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December 2012
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Audio Art IC-3SE Interconnect, SC-5SE(G) Speaker
And Statement II Power Cables
Delivering more lifelike sound to the music

Review By Tom Lyle

 

  Intrigued in part by the internet buzz, but mostly due to Bret Rudolph's June 2008 review of Audio Art's entry level offerings, I thought it would be more than interesting to check out the best interconnects and speaker cable that the relatively small cable manufacturer Audio Art has to offer. Audio Art's amiable owner Rob Fritz was nice enough to send me samples of their IC-35SE interconnects, SC-5 SE speaker cables, and Statement II power cords. In the 2008 review one might remember Bret was impressed by Audio Art's very positive performance-to-price ratio, although he admitted that those with more revealing systems might want to use better cables than the modestly priced models that he reviewed. And here are some better cables. I assume the positive traits that were present in the lower cost cables will be present, along with what one should expect with a more refined audio product. One should also keep in mind that the cables reviewed in 2008 were quite inexpensive, even by non-audiophile standards, and even though the Audio Art cables that I was sent for review are priced higher, they still are what many audiophiles would consider affordable. Hooray for that.

How does Audio Art manufacture cable that they claim to equal or outperform cable costing many times their modest asking price? Audio Art says there are rather simple answers to that question: Audio Art is a small family owned company founded in 2005 with minimal expenses. They use "the finest quality materials and parts available with innovative cable designs" but sell factory direct, which eliminates distributor and dealer mark-ups. And they have a 30-day return policy on all their products if not satisfied. This sounds very inciting for all those looking for high-performance but relatively inexpensive cables, but I'm sure many are interested in hearing for themselves to see if they measure up to the competition, and so was I. So read on.

Interestingly enough, I use in both my systems many cables manufactured by DH Labs. DH Labs was instrumental in getting Audio Art cables into production as a result of Audio Art proprietor Rob Fritz contracting DH Lab's Darren Hovsepian not only to design Audio Art products, but as a parts supplier. One would rightly assume that there are sonic similarities between the two cable manufactures, yet Audio Art claims that design differences, and are made in a separate facility. I will vouch for their differences, both visually and sonically.

 

Took Things To Town
The IC-3SE is Audio Art's top-of-the-line interconnect. It seems as if they took their IC-3 and took things to town. They upgraded the terminals, which are available with Sound Connections Xshadow Precision in unbalanced RCA or balanced XLR, or can be constructed with DH Labs' High Copper Alloy Ultimate RCAs. I received samples of IC-5SE interconnects terminated with the Sound Connections, both in RCA and XLR ends. The wire ends are tinned to increase their conductivity and they use Cardas' Quad Eutectic solder on all the connecting parts. At about $500 for a pair of one meter interconnects might seem expensive to some, but I can bet that if this cable was manufactured by one of the big-boys, especially those constructed with these high-end parts and robust construction they would cost at least twice as much. Audio Arts claims that the "IC-3SE offers a remarkably refined, extraordinarily musical performance".

The above is also true with their SC-5SE speaker cable. They took their very affordable, but well received SC-5 and "hot-rodded" them, using a new construction architecture. They are basically a double "shotgun" run of SC-5 with what Audio Art calls a SG-1 architecture. After the cables are extruded they twist two arrays, one 14 gauge conductor strands into a positive run, and a 10 gauge run of the negative strands. The terminals are constructed with Furutech's cryogenically treated and demagnetized OCC (Ohno Continuous Cast) copper FP-201gold or rhodium plated spades, or can be had with FP-202 gold-plated or rhodium-plated locking bananas. The cable is constructed with SC-5's 266 silver over copper strands, which are then tinned with Cardas Audio's Quad Eutectic solder. My review cables were a 12" run of SC-5SE(G), which are terminated with Furutech FP-201(G) 24 carat gold-plated copper spades. Audio Art boasts that the SC-5SE are "Breathtaking, spellbinding, and astoundingly musical".

