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Fall 2008

Capacitor Musings Part 2
Article By Jon L.


Russian SSG-3 silver mica capacitor
These 1% tolerance silver mica capacitors are another example of overbuilt, tank-like Russian new-old-stock capacitors. The big ones like these can have more than 0.1uF capacitance fit for use in coupling duties, and indeed they are an excellent capacitor. These sound different from other capacitors such as polypropylenes, polystyrenes, Teflons, PIO's, etc in that they don't have the stereotypical polypropylene harshness, polystyrene dryness, Teflon slippery polish, or PIO roundness. Silver mica's have a reputation for being very detailed but "bright" and lacking in bass, but these large silver mica's had plenty of bass and NO hardness at all. Their tonal balance cannot ever be called dark because they are very airy and illuminated as if with soft white light bulbs; these are perfect for those who like open, airy top-end that's not extra-hard or etched, perfect for recordings that have spitty, hard upper ranges. They have an effect akin to turning up the "brightness" control a notch while turning down the "contrast" a notch in terms of video displays.

These have such feathery, extended highs that almost make Mundorf gold/silver seem a bit less open up top. Not bad for a $5 capacitor, so what's the caveat? Unfortunately for the SSG-3, I've been listening to some of the best Teflon capacitors of late, and compared to the good Teflons, the silver mica's don't quite have the stop-dead-in-your tracks resolution and definition, especially in the midrange. Compared to Teflons, SSG-3 is a tad more laid-back and softer in the midrange, and the bass, while impactful, is not quite bounce-rain-off-the-drumskin tight. Still, I can see a lot of people being quite happy with these silver mica's, especially if used in equipment that leans in opposite sonic directions or if your tastes cotton to the open, airy, feathery, smooth sound.


Dynamicap-E metalized polypropylene capacitor
Some believe these to be among the best metalized polypropylene caps ever made, and I might have to agree with that, if somewhat reluctantly. After all, Mundorf silver/oil and gold/silver are still technically "metalized poly" caps, and they do have a magical something that other poly caps lack, including Dynamicaps. As I have observed before with Vishay poly caps, the Mundorfs have a sense of weight and texture behind the notes, especially in the midrange that keeps music interesting and captivating over longer-term listening. The better poly caps sound balanced, detailed (though not Teflon-detailed), and all the notes are present and accounted for. This is true for Dynamicap as well, and it does one better by being probably the most neutrally balanced among the poly caps. I even dare say it sounds more neutral than something like Mundorf gold/silver or the Russian silver mica's, so here we have a reasonably affordable capacitor that is quite uncolored, clear, sweet, yet extended. No wonder companies like Alta Vista Audio is using these caps in Counterpoint gear upgrades, not to mention VMPS offering them as upgrades in their speaker crossovers.

What about Auricaps? This is a tough one. One's preferences will have a large part in this choice. Auricaps have a fuller low-midrange to upper-bass presentation compared to Dynamicaps, which makes music richer and more propulsive; they also emulate some of that midrange texturing of Mundorfs. Dynamicaps counter with subjectively more ruler-flat neutrality with less bloom and thickness, sounding cleaner and clearer. I would say consider the way your system sounds now and which direction you want to go before choosing one over the other.


EC MP12 mil-spec metallized polypropylene capacitor
EC is a military capacitor supplier, and their capacitors appear well-made and heftier than usual. Unfortunately, these do not sound as good as other, more expensive metalized polypropylene capacitors like Dynamicaps or Auricaps. In fact, this capacitor is a good example of your stereotypical metalized poly capacitor sound that many audiophiles are trying to improve upon by using other poly caps like Auricaps, Dynamicaps, and Mundorfs.

No, the music doesn't suddenly sound broken or anything, but compared to Auricaps, the EC cap seems less rich, less dynamic, less lively, less clear, less involving, and flatter. Music that I know to be breathy, dynamic, and sparkling lose the magic touch. Compared to a clear cap like Dynamicap, EC cap sounds veiled as if a thin hazy layer is covering the music. Many components of reasonable cost use many caps similar to these, which is understandable given the retail pricing structure, but it would be definitely worth it to spend a few more bucks to upgrade at least the critical signal-path caps to something a bit better. For example, the well-priced Russian FT-3 Teflons really kicked it up a few notches compared to EC caps in terms of resolution, clarity, and liveliness.


