Review: Acoustic Zen Absolute Interconnect

Category: Cables

I was looking forward to audtioning Robert Lee's new highest reference Acoustic Zen interconnects & speaker wires which he calls the Absolute. They represent his latest thinking regarding the state of the art in his house of wires. About two years ago I had gone through a lengthy audtion process, which included five highly regarded sets of wires from well known companies, untill I decided to replace all my wires with AZ Silver reference II & Matrix reference II and Satori speaker wire. I'm a great fan of AZ for two major reasons;1) They offer great "bang for the buck" out standing performance for the cost ratio.2) They have,for me, a wonderful combination of tight/powerful bass,great details,transparency,dynamics,natural timbres, along with being musical and a smooth "sense" of ease. The process of audtioning the Absolute began with inserting a Absolute interconnect between my DAC and PRE-AMP along with putting the Absolute speaker wire in. Since I bi-amp there are four sets of interconnects so I put the Absolute interconnect at the front of the system. Well, it turned out to be a very gratifying experience! It not only tremendously improved the above stated virtues but added the following;1) A giant soundstage with excellent layering of players in a sense of real space.2)A sriking sense of air/three-dimensionality around everyone in the soundstage.3)Much improved/natural timbres.4)The new cables added that wonderful "organic/musicality" that I think we all strive for in our systems. It strongly reminded me of the experience I had when I audtioned my Pass Labs-350.5 to my then current amp an Edge NL-10. The Edge, which is still a great amp with many reference level characteristics, just kinda sounded sterile compared with the musicality of the 350.5. I know thats a very subjective way of explaining my experience, but its hard to use objective language at times to explain why a component just sounds more like the experience of real music. These wires are not inexpensive(2000.00 for the interconnects and 2800.00 for the speakers wires) but offer so much without any apparent shoutcomings that I think they are very fairly priced and compete with many reference level wires at a much lower price.So I think Mr. Lee has done it again, great sound at a reasonable price! As a final note I want to mention, even though we all know it all ready, that important factor of system matching and synergy long with your personnal taste make home audtioning a must for us serious audiophiles! I highly recommend you try these wires out if your a fan of AZ or looking to upgrade you wires in your sytem.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System
TJ, do you have any feelings about how the AZ Absolute may compare with the similarly priced AudioQuest Sky?
Guidocorona, when I did my original lengthy audtion of different wires a couple a years ago, AudioQuest was one of the flavors I did listen to. I do not remember which specific cable I tried, it was towards the high end of their line, but found it to be ok at best. So I'm not a fan,however I know the Sky cables have gotten very good reviews recently, so maybe they greatly improved compared with what I heard a couple of years back. I don't know if this really helps you out but its the best I can do.
I, too, am I big fan of AZ. I am currently AZ all around, Silver Ref IIs, Holograms & El Ninos power cords (if you want to talk bang for the buck the Le Nino Power cords maybe the single most impressive value I have ever purchased) I am a reviewer at Postitive Feedback maybe I can get Robert to sent me a review set...