Audio Art's Statement Power cables are available as Statement I and Statement II. They have three "ultra high performance" 10 gauge conductors made of 1,386 individual strands of "exceptionally pure" silver-coated OFC copper, and are double-shielded. There are two termination options, the Statement I is terminated with Furutech FI-50(R), a rhodium-plated copper AC connectors on each end of the cord. The Statement II, which I was sent for review, is terminated with higher performance Furutech FI-28(R), which are also rhodium-plated. Audio Art claims that these power cables provide "instantaneous current on demand, with absolutely no time domain hesitation, satisfying the demands of the very finest high-end audio components and high-performance video displays".

 

Give A Hoot
Of course I couldn't give a hoot about video display performance, using all the cables I was sent, both RCA and XLR versions of the IC-35SE interconnects, the SC-5SE speaker cables, and the Statement II power cords in both my two-channel audio only systems. In the main system upstairs I used the IC-3SE XLR terminated interconnects between the 350 wpc Pass Labs X350.5 power amp and a Balanced Audio Technologies (BAT) preamp  I also used XLR interconnects between the Pass Labs XP-15 phono preamplifier which provided gain to the Basis/Tri-Planar/Lyra analog front end to the BAT preamp. Unbalanced RCA terminated IC-3SE provided analog signal transfer for the digital front end, either a Wadia or Benchmark DAC1USB DAC which either read FLAC files from the server or was fed from the digital coax of an Oppo universal disc player. The downstairs system uses one pair of unbalanced interconnects. I used the RCA terminated cables to connect either the Wadia 121 or Benchmark DAC1PRE DAC's analog preamp outputs to a pair of PrimaLuna DiaLogue Six tube monoblock tube amps.

I auditioned the Audio Arts Statement II power cords in both systems as well, in the main system a Statement II ran from the Pass Labs power amp to a Virtual Dynamics wall receptacle which is one of two dedicated 20amp lines. Powering the digital components as well as the Pass Labs phono preamp is a PS Audio Power Plant P600, so I used another Statement II from its IEC power outlet to the wall AC. Downstairs I used a Statement II from the system's Panamax power conditioner to the generic wall receptacle, and at one time I used Audio Art power cables to connect both PrimaLuna power amps to the Panamax.

The twelve foot run of SC-5SE terminated with their gold-plated spades was used only in the main system, this cable is much too long to use in the downstairs system. I used it to connect the Pass Labs amplifier to the rather large Sound Lab DynaStat electrostat hybrids. I usually run a set of bi-wire MIT speaker cables to these speakers' two pairs of binding posts, so Audio Art was nice enough to provide me with a very nice set of six-inch jumpers with locking banana plugs to bridge the two pairs of jacks on each speaker.

For a mere $12.50 Audio Art will burn in the cables for their customers. Only a fool would pass up this inexpensive procedure which will enable one to immediately enjoy the full potential of their new cables without having to subject oneself to an arduous break-in period. I was tempted to bypass this procedure to relay to the readers the cable's fresh out-of-the-box sound, and describe how their sound changed over time and how long it took them to reach their full potential. With the cost of burning them so ridiculously low, I will assume there aren't any audiophiles who will pass up this deal. I received all my Audio Art cables fully broken-in.

I will not describe the sound or change in sound when using a single cable. When I hear an audiophile (usually an inexperienced audiophile) describe in detail the effects, or lack of effect of replacing, say, a single interconnect pair between their CD player and integrated amp, I am quick to remind them that they might be only hearing only a smidgen of the potential of that particular brand or model of cable. Rewiring one's complete system, or at least as complete as possible the entire system with that model interconnect, speaker, and power cable will present an audiophile with a complete aural view of the characteristics of this particular model or brand. I understand for many audiophiles that often this is not possible, for financial reasons and perhaps others. Thanks to Audio Art I was able to do this in my system, and that is what you are reading about when I describe the traits of Audio Art cable.

