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Positive Feedback ISSUE 8
as reviewed by Dave Clark
Cables are one of the more controversial issues in audio. You either believe that they can impart a certain sound into an audio system or that they all sound alike. The problem is that little scientific proof exists, aside from basic measurements like inductance and capacitance, to suggest why one cable sounds different than another. While, for instance, a cable of high capacitance should offer less treble extension and dynamics than one with low capacitance, there are cables that sound different than their measurements would suggest. Issues of system compatibility and listener bias will frequently result in one cable being preferred over another, regardless of design criteria that would imply the opposite. The truth is, who is listening to what, and with what, becomes a far greater determinant than measurements.
There are as many different approaches to cable design as there are "designers." (I say "designers" because some cables are nothing more than repackaged, off-the-shelf wire marketed as a groundbreaking design.) While many of these cables are excellent, others are ho-hum. Good basic cable design is not newstart with a proven wire geometry (or develop your own), add exotic materials like Teflon, six-nines copper, or ultra-pure silver, and you hit the market with a major cable breakthrough. Then we have the true designerscraftsmen that painstakingly develop their cables, build them one at a time, listen to each permutation, then choose the direction to pursue. This can take a long time, as the cable evolves when each parameter is changed. Cables from these companies usually feature a very different approach to geometry, shielding, conductor and dielectric materials, etc. They also look the part, being rather unusual in appearance.
Jerry Ramsey at Audio Magic likes to push the cable envelope a bit, and has really done it with the Clairvoyants. While the Clairvoyants feature a wide, flat conductor in common with a few other products on the market, Jerry has taken the concept to a whole different level. The Clairvoyants feature a four-inch-wide, hand-polished, ultra-pure silver conductor (for the speaker cablesthe interconnects are about two inches wide) that has no dielectric other than a woven, see-through jacket. The cables are also double cryoed (once before termination and once after), and employ strategic placement of ERS paper to address noise. The interconnects feature modified Eichmann Bullet RCA plugs, while the speaker cables come with your choice of spades or bananas, both chosen for their sound rather than their looks or ergonomics. Essentially a pair of flat conductors separated by their woven jackets, these cables are as simple as it gets and as tweaky as possible, at the same time! Jerry feels that the use of minimal jacketing and shielding, plus the elimination (as much as possible) of any outside materials (the wire is coated with a clear finish that keeps it from oxidizing) allows the user to hear only the wire and nothing else.
Looking at all that silver and absence of a shield, I assumed that these cables would sound silvery and noisy as all get out, but it was just the opposite. These are about as un-silvery sounding as any silver cable I have heard, by which I mean that they are not bright or analytical. Nor are they noisy. The speaker cables are four feet long, the interconnects between the Sony and Cary players and the BC3000 preamp are three feet, and from the BC3000 to the Clayton M100 amps I am running nine-foot lengths, all with no hint of RFI/EMI.
So what do the Clairvoyants sound like? They sound like musicpure and simple. I love these cables as they really do several things that make the music flow in our home. One they sound as "real" as all get out. By that I mean the proverbial test of how real does the music sound from another room while your system is playing back a well recorded disc or LP? Ours sounds wonderful. Listening to the new Bob Marley Live at the Roxy while we were hanging out on the front porch smoking cigars and drinking beer was a fine time to get into the groove man. Heck, it was like I was there.
Two, how many dimensions does music possess? Say four. Good, you got it on the first guess. And these are height, width, depth, and timing. The Clairvoyants present a very wide and deep soundfield that allows an amazing presence of dimensional imaging (not only the space to the sides but as one moves back between the performers as well), floor to ceiling height, and musical timing that allows the music to kick in. The speakers really do disappear, though much of that is due to the Reimer Tetons (one of the best speakers I have heard under $20k, oh, they will only run $7k). That is the room fills with a wonderful sense of music that floats in the room in all dimensional glory. Okay I know that sounds too much like a bunch of advertising hooey, but these cables really do present a remarkable soundfield. Right up there with the best I have heardPS and Prana to name two of the better (for the record, I have either owned or used in my system the following cables; JPS Superconductor +, Cardas Quadlink 5C, Kimber PBJ, Prana Wire Natraja, Empirical Audio, Nordost SPM and Blue Heaven, Townshend Isolada, Silver Audio, Audience Au24, Twisted Pair, DH Labs Revelations and Air Matrix, Pure Note Epsilons, Ensemble, HiDiamond, Mapleshade, and Stealth. Some inexpensive and generic, others pushing the barrier in everyway.). And for those who cherish imaging, airy ambience, and that 3D palpability, then put these are at the top of your must audition list. The Clairvoyants are real champs in this territory as well.
Lets see, I said four dimensions and have only addressed the obvious three. So what is the fourth dimension? Going back to old days of Listener magazine, it has to be timing. These are cables to dance or tap your toes to! Great rhythm and pace. Music has so much snap and movement, that going back to the Marley disc, really makes one want to move to the rhythm. No doubt much of that has to do with the cables clarity and "neutral" presence. The Clairvoyants do not add anything harmonically to the mix which would obscure or cloud the musics pace and rhythm. It all comes through in a rich tapestry of colors and hues making things that are propulsive really kick (think of releases by DJ Cheb Sabbah, Gigi, and Bill Laswell) in and things that swing really swing (think of releases by HiM), and well you get the idea.
