TCI CABLES: THE BIG CATCH UP
8th June 2018
Been a while since Paul Rigby looked at any cables and associated products from TCI so he has decided to tackle a bunch in one go: Herald Constrictor and Emerald Constrictor mains blocks, Mamba and Cobra II SE interconnects and Boa Constrictor II and King Constrictor II mains cables
As I’m sure you’ve already seen, there’s a decidedly snake-like aspect to this series of cables and related products from TCI, a company that has been producing cables since 1993. I wanted to provide a broad overview of where the company is ‘at’ in terms of its product range.
First up are two power blocks: the Herald Constrictor and the Emerald Constrictor.
Both include eight cores of XPLE (on the Herald) and PTFE (on the Emerald) insulated silver-plated copper with a braided design, none-inductive, self screening construction PVC (on the Herald) and Polyolefin (on the Emerald) general insulation.
Associated with the power blocks are the mains cables. The King Constrictor features the same cable as the Temple Constrictor (not reviewed here) but with a split-braid construction used in the top of the range Boa Constrictor. With the addition of a rhodium-plated IEC plug and 16 PTFE insulated silver-plated copper conductors.
The Boa Constrictor mains lead itself uses silver and a thicker cross-sectional area. You’ll find True-Plug Plated mains connectors, a split-braid multi-earth construction and 24 PTFE insulated silver-plated copper conductors.
Onto a pair of interconnects now and the Cobra II SE is constructed of SP-OFC silver-plated “aerospace grade” alloy conductor, PTFE “aerospace grade” Kapton tape, high density double braided PC-OFC screen, silver-plated Tellurium copper centre pin and silver plated True-Plug RCA plugs.
Finally, the Mamba also has True-Plug connections but with gold-plated locking. It feature an “aerospace” PC-OFC copper alloy conductor, twin screens and lead-free, high purity silver solder.
Which is all well and good but the truth for any cable is in the listening. So how do they all sound? Will they all exhibit sonic fangs or will any of them squeeze sound quality to death?
I decided to test both power blocks initially using Sarah Vaughan and the Mercury original LP, Sassy Swings Again.
Beginning with the Herald power block, despite a slight upper midrange veiling which dulled the Vaughan delivery a touch and damped the brass a little, I was still happy to hear the even tone over the entire soundstage. Let me elaborate on that. What I heard was a warming over the upper frequencies which was not at all unpleasant. In fact, it was quite attractive and, for the price, admirable. That said, the practical nature of this slight warming was to produce a slight restriction in space and air.
There was never any sense of upper midrange glare from brass crescendos or barking from wayward frequencies. In that sense, the Herald was very disciplined and kept a pretty tight order on the overall sound. While the air and space might have been a touch choked, the bass did offer much that could be admired such as a rhythmic bounce to the lower frequencies and it allowed the pace of the double bass to be tracked easily by the ear without any blur while all of the music’s basic detail was on show and could be picked up by the ear.
Using the same music on the Emerald power block, I noticed more detail in comparison with the Herald with the brass being insightful, vocals offering great levels of diction and bass being rounded and bouncy. How this was done was intriguing. It sounded like the music now featured a touch of compression. The focus and precision were there, detail was present in an etched fashion without being grievous or nasty in any way. Yet there was a slightly clinical aspect to the sound which will enhance a budget system but could, also sound a little mechanical. As I say, though, a budget system will benefit by allowing the cable to dig into the mix, extracting detail for the ear’s benefit. The overall soundstage sounded fairly balanced in terms of the organisation and discipline of the instruments. Overall, for the price, the block offered decent value.
Moving to the mains cables, I tested both over different parts of my hi-fi system using the reissue of the Kansas LP, Leftoverture, via Speakers Corner.
I began with the King Constrictor II which was a very tight and firm connection at some points of my hi-fi. In fact, I had a bit of trouble at first with my phono amplifier connection because the darned thing refused to plug in but I got there eventually.
Once pushed firmly onto the connection pins though I was very happy with the resultant sound which offered plenty of space and air, opening up and broadening the soundstage a treat.
For this price point, I was also happy to enjoy the extensive detail on offer here such as the fine response from the cymbals and the complex lead guitar runs which were tracked easily by the King Constrictor II across the broad soundstage. I was also happy with the balance of the mix. That is, no one instrument or frequency dominated where it shouldn’t. There was no bass blur or midrange smear to affect the overall presentation. A cracking cable then!
