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Positive Feedback ISSUE 72
Au24 SE Cables
as reviewed by Gary Lea
Since the world of hi end audio is filled primarily with testosterone fueled, grunting males, or so I am told, it is only natural that the entire phenomenon of "Mine is bigger than yours" would permeate our sacred hobby. All it takes is a visit to any hi-fi show and you will see enough evidence to try, convict, sentence and execute every single audiophile of the sin of that particular sentiment. The evidence is right there in the very gear that we covet.
I am certainly one of those guilty and not just by the avocation of being a reviewer. I have had 8 foot tall speaker behemoths, gargantuan amplifiers with enough weight to hold a major ocean liner still if used as an anchor in the deep sea, titanic turntables that defy description for size and mass and audio cables that if emptied of the internals could suffice as fire hoses to put out any four alarm fire in the city where I dwell.
I have also had incredibly compact pieces that were delicate to look at, had a very high wife acceptance factor and almost disappeared from view. They also sounded astonishing. At one point I took great pleasure in having a system made up of those types of gear simply to see the astonished looks on people's faces when they asked "Is all that sound coming out of those little things?" I would proudly say, "Absolutely!" I took great joy in that right up to the point one onlooker said, "Oh is that a Bose system?" I do not mean to disparage Bose but if you are reading this then you understand the point without further explanation. Like a kick to the nether regions can end your thoughts of amore, so can a comment like that take the joy out of bragging about your system. Back to the bigger stuff!
As the years have rolled on I am happy to say I am no longer compelled to live up to size expectations in any way. It must have something to do with reaching 60 years on the planet. But on thing I do take pleasure in is the aesthetic beauty of exquisite audio gear and it does not hurt that proposition if you can see it. So if a really great piece of gear is on the large size that is ok by me.
What does this have to do with Audience's Au24 SE cables you ask? Everything! Why? Simple because they are tiny! At least physically! Elegant is probably the most accurate description of the physical stature of the cables. Paula, my wife, initially was very put off by big cables running all over the place back in the day when they looked industrial. As time and cable evolution progressed she came to accept them and actually began to notice the benefit and in many cases aesthetic improvements even in the larger cables. My latest set of reference cables really caught her eye and she finds them pleasant.
So enter the Audience cables. She noticed immediately and said "Wow those are actually elegant looking!" Elegant? "Yep elegant!" Well then we are off to a good start. Let's see if they sound elegant. And so began the adventure of having the Audience Au24 SE cables in my system for a rather extended period. And yes I am late with my review. (got that out of the way).
So let's get the technical stuff out of the way.
"The Au24 SE cables are constructed of OHNO continuous cast single crystal copper conductors with polypropylene insulation and cross-linked polyethylene jacket material. Relatively few people are aware of the role geometric configuration plays. If a given cable is not optimally configured to perform the task it was designed to do it will never sound as good as a cable with the correct physical/electrical characteristics regardless of which exotic materials are used in its construction. All Audience cables and especially the Au24 series are designed for low eddy-current resistance. This is the key electrical characteristic for good time response. Eddy-currents are created by the magnetic field found around a cable when an electrical signal is present. This magnetic field builds up and collapses as the signal varies. When the field collapses it induces an opposing voltage back into the cable. This opposing voltage causes eddy-currents in the conductor. If they could be seen, eddy-currents would look like swirling water in a river. This late arriving, opposing voltage disrupts the original signal by inducing a time-smearing artifact. These effects are clearly audible. Cables that sound "detailed" or "powerful in the bass" are usually victims of high eddy-currents. Eddy currents plus high capacitance can cause a cable to sound overly "relaxed." The particular type of coloration caused by eddy-currents is dependent on the materials, construction techniques and the geometric configuration of the cable. The Au24 cables exhibit extremely low eddy–current resistance.
If you would like more info on Eddy currents you can go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkYqfiOVOVY&feature=youtu.be
Many cables are designed for the lowest possible capacitance. Other cables are designed for the lowest possible inductance. Actually, for properly balanced sound reproduction these inductive and capacitive values should both be minimized and the ratio of inductance to capacitance (L:C) must be optimized. By designing for the lowest possible eddy-current resistance at the correct specific frequency, proper L:C ratio is naturally arrived at and both of these properties are minimized. The result is natural reproduction as heard in real life without added emphasis or editorializing. The Au24 cables may not sound as exciting at first but the virtues become apparent as the listener becomes familiar with them. Perhaps even more importantly, the musical overtones arrive in their proper time relationship with the fundamentals. This creates a more convincing illusion of reality and improves sound staging. For example, when properly recorded, a drummer's cymbals will now be placed back with the rest of the drum kit instead of appearing to emanate from the speakers.
