John McDonald is the president of the Audience Company, which produces a variety of products ranging from loudspeakers to power conditioners that have consistently garnered favorable notices over the past fifteen years. But it seems safe to say that the heart of the company is its cable lineup. Unlike some of the behemoth cables out there, Audience’s are notable for their sleekness and flexibility. If the aspiration is to have a cable that is as unobtrusive as possible, then Audience has fulfilled that mission.
But that is only the start of the story. Audience cables, which I’ve tried in the past, have always delivered a lot of sound for the money, falling, like Magnepan loudspeakers, into the category of overachievers. So I was more than a mite curious to see what progress Audience had made in the intervening years in seeking to improve its cables. Perhaps there is no better test-subject than a phono cable, where the tiny signal is most sensitive. Audience sent me its latest version of the Au24 SE cable to audition.
To retain as much of the signal as possible, Audience offers three versions of the cable. A “low-Z” version for moving-coil cartridges with an impedance of less than 30 ohms and a “high-Z” one for cartridges exceeding 30 ohms. They also sell another version for moving-magnet cartridges. The cable construction itself is based on the contention that low-eddy-current resistance is essential for good performance and that the optimal material for constructing a cable is continuous-cast high-purity copper. Audience also provides grounding plugs on the cable. Overall build-quality looks excellent.
What’s the sonic payoff? Previously, Audience cables were smooth and detailed. But for this new SE version Audience has replaced the RCA connectors with new ultra-low-mass RCAs with improved tellurium copper metallurgy. (Owners of Au24 and Au24e cables can upgrade to SE status for $220 per pair.) The result is a dramatic improvement. The dominant characteristic of the new phono cable appears to be a vanishingly low noise floor and an enticing tonal clarity. After pulling an old Angel pressing off the shelves of the famed harpsichordist Igor Kipnis—he used to drive around the country in a van that contained rubber foam and seatbelts to safely hold his instrument—playing Scarlatti sonatas, I was most favorably impressed not simply by the purity of the sound, but by its see- through quality. Any sense of haze is banished by the Au24 SE cable.
Similarly, a vivid sense of presence came through on the LP What’s Up [Steeplechase] with jazz trumpeter Bill Hardman. The Audience provided an airy treble and captured the sound of his straight mute exceedingly well; the overtones, buzz, and rasp come through so audibly that they endow the Hardman sextet’s playing with a genuine sense of effervescent propulsion. Nor was there anything lacking in the bass regions. The Audience lands firmly on the side of a tightly defined rather than a plummy bass, but it boasts enough whack to satisfy probably even the most ardent bass nut.
The pellucid character of the Audience translates into a number of bonuses when listening to LPs that you may have listened to frequently. Those small but significant improvements that endow a recording with a greater sense of realism, that move it from mere reproduction to true emotional engagement, are amply supplied by the Au24 SE. These thoughts are prompted by listening to several cuts on the new Acoustic Sounds reissue of The Weavers 1963 Concert at Carnegie Hall, a sonic standout that should be in every serious audiophile’s collection. On the song “Guantanamera,” for example, the Au24 SE captures the way Pete Seeger rolls his “r”s with amazing fidelity. Or Ronnie Gilbert softly chuckling to herself for a split second on “Goodnight, Irene,” something I don’t believe I have ever heard before. Frankly, the whole combo with the Lyra Atlas, Ypsilon gear, and Wilson XLF’s was pretty overwhelming.
All of the Audience’s sterling qualities were evident right from the outset. The Audience is an extremely quiet and neutral cable. Its whiplash speed and transparency can become addictive, but it will not appeal to those searching for a cable that supplies additional perceived warmth or body. Instead, it exudes a quiet authority that makes it a very promising candidate for anyone searching for a first-rate phono cable.
Price: $1380, RCA-to-RCA 1.25 meter