Listening impressions of two tonearm wires

It's not easy to have the opportunity to audition internal tonearm wire. Thanks to a friend who was kind enough to lend me two tonearm wire harnesses--Cardas and Discovery--I was able to get an idea how each might sound in the crucial front end of my system. The usual caveat of system dependancy is issued here. Both harnesses involve running the wires externally, from the cartridge pins to the phono preamp inputs. They are outfitted with the same clips and RCA plugs on each end, have had similar burn in time and are approximately the same length(3 to 4 feet). They had to be arranged securely and flexibly enough to avoid any difficulties relating to free tonearm movement. Necessary adjustments to tracking force and VTA were also made for optimal sound reproduction using my tools in my system.(No, I don't own a Mint Best Tractor, only the alignment gauge that came with my SME tonearm.)I used the following equipment: SME IV.Vi tonearm, Dynavector XV-1S cartridge, VPI HW-19 Mk 3 turntable with specially made brass/aluminum tonearm board, EAR 88PB phono premp, Air Tight ATM-3 monoblock amps and Dunlavy SC4 speakers. Cables include Silkworm+ interconnect with Eichmann Copper Bullet plugs, JPS Superconductor 3 speaker cable, Wegrzyn Copper Slam power cord on the preamp and original Synergistic Research Master Couplers on the amps.

Here were my impressions: Not unsurprisingly, the Cardas wire exhibited a relatively warmer/darker sound in contrast to the Discovery, whose balance tended more toward neutral, revealing a characteristically lighter/brighter presentation in the treble range in particular. Simultaneously, I found the Discovery's treble presentation less forgiving of the sounds of some orchestral instruments, notably trumpets, high strings, piccolos, and bell like percussion. At times, this less forgiving nature tended to produce sounds I found slightly irritating. Perhaps this meant those sounds revealed more truthfully what was on the record. Here, the issue sometimes surfaces as to whether one prefers greater accuracy or greater listenability. Midrange reproduction was very, very good with both wires. The perspective offered by Cardas on vocals and orchestras was closer than that of the Discovery. The size of both voices and instruments was also fuller, bigger, more rounded and softer edged compared with the Discovery. Those favoring tighter or sharper edged outlines would prefer the latter wire. Additionally, the Discovery's relatively more laid back images might also appeal to those seeking more depth. I would not say the Cardas lacks depth. It reveals a very satisfying sense of three dimensionality. In fact, I found its overall soundstage billowing and very impressive. Often, real excitement was generated as the orchestra projected a sweeping sense of large scale dynamics. In this regard, the Discovery seemed a bit less imposing though its mid to up front presentation was a bit cleaner than the Cardas'.

At this point, I want to mention something I found both interesting and somewhat puzzling while comparing the two wires. When I focused on the instruments at the back of the orchestral stage, the Discovery's relatively laid back style slightly shortchanged their sense of presence. I felt I was missing something that should have been there. With the Cardas I experienced a more complete realization of what those instruments were saying. Now here's the strange part: Despite the more distant or, at times, reticent rear field sound with the Discovery, I experienced moments when some of the instruments in its near or front field presentation sounded stuck on the speakers' drivers. Even with the closer perspective of the Cardas, I never had that impression, and because of this, the sense of imaging and instrumental placement was more convincing and satisfying.

On overall impression, and to my ears, the Cardas provided a more organically whole sound. Each instrument tended to radiate its own air and ambience in all directions, while the Discovery presented a more sharply defined and localized picture. In the lower midrange and upper bass, the Cardas often provided a feeling of richness and power. Trombones had an impressive weight, and double basses growled convincingly. There was a feeling I was hearing more of each instrument. Clashing cymbals sounded more realistic, more complete, with a longer expression of decay. Those rich sounding instruments dispalyed subtle and yet revealing inner details. Intonation and sense of timing of instrumentalists was most fulfilling. Simply put, there was an atmosphere of rightness. Though essentially quite musical in its way, I found the Discovery didn't quite give me the sense of satisfaction experienced with the Cardas. There were moments, however, when the Discovery's greater sense of neutrality fairly well contributed to that you are there feeling. It just didn't impact me the way the Cardas did. So, once more, we come down to what sort of sound most pushes one's buttons. There's obviously something out there for everyone's tastes.
That's why George Cardas has been a success in the cable business for as long as I can remember.

His tonearm wire, binding posts (both patented and standard versions), female RCA jacks and other specialty items are among the best out there.

