There are a number of very good interconnects that you can get for about $150 for a 1-meter pair (particularly if you intend to buy used cables). Here are some of the best:
1. Kimber Hero: $160 MSRP for NEW pair, and around $100 for a used pair;
2. Nordost Blue Heaven: usually around $120-130 for a used pair;
3. Synergistic Research Alpha Sterling: around $125 used;
4. Siltech Paris Mxt: around $125 used;
5. Alpha-Core Goertz TQ2 (silver): around $125 used.
6. If your budget gets really tight (for whatever reason), the best "cheap" cable that I've heard is the Kimber PBJ. For it's price, this cable has no right to sound this good (thank you, Ray Kimber).
You will note that there are no Monster Cable products included in this list. Likewise, I've included no AudioQuest IC's, as I've never been very impressed with their lower-priced models. Stick with the choices above, and you should be a very happy camper.
Some audiophiles believe that silver wire imparts a different tonal property than copper to reproduced sound. Several manufacturers (including Nordost) use a silver-coated copper wire. I have not found dramatic differences between silver vs. copper, although at the present time I am using interconnects that are either pure silver, or silver-coated copper. At least one manufacturer -- Van den Hul -- does not use silver or copper in his better IC's. He uses carbon fiber, and many of his cables have gotten rave reviews from audio critics. I personally believe that the wire configuration, the dielectric / shielding, and the quality of the connectors makes more difference than the metal used in the wire.
I have just recently added several pair of Nordost Blue Heaven IC's to the critical "source" connections in my system, and their detail and speed add a very nice quality. I think, however, that any of the 5 IC's listed above will serve you very well (I've owned and used 3 of the 5 models).
For speaker cable, look no further than these two:
1. Alpha-Core Goertz MI2 (copper) - a superb cable for the price - get them direct from the factory, with silver spades, for a free 30-day home trial. I do NOT recommend their Python series of speaker cables -- stick with the original Goertz MI2 model. See their excellent web site for more info: http://www.alphacore.com/
2. Kimber Kable 4TC or 8TC - the perennial "best buy" that works well with virtually every audio system, regardless of the components.
Vampire sells continuous cast copper at very reasonable prices. Although it is not posted on their website, you can purchase a 1 metre pair of interconnects from them upgraded with their 2nd from top of the line copper based RCA plug (the plugs are as important as the wire in my opinion) for $70 metre. Technically, if you contact them, what you are ordering is 1 metre CCC/II cables (cont. cast copper) upgrade to the #C7X/CB RCA plug.
In the past, I have owned Kimber PBJ and Hero, as well as Silver Audio Silver Bullet 6.0's (a $300 silver interconnect with WBT plugs), and 47 Labs OTA terminated with Eichmann Bullet plugs (the OTA eventually ended up being cryoed and burned in on a Nordost Cable Cooker, which in my opinion was very worthwhile-I've done that with the Vampire at an additional cost of about $40 per IC and would recommend it if you have access to such services). The Vampire, is, in my opinion, a far superior cable at a ridiculous price; it's very natural sounding and doesn't really "hype" anything in its presentation. It allows for long term listening without fatigue, much more so than any of the cables listed above.
I still use Kimber 8TC (cryoed) as my speaker cable, and like it as well, but it's not really cheap and there may be better alternatives for less money out there now. I'm pretty confident in saying the Vampires above would be very hard to beat at the price.
I'm selling my Nordost SPM's in favor of Paul Speltz Anti I/C's. $100/pair, beautifully made and they sound great (and, I think he has a return policy).
Just my .02 (but I've always been a bang for the buck kind of guy).
Hdm has made a good point about the added benefits of both cryogenic treatment and also the burning in process.
This is included free of charge before you take delivery of products from realitycables.com
And, the new IC retail price is right at your $150 per pair request point.
Although the Alpha-Core Goertz MI-2 is great stuff, in two systems where I compared it (more precisely, its big brother MI-3) to the Reality, the greater detail and three dimensionality award went to Reality.
In the micro-price sweepstakes, my money (or, rather lack of it) goes to Auricle Audio Design whose auction prices are still a gift. The unique Encore KA design is very light and flexible if you have really tight spaces between your components. Sold direct by Audiogon member Joemazzaglia
who even goes to the trouble of hand-crafting his own unique RCA jacks terminating the IC's.
There are excellent choices among all the recommendations you have received, so you can take the plunge with any of a number of high value products. My bias is to stay within the same family of wiring between components so that any great performance is not lost due to a weak link.
Fewer connections and fewer cables is a highly desirable goal. Doing anything you can to improve the source is the winning strategy. So on both counts you are on the right track.
You can currently get a wide range of excellent products used on Agon for your budget. They key to getting good value is to set up your system up with the shorter common lengths which everyone buys. As a rule of thumb you should be able to get any product for half of MSRP.
