AUDIO ART CABLES: A FULL ANALYSIS!

Frank Perraino and Howard Milstein give the Audio Art Cables an in-depth investigation which includes the SC-5 ePlus speaker cables, IC-3 e interconnect cables, D-1SE digital cable, and power1 e AC cord

Since this is my first review at The Sound Advocate, I’d like to take a few extra minutes to define my views on the subject of reviewing cables before jumping into the Art Audio cables under review. I was asked a few months ago by our editor, Howard Milstein, if I’d be interested in joining the staff of The Sound Advocate. Howard and I seemed to hit it off on many points but I could tell Howard was a genuine lover of both music and the audio equipment that conveys it.  As such, I wish to thank him for this wonderful opportunity to get back in the reviewing game after an eight-year sabbatical to focus on my legal career. It’s great to be back!!

My Backround and Views on Audio Component “Reviews” ~ After many years in this hobby, in 1999 I began writing reviews for Ultimate Audio (yes, a hard copy audio rag), StereoTimes, SoundStage, and Ultra Audio where I was privileged to write for some great editors and work with some excellent colleagues

To me, a review is a tool — to be used like any other tool.  It can be a valuable source of information which, if used properly, can help the reader understand more about the options he/she has in building a good sounding system. A review may even help the reader make a final decision if he/she is unable to audition the equipment under evaluation.  However, even if measurements are performed and included, a review ultimately boils downs to the listening impressions of another person.  Yes, the reviewer may have developed a more critical ear for reviewing over the years – much the same way a wine critic develops a more sophisticated palette by tasting many different wines over many years.  However, it is equally true that the reviewer may have different hearing acuity than you.  They may also may have different preferences, biases, and priorities than the reader. 

Finally, the reviewer is most likely to have a different reference system and room acoustics than you — all of which are factors influencing the sound and impressions of any piece of equipment. Keeping this in mind will obviously help the reader interpret the reviewer’s description of the component being scrutinized.

How and why would I do this? Because I’ve learned over the years to trust/value certain reviewers more than others. Not because any one individual is right or wrong but because I’ve concluded that a particular persons system and his component preferences and/or hearing perceptions and mine may appear to be similar. Thus, when that individual describes a particular component as sounding “analytical” or “bright” or as being “rolled off” or “polite,” I can trust that conclusion. 

However, one may not always be able to find a reviewer whose listening preferences and subjective aims are exactly like yours. Having appraised many high definition audio components over the years, one gains a better insight into any reviewer’s biases and/or predispositions.

The Joy of Cable Reviews – or – I’d Rather Have a Root Canal With No Anesthesia!

Not unlike many of you, I’ve seen too many online cable discussions (or comments to articles and reviews) devolve into incredibly vitriolic exchanges clearly dividing the camps on each side of the debate over the relative value of “wire” in an audio system. As those of you who may know (or come to know) me or my reviews, you then know that I am not a fan of “political correctness.” I’m an advocate of free speech and I would rather know where somebody stands than have people not feel comfortable or free enough to tell me the truth.

After countless years of auditioning and evaluating ‘audiophile’ cables, I’ve come to notice discernible differences in my system when changing speaker cables, interconnects and even power cables (notice I said “differences” not necessarily “improvements”). I simply cannot fathom anybody with even a modicum of experience with higher-end audio making a blanket statement that all “wire” is the same or that cables cannot influence the sound of an audio system. I will always disagree with such blanket positions.

However, I am also firmly grounded in the camp that believes “deception” is still alive and well in the cable industry. I cannot comprehend how a pair of interconnects or speaker cables can command $20K, $25K even $30K. I realize cable companies incur research and development costs.  I also understand the cost of materials can vary greatly. Alternatively, I find it hard to understand how you can examine a one-meter pair of interconnects and justify a purchase price of $20,000.  I do not see the “intrinsic” value in such a product.  Yet, when I look at my Lamm monoblock amplifiers or my three-chassis Aesthetix Io Eclipse phono stage, a purchase price of $25K seems easier to justify.   

Barring a rare case of thick, low gauge audio cables made of pure gold or pure palladium where the cost of materials could be prohibitive, most cables I’ve seen commanding these mega kilo-buck prices are not comprised of such exotic raw materials. The cables I’ve seen/heard are composed of some degree of “nines” purity silver, copper or both – either stranded, solid core, ribbon or some reasonable facsimile thereof. They are also likely to have a dielectric/shielding/sheathing/jacket and are terminated with anything from standard to exotic connectors. Even so, many of these cables innate qualities can often be unacceptable to individuals at their respected price points!

Inevitably – isn’t the cable limited by the essence of the audio components they are connected to?  Can cables then really “enhance” your system or bring forth more than your components are capable of?  The corollary of that argument is that they may bring out all your components have to offer.  Or, stated alternatively, cables can be the weakest link in a system and buying/using inferior cables may result in owning expensive components that can’t “seal the deal” and, therefore, aren’t maximizing their ultimate performance objectives.

