POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 21
as reviewed by Carl Hruza
There is a certain mystique surrounding audio cables, their designers, their construction, and their effectiveness, perceived or otherwise. It's no secret that a plethora of small companies offer "hand made" designs. The list seems to grow weekly, and every one offers the promise of a "radical new design" with giant-slaying capabilities. Most of these designs are not particularly empirical, either in the sense of being the result of extensive research and experimentation or, in many cases, guided by practical experience. Anyone can make audio cables, and many do, but making cable that works consistently well is another matter.
I don't mean any disrespect toward the audio cable industry. In fact, I have a good deal of respect for people with the drive, ambition, and commitment to develop cable products and introduce them into a very competitive marketplace. However, I particularly appreciate innovation, as opposed to the "me too" approach. After all, it is creative people with the commitment to bring their ideas to fruition who stretch the envelope in the audio industry.
Being creative and having the practical ability to manufacture a good audio cable is only part of the story. One must also have the ability to market the finished product, and this is where things tend to get a little tricky. There are several very different approaches to marketing an audio product. One is to provide a detailed and technical evaluation of the product's design and construction, and explain, in a scientific way, why this product is better than its competition. Another is to attempt to describe in words the sonic properties of the product. Both methods are valid, and both can be effective, but I prefer the former approach. If you can convince me that this product originates from good design principals, is well constructed, and uses premium-grade materials, I am likely to let my ears judge how it sounds, rather than be told how it sounds by its manufacturer.
So it was with Pear Cable and their Anjou interconnects. When I first encountered their website (www.pearcable.com), I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of technical information. The site is not loaded with either jargon or rocket science—just facts and figures on the properties of the materials being used and discussion of why those facts and figures are important. This may not be significant to everyone, but to me it indicates that the company's design approach utilizes theory in conjunction with practical application.
If that doesn't catch your interest, the next point might. The audio community has been fed the "hand made is best" line since the beginning of time. Back then, it was probably true, but surely things have progressed? With my engineering background, I understand the importance of consistency and repeatability when manufacturing a product, neither of which is easily achievable when something is hand made. The owner might feel special knowing that the owner of the company has lovingly created their precious interconnects with his or her own hands, but is that really a positive attribute? Pear Cable thinks not. They make it clear that their cables are machine made, and that they've invested in the jigs and tooling necessary to ensure a consistent product. According to Adam Blake, "Our cables are manufactured from start to finish in the U.S.A. At this time, we do not order bulk cable from China. ANJOU interconnects are fabricated on custom designed and built cable machinery in the Boston area. Pear Cable has direct control of the process from beginning to end, enabling us to perform quality control measures at several distinct points in the process."
Adam is an amiable and interesting fellow, and it has been a pleasure to communicate with him. He describes himself as a passionate person who believes that music must invoke strong emotion in the listener. He talks just like an audiophile, and I don't always report that as a compliment. He is a self-confessed tinkerer, and has designed and built a number of loudspeakers and cables over the years. "I even spent time designing and building drivers from scratch. When I say from scratch, that means the cones, voice coils, and entire motor structures. I was using high-strength magnets recycled from pacemakers to increase motor efficiency!"
During the four years before he started Pear Cable, Adam worked as the head of research and development for a fuel cell company. "While there, I developed a lot of new ideas for both the materials and geometries in audio cables. When your job is to spend day after day agonizing about how to drive electrons and ions through materials, this is the result. I found that much of the technology I was developing could be either directly or indirectly applied to audio cable technology."
Adam is quite secretive about the details of his own audio system, and rightly states that people tend to associate attributes, both good and bad, with audio equipment they have heard or read about, and that those associations may not be accurate. His musical tastes are varied: "I love to listen to blues, jazz, classic rock, and even dance music. I realize that putting dance music in that list will make many people cringe, but for me it is all about the emotional response." On the subject of audio cables, Adam is a non-conformist in many respects, and is quite open and candid about his views. He is not out to impress anyone, except by the excellence of his product. If his cable doesn't fit the mold you are looking for, there's a reason, and it's probably a good one.
For example, when I asked Adam why the Anjou interconnects are only available with single-ended termination, he offered this explanation: "The ANJOU cables represent a no-compromise design. Single-ended cables are of course very different from balanced cables. At the very least, balanced cables have a third conductor. During the design process, it was determined that the optimum configuration for the ANJOU interconnects was with two conductors. Adding a third conductor to enable termination with RCAs or XLRs would have meant degrading the sound quality of the single-ended cables just for ease of manufacturing."
Adam assured me that a XLR design would be forthcoming. "The bottom line is that we are treating a balanced cable as a completely separate product from a design point of view. This is a continuation of our no compromise approach to audio cables." The other good news is that a full line of high-performance audio cables is in the works, including balanced interconnects and single/bi-wire speaker cables.
I would not have bothered with the Anjou interconnects if I thought that Pear Cable was not going to be around for the long haul. Formed in 2004, its relative newness shouldn't belie the seriousness of the company. Adam intends to make a lasting impression on the audio cable industry. He has a business partner, investors, and other people working for the company at various levels, and is clearly committed to building a solid business foundation. Of course, he accepts that the product will be the major determining factor of the company's success or failure.
