Positive Feedback ISSUE 74
Allegro Cables - Big League, Top Flight, No BS Musical Signal Conductors
as reviewed by Jim Merod
I Never Said This Before
Imagine the first time your youthful lust for innocent attachment to a mate of some sort, form or beguiling presence clocked you upside the head. Or inside your throbbing noggin. Imagine that virginal moment of longing and suspension—you, the uncertain gangly animal you were, staring at a creature who (for whatever reason) swamped your tender hormones while you, the goofy lost witness to burgeoning amor, found yourself groundless without a map to move forward.
I'll bet that 99.99% of everyone I've known has some recollection of that primal moment. For you it was the birth of a new reality, something alluring and mysterious, desired and dangerous. Although the status of your initiation to the world of ineluctable sound and music resides at a lower level of shock and helpless urgency, there is an affinity between the first fully-engaged bonding of one's aesthetic soul to Louis Armstrong or Beethoven's late quartets and that initial zap of pre-pubescent animal lust. The other motive within this complex, non-linear equation yoking musical preferences to magically-delineated sonic space is another adventure altogether.
And that is where we are, entering the mystical interregnum of lyrical sound at its asymptotic best.
Once the died-in-the-cranium audiophile worshiper has crossed many seas and chased sonic dragons, he or she often encounters an unexpected audio crisis in which everything hoped for in the never-never land of Musical Beauty and Sonic Seduction turns to dust. One has pangs of aural uncertainty. Doesn't Jake Nanoskull over in Forklift County have a much better system, more slam, endless bass, wider staging, and infinitely nuanced mid-range with plangent ambient decay? What kind of blockhead assembles my sort of sonic shortfall?
The potentially broke audio pilgrim reviews "high-end" territory covered, musical pleasure once illimitable with beckoning promise. Expensive gear junked. What was the meaning of it all, one wonders. What did I think I heard? What did I want to experience? Did I find it and lose it? Is the problem my impulsive purchases? Possible hearing loss? Or (worse? better?), am I growing weary with sonic ennui? Where did those melodic flowers go? Wallace Stevens was doubtless right: spring returns a little less each spring.
You Want to Check Your Options Carefully
First of all, in the realm of audio listening of any kind, one needs a reliable standard—a base line or, more accurately, a small but palpable archive of well-recorded music to minimize the ongoing grind and confusions of comparative listening. Second, one simply must find ways to hear live music in good, very good or excellent acoustic spaces on a regular basis. Third, observe the second notion here with semi-religious devotion. No one I've known who did not carry out these simple audio practices has ever demonstrated in my presence the degree of sonic literacy necessary to keep the almost habitual swapping in and out of audio gear from blurring all possibility of accurate and acute sonic cognizance.
Note to the sonically unreconstructed: for the purpose of forgetting Carmac McCarthy's unendurably haunting character, The Judge, who suffuses BLOOD MERIDIAN with an inescapably demonic grasp—in order to turn from such a convincingly lurid portrayal of profound evil and return to life's relative innocence in any of its mundane guises – let me remind us all of the quirky truth that music can tame the beast in us (Hitler's putative dedication to Beethoven, notwithstanding) and, therefore, it is incumbent upon the Audio Voyager to embrace the best and most life-affirming music possible.
All of this assumes you have finally figured out how to locate, and own, superior amplification; a winsomely-detailed high resolution music server; a preamp or DAC whose audible invisibility is de regeur; and, among the mind-boggling plethora of sonic transducers, a set of speakers that continuously seem to have been created with you in mind.
Now, with such a plentitude of extraordinary gear, you need wires. I have a thought for you here. If you can't afford Kubala-Sosna's Elation! or Emotion cables, you owe it to yourself to check out a new line of remarkable audio cables from Avanti Audio in Avon, Colorado.
Quite probably, I've dealt with more cables of every size, quality, brand and iteration than the vast majority of music lovers, audio reviewers, recording engineers, and (for that matter) cable manufacturers for the reductively crude reason that, despite my inveterate irritation with virtually all audio gear (and my growing dyspeptic temper regarding audio wire), I frequently succumb to a complex fascination with the fact that the majority of an audio signal's temporal life resides (first) in its travel through microphone cables and (second) with its ultimate movement through varied mastering and home audio reproduction cables—digital and analog interconnects as well as headphone and speaker wires—that deliver music to your ears ubiquitously para su casa or, in enigmatic medias res, with peripatetic resolve. I'm attracted to cables the way an ex-prize fighter gravitates to Joe Frazier's stinky gym in Philly. Just as Don Newcomb's unflagging pitcher's instinct heads for box seats behind the plate in Chavez Ravine to watch the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers carry his old Bums' tradition forward: there I am seeking new life from haunted dreams.