It’s not my place to decide whether such a purchase is wise or foolish for anyone else.  After all, isn’t anything in life other than oxygen, water and sustenance (food and water, and perhaps shelter), basically a “want” and not a “need.”  And in each case don’t we all make cost-benefit analyses numerous times a day on whether the cost of any particular “want” justifies the benefit it produces?  Taken to a logical extreme, one can always ask: “Why buy a Rolex or Tag Heuer when a Timex will tell time?” or “Why buy a Honda Accord, a BMW or a Ferrari F-Type when a Ford Escort will get you from Point A to Point B?” 

Assume the legendary Stevie Wonder, is an audiophile and he wants to upgrade his existing home audio playback system.  He asks his local audio dealer to help with that objective. I’d imagine Stevie Wonder has a fabulous ear for music, musical talent and music reproduction.   Let’s assume Mr. Wonder’s’ hi-fi dealer replaced one of Stevie Wonder’s existing “components” with “Component A” and then asks him if the sound improved, got worse, or stayed the same.  Mr. Wonder indicates the sound improved.  Assuming his system improved by 20%, obviously, Stevie Wonder would then have to determine whether that level of improvement justified the cost of Component A. We are all aware of the “point of diminishing returns” in audio where each doubling of the price typically brings a smaller and smaller percentage of improvement. In this instance, I have to ask myself, given his love of music, the relative importance of music in his life and his desire to improve the sound of his hi-fi system, would Stevie Wonder worry about the great cable debate when making this decision?

Be that as it may, if component A was a Vivaldi dCS for $25k vs. a full set of Transparent or MIT cables, would that influence his decision in a different way? Would he be more objective and concentrate solely on whether the sonic improvement justified the price given that he had achieved his objective of improving his sound?  (The money may, in his case, mean nothing to him!)

The average audio “enthusiast” might possibly be bothered by the inherent lack of “indelible” value when cables exceed a certain price.  Maybe I feel l am being “conned” if I pay $25K for a pair of interconnects (even if I could afford them) while I am fine with paying $25K for a pair of mono-block power amplifiers. The clear folly of my position is how can I objectively justify why, for example, a $4K cable would not bother me badly enough to prevent me from purchasing it for a 15% sonic improvement whereas a $25K cable would? Things that make you go:  “HMMMMM!”

Methods used for this review.

Knowing my review methods may help you understand my biases or preferences or evaluate my credibility. Like our editor, my ultimate reference when evaluating a component is live music — which is still the best reference in my opinion. I also understand that achieving this reference in the home is close to, if not actually, impossible. However, I also try to acknowledge the limitations and difficulties in reviewing such a standard. It has always intrigued me when a reviewer claims a particular component was able to “pass on to the listener exactly what was on the source material.”  Except in those rare cases where the reviewer was also the recording engineer, I’ve found such claims to be disingenuous.

Not being an engineer myself, I simply have no way of knowing exactly what was recorded on any particular album or CD.  Why?  Because it is being reproduced on a system with so many limiting variables. How would I know if the recording was purposely recorded “hot” or what mixing or mastering was done to alter the sound?  Therefore, I don’t know if a particular component is passing on exactly what the recording engineer intended the listener to hear. However, I do have experience with and do know what real instruments sound like.  I also believe that most people reading reviews are looking to purchase equipment that makes music more enjoyable to listen to even if that sound may not be closer to the sound of a live musical event!

To be quite honest, reviewing cables can be a real pain in the derriere.  My method for auditioning or reviewing cables is as follows:

1. After making sure that the cables are fully burned in, I pick three CDs of various genres (acoustic instruments and voice are mandatory) with two or three cuts I am extremely familiar with. I then play those three cuts repeatedly in my reference system because my short-term audible memory is just that – short.  After numerous rounds like this, the reviewed cable is inserted and again I listen to the same three tracks repeatedly.  I then pick a CD of the next genre of music and repeat the process for at least a few weeks trying to gather initial impressions.

2. Next, I insert first, just the speaker cable, then just the interconnect and, finally just the power cable into my reference system and leave each individually reviewed cable in my reference system for at least 3 weeks.  During each phase, I first listen to my favorite CDs or LPS.  However, because of the limitations in conveying the “sound” of a real instrument, much amplified modern music today is recorded quite horrifically! I try purposely to listen to CDs that contain unamplified and acoustic music that seems to me to be exceptionally recorded as they should theoretically, produce the most “accurate” or “authentic” reproduction on my system; giving me a greater chance to evaluate the tone and timbre of an acoustic instruments and voices to determine if it suspends disbelief and sounds like the “real” music in a live setting. Ultimately, I will place all three of the reviewed cables in my reference system simultaneously; allowing me to settle into just listening to the music — not the components under review.

3. Finally, I reinsert my reference cables for some continuous listening before re-inserting the reviewed component for a few days just prior to compiling the balance of the review..

