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Reviewer: Marja & Henk
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: CEC TL5100, Audio Note tube DAC; Philips DVP 5500S SACD/DVD player
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system, modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Moscode HR401; Trends Audio TA-10; Avantgarde Acoustic Model Three [in for review] ; Qables iQube
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Avantgarde Acoustic Solo in HT 2.0 setting; Audio Note AN/Jsp silver-wired; Podium Sound Podium 1 [in for review]
Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, Y-cable, Crystal Cable Piccolo iPod to XLR, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC CrystalSpeak Reference; Audio Note AN-L; Gizmo silver LS cable. Nanotec Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotec Golden Strada #79; Nanotec Golden Strada #201 nano3 [in for review]
Power line conditioning: Omtec PowerControllers; PS Audio P1000
Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; Acoustic System amplifier shelf
Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Boston Audio graphite CD damper, Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotec Nespa #1; Machina Dynamica Magic Box; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2003 and XP; iPod; wood, brass and aluminum cones and pyramids; Xitel surround processor; Manley Skipjack; Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks
Room treatment: Acoustic System Resonators and Sugar Cubes; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap
Room size: ca. 8.0 x 4.70m with open extension to a 2.20 x 2.40m A/V bay and open kitchen. Ceiling height is 2.50m, reinforced concrete walls of 45cm, reinforced concrete floors and roof of 30cm. Room has on one side a large glass bay.
Review component retail: € 599/1m/pr
|From various sources, one may derive a kind of 10 commandments for audio cables. Luckily there is no single audio deity who enforces these rules as though carved in stone. Hence She cannot be offended. Nevertheless, audio worshippers have a tendency to adhere to these rules. Just in case. We can name the following for interconnects:
Thou shall honor capacitance and resistance.
Thou shall remember inductance and impedance and keep 'em holy.
Thou shall shield from harm.
Thou shall use heavy and expensive connectors.
Thou shall use the best insulation.
Thou shall use the same wire for signal and return.
Thou shall connect your shield at only one end.
Thou shall use optimal geometry.
Thou shall add great cosmetics.
Thou shall charge heavily.
Hindu deity Durga
|Most interconnect manufacturers keep to these rules religiously. Their products vary widely on price and for reviewers, they are a nightmare to judge. As the majority of interconnects are more or less variations on a theme in how they're built, truly big differences between cables are hard to come by. Most differences arise from variations in detail presentation. This is valid for the category of cables above zip cord. Next to the influences of geometry and mechanical implementation, the electronics connected to both ends have their own characteristics to throw into the mix. A simple A/B comparison between two sets of interconnects is, as we experienced, impossible to perform properly without a switcher like Manley Lab's Skipjack. Such a device makes it possible to switch between pairs without physically affecting the cables. We found that even a simple reroute of an interconnect can induce an audible effect. The only thing a cable review brings to light are the minute strong or weak features the cable has on the musical outcome - and that within a particular audio system only. One cable will emphasize a certain tonal range a little more in respect to another cable. Or vice versa. And it is for the listener to judge whether that combination hits his personal sweet spot. As interconnects form an important flavoring ingredient in the audio reproduction chain, they are responsible for the end result as quite important contributors.
A German study investigated why some people play the violin and others the cello - or any other instrument for that matter. It appeared that it had to do with how their brains were wired. We'll get back to this interesting subject in a separate article. The same study also linked to preferences for certain loudspeakers (i.e. their acoustic characteristics). Listeners or musicians who had a strong preference for higher pitched instruments like clarinet and steel-strung guitars with rich overtones liked speaker X better than those who were attracted to generally lower pitched instruments such as a cello. They preferred speaker type Y. Again, small but real differences.
With interconnects, a similar experiment would call up personal preferences alike to prevail over the theoretical ideal of neutrality. Another factor is the cultural background of the listener, once again a subject that begs for more investigation in the light of audio reproduction in the home. An important aspect of culture is language. A common language binds people together. Music is a form of language too and it is no surprise that music is closely connected to the spoken language of a culture. When we concentrate on pitch and leave the rhythm of language -- the amount of syllables per second -- aside, we can roughly divide the world into areas of pitch. Have you noticed how a lot of American men have a fairly low English-speaking voice while many American women tend to have a more piercing tone and pitch? For us Europeans it's quite obvious. Speaking of Europe, the Germanic languages are harsher while the Latin languages -- like in the Americas -- sound warmer. Going south to Africa complicates things with so many cultures but when generalizing, severely warm sounds are prevalent. Asian languages are overall much higher pitched. And all these languages and their cultures celebrate their own music which reflects the pitch of the spoken word. When growing up, we get used to the familiar pitch surrounding us and we develop a liking for music that matches. Of course acquired taste in music is, as the term itself puts it, acquired and always an addition over and above the native taste. It's never a full substitute.
When we return to interconnects with the above in mind, we understand that they are, in one way or another, variations on a theme. Personal preferences based on taste, be it prevailing or acquired, are the driving force when choosing the most pleasant. Next, interconnects arrive at various prices. Rough practice teaches that above $1000 per meter, each additional $1000 denominates a -- fictional? -- next step up in presumed quality. For reviewers, interconnects are then compared per price tier. Cables of $1000 to roughly $2000 are one league, $2000 to $4000 another and the exuberant price class of beyond $4000 is - well, the über league.
Especially in the über league, incorporation of precious metals becomes prevalent. Silver, gold and Palladium are worked into the conductor in various ways and proportions. Of course, the raw wire has to be manufactured to order and within the relative small audio market, such custom wire gets costly. No boutique cable maker can inventory and turn over sufficient wire to significantly drive down raw material cost. Add to this the costs of assembly and, far from least, the costs of marketing in a niche market full of competitors. It is thus completely transparent that the higher the level of presumed quality, the higher the costs. Here we hope it is clear that we are talking about honest manufacturers who really carry significant manufacturing costs rather than focusing on bling items to artificially inflate the retails on perception alone.