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Mini-Review ALO SXC XLR balanced interconnects vs Anti-Cables XLR, mmwwhats "Whirly Wisp", and...

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
PART ONE: XLR Interconnects:

I am done comparing some loaner ALO SXC XLR interconnect cable (est MSRP $600 - $800) vs the anti-cables XLR interconnect cables ($200), as well as some generic Mogami starquad XLR made by "el_matto" ($25), generic silver plated copper that I got from Iron_Dreamer with my Apogee mini-DAC (free, est $50), and the Whirly Wisp dead soft silver in teflon air-tube dielectric made by mmwwhats ($50 for 2 feet). The SXC is a new ALO branded cryo'd silver plated OCC copper cable in a PE tube, and has less ringing or "resonance" than a cryo'd Jenna Labs cable (and therefore has better transparency to my ears when I compared several different iPod LOD made from JL and SXC cable). Jenna Labs 18g cryo'd cable is around $20/foot, and IF the SXC XLR cable is similarly priced (with 6-conductors braided cable per channel and using 36 feet total cable for one pair of IC) it would cost $720. I believe Ken may be looking to undercut that a bit, despite his using expensive Furutech connectors that needed to be individually milled out to fit the 6-conductor braided cable - a lot of work goes into these cables. The anti cables uses an extremely thin insulator and an air-dielectric, with a coiled wire surrounding a central straight wire and retails for $200, being a much simpler construction than the ALO SXC.







Euipment used for my evaulation: Marantz CD-5001 and Macbook core 2 duo as transport only, via Synergistic research active shielded coax digital cable into Apogee mini-DAC with sigma 11 PSU, with the 5 sets of XLR interconnects feeding a Single Power 2008 Square Wave XL balanced headphone amp. Headphones listened to included Grado RS-1 with APS V3 cable, as well as Edition 9 and HD600 with the same type of cable, Grado SR-325i balanced with stock cable, ATH-A900 with silver plated copper cable and internal dampning mods by -=Germania=- and ATH-SQ5 modded by KB at ALO audio and using ALO SXC headphone cable. All cables and headphones were burned-in fully at the time of testing.



The generic Mogami starquad XLR and Generic SPC XLR are both dull and lifeless compared to the Whirly Wisp, SXC and Anti-cables. I would probably feel guilty taking money from anyone if I sold these two used cables, but I was still able to enjoy the cables the first month I used them. They were good enough that I swooned for the demo Single Power balanced amp at the Colorado head-fi meet in July, enough that I bought the amp to review. Regardless, the battle for #1 was between the Whirly Wisp (WW), Anti-cables and ALO SXC.

As stated above, the WW silver XLR is much better than my first two cables, and it is more detailed and crisp and spacious and enjoyable, while not lacking at all in the bass like many people claim about silver. But in direct comparison with the others, the WW still is not quite up to to the level of the SXC or anti-cables XLR IC. With the ALO SXC there is more detail, ambience and a noticeable improvement in sparkle over the WW (similar to the anti-cables). But the SXC cable is also a little richer or fuller sounding which gives the instruments more "body and substance" than with the WW (or the anti-cables). The sound became more real, engaging and mesmerizing with HD600, Edition 9 and RS-1.

I use the term "body and substance" loosely, to describe that feeling of having the instruments right there in the room with me - that special something that some equipment or cables offer that makes the illusion more convincing. Whether it be some missing ambience cues of the sound bouncing off the instrument, or some change in the micro-dynamics, some equipment is better able to leave a spot in the soundstage where the instrument is solidly placed. The ALO SXC cables (XLR or the mini-RCA below) seems to do that better than any of my other cables.

I definitely prefer the ALO SXC over all the others. The anti-cables XLR come close to the ALO SXC in frequency balance and lack of coloration, but after some extended listening I feel that there is "something" missing in the anti-cables' sound that doesn't seem to deliver the full performance like the SXC. I found with a quick A/B I could tell which cable was the WW vs the anti-cables or ALO SXC, but to tell the difference between the SXC and anti-cables was more difficult. I had to listen to full songs and get involved in the performance, then try it again with the next cable. Listening to the SXC cable I repeatedly missed my cut-off point and found that I was into the 3rd or 4th song and simply enjoying the music, and had forgotten to switch cables to continue my testing.



I would be happier with any of the top three cables than i was with my original cables, but the anti-cables does offer a little extra sparkle over the Whirly Wisp, which after 100+ hours burn-in has lost that bright sheen over the music that interfered with it's transparency. So I have to rank the WW in third place. For the $50 WW to come this close to a $200 anti-cables XLR IC is impressive, while the ALO SXC is still ahead of both and takes first place. Despite being in third place, I did find that the WW sounded very good with my Grado RS-1 and Grado SR-325i, but did not perform as well with HD600, Edition 9 or re-cabled ATH-A900. Even accounting for synergy with bright headphones it wasn't enough to move them up to 2nd place. In second place the anti-cables seem to do everything right, until I discovered that there is a whole new level to the musical performance that I was missing, which the first place ALO SXC offers. As the old adage goes, you have to spend 10x more money to get that last 10% of performance - but i have already made up my mind that I cannot live without that extra 10%, now that I know what I'm missing. I feel sorry for my wallet already.

