Review: Intuitive Design Mosaic Chimera Reference Speaker cable

Category: Cables

First, let me state that this review of the Intuitive Design Mosaic Chimera Reference speaker cables is the first public review I have written. Second, I am in no way affiliated with Intuitive Design (ID), nor have I received any monetary or other compensation for this review. There are some reviews of ID cables and speakers here on Audiogon, all extremely positive, so I wanted to provide a review of these latest evolutionary speaker cables and let Audiogon members know about this expensive, but exceptional product.

When I was considering whether to post a review of these speaker cables, I wasn't certain how to go about it. I mean, what can be more mundane than reviewing cables? Every system has cables, and frankly, there has been an explosion in the number of audio cables in the past few years. I am old enough to remember when the only speaker cables available were those simple, vinyl-insulated cables that resembled lamp cord and worked no better than that. If my memory serves (I have a photographic memory but it hasn't developed yet), the first "audiophile" cable I saw was a Monster Cable set that merely was composed of a thicker gauge wire. I was also surprised to find that cables did, indeed, make a sonic difference. Now, in 2007, there are hundreds of cable manufacturers promising everything under the sun as a marketing ploy to distinguish their product offering of what is really a simple product. Com'on, a cable is just a set of wires insulated by some non-conductive jacket and terminated in some type of connectors, right? So cable manufacturers tout different wire configurations and materials, varying jacket materials, and conductor types. Some cables are priced at $2 per foot and others at $2000 per foot. But when it really gets down to the nitty gritty, all cables are pretty much the same, no? I can tell you that I have had Circuit City specials in my system and I have had speaker cables that cost $20,000 for an 8 foot pair, with many costing in between. Have I found sonic differences between cables? The answer to that question, is, obviously, yes. But it seemed that every time I tried a new cable I found the differences significant, but relatively minor as compared to changes in speakers or electronics. And it seemed that I took a monetary bath every time I bought and sold them. Maybe I am no good in negotiating in buying and selling cables. However, it was my experience that trying cables was an expensive exercise in chasing relatively small differences in tonal balance of my system. Usually I found one cable had more bass, or the midrange was fuller, or highs were enhanced, or the soundstage depth improved. So I thought I had reached the end of the line when I strung my system together with NBS Black Label cables that cost $20K for speaker cables, $10K for interconnects, and $5K for power cords. And don't get me wrong, NBS Black Label cables are terrific cables with the best bass I had heard, a smooth and full midrange, and a big soundstage. I thought they trumped previous Monster Cable, Straightwire, Transparent, and FMS cables I previously had in my system. So when a friend of mine, a friend of Dale Pitcher, the previous owner of the Essence power amp and preamp I currently own, and now owner of Intuitive Design, raved about some newfangled cables incorporating carbon nanotubes, I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Having also previously owned some Essence Super Gem speakers for many years, I wanted to see if these new carbon nanotube cables were as good as Mr. Pitcher's other designs, although I was not keen about trying more cables.

Well, what are carbon nanotubes? If you do a Google search, you will find that they are microscopic carbon structures chemically linked into 3-dimensional arrays that look like geodesic domes. This is why they are also referred to as Buckminsterfullerenes and Bucky Balls, named after the geodesic dome structures designed by architect Buckminster Fuller. It can also be learned that these carbon nanotubes are not merely carbon fibers like those used in athletic equipment and other audio equipment, but have unique electronic characteristics. They can be designed to act as semiconductors, conductors, or semi-superconductors. The transmission of electrons can be controlled so as to reduce stray electrons--exactly how I don't understand, but you can imagine that if you can change the transmission of electrons, you could also change the sound. I originally received some pairs of Intuitive Design Mosaic Chimera interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords similar or identical to those reviewed by mdhoover here in Audiogon. I will refer you to that review and state that I agree completely with the review. And honestly, when I first received these $2000/pair cables, I wasn't that impressed, thinking that they looked like something from Radio Shack. They were thin, flexible, almost toyish compared to the stiff, heavy, garden hose- sized NBS cables. But they, at least in my system, were a complete revelation and I bought enough cables to replace all the NBS Black Label cables I had. So when I found out that ID was offering a newer, improved Chimera Reference speaker cable for $8000/pair, I bought a pair and replaced the standard Chimera speaker cables.

You can see from the photos taken by mdhoover on his ID Mosaic Chimera cable review of the standard cables and comparing them to my accompanying photo of the Reference versions, there are 2 main differences. First, the standard cables have a single run to each speaker, while the Reference have separate runs for the positive and negative leads. Second, the wooden carbon nanotube blocks have been replaced by some cylindrical, gold-anodized tubes containing the little carbon critters. The cables themselves are identical, although Dale Pitcher says there are some other proprietary tricks contained within the cables. He wouldn't tell me his tricks, of course, knowing full well that if he told me I would probably blab it to others.

