Product Review -
AudioQuest Interconnects - December, 1995
By John E. Johnson, Jr.
AudioQuest Interconnects, Speaker Cables, Digital Interconnect (CD drive to DAC), S-Video Cable (laserdisc player to TV monitor). AudioQuest, P.O. Box 3060, San Clemente, California 92674 Phone (714) 498-2770 Fax (714) 498-5112.
Even though there are electrical measurements to support the contention that specially designed interconnects and speaker cables make a difference with the signal that passes through them, and ultimately, the sound quality, this subject is still very controversial. I think that perhaps part of the problem is that cables may not perform the same way on different systems, and secondly, the differences may be very subtle in many cases. Third, although we boil the electrical characteristics of cables down to resistive impedance (resistance in Ohms), and reactive impedance (inductance in microhenrys and capacitance in picofarads), these are merely definitions based on what we know. There may very well be other characteristics that we have not accounted for. We have come to the conclusion that cables do make a difference, but you have to listen to a lot of them in order to know what to listen for. AudioQuest is a very well known manufacturer of cables, and we were delighted to accept their invitation to test several of their models.
The cables we received were JADE INTERCONNECTS (Number 2 in photo): two 22 awg solid LGC copper conductors separated by PVC and polypropylene surrounded by a foil shield and PVC jacket, $25.00/meter pair with RCA plugs; RUBY INTERCONNECTS (Number 4 in photo): two 22 awg solid FPC copper conductors with polypropylene insulation (each) and a single 22 awg solid LGC copper drainwire, all surrounded by a foil shield and PVC jacket, $98.00/meter pair with RCA plugs; DIAMOND INTERCONNECTS (Number 3 in photo): two conducting legs each consisting of three 24 awg solid FPS silver conductors arranged in a triad separated by four Teflon insulating rods, each conducting leg insulated by Teflon jacket, and the pair of conducting legs plus a single 22 awg solid LGC copper drainwire surrounded by a foil shield and PVC jacket, $695/meter pair with RCA plugs; TYPE 4 SPEAKER CABLE (not shown in photo): two conducting legs each consisting of two 18 awg solid LGC copper conductors (each wire insulated separately with polyethylene) surrounded by a PVC jacket, $85/8 ft pair, terminated with spade lugs; ARGENT SPEAKER CABLE (Number 5 in photo): two conducting legs each consisting of three 18 awg solid FPC-6 copper conductors and one 20 awg solid FPS silver conductor (each wire insulated separately with polyethylene and the entire set of eight wires maintained at the periphery of the cable ("hyperlitz") by a core of shredded polypropylene, jacket consisting of PVC, $735/8ft pair terminated with spade lugs; VIDEO S-PRO S-VIDEO CABLE (not shown in photo): four conducting legs, two of which consist of single 22 awg solid FPS silver conductors, each surrounded by Teflon, then foam, and finally mylar and a braided LGC copper shield (the shield for each of the two silver conductors serves as the third and fourth conducting legs for S-Video), $400/6 ft; DIGITAL PRO INTERCONNECT CABLE (Number 1 in Photo): two 22 awg solid FPS silver conductors insulated by Teflon jacket and arranged in hyperlitz by shredded polypropylene core, then a 22 awg solid LGC copper drainwire, and finally a PVC jacket, BNC connectors at both ends, $165/1 meter cable. All cables are marked with an arrow as to the direction of signal flow, or with the word "amplifier" and "speaker".
We used the AudioQuest with several CD players, tube preamp, solid state preamp, bipolar output device power amps, MOSFET output device power amps (one class AB push-pull, one pure class A single ended), planar magnetic speakers, and front firing cone speakers. The digital cable was used between a McCormack SST-1 CD Drive and DAC-1. The S-Video cable connected a Pioneer CLD-3090 laserdisc player with a Mitsubishi 35" high resolution TV monitor. Thus, the cables were utilized with a gamut of components.