There is a common misconception that loudspeaker cable must be large in diameter and have a low DC resistance in order to provide good bass response. DC resistance is relatively unimportant. What really matters is the characteristic impedance (AC resistance) of the cable. Music is an AC signal after all. Most of these large diameter/low DC resistance cables have excessively high characteristic impedance anywhere from 100 to 600 ohms with some measuring in the 1000's of ohms. The Au24 Loudspeaker Cable is only 4mm or 1/8" in diameter. Although the DC resistance may be slightly higher than the garden hose variety speaker cables the characteristic impedance is only 16 ohms. Musical signals from the bass to the overtones pass through this cable with less actual impedance than a cable with a lower DC resistance. The Au24 Loudspeaker Cable provides nearly perfect bass timbre and extension. Plus, the low eddy-current resistance means the cable is very quick and linear in the time domain. Voices and instruments sound strikingly real with this loudspeaker cable.
In developing the Au24 line we discovered how important simplicity is when highest possible performance is the design goal. Fancier connectors and layers of cosmetic sleeve would have made the cable look more expensive. However every time we made it look better it sounded worse. We were truly amazed at the sonically detrimental effects caused by bulky high-end connectors. The lessons learned with the Au24 cables have now been applied to our lower and mid-priced cables as well.
Audience exclusive Au24 RCA connectors are used on all cables requiring RCA termination. These simple, high quality connectors are far less colored than bulkier, fancier connectors. They are an advanced, minimalist design and have excellent grip and low contact resistance.
Audience balanced analog and AES/EBU digital interconnects are terminated with Neutrik XLR plugs. Audience loudspeaker cables are terminated with rhodium plated spade connectors. Audience will provide custom lengths and termination. The Au24 cables will begin to sound good after 2 to 3 hours playing time and will continue to improve for approximately 50 to 100 hours."
So that is the design philosophy and technology behind the Audience Au24 SE cables. Is that description accurate or is it hyper inflated manufacturer propaganda.
In a word, yes and no!
Definitely not over inflated hype. As a matter of fact when I first introduced the Audience cables into my system I did so without a lot of info from John McDonald of Audience. Mainly because I don't like to develop preconceived notions about products. I would rather go through the whole process with them myself. About the only thing John said was live with them for a while and don't even think about them in terms of reviewing them. "They will take a little while to burn in." That was it and off we went. I often don't even want to know the price until the end of the review period and so it was with these cables.
Before I interject any piece of gear into my system I spend hours with my reference system in tact to get the feel and nuances of my main system so that when I put in something new I can sense immediately what is different. Since there is always something coming and going it is relatively important if not absolutely necessary to do this in between every single review. This can drag out a review process but I think it is well worth it because it gives me a more accurate representation of what is going on with each and every change.
When I started with the Audience cables I began by interjecting interconnects between my preamp and mono block amps. One thing that I did find myself wondering was whether or not some might be put off or dissuaded by the rather mundane look of the cables. That is not to say unattractive or lacking in a quality look but there is no wow factor. Like it or not in this hobby / passion visuals are rather important to many if not most audiophiles. After all you spend a lot of time looking at the gear. Many expect, at least at this level of investment, something sexy looking and something that screams hi tech, big money and big bang! If that is important to you above and beyond sonic quality then you may not be attracted to these cables. Of course that would be a mistake and your loss. While not in your face sexy as in say, a Marilyn Monroe way (yes dating myself but her beauty and sex appeal is inarguably timeless) they are still sexy in their restraint. When you examine the cables up close there is no denying the quality of build and attention to detail. They truly begin to draw your attention and your appreciation as the spectacle of fire hoses running through your system quietly disappear. I grew to really appreciate the ease with which you could move them around, elevate them and fit them into just about any space in short order. That makes them sexy indeed. Think librarian after the horned rim glasses come off, the hair goes down and lo and behold. Well you get the point!
I ran through my standard list of my listening selections. I find that sticking with the same recordings for critical listening evaluation allows enough familiarity with the music to notice and identify the changes that new gear create.
So the thing with cables is that they can either deliver the music without interjecting anything of their own and therefore create a satisfying experience or they can degrade the signal and make the sound worse. I have not encountered a cable that actually makes the music better unless it is replacing a highly inferior cable. That being said I look for cables that take nothing away from my current setup as it is pretty damned good... and many other audiophiles have shared that opinion of my system as well.