OK, on to the music. I listened to a variety of well-recorded rock and jazz LP's, ones with which I am quite familiar. I hope you don't think I am normally taken to hyperbole when I write that these cables are a new revelation in every sonic characteristic I can think of. But they are. Even over the standard Chimera speaker cables. I don't know what Mr. Pitcher has done here, but whatever it is, I think carbon nanotube cables are the way of the future. Changing to these cables was like changing a major component, nothing of the sort I had previously experienced, except, perhaps, when changing from conventional cables to the carbon nanotube variety. I played music that I had heard hundreds of times, like Steely Dan, Coleman Hawkins, Jethro Tull, Jazz at the Pawnshop, Miles Davis, and so on. It was like, as the tired old cliche goes, sitting on a soundstage and being able to reach out and touch the musicians. The sense of space and presence was uncanny. Dynamics startled me, such as when Donald Fagen's Security Joan (I love this song on Morph the Cat that relates the travails of our current miserable airport experiences) begins. Bass, let me tell you about the bass. For the first time, I was aware of great bass drum whomps on Bad Company's first LP, not exactly a reference recording. It was easy to distinguish the bass drum from bass guitar, which thrummed as it does in real life. Highs were pristine on Jazz at the Pawnshop, as I could hear the drummer tapping on a brass cymbal, not actuating cans of spray mist. The midrange was full and instruments and voices had more body and were more 3-dimensional. It was really easy to hear on Steely Dan's Aja that they used a Fender Rhodes piano on many of the cuts, where before the melody was made by some generic instrument. One thing I have always liked about Wilson speakers is their soundstage focus, and these cables brought them to a new level. I could hear the saxophone in one corner, the string bass in another, the bass drum in the middle, and the vocals up front. The soundstage was huge and enveloping. I had great fun discovering all sorts of new things about my record collection. Even digital sounded good, ahem.

So should you get these cables? Certainly, they are expensive--$8K for a pair of speaker cables is a lot of scratch. But I have heard the future with Intuitive Design's Mosaic Chimera Reference speaker cables and their high-tech carbon nanotube technology. And you should too. If you cannot afford them, brush off your resume and get a second job. I hear the fringe benefits at Domino's are pretty good.

Roger Lawry

Associated gear
Essence Emerald II Stero Power Amp
Essence Jasper Reference Preamp
Aesthetix Rhea Phono Preamp
Wilson Watt/Puppy 7 Speakers
JL Audio F113 Subwoofer
SME 20/2A Turntable
Graham Phantom Tonearm
Audioquest AQ7000Fe5 MC Cartridge
Musical Fidelity A324 D/A Converter
Pioneer Elite PD-91 CD Transport
Intuitive Design Chimera Interconnects
Intuitive Design Chimera Reference Power Cords

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Hi Roger,

As I mentioned in my review of the standard Chimera speaker cables, after adding these speaker cables to my system, the detail from my mains became comparable to that of the Stax Lambda Signature headphone system that I owned, with the SRM T1 tube energizer unit (headphone amp). However, I felt that the Stax system was sonically inferior to the mains, and have since sold the entire headphone setup. The contribution of just the standard Chimeras to my system was that significant. The reference version of the Chimeras must be just phenomenal.
I had meant to update mdhoover's review but since this one is more recent I'll do it here. I too tried the Chimera cables. Dale first sent me the standard Chimera speaker cables that I was very impressed with. Then he sent me two power cords (one had the gold tube like the reference Chimera speaker cables) and two pairs of interconnects. As I added each to my system the sound became more refined and detailed, yet also maintained a high level of musicality. I certainly didn't suffer from a lack of toe tapping as I listened.

I ended up keeping the speaker cables and interconnects. Dale threw in a set of speaker jumpers for me as well. In the future I'll work on getting the power cords. The speaker cables replaced a pair of CRL Silver (formerly FIM) cables designed by Paul Weitzel which had been in my system for a while. They also beat out a pair of RSAD Alethias Cu cables, which in their own right are quite excellent (ironically Dale and Robert from RSAD met up at RMAF as they both design speakers whose cabinets are made from granite). The interconnects replaced the highly touted (and rightfully so) Gabriel Gold Revelation.

I also plan on visiting Dale at the campus in late November to hear his speaker designs. I had intended to do this at RMAF but a cross country move got in the way.