Intrigued in part by the internet buzz, but mostly due to Bret Rudolph's June 2008 review of Audio Art's entry level offerings, I thought it would be more than interesting to check out the best interconnects and speaker cable that the relatively small cable manufacturer Audio Art has to offer. Audio Art's amiable owner Rob Fritz was nice enough to send me samples of their IC-35SE interconnects, SC-5 SE speaker cables, and Statement II power cords. In the 2008 review one might remember Bret was impressed by Audio Art's very positive performance-to-price ratio, although he admitted that those with more revealing systems might want to use better cables than the modestly priced models that he reviewed. And here are some better cables. I assume the positive traits that were present in the lower cost cables will be present, along with what one should expect with a more refined audio product. One should also keep in mind that the cables reviewed in 2008 were quite inexpensive, even by non-audiophile standards, and even though the Audio Art cables that I was sent for review are priced higher, they still are what many audiophiles would consider affordable. Hooray for that.
How does Audio Art manufacture cable that they claim to equal or outperform cable costing many times their modest asking price? Audio Art says there are rather simple answers to that question: Audio Art is a small family owned company founded in 2005 with minimal expenses. They use "the finest quality materials and parts available with innovative cable designs" but sell factory direct, which eliminates distributor and dealer mark-ups. And they have a 30-day return policy on all their products if not satisfied. This sounds very inciting for all those looking for high-performance but relatively inexpensive cables, but I'm sure many are interested in hearing for themselves to see if they measure up to the competition, and so was I. So read on.
Interestingly enough, I use in both my systems many cables manufactured by DH Labs. DH Labs was instrumental in getting Audio Art cables into production as a result of Audio Art proprietor Rob Fritz contracting DH Lab's Darren Hovsepian not only to design Audio Art products, but as a parts supplier. One would rightly assume that there are sonic similarities between the two cable manufactures, yet Audio Art claims that design differences, and are made in a separate facility. I will vouch for their differences, both visually and sonically.
Things To Town
The above is also true with their SC-5SE speaker cable. They took their very affordable, but well received SC-5 and "hot-rodded" them, using a new construction architecture. They are basically a double "shotgun" run of SC-5 with what Audio Art calls a SG-1 architecture. After the cables are extruded they twist two arrays, one 14 gauge conductor strands into a positive run, and a 10 gauge run of the negative strands. The terminals are constructed with Furutech's cryogenically treated and demagnetized OCC (Ohno Continuous Cast) copper FP-201gold or rhodium plated spades, or can be had with FP-202 gold-plated or rhodium-plated locking bananas. The cable is constructed with SC-5's 266 silver over copper strands, which are then tinned with Cardas Audio's Quad Eutectic solder. My review cables were a 12" run of SC-5SE(G), which are terminated with Furutech FP-201(G) 24 carat gold-plated copper spades. Audio Art boasts that the SC-5SE are "Breathtaking, spellbinding, and astoundingly musical".
Audio Art's Statement Power cables are available as Statement I and Statement II. They have three "ultra high performance" 10 gauge conductors made of 1,386 individual strands of "exceptionally pure" silver-coated OFC copper, and are double-shielded. There are two termination options, the Statement I is terminated with Furutech FI-50(R), a rhodium-plated copper AC connectors on each end of the cord. The Statement II, which I was sent for review, is terminated with higher performance Furutech FI-28(R), which are also rhodium-plated. Audio Art claims that these power cables provide "instantaneous current on demand, with absolutely no time domain hesitation, satisfying the demands of the very finest high-end audio components and high-performance video displays".
I auditioned the Audio Arts Statement II power cords in both systems as well, in the main system a Statement II ran from the Pass Labs power amp to a Virtual Dynamics wall receptacle which is one of two dedicated 20amp lines. Powering the digital components as well as the Pass Labs phono preamp is a PS Audio Power Plant P600, so I used another Statement II from its IEC power outlet to the wall AC. Downstairs I used a Statement II from the system's Panamax power conditioner to the generic wall receptacle, and at one time I used Audio Art power cables to connect both PrimaLuna power amps to the Panamax.
The twelve foot run of SC-5SE terminated with their gold-plated spades was used only in the main system, this cable is much too long to use in the downstairs system. I used it to connect the Pass Labs amplifier to the rather large Sound Lab DynaStat electrostat hybrids. I usually run a set of bi-wire MIT speaker cables to these speakers' two pairs of binding posts, so Audio Art was nice enough to provide me with a very nice set of six-inch jumpers with locking banana plugs to bridge the two pairs of jacks on each speaker.
For a mere $12.50 Audio Art will burn in the cables for their customers. Only a fool would pass up this inexpensive procedure which will enable one to immediately enjoy the full potential of their new cables without having to subject oneself to an arduous break-in period. I was tempted to bypass this procedure to relay to the readers the cable's fresh out-of-the-box sound, and describe how their sound changed over time and how long it took them to reach their full potential. With the cost of burning them so ridiculously low, I will assume there aren't any audiophiles who will pass up this deal. I received all my Audio Art cables fully broken-in.
