Audio Art IC-3SE & SC-5 Speaker Cables
I've auditioned cables that were well over the $1,000 mark, but honestly, couldn't bring myself to invest in them.
In the back of my mind, I could just see these cable makers putting together esoteric looking cables that probably cost them less than a $100 to actually assemble and put on the market place, raking in a 1000% profit.
Don't get me wrong, some of them were very involving and convincing, but not for the price tag.
After doing a lot of research and digging, I came across Rob Fritz at Audio Art purely by chance.
I kept reading positive reviews, not by reviewers, but by actual owners who took a chance and became Audio Art believers.
After spending an hour on the phone with Rob, his genuine and open attitude toward cable design convinced me to take a chance on his new IC-3SE interconnects, and SC-5 speaker cables.
While waiting for my cables to arrive, I had high hopes that his very competitively priced cables would indeed, blow away cables in the $1,000+/meter category.
Thoughts of “it's too good to be true” constantly entered my mind while waiting for the cables to show up.
A Surprisingly Classy Appearance
I hastily tore open the box the day the postman delivered them, and was surprised at the visual quality of the cables.
The SC-5 is very unassuming looking, in fact quite thin and ordinary looking, but very flexible.
A refreshing change in this world of garden hose sized, ridiculously stiff, and user unfriendly cables that literally knock your speakers over or bend your binding posts.
They also come with a nice set of gold plated 5/16” capable spade connectors for even the largest binding posts.
The IC-3SE was a surprise, as they look very expensive.
They come equipped with the new Vampire Xhadow RCA connectors.
The cable is covered with a black techflex looking jacket, which oozes with that high end European look, topped off with a nice silk screened gold logo on a heat shrink at one end. This is a nice touch to remember which direction you broke the cables in.
I've had cables sound terrible for hours because I reinstalled them in the wrong direction of the original break in, because I forgot which end was which.
Like the SC-5, the IC-3SE was very flexible and user friendly to install.
My only gripe is the monstrous sized Xhadow connectors were an extremely tight fit on my JAS CD player's mass produced RCA chassis jacks, which are the standard type of jacks found on $100 CD players.
I had to unscrew the outer housings to make them fit.
This isn't a fault of the Xhadow connectors, but a fault of cost cutting on JAS Audio's part to meet a price point.
Having nicely spaced quality chassis jacks like most high end components would have been a wiser choice for JAS, as they are targeting the audiophile crowd, but would also have raised the price and put them right in the middle of an already crowded and competitive digital marketplace.
Such is the state of affairs today, but I do give JAS Audio a lot of credit for their performance vs. cost trade off.
I always like to throw a new set of cables before they are broken in to get an idea of where the “rough edges” are, as they usually are a sign of an area where a cable may have its weakness (bright, thin sounding, too much bass, too little bass, recessed midrange).
To my surprise, neither the IC-3SE or the SC-5 showed any of these tendencies right out of the box!
In fact, they sounded pretty good after an hour, and gave me a glimpse of what was to come.
The first thing that immediately struck me was that the Audio Art cables presented a soundstage like I've never heard before.
Images were life sized, full bodied, and very holographic.
I felt as if I could get up and walk between the musicians on the stage!
The soundstage extended well beyond the speakers to the side walls, and from floor to ceiling, if it was on the recording.
I have never heard cables soundstage and image like this before, regardless of price.
The Break in Process
Having my curiosity satisfied after a brief audition right out of the box, I threw the SC-5 on to a Duo Tech Cable Enhancer for six days, or just about 150 hours.
I asked Rob if I could get away with 100 hours of break in, and he said that the SC-5 wouldn't change very much after 100 hours, but the IC-3SE definitely needed at least 150 hours.
Okay, no cheating, this was going to be slow and painful torture.
The Duo Tech can only handle one set of cables at a time, so the IC-3SE were installed in the system and burned in with a combination of playing music, and repeatedly running the Isotek Enhancer & Rejuvenation disc for hours.