SDCampbell has given you an excellent list of places to start. The big advantage to buying these name brands is that everyone starts with them so there is a ready resale market if and when you choose to upgrade. Also the pricing tends to be competitive since there is a fair amount of product on the market at any given time - with the exception of the Siltech. In this perennial classics category you should also consider the Harmonic Technology Truthlink which is a nice warm cable.
I agree with Hdm that the plugs are critical - currently I am an Eichman fan - Here are two manufacturers that use them you might want to add to the list. First is VH Audio - the Pulsars are $170 for a 1m pair new.
Except for the TQ2 everything else listed so far is copper. Silver can be great - its all about execution. The common wisdom is that it will be brighter and can be tizzy (shrill, annoying, too much emphasis on the high end like cymbals). Others think that silver is best suited to tubes and that copper is best suited to solid state. I have been very happy with silver, as well as silver over copper and I have been less then impressed... As we say, YMMV - your mileage may vary.
Though less well known then VH or any of the others, I am very pleased with the RS Audio silver cables - especially for the price. Their base cable is $99 new for a 1m pair (www.rscables.com) and has Eichmanns, and their better cable, the Illumé is $149. They sometimes run auctions on AGon which is not a bad way to get a nice cable at a reasonable price - another brand that does this is Black Mountain Cable (BMC) which also delivers some nice product with Eichmans.
With RS Audio and BMC you need to take advantage of the home trial and send them back if you don't like them since they don't have a very strong resale market.
I will certainly second the recommendation for the Goertz MI2 assuming the big floppy cable works in your installation environment. It is a wonderful cable, just hard to do much with and very difficult to keep off the floor. I had a bi-wire pair and they are just wonderfully musical, nice detail, great air and neutral.
Though you will not find it used, I would not hesitate to purchase the Balanced Power Technologies SC-9L speaker cables - and any of their power products - I am a huge fan.
Finally - now that you have embarked on this slippery slope... you have not talked about power cables =) One really nice low cost piece is the Harmonic Tech AC11. I would get one of the entry level BPT boxes to plug everything into - will make a much bigger difference then you might expect.
I second the Vampire wire, especially since they have some of the best connectors available, although SD gave some great suggestions. I would simply throw Outlaw cables into the mix, they are also continuos cast copper at very reasonable prices.
I'll second the Auricle Audio ICs and Alpha Core speaker cables. I have heard the Audio Auricle Signature and Encore KA and find them to be very good at their price point. If you like transparency and detail these are excellent choices in your budget. They worked nicely between my DAC and preamp.
I have had the Alpha Core MI-2 cables for over a year now and they are a great bargain. I also use their jumber cables in place of the brass ones that came with my speakers. Excellent results from this cable.
Do yourself a favor and check out the factory direct products from Audio Art;especially there IC-3 interconnect.They had ads here on Audiogon but I do not know if they are still active ads.Believe me you will not be disappointed!!
I like the Transparent Cables. I have owned many different types of cables. I have Super bi cables and Reference IC, Reference Digital. Very happy. Yes over priced, butt huge upgrade in detail of music.
Two words: Kimber Hero... Happy Listening!
Thanks very much to everyone for your suggestions and help. Since I have a Naim CD5i as my source I also emailed them for their recommendations and asked if it would make a difference whether I used a DIN to RCA vice RCA to RCA. This was their resonse:
"The DIN connector features contacts with a smaller surface area than your typical RCA phono connector. As such, it provides better musical performance inasmuch as the impedance of the connector better matches the impedance of the interconnect cable."
I ran across a good deal on a couple of DIN to RCA IC's here on AG (Nordost Blue Heaven and Chord Cobra) so this helped me make a decision. A few of you recommended the Nordost BH and on the Naim forum many recommend the Chord IC's. The seller had both for a fair price so I picked them up. Figure I'll keep the one I like the best and put the other back on AG.
Anyhow this is my first step. This will be the IC from my source to pre-amp and for the time being I'll continue to use my Outlaw IC's from pre to power. I don't know how this mix match of cables is going to work, we'll have to see. If I really like one of these I'll probably buy another set of the same.
Speaker cables will have to come last, but I've just about decided I'm gong to give the Alpha-Core Goertz MI2 a try. I've been reading allot about cables since my original post and these seem to come up time and again. Look to be very similar to Nordost cables?
You guys have been very helpful and I really appreciate you taking the time to help me find the right cables. I'll you know how this first change turns out.
I just got the Audio art ic-1 cables and they are noticeably better than Monster M1000i/950i and the Outlaw PCA cables I have. Superb performance for the price.
I put the Nordost Blue Heaven and Chord Cobra cables through some serious testing this past week and the end result is that both are for sale on AG.
