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November 2019
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Clearly Cardas
A loudspeaker designer's entanglement in Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables.
Review By Michael Zisserson Of Positive Feedback

 

Cardas Clear Loudspeaker Cables Review

 

Strange Relationships

  Cables are a source of much contention in our epic. So much so that some publications seem afraid to discuss them anymore. YouTubers will show you a coat hanger that somehow out-performs, or at least equals, Monster Cable. Devout subscribers to the esoteric could chew an ear for hours, pontificating that cables are all that matters in an audio system.

Yet like loudspeaker design or any other specialization in audio, cable design is a science in and of itself, which takes years of dedication to master. Also like in any other specialization in audio, the Dunning-Kruger effect which can be summarized as, the less someone knows about something the more they feel they know, looms large on both sides of the cable dispute.

I am not going to pretend I know enough to design my own cables, so I will have to frame the little understanding I have regarding cable design in an aspect I know much about: Loudspeakers. One of the biggest challenges of loudspeaker design is sifting through countless measurements that have varying purpose, to decide what is meaningful and what is not. You do the math, and put checks and balances in place to try and avoid bias wherever it is possible. Yet any good designer always will bear in mind that all of the test noises and sine waves that are being used are intended to make possible the re-creation of a signal (music) that is nothing like the test signals. Furthermore the "music signal" is coupling those audible signals, not to another piece of electronic equipment, but a music lover's trained ear. And most importantly, their heart.

There are so many wacky loudspeakers that defy convention, yet gain a strong following. This is because there is always more happening than what is on the surface. Perfection is not always perfect, and whether it is George Cardas' life-long dedication to mastering the science and sound of audio cables, or Bricasti Design's re-writing the book on analog filtering for a DAC, the understanding of what matters through years of study cannot be replaced by thin-sliced generalizations or a single assumption.

 

There Is Science Here
The initial eye-opener that made me realize that perhaps loudspeaker cables matter more than I previously thought came several years ago when first reading Loudspeakers for Music Recording and Reproduction (Newell/Holland, 2007). Chapter 6 discusses the relationship between amplifiers, cables, and loudspeakers. The work in this chapter is done with a rigorous, scientific approach. Their measurements, results, and conclusions quickly nullified the argument that "cables are a gimmick and do not matter" for me. In fact, they matter to such a degree that Martin Collums, one of the greatest authorities of loudspeaker design and author of High Performance Loudspeakers (now in its 7th edition), wrote a note to the authors outlining his experiences with loudspeaker cables and the countless variables that make cable design important.

What is most interesting is that loudspeaker cables seem to affect both transient response and signal spectrum to a significant degree. When strictly speaking, any change to the original signal is distortion, but not all distortion is created equal, or is "bad" Isn't that right, my brethren of the vacuum tube? I believe any audio enthusiast accepts there is, though mostly minimal, a level of signal loss and distortion by the time the sound reaches one's ears, regardless of how great a system is. This is why we aim to reduce harmful forms of it, like third order distortion.

Newell and Holland explain there are several ways to minimize the impact of harmful distortions caused by cables to a loudspeaker system. From what I have experienced, I conclude that Cardas has minimized their cable's impact within the amplifier, cable, loudspeaker relationship in the most rigorous and scientifically correct manner as possible.

At this point it seems best to shamelessly pull a quote from Cardas' website to better increase the understanding of a few variables cable design has to consider.

"It is said, wire is just wire. In reality, a high-end audio cable must balance resistance, capacitance, inductance, conductance, velocity of propagation, RF radiation and absorption, mechanical resonance, strand interaction, high filtering, reflections, electrical resonance, dissipation factors, envelope delay, phase distortion, harmonic distortion, structural return loss, corrosion, cross-talk, bridge-tap and the interaction of these and a hundred other things. As a high-end cable manufacturer, Cardas Audio strives to address every detail of cable and conductor construction, no matter how small."

 

Cardas Clear Loudspeaker Cables Review

 

While I believe it is important to keep an open mind, let's not keep it so far open that our brain falls out, okay? There are the unscrupulous; cod-piece wearing glad-hands who come along touting voodoo and slapping a high price on a piece of cable, acting like its jewelry, trying to take advantage of our love of music. Just as there is the same lot selling "high fidelity" loudspeakers out of the back of a van. I envision these types wear the cod-piece on their heads, though I have never had the pleasure of meeting one.