The Pear Cable website is very professional, and projects a very positive company image. So does the product packaging, and the care and attention that have been taken to get it to you unscathed by the boys in brown. I can't say enough about the fit and finish of this product. I've put a lot of cables through my system, some from big companies like AudioQuest, others from cottage industry players, and the fit, finish, and esthetic quality of the Anjous is up there with the best.
On the Anjou product page on the Pear website, the most important attributes of this cable are listed as follows:
These are impressive by any standard, but ultimately, the product will impress only if it sounds good. How do they sound? Forget any preconceptions that you might have about the use of gold as a conductor. If you don't have any, let me give you a couple: (1) Gold conductors sound dull and lifeless, and (2) Gold conductors are colored and euphonic, like tubes.
When I first heard them, the Anjou cables sounded seriously rolled off at both ends. A quick email to Adam Blake confirmed that they had only had two hours of use, and needed to settle, as he described it. I found that they finally settled after around 200 hours, much of that using a Purist Audio burn-in CD. The Anjou cables were used between the very capable Krell KPS20I CD player and preamp and between a Musical Fidelity upsampling DAC and preamp. I tried them in several systems to get a better sense of their character and to highlight any compatibility issues, and can report that their character was preserved from system to system.
What is the character of gold? In a word, organic. Okay, I hear you cringing, so let me try to break down that description for you. By "organic," I mean the sense of fullness and texture in an instrument or voice, but only when coupled with a sense of fluidity and togetherness. When a note struck on a nylon guitar string has great attack, blooms into a large picture with pure tone and color, and decays rapidly, leaving the sense of reverberation in the listening space, and does so in one cohesive movement, that is organic. Taken literally, it means "constituting an integral part of a whole." I haven't heard this so starkly from any other cables. I mentioned "colored and euphonic, like tubes" as a preconception some people have about gold conductors, but what I describe as "organic" is anything but "colored" in the negative sense of the word. With the Anjou cables in my system, music sounded natural, and so close to how I expect instruments to sound that it couldn't be anything other than right.
Compared to the Purist Audio Venustas, the Anjous were more vivid. The Purist cables sound great in my system, but are a little laid back and relaxed. The Anjou cables had a more upbeat character that helped push the music along. They had more of what Linn/Naim owners call PRAT. Duke Ellington's Blues in Orbit was delivered with a foot-tapping liveliness that lifted my spirit and connected me directly with the energy of the performance. This recording is a good evaluation tool that provides many of the elements that audiophiles seek from a good system. It has tremendous stage depth, and tremendous dynamic range and impact. It is a benchmark recording for its ability to deliver high frequencies clearly without sounding harsh, and it places images well outside the boundaries of the speakers. The Anjous preserved everything that I had heard repeatedly through the Venustas, but added more rhythm and energy and more fluidity in the midrange.
I also had the Straightwire Maestro IIs on hand, and it was interesting to compare them with the Anjous. The Straightwires aren't considered special by high-end standards, but I like the way they project music. They also have liveliness and vibrancy, but a touch of stridency in the treble that makes them good for short listening sessions but a little irksome when listening for prolonged periods. The Anjous are clearly more refined. Their fullness of body and transparency in the midrange provided the same degree of vividness and sparkle but without the tendency towards brightness.
As much as I enjoyed the Anjous' fluidity through the midrange, their treble was just as enjoyable, and was marked by a pure and sweet tone with ample air and good extension. On one or two recordings, I had heard a little more extension and openness in the higher frequencies from other cables. On the Ali Farke Toure/Ry Cooder CD, Talking Timbuktu, there is a shimmer from the cymbals that seemed just a tad less prominent with the Anjous. Conversely, some recordings that sound overly sibilant with other cables were tamed just a tad.
At the other end of the spectrum, it was hard to fault the low-frequency performance of the Anjous. My equipment cannot reproduce very low bass, so I can't say whether these cables are champions in that area. In the 35Hz to 200Hz region, the Anjous were tight and rhythmic performers. They were tuneful, and had a good sense of solidity underpinning the midrange.
Their soundstage perspective was very good, a little more forward than the Venustas' and a tad more recessed than the Maestros'. Stage width was as good as it was with the Venustas and a little wider than with the Maestros, with better image solidity on instruments projected outside the speaker boundaries. Their imaging was very good, clearly better than the Venustas' and on par with the Maestros'. Images seemed to have a little more flesh on the bone than they did with the other cables, and there was good separation between performers on the stage.
What really surprised me about the Anjou interconnects was the fact that they are the first offering from a new company. I expected that fact to excuse a less-than-complimentary review, but I found myself enjoying the performance of the Anjous considerably more than that of the other two cables I had on hand. It isn't often that something new finds its way into my system without being pulled apart. I found it hard to be critical of the Anjou interconnects, as they sounded very competent and very balanced.
A stint at business school taught me, among other things, that every successful product should have what the marketers call a "unique selling proposition," something that differentiates the product from the competition. In the case of the Anjous, the organic and fluid nature of their presentation makes them stand out. I haven't heard that quality to the same extent with any other cables, and in my opinion, it is something worth paying for. This brings me to the final point—$1250 gets you a 1-meter pair of very fine audio cables from a professional company that clearly plans to be around for the long haul. Carl Hruza