Glad you found a tonearm cable you like, an interesting test for sure.
Thanks, made for interesting reading. Most of us don't have the opportunity to do this.
Thanks Opus88, for posting your impressions of the Cardas and Discovery tonearm wire harnesses. The rewiring of tonearms with a continuous run of wire from cartridge clip to phono input is something that I have always felt is conspicuously rare among the many tweaks available to an audiophile; specially when it can be done externally, as I did. The benefits of eliminating several solder joints, plugs, and the continuity of type of wire all the way to phono preamp are, in my experience, as significant as major component upgrades. However, as every experienced audiophile knows (or should know), synergy is the key to good sound, and there is still much that we don't understand about what exactly, in the technical realm, creates good synergy in the aural realm. Then, of course, there is the issue of personal preference.

The two wire harnesses that Opus66 writes about are the wires that I rewired my Eminent Technology 2 air bearing tonearm with for the first (Cardas) and second (Discovery)times. Over the course of the many years that I have used that tonearm I have rewired it three times. I purchased it wired with VDH MCS150, and it is currently wired with Audionote silver. I used it for a minimum of three years with each of those wires, and with the exception of the VDH, always with one continuous run to preamp. I have used a variety of different cartridges of the MM, and primarily MC types. The arm has been mounted on three diffeent tables, and for the last three years on a TNT MK6, on which I have used the Cardas, Discovery, and AN wires. Amplification has been varied, but mainly of the tube variety. Point is, I feel I have a pretty good idea of how all four wires sound in my system.

My system definitely leans to what most audiophiles would consider to be the rich and romantic side of neutral. I don't think so, as I feel more times than not, that most audiophiles' systems are way too lean sounding and lack the body and tonal density that I consider realistic. In that context, my impressions of the four wires are as follows:

VDH MCS150: Excellent detail retrieval, great speed, but dry sounding through the midrange and highs. Overly bleached sounding tonally. I did not find the sound enjoyable. Flutes sounded too metallic, clarinets not woody, and not luxurious enough in their low registers. Strings could get strident very easily. Reminded me of my old Audio Research SP9 as far a tonal color.

Cardas: As Jeff noted, a very smooth sounding cable. There was a very attractive ease to the sound that let one relax into the music. Well balanced, but too dark sounding for my system and my tastes. The high frequency extension was all there, but there was the sense that all the light bulbs in the room were changed from 100W to 40W. I hear a similar effect with the only Benz cartridge that I have heard in my system (Ruby2). A dark tonality, but with images that are smaller and leaner than real. That is the mystery to me, and why I think that there is a lot that we don't understand about synergy (well, I'll speak for myself). Jeff found the Cardas to present fuller and bigger images than the Discovery. That is exactly the opposite of what I experienced in my system. The Cardas seems to shrink the size of images. Detail, dimensionality, and depth were all good, but the entire presentation seems to shrink by what seems about 20%. The mentioned darkness of tone tended to obscure the natural nasties that are present sometimes in the sound of unamplified instruments such as sharply articulated woodwind notes, and the ascerbic sound of muted trumpet for instance. Jeff has a sophisticated ear, and I know that he heard what he describes. So it must be due to the interaction of the wire's characteristics with those of his cartridge, preamp, and the rest of his system.

Discovery: Much more open in the high frequencies, and what I would consider a more natural/realistic tonal signature. Bigger soundstage with full images. My main objection to the sound of this wire is that I found it to have what I would describe as a soft grain. Almost as if you were looking very very closely at a picture in a newspaper, and being able to see the dots. But, overall, in my sytem, closer to right. I do not consider it to be "bright", but consider the rest of my system.

Audionote: To say that this wire transformed the sound of my analog set-up would be an understatement. I consider it to be a fantastic and beautiful sounding cable. It is extremely refined sounding, with amazing detail. Extremely open and clear in the highs, but not harsh. There is a striking absence of grunge in the spaces between images. Romantic, as usually described by audiophiles, it is not. But it is not bleached sounding at all. It lets a flute sound appropiately metallic, while not forcing the cello's upper range to sound strident without enough wood in the sound, while they play together. Adding this cable to my set-up reminds me of some of the qualities that I would hear when, in a less-complicated-lifetime ago, I had the time to keep my system entirely harwired, without a single jack or connector in use. A purity that was beautiful, even with the lesser components that I owned at the time. It is the most realistically dynamic of the four, in the sense of allowing the small increments of dynamic change in the sound of a string section's crescendo to be heard, while the orchestra's percussion stays at one volume. I can't say enough good things about this wire. It is, unfortunately, a PITA to work with. It is extremely thin.

Best to all.


