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Twisted Pair II interconnects and speaker cables
as reviewed by Roger S. Gordon
Bargains are nice, particularly for audiophiles, since the best gear is usually priced beyond our reach. We all want to reach audio nirvana, but are constantly constrained by little things like mortgages, car payments, college tuition, grocery bills, etc. Because of this, many of us are ready to jump on the bandwagon if we hear of a component that performs far above its price point. In PFO No. 15, Tom Campbell reviewed some speaker cables and interconnects from a new manufacturer, Element Cable. There is nothing secret or proprietary about Element products. They are made from standard Belden wire, using techniques developed by Jon Risch and published on the internet. Despite their humble origins and lack of pixie dust, Tom thought the Element cables sounded very good. Unfortunately, he did not have any expensive cables to compare to them, and he wondered in his review how they would sound in such a comparison.
After reading Tom's review, I also wondered, so I asked him to put me in touch with the main man at Element Cable, Anthony Wynn. Soon I had a complete set of Element cables for my system. These consisted of an 8-foot run of Double Run Twisted Pair Bi-Wired speaker cables and three pairs of Twisted Pair II interconnects, in 2-foot, 5-foot, and 9-foot lengths. I burned the cables in on my Audio Dharma Cable Cooker, then put them into my system. After the cables had settled in, I asked three of my audio buddies to come over and help me listen and compare. The cables on hand for comparison were:
Speaker cables (8-foot bi-wired runs):
Audio Magic Sorcerer first generation
Audience Au24 (3-foot)
Audio Magic Sorcerer, first generation (2-meter)
Harmonic Technology Truth-Link (1-meter)
Harmonic Technology Truth-Link (3-meter)
Purist Audio Design Venustas (2-meter)
Purist Audio Design Venustas (3-meter)
We played a number of CDs and LPs to get everyone acquainted with the sound of the system. Because of the large number of cable swaps we were contemplating, we decided to use track 4 of Lisa Garrand's The Mirror Pool (4AD 9362-45916-2), since this track has (1) a female vocalist, (2) a full orchestra, and (3) deep bass. More importantly, we could stand to listen to it again and again and again.
We started with the speaker cables. First we put in the Audio Magic Sorcerers, then the Audience Au24s, then the Elements. It was a close call between the Elements and the Sorcerers, with the Au24s a distant third. We put the Sorcerers back in, then the Elements, and after much discussion, the score was three to one in favor of Audio Magic. The differences were subtle. The Audio Magic cables were slightly more detailed, though a little rolled off on top. The Elements sounded a little brighter, but a little more extended. We all could have lived with either cables, as the differences were so small.
Leaving the Element speaker cables in the system, we moved on to the interconnects, swapping the connection between my Modwright-modded Sony SCD-1 and Herron preamp. We first put in the 2-meter pair of Audio Magic Sorcerers, then the 2-foot Elements, then the 3-foot Audience Au24s, then the Elements, then the 2-meter Purist Audio Venustas, then the Elements, then the 1-meter Harmonic Technology Truth-Links, then the Elements. After discussion, back in went the Audio Magic Sorcerers, then the Elements. The Audio Magic cables had significantly better bass than the others, and was preferred by all four of us. The Elements came in second and the Truth-Links third. We had been listening for three hours and our ears were getting tired, so we called it a day.
A few nights later, I continued the cable comparisons by myself. Leaving the Audio Magic Sorcerers between the CD player and the preamp and continuing to use the Element speaker cables, I swapped the interconnects between the preamp and my deHavilland monoblock amps, alternating between the 9-foot Elements, the 3-meter Venustas, and the 3-meter Truth-Links. With the Venustas, the highs were slightly rolled off, but the music was more detailed and had more nuance. With the Elements, the music had slightly less detail, but a slightly more prominent high end. The Harmonic Technology cables were closer to the Elements than the Venustas. I then replaced the Sorcerer interconnects between the CD player and the preamp with the 2-foot Elements and repeated the previous procedure. The effect of the Element interconnects between the CD player and preamp was audible with all three preamp-to-monoblock interconnects—i.e., the sound had more top end but less detail, and was not as smooth.
Then, keeping the 3-meter Venustas interconnects between the preamp and monoblocks, I switched to vinyl so that I could compare the interconnects between the Herron phono stage and the preamp. Using Dead Can Dance's Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (4AD CAD705), I compared the 2-meter Venustas, the 5-foot Elements, and the 2-meter Sorcerers. After much swapping back and forth, I preferred the Sorcerers. They were brighter and more alive, with a smoother, more detailed sound. The Venustas were more subdued, and not as alive. The Elements, which were less detailed and a little more harsh, came in a close third.
As a final comparison, I switched back to digital and put the Audio Magic speaker cables back in. Keeping the 3-meter Venustas between the preamp and the monoblocks, I again swapped the interconnects between the CD player and the preamp, going back and forth between the 3-foot Audience Au24s, the 1-meter Harmonic Technology Truth-Links, the 2-foot Elements, and the 2-meter Venustas. The Au24s seemed to play at a higher volume, but the sound was tilted towards the high end. Violins sounded a little steely. The bass was tight, but not as forceful. With the Harmonic Technology cables, the sound was lively, the bass was tight, and the volume seemed to be slightly louder. The Venustas sounded more natural, with slightly more detail and with more and tighter bass. The Element interconnects were not as harmonically rich as the Venustas. The bass was more forceful, but not as tight.
So, after more than 200 cable swaps, what had I learned? The fact that the differences between the $300 Element speaker cables and my $2000 Audio Magic Sorcerers was very, very small shows that you don't have to spend big bucks to get very good speaker cables. If I did not already own the Sorcerers I would be happy to use the Element cables as my reference. With respect to the interconnects, the answers are not so clear. My friends commented that it was possible to spend a lot more money to get slightly better sound than they heard with the Element cables, but who would want to? On the other hand, isn't that what high end audio is all about—spending incredible sums for small improvements?
The Element cables do not give you audio nirvana, but they get you close for a very affordable price. The bi-wire speaker cables are $250 for a 6-foot pair and $25 for each additional foot. The Twisted Pair II interconnects are $99 for a 2-foot pair and $15 for each additional foot. That is very affordable, plus you can buy the cables on the internet with a 30-day money back guarantee. The Audio Magic and Purist Audio Design interconnects do sound better than the Element interconnects, but at ten times the price, the sonic differences are not that great. Are you willing to pay that much for such a small improvement? Only you can answer that. If you can't or don't want to spend the big bucks, try some Element cables. They are highly recommended. Roger S. Gordon