Next was the higher priced Boa Constrictor II which, basically, gave you a bigger, grander, epic picture to the one presented by the King Constrictor II. That is, bass was bolder and massy while other frequencies were injected with extra power and pizazz. The Boa Constrictor II presented a show, it gaves you entertainment, a spectacle and a full-on extravaganza. It did everything except charge for tickets. The detail was still there with welcome clarity but the Boa Constrictor II coated that with a Ta-Da!! flavour that made you want to pump up the volume and dance across the room…unless you’re using a turntable with a suspended floor. In which case you’d be tip-toeing madly.
I moved to interconnects now, still playing the Kansas track and was impressed indeed with the Mamba. In fact, at this point in the review cycle, the Mamba was the best TCI product that I had tackled thus far. Mostly because of its low noise design which opened up the soundstage tremendously, allowing cymbals to not only offer a fragile response but to allow the signature pulse response of the cymbal hit to move and flow outwards. Bass was firm but never strutting, behaving itself but also offering power while the wide soundstage presented an immense amount of space for the musicians to do their stuff, allowing micro-reverb off the instruments to produce added richness and layering.
Turning to the Cobra II SE, I felt that these interconnects provided the most ‘grown up’ and balanced sound from the entire range of products on show here. There was no sense of trying too hard or forcing detail or tweaking to make do or anything else that wasn’t just natural and at ease. I know that these cables are not exactly cheap but cost doesn’t really come into it when you’re creating a balanced sound for a specific prince point. The Cobra II SE cables definitely did that, giving each frequency type space to roam without cramping the available detail. As with all of the TCI cables here, there was no suggestion of nasty frequencies, no blurred bass, no pinched treble or bright mids. Everything was well behaved but the blend of tonal realism combined with a thoroughly organic nature of the sound from the Cobra cables produced a memorable performance.
Despite being slightly claustrophobic in nature, the Herald power block is a solid product that has no particular nasty vices. The same can be said of the Emerald which added some insight in terms of detail. Both are offered at a relatively reasonable price for their performance and thus deserves a solid ‘7’ rating.
As for TCI’s mains products, the King Constrictor offered quite a selection of fine detail in a balanced and largely transparent fashion. The Boa Constrictor II maintained the sound quality of the King but did so in a larger than life fashion.
The two interconnects were both winners. The Mamba’s low noise allowed a host of fine details to emerge, giving these interconnects a fine combination of superb sound quality and value for money while the Cobra II SE cables just screamed quality from start to finished, giving the most ‘at ease’ and natural presentation of the entire test.
TCI should be congratulated for an admirable selection of cable and cable-related products that provide an ideal basis for any hi-fi system.
TCI CABLES: HERALD CONSTRICTOR, EMERALD CONSTRICTOR, KING CONSTRICTOR, BOA CONSTRICTOR, MAMBA & COBRA II SE
Tel: 07710 196949
TCI Herald Constrictor 6 Way Powerblock 1m £120, 1.5m £150 & 2.0m £180 for either UK or Schuko models
TCI Emerald Constrictor 6 Way Powerblock 1m £140, 1.5m £180 & 2.0m £220 for either UK or Schuko models
TCI King Constrictor Powerlead 1m £300, 1.5m £375 & 2.0m £450
TCI King Constrictor SE Powerlead 1.5m £475 & 2.0m £550
TCI Boa Constrictor Powerlead 1.5m £650 & 2.0m £800
TCI Boa Constrictor SE Powerlead 1.5m UK £700, Schuko £750, 2.0m UK & £850 Schuko £900
TCI Mamba Interconnect 1.0m £200
TCI Mamba XLR interconnect 1.0m £250
TCI Cobra II SE Interconnect 1.0m £400
TCI Cobra SE II XLR Interconnect £500
Herald Power Block
GOOD: warming yet smooth mids, detail, lyrical bass, price
BAD: slight midrange veil
Emerald Power Block
GOOD: fine detail, disciplined soundstage, characterful bass, midrange insight
BAD: slightly clinical mids
King Constrictor II Power Cable
GOOD: airy midrange, broad soundstage, balanced presentation,
BAD: overly firm connection on occasion
Boa Constrictor II Power Cable
GOOD: big bass, bold midrange, broad soundstage, detail
BAD: more show than quality
GOOD: low noise, instrumental separation, dynamic reach, broad soundstage
Cobra II SE interconnect
GOOD: mature midrange, tonal realism, low noise, organic bass
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