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25/01/2014 - Latest Snake River Audio Review available at Mackenzie HiFi

Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Signature Series Cables Review
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By: Doug Schroeder | January 2014

Snake River Audio Cottonmouth RCA Interconnect Cables

My attention suddenly sharpened, as I stood immobile in the dark staring at the unmistakably reptilian eyes looking back at me. My memory flashed back to a nighttime hunting excursion in Peru on the Ucalali River with Shipibo hunters. Working our way up a rivulet of the mighty river in a shallow canoe, we shone flashlights at the banks to cause alligators’ eyes to gleam in preparation for the one shot which might yield food for the villagers. A cool, calm demeanor was on demand as in the jungle darkness fish jumped into the boat, tending to make me jumpy!

However, at this moment I was unconcerned, even as I knew by the size of the serpentine eyes it was a huge snake. I turned on the bathroom light and the entire graphic of “Eddie” the Snake River Audio mascot appeared. “Glow in the dark eyes, nice touch,” I thought as I considered the quality of the T-shirt, a product of Gradient Shift Graphics, run by Angelie Wilson, who happens to be the wife of the president of Snake River Audio, Jonny Wilson. Purchasers of Snake River Audio products are treated to a complementary shirt along with a selection of local treats, namely the “Idaho Potato” candy bar and Huckleberry Candy. The cables themselves come vacuum-sealed in clear pouches, such that when the seal is broken with a whoosh the cables are released as though breathing to life. Together the shirt, candy and cables present a multi-sensory experience, a potent sample of Snake River Audio charm.

Jonny was drawn to the manufacturing side of audio like many other boutique brand owners in the industry, through making something for himself. He states, “I was in need of a new cable for my system. A few different cables later, I came upon that same epiphany that every audiophile eventually realizes, that not only are cables a very important part of the overall system, but that quality, price and performance are not always congruent.” Over time he took prototypes to friends’ homes; they requested more and urged him to make them for sale. Things have gone well for Snake River, having partnered at shows across America with recognizable names such as deHavilland Electric, Border Patrol, mbl, Pass Labs and Orion Speakers.

Jonny shared one of the best answers I have ever heard when it comes to defending the need for aftermarket cables, “… the signal will pass through more cabling than any other component of the system. Therefore, source materials and construction of cables have quite a large opportunity to accurately relay, or degrade that signal. Choose wisely, my friend.” Indeed, while cable naysayers tend to highlight the miles of wiring outside the home as though it negates the need for attention to it inside, in terms of the signal path there are figuratively miles of wire to traverse on the way between the components and to the speakers! I agree with Jonny that the audiophile needs to choose wisely!

Snake River offers a full complement of cabling with the exception of USB digital link, which is said to be under development. The differentiation between the models shown on the company’s website is a bit obtuse; terms such as “Mamushi” and “Cottonmouth” are used in lieu of the actual terms. An example of the potential for confusion is found in the samples of the unshielded “Signature Series” Cottonmouth sent for this review. If one references the term “Cottonmouth” in the home page listing of cables, it indicates gold as conductors, and elsewhere the Signature Series is discussed as having gold, silver and copper conductors. The nomenclature could be confusing and Snake River may want to clarify it.

I was sent examples of the entire Signature Series including power, interconnect and speaker cables. In addition, Jonny sent the newly developed Boomslang Digital Cable in both AES/EBU and RCA terminations, as well as a set of Snake Pit Power Bars. All cables are cryogenically treated and sold with a certificate of authenticity, a sensible anti-counterfeiting safeguard. Paired cables are sold with matching serial numbers, and unless requested, are burned in for 200 hours (6 days). WBT brand terminations are standard.

Snake River Signature Cables are distinguished by the ribbed and iridescent entwined coloration of their jackets. With high flexibility and attractive appearance they should easily win over the spouse should they need to be seen in an audio installation. I call them “broodingly beautiful,” as they are so lovely to behold that one would not even mind glancing at a tangle of them; it is a pity that so many gorgeous cables reside behind components.

Another beautiful feature of these cables is their ability to be locked securely in place. Their WBT connectors, even on the banana plugs, allow for tightening such that they will not pull out. One can confidently secure connections even though these cables carry a bit more than standard weight. I did not find Snake River cables unduly heavy or to cause stress upon jacks of components, but I was happy to be able to snug them tight.

Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Signature Series Speaker Cables


Recently, I sat down to lunch at a nearby Chicago style hot dog parlor where I could get my dog done up right! Just installed was a Coca Cola “Freestyle” vending machine, which offers a myriad of syrup combinations for a wide selection of beverages. Variety trumps all! That is my philosophy in building systems long term; I would far rather have several compelling options for speakers, for example, than one supposed “best.” Cabling tends to be more limited as you may have noticed. You get one result, and you tend to get that result no matter the system to which you hook the cables. If the cables are bright, you get a brighter sound no matter the system, and if they are closed in sounding, that will be your result even if you move them to another rig. Obviously, I do not subscribe to the theory that cables are system-dependent.