Thanks for the heads up!
I too, recently replaced my Kimber Select 3035, on the top and bottom, of a biwire speaker, with the Acoustic Zen Shotgun, top of the line cable. It is nothing short of remarkable. Clearer in the mid's and highs, and better in the bass, relative to the Kimber, (that is on my system), and admittedly all systems have different reactions to cables.
The Acoustic Zen is what was used with the $150K Von Schweikerts at the 2004 Live versus Recorded comparison with five other manufacturers, in a consortium put together in a ballroom, so everyone could display together.
We had Chris Huston, recording Misty River, each night, playing back for comparison's sake, live versus recorded.
Robert really does a great job.
How could you folks have been such fans of AZ if the sound of their previous
cables was so inferior to these? These cannot sound so much better than the
previous ones without the previous sounding the same measure worse, right?
What do you suppose AZ could have done to the new cables to make them
sound so much better? What was the big breakthrough?
TJ, the Acoustic Zen site indicates the Absolute cables to be made from a Silver Copper Hybrid. Does this mean that some strands are made from copper and others from silver, or that copper strands are silver coated, or that a Silver/Copper alloy is employed?
Rsbeck, I think you took my comments out of context in my review. What I would call the house sound of Acoustic Zen cables in general is very musical and yet detailed etc.,so the Absolute cables are an evolution towards the standard of real music. They take what the original AZ cables provided to a higher level plus adding that sense of organic/musicality that gives a sense of ease and flow that real music seems to have. So the original AZ cables are still pretty damn good,not inferior,but the new Absolute cables are just that much better. As far as your question about what Robert Lee did from a technological prespective to get these improvements I don't have that type of expertise, but I believe if you call AZ and ask Robert what he did he would share this information with you. He's really a great gentleman and fun to talk to.
Guidocorona, that's a great question which I cannot answer.In my response to Resbeck,I shared I don't have that type of technique information but that being the type of gentleman that Mr.Lee is, he has always taken the time to talk to me on the phone and answer any questions I have had in the past and I'm sure he would do the same for you. He's really a pleasure to talk to. I was told he will back at his office this coming monday, why don't you give him a call and see what he says and be nice enough to share what you found out after talking with him.
>>plus adding that sense of organic/musicality that gives a sense of ease
and flow that real music seems to have.<<

Okay, so if this is true, and if this cable indeed added that sense of organic/
musicality, it must not have been present in the original cable, right? Do you
suppose this is a problem with the rest of your components, or was this just a
problem with the previous cables? I'm also curious, how do you suppose the
new cable adds that sense of organic/musicality? Aren't you curious about
that? Didn't you ask the manufacturer?

>>but the new Absolute cables are just that much better.<<

This doesn't add up. For one to be "that much better," the other
has to be, "that much worse." What do you suppose was wrong
with the original cables, or why do you suppose your system was lacking this
quality without these new cables?
Wow Rsbeck, it seems to me you want to pin me in an either/or position on the older AZ cables in comparsion with the new Absolute wires. Either there was something wrong with the previous AZ cables or the Absolute wires are qualitatively different. That type of logic excludes gradients and degrees of change or improvement. I prefer sometimes/and as a logical position. In this case the new Absolute cable takes the virtues of the older AZ to a higher degree and adds new wonderful characteristics to the sonics. So the older AZ cables did not have to be inferior for the new Absolute reference to sound better. Finally, I hope I'm not getting defensive but if you take a look at my total system it has pretty good pieces from the digital front end all the way through to the speakers. So I don't think there was anything lacking in the overall sound of my system,to be quite honest its one of the best home systems I have ever heard,but the Absolute brought the total sound to even a higher level.One last note,I am curious about what Mr.Lee did on the mechanical level to produce these new great cables,but first only care about finding out about their sound signiture to see if I like them and later on about inquiring about the specifics of the technology.
>>if you take a look at my total system it has pretty good pieces from the
digital front end all the way through to the speakers.<<

Yes, I see that. This is why I am surprised to find that you needed new cables
in order to "add that sense of organic/musicality." Seems to me
that your system should have already had that. So, if the new cables were
needed in order to "add that sense of organic/musicality," it only
seems logical that -- if this is all true -- your old cables must have been
robbing your system of its inherent organic/musicality. If the new cable
makes the system "that much better," and if there is no problem
with the other components, the problem must have been with the old cable.

