Product Review - Audio Interconnect Cable Shootout - Part 1 - December, 2000
evaluated by Jiri Michalek, Milan
Cernohorsky, Patrik Blaha, Petr Püschel,
and Vladimir Rybar)
Hi-Fi reviews are always based on shaky grounds. No one can actually reach the objective reality because no one really knows what the product should sound like, and there’s no direct comparison with the original music as it was played. Some sort of fata morgana substitutes for it. And, in the case of connecting cables, this problem grows into fatal dimensions. There are more unknowns than known, which generates opinions from one end of the scale to the other.
are some various conclusions:
are two different approaches to the issue or selection of audio cables, with
each approach being a dichotomous pair:
Transparency should definitely represent the idea of cable.
The cable is here for us to tune up the sound with it.
Only the rational way leads to success.
It is necessary to explore technologies going beyond the limits of
the “reasonable” mind.
course, various cable designers' philosophies correspond with these requirements.
However the reader certainly asks more down-to-earth questions:
decided to address a few of these issues, but, obviously, not all of them. We defined
the task to come up with more general conclusions than just a ranking of a
large number of cables. Hopefully, we’ll also convince you that cable
qualities can be generalized.
of Differences Identified by Listening
The main stumbling block is that we cannot realize the situation “without the cable”. We are missing that centerpiece around which the space would revolve. But, we did the best we could. Here, our thanks go to Pavel Dudek who manufactured several connecting cables of minimum length for us. We simply turned the components with their backs to each other and then the connection length approaches the ideal situation in accordance with the “no cable – best cable” philosophy.
example, we could say that the maximum differences (and I’m rather
exaggerating here) only approximate the difference when we insert a quality
net filter before the components. This difference can reach the size of an
audible difference between amplifiers of the same class and principle, e.g., we
would definitely claim that the character of these imaginary amplifiers is
very similar. Just one of them is better tuned.
you suspect that some reviewers will expressively exaggerate the described
differences and qualities, then I must agree with you. If we tune
to the “magnifying glass mode” in the course of the test, then we take
these nuances into account. However, it is also true that these differences can
have such an impact, that it can be characterized by a situation such as when
you are listening to music while reading a newspaper, and you forget about the
world around you (I think I stole this sentence from someone). Such feelings
from which the micro-dynamic, transient, and phase originators are
abstracted, are often more important and quality defining than the separate
parameters of individual bands that can be followed more easily (firmness of
bass, clearness of mid-range, etc.). By the way, only the best cables from the test
opened up the door to
such an irrational fascination. A pretty expensive door for such a moment of
Without instructions, the described differences would be unrecognizable for the listener – especially during a short period of listening. The overall character of a cable shows up only after a longer period.
is as if you come to a river and look at it. Only after some time you start to
recognize the order of its flow, and your mind accepts the rhythm in which it
flows through the basin and jumps over the boulders. Only then your
mind rests in peace and you can enjoy the music, in which chirping elements
play. Although it is poetic, I find this example suitable.
the same time, this analogy hints at the reason why the rapid comparison (“switching”)
test method fails. Quality criteria cannot be derived from measured data, not
only in cables, but in other components as well. If the world is recognizable,
as the materialists claim, we have to forget about that kind of recognition.
Besides capacitance, DC resistance, and inductance, there also exist some
“special” parameters derived from other characteristics (output, phase,
and attenuation). We measured some of them, but correlating them to listening
evaluations in this case would be looking for the needle in the haystack.
Construction and Parameters
ambiguities result from a quality called the cable directivity (an arrow
printed on the cable to indicate which end should be connected to the preamp
and which end to the power amp). I can remember
with what disdain this quality has been treated in several articles recently. In the prevailing number of cases, the cable
directivity is automatically given by the shielding or non-live conductors
configuration (pseudo-symmetry), and there’s no reason to doubt it. In several
cases, both the directivity and configuration are different.
configuration can be coaxial, symmetrical, or pseudo-symmetrical. The expression
“symmetrical” leads to confusion.
symmetrical cable is usually terminated with XLR connectors and serves for the
connection of symmetrical types of signals (balanced). In the RCA case, the inner structure
is understood as “symmetrical”. Inside the core, symmetrical cable contains
two conductors, usually twisted, connected to the pin and ground, and woven or
foil shielding is open at both its ends (unconnected). All other configurations
with more than two electrically conductive elements are usually called
pseudo-symmetrical. For example, it might be a conductor and double shielding or
two conductors and connected shielding, or any multiple alternative, with a different
connection type at every end from which the cable’s directivity results.
conductor is an antenna for different kinds of high-frequency, e.g., RF, from
which it is important to protect the cable as much as possible.
