AudioQuest SLiP 14/2 Speaker Cable

There are precious few more inflammatory subjects in the world of audio than cables. Reviewing the expensive stuff is the quickest way to a fiery death, at least figuratively and the biggest dilemma is that some of the premium cable is brilliant, while some of it is truly snake oil. Even the best cable won’t transform a component into something it’s not, but it will let more of what it’s capable through. What’s an audiophile to do?

However, the handful of real cable manufacturers make great stuff at all price points and AudioQuest is a perfect example of applying what they know at a price everyone can afford. AudioQuest’s Stephen Mejias tells us that their SLiP 14/2 cable uses their Semi-Solid Concentric Packed long grain copper conductors in PVC jackets, and while AQ is known for their solid conductor cable, this provides a high performance, cost effective and flexible alternative to typical stranded cable.

Bottom line, it’s a great speaker cable for those new to the audiophile world, or anyone wanting to wring a little more performance out of that vintage amplifier without breaking the bank.

WireWorld Pulse 2 interconnects – Preview

Wanna make that $1,400 Astell & Kern player sound a lot better?  Grab the new WireWorld Pulse 2.  In a world of mega expensive cable, that everyone loves to complain about, a mere $40 will take the sound of your portable player to a new level, whether you are using it in a high performance automotive system or just plugging into your home system. The same can be said for the $116 headphone cable, which we are using with excellent result on our OPPO PM-1 headphones.

WireWorld takes their designs seriously, using the best materials and assembly.  They produce some of the world’s finest cables, yet the Pulse 2 combines their capabilities in a cable that is accessible and affordable.  We’ve yet to hear such a modestly priced cable make such a big difference. Now, let’s go out on our favorite internet forum and argue about it!

WireWorld Pulse 2 interconnects

$40, $116

Ortofon 6NX-TSW1010 Tonearm Cable

Many associate the Ortofon name with its legacy of phono cartridges, but the company’s product line includes a multiple of analog accessories, including headshells, tonearms, and high-end cables. The 6NX-TSW1010 tonearm cable, like Ortofon’s cartridges, is extremely well built.

The cable’s transparent blue casing showcases the shielding beneath, which surrounds seven conductor cores made of very pure copper. The main cable body is 5/8 inches thick and it is surprisingly flexible; the segments leading to RCA plugs are about 1/4 inch thick, and the grounding wire is much thinner. The whole cable is 1.2 meters long.

I’m surprised to see the forked grounding termination simply crimped onto its wire, given the rest of the cable’s build quality, but the connection is solid. Also, despite the gold-plated RCA covers, the plugs connecting to phonostage binding posts are not gold plated. Regardless, these design choices result in a nice-sounding cable.

While I listen to several albums on vinyl—with an SME 10 turntable and Dynavector 17D3 cartridge—a few consistent characteristics emerge. This cable offers a big sound, meaning that it supports a huge soundstage, with both width and height. Vocals sound very upfront, both as part of the perceived stage and in terms of their relation to the drivers.

Bass is deep but a touch reticent in the mix. This cable delivers a lot of detail without the sound becoming strident or sibilant. It brings the listener to the front of the auditorium. Those desiring a more laid-back and organic presentation might find this cable a bit much, but for those seeking a more upfront sonic delivery, the Ortofon could be just the ticket.  – Rob Johnson

Ortofon 6NX-TSW1010 Tonearm Cable

MSRP: €235 (about $325)

Audience Au24e Tonearm Cable

The impedance and capacitance lurking in the short run of cable joining the phono cartridge to the phono preamplifier interface are important albeit often overlooked aspects. Some might argue that breaking the signal path with a connector compromises signal integrity. Yet, if there ever was a link in the audio chain that benefits from a few better strands of wire, this is it.

Analog and its associated tweaks continue to rise, yet, so do the number of users frustrated by the medium. Once the initial fever settles, that new turntable starts to feel like a slightly worn chew toy. The trinket still squeaks, but your tail doesn’t wag like it did when you tore the plaything out of the wrapper.

Relax. It’s not your fault. Audience’s Richard Colburn says the company’s inspiration for the Au24e tonearm cable came from the phono signal, “taking the cable out of the compromise is what it’s all about.” When the interface is compromised, fine detail, high-frequency response, and microdynamics get sacrificed. He also stresses that this approach should not be confused with cartridge loading, which is a “completely different issue. This is optimization for the impedance characteristic of the cartridge itself.”

A Choice of Cables

Three basic Au24e models comprise the line. The Low Z is optimized for cartridges with an internal impedance of 30 ohms or less; the High Z matches cartridges in the 30 to 100 ohms range; the MM is for 47k moving-magnet cartridges. Those using VPI turntables, or another brand with RCA jacks for the phono output, can save a few hundred bones since they don’t require a more expensive (and more labor-intensive) DIN plug. Colburn suggests opting for the lower-impedance version if your cartridge is on the fence at 30 ohms.