To my ears neither sounded as good in my system as the Outlaw's I was was using. I was really surprised at how different each cable sounded; a real eye opener.
None of these cables sounded bad, and all of them were actually quite good, but just different. It boils down to a matter of prefrence.
The Nordost was easily with most detailed of the group with better space around the instruments, but an overall leaner sound and a flatter soundstage then the Outlaws. The Bass was more refined, but not as extended. Actually, it was probably more accurate and in the bass region I'm not at all sure I didn't like the Nordost the best.
The Cobra actually sounded similar to the Outlaw except it was just too soft and I felt something was lacking. Would probably be a great interconnect in a bright system.
Anyhow, I put these two back up for sale and will continue on, but for now the Outlaw is my favorite. Just more musical, balanced and natural sounding. I should mention that I also have the Outlaw cables between my pre and power so maybe the synergy was better? If I had all Cobra or all Nordost might have been a different story, don't know.
A couple of you mentioned the Vampire IC's and looking at the reviews these actually look to be very similar to the Outlaw cables. Have any idea what the differences might be?
I also would like to try some cable using the Eichman connectors. These have sparked my interest and many of you seem to really like them. The outlaw has some really beefy locking connectors, but they're difficult to deal with. Any of you tried connecting the Eichman's to an existing pair of cables? Maybe try a set of these connectors on the Outlaws?
if you like a cbale which creates a very open and resolving presentation, try outlaw audio, continuous cast copper cable for $55.00.
if you prefer a bit less resolution but a balanced sound, try element cable, for under $100.00 . request bullet plug connectors and if possible, unshielded.
You guys are going to think I'm crazy and apparently your going to have to take my findings with a grain of salt.
I pulled the Nordost out of my system today preparing for a sale and put the Outlaws back in and found I had completely changed my mind about the Nordost. I guess at first I was used to the smooth sound of Outlaws and found the Nordost a bit hard, but after living with them for over a week I guess I have grown used to them and learned to appreciate just what they do.
Quite simply the realism was gone. The texture of the instruments and vocals now seem too soft and down right inaccurate with the Outlaws after living with the Nordost for awhile. Also, the bass just doesn't have the detail and accuracy.
I wasn't going to say anything for fear of looking like a total flake. But, I started this thread and used you folks time and recommendations so I felt I should follow through.
Embarassed, but keeping the Nordost. I've been converted in a big way. Now I'm going to the next step and will get a set of Blue Heaven's to go between my pre/power to see how that works out.
Still not sure I'm 100% through with my IC 's, but I've found a keeper speaker cable. Thanks much to those of you who recommended the Alfa Core Goertz M1-2's. Put them in my system this past week and am very pleased with the results.
I got a nearly unanamous recommendation on the Naim forum for the Chord Chameleon IC's. Five pin din to rca type. They feel this cable is a really good fit with Naim CDP's so I bought a set and put them in and they are very good indeed. Best I've had so far.
I bought a second set and put them between my pre and power and overall I'm very happy. However, I'm going to continue experimenting with the cable between my pre/power just to see if I find something that happens to work better. You know how it goes, I have to have something to tinker with/ :-)
I would still like to have my piano's and horns to have more weigh, but this also may require a differnt amp? What is your feelings on this?
Thanks again for your help.
Do yourself a favor and try the Audio Art IC-3's - for less than $100, and return option, you cant go wrong. Another option, that I am currently trying with some major disbelief at their unbelievable peformace/price ratio is the Mongami Neglex 2534, suggested to me by an A'gon member..........
Since you like the Alpha-Core Goertz MI-2 speaker cables, I suggest you try the TQ-2 silver interconnects that sdcampbell recommended. I have both of these cables in my system and have no desire to use anything else.
Please check out www.catcables.com Doug makes all cables to order. Very good value for the $$.
Jack, it really comes down to what suits your taste for sound in your system. Do you want warm velvet or accurate platinum. Copper/Silver combos are nice for a meeting of mind and spirit. Pure silver is great for Plutonion analysis and Flash Gordon speed, detail. Copper, warmth. You should start with Kimber Hero.All Kable starts right there, and many return after the merry go round. I use Acoustic Zen and Kimber.
Your rite on the money about the different sound of the different materials. This matches my experience. Fortunately I've finally found a combination that works in my system and my cable hunt is over until I change equipment again. I've settled with Chord Chrysalis IC's from CDP to Pre to Power and the Goertz MI2 speaker cable.
Finally nailed the sound I was looking for. Not sure if this is good or bad, now I'll just have to find some good websites that can turn me on to some new and interesting music.
Thanks everybody for you help and responses, I really appreciate it.
Now, if I can just save up for the Ushers. :-)
Acoustic zen Silver Reference II interconnects are great.
Transparent - removes electronic haze or veils and gives great resolution with timbral nuances, clarity and inner detail.