Happy Feet: Bamboo Cable Risers from HighEndCable.co.uk

by Roy Gregory | September 4, 2014

quipment discoveries tend to come in two flavors: the ones that improve the sound of your system significantly (they’re the ones that nearly always cost a lot!), and the ones that make your life significantly easier. Of these, in many ways it’s the latter that are the most welcome. It’s easy to underestimate the tediously repetitive nature of review work -- at least if it is done properly. Each new product needs to be burned in and then it and the system(s) being used need to be optimized around its performance. Then you need to start thinking in terms of defining that performance, in part through meticulous comparison. The last of these processes is perhaps the most demanding, simply because it is so difficult to change only one thing in a system. Aside from the obvious things that so often get overlooked (level, gain, balanced or single-ended connections, supports or cable lengths) there are a host of hidden pitfalls that will all impact on performance of both the unit and the system. How about the position of the product in the rack? Its position in the AC (and grounding) hierarchy within the system? Cable routing, or the movement of cables when switching from one product to another? Simple changes in the physical arrangements of the system -- where cables lie and the points and surface on which they rest? All of these will impact the sound -- and I haven’t even gotten to environmental issues like temperature, humidity or AC quality.

As an industry, we treat equipment comparison as the gold standard on which reviews are based, marveling at the minute differences we are able to detect, yet in many cases the reasons behind those differences are at best composite and at worst impossible to discern. With so many variables (let alone all the "unknown unknowns") to consider, anything that makes the task more manageable, repeatable or simply easier is welcome indeed.

As a listener, you’ll already know just how far your tolerance for tweakery extends. You’ll either be one of those people who wants every single thing to be just so, someone who just wants to turn it on and hear music, or most likely someone who rests somewhere between these two extremes. That means that you’ll probably already have a position on cable risers -- those little blocks/shapes/devices that elevate your cables off the floor. There’s no real debate about the sonic and musical benefits of lifting your speaker cables, or keeping interconnects away from the walls and floor behind your rack(s). The reduction in grain, increase in transparency and the improvement in the sense of natural musical flow are not hard to hear. The real debate lies in whether it’s worth the bother. Stringing cables across a room that’s shared with other family members, pets, visitors and occasionally in-laws doesn’t just make you look like you are constructing a scale model of the Florida Keys; it makes all of the above seriously consider your sanity. Besides which, it’s hard enough to keep cables perched in place if the system remains static. If you are forever shifting or swapping equipment and speakers, it’s only a matter of time before some part of your carefully elevated network collapses to the ground -- normally without your noticing -- thus invalidating a whole passage of listening.

For years I’ve relied on Ayre’s simple myrtle-wood blocks to perform the lifting in my systems. Small, cheap and effective, they are relatively unobtrusive and you can use enough of them to ensure that your wiring’s fully supported status isn’t teetering on the brink of perpetual collapse. Okay, granted that the finished result looks more like a Roman viaduct than a Norman Foster suspension bridge; granted that too many blocks can be as bad as no blocks at all; but the Ayre solution steps that fine line between performance and practicality that keeps things (just about) workable.

By which -- admittedly a roundabout route -- we reach the subject of this blog and my latest affections. I was slightly nonplussed when I first cast eyes on the Panda Feet cable risers from HighEndCable.co.uk. Large-ish, almost cubic blocks, machined from laminated, sustainable bamboo (hence the name), they look at first glance like overkill -- a classic case of the old audio adage If big is good, then bigger must be better. But as is so often the case, first impressions (and the assumptions that go with them) proved misleading. The Panda Feet are the brainchild of Dave Jackson, a man who clearly has far too much time (and cable) on his hands -- reflected by the fact that his extensive "listen before you buy" cable library results in more high-end cable sales than any other single outlet in the UK. One of his most popular lines is Nordost and, as I’ll happily attest, keeping the springy, ribbon speaker cables poised on cable risers ain’t as easy as it could be.

Enter the Panda Feet. Inspired by the frustrations of wrestling with Nordost cables, the resulting solution is actually universal. The secret lies in the weight that comes from the dense, laminated bamboo, the audio industry’s new natural wonder material. Normally, weight would be a bad thing, but in this case the highly dispersive nature of the laminated, fibrous material more than compensates. The resulting block is heavy enough to stay put and offers enough contact area to keep hold of the cable. One side features a deep slot, nominally used for Nordost cables -- but as Nordost owners will attest, the cable rarely sits perfectly vertical. So the other side offers a deep trough that will work equally well with conventional tubular cables or ribbons sitting at an angle. Even with six-meter Odins, I can lift a pair of speaker cables with ten or twelve Panda Feet.

But best of all, once elevated the cables stay put. Since installing them, I’ve not suffered a single inadvertent or unscheduled collapse -- and that’s saying something! Considering just how often the cables in my system(s) are disconnected, have their positions adjusted or get stepped over or round, that’s little short of a miracle. Previously, the slightest contact could instigate catastrophic downfall. Now I glory in newfound security -- one less thing to worry about. Sonically the Panda Feet are actually rather better than the Ayre blocks, with a subtle but consistent benefit in terms of dynamic jump and instrumental focus, although whether that’s because of the materials, the way they support the cable or the fact that they lift it a little higher, I have no clue.

As already mentioned, the Panda Feet will work just as effectively with other more conventional cables. I’ve used them with products from Chord, Cardas and Hovland, all with considerable success. The only product with which they didn’t mate well was the Crystal Cable Ultra, where the floppy nature of the cables worked better with an increased number of the Ayre blocks -- a particular irony, given just how susceptible to movement and external influence the Ultras are. The more substantial Absolute Dream and Dreamline Plus both worked fine with the Panda Feet, so the Ultras really are the exception that prove the rule.

Available from HighEndCable.co.uk, the Panda Feet come in sets of four (naturally) and will set you back the not-inconsiderable sum of 100 (including 20% UK sales tax -- deductible if they are leaving the EEC), proof positive that the audio industry and its niche manufacturers don't enjoy the same economies of scale as IKEA. I think they are worth every penny, and they’ve become an essential part of the process, as far as I’m concerned. You can also get sets of elastic ties that will add security to your installation, although I’ve never felt the need.

If you’ve struggled with elevating cables (the practicalities or simply the idea) the Panda Feet could change all that. Besides which, their negative carbon footprint goes some way toward offsetting the electricity being guzzled by my permanently powered systems. They work, they reduce stress and they let you feel good about yourself. What more could you want?

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