What saddens me the most, however, is the buy-in this negative side of audio receives, and the fuel it provides for misinformation. In this case it is no matter though, because the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables shifted my viewpoint on the importance of cables once again, and has done so in the right direction!

 

New To Me
Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables have won many awards, and have been spoken about in PF many times. They are not new. The 2.5-meter pair that is currently residing in my system retails for $4750. They came to me well-worn from the road, used in one of the most respected rooms of the 2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest featuring Grace Design, Luxman, and Vivid Audio. This room was thoughtfully put together by John Marks (after he had resigned from Stereophile magazine), right down to the Delta H Designs acoustic treatments, and these cables are the very pair he wrote about in his days with Stereophile in 2010. Slated for further use, this set of Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables ended up in storage for a bit, until John phoned me out of the blue informing me he spoke with Angela Cardas, and recommended I should borrow them for a listen.

I did what any sound-minded audio enthusiast would do and found my way to John's to pick up the cables as soon as humanly possible.

What excited me the most about this adventure was the fact that if I were going to try a top-tier loudspeaker cable in my system, there would be no other personal choice but one from Cardas. I have always respected George Cardas' work.

Prior to the Clear, I have found cables made from quality materials and that are constructed well to do the trick. There are minor sonic differences, but those tend to fade into the ether when considering an audio system as a whole, so long as there are no sins of commission a cable imparts to the sound. They are but a "tweak," with the best of them useful for putting the final polish on a system, and are never a replacement for an electronics upgrade. This is a consistent feeling for me, and includes cables up into the kilo-buck level, too.

Further complications arise at shows and at dealers. It is very difficult to depict cable differences due to the unfamiliarity of the systems involved. The sonic difference between cables is simply more apparent in an intimate setting with familiar equipment and music. Pro tip: If you are headed to audition cables, bring the cables you currently use and start listening with those cables first. Get your ears familiar with the room and system before you start making changes. A little discipline goes a long way toward audio happiness.

 

The Clear Winner
I am not going to discuss specific music tracks since I have indulged in all too many hours with the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables. We can save the fruity descriptors for another time. I will say that every category you can define, including timbre, soundstage, dynamics, texture, inner detail, and sophistication, were elevated significantly when the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables were added to my system. Head-and-shoulders above any other cable that has ever been there, too. Here are a few highlights I did not believe a cable could influence, let alone improve.

I have heard these very cables in a few different, but engaging systems in the past. What I did not realize until they were in my own system was just how much the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables were contributing to the enjoyment of those systems. They all sounded relaxed and wide open with an effortlessness that seemed to let the music flow. Visually it would be the difference between looking through a clean window, and looking through a clean window made of high-grade lens glass.

There is scalability added to the sound, from soft to rocking-out that I previously had believed was thanks to some other component, and not the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables. That is until I heard it in my own system. From my experiences listening to countless systems and cables there is no other cable to capture this attribute, at any price. Good electronics will, but this was an improvement above and beyond even that.

To put this to bed: all of the discussed attributes of the Cardas Clear Loudspeaker cables were present whether I used an entry-level small floor-standing tower, a high-end pair of monitors, or the large, top-tier four-way loudspeaker that represents my finest loudspeaker work.

 

Cardas Clear Loudspeaker Cables Review

 

Where Does This Leave Us?
The Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables are the clear winner. They achieve a sonic greatness that no other cable I have heard to date has. We can dive into the philosophical debate about diminishing returns, and where a $4700 pair of speaker wires belongs, but I do believe there is a place for this level of engineering in any no-compromise system, regardless of equipment involved. Another statement I can make solely about the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables.

From my engineering mind in loudspeaker work, to the artisanal music lover that lies deep within my heart, the only conclusive elevator-pitch that marries this odd couple deep within is: the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables are the only loudspeaker cables I have experienced anywhere that provide as much major improvement to the sound as upgrading any other active component in the signal path.

I would like to extend a humble thank you John Marks and Angela Cardas for creating this experience in my system. Without the kindness of others in this industry I would not have had many of the experiences I have had, nor would I even be able to share these thoughts to help others on their audio journeys. Happy Listening!

 

 

 


Check Out Positive Feedback
See many great reviews by Positive Feedback at this link.

 

 

Pricing And Manufacturer
Clear Loudspeaker Cables
Retail: $4700 (2.5 meter pair)

 

Cardas Audio
www.Cardas.com
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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