Inakustik Referenz MICRO AIR NF-204 Interconnects and LS-204 Speaker Cables Review

Review
inakustik micro air hifi cables review 4

This is a review written by Chris Baillie March 2024.

Inakustik

When one thinks about long established Hi-Fi cable brands, companies such as Chord Co, Audioquest, Nordost, Kimber, Cardas and QED all spring to mind. Surprisingly German brand Inakustik was established before any of the aforementioned bar QED. Search YouTube or click this link for Terry’s video tour of their factory, and you will discover it was founded in 1977 and is a very impressive facility, based in Ballrechten-Dottingen, Southern Germany.  They manufacture an array of products for home entertainment and professional applications, including audio and video cables, power cables and accessories such as power blocks and filters. Impressively, they even have their own audiophile music label, whose releases include Blues, Folk and Jazz music and are available on both CD and vinyl.

Unique approach

Inakustic’s USP is producing cables which use as much air as possible as an insulating material, rather than typical dielectrics such as PVC or polyurethane. The theory here is such material stores and releases energy, which can distort delicate audio signals. Reading this brings to mind French company Lavardin and their low ‘Memory Distortion’ technology; although the company kept information as to how they achieved this to themselves, I do wonder if the two brands share similar ideas here.

Inakustic’s top-of-the-range Reference AIR cables are painstakingly built up by hand, you see this in Terry’s video and they are using an Air-Helix system of threading each individual strand of cable through plastic guide clips and weaving that space and align each cable run into a helix shape. Unsurprisingly, this means these cables are priced at the top end of the market, way beyond the reach of mere mortals.

The cables I am reviewing here use a simplified version of Air-Helix called Micro-Air, which, whilst still keeping air as a component dielectric, they are significantly easier to manufacturer and, therefore, less costly to produce.  There is also visually a lot less air about them, there is not the same space between the conductors hence the term Micro-Air, so its the same principle but scaled down.

The conductors used in the cables are made from what is described as a Concentric Copper wire construction (individual strands woven around a core not all in a straight line bundled together in a normal cable, this change is said to harmonise signal flow and minimise transit time differences. The copper is coated with a thin layer of polyethene to prevent oxidisation but also to keep the cable dielectric as thin as possible to keep as much air there as possible. The polyethene layer is skimmed off at each contact end to allow and electrical connection with the plug or spade. Rather than soldering the cable to the plug, the cable is compressed under a one- and-a-half-ton load to form a near-perfect connection. The plugs or spades are made from Tellurium copper and are Rhodium coated.

I have to say the quality of the construction is second to none, and the cables are more flexible than many, which made installation a doddle, unlike some cables that I have in my collection. A nice touch was that LS-204’s 4mm plugs were protected by removable plastic covers, which I admit caused a momentary head scratching when I first tried to install them.

I was sent a 3-meter sample of the LS-204 speaker cables, which retail at £685.00. The 1- meter set of NF-204 XLR terminated interconnects retails at £375.00, and the 1m sample of the same cable is priced at £355.00

Testing 1 2 3

I first tried out the NF-204 RCA cables in a headphone-based setup, comprising of a Windows PC, Denafrips Iris/Ares 12 th USB converter & DAC, Heed Canalot headphone amp and Sendy Peacock headphones. Ideally, I would have also tried my Chord Hugo2/2Go to feed the Heed, but unfortunately, the Hugo2’s phono sockets are recessed into the body of the unit, without enough clearance for the RCA’s fitted to these cables.

The NF-204 replaced a solid-core interconnect made by Sean Jacobs. It was immediately apparent the NF-204 allowed a more precise and detailed presentation, with a leaner and less organic balance than the cable it replaced. Having said that, the music was well-balanced and enjoyable with no unpleasant harshness despite its leaner, more brightly lit presentation. In this setup, the music was always clean but not overly analytical, and the high resolution of this cable was appreciable. Listening to a Qobuz stream of Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration, an album that can sound a bit thin in a typical 80’s fashion, proved enjoyable. However, I felt that the Sean Jacobs cable’s fuller and organic presentation proved more satisfying. Say She She’s sophomore effort, Silver, can sound a little murky and compressed. The additional leading- edge definition brought about by the NF-204 worked well and gave this recording the lift needed to bring it alive. Overall, I felt that the NF-204 phono cables worked well in this setup, which leans towards the warm and euphoric side of neutral.