If you want to avoid such problems, Snake River Cables are a wonderful solution, as they don’t teeter to the lean side or the bloated side of sound. I found that no matter the system, they were incapable of sounding strident, nor muddy. I used a wide variety of electronics – 24 bit and 32 bit players/DACs, tube and SS amplification, dynamic and ESL speakers – all sounded eminently listenable. In no instance did I have to futz with the cabling to get away from stridency, which may be the first time that has happened in my years of reviewing! This may be the only cable I could recommend for nearly any configuration of gear with assurance that it will bring enough definition and vitality to hold interest while assuring that it will not offend.

Everyone who takes audiophile cables seriously has a favorite conductor material and I am no exception. Typically, I enjoy heavy gauge copper cabling and I have worked with cables such as Harmonic Technology, Wireworld, and Clarity Cables, all of which approximate that pattern. However, I must admit that I found certain advantages to the mixture of gold, silver and copper employed by Snake River, chiefly the near impossibility of them sounding harsh.

At the past AXPONA Chicago show, I was able to hear the Snake River products in a most enchanting demo with Border Patrol amplification, one of the standout rooms at the show. I heard much commentary on the accompanying stunning Volti Audio Speakers. Very few show goers had the opportunity to hear the prodigious Volti Audio Alura speakers and Snake River cables in a domestic setting, but I did. The man who bought them is a friend and I visited him to lay my ears on that combo.

It’s one thing to optimize the rig and stack the odds in the favor of the show demo by selecting components that are ideal. It is another thing to drop a speaker system and cables into a rig that is an unknown quantity. My friend had deep concerns that his big splurge might fall woefully short in terms of performance with his older, lesser-known mono tube amps.

He shouldn’t have worried; the quality was superb and the Snake River cables, which had served so well with the Alura at the show, did even better in this man’s home. He was ecstatic to find that his “questionable” amps were in fact unquestionably good! It was his previous speaker system and cabling which had constricted his sound, and now it was being set free.

Big, full-range high-sensitivity speakers like the Alura (98dB) will show all warts and scars of a system. If the cabling used to feed them is anemic, the speakers will simply sound uninviting, irritating, or even perhaps dead like a low sensitivity speaker fed by a low power amp. But the Snake River cabling held nothing back, and the Alura was most alluring!

Again, the absence of strain, brightness or sibilance in vocals was notable. Even in a home with a goodly amount of reflective surfaces the result was not irritating. To give some idea of how much information retrieval the Snake River cabling is capable of while simultaneously warding off treble torture, my friend felt satisfied enough with the treble to sell off his set of Tannoy supertweeters which had been used to bolster his previous speakers.

Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Sign Mamushi (shielded) RCA Interconnect Cable

Along with the cables, I was loaned a pair of Snake Pit Power Distribution Centers. These are square, metallic boxes emblazoned with the bright Snake River icon and containing six plugs. The Snake Pit is not just a power bar, but contains a simple filter to eliminate noise.

I found the Snake Pit, like other power filtration devices, to weed out noise as advertised but also to slightly soften the higher frequencies and shrink the sound stage slightly. I did not find it to be any more harmful to the sound than many other devices, which carry passive filtration. I would consider the Snake Pit viable as a very high quality power distribution device, on a par with products from Wireworld or Tara Labs.

I normally do not utilize power bars or power conditioning in my systems because they are a give and take proposition; they typically give added sense of macrodynamics, but take from the microdynamics in order to do so. However, unless one is intimately familiar with the system, this effect may never be noticed. My friend who owns the Volti Audio Alura uses a Snake Pit in his system and the above deleterious effect is marginal. Only by careful comparison would one notice the trade-offs I have noted. The audiophile who is short on outlets can confidently use a Snake Pit without destroying the essence of their system’s sound.


Once the brood of Snake River cables struck and their venom began working its way through my system, I was paralyzed with pleasure; I sat all but motionless for hours, transfixed by their beauty. During the course of assessment of the Snake River Cables, I played everything from Carlos Santana’s “Maria, Maria” and “Mirgra” from Supernatural, to Simply Red’s “So Not Over You” from Stay, to Leanne Rimes’ “How Do I Live” from the same titled album. I found I could listen at length at higher listening levels with the Snake River Cottonmouth Series than most other cables I have used. Most importantly, I did not lose interest when playing music for extended periods of time.

