While most of the buzz at CES revolves primarily around new reference loudspeakers, exotic electronics, or stunning front-ends, several significant cable and power product introductions were quite noteworthy and promise to make major sonic enhancements to high-performance audio systems. I would recommend you examine my TAS colleagues’ “best sound” picks and the cables and power products used in those systems. I am now firmly in the camp that superior cables and power products are essential system elements to achieving great sound.
Rather than detail the more costly and exotic cables and power products in many of the best systems, I thought it would be helpful to highlight more affordable products, many that I heard making a marked sonic difference in live demos at the CES’ Venetian and T.H.E. Show’s Flamingo venues. I’m always amazed by those brave souls who swap out cables and/or power products during the course of their demos without causing woofers to get blown or tweeters fried. Admittedly, I’m somewhat less “adventurous.”
Most Significant Cables, Power Products, and Tuning Devices
Shunyata Hydra Digital Media Center (DPC-6) and Alpha Series Power Chords
As computer audio and high-res downloads become increasingly more important, care must be taken to isolate their associated sonic nasties from the rest of your system. Shunyata Research’s Hydra DPC-6 ($3995) Digital Media Center is designed for use with digital output devices only and designer Caelin Gabriel says it effectively takes those components off the grid, creating a firewall for digital media. Shunyata also demonstrated digital, analog, and high-current versions of its Alpha Series power chords ($995) with specific filtering for each type—ingeniously mounted utilizing surface-mount technology on small boards within the cables. With the motor of a paper shredder generating line noise (displayed on a scope) the system and dramatically more “quiet” with the Alpha cable. I plan to try one in my own system soon.
Music Interface Technologies SL-Matrix Series
While MIT’s Oracle MA-X SHD cables were paired with a couple of the best-sounding systems in Vegas, their new SL-Matrix Series of interconnects and speaker interfaces, priced from $2500 to $10k, as well as their new AC power cables ($349 and $599), were the biggest news for me. They are the result of a two-year project to miniaturize MIT’s reference network systems, with particular emphasis placed in the critical midrange frequencies where most vocal and solo instrumental music lives. The SL-Matrix helped produce finely detailed, yet highly musical sounds in different systems with MartinLogan and Magico loudspeakers, and electronics from Rogue Audio, Pass Labs, Oppo, and Light Harmonic. This new SL-Matrix Series has a real family resemblance in the midrange to the sonics of the Oracle MA-X SHD, and that’s very good news!
Synergistic Research XOT
Synergistic Research was demonstrating the effectiveness of its XOT high-frequency filters for speaker crossovers. They are very simple to install (or remove) as they are inserted directly into your speaker terminals. The XOT utilizes Synergistic’s Uniform Energy Field (UEF) technology. The sonic differences with the XOT’s installed were quite surprising. I heard more fine details, and there was more front-to-back image depth. The XOT gives your system a nice shot in the arm for only $399 a pair!
Nordost: Qk1 (and Heimdall 2)
These small wonders (passive load resonating coils using micro mono-filament technology housed in a tuned carbon-fiber body) made quite a sonic difference when inserted into the system in Nordost’s room. The Qk1 ($250) impacts higher frequencies with enhanced clarity and transient detail—voices sounded more natural and effortless with the Qk1 in the system. It’s a perfect complement to Nordost’s Qv2, which is used for lower frequencies where one hears more dimensionality, layered depth, and clearer bass with it in the system. The benefits extended further when an additional Qk1 and Qk2 were added to the system, producing an even wider, deeper soundstage. Nordost also introduced its first dual micro mono-filament USB interconnect, the Heimdall2 USB ($500 for 1 meter; $600 for 2 meters).
Siltech Triple Crown RCA Cable
Siltech has developed a wonderful new connector for its flagship interconnects to make perfect contact with every type of RCA chassis part. It features three patent-pending innovations including a self-adjusting locking mechanism, multiple self centering ground contacts for ultra low loss, and an auto adjustment for perfect centering of the signal pin. The Triple Crown employs mono-crystal silver technology as well as a switchable shield to optimize the interface with different types of electronics. This is the most sophisticated RCA connector I’ve ever seen!