Speakers frequently fail to enchant me, yet (with a few exceptions) most microphones find a respected place in my weary heart. How many amplifiers have I tried to live with amicably only to give up, shaking my head at stupidity's triumph? If there are mistakes that anyone can make on the uphill climb to audiophile happiness, I've made them all. That trial and error regime is what educates most audiophilic junkies. And then we croak.
While I've observed one cable manufacturer seek wealth at the expense of honest people victimized by his beautifully dressed lamp cord wire (variations on that theme can be noted, as well), the intriguing bottom line of the high-end audio cable art is that almost all wire in the audio kingdom offers an exotic version of a 1950s tone control device. I realize such observations seem blasphemous. Disappointing to an extreme, that's a seldom-noted fact of the genuine glory of our high-res audio reality. Every now and then, a genuine keeper shows up with that combination of signal neutrality and transparence, along with an honest representation of the complex sonic textures and dynamic range on a master recording, to justify my cable junkie's feckless search.
Take a Deep Breath
I have a dear pal who cares greatly about music and about expensive, high-performing audio gear.
This is a man I hold in sincere respect... kind, gentle, thoughtful and, also, certain that the intrinsic value of an audio product is in direct proportion to its retail price tag. That is not true. Here before us is a case in point. Mike Chadwell's Allegro series of Avanti Audio Cables is not only a product line that kicks the rear of more expensive cables—not all, but a significant number—but it stands on its own terms as an absolute bargain in the audiophile cable marketplace.
Let's begin at the start of this most recent skeptical inquiry. A gaggle of Allegro cables arrived @ Chez BluePort awhile ago (buried in the mist of my mind's temporal swamp), their graceful physical signature swooping in with a diva's charm: sturdy build; expensive and truly welcome termination that outdoes many far more expensive cables which, for whatever reason, resist ease-of-use. All of us have one chance at crafting a grand first impression. Avanti's take-no-prisoners entrance not only vaulted to a superior position of welcome with its eye-catching appeal but quickly reinforced that status by working at a high level, during months of daily-grind rigorous use, that several commercially lionized brands of audio wire wilted nearby. Mike Chadwell's Allegro cable line is built for the long haul while, simultaneously, demonstrating exquisite sonic delicacy and undiminished musicality. While these cables' pragmatic functionality earn plaudits no less well earned than my kudos for their not inconsiderable cosmetic allure, the virtue I've found most impressive across the entire series—from interconnects to speaker wire; from power cords to hand-assembled pieces with unique and somewhat eccentric termination (e.g., 3.5 mm to XLR)—is the consistency of Avanti's sonic seduction... a word that might designate potentially colored signal delivery. That is not at all the case. The "seduction" I'm pointing to here is entirely musical, wholly a matter of sonic outcomes inherently pleasing precisely in the way that a Homburg Steinway or a Stradivarius violin enchant the mind and seduce one's heart in a superior acoustic environment.
Score an unblemished 10 for Allegro cables' first impression; another 10 for professional endurance and partnership; and a third 10 for delivering music that's both beguiling and "just right."
I know few exercises more arduous than cable comparisons, side by side, back to back, one after another… virtually a fool's errand following a rabbit down his hole. And yet, there's essentially no way to know what you've got with any set of cables unless you listen. And listen and listen carefully with a/b observations. Sound on its own terms emanating from a well put together high-end stereo or multi-channel playback rig almost always has a degree of appeal. Or, with luck, a significant degree of enchantment. On first hearing well-recorded music in such circumstances has an excellent chance of making a strong claim on your potentially delighted attention. What I'm noting here regarding comparative outcomes true for any piece of audio gear, as long as you have time and patience as well as two or more units that you think deserve close inspection. The difference with audio cables comes to this. If you're spoiled by employing the best of the few truly great cables available, then a certain predictable tedium is in store for you quite early on in the process. I suggest, for what it's worth, that the cable-swapping grunt gird endurance by moving down the cable revelation ladder at the outset. Begin with modestly performing wire. You might start with the connection between your preamp and amplifier and replace the wire you usually prefer with a decent but less revealing set of cables. The point of this grueling endeavor is to learn something innately of use and interest about cables for future use as well as "things ancillary" about your system that might pop up as extra data insights you did not specifically seek. Such bonus information sometimes is more valuable in the long run than what you discover directly with cable comparisons.
Start, for example, with a twenty year old set of AudioQuest Cobalt interconnects or maybe a once fancy pair of XLO wires that you've kept in a drawer in case your Uncle Snurdley decided to build an entry level sound system. Begin with a decent set of interconnects to establish listenable but not state-of-the-art signal reproduction. Doing that, you establish a baseline that allows for clear awareness of incremental changes in accuracy, dynamic energy, and sheer musicality as you proceed. I also recommend you make the entire endeavor a somewhat relaxed operation so the drudgery doesn't chase you off to mow the lawn.
