After reviewing end-to-end cabling solutions in Part 1 of this series, it's time to turn the focus onto interconnects balanced and unbalanced. Three cables from Part 1 come under closer scrutiny and we welcome another four cables into the mix.
The tests involve just a single length of interconnect cable of each type (one to two meters in length), plus two reference cables in the form of balanced and unbalanced Nordost Valhalla. Everything else stays the same. A Nordost Thor Power Distribution System feeds an EMM Labs CDSA digital source which is connected to the Perreaux Radiance R200i Integrated amp by each review cable in turn. Wilson Benesch Act 1 speakers are hooked up by a 2 meter length of Nordost Valhalla Triwire cable. All power cables are Valhallas. That's one revealing system, and if there are any sonic differences between these cables, we should be well placed to hear them.
Music, Maestro Please
Here are the recordings:
· "Diamond and Rust"
by Joan Baez from Rare Live & Classic
The Scoring System
Bring On The Cables!
The external beauty is matched by the tonal beauty on display in "Diamonds & Rust". Joan Baez's voice soars over the complex mix of instruments in a clear coherent image which offers both richness and warmth in spades. Image size is slightly larger than the reference and resolution a touch lower, otherwise it is hard to tell any difference between them. 
The Mavros does not fare so well on the demonstration class jazz recording Art Pepper + 11. While the image is set well forward, the percussion is not ideally clean while the horn itself is less subtle than the reference, the trumpet less open. At climaxes, the cable shows some evidence of compression. 
Have you heard "The Dog Song?" This challenging track stretches the Mavros which responds with a perfect black background and lightning reflexes but again shows evidence of high frequency compression in peak transients and a slight loss of focus in the voice. 
If there is one track that trips up the most cables it would be the "Funeral March" from Chopin's 2nd Piano Sonata played (as if his life depended upon it) by Arthur Rubinstein. The Mavros does a great job musically. The bass is strong, the dynamics wide, leading edge fully revealed and the image large, approaching the magic of the reference but lacking the ideal contrast between the sections and the touch of magic that tells you Rubinstein is in the room. 
Brahms Sextets are very successful here clear, open and convincing tone in a well defined space. 
The Music Cable Truly
The inexpensive Truly Balanced cable does not do justice to Joan Baez. Her voice comes through clearly but without the overtones the reference cable reveals. This track sounds heavy and the percussion unpleasant, while the bass line is indistinct. 
This cable does a better job on Art Pepper. The percussion is a little tizzy and not quite as detailed as the reference, but the horns have a strong presence and the overall image has good focus and depth. The midrange is set forward compared to the frequency extremes and in this case makes for enjoyable listening. 
"The Dog Song" suffers from this high frequency reticence the upper guitar harmonics are MIA, sustain is limited, and as a result the guitar sound lacks color. On the plus side, the dynamics are fairly strong and there is no sign of strain in the climaxes. 
The Truly Balanced Cable fails the tough Chopin test, which is not surprising given the lack of a strong treble. Leading edges are hard to find, making Rubinstein sound slow and heavy, which as anyone who ever heard him can attest is far from the truth. The bass performance is good here but that's not enough to let the music soar. 
Brahms fares no better. The image is not three dimensional and definition ranks lower than the other cables, imposing a veil in front of the listener. As a result the instruments tend to blend together and lose focus. 
Dynamic Design New
Generation Lotus Balanced Interconnect
Joan Baez comes through a bit shrill that's always a danger with Baez. It is also difficult to pin down her position in the mix. The bass is strong and clear but both detail and clarity are marked down in the midrange. There's so much going on in this track you need high resolution to make sense of it, and the listener is left struggling. The dynamics are rather restrained but despite all the failings, the music still shines through. 
Art Pepper shows the bright and punchy side of this cable. It's hard to locate the instruments in mid field and the trumpet and trombone sound too much alike. Extreme low bass is low both in level and definition. 
Chopin again shows beautiful tone color but the rolled off top, softened transients and slightly lower dynamics reduce the music's menace, which is what makes it so memorable on the best systems and in the flesh. 
The Lotus again trumps The Music Cable in the Brahms Sextet. In fact it is quite at home here with a strong coherent image, good color and drive. 