Isotek EVO3 Sigmas
Isotek has been coming on strong on these shores with its sophisticated power conditioning products, distributed by VANA. The EVO3 Sigmas ($4,495 with EVO3 Premier C19 power cable) employs technology derived from Isotek’s flagship series direct-coupled conditioning network. It is reported to offer a ten-fold improvement from the original Sigmas in both common mode and differential mode power cleaning and sports four specially designed medium power outlets for source components, and two high current outlets for power amplifiers. It’s really like having six power conditioners in one box, and produced very low noise floor in an Ortofon/Dr. Feickert/Primare/Vienna Acoustic “Liszt” system.
Crystal Cable Dreamline Plus
This new series of cables are more affordable versions of Crystal’s flagship Absolute Dream cables. Whereas the Absolute Dream series uses four precious metal mono-crystal conductors, the Dreamline Plus uses two strands. At half the cost, the Dreamline Plus still offers many of the sonic and musical benefits of its reference sibling. This Dream(line Plus) is more within one’s reach!
Cardas Clear Light Personal Audio interconnect
For personal audio enthusiasts, Cardas Audio debuted the Clear Light Personal Audio interconnect. Here’s a high-quality cable for those on-the-go. Cardas also introduced the Parsec ($330) and Clear Sky ($450) interconnects. The Parsec is a member of the Cross family, replaces the venerable Quadlink, and adds a touch of warmth to the sound. The Clear Sky provides more detail by using a “fast conductor.”
Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI and Ethernet cables
Among the best of the live demos, the Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI cable produced a big difference in images and clarity vs. a stock one using Apple TV. Additionally, Audioquest also effectively demonstrated the differences among its Ethernet series network cables. Who knew the type of Ethernet cable could make such a remarkable difference in imaging, resolution, and bass control?
In Other News
Kimber Kable’s USB interconnect is now shipping and Kimber also enhanced its PowerKord (PK10 and PK14) with the introduction of Wattgate Evolution Connectors, and also debuted an all-copper tonearm cable (KS1216). The WyWires series cables, which use multiple gauges of LitzWire, have completed their evolution and sounded glorious in a system with the Merrill-Williams REAL 101 ’table, Tri-Planar UII ’arm, Dynavector cartridge, Zesto electronics, and TAD speakers, producing wonderful clarity with no smearing of transients. The new Silver Circle Audio Tchaik 6 power conditioner helped bring a sense of ease and effortless dynamics to the High Water Sound system (Ortofon TA-210 ’arm and cartridges/TW-Acustic ’table/Cessaro Chopin speakers, etc.). Furutech celebrated its 25th anniversary with the release of improved versions of their power connectors. The FI-15 Plus series features improvements to improve cable grip and resonance control via a new plating technique. Clarus Cable showed their Crimson USB cables, Crimson and Aqua 20A High Current Power Cables, and Crimson and Acqua 3ft. Power Cables.
Best Sound (Cost No Object):
The Kharma system featuring its dB11-S loudspeakers, electronics, and a dCS front-end, combined wonderful coherence and smooth yet extended highs, with explosive bass on demanding piano and cello recordings. These are speakers to be reckoned with.
Most Coveted Product:
The UHA Phase 11 OPS tape deck was the most realistic front-end I heard, and when combined with the awesome Nola Concert Grand Reference Gold loudspeakers, Audio Research tube electronics, and Nordost Odin cables the sound was sublime.
Vienna Acoustics “The Music” loudspeaker was transformed by D’Agostino Momentum electronics, VTL’s 7.5 phono stage, and IsoTek power products—still open and spacious, but with more explosive dynamics, better bass extension/control, and more natural timbre than when I've heard it previously.
Best Sound (for the money):
The mystery Maggie System consisting of Super MMGs, two Bass Panels, and the MMG C and MMG W ($2,375) driven by Bryston electronics and an Oppo. It competed with systems costing far more.