always very comforting to hear such positive feedback on a product that has evolved through a genuine and thorough design process which we learned of the positive effects certain design parameters have on an audio signal, whether it be low frequency as in the SL-777 power cable, audio frequencies of the SL 832 analogue interconnects (RCA & XLR), or indeed the very high frequencies of digital interconnects as in the SL-D series
Can also attest the effectiveness of the digital cable.

Having experimented with a small number of digital coax cables I'd drawn the conclusion that there was little benefit moving from modest to fairly extreme. My digital had a slightly dark, heavy character that I attributed to the Marantz house sound. Sounded more than adequate with a noticeable character next to analogue.

Introducing Paul's SL-D coax made a substantial difference, the sound opened out and largely lost the dark, heavy character, far more natural sounding. Colour me surprised, I bought one.

If the other digital cables share this quality and reports suggest they do then well worth investigating
 

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