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Cardas Neutral Reference impressions

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Well, having used these now for two weeks, here's my impressions. Nothing formal with what recordings I listened to and all that, just a lowdown of what I've observed thus far.

1. I call this impressions even after two weeks because my previous interconnects, the Totem Acoustic Sinews, are totally standing toe to toe with the Neutral References. Both are plainly marketed to be the ultimate in neutrality regardless of price point. The problem being, who doesn't advertise neutrality nowdays? That word gets tossed around way too much, particularly in the cable industry. In any event, I am having an extremely difficult time discerning the two...they literally sound the same, and that's using my R10s and Etymotics. There are absolutely no tonal differences between the two cables. Neither one hides anything for certain...I can plainly hear the 9000ES as the source limiting the music now in fact, hence my search for a new source/DACs. And neither one adds anything to the music...which is what makes these two cables so hard to discern. If I had to discern anything, it'd be that the Neutral References bring up the background details just a smidgeon better (lower noise floor at play?), and that when I switch over to them, the sound just hardens. It suddenly gains a slight sense of razor focus. Tonally, both cables as far as I can hear are indeed neutral, in the sense that they don't add or subtract any part of the frequency spectrum.

2. The Neutral References definitely live up to their name at least. They are ruler flat neutral, and add nothing to the signal. They are not bright, they are not warm, they're...nothing. They are simply everything your source can offer. If you pair these up with a neutral and transparent amp and a neutral and transparent headphone, your system will essentially take on the characteristic ultimately of your source. And this is where your source becomes particularly important to the audio chain.

3. The Neutral References definitely strangle a cheaper Neotech cables I had before I even got the Sinews, which is the test cable I use to make sure I can even hear a difference between cables, or if I'm one of those people that just can't. The Neutral Reference plainly shoves more black space between each instrument, making each instrument more distinct and seperate. The cheaper cable mangles the instruments, making them seem as if they're being played stacked on top of one another. The bass also was slightly bloated on the cheaper cable. The bass on the Neutral References was simply what came off the disc. If it was distorted, it plainly came through distorted. If it was deep as the Atlantic Ocean, it came through that deep. If it was tight as a stretched rubber band, that's how it sounded. This cable as I said before hides nothing...cymbal strokes are fully extended, and not cutting off until they cut off on the recording. Or until the source cuts off the cymbals from source limits. Voices come through sounding realistic and real...not too warm, not too cold. Just simply the way the person should sound.

4. Are they "too" revealing? I don't think so. But I like my music this way. I want to hear every last thing off those plastic discs I pay so much money for. Some might think they have too much seperation, and your music becomes split into a dozen seperate parts instead of being a whole picture. I can understand this approach too...hence the Rega gear lovers.

5. Are they inherently bright? No. They will be bright if you have a bright or thin source however, make no mistake about that. It's just not possible really to attach a tonal quality to these cables, and I wouldn't blame them if suddenly a system sounded bright because of them. If your source is warm/smooth, and your amp is warm/smooth, and your headphones are warm/smooth, you should get along just fine with the Neutral References. My system is now based on a warmly musical source, neutral and transparent cables, neutral and transparent amp, and one canalphone that reveals like a bottomless pit, and another headphone that sounds...umm...real. And it sounds very, very good.

6. Now headphone systems are one thing, but I would really have to admit that in a speaker system, the differences I heard would be utterly lost. I'd be pretty skeptic at this point about anybody saying they heard huge differences between cables in a speaker system. The differences are really so tiny that you need a microscopic headphone to hear the differences (I really thought I had wasted my money at first when I first compared the Neutral References to the Sinews)...however in a headphone system these differences do become more audible, if any, because of the close interaction between the ears and output end.
post #2 of 16
Nice review there, thanks for posting!


Quote:
Now headphone systems are one thing, but I would really have to admit that in a speaker system, the differences I heard would be utterly lost. I'd be pretty skeptic at this point about anybody saying they heard huge differences between cables in a speaker system. The differences are really so tiny that you need a microscopic headphone to hear the differences (I really thought I had wasted my money at first when I first compared the Neutral References to the Sinews)...however in a headphone system these differences do become more audible, if any, because of the close interaction between the ears and output end.
What speaker cables are you using?
Are you using the matching Cardas Neutral Reference speaker cables?
post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
I'm using Tara Labs RSC Prime 1000 biwired speaker cables.
post #4 of 16
Well, one of three things is occurring: That Totem Labs cable is an outstanding value, the 9000 won't let you tell the difference, or the CDs you're playing (I'm assuming you weren't using SACDs) don't have any information left to extract. Either way, you should have a great system to test the DI/O in.

You know, it occurs to me that I don't know how good my Belden interconnects are. Vert, you want to loan me those Neutral References for a little while, don't ya? After all, you've already got those Totem cables...
post #5 of 16
Thread Starter 
I don't see how the 9000ES would not let me hear the differences between the cables. And actually I did use SACDs as well. When I listened to the SCD-1, it plainly ripped more detail off any CD I put into it compared to the 9000ES...however with my previous system, this difference just wasn't as apparent, or as "bad" so to speak, and I could live with it. But now that extra mile that I heard the SCD-1 capable of is starkly missing in the 9000ES.