-Eminent Technology2/HP manifold/HP pump
-VDH Grasshopper, VDH MC1S, Shelter 901, AT ATML170, Azden PVL50, Empire 4000DIII, Decca London.
-EAR 834P(highly modified), Melos 222c (highly modified)
-Audio Synthesis "Passion"
-EAD DAC/transport
-Manley 200 mono's
-Stax F-81's, Maneplanar MGIIIA's (highly modified), Paragon Regents
-Siltech cabling throughout
-Stax Lambda Pro/tube driver
-Porter Ports, BDR cones, maple platforms, homemade lead- bar resonance tuners.

Where does one find the Audio Note tone arm wire?
Albert, I purchased my Audio Note wire through Audio Federation Inc. in Boulder, CO. I dealt with Neli, who ordered it from England. They were terrific people to deal with.
I find the Discovery an excellent value and exceptional sounding. Very similar to Nordost tyr. Used on Graham phantom 2, dynavector 507mk2.
Thanks again to Frogman (Lino) for allowing me the opportunity to listen to the Discovery and Cardas wires in my system. His own impressions once more reinforce how extremely important it is to realize(technical/electrical and personal preference factors aside)the interaction of different components in different systems can produce significant variations in what is heard. This is why, before proceeding with my evaluation, I had issued a warning.

The only components in Lino's system I am really familiar with are the Eminent Technology tonearm, which I once owned a while ago, and the very fine Porter Ports, which I also plug into. I use the bigger brother(EAR 88PB)of his modified EAR 834P preamp, and though not familiar with his VDH Grasshopper cartridge, I once owned the VDH Black Beauty. Finally, the kind of speakers we own--his electrostatic and planar vs. my conventional driver--are of course fairly different.

Particularly interesting was his admission that in his system the Cardas actually had a shrinking effect on images, while in mine it had a blossoming effect. Aside from the elements in my system already mentioned, I believe the tubes used in my Air Tight amps--Brimar 12ax7 longplates and Mullard 12au7 boxplates--contributed notably to what I heard. Admittedly, I do tend to prefer a somewhat darker tonality,(which I often hear in live concerts) relative to a dead on neutral sound. Also, sometimes I would rather experience ease of listenability, as opposed to the more truthful representation of how the recording was made, particularly when it reveals the kinds of irritating sounds I virtually never hear at a live concert, even if seated fairly close up. As I've commented before on other threads, colorations are unavoidable. They always figure in what we like or dislike in this interesting, fun and at times perplexing hobby.
My expereience has been similar to that of Frogman's.

Wire is really very simple. It either alters phase by virtue of its reactance (inductance and capacitance), shields well (or not), and has resistance. Litz configurations address phase and skin effect, by virtue of their design - with each strand spending an equal amount of "time" in the center of the bundle.

Getting there isn't all that simple however (grin).

The Discovery cable is much lower capacitance than the Cardas, but having said that, some systems need the tone control (capacitance) inherent in Cartdas' designs.

In my experience, the Discovery is more of a Chameleon. In a tonearm wire context, you'd call it a bit bright if you judged it in a Tri-Planar, and extended, full-bodied and organic in a Talea tonearm.

I recently had to re-terminate my Talea tonearm (having had XLR connectors on it and converting it to RCAs).

I initially started with some Cardas rhodium RCAs I had on hand. I asked Joe for a set of stock Discovery connectors.

The shift from the Cardas to the Discovery connectors was qualitatively similar to the differences in the two wires, as a few layers of fog were peeled away when I went to the Discovery RCAs.

There's much more metal in the Cardas RCA's, and this fits with my recent experience of the past few years, that less metal is better (e.g. Eichman Bullet Plugs).

So, what's new? Not much. Cables still end up being our tone controls.

If your Cardas cables are a bit too laid back for you, I suggest you don't throw them out quite yet, but rather try your hand at re-terminating them with say, Eichman Bullet Plugs.

It could save you quite a bit of $do-rei-me.

Thom @ Galibier
Great discussion, fellas!
Thom mackris: "So, what's new? Not much. Cables still end up being our tone controls"

Honesty is always refreshing.
Did anyone try Purist Audio or Stealth Audio tonearm wire?
Just curious.
Inna: I'm not sure if we're on the same frequency. I've never heard of any [internal] tone arm wire from Purist. I'd certainly like to know if they produce it and if it is available for purchase. Thanks.
Nor have I ever heard it but I thought someone might.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but even tone controls can wreak havoc on an audioi signal. There is bad wire out there, as well as good wire that's implemented poorly.

I didn't want it to be misunderstood. Cable makers sweat long and hard in developing their wire. They are however, balancing a relatively small group of parameters, and like any audio design, choices (compromises) sometimes have to be made in order to end up with a design that makes sense.

Thom @ Galibier