The editor asked me to review cables and like a fool I agreed. I didn't know what I was letting myself in for. I also didn't know my amplifier — victim it appears of a lightning strike - would require an overhaul in a far off land half way through the process. I'm delighted to say my worst fears were not realized. I was afraid that after extensive listening tests I would not be able to reach any useful conclusions or that the differences would be subtle, pointing to preferences for different cables according to what kind of music was playing. That didn't happen. I could easily tell which cable was playing without looking. In fact the cables sounded more distinct than the two CD players I used in my tests (Meridian G08 and EMM Labs CDSA SE).
This review (part 1 of 3) deals with three sets of matching interconnects and speaker cables. I paired all these with Nordost Valhalla Power Cords, a Nordost Thor Power Distribution System, Perreaux Radiance R200i Amplifier and Wilson Benesch Act 1 Speakers, plus the above mentioned CD Players. Then I listened for months on end. Although I did have MIT Power Cables on hand I did not use them for this review, to keep the playing field level. You might expect me to report that you get what you pay for, that the performance of all these cables fits nicely on a graph of price versus performance. Sorry, but I'm going to keep you guessing for a while. I'm even going to keep me guessing because as I write, I don't have the exact prices to hand. I'm going to look those up and report them to you only after I tell you about the construction of each cable and how much musical pleasure they elicit.
How Do They Look?
Australia's The Music Cable sent me their Truly Balanced interconnects plus bi-wired lengths of their Gold Label Reference speaker cables. The balanced interconnects comprise two lengths of cable connected into an XLR connector at each end after a short flexible length of cable, a most unusual arrangement. The bi-wire speaker cable also features two cables, joined at the amplifier end into two bananas and split into four bananas at the speaker end. These cables appear to be very stiff but they are in fact quite bendable. They will stay rigidly in any shape you bend them into, like the long neck on an adjustable desk lamp.
The most unusual designs are from California's MIT Cables. The speaker cables alone weigh as much as some amps. How can that be? Well, they sport a large aluminum box part way along the cable containing their exclusive network technology. This box needs to be supported securely behind the equipment to avoid placing a strain on the connectors at either end. MIT provide a strain relief band to assist with this process. In my system there is no way I could use the cables with my amp and CD Player in their normal positions, so for all testing I used a dedicated equipment rack in front of my built-in rack and used the rear rack to support the network boxes. You shouldn't even consider these cables unless you have the space to accommodate their special requirements.
However much I might like their sound, the interconnects would not fit well in my system, although I would have no such problem with the speaker cables. For reference we have Valhalla balanced interconnects and speaker cables from Nordost. These cables have been available for a number of years but their advanced monofilament technology makes them ruthlessly accurate and revealing, competitive with the very best in cable design.
What Makes Them Tick?
TMC admits the cables will appear quite stiff because "we dare to use solid copper tubing to completely eliminate the distortions that your ears are most sensitive to". In compensation the balanced interconnects and the speaker cables both include short flexible links close to the plugs. The stiff parts can be bent quite sharply as long as you don't continue to bend them back and forth at one point on their length. I buy their arguments that this stiffness is not a long term. It just slows down the process of installation. TMC have sufficient faith in their product to provide a 45 day money back guarantee and you can't say fairer than that.
Atlas Cables have developed an international reputation for their wide range of cables, consistently offering outstanding value for money. The new Mavros series are their attempt on the state of the art in cable design, combining a number of techniques together into a sleek black package. Key to performance is a new dielectric material, a microporous PTFE which offers a dielectric constant of 1.3 to 1.5, dramatically lower than that of ordinary PTFE (2.1) leading to much higher propagation speed (72 to 85 percent higher than normal). This dielectric is combined with OCC copper drawn with the most sophisticated techniques. OCC stands for Ohno Continuous Casting which involves one grain in 700 feet of copper. This means the signal does not have to cross any grain boundaries in the conductor. The copper itself is high purity 6N or 99.9999 percent pure. The benefits claimed for this construction include improved signal integrity, particularly in the higher frequencies.
The balanced interconnect features a multistranded 99.9997 percent pure copper screen with an aluminum foil for 100 percent coverage and RFI rejection while maintaining maximum flexibility. Cotton yarn filler reduces microphony. The signal passes through two concentric multi stranded conductors. These conductors are twisted to reduce EMI interference and the proximity effect. The cable is covered in a thin soft PVC cover and an outer fabric cover for a luxurious feel. Atlas make their own balanced connectors which head honcho John Carrick claims are world beaters in their own right. They feature cold weld OCC copper pins. The bi-wire speaker cables use similar technology but with some specific changes. For example the conductors for the high and low frequencies are different — 3.02 sq mm multi stranded conductor for the lows and 1.77 sq mm solid core for the highs. Atlas terminated the sample cables with their own high quality bananas at both ends.
