CES 2013: Cables and Power Products

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Categories:
Loudspeaker cables,
Interconnects,
Digital cables
CES 2013: Cables and Power Products

Las Vegas was awash in new high-performance audio cables and power products—from exotic new interconnects and loudspeaker cables to some surprisingly affordable power conditioners and USB and Ethernet cables. These essential components lifted the performance of audio systems significantly, including those with computer-audio front-ends.

One common denominator among my TAS colleagues’ choices for “Best Sound” at CES and T.H.E. Show-Las Vegas is that all of them utilized outstanding interconnects, loudspeaker cables, and power products. By my rough count, it seemed as if MIT, Shunyata Research, Nordost, Kubala-Sosna, and Kimber Kable were in the most rooms, but other great-sounding systems featured cables and/or power products from Transparent, Crystal, AudioQuest, Wywires, Audience, Acoustic Zen, Synergistic Research, Wireworld, Isotek, Silver Circle, and Tara Labs, among others.

Cables & Power Products Contributed to Great Sound

Perhaps my most memorable experience at CES was meeting Bruce Brisson of Music Interface Technologies (MIT) and discussing cables and music with him. Bruce demonstrated to great effect the impact of his remarkable articulation-and-impedance-control interfaces on the new MIT Oracle MA-X SHD interconnects (and speaker cables). I was surprised how much of a difference they made in a system featuring Magico Q3 loudspeakers and Soulution electronics. With the interfaces dialed in, the soundstage was much more vivid and defined, the image depth substantially increased, and the musical timbres sounded much more like the real thing The system was enhanced by MIT’s new Z Powerbar II and Magnum ZIII power cords. MIT cables were also mated with Magico S-1 and Q-7 speakers in other rooms, producing some of the best sounds at CES.

Crystal Cable’s Absolute Arabesque speakers, using Crystal Cable’s Absolute Dream “100% monocrystal conductors” for internal and crossover wiring and driven by Siltech’s outstanding SAGA electronics and Crystal’s new USB cable, produced one of the most compelling sounds I heard. In comparison to previous iterations of the Arabesque speaker, the Absolute Dream wiring vaulted this system closer to the concert hall experience, yielding a sound with astonishing transparency, transient speed, and very low distortion.

Acoustic Zen’s Robert Lee claims that he started the use of single-crystal copper in high-performance audio cables twenty years ago, and he’s still at it. Acoustic Zen introduced two new units using ribbon single-crystal copper: the Absolute 75 ($498) digital interconnect and the Absolute Copper interconnect ($1498/1meter). The Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers and cables, driven by Triode Corporation’s M845SE monoblocks and new TRV-CD5SE CD player, produced wonderful transparency, focus, immediacy, and ambience retrieval.

Silver Circle Audio’s new $9500 TCHAIK 6 (named after Tchaikovsky’s powerful 6th Symphony) power conditioner was mated happily with Estelon X Diamond loudspeakers and helped those speakers produce sound effortlessly with superb delicacy and naturalness. This new unit sports large isolation transformers, five Wave Stabilizers, an upgraded Vesuvius II power cord, and Eden Sound TerraStones footers. There’s no limiting of dynamics from this beefy unit!

Zesto Audio and GamuT electronics, TAD CR1 speakers, and a Merrill-Williams/Tri-planar/Dynavector analog front-end were wired with WyWire Litz loudspeaker cables, interconnects, and power products to produce very natural, engaging, and detailed sound. Illinois Jacquet’s sax was bold, beautiful, and rode on a cushion of air. The WyWire Gold Series loudspeaker cables use Bybee Quantum Purifiers between the electronics and the midrange/treble of the speakers.

Audience’s new Au24SE interconnects ($1190/pair meter) were coupled with the diminutive Audience ClairAudient 1+1 point source speakers, a Bryston digital front-end, and Audience electronics, power conditioners, and power chords. This was one of the best affordable systems I heard with remarkable coherence, soundstaging, and transient quickness---it even made bass!

Ayon, AVM Audio, and Accustic Arts were all using Tara Labs cables with their electronics and making sweet sounds at T.H.E. Show. The Tara Labs Zero Edge series interconnects ($7900), ISM 0.8 speaker cables ($7200/8 ft.), and “The One” AC power cables ($1800) were part of a gorgeous looking and sounding system with Ayon Audio electronics and Lumenwhite speakers, and Accustic Arts mated them with YG Carmel loudspeakers. The Zero interconnects feature a HFX “floating ground station” said to dissipate and eliminate the effects of EMI/RF. Tara LabsPrime Series cables linked AVM Audio Germany electronics with YG’s Anat II speakers, producing an engaging sound that was both powerful and detailed.

