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Interconnect, loudspeaker, and AC cables
as reviewed by John Beavers
The issue of high-end cables is fraught with controversy. Some engineers believe that most of the cables sold at megabuck prices are nothing more than snake oil. They feel that if a cable is well shielded, has the proper capacitance, and is decently terminated, one will sound pretty much like another, no matter how much it costs. My experience, with cables ranging from $20 up to many thousands of dollars, is different. When I first started, I found that cables could act like tone controls. I went through a lot of equipment, buying and selling pieces of gear constantly, and found that a cable that worked well with component A did not work as well with component B. The bass got flabby, the highs were rolled off, the clarity diminished, the mids lost their naturalness, and so on. Trying new equipment and having to change cables with each one was becoming a very expensive proposition.
Today I have one basic requirement for cables, be they power cords, interconnects, or speaker cables—neutrality. I no longer consider a cable for evaluation if it acts as a tone control. How do I know when a cable is acting as a tone control rather than revealing the sonic nature of the component to which it is connected? Years of experience with a wide variety of cables and components. Aside from neutrality, what does a good cable provide? In my experience, the really good ones open up the sound of your system. The soundstage widens, and depth and dimensionality are enhanced. The designer of the AbsoluteCables is an engineer who believes that most cable designs are needlessly complex, and that most cable pricing is way overboard. He decided to build a cable that would do a proper job at a reasonable price.
The only way I will evaluate cable products is if my entire system is wired with them, from wall outlets to speaker binding posts. AbsoluteCables obliged, and a few weeks later a big box arrived with all sorts of wire. The power cords are very stiff and heavy, so the key to installing them is to map out the path to the component, then bend the cords to shape before you install them. If, like me, you have limited space between your wall outlets and your rack, you will have to specify the exact lengths of the power cords you need. The standard cords use Marinco plugs at both ends, but AbsoluteCables is now making a deluxe version with upgraded plugs. Each power cord comes with a vial of high-conductivity copper paste that can be carefully painted on the contacts. According to AbsoluteCables, this results in a significant improvement in performance.
The interconnects are small in diameter and use good Cardas RCAs. They are not stiff, and are easy to work with. The speaker cables are as stiff as the power cords, so again, do your measurements, specify your lengths, and give yourself a little extra length to play with. The speaker cables and power cords will move your components if you push on them or accidentally step on one, as I learned when I forgot to lift my foot over the speaker cable connected to one of my mono amps. The amp almost came off the amp stand. The speaker cables use Cardas forged copper spades, with silver/rhodium plating.
After the work and frustration of hooking up all this rebar, I concluded that these things better sound damned good! My measure of good sound is simple. Either I connect emotionally with the music or I find myself evaluating what I find right or wrong with the change I've introduced. My initial experience of the AbsoluteCables was emotional. I connected immediately with the music, and just listened and enjoyed for about an hour before forcing myself to do any evaluation.
These cables had a rich, lush sound, with only a slight hint of hardness that went away over the course of the next several weeks. They were quite neutral, with just a slight hint of warmness. Their openness, clarity, soundstaging, and imaging were very close to that of my reference cables. They sounded very seductive, which indicated not only that they were constructed of good material but reflected the wise decision to exclude shielding. Based upon my experience with shielded versus unshielded cables, I know that the tradeoff of shielding is a smothering of detail and openness. Although my area has a fair amount of RFI/EMI interference, the AbsoluteCables suffered no ill effects.
As the cables broke in, their holographic presentation blossomed, and I found myself being drawn even deeper into the music. Every time I switched to other cables, I felt myself going back into the analytical mode, but reinstalling the AbsoluteCables immediately brought me back to the music. I continued to monitor for the typical distortions introduced by unshielded cables, but aside from one occasion when I found one of the interconnects touching a power cord, there were none. I tried a variety of components in place of my reference gear. In each case, I found that the AbsoluteCables revealed the nature of the component.
My criteria for cables were met, and it was time to decide how the AbsoluteCables compared to my reference cables. Due to their stiffness, the power cords simply weren't workable with my present rack setup, but I used them long enough to determine that they compared very well to my reference power cords. The interconnects, which had the tonal properties and openness I like, sounded very similar to my reference cables. Although I suspected that my reference interconnects had a little more of what I like, I could only decide this from memory, as those cables are no longer in the house (my equipment layout had changed, and I needed new lengths to reach my components). My reference speaker cables were still around, so I was able to do a direct comparison. I expected the two speaker cables to sound similar, but I was in for a surprise. The Absolute speaker cables were clearly better than my reference speaker cables. In fact, they revealed some sonic anomalies that I hadn't picked up on with my reference cables. I compared the Absolute speaker cables to several other well-thought-of speaker cables—some very expensive—and in each case, the Absolute speaker cables remained firmly in command. They are the best-sounding speaker cables I've had in my rig. John Beavers
We believe that in all pursuits, form must follow function. It seems to us that unnecessarily complex designs have reached the forefront of the cable industry, if for no other reason than to charge ridiculously high prices or simply to differentiate one product from the next. Many cable manufacturers tend to concentrate on design issues that have very little influence, or even detrimental effects, on the performance of the cable, while simultaneously failing to address many of the issues that are of critical importance. Our cable design, in contrast, is a “first things first” approach, and we have been surprised and gratified by the responses of our beta testers, many of whom have reported that ours is the finest cable they have ever heard. Our thanks go to John Beavers for not only daring to try a new cable system from a new manufacturer, but also for his valuable feedback about our new design. We feel that we have reached the goal we set out to achieve: the development of a cable system at a very reasonable price that is able to compete in the same league as the “top guns” of the high-end cable world.