MIT Cables follow the beat of a different drummer. His name is Brice Brisson and he has been designing cables since the seventies. Not satisfied with conventional designs, in 1981 he licensed his "Bandwidth Balanced" technology to Monster Cable. Later he also licensed other phase correct, or time coherent designs to Monster, which have become some of Monster Cable's most enduring and successful products.
In 1984 Bruce founded Music Interface Technologies, or MIT for short, to further the research, development and manufacture of cables for high performance audio, video and AC. In 1989, he created the low-pass filter network concept, designing the patented CVT and Terminator technologies that are contained in the distinctive modules for which all MIT products are known. Bruce has been a pioneer in the use of computers to measure those characteristics of a network's performance that correlate with the quality of the sound reproduction. The results of his research are seen in MIT's exclusive Multipole networks. If I may quote from their website:
MIT sent three sets of cable for these tests, beautifully packaged in a box that looked like it held a pair of mid size speakers. First up are the Oracle AC1 power cords which I will report on in another review. As a sample of their range of interconnects MIT sent a two-meter pair of unbalanced Oracle V3.2ic cables. These directional cables are much thinner than the power cables and extremely flexible but you still have an aluminum network box (6" x 4" x 2") positioned mid cable which you need to support somehow. This box has a three position switch marked low mid and high which is used for impedance matching against the component receiving the signal. Balanced cables have two such switches each. I found a significant improvement in performance when selecting the low position dictated by my preamps specifications. MIT use their own locking connectors. These proved easy to use but you will need lots of space to accommodate them because they do not bend for over 5" from the tip of the pin. These cables are part of the Dot 2 range, an improvement on the previous Dot 1 range of fixed impedance cables, and sitting at the base of that range, offering what MIT claim is 16 times the performance of "Just Cable". That sounds impressive, but be warned that Oracle V1.2 cables offer twice that, and MIT has two far more expensive ranges to interest you if you are so inclined.
Now let's get to the seriously heavy box containing the V3.2bw bi-wire speaker cables in 8' lengths. No more 48 cubic inch network boxes on these babies — try 8" x 7" x 3" for a grand total of 168 cubic inches. Now you're talking. It is interesting to note that if you own the older Dot 1 cables, MIT can rebuild them for you to Dot 2 standards. These cables occupy a similar place in the MIT hierarchy to the supplied interconnects, except I would say the exact match would be the balanced version of the V3.2 interconnects. MIT claim 476 times the performance of "Just Cables" for the V3.2bw, rising to 61 times performance for the upscale V1.2bw. If you have $26,900 to spare, you may be interested in the top of the line Oracle MA bi-wire speaker cables with a claimed 75 times the performance of "just wire". The supplied cables are hosepipe thick and stiff on the amp end. The network box is installed close to the speaker end, designed to sit behind the speakers with four short lengths of relatively thin flexible cable to attach to the binding posts of your speakers. In my case the binding posts are at ground level so the network box sits on the floor, but depending on the design of your speakers you may need to provide a supporting platform for the network box. These boxes by the way look gorgeous and come in a Ferrari silver finish. My samples were terminated into two seriously impressive spades at the amp end and four angled bananas at the speaker end. I usually prefer bananas at both ends but due to the weight and stiffness of the hosepipe at the amp end, top quality spades make an excellent choice.
How Do They Sound?
If Mavros does well with Cuban jazz it should be right at home with Miles Davis, right? "Freddie Freeloader" from the SACD pressing of Kind of Blue [Columbia CS 64935] confirms the wonderful way these cables have with percussion. Simply superb — quick, accurate and detailed. The piano has a tight focus while Miles floats deliciously in front of you, revealing the expressiveness of his art. The image is wide but shows less depth than the reference, a finding consistent across all recordings. The bass quietly goes about its job, at a low level but securely pitched. The music swings strongly. The aggression in the trumpet comes through clearly while Coltrane's soaring sax sound fuller and sweeter than the reference. On the other hand, Cannonball Adderley's sax does not reveal the same dynamic range and exuberance the Valhalla captures.
When I want to test the three dimensionality of an image I pull out Bambatulu by Lilison Di Kinera [MUS2-1119]. There's fabulous layering on this recording, revealed by the best components. The Mavros cables score strongly on instrumental color, warmth and speed for a very musical sound. They bring to the fore the exotic and seductive nature of this delightful African acoustic music. The image is absolutely stable, the bass has drive and power and the guitar has a real edge to it. My notes say "like electrostatics with balls". Yes the layering that I'm looking for is there, but the Valhallas open up the image further and place each instrument at a precise distance from the listener in a way none of the other cables capture.