I compared the Snake River loom to some other fine wires in my possession, most notably complete sets of Clarity Cable and the newly received uber-cable Silent Source. I built several systems in comparison between Snake River and Clarity while Silent Source was a late review arrival. I will illustrate the differences between the first and second by showing a base system with two different reference-level speakers:

Simaudio Moon Evolution 750D player/DAC as transport

Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus with DEXA dual discrete Opamps and Burson single discrete Opamps rolled in

Wells Audio Innamorata amplifiers (2)

Legacy Audio Wisper DSW Clarity Edition Speakers, or

Kingsound King III ESL Speakers

The Clarity Cables are the antithesis of the Snake River Audio cables in terms of aesthetics and utilization. The Clarity offerings are plain, rather mundane appearing and are comparatively stiff, a striking contrast to the Snake River’s effusive beauty and flexibility. If appearance and flexibility are necessities, then Snake River is the cable to investigate. While neither of these is directly related to the sound of the cable, they can be very important considerations for some installations.

In contrast to the nearly cuddly sonic presentation of the Snake River offerings, the Clarity Cables have required light finessing when building rigs to ensure that they do not cross the “treble line,” the point of too much brightness. As I listened to the Snake River wires I wondered if I was giving up too much air, too much definition. I went back and forth several times and finally concluded that the greatest degree of difference was in the Snake River cables being warmer while being softer on the treble. The two were similar in terms of the midrange to the point that I consider them nearly exchangeable but more different on the frequency extremes. The Clarity Cables struck me as having emphasis slightly at the frequency extremes while the Snake River set was more homogeneous throughout the frequency spectrum. In the end, I concluded that the Cottonmouth Signature series did not have less treble information, just a more seamless blend with the upper midrange.

In the mid-bass, the Clarity Cables brought more weight with slightly less definition, while the Snake River Audio sound was tighter, but surprisingly lighter. The LF capability of one’s speakers becomes an important variable as a result. The Snake River cables should not be expected to accentuate the LF of a system, but it will present it cleanly and in proportionate weight to the midrange and treble. The Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition, so named for the use of Clarity Caps and Clarity Cabling internally throughout, found terrific support on the bass with the synergy between Clarity Cables and the speaker. However, listeners who wish to reduce mid-bass abundance should steer toward the Snake River sound.

The Snake River cabling did not mask older recordings to smooth their often rough edges. Playing Starship’s “Jane,” I noticed that more noise from the recording was eliminated while at the same time a highlighting of the aged nature of the recording was perceived. The piece became more intense, but not more “in your face.” There was a strangely gratifying magnification effect, such that Simply Red’s “Stay” was more immediate with the Snake River cables, and background electronic effects brought much more forward. One could say that these cables highlight the background of a recording.

However, some listeners want to be absorbed with the primary instrument or voice. They may wish for backing musicians to be present but not all that noticeable. Conversely, some want an egalitarian experience in which every instrument carries similar noticeability. The Snake River cables increased the noticeability of voices and instruments which would otherwise be recessed slightly in the soundstage. However, I did not feel they were unnaturally emphasizing the lead instrument, as I have perceived with cables having passive networks. Instead of spotlighting the lead artist, the Cottonmouth Signature Series softens and spreads the light to include the entire stage equally. This allows for hearing into the entire piece, rather than being wowed by the lead, and missing the many nuances happening nearby.

Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Signature Series Power Cable


When I review I use two methods typically to assess cables. Initially, I replace the original incrementally with the newer set, perhaps working from power cabling on through to speaker cabling, listening to each change. Later, I return to entire sets, swapping them out with systems to hear the effect. My ultimate approval tends to fall toward use of complete sets, but incremental substitution can be enlightening. In this particular case, consistently I preferred a mix of Snake River Audio Cables and Clarity Cables to either brand’s entire suite. These brands worked together wonderfully! Cable makers want to hear that their cables slay every other wire out there, but I would be misleading to say so if that was not my experience.

I conducted several mixed set comparisons, doing inverse wiring schemes to see if I could hear a propensity toward superior sound with one brand in particular positions in the system. I found it difficult to isolate the general benefit of placing one or the other in a particular place. Strangely, it seemed not to matter as much which mixture I used and where I used them together, but that I used them in conjunction with each other. The sonic character of both of these wires together combined their strengths and eliminated any potential pitfalls. Dynamics were slightly improved over either brand, and likewise definition/detail was elevated without a significant increase in stridency. Tonally I found nothing to quibble over, and there was an admirable solidity and weight to instruments and voices.

I found there to be a rare symbiosis between Clarity and Snake River cables which I have not encountered previously even though using many, many brands. This is the first time I have encountered a mixed set of cables as being superior to two brands’ entire suite, no matter the speaker used. I have worked with dozens of brands and sets of cables, so this is quite unusual. Consequently, I am forced to an unusual conclusion; I would strongly recommend that buyers mix Clarity and Snake River cables. While neither company scores a total win, they both end up gaining the benefit of symbiotic sales.

