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Clearview Excaliber-Plus interconnects and Double Golden Helix-Plus speaker cables
as reviewed by John Brazier, Dave Clark, and Danny Kaey
The Clearview cables come from design philosophy that is counter to the norm. Traditionally, a manufacturer would establish a two-wire geometry where each wire is encased by a specified dielectric (usually Teflon or some other material), which is then bundled again in some geometric configuration using spacers, which as a whole is encased in a shield which itself is covered with a cosmetic covering. This usually equates to the wire being potentially thick and stiff.
The idea at Clearview (I should note here that Clearview is a joint venture between Mapleshade Records and inSound, who are responsible for the muy-expensivo and tweaky Omega Mikro cables www.walkeraudio.com/interconnects.htm) to use a very thin high purity copper ribbon, featuring a proprietary metallurgy that has been given three separate chemical and electromagnetic treatments (the Plus versions are cryoed and then exposed to a high-energy pulse treatment). The insulation is a handmade, super-thin polymer sheath where each leg is separated from the other, and the proprietary RCAs feature a solder-less connection. What one gets is an interconnect that looks like no other. Ditto the speaker cable. This is handmade from silver-plated, single strand, high-purity copper wire drawn and heat-treated to our spec. The cable is coated with ultra-thin (less than .0002") low loss insulation, twisted into a super-tight, field-canceling helix. Each cable is given four hours of their proprietary crystal-modifying treatment and is delivered san-terminationsClearview finds naked ends to sound the best. The Double Helix I reviewed features their unique and proprietary shielding/grounding technique (see picture below) and is very thin for speaker cable. Especially when one thinks of speaker cables; bigger is naturally better.
Now first impression is that these are rather "delicate" cables to deal with, and while that is not far from the truth, there is more to using these wires than being careful how they are handled. One, they shouldboth speaker and interconnectbe placed or laid where they do not contact any other surface. Meaning, do not let them touch other cables, the carpet, or any other surface that may be potentially deleterious to their performance Two, the two legs in each cableagain for both speaker and interconnectshould be separated as much as possible from each other.
All this means that these are not just plug-and-play cables, but that a little effort needs to be applied to get them to perform their best. So you are thinking did I actually go to this extreme in my review? Well I did my best, but things being what they are, concessions had to be made as it is a bit cramped behind the stands making the "ideal" dressing of the interconnects a rather difficult beast to deal with. Lets just say I did my best. On the other hand, the speaker cables were an easy task to lay as suggestedthough at 8 feet they are about twice as long as they needed to be for my system, meaning the cables looked rather like a Slinky having been man-handled by a two-year-old.
To make this as painless as possible, I reviewed the Clearviews as a complete wire package; interconnect and speaker cables throughout. As such I found that each cable possessed the same basic sonic characteristics. With that in mind, unless noted otherwise, the review is written in reference to a single product.
Now, any cable that is this tweaky should sound rather, well, tweaky right? Or at least sound so different, especially from the standard stiff garden-hose speaker-cable variety, that a review becomes such an easy task it pretty much writes itself? We know the drill; small speaker cables are bright with constipated dynamics or bass impact, and harmonically constricted. I will admit that I have had this exact experience with another small gauge cable, though word has it I may have to have my hearing tested as they are getting just the opposite response from other listeners.
The Clearviews do not sound as one would expect based their visual appearance. As a matter of fact, they sounded remarkably similar to my reference cables, differing sonically in a few, but key areas. Yes the Clearviews are a prime example of the proverbial, "Dont judge a book by its cover," mantra we are all feed in our younger days.
What one gets is a very fast and dynamic cable that possesses all the bass dynamics and power that the larger "conventional" cables deliver. No trade-offs at either end. The cables were very extended and neutral with plenty of air and presence. Bass was deep and powerful with a great sense of impact. So close to my reference cables that any differences were just too close to make any real judgments in terms of musical enjoyment. With the Clearviews, bass-driven discs were just as fun to listen to as with the regular "dead snakes." Which is really what its all about, music should be fun!
The strength of the Clearviews is the articulation they offer on the leading and trailing edges of the musicthe stops and starts as notes are played or struck. The speed and articulation of the Clearviews were very noticeable making notes clean and clear with no hint of smearing. Music jumped from the speakers as if to grab the listener with an intent to cause bodily harm. I was never left with any doubt as to the delineation instruments. Each stood out with a greater sense or "presence" or clarity than my reference could reveal. You could say the Clearviews offer a "clear view" into this corner of audiophilia. Major differences? Yes, it was clearly audible, though not to a degree reflective of proverbial, "My jaw hit the floor" routine. Only you can decide if this is important enough to make a purchase as the cables presented other issues to quibble over. But it was way cool on well recorded music!
Okay, in absolute terms, the interconnect is the cables to go with if you value resolution, pace, and clarity, but, in my system as least, at the expense of a sense of warmth and "body." Thats "body," not in the sense of dimensionality or air, but by the impression of heft or the perceived "volume" of an image. It is not to that the images seemed smaller than when compared to my reference cables, it is just that there was less "weight" to the musicless meat to them bones! I am not saying the cables are cold and analyticalanything butit is just that they did come across as being a bit "lighter" and less rich or harmonically "lush." For that reason, I preferred my cables, as this is something that I find wanting in my system (as it is now configured). Blame it on a matter of taste.
