MasterBuilt Audio Reference Cables

A Fine Balance

Equipment report
Categories:
AC power cords,
Loudspeaker cables,
Interconnects
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Products:
MasterBuilt Audio Reference
MasterBuilt Audio Reference Cables

MasterBuilt Audio may be a relatively new name to you, but the company has been around for more than a decade. In fact, I first received an 8-foot set of MasterBuilt Audio bi-wired speaker cables to review for another journal in January 2008, which was almost immediately after Von Schweikert Audio started to represent MBA. Then, as now, there had been a strong predilection to safeguard details on both the people behind and the proprietary technologies used by MasterBuilt. In fact, that is to some large degree why a company like Von Schweikert Audio was chosen as the worldwide distributors of the product line. With such a plan, the owners and engineers behind MBA have effectively limited the amount of interaction they need to have with the public.

There seems to be good reason for MasterBuilt’s silence on these matters. The four partners involved in the development, design, and creation of these products are all full-time employees of a leading aerospace contractor, where they all work making cables, wiring systems, and electronics. The cables are created and crafted by a group of scientists who also happen to be audiophiles. Besides the founder, who has a masters in Materials Science and Engineering, three other engineers participate in the development of the MBA cable lines, including a metallurgist, an electrical engineer, and a mechanical engineer. MasterBuilt Audio is a passion for them, not their primary profession, and the nondisclosure agreements they’ve signed to work for the government prevents them from saying much about either themselves or the proprietary technologies and metallurgical processes and the resultant specific alloys they employ.

The roots of MasterBuilt Audio can be found in the U.S. aerospace program, where these contractors developed wiring systems with low-reactance cable for use in the Apollo lunar missions and other NASA projects, such as the International Space Station. When the founder of MBA first chose to study metallurgy and electrical engineering, it was never his intent to design products for the high-end audio industry. But as a music lover, by 2001 he noted that some of the most successful cable companies with extremely powerful marketing campaigns failed to employ even the most basic principles of signal transmission, with many making hyperbolic technological claims that to this day go unchallenged, much less substantiated. Because of his love of music and his growing dissatisfaction with a good number of cable companies he saw as being less than completely honest about their designs, he decided to widen his research to include audio cables, and he put the thrust of his education and experience into what would become MBA.

In 2007, while attending an audio show, the main owner of MBA ran into Albert Von Schweikert. A conversation started that soon led to the discussion of the technology and engineering behind the cables. Albert was intrigued by the devotion to engineering and unique metallurgy of the design, and he asked to audition it. That initial evaluation of what would come to be known as the Reference line, under examination here, impressed him so much that he requested cable to test as internal wiring in the VSA product line, which at the time used the Analysis Plus Silver Oval. Today, the MBA Signature series cable is used internally in all VSA products, save its flagship Ultra line, which utilizes the out-of-this-world-sounding (and priced!) MBA Ultra line.

In September of 2016, Damon Von Schweikert assumed the role of CEO at VSA, and along with partner and V.P. of Marketing Leif Swanson formalized an agreement with MBA to retain global distributing rights and marketing responsibilities. The MasterBuilt Audio website was launched this past summer, along with global distribution. The strategy is quality over quantity. Von Schweikert and Swanson advocate that the cables must be heard to understand the value they offer in a customer’s system, and they choose dealers and distributors who support that philosophy.

Today there are four levels of MBA cable, starting with the entry-level Performance, moving to the Reference (under examination here), then the Signature, and culminating with the Ultra, made of a unique undisclosed alloy. The Ultra line has made some impressive showings over the past two years, in conjunction with the release of the Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 11 flagship loudspeaker, typically paired with VAC Statement electronics.

Given MBA’s desire for privacy, there isn’t much detail I can share with you about the Reference cable’s construction. MBA uses 6N (99.9999%) high-conductivity pure copper throughout, save for its interconnects, which use solid-core single-crystal copper. MBA’s 100% proprietary copper formulation is extruded here in the U.S. by a manufacturer for the aerospace industry, using MBA’s proprietary methods and specifications. As such, no other company in the world is using this specific copper wire formulation.

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