Crystal Cable Dreamline
So it's slim and elegant and flexible and visually almost transparent. How can that be consistent with high end ambitions? Have Crystal Cable discovered some new miracle conductor and insulation, thinner and more effective than traditional materials? Well actually they have, or at least they claim to have done so. The coaxial conductors of the Dreamline have exclusive use of a new formulation of their silver gold metallurgy. Four dielectrics, including Kapton, PEEK and Teflon are layered over the thin conductor code to protect against RFI and EMI contamination. Enveloping this thin shield is a braid or gold and silver conductors clearly visible through the clear Teflon jacket. The balanced interconnects are terminated into Neutrik XLRs while the unbalanced cables use exclusive WBT NextGen plugs.
Dreamline projects a deep stable image for Joan Baez, whose voice is at once open and beautiful. The bass line is full and quick. While warmer than the reference Valhalla with equally strong dynamics, the listener is set further back from the performers. Top marks for the reproduction of the percussion, where Dreamline is completely in control at all volume levels and reveals more detail than all the other cables, especially at the frequency extremes. I especially enjoyed the string tone here. 
Art Pepper pulls out all the stops with this cable. There is an enormous amount of subtle detail and a huge stable image. Dreamline reveals its lightning reflexes and again aces the percussion sound. The wind instruments are notably clean and precisely located, all instruments are easily discerned and identified, the orchestra supported by a full, quick and musical bass. What's not to like? 
The ultra high resolution and unrestricted bandwidth pay big dividends on "The Dog Song". The guitar is rich, resonant and colorful and the voice excellent. The perspective is more laid back than the Valhalla and there is no compression of dynamics above the perfect black background. Pretty much perfect. 
So it can handle folk, pop and jazz, how about Chopin? No worries on this score (excuse the pun). Rubinstein's performance comes across as stately with lots of detail and a great big solid image. The piano is powerful in the first section, then soars with beautiful and contrasting tone color in the second. The Valhalla brings out the gravitas and power to highlight different aspects of the performer's art, equally valid but sounding closer to the piano. 
Dreamline succeeds brilliantly on the Brahms disc, which can sound somewhat rough and dare I say digital on the Valhalla. Here the sound is more beautiful and involving with a deep, wide and intimate image. 
EMM Cables Isopath
Isopath technology is designed to solve a tricky problem. A cable connects two different components, but these will invariably have differing ground potentials. Power up these components and an error current is generated in the ground return path. Since this path is close to the signal conductor, an electrical coupling occurs between the error current and the audio signal, polluting the signal. This happens in every coaxial and twisted pair audio cable they've examined, shielded or unshielded. It even happens with balanced interconnects in a slightly different way. IsoPath Technology isolates the coupling of the ground return path from the signal path, electrically and mechanically. This results in the elimination of ground error current induced electrical interference in the signal path.
Their proprietary EMMbed dielectric has several material advantages over other dielectrics. It's non-permeable. It's soft, pliable and seals around the conductor to keep air out. It doesn't degrade over time. It's non-reactive, so it won't leach into the conductor and change its molecular structure over time (as so many dielectrics do). And perhaps most important, it permits uniform and intimate dielectric-to-conductor contact which they claim is key to superb performance at high frequencies.
Joan Baez comes through as big and clear as the Valhalla, although she appears further forward in the mix than with the other cables. There appears to be less detail here. Close observation reveals a small dip in the response at higher frequencies which make this cable a little polite, a little less open than the reference, although the extension into the deep bass is ruler flat. Color and presence are both particularly strong. 
The Isopath throws a somewhat smaller image than the Valhalla for Art Pepper but that image is very coherent, stable and precise. Once again tone color is excellent without any false romantic glow. The cable is fast, although not quite as responsive as the Valhalla. There is no trace of distortion at any volume level, even on the deep brass blaaat sounds on "Groovin' High". So this cable tells the truth, if not the whole truth. 
In "The Dog Song" the Isopath tells a simpler story than the reference. The guitar sound is rounder, less spiky, lacking the taught reflexes of the very best contenders. The voice is direct and clearer than all rivals. What I missed was the extremely black background the Valhalla provides, which makes for a greater dynamic range and consequently, greater involvement. 
