Review: Inkstick reference micro air cabling – Those looking for new audio cables usually quickly end up with the well-known major brands. In itself of course logical because of that reputation and proven qualities. But it also remains a lot of fun and interesting to discover that other (here) less well-known names can also be (very) good. A wonderful example is the German Inakustik. In this review we will get started with the Inakustik Reference NF-104 and NF-204 Micro Air interlinks, and Reference LS-104, LS-204 and LS-204 XL Micro Air speaker cables.
Inakustik is a 33-year-old manufacturer that offers a wide range of multimedia accessories and audio / video cables as a Monitor PC in the 1980s, but today under its own name Inakustik. The range appears to be nicely structured and clearly divided into different quality classes. Special and commendable is that the cables are actually manufactured in Germany and are invariably provided with a remarkably friendly price tag.
The best cable is the one that loses the least
This test mainly revolves around the new Reference Micro Air series. To understand this technology, it is important to know how this driven German company handles its business. According to the designers, the best cable is not the one that gets the most out of a system, but the one that loses the least of the original signal. Cables act as antennas and therefore attract external interference signals, for example from smartphones. We can very easily perceive these physical phenomena ourselves because, for example, we suddenly hear sounds over our speakers when such a phone is looking for its network. Only by out of the boxthrough technical solutions, these kinds of influences can be minimized. To make the most of this, most cable designs in the Inakustik Reference and Excellence quality levels are manufactured in a German cable factory and assembled with exceptional attention to detail in the company’s own factory in Ballrechten-Dottingen.
Inkstick reference micro air cabling – Micro Air technology
As the name suggests, Inkstick reference micro air cabling air insulation plays a central role in the new Reference Micro Air series. Not surprising when we know that air has excellent insulating properties. Only in what way do you want to implement that in a cable design?
Another design phenomenon is that it is not so much that the Inkstick reference micro air cabling bring in much of their own sound, as we mainly perceive the filter effect when they work together with audio components. This may seem surprising or even spectacular in principle, but eventually they distort the original sound to such an extent that fatigue or even irritation can occur over time. According to Inakustik, audio connections should do their job as unobtrusively as possible without adding their own coloring or distortion to the original signal. The art, or rather progressive insight, is now to adapt the inevitable physical filter effect of the cables by means of the architecture and choice of materials in such a way that losses and interactions are kept to a minimum. The new designs of this test are directly derived from the uncompromising and costly top Reference Air Helix series. Still, according to the manufacturer, they realize a large part of the performance for a fraction of the cost. Both series are manufactured in our own factory in Germany, whereby strict attention is also paid to the associated quality control in addition to the complex manual assembly. After production, each cable is finally tested functionally, audibly and mechanically.
But what makes Inkstick reference micro air cabling so special? As with any cable design of Inkstick reference micro air cabling, Inakustik can of course not ignore the laws of nature and that is especially difficult for the nuisance of so-called parasitic effects. This includes capacity (like a battery, a cable stores energy temporarily, after which it is released again with a delay) and has an adverse effect on the transmission of audio signals. An essential negative factor here is caused by the insulating material, the so-called dielectric. This can increase the undesirable capacity even further. Air does not do this and is therefore the ideal insulator. Part of the insulation of the Micro Air technology is therefore formed by a complex, diamond-shaped structure.
The chambers created by this design increase the distance between the conductors and thus increase the air content in the insulation. In this way the negative capacitance influences are reduced and signal transmission is improved.
Another essential aspect for any cable design is of course the conductor. The Inakustik designers have devised a configuration with concentric copper for the Micro Air models. This sounds more complicated than it is and actually consists of a group of copper conductor wires that are precisely arranged according to an exactly defined concentric pattern. Among other things, this prevents the wires from touching each other at random, with the great advantage that the signal flow is harmonized and transit time differences are minimized. In plain language this means that impulses are displayed more accurately and low level information is much better preserved. Finally, a thin layer of polyethylene protects the high-purity copper against oxygen and thus against oxidation.
Reference Micro Air NF-104 and NF-204 interlinks
Quickly continue with the interlinks or analog connection cables where the first entry-level NF-104 is discussed. Although it is not clearly visible in the photos, this cable turns out to be remarkably thin and flexible. Even such that it resembles the designs of the Dutch CrystalConnect to a certain extent. But of course it stays at this certain degree, because, as mentioned earlier, Inakustik approaches things essentially differently and above all in his own way. Unlike the more expensive NF-204, the NF-104 uses a conventional coaxial architecture.
The connectors are also a proprietary design, made in RCA (this model is not available in XLR) and with tellurium copper and a rhodium coating as conductive parts. In addition to the beautiful minimalist design, the complete freedom from solder use is also a feature of this connector. By omitting the soldering work, transition resistances and mechanical stress on the material are significantly reduced, which should further improve display quality.