But another way to look at this is that, "Is my cable coloring the music, with the Clearview interconnects being a more truthful wire?" Is this warmth, lushness, and weight an added coloration caused by the other cables construction or by a mismatched component? Well, maybe. If the design principal behind the Clearviews is correct, than perhaps I am hearing all that they are out to correct for. I will say that depending on either the recordings being used or the components in the system, the music took on a presence that leaned a bit too far in the direction I found to be "lean". Are the Clearviews revealing of the components and music? No doubt.
But is this good or bad? Well in some respects, neither as each cable offers the listener a different synergy with chosen components and biases. During the time the cables were here I was in the process of settling on a new CD player, as well as a checking out a few other items passing through. In many a case, the interconnects were a god-send in being a better match for one player versus another. While one player was too lean and forward, the reference cables offered a better musical balance, as opposed to using a darker, richer player where the Clearview interconnect really made things sing. Meaning that in some instances, cables end up being nothing more than a "tone-control," balancing one components "sound" for another. A means to an end? Truth is yes.
I found the Clearviews to be rather easy to use and musically a breath of fresh air. I never had any problems with their construction and found them to offer great value for the priceespecially when compared to my cables. Their design is unusual but the results are real. These cables make music. But depending on how your system is voiced, the interconnect may or may not be the cable for you. If your system is already lean and mean, and you want a little more warmth or weight, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are finding your system to be a bit too full and rich and you want a more open and fast sound with amazing resolution, then go for it! The speaker cables are a no-brainerthese kick ass! What makes the Clearviews so attractiveother than their price and performanceis that Mapleshade offers a 30-day money back offer, which means you can try them for a nominal shipping fee. Highly recommended. Dave Clark
I recall reading in law school about the absurd disclaimers with which various manufacturers were litigated into labeling their products. Not the least absurd of these was the badge an RV manufacturer had to place on the dashboard, declaring that when the driver engages the cruise control, he or she must still steer the vehicle. Believe it or not, one brilliant RVer had pressed the cruise control button, then retreated to the bathroom. It was unclear how far he got before learning the error of his ways. I was similarly tickled while surfing the Mapleshade website, where the consumer is warned not to "unwrap" the Ultraribbon interconnects.
This warning is not an entirely bad idea considering their unconventional construction, but I am pleased to announce that the thought never crossed my mind. They are interesting to look at, to be surenarrow copper ribbons wrapped in what appears to be a plastic bag. The website describes them as "festive-looking copper foil inside skinny baggies." Dont be misled, though, as they are solidly constructed. When I first picked up a pair, I could not help handling them gingerly, but after close inspection, some tugging on the ends, and an irresistible crumpling, I was satisfied that their construction belies their "festive" appearance.
I used the Mapleshade cables in two different setups. First, I gave them a workout with the recently reviewed Marsh amp and preamp, then with my headphone setup. My interconnects are Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference; my speaker cables are Acoustic Zen Satori. I selected the AZ cables for their neutrality, hint of warmth, and spot-on detail. After living with Marsh equipment for a couple of weeks, it was time to employ the festive little baggies. At first, I tried only the interconnects, retaining the Satori speaker wire. I began to listen for those subtle sonic nuances, going through my entire evaluation play list. Every track I played was reproduced with the same character as the Acoustic Zensbut less of it. The Mapleshades have the neutrality, the hint of warmth, the detail, just less, although when it came to detail it was hard to say. The degree to which they got the details right were in balance with the overall performance of the cables. The Ultraribbons did a fine job. The entire frequency range was well reproduced and everything was theresoundstage, highs and lows. Just less of it.
This was fully supported by a more intimate evaluation via my Sennheiser 600s. My headphone setup is much more revealing than the Marsh/Sonus Faber setup, so I anticipated being more nitpicky. Not so. Once again, the frequency range was remarkably well balanced. The mids were nearly perfectly preserved, and I was able to hear further into the soundstage. The Ultraribbons do not provide that last bit of resolution. They also do not get you as low. The soundstage is slightly constricted. They equaled the AZs in some areas, but bettered them in none. However, at one-third the price, they gave 90% of the performance. There remains only one question: Is that extra 10% worth three times as much?
I have toyed with, listened to, and/or reviewed perhaps twenty different interconnectsthat is, twenty interconnects that I feel competent to remark about. I have heard many more in other rigs. I know that this is not an exhaustive number, but it is enough to get a solid impression about what can be accomplished. I can honestly state that these interconnects may be the best value out there, if your predilections are towards a neutral and balanced presentation. I heard better balance and transparency with the Mapleshades than I have with similarly priced cables like the Kimber Heros, the Silver Steaks, the entry-level Synergistic Research cables, or even the Acoustic Zen WOWs.
