Review: Transparent Audio MM2 tech on Ultra IC Interconnect

Category: Cables

Review Transparent Audio MM2 balanced interconnect, model : Ultra
A comparison to the orig mm tech with:
Ultra orig. mm tech
Ref orig mm tech
Ref XL orig mm tech

NOTE I refer to the original (pre 2008) mm tech as mm1: mm2 = mm2 (2008)

a/b/c/d was done with the position of the IC btwn the source and preamp.
Approx 18 hours of listening over 3 days

the ultra mm2 was fairly new, about 40 hours run in before the audition. Perhaps not enough run in time. All other cables + components are fully run in.

baseline : all TA ref + mm1 SC + IC's

listening session I : approx 3 hours uninterrupted with each individual IC on the source. Notes taken, volume numbers matched for every work on the listening list.

Listening session 2 : 30 - 45 min with each IC, in this sequence
Ref mm1 / ref XL mm1/ ultra mm2 / Ref mm1 / ultra mm2 / ref XL mm1 // ultra mm1 / ultra mm2

Listening session 3: quick swap out : 10 minutes each :
ref mm1/ ultra mm2 / ref xl mm1

I firstly listened at length across a variety of classical music with each of the 4 ICs on the source, taking notes on a variety of qualities in general, occasionally noting specific places in each work where closer focus on short sections [5-20 seconds] and specific evens ( timpani , drum rolls, pizz, instrumental attacks, decays of sustained chords from keyboards, orchestral chord voicing)

After the first round of long session auditions, it seemed clear IMO that the TA ref mm1 presents sound and music as if it were the bigger brother of the ultra mm1. it does everything better overall, ie more open, greater top and much greater bottom extension, more clarity, greater dynamic speed, better timbrel distinction, tighter bass and midrange, cleaner transients, reduction of stridency or glare on some performances {vegh, string quartet ) etc than the ultra mm1. (both ultra mm1 and ref mm1 share the fact the their networds are not specific to use with ss or tubes)

The Ref XL mm1, (networks are adjusted specifically for ss or tube) certainly improves upon the ref mm1, but does not present as if were a big brother of the ref mm1. The ref XL mm1 is in another league altogether in terms of how sound is presented. The leap to greater nuance significantly impacts a fuller, fleshed out embrace of the musicality of the performance, allowing interpretation to flow as a sum of sonic parts. control of micro dynamics, layered textures (in multi-part performances as well as some piano works) , and subtle tone color shifts that simply were not heard with the ref mm1 are easily enjoyed as part of a seemless and cohesive musical experience. I was a bit taken aback by the greater tactile presence of the performances as well as the performance space ambiance, vastly greater fluid sweep from top to bottom, as well as the easy manner in which MIRCRO DETAIL is revealed but not obtrusively highlighted or analytical. On rare occassion, there is some brightness, glare, or stridency that I can associate with some recordings, some performers, some London and Russian orchestras (violins in particular ), and for fairness sake, the tweeter in the w/p 8. The ref XL mm1 brought under control for some recordings and completely eliminated it in many. Sibilance in leider was nicely presented, quite natural, whereas the refmm1 has some issues with over emphais or spread. ( i will audition other PCs for the cdp and preamp in the future)

By micro detail, here are some examples:

I had a clear sense of speed and pressure of the mutter’s bow in her interpretation of the lengthy opening passage of the sibelius violin concerto, Most clearly on long notes, especially on the g and e strings, the changes of tone color and micro dynamic were clearly heard. Timbral shifts when the bow moves closer to the bridge or over the fingerboard came across well. Gruffness, biting attacks, and scratchiness when pitch drops out during diminuendos to silence were all more distinctive . I never heard these characteristics so viscerally presented on the ref mm1 or ultra mm1 ICs

Another example: the rapid drum fire that identically opens both the 2nd and 3rd scenes of petrushka have very distinct timbral clarity and , surprisingly, are different in the balance of high and low pitch ( lower and upper partials) overall with the ref xl mm1. subtle yes , but distinctively different. The percussionist is simply not hitting the drum in the exact same position on the drum head, or the room is at a different temp, or the drum was moved between recordings of the movements, or the mic was repositioned, etc. none of the reasons matter per se. However, listen to the opening 5 seconds of mov 2, then skip to the next track (mov 3). With the ref XL mm1 (vs the ref mm1) the character of each drum beat is not identical .no surprise. we are human. The amazing thing is, with this greater transparency via leading edge and decay clarity comes greater nuance of the entire rapid fire motif as a phrase. The drum motif is not meant to be musical within the context of the staged ballet; it is meant to focus the audience on the start of a new tableau with scene change. But in the concert hall and our livingrooms, we listen differently. Shape of line, with all its human performed irregularities is fully experienced using the ref XL mm1, moving us away from a mechanized experience. And this just on 6 seconds of a rapid fire drum intro! Do these drum motifs have great significance to musical interpretation ? No. Certainly not compared to the expression of melodic line and string+wind+brass orchestral color. My point is this: If the sonic experience of a pedestrian repeated drum motif is easily distinguished and can be placed in the context of larger musical inflection, than more important aspects of the musical experience will certainly be more profoundly affected, especially cumulatively. This is one large distinction that sets apart the superior Ref XL mm1 from the ultra mm1 and ref mm1.

another example: see below : keyboard performances, decay, sense of touch.

The questions I sought from this a/b/c/d are:

What sonic aspects of the ultra mm2 are share with the other cables auditioned?
Is the presumed improvement comprehensive? If not, can the differences be separated ?
Do these presumed sonic improvements fully inform the musical experience vs the analytic experience?

Sonic aspects, IMO, of the ultra mm2:

This IC shares mostly the sound world of the ref XLmm1, not the immediate model above it, the ref mm1. The ultra mm2 in many ways is a very small brother to the ref XL mm1. the finesse with nuance brings a greater musical experience than the ref mm1 IC. Clarity, timbrel distinction, speed, less transient smear, and micro detail and dynamics simply better realized with the mm2 tech. A greater sense of instrumental positioning within the staging is also closer to the ref XLs presentation. The slightly forward but less focused staging I sense with the ultra mm1 and also with the ref mm1 is absent, replaced by an increased sense of stage depth behind the speakers. Not as significant as the depth achieved with the RefXLmm1, but within its style of presention - relaxed comes to mind, but not layed back. I also notice more air between performers with the ultra mm2 and blacker backgrounds, which is similar to the ref XLmm1. But i havent sensed that musical inertness thatcan be suggested from some systems that present very black backgrounds. (maybe this is as much an amp or cdp issue in some systems) also, the ultra mm2 pinpoints performer location within the soundstage a little more specifically than the refmm1, certainly much more so than the ultra mm1. I think this aids transparency of layered textures in the music, more similar to the ref XL mm1 but not to the same level of accomplishment by any means.

Aspects of the ultramm2 that I found no improvement over the ref mm1 or IMO do not even match the ref mm1 are qualities of openness and the extensions at the top and bottom. Therefore, IMO the ultra mm2 is not a fully comprehensive improvement over the ref mm1, the model 1 level above the ultra level.

Although the mm2 IMO does not advance beyond the ultra mm1 in these 2 specific sonic areas, it hardly belittles the mm2's huge advances over the original mm tech and the very noteworthy advantages of the ultra mm2 over the ref mm1 IC.

At this point, I would suggest that the ultra mm2 brings to the musical experience far more substance than the ref mm1, even though the top and bottom extension is less (mostly at the bottom) and overall spaciousness is smaller than the ref mm1. I would also like to state clearly that I have not had the opportunity to audition the ref + mm2 to determine if the advances of the mm2 tech on the ultra are similarly impressive on the Ref level ICs. I assume the extension and breadthe will be the same as the ref mm1 and hopefully the other aspects will rech or extend beyond the ref XL mm1 level. I will have Ref mm2 SC + Ic to auditon in 2 weeks.

Of the various performance aspects i noted, the concerns I addressed in my more focused listening (SESSION 2) of the ultra mm2 were:

 does the tighter sonic portrayal, especially regarding the increase in detail and reduction of resonance, close down the sound and mute the musical experience? -- NO
 Does the increase of pinpoint stage placement segment or fracture ensemble cohesiveness? -- I sensed no decrease of ensemble cohesiveness. musical experience was improved.

The ebb and flow of musical phrases within many chamber music passages of of the mahler 6, for example, as well as small ensemble works jelled well. Small sections were felt intimately. Large sections had good sweep commensurate with the ultra mm1. The tighter presentation drew me closer to the music and a greater awareness of inner layers, whereas the larger, more spread presentation of the ref mm1 reached outward to me but was less emotionally involving on repeat listening.

The added nuance the mm2 brought to solo voice and the unique character of the baroque violin illuminated the richly inflection performances i used in the audition. much of this nuance, wonderfully theatrical in the biondi/vivaldi/ four seasons recording, was smeared with the ref mm1. the ref mm1 presented a somewhat more aggressive liveliness, but revealed less of the finesse and cheeky improvisitory impetuousness of the soloist (i will live to regret that characterization for sure).

The massive sections of the bruckner 5 benefited from the tighter bass of the ultra mm2; importantly, woodwind and brass were more specifically colorful in terms of sonic texture, attacks, vibrato, with the mm2, but the ref mm1 was clearly more satisfying in bottom weight and overall expansiveness of sound. no surprise here. What surprised me with the ultra mm2, though it shouldnt have, was that chords and brass choir sections were more telling of the amazing bruckner voicing. I liked that. As if seated mid hall rather than at the back , where in bruckner symphonies those grandstanding brass players take aim. Especially if the resident conductor isnt on the podium. Upper string passages seemed better balanced in the large gestural passages as their articulation was less masked with the mm2. But again, with very expansive works (late mahler, r strauss tone poems, del tredici orchestral works, grand opera, rite of spring, the higdon concerto) massive orchestral presence is slighted with the ultra mm2 in direct comparison to the ref mm1. However, I would not suggest the sound was closed downwith the ultra mm2. Just scaled down.Smaller. This is the critical trade off when listening to massive orchestral scores: many passages are about the bottom extension provided at the ref level IC and not the ultra level. To the credit of the ultra mm2, the loudest sections of the bruckner symphony did not sound bloated as they hint at with ref mm1, especially in direct contrast with the higher end ref XL mm1. Transient smear in the fortissimos were an issue with the ref mm1, but much less so with the ultra mm2. Did i mention that there is a huge price difference btwn the ultra and ref levels. how often can a $2200 IC hold most of its own against a $4400 IC, or surpass it in many ways?!

I think that acoustic keyboards are the most difficult to reproduce thru a sound system. I have been informed they are of the most difficult to record lifelike as well. As such, I listened to very different keyboards (harpsichord, fortepiano, and modern piano) as well as a variety of performers on the modern piano (arrau, curzon, pollini) . The issue I was most concerned with was not any sense of a closed sound, but that of detail at the expense of resonance. Afterall, keyboards are percussion instruments in furniture cabinets.

IMO, the most significant improvement of the ultramm2 over the refmm1 for keyboard performance is in the area of resonance control and balance, the “halo” around notes and chords, transient clarity, decay. The sound with the ultramm2 was never closed down. In all cases, the finesse of the artist was revealed to a much greater degree. The ref mm1's presentation of over-twang of the harpsichord in the BBC #5 no longer masked flute and cello articulation when the ultra mm2 was in the system. Small rhythmic changes became more evident. With fortepiano performances, Robert Levin’s Mozart performance had greater motivic shape, less boomy nature. The upper harmonics expressed via an unmasked clarity, as I recall Levin's live performances while I was in conservatory. The tone of the fortepiano more closely joined the sound world of the piano with the ultra mm2; with the ref mm1, the fortepiano articulated somewhat more like a harpsichord, not quill plucked in quality (the action of the harpsichord) but too hard struck and mostly lacking the subtle softer component of its hammers. In this case, i was floored with how much more complex and live (not lively) the fortepiano spoke with the mm2 over the ultra mm1 or ref mm1.