When I continue with the more expensive NF-204, I immediately notice that this interlink is twice as thick. This is mainly caused by the fact that compared to its cheaper brother, two instead of one concentric copper strand is used. This creates a higher degree of immunity to electromagnetic fields and thus also a clearly perceptible better sound quality. A final difference is that this model is also available in an XLR or balanced version in addition to RCA.
Reference Micro Air LS-104, LS-204 and LS-204 XL speaker cables
Although both are conductors, the transport of electrical information for loudspeaker cables is fundamentally different than for interlinks. Loudspeakers have a very fluctuating electrical life of their own. They behave differently for each tone and volume and must be constantly controlled by the amplifier. This means that the signal in a speaker cable is a tangle of small to huge signal levels, AC current and voltage of different frequencies and phase lengths. To correctly convey this complex flow of information, the cable must keep the speaker connected as tightly as possible to the amplifier. This can be achieved by applying physical laws, using the right materials and choosing a suitable cable architecture.
However, due to the low speaker impedances, low line resistances and low inductive resistance are also very important for speaker cables. The strikingly slender appearance of the Reference Micro Air LS-104 is the entry-level speaker cable of this new series, but still has the same basic properties as its two larger and more expensive brothers. So here too air is used as insulation, there is again the concentric (double) construction of the solid copper conductor wires and the cable can be supplied with BFA (kind of banana plugs), spades and cable ends with shrink sleeve.
More groups of conductors provide a neutralized electric field
We get a lot for our money with the LS-204. The big difference here is that instead of two, four concentric grouped copper conductors are used. Thanks to this architecture, the magnetic fields of the positive and negative conductors overlap and the electric field is neutralized. This significantly reduces the inductive resistance of the cable, which means that the transmission of the audio signal over a wide frequency range is even less hindered and broadband can be achieved even better. Of course, this cable is also available with the three connection variants (BFA, spades and loose conductors with shrink sleeve).
For the top model of this series, the LS-204 XL, Inakustik really pulled out all the stops. For example, the four concentrically grouped copper conductors have now made way for six strands. This allows extra power to be passed on to the loudspeakers with even less disruption. So if you have really big, difficult to control and especially broadband floorstanding speakers, this cable can show its added value the easiest.
Before the listening part, it is good to realize that I especially consciously did not want to know the prices. This is because I normally use very good and often expensive cables and I wanted to exclude any influence as much as possible. The actual test is further structured as follows. First of all, I let the Reference Micro Air cables run for several months after a few weeks in as many different situations as possible. Only at the end did I compare them with the cables I used myself to be able to estimate exactly where I found them. Due to the enormous number of comparisons, it is impossible to list all the products and systems used this time, but it is especially good to know that the differences observed were clearly visible on virtually every system
Listening NF-104 interlink
Although it is always tempting to get started with top models right away, I hold back nicely and start with the NF-104 interlink in 75 cm length. As mentioned earlier, this connection cable is remarkably thin and the proprietary design connectors give a good grip and contact with all RCA terminals I have tried them on. I find a downside that these cables are not color-coded. As a result, you have to be very careful when connecting that you do not accidentally switch the channels. Intriguingly, with a thin cable you automatically expect some sort of thin or slim display, but none of that with even this entry-level interlink. On the contrary, because what I experience is a strikingly beautiful neutrality in combination with an even somewhat rich and pleasantly full reproduction.
I find the long extinction of sounds to be a strong and not immediately expected aspect. This not only underscores Inakustik’s design goals, but is also a great achievement in what is likely to be an affordable cable after all. It is nice that the NF-104 listens very musically and completely and does not irritate for a moment or let the attention drop. If I compare it to the more expensive NF-204, the NF-104 does give a light form of dynamic compression and a less exuberant spatial image. But if I compare it later when I know the price against many competitors, this cable still scores well above expectations.
Listening NF-204 interlink
A cable twice as thick and only slightly more expensive, again in 75 cm length and with the same connectors. Does that make any difference? Yes, and fortunately especially in a positive sense. Still, I honestly didn’t expect such a big step forward. This cable is not only substantially better, but improves the display in virtually every display aspect. There is immediately a higher resolving power and I hear the typical balance that usually characterizes well-designed cables. The tonal balance also turns out to be even better and especially more neutral, which makes this cable sound like a precious high-end item.
What also argues for the conceived architecture is the beauty of the reproduction, not in the sense of polished or artificial, but more through a greater distinction between instruments, voices, spatiality and layering. In particular, what further increases the realism are the greater dynamic contrasts without stress and the better realized transients. This Reference Micro Air loot appears to feel even more at home than its little brother with both normal priced hi-fi and real high-end products. Quite an achievement and one that really makes me happy. In conclusion, it is also nice that this cable is available in a balanced (XLR) version as well as in RCA.
Listening LS-104 speaker cable
While I move on to assessing the speaker cables, I will leave the NF-204 interlink on for a while, otherwise too many variables change. First up is the LS-104 and the thickness is, like the other entry-level Micro Air products, remarkably limited. A big advantage for a speaker cable that will usually be used in the living room. My test sample has a length of 2 x 3 meters, is equipped with BFA banana plugs and, just like the interlinks, is nicely designed. What Inakustik claims in the technical explanation regarding the synergy between their cables is rarely more confirmed than with these Micro Air models. Because more emphatically than with many other brands, interlink and speaker cable reinforce and improve each other to a striking degree. Even if I go back to the entry-level NF-104 interlink for confirmation, this beautiful fact remains intact. The first thing I perceive is a beautifully smooth and fluid reproduction, which is also nicely exciting and entertaining.
The tonal signature is open but not analytical or sharp and with a beautifully neutral natural quality. Just like the interlink, even this entry-level speaker cable is another master of that long extinction. A quality that makes listening an engaging activity and that allows long listening without listening fatigue. The only thing I’m missing here is richness in sound. It’s definitely not thin or shrill, but just a bit more saturated. But certainly as an entry into this new world of Inakustik, absolutely very impressive.
Listening LS-204 speaker cable
Due to its four-strand construction, we arrive at the LS-204 loudspeaker cable with a cable diameter or cable thickness that can certainly be described as very serious. With this connection you really have something lying on the ground and that is immediately audible from the first moment. Wow, this is really a fantastic speaker cable! I don’t often find such good stability with just the right balance between color, strength, subtleties and beauty. The fact that aspects such as transparency and a stronger emotional transfer are also present only makes it even more attractive. As expected, the extinction and natural coincidence of sounds are at an even higher level and all of this is portrayed in a very convincing three-dimensional layering. The only area where some improvement could be made is color saturation again. But the slightly cooler than neutral is very minimal and can easily disappear if you take this into account when combining. But otherwise, as far as I am concerned, the best balanced cable of all Micro Air models discussed here.
Listening LS-204 XL speaker cable
The bottom of the league of this test and at the same time the top model of the Micro Air speaker series consisting of three models. In fact, the biggest difference is that the four strands of the LS-204 have now been replaced by six of the LS-204 XL. This ultimately ensures that the conductors can pass large currents even better, while the magnetic fields that are ever created around the conductor strands can be further minimized. But this speaker cable is also visually impressive. It is really thick and therefore visually impressive and immediately creates an unprecedented calm in the reproduction. Even more than the already very good ‘normal’ LS-204.
Then for the first time I perceive a really typical ‘high-end sound’ here. By this I mean rock-solid stability, enormous weighting in all properties, but also a kind of ‘chic’ aura in the sound. Compare it with driving in a Mercedes S class, BMW 7 series, Audi A8 and other limousines. Everything completely surrounds you in peace, comfort and naturalness. This is also the case with the LS-204 XS, which always appears to be ‘in control’. Fortunately, this cable turns out to be wonderfully relaxed, which makes it a particularly suitable partner for very long comfortable listening sessions. As a system configuration, this is a cable for true full range speaker systems that are already very well balanced and do not require any correction of a cable.
Inkstick reference micro air cabling – Conclusion
With that we have come to the end of this exciting test and I am finally also acquainted with the prices. It will probably not surprise you that I was quite wrong with all models! Because of the thin interlinks, beautiful but relatively simple plugs and the good but fairly basic cardboard packaging, I already had an idea that these cables probably wouldn’t cost the world. Prior to this test, I deliberately did not want to know the prices, but as soon as they are on the table towards the end, I am still surprised. Because such balanced properties (especially for the larger models in the series) for relatively so little money I rarely hear. This makes these by far the best affordable cables that I have been able to get acquainted with to date! Another strong point is recognisability. Because no matter what I combined them with, I immediately took these Reference Micro Air cables out because of their remarkably coherent and neutral way of playing with, above all, a nice long dying out of sounds. In addition, there is no annoying signature and all music is nicely outlined but fortunately never too emphatic.
The moment the Micro Air interlinks and speaker cables are also combined together, the level rises even further and can even be called bizarre good. In conclusion, it is very nice to notice that the Monitor PC cables that I once started my hobby with, now with brand new designs under the name Inakustik, can again achieve that same euphoric feeling. The fact that they are also priced just as friendly makes the party complete. How do they do it?