 

Impressive
The Audio Art cables aren't that flashy looking, although the fit and finish of the cables is impressive. Terminations are seamlessly integrated to the body of the cables. Thankfully, Audio Arts interconnects and speaker cables are rather flexible, and thus are very easy to install. The XLR terminations are the standard size, but more of an issue is that some brands of RCA terminals have large size casings, but I had no trouble connecting the Audio Art RCAs to even the tightest spaces on the rear panel of, for example, the Benchmark and Wadia DACs, where each jack is spaced rather closely to each other. The power cables are nice and thick, I doubt this was a conscious decision on the designer's part to impress audiophile's sense of "bigger is better" but rather  was a fabrication necessity. Still, even with their wide diameter the cables were still flexible enough to navigate tight corners, and were as easy to install as their interconnects and speaker cable.

Many reviewers when describing the effects of different brands and models of cable use descriptive terms suitable for components. That's fine. My feelings regarding cables are that the only relevant terms are those that describe how they vary from absolute transparency. Obviously, this is a far from perfect method of judging cables because those who aware of how a system sounds with perfectly transparent cables are far and few between. One could proclaim that their system "sounds better" and describe the improvements when using a certain brands and models of cables – so terms that describe the improved frequency response (a cable sounds "brighter", "bass reaches deeper"), or other descriptive terms such as improved soundstage, imaging, natural timbre, etc., etc., and are perfectly good responses to those that hear improvements when using higher quality cabling. But to my ears, and many others I suppose, the quest for the Holy Grail continues – to have one's system sound like "the real thing", and one should be concerned only with how one's cables contribute to our lifelong pursuit of sonic perfection.

 

Get A Handle
As I previously mentioned, I started out not by simply changing one interconnect or power cable in the system, but installing every Audio Art interconnect, speaker, and power cables as I was sent so I could get a handle on the "sound" of these cables. Especially in the upstairs main system where I was able to also replace my reference MIT speaker cables along with the important twice-the-price power and  interconnects with the Audio Art samples, I felt I really got a sense of what these cables were about. Sonically speaking. And I was impressed. At first I really couldn't hear a huge difference with the Audio Art in the system, which in itself is quite a feat. To give one example of how much: the interconnect between the BAT preamp and the Pass amp I usually use is a one meter run of MIT Shotgun S3.3 terminated with XLRs which retails for $800. The burned in Audio Art IC-3SE with balanced connectors sells on their website for less than half that price. After being in the system for a month or so could I tell the difference between them when I switched out the Audio Art for the MIT? Yes. Could I tell the difference in a blind test (if I were to subject myself to one)? Maybe. But I have confidence in proclaiming that when I switched back to the MIT there was more, in a word, clarity to the signal that was missing with the Audio Art cable in the system. How much more clarity? I can't really say, but I will go on record as saying that the Audio Art cable sounded close enough in sound to the MIT that after switching back and forth between the two brands of cable it was pretty easy to forget which cable was in the system. After all, I listen to my system listen to music more than I listen to my system to judge which brand of cable sounds better than the other.

 

Rival
I dare say that the Audio Art cables rival my reference cables, although they do not "sound" exactly the same. Though the cables that I normally use in my system are not state-of-the-art, but they are certainly decent, and at this point if one wants better cables than what I use, or better than these Audio Art cables, one is going to have to spend much more money on a cable to obtain better results. So we are also going to assume that there are better cables out there. Just prepare to spend quite a bit more money, for I'm willing to bet that there is a quite a good chance that because of the dreaded law of diminishing returns, spending more on a cable might not yield better results, but just different results. And we all know that different is not the same thing as better. It speaks volumes that adding to one's internet shopping cart and spending the reasonable asking price for these Audio Art Cables also puts them in this category.