The following CDs or LPS were used to evaluate the Audio Art Cables (CD was the source unless otherwise noted)

  1. Jackie Allen – The Men in My Life
  2. Marc Cohn – The Rainy Season (CD) and Marc Cohn- Self-Titled  (Mobile Fidelity 200 gm LP and CD)
  3. Patricia Barber – Verse
  4. C.P.R. (Crosby, Pevar, Raymond) – CPR
  5. Judith Owen – Lost and Found
  6. Tower of Power – Soul Side of the Street (LP and CD);  Back to Oakland (SuperDisk LP); and Drop It In The Slot (LP)
  7. Graham Nash – Song for Survivors
  8. Take 6 – The Standard
  9. Bobby Lyle – Ivory Dreams (LP)
  10. International Sejong Soloists –  Sejong Plays Ewazen
  11. Malcom Arnold – Arnold Overtures

The Audio Art Cable Trio ~ This brings us to the three cables under review and a description of the materials and parts used in the construction of each: The Audio Art SC-5 ePlus Speaker Cable with rhodium plated Furutech FP-202 (R) banana plugs ($945.00 retail as tested, prices start at $750); The Audio Art IC-3 e Interconnectwith Furutech FT-111(R) rhodium plated locking RCA’s  ($500.00 retail as tested, prices start at $400); The Audio Art power1 e (R)15A AC Cablew/ Furutech FI-11(R) rhodium plated plug set ($450.00 as tested – prices start at $390).

Audio Art SC-5 ePlus Speaker Cable

The Audio Art “SC-5 ePlus” Speaker Cable. The SC-5 ePlus speaker cable is a dual run of Audio Art SC-5,(e.g., a dual run of silver-plated 14 gauge OFC forming an 11-gauge design) terminated with audiophile-grade solders and bundled in a durable Techflex jacket plus single 28awg UPOCC conductor on the positive poles.  The cables then get finished with deep cryogenic treatment, solderless, nano-fluid infused terminations and all conductive surfaces treated with Kontak. High performance, Furutech FP-201 copper-based spades or FP-202 locking bananas with durable Techflex sleeving finish off the SC-5 ePlus speaker cables .

The Audio Art “IC-3 e” Interconnect. The Audio Art IC-3 e RCA interconnect is a multiple stranded cable with silver-coated OFC copper conductors insulated in an ultra-low loss foamed Polyethylene dielectric. The cable is a low capacitance design with the 100% aluminum mylar shielding providing immunity to noise in an upgraded, durable Techflex jacket. The cables then get finished with deep cryogenic treatment, solderless, nano-fluid infused terminations and all conductive surfaces treated with Kontak. High performance, copper-based Furutech locking RCA’s or Xhadow XLR’s are available. 

Audio Art IC3 e RCA interconect
Audio Art IC3 e RCA interconect

The Audio Art “power1 e” Power Cable. According to the Audio Art website, the Audio Art the “power1 e” Power Cable is an enhanced version of its “power1 Classic” power which uses the finest high purity OFC copper in the world with twin ultra-low inductance and resistance 11-gauge conductors and an 11 gauge ground. Noise canceling geometries and a spiral wrapped 110% coverage aluminum mylar shield provide complete immunity to outside noise. The architecture allows for unrestricted dynamics and current flow.  A durable, PVC jacket rounds out the “power1 Classic design. 

The Audio Art power1 e AC cord
The Audio Art “power1 e” AC cord

The “power1 e” power cable expands on the design of “power1 Classic” with Audio Art’s patented process cryogenic treatment. Furutech’s Nano Liquid suspension then enhances current delivery at the cable/terminal hand-off and all conductive surfaces are treated with Kontak brand cleaner, minimizing loss of current and power. The “power 1 e” is finished off with high performance, copper-based gold or rhodium plated Furutech FI-11-N1 AC plug sets.

Note: All comments below, unless otherwise noted apply to all three Audio Art (“AA”) cables. The characteristics among all three cables were pretty consistent – although the ultimate “star” of the lineup to me was the “power1 e” Power Cable – because it shared the same positive characteristics as its cousins but also bested one my reference power cables costing three times more.  In my system, this indicated how this reasonably priced AA power cable punched above its weight.

I began my audition with the Audio Art “SC-5  ePlus” speaker cables.  Let me cut right to the chase with the first impression that jumped out at me with the AA speaker cables. My reference line stage has separate left and right volume controls calibrated in one hundred steps of approximately .66 decibels each (the “66” setting is unity gain).  I am so familiar with this line stage that when, blindfolded (and on different days), I can play any one of 60 or so of my favorite CDs and adjust the volume to my desired level in each channel and I select the exact same setting (out of 100 steps) nine out of ten times –  with the 10th time, at most, only one step off. I mention this because when I first placed the AA cables into my system (immediately after taking my reference cables out) I honestly thought I had somehow increased the volume on my line stage and instinctively reached for the remote to turn it down.  I struggled for an explanation for this perceived volume increase.

As anyone knows, level matching is imperative when trying to objectively compare source or amplification components because during most auditions and comparisons our instinct is to select the louder component as sounding better.  But this comparison was level matched – at least in the normal sense. Could it be the resistance, inductance or capacitance of the cables making this big of a perceived difference?  Take what you will from this experience.  When listening, I found I had to adjust the volume down two or three .66 decibel level steps to feel like I was comparing apples to apples. This perceived increase in volume only occurred with the speaker cables not the interconnect or power cord.