The same is true of the Chopin. The cable is lean, pared back but very revealing. What sound like massed chords on some cables sound like individual notes played together on the Isopath, which the musician in me loves. You might use the word analytical here. What's missing is the sheer weight of the Valhalla which brings me to the edge of my seat. The contrast between the two sections is limited by a slight lack of openness which would allow the second section to soar as the composer intended. 
The Brahms Sextet is almost indistinguishable here from the reference Valhalla, which is an excellent achievement. 
Dynamic Design New
Generation Heritage Unbalanced Interconnect
The Heritage interconnect is a twisted twinaxial design like the Lotus. It also uses Dynamic Design's low impedance MLIS (Multi Layered Insulation System) but with higher performance insulators for even lower slew rates compared to the Lotus providing a very low noise floor, cross-talk, and wide bandwidth performance. It uses higher performance conductors and connectors that are crimped instead of the soldered Lotus conductors.
Heritage is clearly a much better cable than the Lotus, as it should be at more than twice the price.
On Joan Baez the Heritage provides a lower energy picture than the reference Valhalla. Her voice is not as subtle or clear, and the pace is slower, the resolution lower. The bass is particular is less sharply defined. But fortunately this is the only track where the Heritage is left well behind. 
Things pick up on Art Pepper where it comes very close to the Valhalla's performance, with particular success is conveying the full swing of this infectious music. Although the climax is not as thrilling, the bass line is excellent throughout. 
The sound on the "Dog Song" is simply ravishing, and the Heritage closes in again on the Valhalla's performance in all its aspects, just missing superlatives all round. These two cables could be from the same manufacturer. 
The Heritage rates excellent on the difficult Chopin disc. It is at once clear, tuneful, dynamic and menacing. What it lacks in top end openness here it more than makes up for with superior midrange color. 
I couldn't tell any differences at all between the Heritage and the Valhalla in the Brahms Sextet. That's a helluva recommendation right there. 
MIT Oracle V3.2ic
The vocals are outstanding in "Diamonds & Rust". The bass line is perfectly clear and propels the music with a strong drive. There's a ton of detail and color while percussion is exemplary light but clear. It lacks the tension and excitement of the Valhalla but ranks just as highly overall. 
Art Pepper also reveals a fast and detailed treble and strong presence for the horn and trombone which sound very distinct from each other. Depth is a little shallow compared to the best and the bass is a touch light here, but quick and tuneful for a very musical presentation. 
There's a wealth of detail on "The Dog Song" and a precise image. While the voice is superb, the presentation is gentler, less dynamic than the reference. A perfect black background allows the fret work to emerge crystal clear. 
Rubinstein's rich weighty and beautiful tone is very well captured here, and this cable aces the contrast between the first and second subject. The sound is open and detailed, just a notch behind the reference on both counts. 
A sweet coherent sound emerges in the Brahms, with lots of detail and admirable tone color. The image lacks a little depth next to the Nordost. 
How Much Do They Cost?
Atlas Cable Mavros Balanced Interconnect $1760 1m pair
The Music Cable Truly Balanced Interconnect $ 320 1m pair
Dynamic Design Lotus Balanced Interconnect $ 800 1m pair
Crystal Cable Dreamline Balanced Interconnect $7300 1m pair
EMM Cables Isopath Unbalanced Interconnect $ 895 1m pair
Dynamic Design Heritage Unbalanced Interconnect $2000 1m pair
MIT Oracle V3.2 Unbalanced Interconnect $2999 1m pair
Let Me Put These Cables Into Order Of Merit
Crystal Cable Dreamline Balanced Interconnect $7300 1m pair - 57 points
MIT Oracle V3.2 Unbalanced Interconnect $2999 1m pair - 47 points
Dynamic Design Heritage Unbalanced Interconnect $2000 1m pair - 44 points
Atlas Cable Mavros Balanced Interconnect $1760 1m pair - 44 points
EMM Cables Isopath Unbalanced Interconnect $ 895 1m pair - 43 points
Dynamic Design Lotus Balanced Interconnect $ 800 1m pair - 33 points
The Music Cable Truly Balanced Interconnect $ 320 1m pair - 23 points
So What Does All This Mean?
