Mike Lester, managing director of family owned Puritan Audio Laboratories, tells an engaging story that could easily be dismissed as wishful fantasy by people who don’t know him as a straight-ahead chap not prone to exaggeration or untruths.

After developing Puritan’s first mains cable he sent some samples to a US audio publication. A short time later he had a call from the magazine telling him that the Puritan mains cable, priced at $100, had confounded expectations by performing pretty much on a par with a $6,000 cable from a well-known US manufacturer.

Of course, that’s a story that plays differently to different people. If we were being curmudgeonly, we might say that it just goes to prove the argument that wires is just wires.

The trouble with this absolutist position is that it doesn’t withstand either technical examination or listening experience. The conductive difference between metals used in wires is held to be relatively minor, but audio cables in particular are often complex systems. Whether they benefit us by being so is a moot point, but the fact is that the form of construction, and the materials used in addition to the conductors, can differ widely. Variations include the spacing between conductors, whether they are constrained mechanically in a parallel fashion, or twisted, or in more intricate designs woven, or arranged in counterposed weaves. These arrangements result in measurable differences in inductance and capacitance, and sometimes phase too, which in turn influence how connected components sound.

The interconnect as a system tone control is a well-established practical principle.

And then we have the dielectric. Designers have long understood that the choice of dielectric material can also have profound influence on the resulting sonic signature. Two materials most audiophiles have in their cabling looms are polyvinyl chloride, PVC, and polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE. The latter is more costly, and used because it has dielectric properties that are superior to those of PVC and, moreover, is held by some vendors to have less of a sonic signature. Some designers argue that natural materials such as woven cotton or silk are better still, while an even more select band of manufacturers offer cables where a nominally constant air gap is all that separates conductor from conductor on the principle that the best dielectric of all is…no dielectric.

So, what to make of the $6,000 mains cable that sounds little better than Puritan’s $100 affair? Do we repeat that wires make no difference, or might the findings point to an alternative conclusion; that both cables may result from some smart design choices, but one of them is…overpriced?

Puritan’s Mike Lester is certainly not one for disparaging the competition, but he has made something of a commercial virtue out of an essentially less-is-more approach to mains delivery. Take Puritan’s mains conditioners for example.

As Lester, who designs all Puritan products, points out, mains conditioning is a balancing act between musicality and noise reduction. If the incremental impact of conditioning on the noise level can be expressed as a descending linear trace, musicality mapped as an accompanying plot would look more like a bell curve. It would rise as distortion reduces, but then reach a point where it falls away. Puritan’s mains conditioners are therefore designed to achieve the greatest noise reduction possible compatible with the preservation of musicality. Less is more, if you will.
Lester extends the same philosophy to Puritan’s mains cables.

In fact, there was only going to be one Puritan design, the Classic. As Lester has it, that first design did everything he wanted it to and as far as he was concerned it was ‘job done.’ The Classic (£75) is designed to be anti-microphonic and to mitigate RFI, without sounding ‘sat-on’ as some shielded or screened cables can do. It uses copper conductors drawn to Puritan’s own specification to be ultra-flexible - floppy if you prefer - and is coated in a dielectric made of silicon because this too is highly pliable. A further coating is then applied, a flexible plastic compound impregnated with carbon, that binds the three conductors together and is connected to ground at the wall plug end, but acts primarily as a lossy antenna for RFI. A woven braid forms the final layer. Puritan’s choice of mains plug and IEC connector for all its mains cables is un-plated phosphor bronze units manufactured by Schurter.

Customers pressured Puritan to come up with an enhanced version of the cable. It is called the Classic+, the plus sign signifying the addition of a second nano-coating that widens the bandwidth of the RFI mitigation to act on EMI emissions too. It sells for £115.

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The Ultimate (£460 for a metre length) is the result of the challenge issued to Puritan by the US audio reviewer. The Classic and Classic+ are rated at 20 Amps and while Lester felt this to be sufficient current capacity, he bowed to pressure and had his wire supplier draw the flexible copper to 40 Amp spec. The same silicon dielectric used in the two lesser cables is applied, but that is followed by three EMI/RFI mitigating layers on each separate neutral and live conductor. In addition, the earth conductor is treated with a polycrystalline metals layer that aims to neutralise ground line pollution. Each of the conductors is then inserted into its own soft woven fabric tube, before all three are brought together in an oversize soft woven fabric sock, the aim of two fabric layers being to combine with the flexibility of the copper wire and silicon coatings to achieve a high level of resistance to microphonic excitation.