The AA cables proved to be some of the most dynamic, engaging cables I’ve heard anywhere near their price point.  The cables produced this energy without sounding overly bright or analytical or hyper-detailed to the extent of being fatiguing.   One challenge when reviewing audio equipment is to describe a sound in words that the reader can relate to and that minimizes the chance of multiple interpretations.  That, the best way to describe the AA cables’ overall sonic signature, if any, is balanced across the frequency spectrum and imparting an open and vigorous quality to the music.  The sound was never, slow, rolled-off and the music never sounded homogeneous or bland.  Music emerged from black backgrounds with no sense of grain or hash.  

People who have heard my system describe it as a high resolution, open sounding system. As such, my experience with the AA cables was not the proverbial “OMG I was gob-smacked I heard so many things I’ve never heard before on that CD” moment. Yet, for me to perceive the AA cables as open and crystalline is, in and of itself, quite an accomplishment. I found that a wealth of musical information – macro and micro detail –was being transmitted through my components by the AA cables. This high resolution was complimented by stable imaging and a quiet noise floor producing both a wide and deep soundstage with the musicians spread across the stage proportionately. Each instrument or voice was clearly defined and delineated on that stage – yet not disjointed. Imaging and detail didn’t call attention to itself to the extent of overshadowing the overall emotional impact of the music. Too often I find during demos or auditions that exciting first impressions ultimately lead to sonic fatigue or produce disjointed sonic pyrotechnics that overshadows the musical message within. That was not the case with the vitality produced with the AA cables although there was a small “something” I was hearing I could not quite put my finger on when comparing this AA cable to my 5 times more costly reference cables.  More on that later.

My top priority when judging the sound “reproduction” capabilities of any component is the ability to reproduce an honest or accurate tone and timbre with voices and instruments alike. If the component can’t get close to realistic tone or timbre, then it just sounds like reproduced “hi-fi” to me and never suspends disbelief.  As such, I was impressed that the “verve” of the AA cables was not accomplished by toying with tonality or by amping-up detail and leading-edge transients.

A good analogy in this regard is to compare the images produced on large screen TV displays in most big box electronics stores to what you see in real life. Typically, the sharpness and contrast on those display TVs are turned way up to grab a potential buyer’s attention. Watching, for example, a college football game on a large screen display TV, you usually notice the colors are super vivid and detail is hyper crisp. The contrast is also dialed up a notch (or three) all designed to grab that all important initial impression. But if you were to attend the live event and look at that football player’s helmet or the turf on the field, you’d quickly realize that the “real thing” is more subdued than what is portrayed on that TV screen. I’m happy to say that the AA cables did not engage in such chicanery to make a first impression.

One of my reference CDs for evaluating tone and timbre is The Men in My Life by female jazz singer Jackie Allen. I use this CD because of the purity of her soulfully expressive voice and cuts with unamplified acoustic instruments – acoustic bass, nylon stringed acoustic guitar, trumpet, piano and percussion (sans drummer).  Because it is also decent recording, this CD a valuable tool in judging tonal quality and whether the component can reproduce voices or instruments that sound ‘real’ given its recording venue.  Through the AA cables, John Moulder’s acoustic guitar work and solo on “Come Fly With Me” and Hans Sturm’s upright acoustic bass sounded like a real acoustic guitar and upright bass. Other cables I’ve tried have been unable to produce any sort of realism making Moulder’s nylon strings sound muted and thick with obscured transients or Sturm’s bass sound electric and amplified. Similarly, as a former professional trumpet player, I can tell you that Orbert Davis’s trumpet (which I have heard live) sounded like a real trumpet – HIS real trumpet with a fat rich sound or requisite growl and bite when called for.  For my money, the AA cables passed my most important test with flying colors.

The AA cables’ bass impact and weight were also impressive – particularly in the all important mid-bass region which may help explain the music’s propulsive character.  I didn’t sense the cables were tilted up in the mid-bass (ala the old “loudness button” on a 1980’s receiver) – but rather that it was not shying away from boldly supporting the music’s bottom end.   I have heard cables where the mid-bass region was over emphasized.  I can tell you the AA cable did not suffer from that malady.

The ultimate test for bass impact, punch and clarity is the insanely funky CD “Thunder”(by three of the most talented, creative and undeniably technically accomplished electric bass players today – Stanley Clark, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten (think Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) or “S.M.V.” for short.”  Between tracks 2 and 6, if you aren’t wondering “What The Funk did I just hear?” or “Are you funkin kidding me?” or if you haven’t had a funkin great time by then all I can say is “funk the dumb stuff!?  (sorry, good funk gets me all funked up!). On these torture tracks, what the AA cables proved is that they could bring the punch and impact of these demanding tracks without blurring the lines. The AA cables allowed casual listeners and aficionados of these bass virtuosos alike to easily differentiate between each player and between the unique sound of each player’s instrument.

Female voices were well served and difficult to reproduce instruments like trombone or tuba had the tonal qualities that make them unique. On the Sejong Plays Ewazen CD, chamber music was lively but not harsh and Adele Anthony’s excellent viola work was produced with rich, harmonic textures while avoiding that analytical, cold, metallic sound so often presented. 

