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purist audio design
20th Anniversary Aqueous Cables
as reviewed by George Papadimitriou
You've got to be kidding, George! Yet another cable review? Yes. In my hot little hands are the 20th Anniversary Aqueous audio cables. Jim Aud, the head cablemeister at Purist Audio Design, sent me several power cords and a handful of interconnects and one pair of speaker cables, all from the 20th Anniversary line, called the Aqueous. These cables, as you may have assumed, mark the 20th anniversary of Purist Audio Design. The name Aqueous was used for Jim's first cable, and these latest cables incorporate all of Jim's knowledge and experience over the past two decades. This is quite a milestone, and congratulations to the folks at Purist Audio Design.
About the Cables
The first thing I noticed about these cables is the extremely high level of fit, finish and presentation. The cables come protected in a clear plastic tube, with further clear plastic covers to protect the connectors. All of the cables have serial numbers on them, so they can be better tracked and referenced. The connectors appear to be of very high quality; mine were all XLR connectors on the interconnects. The interconnects are available in both XLR and RCA, of course. The outside of the cable is covered with a black mesh material that is very well terminated at the connectors. The cables look great, and feel substantial. This set of cables provides a very high level of pride of ownership. The elegance of these cables reminds me of some of the classic pre-amps from Jeff Rowland Design Group, especially the Coherence II and the Synergy IIi. These Purist cables have the look and feel of a beautifully designed, engineered product. The bottom line here is that these are incredibly well made cables that feel great, look great, and are a pleasure to own and use.
The connectors on these cables are also of a very high quality. The power cords come with the famous Oyaide plug and IEC connectors. Very impressive. On the power cords, there are flexible ends on both sides to make installation easier. All the cables are fairly large, heavy, and substantial, yet flexible. The speaker cables come with gold-plated spades on both ends. They are available in mono-wired or bi-wired configuration. The bi-wire set is a discrete bi-wire design. By this I mean that the conductors for the bass section and the treble section are identical inside the cable. In the mono-wired configuration there are two conductors, one for positive and one for negative, and in the bi-wire set there are an additional two conductors, making a total of four, inside the jacket of the cable. The XLR connectors on the interconnects are high quality, and also gold plated. Although these cables, especially the power cords and the speaker cables, are quite large, they are very flexible and easy to work with when connecting them to the appropriate electronics.
Design and Technology
The Aqueous Anniversary Cables are different from the previous generation cables from this company. The new shielding and damping material is called 'Contego'. Jim Aud tells me that this new material combines the liquidity and naturalness in the mid-range of his "fluid" cables, with the high and low frequency extension of the 'Ferox' cables. The conductor is a multi-strand design that is not a Litz construction, i.e. the individual strands of the conductor are NOT individually insulated. The conductors are an alloy of copper and gold. Jim tells me that the connectors are also an alloy to match that used in the cable. All the connections are soldered. An interesting factor is that while the interconnect is shielded, so too is the speaker cable, which is unusual.
Tell Me How They Sound, George!
Well in a word, exceptional. These cables are of the finest quality available. In car-speak, these cables are beyond the BMW/Mercedes/Lexus quality, and into the Bentley/Aston Martin/Ferrari arena. All cables have a particular sonic character in my experience and by any measure, these cables are definitely world class.
All the 20th Anniversary Aqueous Cables sound very similar. They all have great drive, and give a weighty, authoritative sound. These cables are not from the "articulate, ethereal" school like some of the cables I have heard, especially some cables that use silver as the conductor material. Along with the AudioQuest silver-conductored Sky interconnect and the Everest loudspeaker cable, they are the best cables I have heard for enjoyable and engaging long term listening.
They also have very good depth, and the soundstage is centered at approximately the plane of the speakers, but can extend forward and backward in depth depending on the music and the recording technique. If you like your music full, weighty, robust and authoritative instead of light and anemic, this is your cable. These cables give you the mass, the density, the "oomph" of real music. Depending on the sound of your system, and your listening preferences, these cables can be overly full and robust with some electronics, for example classic tube gear, the older Jeff Rowland gear, but not the newer designs. The new designs from Jeff Rowland sound much more transparent, neutral and extended.