With the interjection of the interconnects into the system there was a very comforting continuity. I did not notice a significant change at all in the system and we are talking about replacing a set of interconnects that cost 2.5 times as much as the Au24 SEs cost. That is a great testament in and of itself! The music was delivered with sharpness where expected especially at the leading edge of the notes and decay was appropriate. Slam was always there in abundance when the music dictated the need. Nothing felt hemmed in or restrained. As a matter of fact it was quite the opposite effect. Open, fluid and willing to go where the music directed. Dynamic swings happened with light speed. Everything, from Joe Satriani's soaring harmonic pinches to the subtlety and soft rendition of Eva Cassidy's voice, right down to the whispering breathiness were all delivered with pinpoint accuracy. Soundstage remained wide, high and deep as I have come to expect from my system. I have some tracks in my listening list that have spectacular effects that push the limits of some systems with spatial placement of sounds. Most noticeable is the track "Dogs" from Roger Water's live album In the Flesh where in a very exacting stereo system you will hear dogs barking and you will be convinced they are coming from behind you, to the right and from outside the walls of the listening room. I have interjected pieces of gear that reduce that effect. In my reference system the first time I heard it I swore it was my neighbors Akita barking from their backyard. So much so that I got up and was headed out back to lean over the well and tell him to shut up. Much to my chagrin and ultimate delight it was the recording. My best friend was sitting there with me and though the same thing. I am happy to report that the effect was not even slightly retarded but actually it seemed just a bit sharper than with my usual cables. It was just a bit more present is how I would describe it. Everything seemed as it should be and that rarely happens when I put a new cable into my existing set up.
I next added in the interconnects between CD and turntable and repeated the same listening session. Again no real significant changes were noted. Again this was a good thing. If anything there might have been just a shade more brightness to the overall presentation. That could be attributed to the relative newness of the cables but it did not degrade the music in any way shape or form it was just a faint difference. I really have to stress that it was very faint and the only one who would have ever noticed would have been me. The extensive soundstage remained in tact. The pinpoint focus and imaging were all there unmolested and the overall presentation was as good as I have ever had come out of my system. That in and of itself is about as high of praise as I could give to these cables.
The final step was to interject the speaker cables into the system. Here I did expect to hear some significant difference if there was going to be any. Voila! Seamless! The system chugged along without a hint of degradation. If anything the Au24 SEs might have been slightly more analytical sounding than my reference cables but not in any kind of negative way. There did seem to be a slight bump in sharpness but again I am talking in 100ths of a percent. Most notably bass was a bit tighter than with my reference cables and slightly less present in the way of bloom from a kick drum. That is not to say less impactful just a bit tighter with slightly faster decay. Overall the cables pack plenty of punch combined with superb poise. You definitely get a smooth midrange and springy, percussive bass and the treble is brilliantly on target with a natural brightness sans any harsh or grainy edge to it.
Since Audience believes that excessive shielding causes more issues than it resolves by restricting the current flow they eschew it in favor of low-impedance design that is said to naturally reduce noise and interference. I can honestly say I did not pick up on anything indicating or approaching RFI or EMI interference.
These cables are about as neutral as I have encountered. They are not the only ones but they are at a price point that simply makes them an incredible bargain for someone moving from a mid quality cable and making that first dive into the higher end of things. There are other cables out that with more of a physical wow factor in this price range. There are some that claim fancy and other worldly construction that necessitates excessive cost due to the complex construction process, proprietary this and that and cantaffordium raw materials. But at the end of the day the truth is in the ear of the beholder. Place these cables into service, run them in for a hundred or so hours. Sit down with your favorite tracks, sit back and close your eyes. Forget the hype of audiodom. Forget what the enlightened say. Let your ears be the judge. IF you do that I am as certain as I am of my own existence that you will find these cables to be one of the best bargains around. They deliver on the promise of other more costly cables. I am reminded of the old axiom that it is best to "under promise and over deliver." Nothing could be more accurate than this when describing the Audience AU24 SE Cables. If you are looking for high quality cables that can provide a sound experience way beyond their price point these should be number one on your list. If I was looking to replace my cables these would be at the top of my list. I would have to say that is the best endorsement I can give and I am certainly going to miss having them here. Gary Lea
SE Interconnects 1 meter - $1190.00 each additional meter $434