Crystal, Magnan, and Atlas Cable Looms

Equipment+
Categories:
AC power cords,
Loudspeaker cables,
Interconnects,
Digital cables
|
Products:
Atlas Cable Marvos,
Crystal Cable Piccolo,
Magnan Signature cabels
Crystal, Magnan, and Atlas Cable Looms

Having discussed mains quality and equipment supports at some length in the last issue, it’s time to turn our attention to the third leg of any system’s supporting tripod. Of course, in an ideal world the power cords and signal cabling should all be considered as a single coherent entity. However, I chose to split the cable coverage (initially at least) to underline the priorities that pertain to building your system foundation, namely: power supply; equipment supports; signal transfer. Generally speaking, most listeners would place that order in reverse – and the whole question well behind the issue of electronics and speakers. Unfortunately, if you want to hear what your equipment actually sounds like, a firm foundation is essential, just the same as if you want to know how high a person can jump or how fast they can run, first you’d better provide a firm footing!

Less is more is an oft quoted hi-fi mantra – and sometimes it’s even true, although generally in the conceptual rather than the physical sense. But when it comes to cables, there’s a certain logic in applying the philosophy literally! If cable performance depends on four factors (conductor quality, construction, dielectric material and connectors) then the less of each you have, the less influence it has – up to a point, at least. The cables here all obey the basic rules of completeness (they provide solutions for each function in the system) and simplicity (despite appearances in some cases!) and all were used as coherent looms to cable the entire test system (as detailed in Issue 59 – same kit, same tracks).

Crystal Cables Piccolo

You don’t get much more minimalist than Piccolo. In common with the other designs in the Crystal range, every cable in the Piccolo family shares the same conductor, a simple coaxial construction of almost impossibly diminutive dimensions. A bit of a shock when you first glimpse the interconnects, many audiophiles will need resuscitation once they realize they’re expected to use the same wires on their speakers and for power cords, although at least in the latter case they are doubled up. Having said that, the cables used in the rest of the Crystal range are not much bigger, and it’s not until you reach the Ultra (reviewed in Issue 55) that you get to a construction that seems sufficiently bulky to adequately serve audio purposes.

But the whole point of the Crystal philosophy is to take minimalism to its logical extreme – whilst executing the end result with the best possible materials and considerable precision. So, Piccolo employs a single, hair-fine solid core conductor in its center, drawn from the same silver/gold alloy employed in the rest of the range. The theory here is that the gold actually fills the voids that would otherwise exist in the silver’s crystal structure, eliminating contaminants or air and leading to higher conductivity and more consistent performance. This is wrapped in an extremely thin layer of tough Kapton insulation, before a pure silver screen is laid over the top. Finally, the coaxial conductors are coated with a thin layer of Teflon. The tiny cross-section of the conductors themselves, combined with the minimal bulk of the dielectrics used is what makes the cables so thin. Yet, as I mentioned above, Crystal employ exactly the same cable for the Piccolo speaker wires and a pair of the coaxialconductors twisted together for the power cord. Of course, once you take that first, brave step, what you end up with is a set of thin, flexible, unobtrusive and actually very attractive cables that rate very high on the practicality scale and very low in terms of domestic impact, things that might be of secondary sonic significance, but shouldn’t be underestimated in the overall scheme of things. Crystal Piccolo is one of the (very) few cables you might actually want on show.

Such minimal construction would be wasted (as well as aesthetically incongruous) unless it was carried over to the connectors, and Crystal have wisely chosen to stick with lightweight plugs and spades throughout the range. Even the packaging is simple, svelte and elegant – which pretty much sums up the whole Crystal thing. Nor does its practical appeal stop there. The Piccolo shares other important features with the Ultra, not least the elegant, oval six-way distribution block, a significant contributor to its overall performance as well as a useful staging post when it comes to upgrading. Termination options seem almost limitless, with single-ended, balanced, 5-pin tonearm and mini-jack (for iPod) offered as standard on the interconnects, and the same removable tail system on the speaker cables as seen on the Ultra, making swapping from 4mm to spade, or single to biwired termination simplicity itself. Finally, the power cords are available with all the various IEC options as well as UK, Schuko and US mains plugs. Ours arrived with Schuko plugs, allowing simple optimization of mains polarity for each individual item in the system, a really worthwhile contribution to system performance that is all too often neglected.