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The Classic, Classic+ and Ultimate power cables were tried in my reviewing system. The system is normally powered entirely via a mains loom using anti-microphony/EMI/RFI cables by Quiescent, with all signal cables from the same company, again all anti-microphony/EMI/RFI designs.

It has to be observed that the reference mains and signal looms set an incredibly high bar sonically, and cost-wise are very much more expensive than the Puritan products. My aim for this review was not to pit the Puritan cables against the reference, but to use the highly transparent system to clearly telegraph whatever sonic changes resulted from the introduction of a new cable to the digital front end. The Quiescent mains cable powering the CD transport was therefore removed and replaced in turn with each of the three Puritan cables, plus a Bryston OEM ‘kettle lead’ as low-cost control in the experiment.

The kettle lead was tried first. Observing current social distancing rules, a necessity that took some ingenuity to achieve, blind A/B substitutions were conducted using the services of two near neighbours, neither of whom could be remotely described as audiophiles and both of whom correctly identified when the kettle lead was replaced by the first of the Puritan cables, the Classic.

We heard a lower background noise level, with less tizzy hash around musical events and an overall more natural and relaxed presentation. We also heard more dynamic energy and weight, and much improved micro dynamic agility which in turn gave superior musical and spatial detail.

My neighbours, refreshingly unschooled in the language of audio critique, simply said: “It’s clearer and sounds more real.”

Well, I think that’ll do nicely.

The Classic was removed and the Classic+ introduced. This substitution of cables had zero detectable impact on sound quality in the review system, but given that the two cables are identical, save the addition of wider-bandwidth EMI/RFI mitigation in the Classic+, this finding is not too surprising.

Is it safe to assume, based on our findings, that the added cost of the Classic+ is not worthwhile? I think likely not. The review system uses stand-alone EMI/RFI absorption modules under each component including the CD transport. In other settings with other systems, and where the prevailing EMI/RFI environment is more hostile, the wider bandwidth magnetic absorption of the Classic+ might well prove sonically useful.

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The Ultimate mains cable was then tried. It is ultra-limp, almost alarmingly so. Hold the Ultimate vertically, grasping it with your hand five or so inches below the 13A plug, and the plug flops back against your wrist. Sonically, it made a strong case for its different design, in the review system sounding marginally less weighty than the two lesser cables, but with a blacker still background, a notably more open presentation, and greater separation between performers and instruments on the sound stage. Tonally, it was judged more neutral, with a degree less burnished emphasis around tenor sax or human voice, while the top end it sounded more extended. Brushed cymbals on well recorded jazz, for example, had a very satisfying amount of ‘tssshhhh’ that made it easier to suspend disbelief and imagine actually being present at well engineered recordings.

It is tempting to get caught up in the moment when conducting a three-way test of this type, obsessing about the differences between the products to hand and omitting to consider them in the context of similarly priced alternatives. After concluding the listening tests, and sleeping on the conclusions jotted down in my notebook, I offer these thoughts.

EMI/RFI and microphony are a problem in any and every system, even one miles from other buildings and listened to only through headphones. At three price-points, Puritan offers us thoughtfully designed and well-made mains cables that provide connected components with a sonically useful degree of immunity from these pollutants.

The humbly-priced Classic is, I think, a proper steal, and the Classic+ too, for all that I was able to judge in my system the value of its plussness. I can think of no other mains cables at or around that price that I would rather own.

The Ultimate is a bold attempt at further improvement on the Puritan design ethos and I think it achieves the mission. The trouble it faces is that materials and labour costs push the RRP up to a point where six Classics can be had for the price of a single Ultimate. More than that, Puritan’s most costly cable is situated in a keenly-contested segment of the market where buyers are fewer, and very picky.

Do better sounding alternatives exist that achieve greater protection against EMI/RFI and microphony? They do, but at a cost that starts at several hundreds of pounds more per metre.

In my view Puritan’s Ultimate offers an honest performance at a fair price.




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