Sometimes one of the hardest things about writing a cable review is knowing where to start. The truth is that in a "perfect" world, there wouldn’t be anything like a cable review, because quite simply the signal, or information, would come out of one component and travel mysteriously into another one without having to go through anything. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and the fact is that whenever a signal is carried between two different components, there is going to be some sort of change. In the world of the audiophile, this change should be nearly non-existent and cause as little difference in the overall sound as possible. There are multitudes of companies who presently produce literally thousands of cables that claim to do this to varying degrees of success. Some of these products are inexpensive while others could easily cost you as much as a new car or even a house. However, what is important is which one makes your system sound its best and gives you the most satisfaction at a price you can afford.
The Story Behind The Cable
A few months ago my editor asked if I would be interested in reviewing some products from Audio Art Cable, a company that I had previously not heard of. However, I was thrilled with the prospect of auditioning new cables in my system since it is one of my favorite things to review. After a slight volley of emails Robert Fritz, the company’s owner and I finally connected. Rob is an absolutely great guy. He is energetic, extremely knowledgeable about the industry and his products, and perhaps most importantly passionate about the entire listening experience. Although his concept of, "offering a product with reference quality ‘audiophile’ sonic properties at a price that anyone looking for an upgraded cable could happily afford," is not a new one, he nevertheless set out to do his absolute best to create it. In order to accomplish this lofty goal, he called upon his resources both as a member of the audio industry and his personal experiences. He worked with DH Labs, explored the possibilities of utilizing offshore companies to provide less expensive products and settled on utilizing a mail order type business model to minimize the overhead of the company. In short, he took the steps he felt were needed in order to offer a product that could meet his expectations in quality, performance and price.
The "Fun" Begins
After speaking with Rob and deciding exactly what products to review and the necessary lengths needed to comfortably evaluate them in my system, a short while later they were delivered to my doorstep. There is always an initial excitement when you take cables out of the wrapping and decide what your next step will be. This was the case with these cables as well; I was anxiously awaiting the possibility that these cables might indeed meet their creator’s expectations in my system. The cables were certainly not the most visually attractive ones that have ever been in my system, but they were very flexible and easy to connect to the components within my system. In fact, the IC-3’s formed a very tight connection with my components and the cables were not extremely heavy so it was a simple task to connect them. The same could be said about both the SC-5 speaker cable. While the Power 1 AC cord was a little thicker than some power cords, it still was easily manageable and caused no major problems in connection. Once everything was setup, the next step is always to let the cables settle down and "break-in" over an extended period of time. This can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks depending on the cables. During this time cables tend to change their characteristics and overall sound quality so it is important to be patient and wait until your sure that they have "matured" and settled into you system. The Audio Art cables took around 200 hours to settle in, which is about average in my experience.
Fast Forward A Few Hundred Hours
Once the cables had broken in to my satisfaction it was time to cue up music and begin the process of evaluating how well the cables performed. As it happened, Tchaikovsky's Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Nutcraker on the BMG Record label was in my CD player and so it became the first recording used. This is not one of the recordings typically used in my evaluation, not because it is bad, but rather because it lacks some of the more refined depth and inner detail of other recordings. However, it is one of the recordings that tend to live in my system because the selections vary and are very easy to listen to over and over again. My initial impression was that the music sounded extremely full-bodied and full of excitement. There seemed to be an inherently pleasing quality to the reproduction which seemed to signal that everything was in place and that no one particular range of music was being accentuated. In fact overall it was one of the most pleasure experiences with this particular selection in a long time.
The next selection to be evaluated was Runaway Bride: Music from the Motion Picture on Sony Records. Once again this album is not the one that normally makes the list when reviewing, but with the results from the Tchaikovsky CD, it seemed perfect. Although the album was mixed primarily for the "mass market," meaning that it tends to be overly bass heavy and a bit fuzzy around the edges, the popular songs make it easy to enjoy. The first selection on the album was track one, "I still haven’t found what I’m looking for" by U2. As with the first album, the music was very lively and extremely well tempered. There seemed to be no shortage of transient sound or a minimization of sound staging, such as it is on this recording. In fact, the best description of the musical quality was smooth with only the most subtle hint of graininess around the extreme edges. The other selection made on this particular album "It Never Entered My Mind" performed by Miles Davis. Once again this particular version is not as pristine or as true as many other recordings of this same song, however it is aesthetically pleasing overall. The cables were once again able to bring as much life out of the music as possible given the recording itself. They allowed for a very tame and satisfying rendition.