>>I am curious about what Mr.Lee did on the mechanical level to produce
these new great cables<<

What do you think he *could* do to make the original cables so much better?
You say you talk to Mr. Lee -- you never asked him what causes the new
cables to add that sense of organic/musicality the previous cables lacked?
Rsbeck, I find it hard to believe,sharing this with respect to you, why you would find it so hard to accept that even if you have a system that already functions at a reference level of resolution that it can be brought to even a higher level with better cabling. We all know that cables are another important piece of equipment that allows a well put together system to really shine and move towards the reference of real music. You also are implying that the Absolute cables are another generation or upgrade of the original Silver&MatrixII reference cables. The Absolute is a totally new design, even though I'm pretty sure that Robert Lee took what he had learned designing the other series of cables as a launchpad for his new higher reference level design. If your really a good skeptic,and not just closed minded,don't take my word for how good the Absolute cable is, but audtion in your system and make up your own mind. I do believe that I stated in the review that with any cables a home audtion is one of few "MUSTS" in life.The last time I talked to Mr.Lee was only regarding when he was coming out with the Absolute wires,not technological explanations of the cables. I do know he would more than happy to discuss this with you if your that interested in those aspects regarding his new reference level cables.One more time improvement doesnot have to be an either/or but a refinement of what already is plus new attributes that take us closer to the reference of live music.
TJ, good idea. I will call Robert early next week and will post my findings. Looking at the converse implications of rsbeck's observations, I find it rather wonderful and exciting how there seems to be no apparent limit on the amount of improvements and optimization we can make to the sound of our systems. Does this not make this hobby one of the most exciting? Perhaps this is the only field where such thing as 'better than perfect' truly perceivably exists!
>>even if you have a system that already functions at a reference level of
resolution that it can be brought to even a higher level with better cabling.<<

You're avoiding the issue you raised in your review. If the new cables are
indeed "that much better" than the old cables, the old cables are
therefore the same measure inferior to the new cables. If the new cables
were needed to "add that sense of organic/musicality" then the system lacked
this sense with the old cables. If there isn't any technological
breakthrough, then there isn't any particular reason for the new cables to
sound "that much better." This is just logical.

You posted a review -- you had to expect these issues to arise.

>>I do know he would more than happy to discuss this with you<<

I went to Acoustic Zen's web-site and looked at their "
technological" articles. They are a maze of misleading advertising,
bogus claims, misapplied and pseudo-scientific gobbledygook.
Rsbeck, have you eaten hot chiles today? Relax, this hobby can be fun!
Guido -- wow -- do I sound like I've eaten hot chiles? I don't feel that way. This is one of those cases where the proper emoticon might help. I feel bemused. I'm all about fun, bay-bay! I was just curious, but I can see we are going around in circles on these questions and that isn't productive. I am truly happy when anyone finds a piece of gear that fills a missing piece of the puzzle. That probably hasn't come across. Enjoy your cables, guys!
Rspeck, you stated, (I'll probably regret opening this door)
"I went to Acoustic Zen's web-site and looked at their
'technological'" articles. They are a maze of misleading advertising, bogus claims, misapplied and pseudo-scientific gobbledygook."
I am sure that Robert Lee, and his employees, and their families, whose livlihoods depend on the sale of their products, will be pleased to find out your appraisal of his work, or at least your description of his work.
Just wondering, other than the usual marketing hype which all companies employ to get the attention of potential buyers, what parts are, the 'misapplied....and so on" are you referring to.
Having compared this personally to Kimber Select, 3035 and prefering it I am surprised someone would be so vitriolic.
Returning to the subject matter, I called Robert Lee and asked him about the metallurgy of the Absolute wires.
The Silver-Copper Hybrid wires have mixed strands of Silver and Copper. More specifically, 96% of the strands are made from Silver, and 4% of strands are made from Copper.
The function of the Copper strands is to enhance the reproduction of the resonance from the 'wood' of many instruments, such as violins, cellos, violas, string basses, Pianos etc. . .
Enhancement to the reproduction of the resonance of 'wood' is a theme also very dear to Emmanuel Go of First Sound when discussing the characteristics of premium models of his pre line, Such as the Paramount SE, which is equipped with Copper capacitors.
Guidocorona,thanks for sharing the information regarding the type of metal used in the Absolute cables. I also talked to Robert Lee early today and he also shared he went from a teflon to an "air" foam material to insulate the cables. I'm no engineer so I don't quite understand the importance of this change,Mr. Lee said it took about a year to find the right material to use,but I do know the cables sound great.I hope you will audtion them and tell us what you think.
TJ, the Absolute costs approximately 2.5 times the price of the Silver II. I forgot to ask Robert what accounts for the price difference. As far as you know, is there more than the hybrid Copper/Silver strands and the insulating material as the difference between the two lines?
Guidocorona,the way Mr.Lee made it sound to me was the major expense was the new and different dialectic/insulation materials he uses in the Absolute cable. He did not mention anything regarding the metals used in the cables when explaining the higher cost but definitely talked about the much higher cost of the insulating materials. I have always had the impression that as designer,Robert Lee, builds his cables to a high level of quality but doesnot add cost to his cables just to increase profit by using esoteric/expensive materials. So, if he uses a more expensive type of material its the only way to get the sound/improvement he is seeking in his process of improving his sonic reference.I want to be clear I'm not saying the Absolute cables are the "best" in the world.I can state there the best I tried in my system and are highly competitive with much more expensive cables on the market.
>>Having compared this personally to Kimber Select, 3035 and prefering it I
am surprised someone would be so vitriolic.<<