High frequencies though the AA cables were airy and detailed with a “shimmering” quality balancing out the frequency spectrum and a fitting compliment to the excellent low frequencies. The sound of David Garibaldi’s cymbals on Tower of Power’s amazing 1974 Back To Oakland album was reproduced cleanly with plenty of detail and flare.  This allowed me to enjoy the little details I value so much on this album. Being an OCD fanboy, I’ve probably heard David Garibaldi’s drumming now over a 50-year period and can tell his drumming technique and the sound of his kit with two ears tied behind my head. In this regard, Garibaldi’s quarter-note striking the bell of his ride cymbal sounded realistic and as metallic as it should on “Don’t Change Horse in the Middle of a Stream” on the well recorded Super Disk version of this LP.

I should note that I was limited in using the AA Power Cable with my digital source only.  My reference line stage has dual captive power cables, my phono stage has dual power supplies and power cords and my amplifiers are monoblocks – so the single review sample power cord I had powered my Esoteric K-01 CDP.  Given its relatively modest price (compared to my reference cords) the AA power cable was a stellar performer. It possessed all of the positive benefits and, to my ears, had minimal negatives vis-à-vis my reference LessLoss Signature Card cord at three times the price.  Bass was a bit more linear and tight through the LessLoss but that difference didn’t jump out at me. Moreover, I actually preferred the AA Power Cable to my previous digital source reference AC cable the Harmonix Studio XDC Master PC which retailed at $1,400 for a one meter cord when last produced.  The AA Power Cable was more open with slightly better imaging and more balance across the frequency spectrum.  At its $390 starting MSRP, this AA Power Cable is an absolute steal.

The Audio Art "power1 e" AC cord

The Audio Art “power1 e” AC cord

Unfortunately, the only speaker cables or interconnects I had in house for comparison were my reference Silversmith Palladium cables (at ten times the price of the reviewed AA cables). A fair comparison?  Not really. But when you consider the AA Cables ingratiating sound qualities, you cannot help but realize what a great deal these cables can be!

Considerations

That little “something” I mentioned earlier that I was hearing but could not put my finger on was only revealed when I re-inserted my reference Palladium cables into my system after four weeks. Compared to the extremely more expensive reference cables, I heard a slight “glistening” or ringing effect in the upper frequencies of the AA cables. It was not immediately obvious to me what this was I was hearing. I finally determined that my reference Silversmith Palladium has the best dynamic attack, sustain, decay and musical “envelope” of any cable I have ever heard.  When  a piano player hits a key with the hammer and felt striking the string or when a guitar or bass player is plucking a string, the music sounds most realistic when the attack is not too thin or too thick, when the sustain and ‘decay’ is not too short or too long; without that resulting reverberation or ‘ripple effect’ neither truncated or too exaggerated.

I’ll compare what I heard in the AA cable to the visual image of throwing a small pebble into a stream and having it produce the ripple effect of a slightly larger rock. The Silversmith Palladium has remained my reference cable for 13 years for a reason – and for good reason! That the AA Cables at one tenth the price could keep up with the Palladiums in most key aspects speaks to the AA Cables’ excellent qualities at such a reasonably comparative price.

Conclusions:

For me, music is a precious gift comprised of many variables from simple solo acoustic music to electronic or amplified music to complex orchestras with numerous musicians – yet at either end of this spectrum or anywhere in between the musical and artistic  “information” can be anything from subtle to bombastic. It’s the total of these qualities and all of this information that embodies and conveys the emotional musical message.   The appreciation of that presentation will likely be maximized when the individual component parts and subtle details of that artist’s musical message are easier to hear — but only if that detail is presented in a way that doesn’t detract from the synergy of the overall musical message. Synergy results when the “whole” of the music is greater than the sum of its parts.

The AA cables produced that synergy and marvelous transparency. They maximized musical enjoyment by producing the “parts” with sufficient balance and detail to not leave the listener wanting for more, yet in doing so also did not distract the listener or detract from the overall presentation.  I think Rob Fritz has succeeded in achieving his mission statement. 

Given the enormous price range of audio cables today where it is not uncommon to have numerous cable companies selling their reference line for upwards of $5,000, the Audio Art Cable’s reviewed above are probably considered to be in the upper lower to mid -priced range. Considering the total cost of your associated components, if you are seeking to get the most from those components, you may be well served to consider the Audio Art Cable products and their relatively low cost.  

Finally, as always, system matching is crucial. What works for me in my system may not produce the same result for you with your different room and acoustics, different hearing acuity and different associated components.  But again, with a no-risk 30-day trial period, this is a no-lose situation. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED~

Reference System Used in Review: Speakers:  Rockport Aquila Subwoofer:  JL Audio Fathom F112 (only used on certain occasions)   Amplification:  Lamm M1.2 Reference Monoblocks Preamplification/ Line Stage:  conrad-johnson ART III w. Telefunken CCa’ Phono Stage: Aesthetix Io Eclipse w. Dual Power Supplies Digital Sources: Esoteric K-01; Esoteric K-03; Reimyo 777 and AMR CD-77 DAC:   Bricasti M1 SE Analog Sources:  SME 30 Turntable w/ SME V Tonearm, and Dynavector  XV-1s

Howard Milstein’s overview and Commentary

When proprietor and designer, Rob Fritz, of Audio Art Cable offered The Sound Advocate the opportunity to review his family of “high end” loudspeaker, power, digital and interconnect cables, I purposefully asked Rob for duplicate samples for both Frank Perraino and myself so we would both be able to compare our observations. Having read some print excerpts about Audio Art Cable, I was quite eager to explore and compare my findings with Franks ideas above and just what they might offer in possibly improving my current system.