The new Aqueous Cables are very smooth, yet articulate, and are extremely easy to listen to. There is very little to no listening fatigue with these cables. String instruments like violins or cellos have both the warmth and smoothness, as well as the airiness and spaciousness. The cables' tonality is excellent, and their presentation is very cohesive and well integrated. Using my reference Audioquest Sky and Everest cables, the three drivers of my Green Mountain Audio Continuum 2i speakers blended better than any other cable I have tried on my system. The integration of the drivers with the 20th Anniversary Aqueous Cables were almost as good, both are extraordinary.
The bass frequencies are excellent, and very well controlled, without being constrained or constipated. The natural bass energy was allowed to "come out" of the speakers. The kick drums at the beginning of the Eagles "Hotel California" off their Hell Freezes Over album are authoritative and weighty, they have that "skin" sound that a drum should have. Many cables get the impact of the drum correct, but few can reproduce the harmonics in the bass that give the texture and articulation of the skin of the drum. This cable is excellent at both areas. The electric bass is awesome with these cables. These Aqueous Cables have great drive, and a sense of force and power, like they are able to "grab" and "drag out" all the power from the wall electrical receptacle. The bottom line here is that, in the bass department these cables can reproduce the depth, the weight, the control and the articulation of the bass better than any other cable that I have tried in my system. In this they are truly world-class and state of the art.
Even though I stated that these cables are weighty and authoritative, they do not lack for articulation. The articulation and the delicacies of the music are there, make no mistake about it, they are just not thrust at you, nor are they highlighted or stripped from their harmonics like with many other cables. The vocal harmonies are very easy to discern. An excellent example of this is some of the vocal harmonies on many of the tracks on the aforementioned Hell Freezes Over recording. The presentation of the vocals is upfront when they are recorded in that way. Stringed instruments have a sweetness, but they do not go into the warm and syrupy camp. They are sweet and at the same time have enough articulation and transparency to reproduce the rosiny texture and the "wood body" resonances of these instruments. You can hear both the strings as well as the body cavity of these instruments, all harmonically correct.
The midrange presentation is ever so slightly recessed in my system. The vocals for example are a little more prominent from the rest of the music in most of the recordings. The Audioquest cables do a better job here. This is not a problem or criticism per se, just an observation, and is really more of a preference to how you like the sound and presentation of your music. In many recordings, this quality is mostly a benefit, as so many recordings are mic'ed "hot" with the vocals being very prominent, and slightly louder than the rest of the music.
The high frequencies with this cable are reproduced with a sweetness, and with all the harmonics intact. There is no etch, there is no grain, and you are able to listen for a long time with little or no stress, or listening fatigue. You get none of the "enhanced detail" in the high frequencies, like so many "hifi-ish" cables. This false detail of some other cables is actually resonance within the conductor and the cable, and not natural, real detail at all, but distortion in actual fact.
When listening to these cables at first, it feels that they lack clarity and articulation because of the cables' robust and authoritative nature. This is not the case. The detail and articulation are definitely there, and are an integral part of the music, and not something that is in isolation of the music, thus making it "stick out". The presence and clarity of these cables is very good, but not outstanding. It is as good as other fine stranded cables such as Vampire Wire, Jena Labs and Acrolink. In my experience, stranded cables in general are not as clear or transparent as solid core designs such as Audioquest. Once I heard the clarity and lack of strand interaction of solid core cables, it became obvious and hard to ignore. I noticed recently that Purist Audio Design have come up with a solid core cable themselves called the Proteus Provectus. It would be very interesting to hear these solid core designs versus the Anniversary Aqueous cables reviewed here.
Summarize it for Us, George
The Anniversary Aqueous cables are an excellent, world-class design. The fit and finish is exemplary and one of the best in the industry. These products exude pride of ownership. The sound of these cables is weighty, full, evenly balanced, and cohesive with very natural timbers. They also reproduce the mass and power of music like very few cables can. They are not the ultimate in transparency and clarity but they come very close, bettered by solid core designs such as my reference Audioquest Sky interconnect and Everest speaker cables.
By any measure, these are exceptional sounding cables. In the bass and upper bass regions they are truly state of the art. One can listen to these cables for a very long time without stress or listening fatigue. Overall, I highly recommend that you go out and audition these cables yourself to determine if they will work well in your system, and with your preferences. The bottom line here is that, I was very very sad to see them go from my system. One of the best cables I have ever auditioned, and in the bass department, untouched. George Papadimitriou
Aqueous Anniversary Cables
Interconnect: 1-metre RCA: $900, XLR 1-meter: