The Iconoclast SPTPC Speaker and Subwoofer Cables make a huge impression on Douglas Moore!
I remember it like yesterday, it was the mid-80s and my father was setting up new speakers on the main system in the living room. At the time he was still using his Technics receiver from the 70s. He was a believer that if you used good quality copper cables at 18 gauge or better you were good. He was from a time before cable science started in home audio.
Back when I started working at Audio Concepts, the high-end home audio store I managed in the early 90s, the owner Mike brought over some of the brands of cable that he used, such as Monster Cables. These cables were a larger version of the lamp cord cables from before. They were anywhere from 12 to 8-gauge stranded cables that sometimes had a solid core middle wire said to improve bass response. Although these cables may have allowed a better flow of power to the speakers, they did nothing to address some of the issues with speaker wires of the time. Just making a cable larger gauge does not always bring better sound quality. There is more to the science of it than that.
Mike and I knew we wanted to look at bringing a speaker cable into the store that could do more than just be a larger cable. One of our vendors was in town and brought over some cables he was representing, namely XLO. This was the first time I had seen anything like twisted pair wires and actual jacketing that looked purposeful. They were pre-terminated to quality spades and had a look of quality to them. We hooked them up to our larger system at the time which was Aragon amplifiers running Mirage M3si speakers. This was my first “aha” moment with cables. Going from the large Monster Cables the XLO cables brought much more bass control, and the midrange was smoother with more detail. But the biggest change was that imaging and soundstaging reached a whole new level. Mike and I knew nothing about cable measurements or what they meant but at this moment we both looked at each other in surprise knowing what we were hearing.
I do know in today’s world this subject is one of much debate. On one hand, you have the people that use lamp cords and will argue until they are out of breath about how cables don’t matter as long as they transmit the signal. On the other, there are the people that truly hear a difference in cables and will strive to find the best cables they can afford. After many years of being an audiophile and working in the industry, I went through a period of disbelief.
When I started seeing the many claims on magazine ads touting all the unmeasured benefits of their cables and seeing the pricing on high-end speaker cables I went through a period of wonder– if high-end cables were just a cash grab from companies taking basic wire and wrapping it in pretty jackets and connectors and charging the price of a car for it? All of this boasting without showing how or measuring the difference is why a lot of people started calling out the BS on high-end cables in the first place! I thought audiophiles using these high-priced cables were just wanting audio jewelry for their systems. (See my review of the Audience Studio One’s; Ed.)
I have always been a person that likes a company that can show and explain why their product is better and are happy to discuss these principles with their customer base. I think if you are a company that truly believes your products are better then you should have no problem backing it up.
Blue Jeans and Iconoclast are companies backed by Belden. Belden has been in the cable business since 1902 and makes cables for about anything in electrical and data transmission. Employing some 6,000 people as of 2021 they are also one of the largest cable companies out there. Belden measures everything and leaves nothing to guesswork. They employ the best test equipment available allowing them to build some of the best cables on the market today.
Having used scores of cables in my system over the years I have always thought of Blue Jeans cables as a great starting point in the world of better audio cables. Nevertheless, after years of using them amongst other brands, I built my custom cables using braided copper-stranded wire and have stuck with them.
I have always wondered when Blue Jeans and Belden were going to make a better cable. Knowing that as good as the Blue Jeans cables were for the money what would their higher-level products be like?
Iconoclast is the brainchild of Galen Gareis; a now-retired Belden engineer and avid audiophile. He has years of experience designing cables for many applications using science along with measurements as his guide to getting the best performance possible. Although Galen has tried many different speakers and interconnect cables, he to always wondered why he heard differences in them and could not account as to the reasons.
Galen knew about the fundamentals of speaker cable measurement. The R (resistance), The L (inductance), and the C (capacitance). He knew that these factors were most of what makes a good speaker cable, but he also knew that there was more to it. He could hear cables with the very same R, L, and C measurement sound different in his test system. What he found is that time is the variable.
