I'm still shocked when I hear, while describing my system to a new visitor, that some people are unfamiliar with the name Audience. After explaining that I use many Audience products, including the adeptResponse 12 TSSOX conditioner, a full complement of power cords, their Au24 USB cable, the new Au24-SX cables (the subject of this review), and their game-changing personal monitors, the ClairAudient The ONE and the 1+1 v2, and that they are, in fact, indispensable to my reviewing work, my guests are, well, very impressed. As well they should be.
I had the distinct privileged of being the first person to hear the new Audience Au24-SX balanced cables on Christmas Eve 2015; not even their creator, the late Roger Sheker, my friend and Audience Chief Engineer, who passed away this past February, had the opportunity to hear them before me!
In The Beginning
I first experienced the virtues of Audience Au24 cable products in early 2004, publishing my first review, a look at the original Audience Au24 digital cable, back in July of that year. To give you some idea just how good these cables are and have been, there has been one or more Audience Au24 series cable in play in one or more of my systems since that time.
With the release of the Au24-e (for enhanced) in 2006, came a positive change in character, defined by slightly improved bass extension and tonality, slightly more "bloom" than the originals (the most apparent shortcoming of the original Au24), with enhanced texture and tone color, and upper frequency extension that was also ever so slightly more "creamy" in consistency as well. The greater bloom and more elaborate texture that they presented also served to enrich their ability to portray spatial information.
The introduction of the Au24-SE (2013), wrought even more significant change, affecting even greater enhancement in bass extension and speed, a more credible sense of body and bloom, and a finer level of transparency and resolution. That enhanced resolve and transparency was a remarkable surprise, as those traits had always been one of their most apparent strengths.
Which Brings Us To Today
But across the board, the instrumental body, bloom, and tonal texture of the SX cable line is, well, virtually on par with the very best cables I've heard, and their performance approaches that of my current single ended (unbalanced) RCA interconnect reference, the über exotic and pricey Stealth Audio Śakra V12. You may find it interesting to note that a meter and a half set of single-ended Śakra V12's sells for $15,800! A meter and a half pair of the Au24-SX's go for $2085 in RCA configuration ($2800 in XLR), or less than 15% of the Śakra's cost.
Hallmarks of the Au24 cables, since their inception, have been their remarkable transparency to the source, exquisite resolution and timbral purity, combined with incredibly low noise, and remarkable dynamic expressiveness. Over their maturation, those traits have continued to slowly advance, with attributes like texture, bloom, body, and spatial cues having seen the most notable improvement.
But make no mistake, what the SX brings to table is not a slight enhancement; its innovations are significant, especially in the aforementioned areas of bloom and body, the only area's where I felt that even the SEs fell slightly short of some other more accomplished, and to be fair, considerably costlier cables. Tonal quality with the SX iteration is more vibrant and truer; so much so that they easily exceed/surpass any such earlier incremental advances made during their continual progressive development.
The first model Au24-SX cable I received, the new balanced IC, offered such incredible performance that I was taken aback. While at first, before they were fully seasoned (I dropped them in my system cold for several hours, before running them in on my AudioDharma Cable Cooker EFS 2.5), I gave the SE's a slight nod in the categories of microdynamic detail and overall resolution, over my time listening, I came to attribute that perceived advantage of the SE to a slight excess of energy just above the presence region that is more authentically handled by the SX.
The SX not only passes slightly deeper bass, they are distinctly faster, with better defined, more articulate pitch, unfaltering speed, and exceptional tonal focus.
One of the more prominent advances of the SX over the SE is their midrange performance. Textures are more clearly conveyed, tone color more vibrant and honest, and their conspicuous improvement at rendering the body of instruments, as well as their harmonic bloom, is more immediate, bordering on revelatory.
They offer a degree of shimmer and sparkle, with no evidence of etch, glare, or overemphasis, to the top three octaves that the SE seems to miss. And their ability to present timbral decay up top is spooky real... things just recede so naturally, so clearly; they decay in a continuous manner, fading into an uninterrupted, undeterred silence. Not that the SE's are poor here, the SX just presents more openness, continuity, and air.
They afford an even quieter background, which translates into enhanced transient detail, more involving, more clearly resolved microdynamic shading, and highly explosive dynamic attack.
Imaging and soundstaging, two areas which are crucial to me, are both noticeably improved, with instrumental voices being at the same time slightly more accurately sized, and offering a more truthful sense of the space around and between their voices.
Audience Cables Reaching
The SX is such a clear cut above the SE that it almost seems to defy the family heritage it so proudly and rightly represents! They deliver heightened transparency, increased focus, a more defined and accurate soundstage, a higher degree of resolution and transparency, and a richer, more full-bodied tonality; the SX has elevated the level of Audience's cable game beyond being an extremely competent product to an extraordinary one. Once you hear them, it is impossible to go back to the SE, as good as they are. The Au24-SX cable line proudly represents Audience's statement, and is one that competes quite capably on the world-class cable stage. They readily compete with, and best, many other highly regarded cables, some costing more than three times as much. Most enthusiastically recommended.