New Product Introductions

There were so many new product introductions in this category that I will only be able to hit some of the highlights.

Shunyata Research’s introduced a new power-distribution unit, the Hydra AV ($3000), with a highly desirable new form factor that is only 4” deep, sports eight outlets, and employs Shunyata’s advanced Triton technology. It should fit comfortably in most racks. Shunyata also introduced a new Zi-Tron Viper ($595) power cable that is more light-weight, flexible, and affordable, as well as interchangeable loudspeaker-cable connectors that reportedly do not degrade the sound but allow enthusiasts to easily change the terminations of their cables. What a great idea!

Unfortunately, I did not make it over to the Mirage to hear Wilson’s Alexia loudspeaker and Transparent Audio cables, a speaker/cable combination I enjoyed at RMAF with VTL electronics. However, Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley reports on Transparent’s overhaul of its digital cable line, including a line of new USB cables, in his CES Report.

Clarus was showing its Crimson CCSP speaker cable ($5000) with Waterfall speakers. These reference cables use patented technology from Jay Victor, an oval design, three different-shaped conductor types (each individually insulated), and transition blocks.  

Cardas Audio, well-known for its fine cables, was showing an improved version of its earspeaker, the EM5813 ($425) combining innovative earbud and cabling technology. These are non-custom earbuds that are designed to fit comfortably in your ears without popping out. Cardas also has a new power connector, the 3455R ($49.95), which is available to OEMs and to hobbyists who want to upgrade their power connectors.

Kimber Kable introduced a new USB cable line ranging from $500 for the KS2416 using copper up to the full silver KS 2436 ($1500). They use a braided design with solid core and stranded elements, a carbon shield, and ebony connections.

Demos

Who would have thought Ethernet cables could make such a big sonic difference? AudioQuest compared its new Vodka Ethernet cable ($250/1 meter) against three other Ethernet cables and the results were dramatic. You don’t know how much you’re missing in terms of naturalness, detail, and focus until you replace your stock Ethernet cable with a good one like the Vodka. AudioQuest also offers Forest, Cinnamon, and Diamond Ethernet cables, too.

Taking Ethernet cabling even further, Synergistic Research demoed its “Active Ethernet Cable” with a router and hard drive sitting atop a Synergistic Tranquility Base. This active cable removes compression by integrating the ground and electrical grid, allowing the music to soar, with a more open, dynamic, and dimensional sound. The difference is not subtle.

Isotek’s Managing Director, Keith Martin, showed what less than $1000 worth of power products can do to improve a modest Vienna Acoustics/Primare system. First, he replaced a stock power strip with an Isotek Polaris power bar ($495) utilizing a star configuration and a delta filter network. Next, Keith replaced standard power cords with Isotek Premier power cables ($150/ea), which use a Teflon dielectric packed with cotton. What a difference in the sound—way more air, dimensionality, clarity, and naturalness. The lesson here is to get those standard power cords and strips out of your system immediately! Isotek also makes some serious, reference-quality power conditioners, too, starting with the Aquarius ($2000) to the remarkable Genesis ($23,000). Keep an eye on these guys!

While Nordost’s Odin cables helped convey the awesome power, openness, and delicacy of the NOLA Concert Grand Reference/Audio Research system, some of Nordost’s mono-filament technology has migrated down to its new Blue Heaven HDMI cable ($350). In a NOLA KO/Rowland system, the Blue Heaven was clearly the winner when compared with three other HMDI cables (one costing far more) with dramatically more inner detail, focus, and realism.

Jim Hannon’s Best of Show

Best Sound (cost no object)

YG Sonja with D’Agostino Momentum and dCS digital; mbl X-Tremes with mbl electronics; Crystal Cable’s Absolute Arabesque with Siltech SAGA electronics; Raidho D1 with Rowland electronics; NOLA Concert Grand Reference/Audio Research electronics (last day of show)

Best Sound (for the lowest price)

Magico’s S-1 ($12,600) brings Magico sound to a more accessible price; the GoldenEar Technology Triton 7 tower is an incredible value at $1398

Most Significant Product Introductions

Magnepan’s new DWM bass panels ($800/ea) worked flawlessly with the 3.7s and just might be the ticket for Quads, too.

Most Important Trend

More lifestyle-type products that actually sound good.