Let’s start with the good news; using the piccolo is an absolute joy. Wiring systems should always be this easy! Not only is it easy to place and dress, the beautifully engineered connectors make nice, positive connections without being fiddly or demanding undue force. More importantly, it displays none of the positional sensitivity of the Ultra, a cable that demands to be left totally undisturbed and isolated from the surrounding surfaces if it’s to give of its considerable best. Plug the Piccolo in and tidy it up, leave it for half an hour to settle down and bed-in – preferably with something fairly boisterous running through it – and that’s all it takes. And now, the even better news; Piccolo is a stunningly capable all-rounder with a poise and balanced performance that belies its affordable pricing. Given its svelte elegance and stylish presentation, it would be easy to assume you are paying a sonic penalty for the pleasure, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Just like Ultra, Piccolo presents a complete, holistic musical picture, balanced and natural in every aspect. But the really impressive thing is the way it’s dialed that performance back without disturbing the inherent structure and sense of the music. So, Piccolo can’t match the weight, transparency and acoustic scope of the Ultra, its range of colours and textures – but it matches it for musical integrity, and gets much closer in those other regards than you might expect.

The key here is the natural sense of scale and overall balance. Although the Piccolo does diminish and smooth musical dynamics and accents, certainly compared to the like of the Vacuum State cables or its big brother, the Ultra, it does so without disturbing the music’s shape or proportion. Timing and structure are kept clear and intact, and are remarkably coherent and involving. So, while the impromptu comments on the TvZ track lose a little of their twang, they lose none of their conversational timing or playful interaction. Likewise, the slight clumsiness that penetrates a few of the chord shifts is smoothed over and less obvious – adding to the feeling of musical flow at the expense of intimacy and also absolute insight. But all these negatives need to be viewed in an absolute sense, relative to what’s possible irrespective of price. At the relatively modest cost involved in a complete Piccolo loom, this sort of musically complete and engaging performance is frankly unheard of. Switch to the Art Pepper and the sure-footed insistence of the smoochy groove is compulsive, the steady repetition of the piano part and bass underpinning the meandering horn lines, keeping them anchored and purposeful.

What you get with Piccolo is the Crystal trademark, a cable that really lets your music breathe. Lively and agile with excellent dynamic scaling and contrasts, transparency and clarity (especially at the price), these things you might well expect from its simple coaxial construction and solid-core central conductors. But what will take you by surprise is its easy, unforced sense of instrumental weight and musical power, studied poise when required, headlong momentum on demand. It’s so holistically coherent that you simply don’t question what isn’t there. Instead you simply revel in its ability to let you ignore the system and enjoy your music. What it actually sounds like is a cable that’s really enjoying its job! Weird I know, but it’s the only way I can explain its ability to cherish and caress one minute and drive things on the next – and the way that puts a smile on your face when you hear it: although, in point of fact, what you hear is the music – and the expressive input of the players – finally let off the leash that too many systems impose.

Magnan Audio Cables

On the face of it, the contrast between the Crystal interconnects and their Magnan counterparts couldn’t be much greater, the diminutive Crystal conductors, light, flexible and unobtrusive, the Magnan Signatures each consisting of a 40mm diameter cylinder with bulky end-caps and short flying tails to the plugs. Fortunately, they’re not as heavy as they look, but there’s no escaping the fact that these are the most intrusive designs I’ve used since I said goodbye to the (marginally thinner) Cogan-Hall cables. Yet, under that extreme exterior, the Magnans offer a similar conceptual simplicity to the Crystals…

Designer David Magnan holds that many of the electrical qualities sought in traditional audio cable designs are largely irrelevant to the way they sound. Instead, he posits time-smear as a result of skineffect (and in the case of interconnects, dielectric absorption) as the critical factor. His response is radical to say the least. Instead of high-purity, lowresistance wires, his interconnects are constructed using extremely thin, highly-resistive signal conductors – in the case of the Signature interconnects, a thin coating of conductive plastic “paint” on a non-conductive substrate – specifically designed to reduce skineffect. In the single-ended designs, earth return is via a low resistance copper ribbon. He is unforthcoming on the subject of insulation, other than specifying that it uses “air-space Teflon” technology, from which, along with the sheer bulk of the cables, I’d deduce that the conductors run, largely unsupported in an air dielectric with an external Teflon tube to protect and insulate them. The end result might not be elegant, but it is certainly effective.