Timing cannot be fully measured by the R, L, and C alone. Part of my appreciation of Iconoclast is the fact that Galen has no issue releasing papers that explain his theory with measurements backing them up. Show me any other speaker cable company that actually puts out measurements over every parameter of their cables and has fully written papers on the subject! Here is a link to Galen’s “Time” paper to illustrate what I mean.
Galen’s ability to explain his theories and then show them in measurements is what sets iconoclast cables apart from the majority of cable companies. Having all the best test equipment available at Belden to test his theories and the best machines to make any cable he wants to, its obvious that many cable companies contract out their metallurgy and testing.
Iconoclast has a lot of research and development in designing the cables you see today. They also have journals and design briefs showing their designs and why they use them. His speaker cable design papers are available for your interest. Here are some examples of his work!
From these papers, you can see that the guys at Iconoclast sure know their science and know-how to show their labor and efforts!
When I talked to the guys at Iconoclast at Axpona this year they were very eager to allow me to experience the cable for myself. So, when I returned from the trip to Schaumburg, I reached out to them for a review sample. They immediately returned my email saying they were sending out their best speaker cables and also sending me the BAV REL-specific subwoofer cable. I was very much looking forward to receiving them.
Iconoclast speaker cables have 3 different options as far as the conductors go. TPC (Tough Pitch Copper), OFE (Oxygen-Free Electrolytic Copper), and SPTPC (Silver Plated Tough Pitch Copper). They utilize the same design for all conductors so you get the same benefits of the design just using different materials that have slightly different qualities for different systems. The cables I received are the SPTPC and that is the crux of this review!
I had a long conversation with Bob at Iconoclast and he has a few things to say regarding their cables. The value proposition is something they are very adamant about. Iconoclast does not overprice their products like a lot of companies do as they feel they would rather put great cables in many people’s hands to experience instead of a few “privileged” individuals. One of the more memorable parts of our conversation is about how you don’t taste a cake from its ingredients but after it is mixed and baked! This says that they put a lot of work into putting together a great combination of science and machining to bring you the best mix they can. And for those wondering about the different cable types that Iconoclast offers, I will quote Bob from Iconoclast:
“TPC is a value-based entry point into Iconoclast. These cables provide a Big Bang for the dollar spent and will immediately open eyes to the potential of “cable design” and what cables can do for signal delivery.
OFE copper is the choice of audiophiles who many times have “tube” components, planar or electrostatic speakers, live or reflective rooms with tile/marble/hardwood floors, lots of glass, or simply no way to dampen their listening area. They many times like a warmer presentation. OFE copper “in speaker cables” brings an incredible mid-range while seemingly taking an edge off of the higher portions of the audio band. Vinyl listeners many times gravitate towards OFE. OFE can compensate to “a degree” a very live and reflective environment.
SPTPC brings everything together. Soundstage, imaging, timbral accuracy and balance, dynamic range, air, and detail on recordings that are usually masked by cables. These cables often require time for the listener’s ears and mind to make adjustments to the often-dramatic improvements in detail and clarity.”
Iconoclast offer 3 different connectors for their cables as well. Small 6.5mm spades, large 9mm spades, and locking banana connectors. My cables had spades on one end for my amplifier and bananas on the other for the speakers. I like their banana connectors and how they lock.
All of their cables are ultrasonically welded to the connectors instead of hand soldering. This method is way more consistent and leads to a better connection between cable and connector
When I received the cables and opened the box, I saw that the cables were in a sealed bag. I think Iconoclast’s opinion on this would be that they would rather put their funds into building you the best cable than giving a pretty suitcase for their cables to sit in. Most audiophiles know that a pretty box does not guarantee performance. But one thing I saw in the bag that no other speaker cable manufacturer has offered is a measurement sheet showing the measurements made on the exact cable that was sent to me.
This extra touch was very much appreciated as it gave me peace of mind knowing that every cable that leaves Iconoclast is being measured. I hooked the cables up to my system which was very easy to do with the quality connectors included.
After connecting I turned back on my system and loaded up one of my test tracks. Jose James Lean On Me is a good album to test equipment as the studio work is good on this album. The first thing I noticed upon changing from my reference cables to the Iconoclast is the drums. The cymbals and hi-hats had much more detail and texture. This was not a small change as it was noticed immediately. The attack and decay were on another level from what I was used to in my system.
The song Lovely Day is a Bill Withers classic and Jose James does a wonderful job on this song. The intimate detail on this song went up a notch with these cables. The first thing I thought about is I wish some of my cable denier friends could have been there to hear the change with the Iconoclast and let them decide for themselves.
Bob Moses Battle lines is also a good album that can test the ability of equipment to the soundstage and handle complex passages. Eye For An Eye is a prime example of the former. This track I know well and have listened to it on a wide variety of systems. It can also test the ability of the system to handle dynamics without sounding bright or harsh. While my system does great with this track the Iconoclast cables seem to allow more discriminate detail to come through without any brashness while keeping the soundstage wide way past the boundaries of the speakers. Very impressive indeed!! My wife sat in for a listen during my evaluation and thought I had changed or upgraded a component in the system. I told her that in fact, I had not, but it felt like I had. The change to these cables was a wake-up call for sure!
Some audiophiles have said in the past that Silver cables have a brightness to them. While this might be true for some of the silver cables out there the Iconoclast SPTPC cables did not have this even though they are silver plated…. (Arguably, the worst offender-! Ed.) Having discussed this with Bob at iconoclast he mentioned that this is why they offer different conductors. Because different conductors do indeed conduct differently, this gives the end-user options to match with their system.
All other facets of my system were improved with these cables as well. Vocals had much more texture and realism. Instruments seemed to be even more anchored in their stage placement. Even background instruments that many would not even know were there came through now with these cables. I noticed faint keyboard tones and percussion instruments like Tambourines being played in the background that I did not notice before. I thought it was a limitation of my speakers before that could not show these details but after the change to these cables, they proved me wrong. I had started to think about upgrading my speakers to the newer Spatial Audio X4s before trying these cables. Now I realize that I had not heard the full potential my M3TS speakers had to offer!
Changing back to my reference cables just fortified what I spoke of above. The drums and cymbals had less attack and decay. The detail in the drum heads being struck was gone and the vocals had less clarity and detail. Soundstage anchoring was less so and imaging while still good could not compare. I am a night listener. Sometimes I will stay up way past dawn to listen to music. In the past, I would listen to music at night and my better half would come in to say “hey turn it down” and I would, being the good husband, I try to be. But one side effect of having cables of this caliber in your system is that they deliver the detailed goods at any volume. So, unlike my past cables, I can listen and get all the detail, imaging, and soundstage prowess at lower levels than before.
BAV REL Compatible Cable:
The BAV REL compatible cable is a new cable for Iconoclast. This cable uses Belden’s 1310A speaker cable. This cable is a 14-gauge 4 conductor cable compared to REL’s own “Blue” cable which is an 18-gauge 3 conductor cable. The BAV cable has lower resistance due to a larger conductor and lower inductance due to Star-Quad geometry. This lower inductance is a benefit to subwoofer cables. The cable uses good quality spade or banana connectors, and uses a genuine SpeakON connector similar to the one below for their cables!
The BAV cable is much cheaper than the REL Blue as well. A 3-meter REL Blue will run you around $450, while the BAV cable will run about $130-$230 depending on the configuration. And for you REL owners out there with the “six-pack” configuration. Iconoclast has you covered there as well. They can build you the whole set of cables for your set up to the length you need with the connectors you require, all at better performance and cheaper than REL’s cables. If this isn’t valued for money, I don’t know what is!