And actually the Sinew isn't exactly a great value...it's just a head to head competitor with the Neutral References, as far as I can tell. The Sinews actually costed me more than what I paid for the Neutral References, and I think for a .5 meter, they both retail at about the same price. At this point I can't determine which is "better". I can say that I could happily live with either cable at this point. Neither cable exhibited a bigger soundstage or better imaging or all that stuff. And BTW, my test method was to connect both cables to the 9000ES' dual RCA outputs, and then just use the input selector on my amp to switch between the two. I don't think testing cables gets any better than this, and I still couldn't hear any major difference between the two, other than that slight hardening to the sound the Neutral Reference gives, and that it brings tiny details a bit more upfront.
post #6 of 16
The Sinew costs the same as the Neutral Reference? Huh, don't ask me why, but I've been thinking it was only like $100 or something.

When you auditioned the SCD-1, what cables were being used?
post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
I was using the Sinews for the SCD-1 audition.
post #8 of 16
Quote:
6. Now headphone systems are one thing, but I would really have to admit that in a speaker system, the differences I heard would be utterly lost. I'd be pretty skeptic at this point about anybody saying they heard huge differences between cables in a speaker system. The differences are really so tiny that you need a microscopic headphone to hear the differences (I really thought I had wasted my money at first when I first compared the Neutral References to the Sinews)...
Well aren't you jumping the gun a bit when you make a statement like that based on a single comparison of two cables? I get the impression that the Totem and Cardas cables are similarly voiced, to the point where they sound almost the same.

Are the Totems silver or copper?
post #9 of 16
Vert,
Have you considered the likley fact that the outputs on the 9000 are simply wired in parallel and not completely seperately buffered outputs? This being the case, when you hook both cables simultaneously, you hear both cables in parallel regardless of which input you select on your amp. (Actually, one becomes a reflective stub.) That's a fact jack!

So, if you really want to evaluate each cable without the influence of the other, you need to hook up one and only one pair at a time.

No wonder they sound almost identical now. Try them one at a time and you should be able to better hear any differences between them. Hooking both up to the 9000's output simultaneously gives the output of the 9000 the lumped load of both cables at once to look at. bad mojo!

Cheers!
post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 
Interesting kwkarth. I'll seperately connect the cables then tonight and run comparisons again. In all instances, I am hoping that the Neutral References do sweep the Sinews out beyond doubt. But then if I were to run two seperate cables to two seperate systems, the cables would essentially sound the same? Wouldn't that, like, suck?

I have no idea what the Sinews use internally. It didn't come with any sort of a spec sheet, and the web site doesn't say either. As for the statement, I base it off the comparison of 4 different cables...a Radio Shack Gold Series cable, the Neotech cable, and these two new ones. At the speaker level, I can't tell a difference. Maybe others can, but so far differences I've heard between cables aren't huge by any means even between a cheapo cable and a $200+ cable through just the headphone system, and the differences are small enough that once you start firing the sound through several feet of air, those differences get lost. Hopefully a recomparison tonight will change my mind.
post #11 of 16
I'd like to see the results after you try out the reconnections. I'm still suprised, though, that you have not gone to silver cables as of yet. I remember you mentioning that the Sony 9000 was voiced a bit on the warm side.
post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally posted by Vertigo-1
...At the speaker level, I can't tell a difference. Maybe others can, but so far differences I've heard between cables aren't huge by any means even between a cheapo cable and a $200+ cable through just the headphone system, and the differences are small enough that once you start firing the sound through several feet of air, those differences get lost. Hopefully a recomparison tonight will change my mind.
Vert, I have to agree with you that it is very difficult to hear IC differences with speakers and even more dificult than that to hear differences between good speaker cables.
post #13 of 16
Thread Starter 
Well, did some swapping just now...there's some more pronounced differences now. The Sinews have a slightly warmer midrange, and they're also very airy sounding. They do this at no cost to detail or transparency, and this combines to help give instruments a more realistic feel to them. They're also a bit more laid back depthwise...they image a singer farther back. The N-Reference still has that slight hardness to everything, a bit more upfront. They give instruments a lean feel...not that I expected anything different, given their name and purpose. That warm, airy feeling that was present in the Sinews is missing from the N-Reference as a result.

I'm glad I labeled all this as impressions, it looks like I still have a lot of listening to do...
post #14 of 16
>>>>>>
Vert, I have to agree with you that it is very difficult to hear IC differences with speakers and even more dificult than that to hear differences between good speaker cables.
<<<<<<

I think as you guys try more ICs and speaker cables you will realize that they do make a very noticeable difference, and yes AC cords make a difference also.

Just have to use common sense though as to how much to spend on cables in porportion to other gear, as you see on Audiogon people change cables quite often.
post #15 of 16
Hey DA,
The scientist in me will only let me push this this so fast, so far. I mean after all man, I'm still grappling with the fact that I hear such differences in IC's with my headphone system!

I'm using a home brew speaker cable for my Maggies cooked using a commercial grade Belden product. I've had it in place for years and am quite happy with it. I really don't spend as much time in front of the Maggies as I do with my headphones on so I'm not really willing to invest the time OR money in that system to make changes, other than to change out all my IC's to the OutLaws.

BTW, Vert, it would be interesting to get your comparative impressions on the OutLaw IC's while you're at it. You should give them a listen.
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