The finest recording of a piano and bass I have ever heard comes on "A Night in Budapest" on the MA on SA SACD disc released by Crystal Cables. Another tough test for the Mavros. The piano comes through larger and closer than the reference, but I notice that while the transient snap is almost identical, the recovery from that snap is cleaner and faster on the Valhalla — it stops on the proverbial dime. The more cavernous image projected by the Mavros is less precisely located. All in all this is most enjoyable but it lacks the magic the Valhallas reveal.
Listening to Ravel's Bolero on SACD [MFSL UDSACD 4002] provides a key to understanding these cables. At volume level 44 there is something missing in the performance — a broad sweep to the music that makes itself evident when you ratchet up the volume to 47. Politeness turns to hypnotic rhythms, mush to raw excitement, and the image gains focus and depth. Ravel's climax is clean with no evidence of overloading or compression. The Valhallas at this same level work a similar magic but reveal more space and, with their lower noise floor and increased dynamics, capture more detail that the Mavros cannot quite resolve. The true test comes when you dial back the volume to 44 again — a drop of about 4.5 decibels. The Valhallas just sound a bit quieter, but maintain all the excitement and image quality. They allow you to listen with maximum fidelity at lower listening levels, and that's good to know and a surprising finding, not noticeable so much on the other recordings I listened to for this test.
Bob Dylan's Modern Times [Columbia 82876 87606 2] is a strangely mixed recording (producer one Jack Frost — a pseudonym for the great minstrel himself) which sounds great in my car and on my iPod, but can appear flat and murky on the stereo in my living room. On "Ain't Talkin" the Mavros does not convince — the recording sounds slow. Dylan's words are easy to make out but his voice is strangely disembodied. The guitar is clear and the bass strong but not particularly well defined. "The Levee's Gonna Break" has power and drive, but the Valhalla shows greater focus and definition, lifting it onto an altogether higher plane.
The Music Cable tells a very different story. The Ruben Gonzales disc reveals a fast cable with a big beefy bass above a black background. The flute is forward and clear but without much air — it doesn't breath so freely as the others in this test. There is also less sustain after a note is played. Dynamics are excellent and image depth and width are both strong, but the location of each instrument in that space is not precise.
Kind of Blue reveals a treble region both harder and more brittle than the Valhalla. Miles is well located in the mix but his sound loses some of the magical sheen we have come to love. The mix is tight and loses some of its subtlety. I like the sound but it does diminish the music somewhat. The bass is a little soft and Coltrane is not as free and open as through the reference. Percussion is a little weak but the timing is all there. On this particular recording the Valhalla has so much more presence - phrasing improves, percussion is delicate while Miles is precisely located and his music soars. Dynamics too are unconstrained. Coltrane has bite and power the TMC cables can only hint at, while Cannonball Adderley is so much more of a bluesman - altogether a more realistic sound.
Bambatulu shows some muddying of the lower midrange, draining excitement from the music. The music also loses some of its sheer beauty as the instruments sound less distinct from each other than through the reference cables, which are fast and exciting and reveal a wealth of detail, making you want to get up and dance. The guitar on "Luciana" has fantastic drive and impact through the reference— its sound fully resolved. Now every instrument has its own space and precise location. The color and timing are so seductive, the percussion so fast and delicate, you realize immediately why so many music lovers are willing to part with large sums of money to wire their systems with Valhalla. MA on SA tells a similar story for The Music Cable. It's a good rendition; the rhythms are fine, the bass fast and clear but the dynamics and detail trail far behind the reference cables which bring magic into the room.
Bolero is the make or break recording of all the discs I used in this review. From the very opening the famous rat-a-tat-tat of the percussion sounds slow and fails to maintain interest. It sounds rather boring to be honest — a bit like the Mavros at 44, but this time things do not improve when you turn up the wick. As the music involves more and more instruments it becomes stodgy. The strings simply don't show the necessary texture or detail to bring this music to life. By contrast the Valhallas give you the full pulse of the drumbeat, the purity of the flute, the echo of the walls of the hall and the excellence of the recording. Each new repeat heightens the excitement and maintains full clarity. When we finally reach full orchestra the sound is magnificent and totally under control in this superb performance.
The Music Cable pulls a rabbit out of the hat with Bob Dylan. "Ain't Talkin" is atmospheric and reduces the bass heaviness that can mar this recording to produce a stronger balance than the Mavros. But the music still sounds a bit slow and the percussion a touch weak. "The Levee's Gonna Break" is better still, buoyed by its firm bass drive and excellent overall balance. You would still conclude that the problem is with the recording if you didn't have Valhallas around to reveal a wealth of detail and a strong punchy drive led by strong percussion.
