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Cable comparison madness

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
At carlo's request I'll risk my hide and post some interconnect comparisons after receiving a box of interconnects from him to check out. A big thanks to carlo for this opportunity.

*get's on knees and bows to the voodoo gods...*

The box contained many voodoo thingys, but I didn't have time to check them all out. I got the chance to check out:

Kimber Kable PBJ with *gasp* WBT 0147 termination
Tara Labs RSC Generation 2
Tara Labs RSC Air 3
Tekline PC12W power cord

I compared them to my own cables which include:

Totem Acoustic Sinews
Cardas Neutral Reference
Absolute Power cords

I am absolutely not an expert at describing differences in cables because the differences they make are just not huge to my ears...therefore there's not much to really say about them. But there are some differences, and the major ones are what I'm pointing out here.

Kimber Kable PBJ - a nice flexible cable that offered solid clarity and details for a low price. However compared to the big boys it had a constricted soundstage and failed to capture the finer nuances of the music like decay, extension, etc. I've read that these can be bright...they weren't bright in my system. Construction isn't too impressive...basically two thin wires entwined together. These however did have the special WBT terminations, which don't come cheaply.

Tara Labs RSC Generation 2 - this was my first encounter with a Tara Labs interconnect, and the build quality at first glance is very inpressive, with a nice, well built braid-like shiny white jacket. It's also one tough cable to install because of the stiffness (carlo's Taras were also a bit longer than the usual .5m) and thickness. These used just normal connectors similar to what's on the Cardas Neutral Reference vs. locking connectors. carlo pointed out right off the bat that these were warm cables, and that's exactly what I heard. A warmish tone starting from the bass, and rising up to about the upper mids. Bass response was a bit raised around the lower mids, leading to a bit of a bumped feeling.

Tara Labs RSC Air 3 - again excellent build quality with shiny silverish braid-like material, except this time with the inclusion of rather enormous locking interconnects. These things looked as if they were made out of house by Masterlocks or something. These things dwarfed the WBTs on both the Totem Acoustic Sinews and the Kimber PBJs. Again an utter pain to install because of stiffness.

The sound is less warm and more close to neutral then the Gen 2s, but there was still a warmish sound to the midrange. The bass was also still slightly bumped up around the upper midrange region. However smaller nuances in the music such as decay and seperation were done better on the Tara 3s. carlo told me the Air 3's strength lied in the ability to produce a huge soundstage...while I detected no such difference in soundstage using headphones compared to the more expensive Cardas Neutral Reference, the midrange did help produce a more believable ambient environment, possibly because of its airy warm midrange.

Totem Acoustic Sinews - these things look downright ugly and boring...literally like two pairs of thin black ropes with a pair of heavy connectors on them. Terminations on these are locking WBT connectors, and they look like the same ones used on the PBJs. What is very cool about this bland design though is flexibility...you could get these cables into the tightest of spaces.

Soundwise out of all these cables, this is definitely the one that has a unique characteristic. At first glance it sounds neutral, and doesn't seem to be doing anything to the signal. But compared to the Cardas Neutral Reference, a midrange bloom is noticeable. But this bloom is very special...it lends an extra dose of emotional quality to voices. It's not a deliberate warm coloration but rather just a dosage of transparent euphonics (R10 owners will understand what I mean). Consequently the trade off its instrument seperation suffers, and the soundstage is slightly tighter compared to the Cardas Neutral Reference. If you listen to a lot of vocal based music, this may be the cord for you.

Cardas Neutral Reference - another very boring looking pair of cables. Like a pair of simple grey rubber tubes with oversized normal connectors. Thanks to the rubber tubing these are a bit easier to bend then the Taras despite a similar thickness.

Soundwise, these cables are something else. I used these as the reference to compare against other cables because they cost the most out of the bunch, and because the more I compared them to the others, the more they lived up to their name. You could call these quite boring sonding for starters. Compared to the Taras and the Sinews, the midrange feels sucked out, or flat. Voices come out with astounding sharp clarity, but no emotion or life behind it, when compared to the Sinews. However the more I listened, the more I realized that these cables were coloring the midrange area the least. This cable also has amazing seperation between instruments and when compared to the cheaper cables, clearly showed that they mushed things together a bit. Decays and extensions are captured to their fullest extent. The bass is captured with absolute deepness without any trace of coloration or boominess.

My favorite without a doubt is the Cardas Neutral Reference. After hearing a batch of cables together it stands out as the one that touches the signal the least. Being a detail oriented listener myself the extra seperation and clarity is also a plus to me. Out of all the cables this was the one that I felt was the "drop in and forget" cable. So, it stays. The Sinew has since been reassigned to speaker system duty.