I will not describe the sound or change in sound when using a single cable. When I hear an audiophile (usually an inexperienced audiophile) describe in detail the effects, or lack of effect of replacing, say, a single interconnect pair between their CD player and integrated amp, I am quick to remind them that they might be only hearing only a smidgen of the potential of that particular brand or model of cable. Rewiring one's complete system, or at least as complete as possible the entire system with that model interconnect, speaker, and power cable will present an audiophile with a complete aural view of the characteristics of this particular model or brand. I understand for many audiophiles that often this is not possible, for financial reasons and perhaps others. Thanks to Audio Art I was able to do this in my system, and that is what you are reading about when I describe the traits of Audio Art cable.
Many reviewers when describing the effects of different brands and models of cable use descriptive terms suitable for components. That's fine. My feelings regarding cables are that the only relevant terms are those that describe how they vary from absolute transparency. Obviously, this is a far from perfect method of judging cables because those who aware of how a system sounds with perfectly transparent cables are far and few between. One could proclaim that their system "sounds better" and describe the improvements when using a certain brands and models of cables – so terms that describe the improved frequency response (a cable sounds "brighter", "bass reaches deeper"), or other descriptive terms such as improved soundstage, imaging, natural timbre, etc., etc., and are perfectly good responses to those that hear improvements when using higher quality cabling. But to my ears, and many others I suppose, the quest for the Holy Grail continues – to have one's system sound like "the real thing", and one should be concerned only with how one's cables contribute to our lifelong pursuit of sonic perfection.
As a result of the Benchmark ADC1USB analog-to-digital converter residing in my system, I've been spending more time burning LPs to high-resolution digital files. Burning record albums is a time consuming pursuit. Some perfectionists maintain that in order to obtain near perfect results one must spin the record in silence due to vibrations, airborne or otherwise, transferring noise to the recording when the volume is cranked. I prefer to consider the procedure not as "work" but treat it as a serious listening session. Listening to the playback while creating the raw digital file whilst seated in my listening room's sweet spot isn't something that I'm willing to forgo, even for the sake of a so-called perfect recording. During the process of transferring a mint condition Japanese pressing of King Crimson's "Lark's Tongues In Aspic", I could certainly hear (or not hear) the contribution that the Audio Art cables contributed to the system when playing back both the vinyl and the high resolution digital file that was created. This classic album has influenced and continues to influence countless musicians, in countless sub-genres of modern music. Guitarist Robert Fripp's outfit had undergone a complete personnel change by this this 1973 LP. The band's 1969 debut InThe Court Of The Crimso King has been described by many as a progressive rock hippy dream, but by Lark's Tongue... this changed to a progressive rock hippy nightmare. Despite this colorful characterization there are quite a few quiet passages highlighting violinist David Cross, where his "you are there" closely Mic'd instrument's natural timbre is clearly reproduced. Even more noticeable are the more frequent solo sections featuring Jamie Muir and drummer Bill Bruford on a host of meticulously percussed instruments and gadgets. It's during these quiet moments when the ultra-black background of the system was evident. If there was any background noise due to the cabling I would certainly hear it, yet the only background noise that was present when playing this album was tape hiss. Of course most listen to this album to hear the uber-fuzz guitar clusters of Robert Fripp, where the Audio Art cable shows that it can pass onto the listener all that one needs and more. Yes, it's quite nice to be submerged just a bit deeper into one's listening seat, regardless of the playback volume.
I am willing to admit that the Audio Art cable rival my reference cables, but I should also point out that they are not as quite as good as my reference. How much better are my reference cables? I think at this point we're largely talking about nuance here, although I think that the differences between the Audio Arts and my references are significant, but not huge. The most audible of the differences is that with the full set of Audio Art cables in the system there is slight burnishing of the high frequencies. By this I am not trying to suggest that there is a decrease in the system's frequency response, but rather that there is a slight decrease in the amount of transient information, or the attack, in the sound of instruments that contain these sounds within the highest of the high frequencies, so this led me to the conclusion that I am not hearing all the information that is on the recording. There is also a slight lessening of the pace that can also I also hear as a slight loss of detail within the midrange, so perhaps I agree with Bret Rudolph's findings with the less expensive Audio Art cables is that there is a loss of focus within these frequencies. And like Bret, I also found that the Audio Art cables were more forgiving of less than stellar recordings, leveling the playing field a bit. Any harshness is certainly lessened on early digital recordings. But as a result recordings that I assume to have a faultless quality sound a bit more distant with the review cables. Again, I hope one keeps in mind that I am speaking of nuance here, as the sound of the cables were close enough in sound to my reference as to sometimes require frequent switching back and forth between the cables to hone in on their particular traits. Taking the time and trouble, and believe me, switching cables in an entire system does include a dollop of time and trouble, so I can describe these nuances is just something I do here at Enjoy the Music.com. You're welcome.
To that end the perfect cable should have no "sound"
of its own. Before I go into specifics, the Audio Art cables I was sent for
audition are not magic "perfect" cables with no sound, but will help an
audiophile, that is any audiophile with a decent system to begin with, come
closer to the goals of a system that has perfectly transparent cables, and a
system that comes closer to being more lifelike sounding. At the same time will
save this system's owner a lot of money while they enjoying the music on said
SC-5SE(G) Speaker Cable
Statement II Power Cable
Furutech’s FI-28(R) plug: