I had your MR 9 mk2 and your AR 9 (original plain9)
Like it says in the review for this wire-Insanely priced!! but when you hear what it does, makes it "less insane: Tara's Zero.--Used of course @ more than 1/2 off and that brings the insanity level--down a taste.
W my equipment, I found the Cardas GR a tad slow or thick. You might want to consider Jade Audio Vermeil, which new is a bit less that the GR but comes up used less often. Not sure if JD has any demos but worth a call email.
I have recently switched from Cardas Golden Cross to PAD Venustas. Will have to get back to you on the results as they have not arrived. The Venustas would seem to be the best choice in your price range.
what's wrong with the cardas golden ref?
Cardas is a great cable, but system matching is key. The purist venastas should be a little lighter a foot, more tranparency and more quiet. The purist proteus provectus even more with more dramatic gains in tranparency, naturalness, along with it being evenhanded across the frenquency range...all off this from my personal experience.
I have heard each cable sound great, the system context and your goals are key here....
Fusion Audio Romance IC1.
For quite a few this has become the last interconnect upgrade, having tried it out in my system, I can see myself going in that direction. While I know what its flaws are, I would still call it flawless simply because I rarely get to notice the flaws, it is so correct sounding. One of the best midrange, with superb highs and clean sweet bass, no overhang, no slowing down of music, no veils, no jaggery just amazing instruments all around.
Try new Aqueous, its a very balanced cable...one of the most balanced I have ever heard. New Elementa Advance is good too, and cheaper. My experience with cardas is that their cables tend to smear images, though I never heard their reference cables.
What sound are you shooting for in particular? 3d "holographic" imaging, speed and transparency? Extreme detail? A more balanced "analog"/natural sound?
I've owned at one point or another the Golden Reference, Tara Labs The One ISM Onboards, the Fusion Audio Romance and presently own a set of PAD Aqueous Anniversary RCAs (having also tried a long list of other good ICs in this price range).
My setup is a tube DAC with built in preamp feeding a tube amp into a set of 94db efficient speakers and I've geared things to a more "analog" sound with a good blend of imaging, detail, etc. I've dumped a fair amount of money into upstream cabling as well (digital cabling and power cords/conditioning which contribute greatly).
The fusion audio ICs are awful close to the Cardas Golden reference in my recollection (w/o ever comparing them side by side). The Taras were fantastic cables, very neutral, great detail and incredible imaging. Transparent is the best I could use to describe them as they didn't over emphasize one aspect over another. That said, my setup needed some balancing out and for that reason the PAD cables fit the bill better and brought about a more "organic" analog sound as much as I hate to use the word organic. With other gear, I would have kept the Taras but after weeks of comparison it was hard to get rid of the PAD cables.
All depends on what your aiming for and what your gear is doing in your present setup (stating the obvious). Having owned the Cardas Golden Reference and now the PAD Aqueous, of the cables I've tried, these two are probably the furthest apart in character (both very nice sounding cables by the way).
Mb9061, what exactly are the difference between a Cardas Golden Ref and the PAD Aqueous ? Your comment that they are farthest apart but still great cables is really intriguing ?
All of the cables I mentioned were considered "warm" or relaxed cables by what I researched and from my own experience with them. The Cardas and the Fusion have this liquid smooth sound to them with great detail, good low end information and a general relaxed presentation. The PAD Aqueous are also a relaxed presentation, but they seem to be thicker in tonal character within my setup. They're less on imaging/detail (though still great in that regard), more on midrange and low end information and giving a general analog like sound in my particular setup. The PAD cables still have sparkle, still give you information, depth of soundstage, etc., but the general thing they impart is this broader, more analog/natural presentation to instruments, drums, vocals, etc. This is with tube gear though, I can't vouch for them on solid state gear.
In the end, a lot of this is nit picking perhaps. All of the cables I've mentioned are great and very close in personality, but it seems the PAD cables were more different than alike to the others (the Cardas, the Taras, Fusion, etc.)
The pad cables are closest to the Kubala Sosna cables. Warm, rich, big soundstage, holographic. A little laidback.
Its really difficult to go back to other cables once you try the pad cables.
They are also very refine sounding.
Though I have used and still own the very fine Cardas Golden Reference tonearm cable, once I acquired the Purist Proteus Provectus tc, I had no desire to go back. The combined comments of Mb9061 and Nolitan pretty much tell it like it is with the Purist sound. Mb's use of the phrases, "thicker in tonal charcter" and "broader, more analog/natural presentation to instruments" describes perfectly my perception of the PPP. I'll put it this way: As much as I enjoyed the Cardas, I was well aware I was listening to reproduced music in my home. With the Proteus Provectus, there are numerous times when I feel as if I am in a concert hall, hearing a live presentation.