I have owned my REL sub for a few months and have enjoyed it immensely. I have been using the “stock” cable up until I received the BAV cable from Iconoclast. As soon as I installed the BAV cable I noticed immediately how much better the T9x subwoofer integrated with my speakers. While this transition was good before now it is seamless. Another aspect of the subwoofer’s performance that I noticed right off the bat was that the bass had more detail. Bass drum hits had more of the drum head sound character and I could hear the striker hitting the head. The bass drum body was more there as well. Also, bass guitar especially stand-up bass had more tone and body. Everything the T9x does well was taken to another level with the BAV cable in place.
Another aspect I did not expect from this cable change was that the sub seemed to work less at producing bass depth as well. I am still not sure if this was an aspect of more detail getting to the sub or the better transmission of the music but — very low notes seemed to emanate from the sub with more audible ease. I think anyone with a REL subwoofer would benefit greatly from the BAV subwoofer cables!
The Iconoclast cables are not cheap. They run from $1170 – $2002 for a 6-foot pair terminated. But compared to a lot of the high-end speaker cables out there at 10 times their price they perform at or above anything I have personally heard. The fact that Galen and the guys over at Iconoclast include papers showing their measurements (unheard of in high-end cables) shows that they are serious about revealing why their cables are better.
The guys over at Iconoclast do not like when cable companies make bold claims without showing any science behind them. I agree; there are way too many companies in high-end audio that put all of their energy into marketing these claims without merit and putting pretty boxes around their product. Iconoclast wants you to know their research and why they make the decisions they make. As such, they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. They also will send you all 3 conductor types in the configuration that you request so that you can see what works best for you.
Iconoclast also offers a liberal 1-year trade-up policy so if you decide to trade in your entry-level cables for their top-tier cables you will get 100% of your money back to put towards your upgrade. I do not know of too many cable companies willing to do that for their customers. This to me is great customer service and shows that they are willing to work with their customers to keep them in the Iconoclast family.
The BAV REL Specific subwoofer cables are a great addition to their lineup. They offer better cable and connectors to work with these subwoofers at a fraction of the cost of REL’s upgrade cables. The fact that they perform the way they do is due to Iconoclast’s knowledge of cable design and having the backing of Belden behind them.
To put it bluntly. I was so impressed with my time with both the Iconoclast SPTPC cables and the BAV Subwoofer cable that I bought my review samples and they are now my new reference cables! In my opinion, these are a buy once, and enjoy the level of reproduction quality that can last a lifetime while allowing you to focus on other important aspects of your system!
Review System: Speakers: Spatial Audio M3 Turbo S open baffle. REL T9x subwoofer Digital: Denafrips Venus II, Modified PC-based Music server/streamer. Amplification: Hegel P20 preamp. Pass Labs X150.5 power amp. Conditioner: PS Audio Quintet. Cables: Iconoclast SPTPC speaker cables, Mogami XLR interconnects, Iconoclast BAV REL subwoofer cable
Pricing: : $1170 – $2002 for a 6-foot pair – terminated depending on conductor type.
BAV subwoofer cables: $130-$230 depending on length and configuration.
3216 16th Avenue West
Seattle WA 98119
Sales inquiries (Bob Howard):
850 860 0940
Good afternoon, Doug,
Thank you so very much for the great review. Your writing style is an entertaining, fun and a most pleasant read that addressed with exceptional clarity the significance of design and technology disclosure from a cable manufacturer. Without this measurable documentation then the fancy words and claims made by many are simply the “snake oil” that so many audiophiles find offensive. Your observations and the benefits provided by our cable assemblies were dead on.
Please accept our sincere appreciation for the time and effort that you placed into preparing this fine review. We are also grateful for the trust you placed in our cable assemblies to bring out the very best performance of your current and future audio systems. You truly have the best. Enjoy and let me know if ever you need anything.
All the best,
WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !
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