How could it possibly take a reviewer longer than 3 months to complete a review? Don't most sit in comfy chairs and drink wine while 'working'? Well, this reviewer's life outside of the text published here ain't always so pretty. I've got a family to care for, a regular day job, and unplanned events that make it difficult to plant my writer's butt on the listening futon. So thank you very kindly, Jerry Ramsey, for waiting so patiently for me to complete this report. Your cables performed admirably, and I really appreciated switching them around with stock cables on various and sundry pieces of audiophile kit. For more information on this magnanimous manufacturer, check out Srajan's interview.

Xstream Snobbery

When my audiophile ego first heard about the Audio Magic Xstream power cables, he scoffed. Only $99 for a 6' power cord? I had to remind myself that price points are only upper, not lower limits on what's affordable. The Audio Magic Xstreams certainly don't look like what I've come to expect from audiophile (read sucker) cables. The eggplant-colored shielding was an improvement over boring black wires, but certainly not as glittery as the braided-shielding on the Shunyata Research Diamondbacks reviewed in April . And the nickel-plated connectors looked like standard off-the-shelf items; nothing like the eye-popping Marinco and WattGate connectors on the Analysis Plus Oval 10s reviewed in June.

But the point of a design like the Xstream is not to dazzle. My job was to ignore the superfluous wrapping and listen to what these cables could do for my system. Speaking of superfluous wrappings, do you realize how much designer fact-and-fancy the average audio shopper has to muck through just to purchase a power cable? Hard or soft wire? Thick or thin? Solid copper, silver-plated copper, solid silver conductors? Solid metal or braided copper hair? Beefy or lean connectors? Hand made or off-the-shelf connectors? Brand name or DIY? Heavy shielding or nearly nude? Teflon or floobie dust? Ai-yi-yi!

Back to the subject: The Audio Magic Xstream power cable simply employs two 12-gauge, double-coated, silver-over- copper conductors with Teflon dielectrics, Mylar dampening, and surrounding triple shielding. To keep the costs down, Audio Magic outsources the production of these cables and connectors to their specifications - all other Audio Magic products are hand-crafted. The Audio Magic website does not describe the Xstream power cables specifically, so this review is a premiere of sorts.

Compared to the other power cables I've reviewed, the Xstreams were surprisingly stiff. Not so stiff as to make aligning the back of the equipment rack with the nearest outlet a mandatory requirement. However, the Xstreams are stiff enough to be bent and stay in place; which is how they arrived after shipping in a plain bubble mailer envelope. Nothing was broken and the connectors were firmly attached. Whenever I switched power cables, I carefully tried bending the Xstreams into a smoother shape, kind of like those poseable Bendo figurines you know about if you have young kids.

I listened to the Xstreams on everything I currently have in house for review, including my trusty Audio Refinement Complete Integrated and CD Complete; the Bel Canto DAC2 (I'm coughing up the cash as I type this); the Outlaw M-200 monoblocks (review forthcoming, honest!); and the BV Audio Pre-1 (ditto) and PA300 amplifier (on extended loan). I also alternated using the Xstream power cables connected to the Shunyata Research Guardian 4-HT, or plugged directly into the wall. [Note: Don't confuse the Audio Magic Xstream power cords with the PS Audio xStream power cables, or audiophiles in the know will look at you as if you were eating steak with a salad fork. For this review, the Audio Magic cables are Xstream. Capiche?]

Yeah baby, she's got it!

This recording might not be PC for classical purists, but the first album I played was Leonard Bernstein conducting Gustav Holst's The Planets [SONY 63087, 1997]. This performance is not as authoritative as Sir Adrian Boult's reading of the score, nor as cohesive as Charles Dutoit's with the Montreal Symphony. It's certainly not as drawn out as von Karajan's take with the Berliner Philharmoniker. However, Lenny's reading is gutsy; it takes risks while gazing up into the heavens with an adolescent sense of wonder. As a teenager in Ohio, I remember climbing out of the upstairs window onto the roof of the screened-in porch. I would lay back against the shingles and watch the stars and the Milky Way. Guess which recording I'd choose as the soundtrack to that experience?

When I played "Venus" with the Xstreams connected to my equipment, the difference was like the change from VHS to DVD - the sonic images were clearer and had greater depth than with the stock cables originally included with my equipment. The New York Philharmonic strings sounded appropriately limpid, making it easier to discern the individual instruments instead of the homogenous wash of string sound I had assumed inherent in this recording. Backgrounds were quieter, to have the opening French horn and woodwinds emerge from darkness, not the gray haze offered by regular Belden cords. Perhaps resulting from the lowered noisefloor, the Xstreams also improved bass and midrange. The harp, which normally sounds thin and muffled, now had a fuller tone and sounded lovely. I was Xstreamly impressed.

Next, I tried a more recent recording of the music of Machaut performed by the Orlando Consort [Dreams in the Pleasure Garden, DG Archiv, 1998]. "De Fortune" is an early music piece for four male voices (alto, two tenors, and a baritone) and was recorded in the reverberant acoustic of a 15th century church. The singers exhibit wonderful voice control as they constantly shift between singing all together, in pairs, or integrating four different harmonic parts into one. As with the previous recording, the Xstreams allowed my equipment to present more of the details. It was much easier to distinguish the individual singing voices, even when they were all singing simultaneously! This is helpful for non-French speaking louts like me who are desperately trying to follow along with the tiny printed texts provided.

The baritone's voice sounded more forceful with Xstream assistance and all of the voices in general had greater presence. The stock Beldens made the music sound a little nondescript by comparison. At around 3:10 in this song, there is an almost steely sounding nasal 'e'. The Xstreams presented it in all its glory, without allowing it to drown in the noise that leaked in through the Beldens. I don't have an atomic stopwatch to compare decay times, however, the Xstreams did make greater sense of the spatial cues in the recording. Where the singers were standing in relation to each other was more clearly defined as was my sense of the size of the acoustic space. Well done!

Native Voices

A few years ago, I started listening to Native American music. This term does not adequately describe the variety of music being created by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, which includes Blues, Rock, Rap, Gospel, Country, Folk, Electronic Music, as well as more traditional indigenous music made with flutes, drums and rattles. My personal preference at the moment is for the traditional/folk music. What I love about these native styles is how they're almost always accompanied by a very natural and relaxed quality. The music can sound very intense but never uptight. Uptight is something the pilgrims brought along with them, as well as small pox and liquor.

"Mahk Jchi" is a sweet-sounding song performed by Ulali - a women's acapella trio that fuses gospel, pop and folk with traditional singing styles [Mahk Jchi, Original Vision Records, 1994/1997]. The vocalists Pura Fe, Soni Moreno and Jennifer Elizabeth Kreisberg are as potent as the Orlando Consort in blending their voices in multi-part harmonies to create music that can really stir the soul. Their songs have appeared on a few native compilations as well as Robbie Robertson's Music for the Native Americans, and their singing can also be heard on 1Giant Leap, reviewed by Srajan earlier this year.

I really hope that someday soon they will record another album of new material, because this particular recording suffers from muffled sound, as though they sang with pillows over the mics, also drowning the drums, rattles, and tambourines in mud. These singers really need to be heard in a better production. On "Mahk Jchi", Ulali's voices remind me of the sound of high winds before a rainstorm, building a similar excitement and anticipation.

The Xstream power cables did manage to remove one of the pillows from the microphones. Call it the difference between seeing the layers of a fancy birthday cake or just looking at the frosting. The Xstream power cables made it easier for my system to reveal different layers in the recording. The tambourine chiming at the start of the song was more immediately apparent. Sibilants were improved while the different parts of the harmonies could be more easily distinguished. I wasn't just listening to pretty voices; I was listening to shared emotions and experiences. When the singers took flight, I felt them soar.

The Sound of Silver

Let's dispel an old wives' tale - or to be more accurate, an old audiophiles' tale. Even though I'd never laid ears on silver cables before, I did hear that 'silver cables sound bright' mantra and assumed it held true without prior personal testing. Because of this, I was highly suspicious when Jerry Ramsey mentioned that the composition of the Xstream cable held as much silver as he could manage and still charge less than $100 per cable.

I knowingly played a recording next that's a little bright even on the best of days. "Resist" is an acoustic number from Rush in Rio [Atlantic 83672 2003] that reveals the challenges of making recordings from the mixing console during a live venue - especially when the band's performing for 40,000 cheering fans in Rio de Janeiro! With my system connected to Belden cables, the two acoustic guitars sounded scratchy and steely, like an autoharp plucked with razorblades. After this experience, switching to silver power cables should have cracked the beech wood veneer on my bookshelf speakers, right? Wrong! The Xstreams confounded my false expectations by encouraging my system to add more bass weight to the acoustic guitars and remove some of the brightness and glare in this recording. The guitars still sounded steely, but the scratchiness was replaced with normal flat picking and strumming. I could even hear the trailing notes!

Comparison Shopping

To determine just how good the Audio Magic Xstreams were, I compared them with all other power cables on hand, starting with the Shunyata Research DiamondBacks. On "Venus", the difference was in the details, particularly with stringed instruments. With the DiamondBacks, the harshness of the string section was further reduced. The harp was even more tonally accurate in the midrange as the notes were plucked cleanly and clearly. The difference between the two cables was not dramatic but noticeable. On "De Fortuna", the DiamondBacks again upped the ante slightly. The decays trailed off the same as with the Xstreams, but this time I was starting to sense the spaces between the notes - not merely the silence but the atmosphere. The nasal 'e' sounded just as sharp as it did with the Xstreams. As on the Bernstein recording, the DiamondBacks seemed to remove more of the noise seeping into my system, bringing me closer to the music than the Xstreams, but only by a small margin.

The DiamondBacks also proved that there was still more pillow fluff one could remove from the mics on "Mahk Jchi". The voices sounded clearer than with the Xstreams, although again the difference was slight because the instruments were still too far in the background to be rescued. However, the dynamic range encouraged by the DiamondBacks, from soft drumming to soaring vocals, was more seamlessly presented than with the Xstreams. The acoustic guitars on "Resist" sounded only slightly more refined with the DiamondBacks. The autoharp sound was almost completely fleshed out into two guitars. As with the Xstreams, I could now listen to this song without fleeing the room. However, there's only so much that can be done with a steely recording!

Where the Xstreams beat out the DiamondBacks was in the lower bass (as low as my Haydn loudspeakers can reach), whether playing native drums or pipe organs. This trait became obvious when I played "Blackbird" on the brand new Martyn Bennett CD, GRIT [Realworld 25512 2003]. The music samples Scottish folk music from various archival sources including the Alan Lomax archives and adds Martyn's own arrangements for synthesizers, live instruments, string section and heavy bangin' beats. Yes, it's another damn techno album, but this artist succeeds where others have failed. He wants you to listen to the music and spins the brogue poetry as far as it will go. With the Xstreams, my system could relish every beat and synthesizer whomp, without making the recording sound bloated or fuzzy (which it isn't). The DiamondBacks made the beats sound polite with less solidity - a little more refined but not as potent.

According to my memory (and notes) the best low bass produced in my system was compliments of the Analysis Plus Oval 10 power cables. The Oval 10s offered quieter backgrounds (almost to a fault) and meatier bass than all of the cables I've reviewed so far. The Xstream power cables imparted less of their own character onto my system than either the Oval 10s (which made my system sound too smooth) or the DiamondBacks (which needed the Guardian 4HT to keep from sounding a little too lively and uncontrolled). Because of this, the Xstreams may sound more truthful, less manipulative of the music than either the Oval 10s or DiamondBacks when partnered with some systems. The Xstreams did not encourage my system's tendency to sweeten the music or gloss over the sharp edges, unlike the Oval 10s which made some recordings sound a little too smooth, losing some of the excitement in the performance. While the DiamondBacks were still a better match for my system, the difference was not extreme, especially considering the $75 difference in price. Chump change for some, but it adds up for us beer budget audiophiles. And even the imported micro-brew budget audiophile who owns multiple source components can still benefit from upgraded power cables.

If Ever A Wonderful Wiz There Was . . .

As mentioned earlier in this article, the Xstreams do not impart much of their own personality onto the different components connected to them, and that's a good thing! While I could detect a slight brilliance in the highs, they did not provoke any of the components to sound glaring or bright. On the contrary, they managed to refine bright recordings without dulling any of the excitement of the performance. You might think of these cables as the Sorcerer's Apprentice - except that the Xstream power cords didn't disobey. Like a faithful dog, they were more than willing to chase away the noise attacking my system. In the affordable sector of after-market power cables I've reviewed, the Xstreams are competitive with cables costing twice as much. Want to get your audiophile loved one a really cool gift for the holidays? Skip the Bendos and silver bracelets - buy a set of Audio Magic Xstream power cables. Heck, at $99 for a 6' cable, I would recommend them to any audiophile who has been reluctant to spend ridiculous amounts of money to replace stock Beldens. To this reviewer's wrinkly ears, they offer definite sonic improvement, including better definition and detail, better bass and a neutral presentation - all for a very affordable price!

Follow up questions to Jerry Ramsey . . .

Why would you possibly want to introduce another power cable to the audio marketplace? What was your design objective with the Xstreams? Who do you see making up the customer base for these cables?
These are our entry level power cords. We were trying to introduce the public to an affordable high end silver power cable and hopefully spark their interest to try our other products.
What will be the final appearance of the cables? Will the Xstream power cables be offered with a different choice of connectors?
These cables are offered just like you see them - 6 ft. length only. I suppose if someone wanted special ends put on we could do it as a custom deal.
Why are these cables so stiff? Is there a way to prevent bending the cables? Will bending the cables influence their sound?

The cables are a little stiff because of the dual 12 gauge conductors, also the thicker Teflon dielectric we use. Bending the cables will not hurt them at all. As with any conductor, severe bends will create a mechanical stress at a molecular level (however silver less so) and a simple 24 hr burn will normally take care of that. The triple shielding also adds to the stiffness.

Why don't more manufacturers offer to ship their products with cables like these, assuming that they test their equipment with different types of power cables?
I'm not sure why more manufacturers don't send their products with better cables. A lot of engineer types still believe a cable is just a cable.
For $100, I hear a significant improvement over the stock cables and the sound is competitive with the other (more expensive) cables I've reviewed. These cables do sound "neutral" in that they do not add any different sonic characteristics to my source components. How do they do this? Am I hearing things?
In regards to the neutrality, we have spent a lot of time and money researching the parts used in all of our cables along with sound construction and design. No, you are hearing just what we had in mind; neutrality.
Manufacturer's website