On the subject of decay, both harpsichord and fortepiano revealed a greater complexity of individual note decay lengths in sustained chords with the ultra mm2. On the modern piano, the decays of the stacked chords toward the close of the 3rd movement of the moonlight sonata revealed not only greater clarity of individual note decays, but also timbral differences among the strings, something not presented well with the ref mm1. Although I did get a good sense of the piano sound and top to bottom coherency with the ref mm1, I was startled by the immediacy of tone color and quality of touch communicated within phrases revealed with the ultra mm2 IC, and importantly between performers . This is achieved more completely with the ref XL mm1, 2 levels and approx 4x the price of the ultra mm2, but only hinted at with the ref mm1.


Ultra mm1 vs ultra mm2.
the ultra mm2 is superior in all ways except equal in top to bottom extension and openness.

Ultra mm2 vs ref mm1 :
the ultra mm2 is slightly to distinctly better in all ways except that it is less extended at top and bottom extremes, and less open than the ref mm1. IMO, the ultra mm2 facilitates greater engagement with the musical experience as well as most aspects of the sonic experience.
I place overall importance on the musical experience (see my screen name) . if I focused more on sonic experience, I would have a home theater system and evaluate the visceral experience of screeching missiles across a desert landscape and not screaming divas across an opera house stage. To some, alas, they are one and the same…

Ultra mm2 vs ref XLmm1 :
the ultra mm2 does not match any of the accomplished qualities of the ref XL mm1, but the sound world of the ultra mm2 IMO presents within the sonic context and musical experience of the ref XL mm1.


I look forward to hearing at length what the mm2 technology will bring to the Ref level ICs and SC. I will have that opportunity in 2 weeks. I plan to attach an update to this post after evertyhing is run in .

Other: I have not auditioned in my system a full compliment of TA Ref XL SC + ICs. I have only had the ref XL mm1 IC on the cpd to preamp.

IMPORTANT FYI: the Ref mm2, which I did not yet audition, will feature networks that are specifically adjusted for your ss or tube components, thereby joining the higher level models within the TA SC and IC lines in terms of cable+component synergy. The ultra and lower level models will remain non-specific with regard to ss / tube components.

Listening list: all redbook cd’s

Chamber music, non-vocal
Vivaldi , 4 seasons, biondi, europa galante
Bach, brandenberg con # 3, mov 1; #5, mov 1, linde-consort
Schubert, Trout quintet, curson, Vienna,1957
Beethoven, piano sonata, op 27 #2 moonlight mov 2, 3, pollini : arrau (1966)
“ “ “ op 2, #1 pollini
Beethoven, string quartet op 127 various mov, vegh quartet : emerson quartet
Mozart , piano sonata k279, Robert Levin, fortepiano

Vocal , both chamber music and opera
Schumann, Lieder, von otter, forsberg
Mozart, magic flute, kurt moll,o isis und osiris aria
“ “ “ edda moser, the famous queen of the night aria
“ “ “ wonderlich, bohm, berlin phil 1964 stereo
Puccini,, tosca, caballe 1976
Donizetti, lucia, caballe 1976

Large Symphonic music
Stravinsky, petrushka : Rite of spring, boulez, Cleveland 1992
Jennifer Higdon, concerto for orchestra, mov 1, 3, 4, spano, Atlanta SO
Sibelius, violin concerto, mov 1, 3, mutter, previn
Mahler, sym #6, 1st movement fist 6 min, abbado, berlin phil, live recording, redbook cd issue, not sacd
Bruckner, sym #5, mov 1, 1st 6 min. jochum, Dresden staats.
Brahms, sym #1, szell, Cleveland stereo