Like any such solution, in reality the Magnan interconnects face a number of trade-offs. Extremely thin, highresistance conductors might reduce skin effect, but they’ll also reduce system gain. In order to limit this effect, the Signature interconnects are all built to offer the same basic 30kOhm resistance as a standard four-foot pair: this is achieved by using broader ribbons or even doubling them up. In addition, the broad conductors and massive diameter also present issues when it comes to termination, requiring the aforementioned flying tails to interface with the plugs – at the risk one would have thought, of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

We also received a tone-arm cable and a set of single-ended interconnects constructed using the company’s Silver Bronze series conductors. A thin ribbon design, these are far more conventional in appearance, more flexible and easier to use and also considerably more affordable than the Signatures, weighing in at £690 a pair, as compared to £975. Along side these, we also had a set of power cords and a distribution block, similar in appearance to the Signature interconnects, but even bulkier and considerably heavier. The speaker cables, in stark contrast, require both high conductivity and low total resistance, in addition to minimizing skin-effect. For these, Magnan use a five-inch wide copper ribbon, individually insulated and terminated for each run, meaning that laid side by side (as recommended) the two conductors required to run a single-wired speaker will present a mat nearly a foot wide. Once again, the precise details of insulation are not revealed, the speaker cables being finished with a soft, openweave fabric and once again, short tails. An eight-foot pair will cost you £625, which in high-end cable terms is almost a giveaway price! Also included was a handy set of Signature jumpers for biwired speakers, always a nice touch and an often overlooked tweak.

So, despite appearances, the construction of these cables would seem to be very nearly as simple as possible, congruent with their design aims. Their consistency lies in their use of ribbon conductors with minimal skin effect, even if the materials differ from one function or cable to the next. Their complexity lies in effectively meeting the physical challenge of terminating those conductors without degrading their contribution.

I have gone to some lengths to describe the theoretical benefits and practical implications of these cables. That could be read as implied criticism, but that would be a mistake, because believe me, I wouldn’t have persevered with these if they didn’t deliver the goods. Instead, with a product this distinctive in its approach and different in execution, I think it’s important for readers to understand the whys and wherefores of employing them, whether that’s a question of the way they look or the implications of the way they work. Unlike Magnan, I’m not confident that most systems have gain to burn, so if you audition these cables, make sure that you pay careful attention to gain matching (using a meter at the speaker terminals is the surest method) and also playing a range of recordings cut at lower levels to ensure that you have sufficient volume to work with.

Running the test system with the full Magnan loom delivered a quick, full and full-tilt sound with tremendous presence and energy. The same day these cables entered play, the deluxe edition of Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road landed on the mat – a fortuitous arrival indeed, because Earle’s heavy roots and riff-laden melodies could have been written with these cables in mind. Their sound is powerful, smooth and solid, just like the two-lane blacktop the speaker cable so resembles. There’s weight and substance a plenty, but no sense of lag or drag in the deep bass. Indeed, the overall pace, coherence and purposeful sense of musical progression makes these engaging, involving and exciting cables. They build their performance on those well-rooted low frequencies, but they’re definitely a launching pad rather than a sheet anchor. If you want pace, substance and drive then look no further.