The 1m version of the MM version is $479 with RCAs, and $729 with DIN; the MC versions are $1,095 with RCA plugs at both ends, and $1,295 with the DIN plug. All are made by hand and hand-terminated with Audience’s latest Au24e cable, termination, and connector technology. As with all Audience cables, each is cryo-treated upon completion.

Down to Business

I’ve been enamored with the sound of the highly musical Denon DL-103R cartridge and its variants for some time. I currently use the Zu Audio version, potted in a metal body with the AVID Volvere SP turntable and SME 309 tonearm, feeding an Audio Research REF Phono 2.

It’s easy to get lost in cable comparison and freak yourself into thinking that you either hear a much bigger difference than is actually happening or, that you aren’t able to hear anything at all. The miniscule signal present from a moving-coil cartridge only compounds matters. Even listeners with canine-quality hearing can get caught up in swapping a tonearm cable in and out of a system, and there’s always the chance of knocking something out of alignment, corrupting the results. Fortunately. with another identical AVID Volvere ‘table set up on the same rack, it’s simple for me to make meaningful comparisons.

Benefits of Optimization

Switching back and forth between the two decks, the immediacy the Audience cable brings to the ‘table (pun intended) is not subtle. The layer of grain I’ve always found present in the 103 becomes greatly reduced, underscoring the Au24e’s abilities as an incredible transducer.

Vide, the quietest passages in the Egberto Gismoti/Nana Vasconcelos collaboration Duaz Vozes now possess more air and space, and it feels as if the recording studio has grown larger. Both the leading and trailing edges of the attack on Vasconcelos’ percussive excursions sound cleaner and more realistic.  An identical experience comes via “Sun Song” on the Sheffield Labs pressing of Dave Grusin’s Discovered Again.

Listening to other records I’ve spun extensively begets the same conclusion: There’s a level of cleanliness now available that wasn’t present before, and it’s easy enough to go back to the control ‘table and hear enough of a difference to justify the expense.

Remember, a great analog front end is a work in progress and always a cumulative proposition. I’ve found precious few things that are truly transformative, but every step in the right direction adds resolution without sacrificing in other areas. The Audience Au24e tonearm cable belongs in the latter category. Once I spent enough time between the two identical ‘tables to confirm the difference, I moved the cable to a few other arm/combinations with equally positive results.

While this cable is not inexpensive, at $1,100, it’s not crazy money, either. I’m keeping it as a reference in my AVID Volvere SP/Funk Firm FX•R/Denon DL103R combination; it’s that spectacular. Watch for a follow-up on the MM version in the near future.  -Jeff Dorgay

Audience Au24e Tonearm Cable

MSRP:  $479-$1,295 (depending on configuration)



Turntable AVID Volvere SP/SME 309/Zu Denon 103 (premium grade)
Phonostage Audio Research REF Phono 2
Preamplifier Audio Research REF 5SE
Power Amplifier Octave Jubilee Monoblocks
Speakers GamuT S9
Cable Cardas Clear
Power Running Springs Dmitri    Maxim PLCs
Accessories Furutech DeMag & DeStat    Audio Desk Systeme RCM

Crystal Cable Micro Diamond Cables

The biggest issue audiophiles likely face concerns what to do with all the huge and unsightly cables connecting components together. Of course, a faction of audiophilia considers big, beefy cable muy grande macho. However, not everyone wants a massive cable loom lurking in a listening room, which often doubles as a living room.

Attending lectures from various cable manufacturers isn’t much help. Most firms tend to justify their approach. Companies producing large cables try to convince you that a small diameter cable can’t possibly work. Whatever. Physics aside, after spending a lot of time with the Micro Diamond interconnects and speaker cables plugged into a wide range of components and speakers, they not only work brilliantly, they are beautifully executed.

And yes, these actually are cables you’d want your friends to see. Packaged like fine jewelry, they arrive in velvet pouches and inside black boxes—elegantly understated and nicely done without costing a fortune. A one-meter pair of interconnects (RCA or XLR) retails for $850, and is also available as a turntable cable with appropriate termination for $1,000. A 2.5-meter speaker cable set costs $2,950 in bananas or spades.

Crystal Cable director Gaby van der Kley works with the man behind Siltech cables and spent years touring the world as a concert pianist. She’s definitely a designer that knows what instruments sound like.

Going Against The Grain

Most audio cables on today’s market utilize copper or silver conductors, and some are primarily one material with a coating of the other on top. Crystal Cable takes a disparate path, using gold along with a silver primary conductor. Yet the gold isn’t for coating.  Rather, it’s almost impregnated in the silver to fill in molecular gaps in the 1.7mm conductor.