Jensen Copper Foil Paper-In-Oil Capacitor
Its reputation precedes it, and Jensen PIO capacitors are indeed excellent PIO capacitors. The word "musical" seems made for it, not by virtue of syrupy romance but by virtue of refined microdynamic texturing and tonality, which allows one to immerse in the music instead of analyzing it. If you are the type who can easily relax into music when it sounds "good" and be content, then the Jensens are perfect for you because they provide satisfying tonal color, harmonic richness, and smooth sophistication without becoming overly rolled-off, muddy, and slow. In fact, the upper-midrange to midrange has a lively character without brightness or dryness that is quite attractive indeed.

Compared to Russian K40y PIO, Jensen is simultaneously finer-grained yet smidge less dark, presenting music with seemingly more tonal purity and light. The Jensen difference is not huge, akin to a soufflé made with eggs beaten a little fluffier and lighter, but both taste like soufflé. On the other hand, K40y does come across a little more dynamic and denser in tone, so once again, we have choices.

So the oilers are great, but I am surrounded by mountains of capacitors from all around the world. Compared directly to some stupendous Teflons, while not "overly" rolled-off or slow, Jensens *are* a wee bit less extended and slower, relatively speaking. The leading edges are perhaps not as sharp as a new razor, but it's not far off. Bass definition also is not nose-to-nose with Teflons or polystyrenes, but I think it's good enough for me, especially for acoustic music. Jensens do serve up a tasty, warm, refined midrange, and if that's one's preference, one may even say Jensens are a better capacitor than Teflons or other film caps.


FT-1 2200 pF Russian Teflon Capacitors (Bypass)
Jensens and other PIO's are so good at what they do, it's natural to feel the need to somehow improve them just a little where they are not state-of-the-art. I tried to accomplish this by bypassing Jensens with a small bypass Teflon capacitor, the FT-1 Russian capacitor at 2200 pF.

This does not completely change the sound, and the effects are subtle, but some may find them useful. The extreme treble does open up some, and triangles and chimes gain a little more definition. I don't mean to imply the Jensens suddenly turn into Russian Teflons, as they still sound mainly like Jensens. In my experience, better treble definition tends to lead to subjectively tighter bass signature, and the Jensens' bass did firm up a trifle.

So have we created the perfect capacitor here? Not really. The original signature charm of Jensens does diminish by a measure, so if you loved Jensens for their billowing, grand, bloomy richness, perhaps you should leave them alone. If you are still curious, it's always worth an experiment since these small Russian Teflon capacitors are quite cheap.


Jantzen Superior Z-Cap
Jantzen Audio is a Danish company, and they make three grades of polypropylene capacitors: Z-Cap, Superior Z-Cap, and Silver Z-Cap. I am testing the Superior Z-Cap which, like the Silver Z-Cap, has been wound using a "special machine…so that the capacitors become a very tight reel. This minimizes the inner vibration and keeps microphonic effects as low as possible." The ends appear sealed with some sort of resin to keep out moisture, a nice touch, and the overall look and feel are definitely a notch or two above the common polypropylene types.

There is a bit of "buzz" about Jantzen capacitors out there, and they certainly did not disappoint. Superior Z-Cap rather reminds me of Dynamicap E, which is one of my favorite polypropylene capacitors. They share a sense of evenness, balance, and coherence, which means nothing is sticking out like a sore thumb to distract you from the music. Superior-Z possesses a very smooth, flowing, mid-hall type of personality with no sense of congealing, bloat, raggedness, or bite, yet it is not lacking in detail resolution, especially when compared to something like Claritycap SA. One of its greatest attributes is the fact it's difficult to point out things it specifically does "wrong" because it pulls off a great balancing act that serves the music.

Once again, it's not fair to compare most polypropylene caps to expensive Teflons, but the best of both breeds are more than capable of delivering the music. Since cost is always an issue, a top-grade polypropylene is certainly a viable way to go in my opinion.


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