For that reason, there are twisted conductors, shielding, and various
filters. Designers must, of course, solve many conflicting requirements: for example, triple-core cables are more resistant
electromagnetic interference, but the cable capacitance is increased.
know parameter is the so-called cable resonance frequency. It’s the frequency
(usually around 2 kHz) where the influence of capacitance starts to surpass
the influence of inductance, and parameters of this transition indirectly
influence the sound character. The resonance frequency can be measured, but the value
itself does not provide us with much information about the cable character.
represent an independent chapter in the cable case, and they have been
under-examined in previous studies of cables. The connector contact
should be flexible and clean – the former quality being secured by the pin,
eventually in combination with grooves or other specialties. The
contact of the ground conductor must deal with the
mechanical load, with the surface finish and necessary maintenance being very
often underestimated. Cleanliness and size of the contact surface have an
important influence on the signal quality.
Regarding the electrical properties, supposedly the capacitance is important with interconnects, and there is a dependence on the low or high input or output impedance of the components connected by them.
For this study, we have more or less accepted the quality descriptions from the manufacturers' spec sheets and we did not intend to comment on them too much. We tried to avoid, however, paying attention to phrases such as “Our silver conductors guarantee the best sound”. Many of the statements seem to be disputable and it is clear that some companies try to sell based on presentation of their technology in brochures. But, to ignore all seemingly strange claims would not be a good idea either. How many times in our lives do we realize that practice is a bit different from textbook theory?
We tested both famous and less famous Czech manufacturers, as well as imported brands of recognized standards in their categories. We acquired a representative selection of just about all possible construction types and philosophies. We included the world-wide recommended cable for DIY applications, the “starter-cable Belden 89259”, and the famous Silver Sonic BL-1 II by DH Labs, with which we already have lots of experience. The RCA connector was a common denominator for all the cables in the tests.
were very curious about two Canadian products from GutWire
and Maple Audio Works as well as
Joe Skubinski / JPS Labs / and the Granite
Audio # 470 from USA.
to Czech companies, Mr. Michal Vevera from VOBA
Acoustic, Cable4You lent us the Whitesnake
One Reference model and its
lower priced brother. Without the KrautWire Model 4, Czech cables would not be considered thoroughly
represented. This cable
is probably the most famous here. Mr. Koudelka (ALK) gave us three pairs of his hand-made
thank Jim Aud from the legendary Purist
Audio Design, who sent us the Proteus. Now you must understand
that our hands were a bit shaky when we were opening a rather ordinary UPS parcel
containing a cable worth almost one hundred thousand
The number of cables we finally had on hand was almost unbearable. We were unable to obtain the same length of all the cables, so that was a variable we could not control.
The products are divided into four categories (the categories were just for our convenience during testing).
Of course, in the test, the categories were not taken into consideration.
Currency converter……….1 USD = 39 CZK
The two numbers represent measurements we took on both the left and right
cable in the pair.
Neutrik connector for KrautWire Model 4, ALK No.2 and No.3
- StraightWire Rhapsody II
- Maple Audio
e - WBT ALK No.4, Cable4You Whitesnake One, and
- DH Labs
h - Clearaudio
- Van den Hul
j - Cable4You PTFE with diagonal grooves
k - Original WBT for GutWire Chime and Granite Audio
left-hand - JPS labs
right-hand - StraightWire (Maestro II)
In the first phase, we carried out the burn-in process. Although some of us were not convinced that burn-in is of any value, we decided that we would do it just in case. Many designers, however, suggest that it is important. During the test, all connectors were treated with the antioxidant lubricants DeOxit and ProGold, and we definitely consider this to be necessary. Otherwise, we might end up testing the effects of oxidation on the plugs rather than the quality of the cables. Four reviewers took part in the tests, which encompassed four months(!) Each reviewer listened to the cables on various components. The specifications, including their prices, were kept secret. Each reviewer listened to cables for about 1 month.
reviewer evaluated each cable in his own words and by a defined scale of 0 -
100 points, to come to general conclusions concerning the
tests, to define the order of quality, and to carry out several other tasks that made my
the second phase, we used a single blind controlled listening situation. The
recordings were chosen carefully, but in a quarter of hour we could only test
three different cables.
Then, we would rest and drink coffee. One person served as the cable
manipulator and also recorded the results. We used two recordings for each
test of three cables in the quarter hour period. The sense organs would
strain. More coffee. More and more trips to the can because of all that
coffee. One of the reviewers might be cold, another not in a good mood. This
was not easy.
We concentrated on cables used for interconnecting the CD player with the preamplifier, and the preamplifier with the power amplifier.