What does your comparison have to do with the the stuff that is on the web-
site? Look what you wrote ---

>>other than the usual marketing hype<<

That's like saying, "other than the water, what else was wet?"

What's the difference between "usual marketing hype" which most people
would accept to mean usual half-truths and false promises -- and what I
wrote? Yeah -- other than the half-truths and false promises -- the stuff
that ISN'T full of half-truths and false promises isn't so bad, but I have a hard
time seeing the consolation in that. Also, if I'd written that the technological
paper was full of typical marketing hype, I don't see how that is any less
"vitriolic" and that's using your characterization.

In the final analysis, whether or not one wishes to call Mr. Lee to hear more of
that depends on one's tolerance for marketing hype passed off as science.

Don't get me wrong. To me, it read something like comedy.

So, like I wrote before -- I am simply bemused.

On the other hand, given my reaction to this type of marketing hype, I don't
think it would be polite to call Mr. Lee on the phone and let him tell me this
stuff in person because I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face. Or voice.
Rsbeck,I hope that Lrsky has no regret posting what he did to give you a chance to get back on this thread. Even though your personnal veiwpoint about AZ's website has nothing to directly to do with what this discussion is all about,if it gives you pleasure{bemusement} I'm happy that we gave you something to brighten up your life. It seems that you have no direct experience either with Mr.Lee or his products but what the heck,little things like facts or objective information should not enter a conversation like this.Just your veiwpoint based on your desire to have a little fun even if that means being nasty towards someone you have never met or talked to {Robert Lee}.All your posts on at least this thread remind me of the old saying,"better to be thought a fool than open one's mouth and prove it". So before you respond to defend your honor,I will state I will not answer back to your response in order not to reinforce your type of "fun" anymore. It's obvious all you want to do is to be negative and nitpick what ever anybody else believes anyways. You have the right to be wrong and have your bemusement all at the same time,lucky you!
The chronology is this --

I asked you about the scientific breakthrough that could possibly make these
cables sound "that much better" than and "add that sense of
organic/musicality" where your previous AZ cables had failed.

You told me you had no idea and never even bothered to inquire.

Then, you invited me to call Mr. Lee to get the answer myself.

I went to the web-site and read the "technical papers."

I reported what I found. This was to explain why I will not be calling Mr. Lee.

Anecdotal cable testimonials are *not* facts.

Yours is a subjective testimonial and I guess the idea is that people can post
testimonials and no one is supposed to question them, but that hardly seems
like the proper use of a forum like this, IMO.

If I wrote in and said I put a set of coat hangers between my amplifiers and
speakers and it sounds better than Nordost Valhallas, I think someone would
question my review.

I questioned what your original cables lacked if new ones were needed to
"add that sense of organic/muscality."

Your answer wasn't exactly logical.

The technical papers were loaded with what Lrsky, a Lee fan, calls "
marketing hype."

I'm happy to use that term.

So, let's use Lrsky's non-vitriolic term and say I won't be calling Mr. Lee to
hear more of his "marketing hype."

Once again, I will attempt to leave this thread by saying forget everything else
-- I am happy these cables are giving you and others so much enjoyment.

I think we should just leave it at that.

Happy listening.

Rsbeck, ignoring the import of any capsaicin-bearing fruits and copper sulfate pentahydrate, or other such corrosives, I can see a few different issues in this discussion:
1. Improving over 'perfection'. This is rather unique to audiophilia. When I was a lad in 1967 I was positive that perfect sound was yielded by my father's Braun 30W RMS amp and bookshelf speakers of the same make. Since then I have owned several systems, each 'more perfect' than the preceeding one. So often flaws in sound can be discovered only in hindsight.
2. I have the impression that so many times the audible virtues of an interconnect or other component -- even when real -- exist for reasons other than those advertised by the manufacturer. This may be at times caused by simple marketing hype, or more often by the fact that even engineers may not yet fully understand the obscure physics behind their designs,
and may be masking their successful artistic achievements in technical sounding language. Doesn't this remind you of the alchemists of old?
3. I confess that, Given my limited information about the apparently small metallurgical and manufacturing differences between the Acoustic Zen Silver II and Absolute lines, I can not explain the 2.5X price difference. Robert Lee seemed to indicate that things such as sound stage should be consistent between the two lines, and the only perceivable difference is expected to be a subtle greater realism in the overall sound. If I have the opportunity of auditioning these two wires I might be able to decide for myself if the price difference is justified, in the meantime I can only thank TJ for sharing his personal insight and experience in the matter.
Guidocorona,it was my pleasure to share my postive experience with the new AZ cables.Even though their more expensive than the Silver Reference II's they made enough of a sonic difference in my system that it would be hard to go back to my old reference point. I have another post called "the law of diminishing returns" that addresses the topic of what one spends to get real sonic improvements at higher costs for smaller incremenents of improvement.Still,the Absolute interconnect/speaker wire are giving me a higher level of listening pleasure on a daily basis,so the higher cost was worth it to me.I have tried much more expensive wires and did not enjoy them at all,so we all know more $ doesnot always mean better sound by any means.
>>So often flaws in sound can be discovered only in hindsight.<<

I have no problem with this concept. I just find it curious when I see a cable
review where a cable is deemed to be "that much better" than a
previous one, yet the poster rises to the defense of his old cable and
professes that it is not inferior in any way to the new one. If one suspects, as
I do, that there is some magical thinking involved in some of these cable
testimonials, this is the type of thing that feeds this suspicion. Go to the
manufacturer's web site and find marketing hype in something that is
supposed to be a "technical paper" and now you've got a two
course meal.

>>I have the impression that so many times the audible virtues of an
interconnect or other component -- even when real -- exist for reasons other
than those advertised by the manufacturer.<<

Even when real? I gather you are saying that many times these "
virtues" are not "real."

>>even engineers may not yet fully understand the obscure physics behind
their designs,<<

Let's not forget the possibility of a placebo effect.

If you read Lee's "technical paper," he admits that the physics are not obscure
-- strip away the marketing hype and his cable designs are based on good
old inductance, capacitance, and resistance. Only problem -- he starts from
these facts, then goes on to the "marketing hype" and neglects to publish any
data or back-up. I question publishing such a thing and calling it a "technical
paper." Further, no cable designer would buy wire without knowing these
measurements, yet Lee provides no back up for his prospective customers.
He depends on a customer base that will not investigate and has no interest
in the science. Lo and behold, I ask one of his customers about the science
behind the cable and he admits he made no inquiry whatsoever.

