Tara Labs needs little introduction to these pages. Over the last twenty years the Oregon-based cable manufacturer has been delivering innovative Air Series products based on its sophisticated air-tube technology. Many will recall when Jon Valin conferred on Tara’s Zero interconnect and Omega speaker cables some of the highest praise ever received by a cable series, and its Air One interconnects and speaker cables received a Product of the Year in 2010. Tara Labs’ latest Air Evolution is a direct outgrowth of these famous predecessors.
Per Tara Labs practice, Air Evolution conductors are 8N pure copper—super-annealed, oxygen-free, mono-crystal, and frequency-tuned. The conductors have Tara’s unique Rectangular Solid Core (RSC) cross section, tested to eliminate the skin effect. Consequently, they “improve on the performance of regular, round, solid-core conductors by having the current-carrying capability of a large conductor combined with the frequency linearity of a small conductor.” Encasing the conductors is Tara’s implementation of the aforementioned air-tube technology, which infuses microscopic hollow glass spheres into the Teflon and Aero PE (polyethylene) dielectric. The upshot is that a minimal amount of dielectric material is employed. Indeed when squeezed between thumb and forefinger there is a spongy resilience to these products.
The Air Evolution speaker cables arrive as separate positive and negative runs per channel, with each leg having 35 conductors. The four separate wire configuration (both channels) increases noise rejection, but housekeeping-wise it’s a challenge to maintain order given the thickness and relative stiffness of the four cables. Air Evolution interconnects sport a new air-tube design with twin conductors for RCA terminations, and three conductors for XLR terminations.
Packaged with Air Evolution is the Floating Ground Station (HFX), operating outside the signal path. “Its metallurgical properties allow for the reduction of radio frequency interference (RF) and electromechanical resonance (EMI). Roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes, it is constructed with mil-spec aluminum alloy with an interior of a patented ceramic composite of metallic oxides and an amalgam of mineral elements in a proprietary ceramic binder called ‘Ceralex.’” It includes a variety of mini banana and spade leads to connect it to most components.
I’ve tended to be of one mind when it comes to cables. In short, they are the component that sends a system to finishing school—the last link that polishes, hones, and aligns. They dial in a system, but do not fundamentally change its overall voice. What I have found time and again, however, is that they can play a part in opening that voice or closing it down. Tara Labs Air Evolution was impressively open. It conveyed a rich tonality with clean textural shadings from the lowest bass that my room can sustain to the uppermost treble and harmonic range. Possessed of a neutral-to-warm character, this was not a forward-sounding cable, in that it neither threw images into one’s lap nor launched them like missiles into the room. Imaging was precise but not to the exclusion of the broader ambient complexities of the soundstage, which I’ll discuss further on. Overall, Air Evolution produced a more relaxed sound, and its mellower nature was confirmed on a wide range of recordings. Among those was Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, where I noted that the intensity of saxophone harmonics rang out as if the instrument had somehow grown a bigger bell. Brubeck’s backing piano chords were also more detailed and focused. Underscoring its mellower sonic signature, the acoustic bass on this track was portrayed with greater bloom, decay, and texture. Strings in general revealed a canny balance of the instrument’s body energy with the rosiny transient off the bow. A prime example is cellist Martin Zeller’s performance of the Bach suites, where the Tara Labs captured the instrument’s hefty lower midrange and even deeper murmurs of resonance as notes decayed.
For this particular enthusiast there is nothing more important than vocal reproduction. And given our innate sensitivity to the human voice, it’s also relatively easy to hear when things go wrong. In vocal presence and its ability to convey the physical “thereness” of a performer Air Evolution rises to or near to the top rung in this price segment. My familiarity with Jen Chapin’s “It Don’t Mean Nothin’” and Melody Gardot’s “Who Will Comfort Me” has made me anticipate the vocal air that I know these recordings contain. Air Evolution did not disappoint. True to the strong dimensional component that defines this cable, vocals such as these materialized a little deeper into the soundstage. But the intensity of the performance didn’t flag. The dynamic energy remained a constant and sustained a strong sense of physicality and natural exhalation. There was a glint of treble brilliance in the sibilance range, which lightly illuminated a singer’s voice, but this illumination might also be credited to lively, whip-quick transients.
Next to voice, piano is the most important solo instrument in my listening evaluations. The Air Evolution checked off the critical boxes here, including transient attack, a weightier sense of soundboard resonance, and natural articulation during vivace passages. An ambience-heavy piece like Glinka’s “The Lark” glowed with delicacy and touch right down to the padding of the felt hammers. There were a couple instances where an aggressive upper-octave attack grew a little too hard to my ears, but on balance this was a minor quirk.
The Air Evolution’s single most delightful impression was its soundstaging. To borrow a phrase from the AV world, this was full-on, uncropped widescreen audio that touched the full dimensions of an orchestral concert hall. In fact, by virtue of its superior soundstaging and dimensionality Air Evolution was more immersive than most cables I’ve heard in this price range. It offered an acoustic signature akin to a hall damped in heavier velvet fabrics. As I listened to Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony, the venue seemed to fill with air as if it had been inflated by a giant bicycle pump. During the Rutter Requiem “Lux Aeterna,” soundstage depth extended to the rear of the hall, almost redefining the contours of this familiar space. Height cues were also present and nicely elevated.
Air Evolution is a first-rate, vibrantly musical cable that I would consider competitive with any that I’ve personally experienced. Fairly priced—and heaven knows the sky’s the limit in this segment—I can’t imagine it not enhancing any quality rig, but it will perhaps be most appreciated by enthusiasts looking to garner a bit more dimensionality and to tame the occasional rough edge. What sold me on these cables, however, was the way they portrayed the music with the same authenticity and naturalism that I’ve encountered in the concert hall. By any standard, the Air Evolutions are a significant achievement.
Specs & Pricing
Prices: Air Evolution speaker cable, $4200/8' pr. (spades or banana) ($380 per additional foot); Air Evolution interconnect, $1895/1m RCA, $2495 with HFX ground station ($250 per additional meter, $60 for XLR termination)
716 Rossanley Drive
Medford, OR 97501