The XLR NF-204 and LS-204 speaker cables replaced my much-loved Townshend Audio Isolda DCT cables in my main system, which comprises of a Melco N1 server and a S100 switch, a Moon 780D DAC, Moon 600i amplifier and Totem Forest Signature speakers. Interestingly, although the Townshend cables follow a similar low inductance philosophy to that of the Inakustic design, they have a much higher capacitance and consequently include a Zobel Network box to prevent the cable’s high capacitance damaging amplifiers that are unable to cope with such a load. The Townshend cables are so neutral and natural sounding that they make everything else I have tried sound bright to varying degrees.

This was the case again here, but in most cases, not unpleasantly so. I felt that the leading edges of notes were slightly emphasised, which again helped with slightly murky recordings and provided a little extra clarity at low volume levels. Spatial effects were well rendered and stood out well. My usual acid test of Roger Waters’ Amused To Death in DSD, ripped from the SACD and played back via my Melco server, worked well. Those familiar with hearing this recording on a well-sorted system will know the trick with the dog in the yard at the start of the first track appearing well to the far right and forward of the speakers, and this was more pronounced than usual via these cables. Once the band came in on the album’s second track, What God Wants, I felt the soundstage lacked the holographic sense I get from the Townshend cables, perhaps forgivable considering the price difference, but nonetheless, these differences existed.

Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, again in DSD 64, but this one was a download from Acoustic Sounds, worked well in this setup. Dave’s piano came across in a lively and incisive fashion, and the timing of the drums and percussion were spot on. I did feel the cymbals had more bite than usual and lacked a little inner detail, making the decay and shimmer a little less lifelike than it could have been. Next was a CD rip of The Allman Brothers’ classic live album Live At The Fillmore East. Having been recorded in 1971, it is not the finest recorded rock album, but I have been playing it a lot lately. Of the music I listened to via this cable loom, this was the one album where I felt the Inakustic cable’s treble energy had a detrimental effect on the music, with the drums and cymbals dominating proceedings and making the album a slightly uncomfortable listening experience.

Unfortunately, I did not have any similar-priced XLR interconnects to the NF-204 at home for comparison. I did try a set of Chord Epic X XLRs, which are priced between the Townshend DCT and NF-204. The Epic X has a similarly brightly lit balance to the NF-204 but is slightly sweeter and sounds a little more spacious. Comparing the LS-204 speaker cables to a set of lower-priced QED Golden Anniversary XTs showed where the extra money goes. Whilst the QEDs had a fuller bass and a pleasant sweetness, the Inakustic cables sounded more precise and detailed, with a more agile and textured bass and generally a higher level of resolution. I have always felt these QED cables are an excellent match for leaner sounding systems, where the added bass bloom is welcome. In contrast, I think the Inakustic cables may work better in a system with an overly warm balance, which should benefit from these cables’ added life and definition.

Final Thoughts

A lot of effort has gone into the design and build of Inakustic cables. Their build quality is first-class, and they are pleasant to handle. Whilst cables should not be used as tone controls, many would argue they are an integral part of your system, and it is, therefore, natural that the balance of certain cables will suit some systems better than others. The NF-204 did work well in my slightly euphorically balanced headphone-based setup but perhaps somewhat less so in my more neutrally balanced main system.

I feel potential buyers with a system that errs on the lean side and/or is forward in balance may find they tip the balance a little too far in those directions. If your system is of a more dense and perhaps laid-back character, these cables may be just the ticket and give your system the life and resolution it needs. With these provisos in mind, these cables from Inakustic are a worthy addition to their market segment and capable of producing musical satisfaction in the right system.

Prices
3 meter length of LS-204 speaker cable as supplied £685.00
1 meter length NF-204 RCA interconnects -£355.00
1 meter length NF-204 XLR interconnects- £375.00

For the full specification of the Inakustik Referenz Micro-Air cable please see their website linked here