Now back to this issue of having all the silver and not sounding really all that much like a silver cable. What they "sound" like in terms of conductor is a natural richness to the sound. The cable possesses warmth that is not added to, but is inherent in the recording (unlike the Revelations that lean towards the warm and dark side). This is not to say that the cable is forgiving and makes all discs sound alikethat it will not, nor is it romantic or euphonic (like some silver cables can be when pushed too far in the other direction). What is there is put out into the room. This is a fairly revealing cablebut in the musical sense, where it stresses musicality over analysis. It is one for the heart as opposed for the mind. Yes, it is relatively neutral (not quite up there with the JPS), but it is not lean and mean (like the Pure Notes). That said it has to be how Jerry has dealt with the silver thereby allowing the cable to avoid the silver cursebeing bright, glary, hard, etc., all for the sake of speed, detail, and clarity. The worse of the curse. The Clairvoyants avoid all of the curses and instead have that silvery touch of warmth, with all the clarity and speed so sought after in. But it does so like a fine wine, revealing a wealth of richness and textures "sounding" more like an aged silver antique that has seen centuries of exposure to the world than a modern day knock-off with no history. Quite simply, this cable offers a sense of musical refinement that for me is quite beguiling.
Okay, so it is musical and for most readers that is enough. But how is the audiophile stuff? Yeah, I said it does all the soundfield stuff really well, really, really well. It is very open and life-like in terms of transparency with no glare or hardness (it is actually so open that I have found the need to tone things down a bit with some ERS paper here and there! Not bright, but a bit too much at times in the terms of openness>just too much going on.).
Midrange is very neutral with no emphasis occurring that I can ascertain. I know that Srajan of 6moons.com felt the earlier incarnation of the Clairvoyants to have a bit of an edge to them in terms of an added energy or presence, but I do not hear that here. Yes, they do possess more of an upfront energized presence than one of being more laid-back and relaxed (say the Prana cables, though I think this is most readily apparent only indirect comparison) and as such in the wrong system could go a bit overboard. I do think that the addition of the ERS paper to the cables and more refinement to the design (Eichmann plugs) eliminate to a great degree any errors of admission. As such the cables are fairly neutral in that trumpets sound like trumpets and so on. But, there is an Audio Magic "house" sound and if you are familiar with the Stealth AC unit, then you can get an idea of what these cables sound like overall.
But what about the bass? Glad you asked. Killer. Listen to the new Yello disc and in a full-range system the bass waves should really come across with either a spine numbing speed, audibleno make that a visual texture of the notes, deep rumbling, punch, or any possible combination of the latter. This disc is fun to listen to and the Clairvoyants make it happen. True, the JPS goes a bit lower with more slam, but it is pretty much an issue of more of this and less of thatwhich is more important, becomes a real trade-off. Overall, the JPS is a bit better in the bass, but it is not quite as well balanced tonally, being neither not nearly as open nor as airy. Nor can it image in all four dimensions. It is quite good, just a different perspective.
Which is what it is all about. Different cables for different people and systems. Find the right one and you can be happy forever. I really love what the Clairvoyants do and have made them part of my reference system. They are overall one of the best cables I have heard with no real trade-offsat least none that I have heard so far based on a wide range of components and musical selections. They are flexible, easy to work with, and sound fantastic to boot. What more could one ask for? Well I do have few quibbles about these new masterpieces from Audio Magic. First off, these are not the least bit inexpensive (though they are hardly pushing the limits in being the priciest around. See even at $2200 a meter for the interconnects and $4200 for six foot pair of single run speaker cables, there are cables that cost several times what the Clairvoyants doobscene? Possibly, but not knowing the time and materials going into the other cables, perhaps they are a bargain. Then again, perhaps they are obscenely over-priced. The Clairvoyants do use the best silver Jerry can find and with everything else going on in their construction, seem to be at a reasonable point with the competition). But even so at this price they are not a cable for everyoneJerry does make a less expensive version that for a fraction of the price provides a majority of the sound and they look considerably better too. Point is at this price one should not have any concerns about build quality or issues with fit and finish. Unfortunately the cables do not have the fit and finish that I would like to see, though I know much of that is a result of the basic design. Being wide and flat, termination is difficult and Jerry needs to address the appearance at the cables ends. While it works and has held up to being plugged and unplugged, there has to be a better way then heat shrink and hot glue. As it stands, cosmetically they appear to be a work in progress. My hope is that while Jerry certainly has the sound down, he needs to work on the quality of termination. True these are a bit tweaky and have that appearance, but at a price that will surely attract the big spenders, Jerry needs to make the cables have a look that is reflective of their price. Even so, my highest recommendation. Dave Clark