If I had a $20 bill for every talk I’ve heard on cable size, geometry, and the like, I could probably retire. Those subscribing to the “bigger is better” school of thought claim a svelte cable can’t deliver powerful bass response. But Micro Diamond cables are not bass deficient.

Beyond terrific audio performance, Micro Diamond speaker cables offer an interesting feature: scalability. Crystal Cable calls the ends “splitters,” and they can be purchased with a number of different termination options: standard spades or bananas, Furutech carbon spades, or bananas and bi-wired. You can also add another length of cable should you need to reroute your system down the road. Considering the low prices fetched by used cable, this strategy is an excellent way to future-proof your cable purchase and retain your investment.

Listening Sessions

The toughest part of any cable evaluation is trying to determine the sound of the cable. In a perfect world, a cable would add no sonic signature to the signal passing through it. Predictably, some industry folk would have you think all wire sounds the same. However, we believe cable makes a difference in the overall sound of a system and should do no harm to the signal.

While many listeners use cable as the last step in fine-tuning a system—employing cables as tone controls—we view high-quality cable as the way to transfer as much of your system’s performance from one component to another, and finally, to your loudspeakers. More than gross tonal changes, the main difference heard between second- and first-rate cable deals with reducing grain and increasing low-level detail retrieval, not unlike the qualities provided by an excellent power conditioner.

Auditioning Micro Diamond cables in three different systems—small, medium and super-size—achieved good results. The compact setup comprised a vintage CJ amp and preamp, Schiit Bifrost DAC, and pair of MartinLogan Aerius i speakers cabled with various odds and ends. The medium system consisted of a Simaudio 600i integrated amplifier, Wadia 121 DAC, and pair of Harbeth Compact 7-IIIES speakers. The final stereo array (publisher Jeff Dorgay’s standard reference system) involved Audio Research REF components, a dCS Paganini stack, and GamuT S9 speakers cabled with a mixture of Shunyata Aurora, Cardas Clear, and AudioQuest Sky cables.

A majority of acoustic recordings— selections heavy on piano, drums, and acoustic guitars—were played to quickly establish the cable’s proprietary sonics. The latter are highly revealing, with an upfront presentation akin to listening to studio monitors in a near-field configuration. Given Ms. van der Kley’s background, it comes as no surprise that piano reproduction via her cables feels sublime. Whether listening to Herbie Hancock or Beethoven, the instrument’s complex attack and subtle overtones are always maintained and never become harsh or blurred.

If any of your components possess a tonal balance anywhere between neutral and warm/romantic/euphonic, you will be amazed at the additional detail the Micro Diamonds bring to your system’s overall appeal. When utilized with the B&W 802 Diamonds, already a highly resolving speaker with the diamond tweeter and most solid state amplifiers is a presentation that is too forward for some. Still, TONEAudio counts a detail fanatic in its ranks that can never get enough resolution. He loved this combination.

The Micro Diamonds make the biggest improvement in an all-tube system, especially one that leans more towards warm tonality. With the Conrad Johnson PV-12 (recently rebuilt by CJ with CJD Teflon capacitors) and either the MV-50 (same treatment) or PrimaLuna Dialogue monoblocks, the Diamonds’ ability to transfer every bit of information adds a spectacular level of inner detail to this system without compromising musicality in any way.

A similar result can be achieved via speakers ever so slightly on the warm side of neutral. Vide, Harbeth Compact 7s really come alive with Crystal Cables. The sound in our test speakers from Focal, Verity, GamuT, and Peak Consult (all fairly neutral) now boast a different disposition. There’s more resolution, and it’s musically satisfying. What more can one ask?

The Crystal Cable Micro Diamond Cables

MSRP: Interconnect, 1m – $850, Speaker, 2.5m – $2,950  (US/Canada Importer)

From Mono & Stereo: LessLoss digital cable

Mono & Stereo’s Matej Isak has been very excited about the entire LessLoss line of cable products, but here
he focuses his energy on their digital cable.

You can follow his observations here…

Skogrand SC Markarian 421 Cables

The secrets of the technology behind Skogrand cables seems to be as mystic as Norwegian mythological world and beings.

Mr. Skogrand doesn’t reveal much about the technology implemented. While this might seem a bit arrogant at first, the performance of Skogrand Cables speaks volumes. Over the last year you may have noticed Skogrand cables in many highly respected systems and within the homes of audiophiles and music lovers where you don’t ask about the price… So why do they choose Skogrand’s?…

Read the full review here at Mono & Stereo:

(Copy and photo, courtesy of Mono & Stereo)