|I have spent the past two years testing interconnects. My intent was to first find the best matched cables for my system and secondly to write a review of my findings here at Audiogon. I began by testing ALL the cables listed on the Stereophile, FI and The Absolute Sounds recommended lists. I then tested cables that they talked about or recommended here at Audiogon. For the most part the cables I tested were the top products of the manufacture's line but I did try several less expensive cables too.|
After this length of time and hearing well over fifty cables for extended times I determined a review of my findings was not possible. Cables tend to be much too systems dependent and quite subjective making it very difficult to give recommendations. I did however find the cable I feel is the top of the list for auditioning and the absolute state of the art. The Nordost Valhalla both in interconnects and speaker cable is in a very elite group of cables and in my opinion is the top cable of all.
I believe my goal for setting up my system has been to find the most natural and neutral components. I have tried to select components that leave as little color and as little signature on the sound. This is clearly not the goal off all audiophiles, so I believe that stating that as my goal when auditioning cables is important.
I did find several extremely well designed cables. My personal favorites were Purist Audio Dominus, FIM Gold, XLO Limited Edition, NBS Statement, Trinity, Tara Labs The One, Nordost Valhalla and the "budget" cable that held its own with all these, Acoustic Zen Reference Matrix. Some of those that I believe to be not of the caliber of the cables above included Cardas Golden Reference and Neutral Reference, Kimber KCAG, MIT, Synergistic Research Designer's Reference, Transparent Audio Reference, Wireworld Gold Eclipse III, Audioquest Anaconda and Nirvana S-X. For many different reasons this group of cables was not of the quality I expected for the cost. Some were too colored, some were harsh and hazy and some were simply dead.
All the cables on my preferred list have extremely black backgrounds, have excellent definition and full sound stages. Of the preferred list the Dominus and FIM tend to be the most colored, most like tube equipment. The XLO was the most open and "brightest," a bit too etched and electronic for me. The Tara labs also fell on the brighter side of neutral but not as much as XLO. Trinity tended to be very neutral but a bit lifeless and not as detailed as the Valhalla. The NBS and Valhalla are almost identical in their lack of signature or color. The Valhalla tends to be a bit more defined, with smoother extension in the high end and better PRAT, they are simply a bit more exciting. I continue to read comments that the Valhalla is on the brighter side of neutral, but for me that does not pan out. The highs have excellent detail and the best decay I have heard. The midrange is deep, colorful and extremely rich, but with no artificial thickness. The bass is tight, deep and very aggressive. I believe these cables are as natural as made and the problems people associate to these cables are indeed problems elsewhere in the system. Remember that cables are simply sending the electronic signal your equipment creates. In the case of the Valhalla they will not mask or otherwise hide issues your equipment is creating. For that reason this cable is not for the average system and maybe the Acoustic Zen would be a better choice.
I used the NBS Statement speaker cables and interconnects for my reference for two years before switching my speakers and half my interconnects to Valhalla. I feel I can see ever so slightly better the detail and subtle signals than with the NBS. For me the Valhalla is simply pure, open and not visible. The surprise cables, Acoustic Zen has all the traits of the NBS and Valhalla but with an overall feeling of less. Less excitement, less pace, less slam, less extension. Although they were less, they have such a good presentation that I would recommend them as a starting point for any audiophile, it may be the last cable most people buy, and at a tenth the cost.
Sony SCD-1 SACD player
Placette active pre-amp
(two) Plinius SA-102 amps - bi-amp vert.
Dunlavy IVa speakers
Nordost Valhalla Speaker cable
Hydra power conditioner