The strategy was to break in the IC-3SE's and listen to their progress, while waiting for the SC-5 to cook for six days.
After six days, the SC-5 were put into the system, and the IC-3SE were hooked up to the Duo Tech for six days, for a total of nearly two weeks of continuous break in time!
The SC-5 was installed into the system after 144 hours on the Duo Tech.
I used an SAP Audio interconnect between my CD player and preamp, and a five meter run of Kimber Kable Silver Streaks, ending with the SC-5 connected to each of my mono blocks.
The SC-5 took on a mildly bright sonic character, and the magical soundstage that I heard when I initially installed both the IC-3SE and the SC-5 together had vanished.
The soundstage refused to extend beyond the edges of the speakers.
Everything took on a bright, glassy, hi-fi sound.
Dynamics and bottom end bass were softer and more laid back.
No matter what I tried, even burning in the SC-5 further with the Isotek disc made no improvement.
I started having this sinking feeling that the silver over copper wire was the culprit.
I've auditioned silver cables before, and they always seem to have a bright glare to them, either in the midrange or the highs, and were analytical and cool sounding.
I was warned that silver over copper was even worse, and would be even brighter sounding.
In the mean time, the IC-3SE's were cooking away on the Duo Tech and wouldn't be removed until they had nearly 150 hours on them.
It was like watching paint dry; hurry up and wait was putting it mildly after my frustration and disappointment with the SC-5s.
Suddenly with 170 hours on the SC-5, it was like the sun came out from behind the clouds.
The brightness totally disappeared, and was replaced by a liquid, open sound that just floated out of the speakers!
The soundstage extended well beyond the speakers and from floor to ceiling.
Music took on a full bodied, open sound, with life sized images clearly defined on the soundstage.
The soundstage was always proportionately correct, and not distorted with exaggerated height or width, or the “heads without bodies” syndrome.
Everything became transparent in an effortless, liquid, and natural way.
No electronic tricks or phase shifting to create an illusion of a soundstage.
The sound took on a sense of realism that I have never experienced before!
I sat there for hours unable to move.
The Audio Art cables painted a sonic picture across the entire back wall of my listening room from floor to ceiling and wall to wall.
If you can picture it, imagine watching a movie on a big screen in your mind with your eyes closed.
On some recordings, I swear the soundstage wanted to blow out the side walls and keep going!
On Yello's Essential Yello, “Jungle Bill” and “Drive/Driven”, Dieter Meier's deep, haunting vocals ricocheted off the side and rear walls of my listening room.
The driving drum solos bounced off the drum skins and echoed off the back wall of my listening room and ceiling.
Holographic soundstaging and imaging is an understatement, and doesn't begin to describe the experience.
One has to listen to these cables to truly understand the experience.
On Sara Bareilles Little Voice, I was motoring down the open road with the top down, sun in my face, and the wind blowing through my hair, with Sara and the band on “Many The Miles.”
Three dimensional effects take on a spooky “you are there” realism.
Yes, it's all there, transparency, air, spaces between the musicians, depth, but with full sized images and bodies attached to them.
The experience is like sitting between the first and second row of a live performance, with all the musicians layered in front of you from wall to wall.
How Audio Art does it with just cables is simply amazing.
The Audio Art cables are a breakthrough taking the audio experience to a new level.
The soundstaging is so incredible, you simply forgot about trying to find faults with the cables.
You're drawn into the sonic experience as if you were there.
The sense of realism and “liveness” of these cables is beyond description, and brings out the soul and emotion of a live performance.
Pitfalls to Avoid
However, there are a couple of caveats that I must mention:
1. These cables need a lot of break in time, or you will be seriously misjudging them. Rob's recommendation of 150 hours is very conservative.
Put at least 170 or more hours on them before any serious auditioning or you will be disappointed. The cables were still changing slightly at close to 200 hours.