Now we come to the MIT cables. They bring some special strengths, particularly in the realm of color and bass extension. On the Ruben Gonzales disc the bass is quite remarkable — strong and accurately pitched - while the closely miked piano is well focused and the percussion fast and clear. Man, this disc is exciting and on this recording at least, these cables are superb. Kind of Blue is crisper and carries more bass weight than the Mavros or Valhalla but best of all is how quick and precise that bass line is. The piano shows great presence and the performance as a whole breathes easily. The image is wide and has good depth filled with a wealth of detail.
MA on SA is the reference class recording amongst these discs. It alone trips up the MIT cables. On "A Night in Budapest", the Valhallas show a faster bass line and more detail in the texture of the instruments than the MIT cables. "Chopin's Berceuse" shows the Valhallas to have the blackest of black backgrounds which enables every nuance to stand out. Think of it as watching a plasma TV screen in complete darkness against watching with the lights merely dimmed. This is the greatest achievement of the Valhalla design and that's why it remains my reference today.
Bambatulu comes off very well indeed. The dynamics are explosive and the guitar on "Luciana", while forward in the mix, is not as edgy as through the Mavros. The bass again is superb — thicker and stronger than the Mavros or the Valhalla. Only when you compare directly to the crystalline Valhallas do you notice there is even more detail on the recording. "Ansa Djallo" shows better depth than the Mavros and a very wide image, with instruments remarkably well located in the mix. Colors are warmer than the Valhallas and the drive is electric. I still miss the black background of the Valhallas which allows the lowest level detail to be heard and elevates this track to superstar status in my collection.
Bolero shows the many strengths of the MIT cables. Colors are ravishing, the pulse sure, the image stable and the crescendo maintains full clarity so you can hear each instrument individually at full stretch. These cables can maintain their coherence whatever you throw at them. Like the Valhallas, they are enjoyable at any listening level on this difficult track.
Dylan too is well served although the stronger bass overloads the music on the classic "Ain't Talkin", making it a bit heavy. The Valhalla's leaner bass works better in my room, but in a larger room the advantage could well go to MIT. "The Levee's Gonna Break" comes out just about perfect, full of detail, drive and focus.
How Much Do They Cost?
Atlas Cable Prices
Mavros speaker cable 3m pair wired 2 to 2 with spades or Z plugs $2880.00
Mavros speaker cable 5m pair wired 2 to 2 with spades or Z plugs $4540.00
Mavros speaker cable 3m pair wired 2 to 4 (Bi Wired) with spades or Z plugs $3015.00 (as reviewed)
Mavros speaker cable 5m pair wired 2 to 4 (Bi Wired) with spades or Z plugs $4670.00
Mavros interconnect RCA to RCA 1m pair $1395.00
Mavros interconnect XLR to XLR 1m pair $1760.00 (as reviewed)
The Music Cable Prices
Yellow Label RCA 1m interconnects $180 factory direct
Truly Balanced XLR 1m interconnects $320 factory direct (as reviewed)
Gold Label Reference 3m pair Speaker Cables $300 factory direct
Gold Label Reference 3m pair bi-wire Speaker Cables $600 factory direct (as reviewed)
MIT Cable Prices
Oracle V3.2 Wide bandwidth Bi-wired Speaker Cables 8ft $9995 (as reviewed)
Oracle V3.2 Unbalanced interconnect 1m $2999 (as reviewed)
Oracle V3.2 Balanced interconnect 1m $3495
So What Does All This Mean?
The Mavros cables are seriously good cables and compare very strongly against anything of the same cost or even double. They are a delight to install, they look great and they come with very high quality hardware and even a burn-in disc. I rate them a notch or two below the reference Valhallas but that's still quite an achievement. They work well with almost every type of music and their sins, such as they are, are of omission not commission. They don't distort, they don't cut off frequency extremes or emphasize sibilance. What separates them from greatness is a small restriction in image depth and a dynamic range that cannot match the very best available.
The more expensive MITs will give the Valhallas a run for their money in some systems. They are exceptionally musical and show different strengths than the similarly priced Valhallas. On the plus side they are warmer, more colorful and stronger in the bass. They lack perhaps the low level detail and explosive dynamics of the Valhallas but the differences are a matter of degree. They certainly deserve serious audition if you have the budget and space for them. The quality of these cables is also evident on the outside and you can have endless fun explaining what's going on inside those amazing network boxes to all your friends and relatives.
Finally the TMC
cables not surprisingly fail some of the toughest tests I could throw at them,
but on most discs they are clean and dynamic and they image very well. They
represent extraordinary value in their price range and with a money back
guaranty what do you have to lose? There's no mistaking them for megabuck cables
from the looks or the feel and I'm not crazy about the dual cable design rather
than the more common single sheath. But I am crazy about the construction
quality and the value and I am intrigued and impressed with the originality of
Who says all cables are equal?
MIT Cables - Music Interface Technologies
Voice: (916) 625-0129
The Music Cable
Voice: + 61 414 830 388