As for the powercords...there was only one moment where I noticed the power cord made a night and day difference, and that was running my speaker system with the Tekline PC12W in place. I still don't know happen but I wasn't able to duplicate it the next day. But for that one day I noticed the Tituses were spitting out music with a much sharper, "faster" sound then I was normally used to. The treble particularly just screamed out very brightly. I started thinking I needed electrostatic speakers to keep up with this pace. It didn't take long before this got quite fatiguing so I stopped everything and just wondered what it was that might've done this. For kicks I tried swapping back in my Absolutes, and refired back everything up. There was no brightness now, and the pace was back to normal instead of hyper fast. I was utterly stunned. I wasn't able to duplicate this so I don't know what happen that day (*shakes fist at voodoo gods*). I never got this to happen in my headphone system either.

My take on cables therefore is that they do make a difference to the end sound of your system. But I would not go overload on cable spending, and I would not go cable hunting until I had the more major components in place such as a source, amp, and headphones. The cable comes into play when everything else is settled...that's when I believe the cable can make the last minor tweaks to a system, and in your ability to settle down and enjoy and forget your system is there in the long run.

It also makes sense to scale your cables with your system. One would not run a $150 CDP or amp that just so happens to have an IEC socket and RCA outputs thrown in as features with a $2000 Electraglide Ghengis Khan power cord and $2000 Nordost Valhallas. Likewise one should not (I hope to god, would not) run a Linn Sondek CD12 with $5 cables and standard power cords. Finally when comparing sources, it's also important to utilize transparent and same cables. The cables alone are enough to mess around source comparisons in my recent experience.

Again none of these differences were earthshattering to my ears...if I hadn't deliberately listened closely, I would've missed all of the above. It certainly was not fun trying to listen to cables. Likewise with casual listening none of the above applies either and just goes in one ear and out the other. But ultimately I do know the cables impact the way my system sounds for those times when I do listen closely and concentrate on the music.

*get's on knees and bows to the voodoo gods and leaves the voodoo temple*
post #2 of 10
Quote:
It also makes sense to scale your cables with your system. One would not run a $150 CDP or amp that just so happens to have an IEC socket and RCA outputs thrown in as features with a $2000 Electraglide Ghengis Khan power cord and $2000 Nordost Valhallas.
You mean I am not supposed to run $4000 worth of cables of my $100 dollar cd player.
post #3 of 10
Great review, Vert!

Alas, the voodoo gods sometimes pay ME a visit. I don't go looking for 'em, I swear. Must... stay... away... from... Neutral... Reference....
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 
John, I hate to suggest this, but with that Stax Omega of yours, you should seriously look into slapping a pair of Neutral References behind it. I think both the headphone gods and the voodoo gods would smile upon you then.
post #5 of 10
Quote:
Originally posted by RVD


You mean I am not supposed to run $4000 worth of cables of my $100 dollar cd player.
WHAT! you mean that I'm NOT supossed to use my $30 sony portable cd player with Cardas Reference!
post #6 of 10
Vert you say that I might like the Air 3, but I fear it may be too much coloration. Go try the Air 1 for me!
post #7 of 10
Quote:
Originally posted by Vertigo-1
John, I hate to suggest this, but with that Stax Omega of yours, you should seriously look into slapping a pair of Neutral References behind it. I think both the headphone gods and the voodoo gods would smile upon you then.
JA must pay off his bill to Virtual Dynamics first..........heh,heh,heh
post #8 of 10
Vert, did I ever tell you that I never really liked you? Dammit, what are you trying to do to me? I spent too much on my Kimber Select interconnect that I'm using now; I'm afraid to start listening to other high-end cables. Where does the madness end?!? And Dark Angel's right - I've got a buttload of Virtual Dynamics power cords to pay off.

Actually, I'm starting to shift back to speakers for listening (for a couple of reasons). I'm thinking of saving my money for allocation on that kind of stuff. I've been auditioning every speaker I can over the last few weeks, and I'm just now starting to think about speaker cable. Hmmm... I wonder how the Neutral Reference speaker cable sounds.
post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally posted by andrzejpw

WHAT! you mean that I'm NOT supossed to use my $30 sony portable cd player with Cardas Reference!
My Panny portable is driving a Grado HPA-1/HP-1 system...and doing very well at it, I might add.
post #10 of 10
lol...as long as you don't have those crappy stock cables you will be fine. I think the best cable for the money is belden wire w/canare connectors. Phoenix gold makes nice stuff too (not to mention cheap)
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