Associated gear
Cdp Esoteric ux-3se
Preamp VTL 6.5
Amp pass labs x350.5
Speakers Wilson w/p 8
ICs TA Ref mm1
SC TA ref mm1
PC TA XL mm1 on cdp, no PC on the amp.
Power conditioner TA P8
20 amp dedicated line
room acoustics – good, basically neutral. Not lively or dampened.
Near field listening
PLEASE NOTE: my review is based solely on subbing ONLY 1 pair of ultra mm2 ICs in my system. i do not know the extent of cumulative change when all ICs + SC are moved to ultra mm2. i lack the breadth of experience in audio to speculate!
Nice honest effort at providing the difference between mm1 and mm2,I thank you for the time and energy it took.I had my opus interconnects and speaker cables updated,4 total.And I can say without a doubt it is not a subtle difference and at the same price as the old mm it is a steal.
hi robert / strapper211. well, if any system can reveal the difference btwn the mm1 and mm2 at the top level, yours is one. thanks for taking the time to read and comment.good to know that even at the very top end of the TA line, the mm2 upgrade is not just a subtle difference. marc .
Articulate, informative and entertaining review.
Your love and knowledge of music first is obvious and it makes your opinion of these cables much more relevant to me.
You describe how these cables render music, not just how they sound.
I have been trying to resist mm2 and reviews like these don't help!

But thanks anyway.
I had the Transparent Opus MM interconnect upgraded to the MM2. Also traded in my old Reference XL speaker cable's and traded up to Transparent Reference MM2. Holy **** this was not a subtle change. This is without question the largest upgrade sonically that I have experienced in my system to date. This includes all major components as well.
The first few hours there was obvious magic going on with a shiny presentation that mostly dicipated pretty quick. I now have about 70 hours on these cables and the cables have settled in nicely. The shiny sound has all but dicipated to next to nothing. I am sure it will be completely gone by 300 hours.
I had always thought my system was smooth before. Now I now better-never thought CD's could be this smooth sounding.
I equate the sound to a car that has not been cleaned in months to the same car getting waxed and detailed.
I am hearing things I did not know were on the disc.
The presentation is all in a very natural way. You usually get this extra information in brighter thinner sounding systems but yet that is not the case at all on my system with these new cables.
The sound is very layered and separated with awesome texture/tone color.
The depth in soundfield is much deeper then it was.
It is taller and wider than it ever used to be.
Resolution and pitch definition from top to bottom is outstanding.
There is an effortless quality and flow of music that just sucks you in.
I can not speak for an upgrade from MM technology to MM2 because I did change out interconnects and speaker cable at the same time. Though I suspect it to be a large improvement for I have heard the change from Reference XL to Opus MM.
If you have any XL cable in your system, before you make any component or cable changes just get some MM2 level cables. You will not be disappointed.
break in time of cables: i have all ultra mm2 in my ssytem : Ref MM2 SC, 1 ref mm2 IC, 1 ultra mm2 IC.
my cables have less than 20 hours , so i will make no comments at this time. TA advised me directly that the run in time for the cables is approx :
by 100 hours, the cables should settle down mostly.
100-200 hours, the cables continue to open up, extensions will widen fully, etc.
at around 200 hours, the cables should by fully run in.
my sc and ic have passed the 200 hour period. the presentation has opened up more fully and the top has settled down very significantly. this did not happen at the 100 hour mark. i wonder if in fact these cables, like many other components, really take signifantly more that 200 hours to fully run in. i look forward to getting past the 400 hour timeframe. in any case, there is an overall ease and greater relaxed presentation, the bass has extended and sounds richer, more textured, and perhaps a bit more facile too. this is one upgrade definately worth the $ [in my system]. i think the upgrade to mm2 from a lower model to the next higher model is the most cost effective. the sideways upgrade, from ultra mm1 to mm2 [for example], is a superb and significant upgrade sound-wise, but not inexpensive.