As a result of the Benchmark ADC1USB analog-to-digital converter residing in my system, I've been spending more time burning LPs to high-resolution digital files. Burning record albums is a time consuming pursuit. Some perfectionists maintain that in order to obtain  near perfect results one must spin the record in silence due to vibrations, airborne or otherwise, transferring noise to the recording when the volume is cranked. I prefer to consider the procedure not as "work" but treat it as a serious listening session. Listening to the playback while creating the raw digital file whilst seated in my listening room's sweet spot isn't something that I'm willing to forgo, even for the sake of a so-called perfect recording. During the process of transferring a mint condition Japanese pressing of King Crimson's "Lark's Tongues In Aspic", I could certainly hear (or not hear) the contribution that the Audio Art cables contributed to the system when playing back both the vinyl and the high resolution digital file that was created. This classic album has influenced and continues to influence countless musicians, in countless sub-genres of modern music. Guitarist Robert Fripp's outfit had undergone a complete personnel change by this this 1973 LP. The band's 1969 debut InThe Court Of The Crimso King has been described by many as a progressive rock hippy dream, but by Lark's Tongue... this changed to a progressive rock hippy nightmare. Despite this colorful characterization there are quite a few quiet passages highlighting violinist David Cross, where his "you are there" closely Mic'd instrument's natural timbre is clearly reproduced. Even more noticeable are the more frequent solo sections featuring Jamie Muir and drummer Bill Bruford on a host of meticulously percussed instruments and gadgets. It's during these quiet moments when the ultra-black background of the system was evident. If there was any background noise due to the cabling I would certainly hear it, yet the only background noise that was present when playing this album was tape hiss. Of course most listen to this album to hear the uber-fuzz guitar clusters of Robert Fripp, where the Audio Art cable shows that it can pass onto the listener all that one needs and more. Yes, it's quite nice to be submerged just a bit deeper into one's listening seat, regardless of the playback volume.

I am willing to admit that the Audio Art cable rival my reference cables, but I should also point out that they are not as quite as good as my reference. How much better are my reference cables? I think at this point we're largely talking about nuance here, although I think that the differences between the Audio Arts and my references are significant, but not huge. The most audible of the differences is that with the full set of Audio Art cables in the system there is slight burnishing of the high frequencies. By this I am not trying to suggest that there is a decrease in the system's frequency response, but rather that there is a slight decrease in the amount of transient information, or the attack, in the sound of instruments that contain these sounds within the highest of the high frequencies, so this led me to the conclusion that I am not hearing all the information that is on the recording. There is also a slight lessening of the pace that can also I also hear as  a slight loss of detail within the midrange, so perhaps I agree with Bret Rudolph's findings with the less expensive Audio Art cables is that there is a loss of focus within these frequencies. And like Bret, I also found that the Audio Art cables were more forgiving of less than stellar recordings, leveling the playing field a bit. Any harshness is certainly lessened on early digital recordings. But as a result recordings that I assume to have a faultless quality sound a bit more distant with the review cables. Again, I hope one keeps in mind that I am speaking of nuance here, as the sound of the cables were close enough in sound to my reference as to sometimes require frequent switching back and forth between the cables to hone in on their particular traits. Taking the time and trouble, and believe me, switching cables in an entire system does include a dollop of time and trouble, so I can describe these nuances is just something I do here at Enjoy the Music.com. You're welcome.

 

In The Beginning
Are there any downsides to using Audio Art cable in one's system? In the beginning of this review I mentioned that Rob Fritz's Audio Art is a rather small company. I'm not sure I feel comfortable calling six lines of cables a "small" amount (2 types each of interconnects, speaker, and power), but I was not able to re-wire my entire system with Audio Art cable. Audio Art manufactures and sells interconnect, speaker, and power cable, so the majority of one's cabling needs are going to be met. But Audio Arts has not delved into the digital world yet, so I was not able to totally outfit either of the digital front ends in my systems. One is not able to purchase, nor was I able to audition Audio Art 75-Ohm coax or USB cables. They do not exist. Perhaps one day. I'm happy to report that the only downsides to using Audio Art cable are not sonic.

To that end the perfect cable should have no "sound" of its own. Before I go into specifics, the Audio Art cables I was sent for audition are not magic "perfect" cables with no sound, but will help an audiophile, that is any audiophile with a decent system to begin with, come closer to the goals of a system that has perfectly transparent cables, and a system that comes closer to being more lifelike sounding. At the same time will save this system's owner a lot of money while they enjoying the music on said system.

