Far more was also involved than dynamics. The bass was clearer, better defined, and more natural, particularly in the critical transition area between the upper bass and lower midrange. This range can make music dull when it is exaggerated or lacking in natural life and detail, or cold and hard, if it is weak, and it affects virtually all of the sound in every performance. The Generation 5s got this area more consistently right than the previous generation XLs, as it matched or surpassed every competitive cable I’ve tried in the past.
The only exception was the connection between my EMM (Meitner) Labs XDS1 and Pass Xs preamp. Here it became clear that the problem was that Josh did not have the right specs to tune the interconnect to the XDS1. A properly adjusted Generation 5 that he sent later did just fine. This instance provided yet another warning that each stage in upgrading cables can be critical and requires equally critical listening.
The upper octaves—particularly the upper midrange—became smoother and more musical. I suspect that this resulted as much from having better upper bass and lower midrange as having better highs, but I may be wrong. I heard the improvement in the upper register of soprano voice and violin, and while it was far subtler than the other improvements, it was definitely there.
The improvement in the soundstage was less subtle. I have found over the years that every improvement in detail and low-level dynamics is accompanied by an improvement in depth and imaging placement and size. I’m not sure that one causes the other, but as a chamber music buff and fan of small jazz groups, I really notice any enhancement in soundstaging and imaging realism, and each link of XL Generation 5s did make a clear improvement.
Soundstage width did not change particularly, but the aforementioned better and truer-to-life images and sizing makes that width more realistic, particularly since it improves centerfill and better populates the full arc of the soundstage. Improvements in depth and in hall and venue ambience depended heavily on the recording, but were there when the recording actually had them.
Perhaps most importantly, these impressions that the new generation was dramatically better held up over time, even after I started making comparisons by swapping in some really good cables from other manufacturers. The best competitors sometimes rivaled the XLs, but the match in sound quality was far less consistent. Additionally, some cables that have proven to be excellent with other components did not work as well in given links within my system.
If you already have Transparent Audio cables and think as highly of them as I do, I’d strongly recommend upgrading them to the Generation 5, and updating them to your current components if you have not already done so. Transparent offers an upgrade program that lets a customer trade in a lower-level Transparent cable toward a higher-level one. (This upgrade program provides between a 50 percent and 70 percent value for the original cable in trade.)
If you do not own Transparent Audio cables, be aware that the Transparent Audio XL Generation 5 is not the most expensive set of cables that Transparent Audio sells—those would be the Magnum Opus models, and I did not audition any of those. One real problem with reviewing cables from even a single manufacturer is the sheer number of options, and about all I can say is that the various models I’ve tried over the years have been consistently good.
More broadly, I don’t see how you can go wrong with a properly matched set of Transparent Audio XLs, but note that the Generation 5s are hardly cheap. And yes, my praise inevitably does reflect my taste in nuances and may not reflect yours. Good as the new Transparent Audio interconnects and speaker cables are, there also are great competitors; they are just harder to match to a given set of components. As a reviewer, I’ve had good results with AudioQuest, Kimber, Cardas, Wireworld, and StraightWire products over the years, and I use a mix of more universal cables and interconnects from different manufacturers in all my reviews. In short, my voyage of discovery is scarcely over.
I do believe, however, that the Transparent Audio XL Generation 5 cables are a truly great offering, and that tailoring cables to a given mix of components really does work, and works far better than simply sorting through a wide range of different designs and hoping things will come out okay.
SPECS & PRICING
TRANSPARENT AUDIO, INC.
47 Industrial Park Road
Saco, ME 04072
Price: XL phono interconnect starts at $6400 for a 1m pair; XL balanced interconnect starts at $11,000 for a 1m pair; XL speaker cable starts at $17,000 for an 8' pair