As it turned out, this was one of the most unorthodox groups of cables that I have ever auditioned! They were an enigma in the sense that they not only took a long while for them to “break in”, (even acknowledging that Rob had burned them in a few days before shipment), but that their various sound qualities were forever changing in the most discerning and perceptive ways over time as well with the different associated equipment that they were used with.

As Frank Perraino noted above, I am convinced that while most cables will have a certain effect on the overall performance of your system, it cannot be overemphasized or indeed, disputed that even a “quality” made and designed cable will only perform as good (or as bad) as the components they are married to. As such, it goes without saying you should never assume that more expensive always means better. What matters the most is that it works well with your particular system. Ideally, a well-designed cable will allow your system to perform its best while remaining faithful to the source material. Small variations in wire gauge and overall construction MAY…improve your system’s performance by revealing a tighter, better-defined bass while also improving transient response, harmonic clarity, dynamic resolution and soundstage transparency across the frequency spectrum.

I was particularly interested in finding a top-notch, digital cable that would have an inherent 75-ohm resistance while also incorporating both a coaxial and BNC termination. As such, I have included an added review of the Audio Art digital cable.

D-1SE digital cable by Audio Art
D-1SE Digital Cable

One of the ‘reference’ outboard DAC’s that I use quite often, the Chord Qtest, is just one of a small handful of units that has BNC inputs and Rob was gracious enough to get a cable made for me to try out (The D-1se digital cable). We’ll explore that later, but first, let’s look at the Audio Art Cable SC-5 ePlus speaker cable and IC-3 e interconnects.        

As explained above, The Audio Art Cable SC-5 ePlus speaker cables utilize a cryogenically treated 11-gauge wire design, as well as ‘nano-fluid’, infused terminations which purport to enhance conductivity. Theoretically, this should result in a sound that brings forth outstanding treble accuracy along with a pure, transparent midrange response. I was infinitely impressed with the first-rate build quality and the excellent look and feel of these sturdy cables. The robust and attractive IC-3 e interconnects have also received this cryogenic treatment and my review pair had Furutech FT-111(R) rhodium plated RCA plugs with a strong, solid connection.

Proceedings

To start things off, the SC-5 ePlus speaker cables were linked to my Quad ESL 63 modified electrostatics and a pair of vintage Spendor SP2/2 (currently the 2/3 ) which I used to illuminate a variety of exemplary sounding FLAC and WAV files of “live” broadcast performances that I ripped to CD-r\s. Some file streaming from the AVM Inspiration CS 2.2 integrated amplifier also allowed me to experience some musical program sources which ultimately brought more insight into the sound of these cables. A Marantz SA10-s1 CDP was utilized and initially connected straight into the Wyred for Sound mINT integrated amplifier by means of the Audio Art IC-3 e interconnects.

Later on in the evaluation, I plugged in the D1-se digital cable from the Marantz CDP digital out and into the mINT amps digital input as well as the Chord Qtest DAC directly. The AVM CS 2.2 integrated amplifier and a loaned and recently introduced Mark Levinson 585 integrated were also incorporated towards the end of the review process.

In most cases, I adamantly believe that live performance program material is most preferable to many regular studio CDs as to honestly portray the quality of a components ability to capture the musical “authenticity” of the recorded sound and the venue from where it was initiated from. (You will see excerpts of program material throughout this review as specified as well as below).

SC-5 ePlus and IC-3 e Interconnects; INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Upon inserting the SC-5 ePlus cable into my system, there was no doubt in my mind that these cables were excellent performers of reference quality. I was first struck by an immediate and unprecedented amount of clear, clean and terrifically pronounced sound presented on all instrumental program material. Violins, massed strings, horns, and all brass instruments were decisively rendered with excellent ambiance, air and most importantly, an extremely explicit sound quality that totally uncovered many musical nuances and harmonic overtones not perceived heretofore.

Chamber music ensembles exhibited a ‘neutral’, live tonal character and the midrange clarity wonderfully transcended smoothly up into the incisive treble range. The cables were extremely non-partisan in their presentation of all types of music; the true sign of a fundamentally well-executed design.

This clarity was not an “in your face” perception but an evenly balanced presentation that just put forth a pure, unadulterated blanket of sound that allowed one to perceive each musical instrument’s natural tonal expression with exquisite musicality and definition. Full orchestral bass drum “thwacks” presented an intensely satisfying, huge  response that was fundamentally well controlled and tight-knit in my 24 x 14-foot listening room.

