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as reviewed by Ed Kobesky
I've never had much aptitude for math or science. Thank God for the liberal arts, or I might not be making a living. Does that put me at a disadvantage in reviewing audio gear? Possibly. It could also explain why I've always been suspicious of the cable industry, despite having an open mind. I've read the white papers, but just can't grasp the value of battery-powered dielectrics or junction boxes that ward off evil spirits. When I heard that Belkin (of computer-surge-protector fame) was introducing a line of budget-priced audio/video cables, I got excited. The appearance of an industry outsider comes as a welcome change—Belkin hasn't yet learned to spew buckets of doubletalk and gobbledygook. Their product claims are simple and direct: PureAV cables use high-purity materials, effective shielding, and tough jackets to achieve the goal of accurately reproducing music without breaking the bank. That I can understand.
To my mind, a cable–particularly in a budget system—should accomplish three things. First, it should be well built, not prone to oxidation, and able to withstand years of use. Second, its price should be realistic, not based on tenuous marketing claims. Third, it shouldn't act as a tone control. That's all. Don't take this to mean that I'm attacking established cable manufacturers like KimberKable, AudioQuest, or Cardas. Though I'm skeptical of certain of their marketing claims, their products are excellent, but Belkin has managed to deliver competitive sound, if not pride of ownership, for a lot less money. With the Silver Series interconnects and High Performance speaker cables starting at $35 and $100 respectively, the price is right for someone building a budget system.
Belkin uses 99.9997% oxygen-free, PCOCC, solid-core and hybrid conductors in the speaker cable, which is wrapped in a tough PVC jacket and terminated with interchangeable connectors in your choice of spades, bananas, or pins. (Two grades of zip cord are also available for less demanding applications. I haven't tried them, but they're worth a look.) The Silver Series interconnects also employ 99.9997% oxygen-free, PCOCC conductors and high-purity, silver solder joints. The dielectric material is polyethylene, with "doublequad-shielded" construction. The cables are terminated with split-tip, 24-karat-gold-plated connectors. A lower grade interconnect, the Blue Series, starts at $20 and is comparable to the "upgrade" cables peddled at your local stereo warehouse. Though they sound somewhat constrained, they're pretty good for the price, and are perfect for connecting a hi-fi VCR, cable box, or seldom-used tape deck. I like them, but it's the Silver Series interconnects and High Performance speaker cables that merit attention.
If you were blindfolded, you could be forgiven for thinking you were hearing far more expensive cables. That's as much an endorsement of the Belkin wires as it is an indictment of some competing products. The cable industry has gotten pretty far out of whack price-wise, and this is proof (if we needed more). On the down side, I noted some ugly, uneven trim areas on the plastic connector housings—this is purely a cosmetic concern, but it's something you'll never find on Kimber, Audioquest, or Monster cables. Another cosmetic issue is the stiff, plastic mesh jackets, which may not be to everyone's taste. Other potential problems include the fact that the speaker cables are available only in a single-wire configuration and the interconnects are not available in half-meter lengths. Finally, I did experience a connector failure near the end of the evaluation period. I'll get to that later.
I compared the Belkin PureAV cables to similarly priced (and more expensive) products from AudioQuest, Monster, and Kimber. I began by replacing one pair of cables at a time. Later, I wired my entire system with the PureAV cables. The short version? I can't imagine the need to pay more for cables, but I can, in some cases, imagine paying less.
The High Performance speaker cables are slick, futuristic-looking products for those who take pride in their wires. The connectors can be changed from bananas to pins or spades in seconds, making them perfect for evolving systems. They had a slightly thick midrange and relaxed presentation, but got across more detail than the MonsterCable Z1s, which sound excellent but can be bloated in the bass. For a few dollars less, KimberKable's classic 4PRs performed admirably, with only a tad less clarity in the lower midbass and not as much airiness.
The Silver Series interconnects, on the other hand, are a smash. They achieve some of the clarity and spaciousness of KimberKable's Hero interconnects (about $150) at a fraction of the price. What you don't get are Kimber's sophisticated WBT connectors and cloth jackets, or the cavernously deep soundstage. If you can live without those, the Belkins will save you a ton of money. In the end, they reminded me most of the AudioQuest Diamondbacks, which are the most characterless interconnects that you can buy for around $100. The PureAVs' treble and soundstaging were notably better than that of my MonsterCable Interlink 400MkIIs (about $40).
The biggest improvement came when I replaced my usual assortment of wires with the PureAV cables. Much like a system comprised of electronics from the same manufacturer, the all-Belkin connections resulted in a cohesive and balanced sound. Unless you enjoy listening to wire, a safe way to ensure good synergy without excessive experimentation is to employ the same brand of cables throughout your system. Used together, in a system consisting of my Onix OA-21S integrated amp, Mission M31 speakers, Sony X220ES CD player, and Harman/Kardon T35C turntable, the PureAV cables drew no attention to themselves. They simply did their job of conducting signals from one end of my system to the other with as little loss and coloration as possible. In a far more expensive system, it will be feasible, even desirable, to spend more on cables, but in a modest system, these do the job as well as any, and better than some that cost considerably more.
I recently spent half an hour at a local hi-fi shop listening to the amazing new VS.1 integrated amp from DK Design Group. I was floored by its liquidity, soundstage depth, and sheer power. Not for a moment did I think about cabling, so it came as a huge surprise when I peered around back to find a patchwork of cheap wires connecting the VS.1 to a pair of vintage B&W Matrix speakers and— of all things—a satellite receiver! The moral, of course, is that expensive wire won't salvage a poorly assembled system, just as cheap wire won't destroy the appeal of a well-matched one. That's why I always advise devoting your budget to equipment, not cabling. It's also why I recommend the PureAV cables as a cheap solution for good sound.
Unfortunately, the test ended on a somewhat sour note. The BFA-type bananas on the High Performance speaker cables, which were worrisomely tight throughout the test, nearly lodged themselves in the speaker terminals of the PrimaLuna ProLogue Two amp, and had to be slowly and carefully finessed out of the posts. Then, a few days later, two of the connectors became terminally stuck in a Sony ES receiver, breaking off entirely and requiring pliers to remove. A Belkin spokesperson pointed out that the company isn't alone in using these connectors, but I still hate them, and vastly prefer the simple SBAN connectors from KimberKable or MonsterCable's excellent QuickLock bananas. Still, open-minded music lovers should give the PureAV cables a try. Just avoid the banana connectors and go for spades. Ed Kobesky