>>Doesn't this remind you of the alchemists of old?<<

Yes. The alchemists claimed they could turn lead into gold. Cable
manufacturers claim they take a few dollars worth of material and turn it into
$2,500 speaker cables. Lee makes claims about his "metalurgy," but even he
doesn't have the cheek to actually suggest that he is doing metalurgy in his
plant. I would guess this is because they are really just cable assemblers.
They buy the wire from the small collection of companies that manufacture
this stuff, they put it together and wrap it in a sheath. Something has been
obscured, but it isn't physics.

>>I can only thank TJ for sharing his personal insight and experience in the

Me, too. He provided the basis for a lively discussion.

Rsbeck, I would say that yes, in at least some (or sadly many?) cases, the advertised virtues of some component or device may not be real. In this I am making no pre-judgement about the particular device discussed here. But when I go to a dealer, audition a system, swap in a vaunted component, with a pedigree a mile long, and start scratching my head in perplexity about unrealized expectations, most invariably the consultant states that: "this component is oh so good that I have to go through a long mental-breakin-period to 'learn' to like it, and eventually to adore and worship the very ground where it rests!"
Isn't this a failure of a marketing-induced 'placebo effect' of some sort? [chuckle]
For some reasons, cable manufacturers web sites are particularly prone to pyndaric flights of quasi-lyrical techno-fancy., AZ not being the most audacious of the lot by any stretch of the imagination. At least it does not make claims of proprietary metallurgic processes which fly against principles of basic physical chemistry, as I have very recently learned from at least one even more highly pedigreed brand. But that's for another topic, and perhaps for another thread.
Thanks for the review Teajay. I am a fan of Acoustic Zen cables. I had the Silver Reference II in my system as my reference for most of a year. I am also a big Audioquest fan and replaced my AZ Silver Ref II with the Audioquest Sky. If I get the chance to audition the Absolute in the future I would love to. Thanks again for your opinions of the cable in your system.
Nicksgem10s, how would you characterize the audible difference between AZ Silver Ref 2 and Audioquest Sky? Thanks, Guido
I am not going to bore you with descriptive audiophile terms, only can tell you I heard an immediate improvement in bass as well as high frequencies. The highs are a little smoother than with the AZ Silver Ref 2. I still really like AZ products. The Audioquest Sky just has great synergy in my system. It is the best sounding interconnect I have had in my system so far. Hope this helps.
Just to add my 2 cents about Acoustic zen absolute cables, and cables in general. I think that all of the previous posters here had gone a long (or short) way to improve or let say making sound right his (her) system trying various cables. Personally I tried, used and changed at least seven or eight different brands of cables, from the middle to the top end of the production. The acoustic zen cables were the last and most impressive of all. The only other cables that I remind in a positive way were the Cardas golden cross balanced and (still in use in HT system) PS audio X stream statement power cable. Now I'm asking myself if it was worth to spend so much for the Absolute and Gargantua power cables and the answer is ABSOLUTEly yes. Is it worth to spend so much on the Absolute balanced interconnection? YES! This cables are really from another Planet as the absolute Power cables. Now, having switched from Krakatoa PC and Silver Reference interconnect a question arises, are this cables really so bad, or is the Absolute a non explanable wodoo. Not a simple answer, and because of this so many posters loose some time and nerves, trying to explain in words things that can not been explained. Personally I think that the Absolute are a culmination of the work (art) of Mr. Lee and that looking at this in a price/performance comparison could be described in this simple example: Acoustic zen silver reference Vs Nordost Valhalla. The winner in my personal system is Acoustic zen. Acoustic zen Absolute vs ?. Simply there is nothing like the Absolute on the market today. For the non belivers, please try for yourself as I did and share your thinking with us , the belivers.
Not one mention of stealth indra's on this thread. I'm very surprised. I haven't heard the AZ absolute IC's but I have stopped looking since I heard the Indra's. I am now looking for speaker cables and am inclined to try the Stealths. By the way I agree with everyone on the varidig sextet.
Posbwp,,, that's because this is a review section of a particular product... not a discussion thread which goes in the discussion forum section.