To repeat an all too common expression, “a layer of mist” was removed from the program material acoustically as compared to the previous cables being used. (Transparent Audio Wave’s speaker cable). While acknowledging that the Transparent Waves’ are a step below the price and theoretical quality range of the SC-5 ePlus, they are no slouches by any means. Even so, they were immediately discarded and the Audio Art Cable speaker cable surged ahead into full and continued audition mode. The SC-5 ePlus cables quickly revealed finite, precise and pristine transparency on just about all the music sources that were thrown at it. 

Consequently, some of my personal WAV live internet broadcast concerts transferred CD- r’s as well as some lossless Spotify streaming were exploited. I also used some “simply miked” older commercial CD’s and Vinyl recordings. I had on hand an abundance of Beethoven and Haydn symphonies, piano concertos and an extraordinary recording of Mahler’s Symphony # 1 with Bernard Haitink and the CSO (SACD) were justly gobbled up. Some of the finest performances of Mozart Piano Concertos were remastered with Daniel Barenboim playing and conducting the English Chamber Orchestra (EMI1968!!) proved to be immensely satisfying in showing off the Audio Art Cable’s superb imaging qualities. Ultimately, I had to end with a few excellently remastered Frank Sinatra albums to ascertain these cables reproduction of the human voice: and what better way to do so!!

Moving on to my ‘live” recorded program sources, the SC-5 ePlus displayed its definitive presence in the soundstage but on no occasion did it push the overall sound balance more forward or recessed than entailed in its original live microphone feed. Neutrality and naturalness were the hallmarks of these cables and their distinctive, rhodium plated spades lived up to their deserved reputation.

The rhodium spaded termination on my SC-5 ePlus sample seemed to portray a smidgen less ‘warmth’ to the overall sound when compared to the Analysis Plus black mesh oval 9 speaker cables, (impressive in themselves and introduced later on in the listening sessions) which assisted my system set up quite ideally. This showstopping CD of Eric Kunzel and the Boston Pops favorite overtures was one such recording that genuinely brought the SC-5 ePlus cables to their ultimate fruition! It rendered an amazing sensation of depth and articulation with a properly laid-back string and brass section; the former exposing an elegant yet vivid sound quality- thereby enabling the cable/loudspeaker combination to work at their optimum capabilities.   

The Agony and The Ecstacy!

Ironically (or maybe not), after countless weeks of gratifying auditioning of the Audio Art Cables, I came to the same realization as Frank Perraino; recognizing a slightly distinct yet infinitesimal touch of ‘brilliance’ to string tone on some well recorded vocal discs and files. As I particularly enjoyed the intimacy this portrayed on many of today’s ‘pop’ recordings, I also noticed that ‘hint’ of sparkle, while not completely neutral, offered a fulfilling attribute on much pop/ rock music program material – adding a ‘lick’ of excitement to these recordings with their featured vocalists. The decisive moment was truly confirmed only when the Transparent Waves were put back in the system. After only another half hour of listening, the Transparents’ were finally retired from my system for its last rites. Otherwise, with the extra break in time needed for the Audio Art Cables, I uncompromisingly made sure that the IC-3e interconnects were used and switched many times over a month between the Transparent’s RCA plus interconnects ($250 and up… quite good indeed!) as well as the new Stager Solid Silver interconnects – together with the SC-5 ePlus speaker cables. Eventually, the IC-3 e interconnects were performing so well that they remained between my CDP and amp together with the speaker cables. After a few more hours of listening to the Audio Arts combo together, I came to the decision that my personal preference was to use both Audio Art Cables together synergistically. It became apparent to my ears that both the interconnects and speaker cable combined seemed to merge, and illuminate the true and consummate sound virtues they had to offer throughout the testing while also taking away that ‘hint’ of sheen on the reproduced sound.

When used interactively, the IC-3 e and SC-5 ePlus combination were quite admirable in displaying a huge, wide, three-dimensional soundstage, but more importantly, the portrayal of the ambiance of the concert hall “acoustic” along with the orchestras natural instrumental decay time from predictable program sources were consummately portrayed.

Now, orchestral string tones exhibited a ‘virtually’ perfect rendering in its mid-treble balance. Singing voices were pure, smoother and sincerely intimate sounding. These cables are so ruthlessly transparent that it will show up small nuances of precision in program quality, or unfortunately, the lack thereof. But be forewarned: The Audio Art Cable’s combination can sometimes expose a flicker of added ‘radiance’ to even excellent sources, (particularly voice) no less just average ones! Undoubtedly, critical system matching cannot be overemphasized when using these cables. If the above is adhered to, you will find yourself totally ensconced in the sound of this combination. After a few months of concerted listening to this interconnect/speaker cable merger, their fully convincing sound virtues could not be denied!  

D-1SE Digital Cable

The D-1SE is an ultra-low loss digital coaxial cable made to a reference standard, 75-ohm RCA coaxial termination. With the D1-SE duly installed, I quickly found the results to unveil an incredibly, ultra-precise signal transmission. When hooked up, it was barely noticeable that the cable was even inserted; let alone being able to emit a refined and delectably musical performance with masterful sound quality.