About the Golden Helix speaker cables, the Mapleshade website says: "Theyre handmade from silver-plated, single strand, high purity copper wire drawn and heat treated to our spec. Our cable is coated with ultra-thin (less than .0002) low loss insulation, twisted into a super-tight, field-canceling helix. Each cable is given four hours of our proprietary crystal-modifying treatment." I listened to the Marsh amp and pre-amp with the AZ interconnects and Mapleshade speaker cables, and then with the full complement of Mapleshade wires. I again played all my reference CDs, and again found that same neutral and balanced sonic signature, though if the Mapleshade interconnects reproduced 90% of what I know to be possible with my system, the speaker wire reproduced 80%. The Golden Helixes gave good solid sound, but that missing 20% is a lot. The soundstage became narrow and less deep. Detail was again hindered, but not by as much as with the interconnects. The honest evenhandedness remained intact, and this did not depend on whether I used the Mapleshade or the AZ interconnects.
I highly recommend the Ultraribbons. They represent a true bargain, perhaps the last step before moseying along that diminishing-returns plateau. The Golden Helix speaker cables seem to be less of a deal, but still worthy competitors at their price. I enjoyed listening to both products, though I preferred the Ultraribbons. I did not feel the need to get my reference interconnects back into the system at the end of the day, although I admit that when I did so, that last 10% sure was nice. John Brazier
Reviewing cable is akin to reviewing the projection screen in your local movie theater and comparing the results to other theaters. In other words, youre not really dealing with something tangible, although thats open to debate. Most consumers spend far too little time choosing the correct cables. One possible reason is that cables lack appeal against the beautiful finish of a speaker, CD player, or amplifier. Another could be that people arent aware of a cables influence. Unfortunately, or fortunately, cables have the potential to make a great system perform badly and a mediocre system perform well.
In the simplest terms, a cables job is to conduct electrical signal from point A to point B. In a perfect world, the signal at the end should be identical to the signal at the beginning. In a perfect world, I would also drive a new Ferrari Enzo. There are many interesting things about cables. They can act as antennas and pick up all sorts of high frequency garbagemagnetic flux, ambient HF noise, and so on play a major role in the quality of the signal. The fact is, the signal can be degraded considerably and with it, of course, the intricate, delicate, and highly susceptible musical signal. Add to this the fact that, much like the rest of the system, each cable has its own characteristics.
Lets meet the contestants: Mapleshade Clearview Golden Helix vs. Analysis-Plus Oval 8. From a physical perspective, its almost like David and Goliath! The Mapleshades look homemade and the Analysis-Plus appear to be engineered to a very high standard. Anxious to get my listening session going, I inserted the Mapleshades into my system. They can be a bit finicky to hook up, as the wires are all tangled up in a spiral and there are no spade lugsthe terminations are bare wire. Proceed with caution. Once everything was set, I leaned back on my couch and pressed PLAY on the Audio Note.
Lately, one of my favorite CDs is Lambchops Is a Woman. The CD opens with a nice, warm sounding guitar, piano, and vocals. To say the least, I was impressed. It seemed almost surreal, because I couldnt figure out how these seemingly insubstantial cables could deliver such good sound. The guitar chords had superb texture, almost like the performers were right in front of me. The space surrounding the performers was immediately identifiable, and didnt seem to lack any dimensionality, air, or "aura." Moving on to my other favorite CD, Massive Attack's Mezzanine, I concluded the same thing: the instruments were right in front of me, and I had a sense of "being there." Hugh Masekela, a fabulous musician, has a rich and immediately recognizable voice, though it takes the right equipment to reproduce it satisfactorily. I had that exact same tingle through the Mapleshades.
Eager to see what the Analysis-Plus had to offer, I listened to these tracks several times and familiarized myself with the fabulously rich and harmonic sound, then placed the Analysis-Plus cables in the "loop." I figured that at least theoretically, the Oval 8s should distance themselves from the Mapleshades due to their quality of construction and the engineering that Analysis-Plus is known for. (They manufacture quite a few cables for other companies in the high end region.) Was I in for a surprise! The two cables sounded quite similar. Not only that, but on certain tracks I preferred the Mapleshades to the Analysis-Plus. Hugh Masekela, for example, had a somewhat more immediate presence through the Helixes. Everything was there with the Oval 8sthe sweet sound, the space around the instrumentsbut it was striking how well the Mapleshades were able to keep up. Here you have a cable that resembles a pair of twisted wires versus a product that is 10 times as thick, and I couldnt find much of a difference! The Analysis-Plus had a tad more bass extension, though the Mapleshades delivered the bass with a bit more warmth and punch. Depending on the music and the mood I was in, it could go either way.
As the review period came to an end, I continued to ask myself how it was possible for two completely different engineering approaches to achieve such similar performance. I have to give kudos to Mapleshade for making so affordable a productI would recommend these cables any day of the week! They would be a fantastic upgrade to basic systems, as well as ones costing many thousands of dollars. Danny Kaey
I appreciate the straight forward way you reviewed the cablesno bull, just the impression. Thanks again,
Golden Helix-Plus speaker cables