I need to be clear about this; I am not suggesting that willy-nilly matching of odds and ends cables is a preferred method of wiring a rig. I am also not suggesting audiophiles “read between the lines,” and pick my “winner,” because I consider both Snake River and Clarity cables to be winners. I have run many rigs with Clarity Cables and recently ran several with Snake River and obtained excellent results from both. As they are both of approximate valuation to outfit a system, I am not inclined to declare a winner at the expense of the other.

If Jonny is not blowing his top at my finding, he may catch a potential manufacturing tip – adding more copper. The addition of more Copper to the Gold and Silver matrix may prove a boon to the Boomslang, or any other Snake River Audio Reference Series product. I’m not telling him how to make his cables, I’m just saying…

Enter the Silent Source Reference cabling, which was the heavy hitter at multiples of the cost of these others. For comparison, consider the prices of a single power cord, all 2m in length: Clarity Cable Vortex at $750, Snake River Cottonmouth Signature at $1,399 and Silent Source “The Music Reference” at $2,985. A casual observation is that Snake River is approximately twice the price of Clarity and Silent Source is approximately twice that of Snake River.
However, when it comes to speaker cables at 8’ length, what does the price comparison show?

Clarity Cable Organic Speaker at $3,000; Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Signature at $2,049; Silent Source “The Music Reference” at $13,500. Note that the Silent Source speaker cables are individually finished positive and negative conductors. What is one to make of this? It seems that when it comes to outfitting an entire system, Clarity and Snake River are somewhat at the same price level, while Silent Source has quite a different pricing structure.

Both of these cables fell short of the suite of Silent Source offerings. While multiples more costly, the Silent Source cable is notably more refined than either Clarity or Snake River – but you will pay dearly for it. The Silent Source cabling is impeccably built and exudes a very strong aura of pride of ownership, with bespoke quality plugs and such soft, supple exterior that is nearly silk-like to the touch. The question is, are you ready to pony up tens of thousands for that silky sound and feel? I will be blunt; for those who are in a position to spend unlimited funds on cables, I would send them to the Silent Source products. But that is a vanishingly small percent of audiophiles. The rest of us have to live in the real world, the world which Snake River Cables inhabits.

Having consistent results between Clarity and Snake River, I recommend the following course, starting with consideration of how many power cords you need. If WAF was a strong factor, I would buy Snake River power cords to be placed where the eye catches glimpses of them, and Clarity Cables where they can be hidden. I would apply a similar WAF principle to the speaker cables. For some, that will mean a nearly all-Snake River loom, and that’s great! For others it will mean a mixture, which is more suitable to their situation.

I would mix the interconnects such that if stronger dynamics and more prominent treble was desired I would put in one more Clarity set of ICs than Snake River. I would reverse it if I was unsure of having too much treble presence or desired a more laid back sound. If stridency is an issue, or you are afraid that the treble will be hard to tame, then overload on the Snake River Cables and perhaps go with a full set.


As aforesaid, my friend with the extremely revealing Alura speakers is an analogue fanatic, and I would direct such a person toward the Snake River line. Digital listeners would typically do well to consider mixing Snake River and Clarity.

I would strongly recommend that if you follow the advice of this article and mix the two brands using the Cotton Mouth series of hybrid cables from Snake River Audio and the Clarity Cable’s Organic and Vortex offerings you should try the power cords and interconnects of each company in multiple locations in your system. As I found discrete Opamp rolling with two full sets from different manufacturers to be disproportionately beneficial, so also swapping wires among these two would likely prove to be a powerful tuning method to achieve an ideal sound.

To round out my discussion I need to clarify my habitus as a listener. That is, you need to know my perspective about pleasing sound so as to know whether to consider buying a full set of Snake River Cables or mix them.

I am a critical listener, and I love detail and definition. I will almost never sacrifice definition for any other aspect of sound quality. I avoid an overly euphonic, syrupy and indistinct presentation. I have extremely high resolving speaker systems that render a virtual “high resolution” soundscape. I hasten to add that I abhor thin or hollow sound and insist on richness and beautiful timbre. I share this because if you are saying, “Yuck,” to that description of a very high degree of definition, then you will not want to mix these cables, but rather seek the full set of Snake River Cables. It will get you enough resolution and definition that you will never wont for it without giving you a treble snakebite.

As I draw this article to a close I have a desire to work with Snake River Audio cables longer-term. They are worthy of the systems I build and are recommended as having well above average sound quality. For those with strong WAF considerations Snake River Audio Cables are highly recommended!


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