I'll cut to the chase: many days of listening to Avanti Allegro cables of all sorts and lengths, in and out of just about every site of cable linkage in my fairly complicated set up, became far more enjoyable than I expected. On one hand, I sometimes ask myself what missing bolt drives me (once more) swap out wires over and under, in and out, on and on. Been there. Way beyond sanity. Done it too often. And yet, on the actual second hand, when cables as enticing and worth attending to as these become available for extended examination, there's a certain joy that I find uniquely intriguing. There is, no less, genuine delight in discovering that such unknown objects can shed musical light within the familiarity and comfort of my listening rig. That's not a characteristic experience. I'll say right here that, for every five or six "opportunities" to review a new cable line, at best I find perhaps one of them worth writing about. What's the pleasure in reviewing Ajax Gargantuan Audiophile Concoctions when they deliver nothing but yesterday's lukewarm pea soup?
No extended time reviewing a new line of cables has ever been as mind-boggling and flat out glorious—more than merely "worth the effort," but truly revelatory as a discovery of new and profound degrees of sound reproduction (of ecstatic musical embodiment)—as my initial ongoing time with Kubala-Sosna's Emotion cables a decade or so ago. I heard improvement at every site of cable usage as those cables went into my system. As more Emotion wire (not the easiest stuff to work with, bulky and defined by heft) went into my system, more of everything "musical" and musically-engaging appeared. At the conclusion of that review work, I was certain I may have reached the outer reach of the cable art. When Kubala-Sosna's Elation! cables came into the world several years later, I almost feigned disinterest. How could any wire top Emotions? Why did I want to pursue an extra one or two percent of signal reproduction? Who needed, in the face of truly pricey wire, to squeeze a needle? A Korean saying summed up my ambivalence: no happy man farts at the moon.
But I was off base. The Elations! out-achieved their splendid kin by a margin both counter-intuitive and almost frightening. There are, in truth, cable brands out there worth exploring and possibly investing in. Great audio cables are in fact an "investment" if you choose well. Thus, I can honestly say that, in more than thirty years of dogged treks through blind alleys and tangles in the somewhat mysterious cable terrain, I've never heard any wire that approaches Elation cables for signal-delivery accuracy and ultimate listening pleasure. I accept the asymptotic trajectory of such revised understanding since, now (theoretically), I recognize my own eccentric ignorance of the way such unexpected musical surprise could occur twice. Ignorance provides an ambiguous but nonetheless pragmatic frame for future skepticism. It comes to this: you don't know what something is until you live with it.
Of all the cable reviews I've written (suffered, carried out, and chastised myself for taking on) over an extended length of time, this process has been among the least burdensome. Therefore, I'm led to believe that anyone seeking excellent audio cables of any iteration, length and design is well advised to check out Avanti's Allegro cable line. Take that as a warning. These are not Kubala-Sosna's two top-of-the-pyramid state of the art cables. But Allegro wires are truly noble cables at a price that makes them absolutely no nonsense values in an audio market driven by claims of Stanford or Oxford pedigrees which, on inspection, frequently resemble the "excellence" of for profit non-academic degrees.
My perverse interest in The Cable Art is doubtless motivated by the sort of discovery I attest to here. Allegro cables deserve listeners who seek (and recognize) their wonderful conjunction of lyrical elements: musical sex appeal, sonic delicacy, explicit signal accuracy, dynamic truthfulness, soundstage credibility, emotional involvement, and extra-califragilisic aesthetic delight. I've seldom enjoyed the rigor of cable swapping as much as the time I've put in to learn what this very, very good company is up to. Avanti Cables is a splendid newcomer on the high-end audio landscape. It is truly "up" and I suspect will continue in that direction even though there's something difficult to articulate about the Allegro vibe. It's not an enigma, but it's affirmatively elusive. The more these cables get broken in, and the more of them that lend their elegance to your sound set up, the more you feel welcomed to a musical reality much like the one you wanted all along. Jim Merod
INTERNET DIRECT PURCHASE PRICING:
Avanti Audio Allegro Analog RCA & XLR Balanced Interconnects (1 meter pair & up) - $210 to $365
Avanti Audio Allegro Loudspeaker Cables (Single-Wired starting @ 6' pair) - $325 to $685
Avanti Audio Allegro Loudspeaker Cables (Shotgun Bi-Wired starting @ 6' pair) - $585 to $1305
Avanti Audio Allegro Analog Headphone Cables (starting @ 1 meter) - $180 to $300
Avanti Audio Allegro Phono Interconnect Cable Sets with Grounding Wire - $260 to $435
Avanti Audio Allegro SPDIF & AES/EBU Digital Interconnect Cable (starting @ 1 meter) - $130 to $250
Avanti Audio Allegro Power Cables (starting @ 1 meter) - $220 to $725