Our listening experiences confirmed what we had been thinking for some time, namely that when silver is added to the formula, there is a smoothing out of the high end of the frequency spectrum. We have noticed this with other brands, and it occurred here with AudioQuest. Both the Diamond interconnects and the Argent speaker cables produced a laid back sound quality, while the Ruby and especially the Jade interconnects had a more forward sound, as did the Type 4 speaker cables. The Jades were bright without being harsh, and this is important, because brightness often brings an unpleasant edginess along for the ride. With the bipolar power amps and planar-magnetic speakers, I preferred the Jades and Type 4s. Since these are $25/meter pair and $85/8 ft pair terminated, this is a best buy and a nice surprise for the budget when taking into account the cost of the other components.
We had one problem with the Rubys, namely, the outer copper retaining ring on the RCA plugs. The ring was so tight, it prevented us from being able to slide the plug over some of the jacks on the components. Tony Farinella, of AudioQuest, told us he is aware of the problem, and that they are planning for future editions to have a slightly larger ring, so that it will fit over all RCA jacks (jacks on components are not made to such tight tolerances). In the meantime, we simply unscrewed the ring (see photo), and the plugs then slid nicely over the jacks. If you do this, mark one end with an arrow in the direction of signal flow, so you won't forget which end is which if you have to disconnect the cables for any reason. Other than this, the AudioQuest cables are all very well constructed. The Diamonds are a bit stiff, so installation requires some maneuvering behind the component to which they are to be attached.
Moving on to use with the tube preamp and MOSFET power amps, I had a different experience. Here, the Diamond interconnects brought out a dazzling amount of detail in the Monitor Audio SE 20 speakers. However, depending on the power amp, fine tuning the sound with the speaker cables was necessary. With a class AB MOSFET, the Argents sounded best, as there was a bit of sharpness that became evident otherwise (a product, in our opinion, of CD sound that will not be eliminated completely until we go to a higher sampling rate). The Argents, which contain silver as part of the conducting path, smoothed out this sharpness. With a pure class A MOSFET, however, all the interconnects and speaker cables sounded excellent, and it is simply a matter of taste as to whether one likes a laid back sound (Argent) or forward sound (Type 4). However, for the interconnects, the laid back characteristic of the Diamond interconnects was more appealing than it was with the bipolar amps and planar-magnetics. My final choice was the Diamond interconnects and Argent speaker cables for the class A MOSFET setup. This comes to about $1,500. Writing the check won't make you smile, but the sound certainly will. Female voices were velvet with Enya CDs. Yet the close miking of her soft voice, which brought the entire movement of lips and tongue into the recording, were not lost. Orchestral music was crisp but not irritating. Really, this is quite a combination of cables. But, as I stated previously, the equipment itself interacts with the cables differently, depending on the components. Again, this may be a main reason for the controversy over the value of high end cables.
The AudioQuest Digital Cable was compared with our existing digital cable of about the same price range. We could tell no difference between the two, even though the AudioQuest is solid silver, while our reference cable is copper. Both cables had a detailed upper end and deep bass. If jitter had been increased, we certainly would have noticed. The AudioQuest came with BNC connectors permanently installed, and they fit more snugly onto the drive and DAC BNC jacks than did our reference cable, which uses adapters to convert the cable to whatever type of connectors one wishes (in this case, BNC). Thus, we feel that having a cable that is purchased with the desired connectors already soldered on (such as the AudioQuest), rather than having a multipurpose cable with adapters, is the better choice. We will now be using the AudioQuest as a reference cable in our Drive/DAC setup because of this.
The S-Video cable had a rubber surround on the plug that was too thick for our S-Video jacks on the TV monitor (the Mitsubishi CS-35X7 TV has three S-Video jacks, all of which are recessed.) Thus, we could not get the plug to go into the jack, and we were unable to test this cable. We want to mention that the "too snug plug" is not an issue that is peculiar to AudioQuest. This has occurred with cables from other manufacturers as well, but since it happened here, the info will help you be prepared. We will be holding on to the S-Video cable until we obtain a monitor without recessed jacks. At that point, we will test the cable and update this review.
In summary, the AudioQuest line of interconnects and cables sound very good. We were impressed that even the entry level cables were clean. The only reservation we have are the plugs themselves on some models as being either too constrictive (Ruby) or too much rubber to fit into a recessed jack (S-VIDEO). Other than these caveats, the AudioQuest are highly recommended for audition.
John E. Johnson, Jr.
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