2. Auditioning the SC-5 or the IC-3SE by themselves with other cables in the system is a big mistake.
You are not doing justice to them if they are not installed together, and you will never experience their true synergy and magic.
What the SC-5 does alone, is greatly enhanced with the addition of the IC-3SE.
I nearly made both mistakes and would have written off the best cables I've heard to date.
The SC-5 and IC-3SE are true partners in crime, and work skillfully together.
Unless your interconnects are up to par, and you really like their sonic signature, the SC-5 will ruthlessly reveal their weaknesses, or complement their strengths.
They really need to be installed with their companion IC-3 or IC-3SE to sound their best.
If you plan on using the SC-5 by themselves, don't blame the SC-5 for imparting any sonic signature into your system, look at your interconnects as the culprit first.
I've heard reviews that criticized the SC-5 of sounding a bit grainy on extremely expensive gear, but I suspect that's because the “expensive” interconnects they're using are having their weaknesses exposed by the SC-5.
Yes, I know it's a blow to the ego of those with deep pockets to admit their $2500 interconnects were smoked by a $239 pair of IC-3SEs.
It's a bitter pill to swallow, but these “high end” cable manufacturers make their living making you believe more is indeed, “more”.
The IC-3SE has a full bodied, liquid midrange that gives a natural, effortless quality to vocals and instruments, as well as giving the music weight and rhythm.
I want to say it is a touch on the warm side of neutral, because it's so liquid, but it's not.
It gives a sense of warmth creating a much more realistic and involving experience, without sacrificing detail.
The IC-3SE is also very open and extended on the top end, without any hint of glare or brightness.
This is quite a feat while maintaining the natural overall balance of the cable.
I never felt at any time that the IC-3SE was exaggerating any particular frequency.
The sound was consistently open, effortless, and involving.
It even made bad recordings sound better.
Together with the SC-5, the IC-3SE have well defined, deep bass, and dynamics in spades.
The SC-5 and IC-3SE isn't the last word in extended deep bass, but trying to extract that last octave of deep bass would probably upset the spectacular soundstage qualities and open quality of these cables, and is a wise decision.
If you're fixated on bottomless bass response, get a subwoofer, or two.
The SC-5 and IC-3SE together are so well matched that inner detail, ambience, attack and decay, are done in a skillfully balanced and natural way that draws you into the sonic experience.
Music flows effortlessly from the system and never sounds strained, even on dynamic passages.
This takes the sonic experience to a mesmerizing level.
I kept telling myself “just one more track” and I'll call it a night.
An hour later, I was saying the same thing.
The SC-5 and IC-3SE together, never gave a hint of brightness, edginess, or an analytical, cool sound.
They always revealed the most subtle of details in a natural, relaxed, “you are there” way.
There was never a hint of any type of electronic trickery, or false transparency that some cables rely on.
If you're looking for a hyper-detailed, analytical sound, the Audio Art cables are definitely not for you.
Hi-fi spectacular sound is not what these cables are about.
If you want to add warmth to a bright or hot system, these cables will only expose the system's weaknesses, but throw a spectacular soundstage while doing it.
If you're seeking the closest to a “live performance experience” possible, with a natural and liquid flow to the music, then you've found your cables.
Yes, I'm sure there are cables out there that may outperform the Audio Arts, but at what cost? $2000? $3000? or more per meter pair?
Where does the madness end?
CableMeister Fritz is on to something big here.
All you ultra expensive cable makers better be watching your backs.
There's a new player in town, and you're going to be hearing a lot from him.
He's putting to shame a lot of the proprietary hype behind cables which is obviously profit driven.
Not all audiophiles have deep pockets or common sense.
Audio Art has my vote for best price point and maximum smile factor.
I'm a believer.
Rob's generous 30 day unconditional return guarantee probably has few, if any takers.
He's not getting my cables back.
If Rob can extract this level of performance for the money, what has he got up his sleeve next?
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