All the listening tests above pay no regard to price, but when you take price into account you see that performance lines up the way you might have expected to get better performance you have to pay up. Note that the Reference Valhalla retails for around $4300 for a 1m pair (balanced or unbalanced), and scores 50 on our scale, right in line with our price performance curve.
The Crystal Cable Dreamline is simply sensational, the best I have ever heard in my own system, and at $7300 a meter, it damn well should be. While a notch behind the Valhalla in dynamics it throws a big image you can lose yourself in, capturing the tiniest details and subtleties. I would love to compare this cable to Nordost's top of the line Odin which I have heard performing miracles at the CES show.
The other standout here is the EMM Cables Isopath which is one classy cable for under $1000 and carries the top value for money recommendation.
The MIT Oracle is a very fine cable, and I recommend you audition it if you can accommodate its size and weight.
The prototype Heritage cable from Dynamic Design shows great promise and is a very marked improvement over the inexpensive Lotus.
The Atlas Mavros is an excellent and cool looking cable let which proved superb on some tracks and less than magical on others. It makes a perfect partner for the Mavros speaker cables reviewed in Part 1.
Finally The Music Cable Truly Balanced Interconnect is less than half the price of any other cable here, more than 20 times cheaper than the top performer, so there is no reason to expect it to be competitive for sound quality. It fares as well as many other similarly priced cables will. I'm always looking for an inexpensive cable to compete with the very best, and I'm going to shout from the rooftops when I find one, but not today.
The final installment of this saga will cover Power Cables, if I don't go quite mad first!
Shahin Al Rashid, EMM Labs
TMC The Music Cable
1) The Music Cable does not mix well with silver cables or cables with silver in them.
It is relevant that the readers of your review should know about this fact; and it would be of great interests to them to know which cable you used in the review contains silver.
[Phil Gold replies: Nordost Valhalla Power Cables and Speaker cables incorporate a pure copper core coated with a 78 micron layer of extruded Silver]
2) We believe that TMC performs best as a system, than just as a single item in your system.
If you are always looking for inexpensive cable to compete with the very best, may we suggest that you try wiring at least one entire signal path with all TMC cables to get the full (price/musical performance ratio) impact. (we will send extra cables if and when needed...) Maybe then, you will shout from the rooftops. :-)
[Phil Gold replies: Please see Cables Galore Part 1 where we do just that]
Thank you kindly again for the review, and enjoy the music with TMC,
We did, however find some of your conclusions puzzling - but, this could have been an effect of the room, the difference in connectors, the difference in lengths of different cables from each manufacturer, or even the equipment setup.
Perhaps a more meaningful test could have highlighted differences, had your tests been on like for like products: Balanced using XLR plugs or unbalanced using RCA plugs.
[Phil Gold replies: Points well taken. In this particular setup, the differences noted between the balanced and unbalanced Valhalla cables were minor]
Your subjective findings don't coincide with the numerous other tests that have been done World Wide on Mavros cables. If any of your readers would like to see these tests, they may get a flavor from www.atlascables.com or fuller details from me at J.Carrick@atlascables.com
May I recommend you advise your readers, as with all products to audition these products for themselves before they arrive at a buying decision?
Different cables react differently to removal and reinsertion into a system, especially when many cables are being swapped in and out as in this review. Dynamic Design cables generally need some settling time when first plugged in, this settling time may take anywhere from 15 minutes to as long as several days depending on the length of time the cables have been unplugged. We realize that this is not always practical when a reviewer has so many cables to evaluate and a short deadline. Nevertheless, we are very familiar with the reference cables and feel that our NG Lotus is more than competitive in all areas of sound reproduction. Your readers are welcome to visit our website and visit our extensive press/review section, where they will no doubt be able to confirm that Dynamic Design cables are wide bandwidth, clear, dynamic, and articulate performers.
[Phil Gold replies: To a certain extent you are correct in order to test the performance of each cable against the Nordost Valhalla Cable of the same type (balanced or unbalanced) cables were swapped frequently. But I also conducted tests of each cable against a Valhalla cable of the opposite type where no cable swapping was necessary. Very minor differences were observed between the balanced and unbalanced Valhallas just a small change in the noise floor.]
Thank you for the opportunity and we look forward to better results on the power cords.
MIT Cables - Music Interface Technologies
Voice: (916) 625-0129
The Music Cable
Crystal Cable BV