The D-1SE digital cable was custom made for me by Rob Fritz with a high quality WBT 0102Ag nextgen™ RCA to Furutech FP-3-117(R) BNC termination. Such a beautifully designed and sounding digital cable such as this simply requires little thought or effort; particularly at its start off asking price! When used from my Marantz SA-10s1 CDP digital out into The AVM CS 2.2 DAC, the sound that emerged was alluringly neutral, even and naturally balanced without a trace of any high-frequency grain or glimmer. Quite flawlessly, it brought the superb AVM CS 2.2 DAC imminently close or equal to the standard of my $7,000 Marantz SA-10s1 CDP! Further testing with the cable going into the Chord Q test DAC using the well-made, BNC termination, confirmed the above results allowing the DAC to do its work remarkably well! It was duly noted that the D-1SE’s touch of well-deserved and pleasing ‘warmth’ (as compared to the rhodium plated spades on the speaker cables) made this cable all the more endearing with the matching system on duty.

Power1e series AC Cord

Having been somewhat of a skeptic on the current craze of ‘specialty’ power cords profusely saturating the audio marketplace, I was quite shocked and amazed at what this product did when infused into my components for the first time and the overall effect it had on my listening enjoyment.

I do not pretend to understand technically why this should be and there are those that adamantly believe this to be some purely “fraudulent ways of pulling in enthusiasts’ money at exorbitant asking prices. However, there is no doubt that when this cord was plugged into my associated amplifiers and CD disk players, the amount of quality difference I heard, most assuredly had as much of a profound effect on the sound of my complete system as a whole as all the Audio Art Cable siblings described above. (and that is saying a lot!) 

The Audio Art power1 “e” Series power cord continues in the tradition of their speaker and interconnect cables featuring the above design principles. Like the cables, it is available in different terminations; be it gold or rhodium plated Furutech FI-11-N1 AC plug sets, the latter being the one I used.

The power1 ”e” Series power cord created an unmistakable and beautiful ‘hush’ and stillness to the music being played. The 50’s rock group, The Tremolos hit song “Silence is Golden” should be named the ‘poster child’ for this excellent power cord as it indisputably raised the quality and pleasure of my listening sessions and the system as a whole. It presented music disks and stored music files with immaculately quiet backgrounds and a sound delicacy in an embellished and most gratifying way. Pricing for this exceptional power cord starts at about $390 for a meter and a half and I believe it is worth every penny!

In Closing

There is no doubt that designer Rob Fritz has done something special in the design and execution of his array of top audiophile cables. They are most solidly engineered technically and cosmetically while producing “cutting edge” sound quality at some “relatively” honorable price points.

I found the power1 ”e” Series power cord to be truly laudable from the moment it was inserted into the components used for this review. Let’s just say that it is simply Audio Art’s “standout” product that is quite marvelous at the price!

The SC-5 ePlus speaker cable combined with the IC-3 e analog interconnects when carefully matched with some of the finest audio equipment available will inevitably bring your music reproduction to a preeminent level of enjoyment and sound accuracy to the most discerning audio components. As you all know, if possible, it is always best to audition cables in your own system for the best compatibility before buying. With Audio Art’s no-hassle return for refund or exchange policy to allow for in-home auditioning, along with their excellent customer service, this is definitely a no brainer decision for you, and could well be the ‘quintessential’ cables for your system.

All of the Audio Art Cables, and the excellent power1 e AC cord and D-1SE digital cable produce some of the most beautifully articulate sound qualities you may well experience. Their distinct precision and purity will lift the most demanding recordings in your library to their most inordinate heights. In this sense, although not inexpensive, these cables must be defined as a formidable value; especially when looking at the astounding prices of almost all of the many “highly touted” audiophile cables that are permeating around the high-end market today . ****

Review System~ Digital Sources: Marantz SA10s-1, DAC: Chord Qtest, AVM (integrated) Analogue source: Linn LP12-Naim Aro Tonearm with Lyra Delos cartridge Amplification: Wyred4Sound mINT, AVM cs2.2, Peachtree Nova 300 (latest edition) Mark Levinson 585 integrated amp, Cables: Transparent Wave and RCA plus interconnects, Analysis Plus Oval 9 Black Mesh speaker cables, Stager Silver Solids interconnects, Loudspeakers: Spendor Sp2/2, Quad 63 USA modified, Spendor SP1 (original mint 1983).

Audio Art Cable prices: ~~ 6.0’ SC-5 ePlus speaker cable pair  w/ Furutech FP-201(R) rhodium plated spades– $900  (prices start at $750 for this model) ~~ 6.0’ SC-5 ePlus speaker cable pair  w/ Furutech FP-202(R) rhodium plated locking bananas — $930 ~~ 1.0m IC-3 e interconnect pair Furutech FT-111(R) rhodium plated locking RCA’s — $460 (prices start at $400 for this model) ~~1.5m IC-3 e interconnect pair Furutech FT-111(R) rhodium plated locking RCA’s$500 ~~ 1.5m power1 e 15A AC cables w/ Furutech FI-11(R) rhodium plated plug set $460 (prices start at $390 for this model) ~~ 1.0m D-1SE digital cable w/ WBT-0102Ag RCA to Furutech FP-3-117(R) BNC — $350 (prices start at $240 for this model)

Audio Art Cable: https://audioartcable.com/ contact: rob@audioartcable.com
619-255-6451

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