 

More
These Audio Art cables can be bettered by other cables, but these other cables cost much, much more. The bottom line, though, is that they are a relative bargain in the audiophile world in which we live. No, they are not cheap. They are not cheap in that they aren't even the lowest priced in Audio Arts line, and no, they are not cheaply constructed, and not by a long shot do they sound cheap. Audio Arts sells audiophile cables that can compete with many types of cables "the majors" sell, and offer them at a lower price because they sell factory direct, do not advertise all that much, and are a small company with a correspondingly small payroll. But this small company has not skimped on quality, both physically and sonically. I highly recommend taking a small chance by ordering Audio Arts cable on-line or by phone. One is only taking a small chance because within thirty days one can return them if not satisfied, and one is only taking a small chance because the chances are very small that one will return the cables to Audio Art. Go for it.

 

Specifications
IC-3SE Interconnect
Connectors: Sound Connections Xhadow Precision RCA/XLR, DH Labs High Copper Alloy Ultimate RCA 
Solder: Cardas Audio Quad-Eutectic 
Conductors: Multi-strand silver-coated OFC copper 
Dielectric: Foam polyethylene 
Capacitance: 30 pf/foot
Resistance: 0.009 Ohms/foot (each conductor) 
Shield coverage: 100% aluminum Mylar 
Diameter: 8 mm 
Jacket: PVC with TechFlex jacket outer 
Price: IC-3SE RCA Interconnect -- $280 for 0.5 meter pair with DH Labs Ultimate RCAs, $340.00 or 0.5 meter pair with Sound Connections Xhadow Precision RCA’s. $20 for each additional 0.5 meter.
IC-3SE XLR Interconnect – $470 for 0.5 meter pair with Sound Connections Xhadow Precision XLRs. $20 for each additional 0.5 meter.

SC-5SE(G) Speaker Cable
Conductors: Silver-coated OFC copper
Dielectric: Polyethylene
Capacitance:39 pf/foot
Resistance: 0.00125 Ohms/foot (each conductor)
Diameter: 20 mm
Color: Black TechFlex
Price: $650 for six foot pair, $75 each additional two feet
Statement II Power Cables:
Price: $525 for 6’ pair with gold-plated spade termination, $575 for 6’ pair with rhodium- spades termination. Locking bananas add $30 (gold) or $35 (rhodium)

Statement II Power Cable
Furutech’s FI-50(R) plug:
α (Alpha) pure-copper rhodium-plated conductors 
Earth/Ground Jumper System (US Patent No.: 6,669,491 ) 
Piezo Ceramic series connector bodies incorporate ceramic nano-sized particles, carbon powder, nylon and fiberglass 
Multilayered nonmagnetic stainless steel and carbon fiber housing incorporates a special damping insulating acetyl copolymer 
Specified for cable diameters from 6mm to 20mm 
Dimensions: Body length 44mm x 40.5mm diameter x 80.3mm overall length 
Patent pending metal cable clamp improves grip and reduces mechanically and electrically induced distortion plus patent-pending specially engineered pressure plate

Furutech’s FI-28(R) plug:
α (Alpha) pure-copper rhodium-plated conductors 
Floating Field Damper System* eliminates magnetic interference 
Nylon/fiberglass body incorporating carbon particles that absorb vibration and resonance 
Specified for cable diameters from 6mm to 17.5mm 
Dimensions: FI-28M(R) • 39.6mm diameter x 71.6mm overall length 
Metal cable clamp improves grip and reduces mechanically and electrically induced distortion 
Price: $695 for 1 meter w/ Furutech FI-28(R) plug set, $995 for 1 meter w/ Furutech FI-50(R) plug set. 50 each additional 0.5 meter

 

Company Information
Audio Art Cable
4665 Altadena Avenue
San Diego, CA 92115

Voice: (619) 255-6451
E-mail: robfritz@cox.net
Website: www.AudioArtCables.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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