Review: Audio Art Cable IC-3 Interconnect
This is my first review here and I'm going to begin by addressing a few questions Audiogon specifically asks when you submit one. The cables I auditioned were LOANERS, not freebies. I listen to all different types of music, with emphasis on electronic, downtempo, trip-hop, ambient and IDM. I prefer vinyl--SACD sounds great, but like everybody else I have a hard time finding recordings I like in that format. Music I listened to for purposes of this review included Bowie's Let's Dance, Roxy Music's Avalon, Miles Davis' Round About Midnight and Steely Dan's Gaucho on SACD. Vinyl included Gaucho again, King Crimson's In the Wake of Poseidon, Are You an Axolotl? by Nautilis, and some 12" singles by Orbital. Countless redbook titles, including Autechre's Anvil Vapre and Garbage EPs, stuff from Proem, Loess, Monolake, Torch Song and Mandalay. I value dynamics, extension, PRAT, transparency and dimensionality in my listening, and I hate canned, flat sound. OK, on to the review.
I entered into this evaluation with a good bit of skepticism, as I’ve been through the interconnect shuffle for years and finally wound up with LAT Internationals IC-200D as my reference—for those who don’t know, LAT incorporates silver and copper into their design with a unique “fusing” process that, to my ears, achieves a nice balance between resolution and smoothness. Most of the interconnects I’ve auditioned (including stuff from Cardas, Nordost, Audio Magic, Wireworld, Silver Audio, Harmonic Tech, XLO, JPS Labs, Virtual Dynamics, the list goes on an on) do something extremely well, but with tradeoffs that make the proposition of relying on them entirely just unacceptable. I recognize that this is just the nature of the business—I’ve had to make similar tough decisions about what speakers and amps to use, and so forth. There may be “perfect” equipment out there that does everything right, or at least everything right enough to satisfy my tastes, but I haven’t found it yet. Part of the problem is undoubtedly the meager means I have to invest in this stuff. With unlimited cash, I’m sure I could easily find equipment I could live with, but so far, I haven’t won the lottery or been willed a large estate. Any trust-funders out there in need of an heir? Wanna take me on?
Anyway, I had dealt with Rob Fritz of Audio Art Cable several times here on the ‘Gon, in his capacity as a high-end dealer for Meadowlark and other brands. I bought some speakers and other equipment from him, but we have no ongoing business relationship--I'm just another customer. He contacted me out of the blue a few months ago and asked if I’d be interested in checking out his new cable line, the result of a special deal he’s set up with DH Labs. Actually, DH Labs’ cheapest cables were not far from the top of my list when another audio buddy turned me on to the LAT cables. I still think they offer great value for money, but the LAT cables took the resolution to another level, which I suppose they should, given the disparity in price. I told Rob sure, I’d have a listen, but afterwards I wondered if I’d be regretting the decision. I fully expected the Art Audio cables to be soundly drubbed by the LATs, and then to face the thankless task of informing my fellow audiophool that yes, I had auditioned the cables, but no, I couldn’t in all honesty recommend them over some of the other stuff that’s available (especially here on the ‘Gon, where wire prices routinely run around half of retail). Call me a pessimist, but hey, I’ve been around the cable carousel quite a few times in my years playing with high-end stuff.
When the interconnects first arrived, I heard exactly what I expected to hear. From the IC-3 (at $89/meter, the top of the line interconnect from AA), I heard the excellent treble resolution and anemic bass I so often hear from silver/copper hybrid designs. I also heard a piercing, metallic quality to the treble. Ugh. Onto the IC-1. This is an all-copper design that sounded superb right out of the box. Typical bass control from a copper cable, but with good midrange and treble resolution as well, very sophisticated-sounding. Rob is selling these things for $45/meter! This is a ridiculous deal, folks. My reference all-copper interconnect is Wireworld’s Polaris, which I’ve listened to extensively in comparison with LOADS of other stuff, and I actually prefer it to the more upscale Wireworld Eclipse. The IC-1 sounds every bit as good to my ears, for about a quarter of the cost, plus you don’t have to fiddle with those Wireworld RCA plugs, which sound great but are an ergonomic nightmare. Oh well, I thought, one out of two ain’t so bad, I guess. Pity about the IC-3.
I emailed Rob with the result of my findings and he suggested giving the IC-3 more time to break in. I figured sure, can’t hurt, but put the project on the back burner, convinced that they’d run in more than long enough to reveal their essential character. I left them hooked up to a second set of outputs on my DVD/SACD player, and an embarrassing length of time passed. Then one day, I went back to listen to the IC-3s again. Lordy lordy, what a change had come over these cables! The piercing quality of the treble was gone, but it remained highly extended and wonderfully detailed—clearly more so than my LATs. The bass was tight as a drum, no longer something that left me wishing my passive preamp had tone controls. Imaging was excellent. Best of all, the dynamics had improved dramatically. I still think the LAT is an excellent and widely underrated cable, but it sounds a bit compressed compared to the IC-3. With the Audio Art cable, the music came to life.
I experimented with different sources (mainly SACD and vinyl) and swapped cables a lot. My system consisted of a Sony 900V for SACDs and a Denon turntable with a Grace cartridge for vinyl. The interconnects ran between these components and a homebrew passive preamp built around a DACT attenuator by my buddy Stephen Sank. Audio Refinement’s excellent Multi-2 was the power amp and my current speakers are Dynaudio’s Audience 50s. Cables between the pre and power amps and speaker cables were from LAT. Not a megabuck system, indeed one of the more modest ones I’ve owned, but more than sufficient to let me hear the differences between cables.
One peculiar thing I noticed is that the differences in cables were less obvious, in this system, at higher volumes. The LATs seem to take on many of the finer characteristics of the AA cables when I really cranked it up. The AA cables retained their assets at high levels, but they sounded much better than the LATs at normal listening levels (which, for me, is pretty loud to begin with--depending on how much I'm enjoying the music!). This may have to do with impedance and resistance and all kinds of other technical stuff I don’t understand. All I know is, whether listening to analog or digital, I preferred to have the IC-3s connected. The system sounded more revealing with them, which is to say, it sounded less like a system and more like MUSIC.
Rob’s got a real winner on his hands here. I can’t emphasize enough how surprised I was by the results of this shootout. DH Labs is doing something right, that’s for sure—as I mentioned, they were in the large category of other manufacturers whose offerings lost out to the LAT cables in previous comparisons. I spent some time with their top of the line cable as well (the Revelation), and it left me cold. The only area where the Audio Art cables fall behind is in the cosmetic department. I’ve had prettier cables (and I still lust after the Nordost SPMs for this reason alone), but none that sounded better.
I know everything is system, room, and listener-dependent, so I fully expect this review to be taken with several grains of salt. Hey, it’s just my experience. But at the paltry asking price of these cables, you don’t have much to lose by trying ‘em.
Denon 45F turntable with Grace F9 cartrige
Highly modified NYAL Moscode Super It phono preamp
Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/SACD player
Creek OBH 14 DAC (for redbook)
Stephen Sank-designed two-input passive preamp built around a DACT stepped attenuator
Audio Refinement Multi-2 SS power amp (130 watts X 2)
Dynaudio Audience 50 bookshelf speakers, mounted on spikes to spiked, sand-filled cast iron stands
Speaker cables and interconnects by LAT international
PS Audio ultimate outlet
Quantum Symphony passive power conditioner
Power cables by LAT International, Signal Cable and Analysis Plus