Used During the Tests:
Denon DCD1800 with modified output impedance
Classé CDP 1,5
Classé CDP 0,3
and Power Amplifiers:
JH Sound Version 5.0
Brassany BR011 R
Classé CAP 151
Dudek Cable One
Van den Hul Clearwater
KrautWire Model 3 SE
Straight Wire Duet
JPS Labs Ultraconductor
Xavian XN270 with racks XS65
Protagonist (prototypes Audax/Scan-Speak)
Energy Conoisseur C2, racks
Mission with 30kg shots / in each /
Dali Evidence 870
Deco La Passione
AC Line Filter:
OkTechnik PF-010 SF / MULTIPLE
SOCKET STRIP / Czech product /
Dave Grusin "The Gershwin Connection",
Victor Bailey "Low Blow",
Towner-Gary Peacock "A Closer View ",
Bob James "Playin´Hooky",
Mighty Sam McClain "
Give Me Up To Love", Johnny
Adams " One Step In The Blues",
Scott Henderson´s Tribal Tech "Thick", Tuck Andress
"Reckless Precision", Spyro Gyra "Got The Magic",
Lary Coryel "I Will Be Over You", Bach/Vivaldi/Marcello
"Violin and Oboe Concertos", Patricia
Barber "Modern Cool", Dead
Can Dance "Spiritchaser", Tori
Amos "Boys for Pele", JMLab
Cd No.3, Diana Krall "Love
Scenes", “Acoustic Mania” with Antonio Forcione,
Jacky Terrason "Dedicato",
Cassandra Wilson "Rendez-Vous",
David Bowie "Hours"
ProGold and Deoxit from a Caig Labs for treatment of
Violin from the workshop of maestro violin-maker F.L.
Prokop (product from 1907) for relaxation and possible return to reality.
Both Canadian products, GutWire-Chime and Maple Audio Works-Ambiance, took our breath away. Their resolution and space came through even with mass market products. These cables would be classified as a separate component. The Chime especially had brilliant highs, yet they were completely natural. Mr. Patrik Blaha and Petr Püschel determined that the Ambiance was their clear favorite thanks to their dynamics, as well as their price point.
The Proteus from Purist Audio Design is absolutely neutral and therefore a universal cable. Its quality cannot be heard as immediately as its Canadian colleagues. There was transparency and phase coherence.
Silver cable #
470 from Granite Audio was
excellent. On details, it worked like a magnifying glass, but it did not
interfere with the music flow. However, Petr Püschel
did not care for them when they were connected to his low impedance Denon DCD 1800.
The Czech Cable4You - Whitesnake One is a product from the north of Bohemia, and it surprised us with its resolution and separation of instruments in space. We could not agree on its bass goodness, but did agree generally that it had a great sound overall. The KrautWire Model 4 was not quite neutral, with a slight inaccuracy in the middle and higher frequencies.
As for the cable Maestro II from Straight Wire, it had detailed bass, but it also sounded a bit too laid back.
JPS Labs Ultraconductor has solid core conductors and no shielding. Because of this, it is subject to interference and hum. The connectors are average. So, you have to keep it away from such things as computers and AC cords. Even with these caveats, the sound was terrific. This cable and the DH Labs Silver Sonic BL-1 SII were considered as tremendous values.
The Cable 4You - PTFE and Clearaudio Silverline ended up with nearly the same score, and were noted as very rich and detailed in sound quality.
Van Den Hull The First Ultimate was felt to have moderate suppression, perhaps due to the carbon content. But, the sound came off as velvety, and this might be enjoyable to some listneners. Clearaudio Sixstream was also soft, but had a full bodied character, along with excellent bass. The ALK No.2 and No.3 had a nice spatial resolution, but fell behind in accuracy of the mid-range and high frequencies.
Straight Wire Rhapsody II was
dynamic and non-fatiguing but lacked clarity to most of us, but one referee
really liked it. The VanDenHull
Thunderline was considered good value for the dollar and we could not find
any particular criticisms here. We did not care for the Trident.
The Oehlbach No.1 is a simple branded entry-level cable. Even so, its sound quality was not dramatically different from the others (this is why we used single blind testing). The Belden 89259 was the only real disappointment in the test, but it was also very, very inexpensive.
Both active cables represent a separate chapter. Pavel Dudek's Sound Refiner was a bit more defined. The B-Cable was more subtle in the bass, and as a whole, was not so firm. However, both products were quite similar otherwise.
The active cables were considered better in the bass than the passive cables. On the other hand, one reviewer found the active cables to seem a little artificial in the high frequencies.
The Maple Audio Works Ambiance is the shootout winner for sound and value.
Purist Audio Design Proteus is absolutely neutral and is a space age product.
Granite Audio is the best silver cable.
Cable 4You Whitesnake One is
the winner of
JPS Labs Ultraconductor is the winner of category “C”.
Straight Wire Maestro II has
the best connectors.
The monocrystal conductors were clearly evaluated as the better ones.
structural material (silver vs. copper) of conductors is not a guide for the character
basic parameters of cables i.e., their capacitance, DC resistance, and
inductance, were not correlated with sound quality. The theory that a cable is
better if it has lower capacitance, is invalid. Of course, this does not
say anything about the accuracy of electrical propagation of the signal in
relation to reactance. There just does not appear to be a correlation with
Of course, this does not say anything about the accuracy of electrical propagation of the signal in relation to reactance. There just does not appear to be a correlation with audible preferences.
The results clearly show that it is possible to characterize the "sound" of the cable.
treatment of the terminating connector has a significant role.
The best solution need not always be subjectively "no cable". For some people, being able to adjust the sound quality with the cable will be useful.
Once more I would like to thank all who participated in this study. It was a huge investment of time.
Milan Cernohorsky -
© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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