After choosing two more mass-market selections, the next one, although extremely popular is far more revealing and intricate than the last selections. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, was always a great way to test the abilities of particular cables. However, the SACD version is even deeper and more demanding than the original version. Although the cables did fairly well, there was a slight loss of detail in the more complex passages of the album. For example during "Money" the alarm clocks were very much alive with energy, but had a faint fuzziness to them that could only be heard if you were searching for specific tonality. While it didn’t necessarily detract from the overall satisfaction, it was nevertheless there.
Next, came testing the cables with more reference grade recordings. The first album that was used to evaluate the cables was Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring on Telarc records. The music on this recording was reproduced extremely well. Once again, there seemed to be a certain lack of detail and perhaps a slight graininess, but this appeared more to smooth over some more jagged edges than create something that detracted from the overall enjoyment of the recording.
The final album that was chosen was Philip Glass’ Songs from the trilogy: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, Akhnaten. All three of these minimalist operas contained from interesting and complex passages that would put even the most spectacular cables through the most grueling of tests. "Hymn to the sun," which is track three on the album, features a rich tapestry of vocals to create the feeling of prayer and supplication to the Sun god, Ra. The cables once again did an admirable job of controlling all the aspects of the music without allowing things to become too tinny, which is all too often the case. There was plenty of detail throughout the playback to allow the music to come alive and envelope the listener without overpowering them in complexity.
A Word On Power
While everything that was said in the review thus far applies to all the cables used within the scope of this review, there needs to be something said specifically about the power cables. The Power 1 AC cable was a definite find in this review. Although all the cables did well within the scope of the evaluation, the power cable excelled in its performance. With the power cables connected to the MartinLogan speakers in my reference system there was a definite drop in the noise floor. Everything seemed to be far more focused and open than with either the factory supplied cables or even some other less expensive cables. In fact, they made such a notable impression that a fellow reviewer came into the room one afternoon and asked if I had changed something because things seemed clearer than before.
The Result Please
Well if you have noticed throughout the review there has been no mention about price. This was done intentionally because in the case of this particular cable its price in no way indicates its performance. Robert Fritz did indeed complete the goal he set out to accomplish when he started the company, to offer a reasonably priced cable for the majority of consumers that gave exemplary performance. All three of the cables auditioned in this review did admirably and overall a great job.
While I would stop short of saying they compare to some of the more pricey higher end products on the market, they all did a great job of revealing the subtly of the material without being overly unforgiving. They did not, for example, allow some of the less desirable attributes of one of the lower priced CD players used in this review, to become extremely evident. This is both a blessing and a curse. In some higher end systems this lack of revealing could be considered inexcusable because it could signify that there was not enough detail being reproduced to really get the most out of the playback system.Conversely, on a system that has more faults, these cables would be perfect. They are able to reveal most of the detail while being forgiving enough that they do not expose every weakness. In fact, they tended to smooth over some rougher edges and in the case of the more mass-market recordings, gave them an even fuller body and perhaps even a richer sounding reproduction. The Audio Art cables are definitely on my short list of overall good quality all around cables. While not suggesting that they are going to be the best fit in every system, they certainly hold their own to cables costing substantially more. However, if you are looking to get a great cable for your system to either replace the original ones or perhaps upgrade the ones you have, you should really give these a try. Then again, what do you have to lose, if you don’t like them you can return them within 30 days for your money back.
IC3 Interconnect Cable with RCA connectors
SC5-SPADE Speaker Wire
Power 1 with Wattgate 5266i & IEC320i Plugs
Audio Art Cable