UPDATE: 11/2/08: mmwwhats Lucky Seven interconnects added (9-strand XLR reviewed, 7-strand RCA not present)

I have spent almost 3 weeks with the Lucky Seven (which is a 9 strand XLR, vs 7 strand for RCA) and am very impressed with it for the price. There is more depth and detail but transparency is the most improved - for the life of me, I cannot tell a difference between these $140 Lucky Seven XLR and my $200 anti-cables XLR.

So, for bang for the buck I believe the mmwwhats' Lucky Seven XLR is the winner. I highly recommend the Lucky Seven, but the 3-strand Whirly Wisp XLR for $50 is still not bad at all.

At the Colorado Head-fi meet this weekend there was agreement that the 3-strand XLR was superior to the Mogami XLR interconnects, and the ALO SXC were even better. Unfortunately we did not have time to audition all the other XLR because the purpose of the listening in this case was someone trying to decide which low cost XLR to buy. He wanted the Whirly Wisp but only had $20 so I let him have the Mogami XLR for that price.

So, in summary, my final XLR Ranking is:
-------------------------------------------
1st - ALO SXC XLR (most engaging and believable sound, more body and substance making the performance more real)
2nd tie - Anti-cables IC's (close but no cigar, missing something I can't put my finger on)
2nd tie - Lucky Seven 9-strand dead soft silver in teflon air-tube dielectric (sounds identical to the more costly anti-cables).
3rd - Whirly Wisp dead soft silver by mmwwhats (very nice but missing some sparkle in the highs - good with Grado SR-325i)
4th - "el_matto" built 4-conductor copper mogami star-quad (was "ok", but in comparison with the others = yuck)
5th - Generic silver plated copper from Iron_Dreamer (was "ok", but in comparison with the others = yuck)

I just don't see how the audiophile in me can afford to not buy the SXC. So, off I send an email to KB to negotiate the delivery of my first born or right arm to him. Cheers!

[Note - I bought the ALO SXC yesterday, before publishing this review]

PART 2: mini-RCA interconnects reviewed - added 9/25/08:

I also received an ALO SXC 4-conductor 2-foot mini-RCA interconnect to review (which arrived a week after the XLR, my est for MSRP $300), which I compared to my Soloz 12 conductor Litz-braid mini-RCA, a barqy silver plated copper mini-RCA and a highflyin9 silver plated copper mini-RCA. The Soloz is probably a $150 interconnect that I bought used for $100 + shipping, and the remaining two cost me about $80 each. I gave away my cheap $5 Radio Shack mini-RCA at the July head-fi meet as a favor to another member, so I did not test one of those.

I listened to the mini-RCA cables several different ways - one was from an ALO Jensen Copper Foil big Cap iMod dock into my Headroom Micro Amp and TTVJ portable Millett hyrbid, as in a "hotel room" rig; as well as feeding it into the Single Power using the dock's mini-out jack and the Single Power's extra RCA inputs. The second way was from the Apogee mini-DAC into the Woo WA6 maxed with pseudo dual power supply mod and Sophia Princess rectifier. I used different amps in case I was dealing with a headphone-amp-cable synergy issue in the XLR review, and wanted to see what the outcome would be. This is another reason why my review was delayed a couple of days from when I was first ready, as I was waiting for the mini-RCA.

Again I found the ALO SXC cable to be superior to the other cables in it's detail, space and ambience, and balance and "full presentation". I was also amazed by the fact that the Jensen big cap iMod dock could sound SO CLOSE to the Apogee as a source - it was phenomenal and I was floored. Playing the same music in ALAC format with the iMod and the Macbook/Apogee (with single ended IC and headphones), I don't believe I could be sure which I was listening to if I hadn't been looking!

The Soloz came in second place, with just a little bit less sparkle/air and body or substance to the music that the SXC offered (just like it offered with the XLR cables). As stated before, I use "body and substance" to describe that feeling of having the instruments right there in the room with me, that special something that makes the illusion more convincing. The ALO SXC mini-RCA cable seems to do the job just as well as the ALO SXC XLR did.

I felt the barqy cable and highfylin9 cable were very nice, and I have been using them for months without complaint, one in my bedside rig and one out of my Sony D-5 vintage CDP in my basement rig. However, the Soloz cable edged them out with better detail and ambience and a slightly more solid bass presentation. I could not pick which of these two I liked better, and feel they are both a good deal for the price. I liked these two 4rd place cables better than the bottom ranked Mogami starquad or SPC XLR cables in the above review - the Single Power amp converts RCA input into balanced using only the positive signal from each channel, and feeding these mini-RCA into the RCA inputs just sounded better.

So, in summary, my final mini-RCA Ranking is:
-------------------------------------------
1st - ALO SXC mini-RCA (most engaging and believable sound, more body and substance making the performance more real - for the audiophile who can't stand to be missing anything is possible - also liked it a little better than the anti-cables or Whirly Wisp XLR when feeding the Single Power which does a great job converting SE input to balanced)
2nd - Soloz 12-conductor Litz Braid (good but has deficiencies vs SXC that are more readily apparent than with anti-cables vs SXC, missing a little sparkle and air vs SXC but at least as good as the Whirly Wisp XLR and RCA that I have here)
3rd - tied barqy and highflyin9 built SPC mini-RCA (both good detail and presentation and a great cable for the price, both better than the bottom two ranked XLR cables from the review above)

I will have to take pictures of the mini-RCA later.
post #2 of 23
At last...a review of some DIY cables...thanks! I think a lot of folks buy for the value around here, and are afraid to express their opinions for fear of causing offence or hard feelings. THX HA!
post #3 of 23
Thread Starter 
Well, I guess my job is done then. Hardly nobody likes cable reviews anymore?
post #4 of 23
Thanks for the review Larry. I guess people are afraid to review cables as they tend to start flame wars.
post #5 of 23
Thread Starter 
I forgot to mention, I will be testing an upgraded version of the Whirly Wisp, with each XLR cable being a 6 or 9-wire (Litz-braid). Hopefully should ship to me this week.
post #6 of 23
how much were the ALO SXC cables?
post #7 of 23
Thread Starter 
The ALO 3 foot mini-RCA SXC is $385, and the XLR price should be around $600 I think. I'm begging him to do them for $495 (or less) so more people can afford them but I don't think that will happen. And I also offered to test a 3-strand SXC XLR (instead of 6) or a smaller gauge wire 6-strand if he can produce and sell those cheaper.

Again, if these prices are too high, the anti-cables are a no-brainer as the best bang for the buck. They are a real pain to work with though, because they get caught up on other wires or themselves, having that coiled wire out there in the open. I suppose covering them with techflex might have still introduced a dielectric like flavor to the sound, which we don't want. As it is, the anti-cables IC's are very neutral and at least 95% transparent to the sound, but the SXC just present a little more body and presence to the music that some people will always a lot more for that extra 5-10% to get closer to the illusion of real instruments. I'm sure there could be a cable even better than SXC, but I'm not sure it is worth it till I hear it for myself. At this point, I don't want to hear it for myself or my wallet is going to burst into flames.

However, I did already agree to test the upgraded Whirly Wisp multi-strand XLR which should ship next week. mmwwhats sounded quite pleased with the improvements when he contacted me about it. (has to ship after the Jewish High Holidays)
post #8 of 23
Larry, thanks for the write-up. The new model, called 'Lucky Seven,' should arrive by you any day. The RCA version consists of 7 strands of pure 24 gauge silver (hence the name), but the balanced XLR pair, which I sent you, are made of 9 strands. The most stark improvement you'll hear over the Whirly Wisps is a greater sense of ease of the music and much more life-like dynamics and ambiance.
post #9 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mmwwhats View Post
Larry, thanks for the write-up. The new model, called 'Lucky Seven,' should arrive by you any day. The RCA version consists of 7 strands of pure 24 gauge silver (hence the name), but the balanced XLR pair, which I sent you, are made of 9 strands. The most stark improvement you'll hear over the Whirly Wisps is a greater sense of ease of the music and much more life-like dynamics and ambiance.
I have spent almost 3 weeks with the Lucky Seven (which is a 9 strand XLR, vs 7 strand for RCA) and am very impressed with it for the price. There is more depth and detail but transparency is the most improved - for the life of me, I cannot tell a difference between these $140 Lucky Seven XLR and my $200 anti-cables XLR.

So, for bang for the buck I believe the mmwwhats' Lucky Seven XLR is the winner. I highly recommend the Lucky Seven, but the 3-strand Whirly Wisp XLR for $50 is still not bad at all.

At the Colorado Head-fi meet this weekend there was agreement that the 3-strand XLR was superior to the Mogami XLR interconnects, and the ALO SXC were even better. Unfortunately we did not have time to audition all the other XLR because the purpose of the listening in this case was someone trying to decide which low cost XLR to buy. He wanted the Whirly Wisp but only had $20 so I let him have the Mogami XLR for that price.
post #10 of 23
Great review! The anticables look certainly interesting and again the need of shopping has begun.
post #11 of 23

Bump a great review

Need to bump this good review...HPA has been extremely helpful!
post #12 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
Again, if these prices are too high, the anti-cables are a no-brainer as the best bang for the buck. They are a real pain to work with though, because they get caught up on other wires or themselves, having that coiled wire out there in the open.
You should take a look at the XLO ultra or reference interconnects. It somewhat shares many of the same principles as the anti-cable, but has multiple thin-gauge wires wound around I think a teflon tubing. Not sure what the pricing on them are though.
post #13 of 23
Thread Starter 
Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. However I do think I am done looking at cables for a while.
post #14 of 23
I'm trying to form a guideline on cables. Would it make sense to use the same hp cable as your ICs or would it make any difference?
post #15 of 23
How could I miss out of this one?

Really great review indeed. Nice reading for one looking into acquiring new interconnects...
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