But all that power and drive comes with a price. There’s a noticeable loss of level on straight comparison with other cables, and whilst that can be rectified with the volume control, the attendant lack of air and dynamic range can’t. Consequently, the musical picture lacks air, depth and transparency, favouring the direct sources of sound rather than the reflected energy that defines the acoustic space. So, listening the Townes van Zandt track, TvZ himself is big, solid and present between the speakers, his guitar bold, rich and round, its lines clear and his phrasing smooth. But the guitar also lacks harmonic texture that robs the notes of length and tail, while the lack of air, the rounded sweetness and absence of edge mean that the depth between lead singer and the impromptu backing vocals is foreshortened, the sense of transparency and a single space containing the singer and his audience (along with their various contributions) is totally absent. Paradoxically, resolution is good so that the barking dog out in the yard can be clearly heard, it’s just that you can’t tell how far away it is. Likewise, the upshifts in tracks like Nanci Griffith’s ‘Listen To The Radio’ and Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’ and ‘Johnny Come Lately’ are smoothed over, more muscle car than real performance machine. The swelling progression sure carries you along, but it lacks the kick in the seat of the pants you get when you floor the pedal in something with a really good power to weight ratio like a Lotus Elise.

Their sound was also remarkably consistent across systems and running the full set-up (including the tonearm cable) with the Stabi XL4/ SME 312, Connoisseurs and the RADIA produced near identical conclusions, as did the VAS Citation Sound One and Twos, two systems that couldn’t, in themselves be much more different, and an indication of the way in which this cable loom dominates (or releases) musical proceedings.

So what you are trading here is temporal coherence and an impressive sense of substance and momentum for transparency and articulation, agility and air. Neither one is necessarily right (or wrong) but they are very, very different; different enough to give one pause because if one is all right, the other is very definitely all wrong. In practice it’s more a case of which way you lean. The appeal of the Magnans lies in their particular combination of virtues, a mix it’s hard to find elsewhere. Rather like a traditional Naim system, they do things their own way to deliver a particular result – and rather like a Naim system, they major on pace, presence and musical drive. They are engaging, exciting and ever so slightly addictive, and one thing’s for sure – if you like what they do, then you’ll find almost everything else wanting. At the same time, the sheer presence and power they deliver does enough to make you wonder whether maybe, just maybe, they really are the only ones who’ve got it right.

Atlas Mavros Cables

Atlas cables are the latest in a long line of brands to promote Ohno Continuous Casting long crystal copper conductors. They are of fairly conventional construction, their interest lying in the use of a micro-porous PTFE dielectric, designed to reduce contact with the conductors, rather like the monofilament approach created by Nordost. Interestingly, Atlas also use the transmission speed measure first suggested by Nordost as an arbiter of cable quality, although they cite an “85% improvement” in transmission speed without clarifying what is being compared, as opposed to Nordost’s VL reference standard.

The interconnect cables use a twisted pair construction, the 7-nines OCC conductors insulated with the new mpPTFE compound before being wrapped in a natural cotton layer for mechanical damping, twin shields and a PVC outer jacket. Terminations are self-cleaning, silver-plated OCC copper RCA plugs. The speaker cables are a four-wire design to facilitate bi-wiring or shot-gun termination, two 3mm square and two 1.77mm square OCC/ mpPTFE conductors being wrapped in a single cotton/PVC sheath. Terminations are either OCC spades, crimped directly to the conductors to provide continuous material contact, or lightweight Z-plugs. Finished with a smooth, black fabric outer and understated hardware, the Atlas cables offer, a subtle, attractive appearance, while their flexibility helps them to be both unobtrusive and practical in use. There are no Mavros power cords as such, but Atlas supplied their standard IEC leads, using OCC conductors and conventional PTFE insulation.

With their emphasis on conductor quality and conventional construction, svelte appearance and familiar dimensions, the Mavros cables fly in the face of both the Magnan and Crystal approaches. However, in one other important respect, they surpass either; material continuity and consistency between the conductors and terminations across the entire signal path is second to none, the same OCC copper being employed throughout. This alone justifies their inclusion, whilst the promise of reduced dielectric effects is equally welcome. In practice, the Mavros cables had by far the most distinctive sound in this group, perhaps reflecting their more conventional construction and the close coupling of the conductors with a substantial and mechanically damped cylindrical construction. They present music with a big, bold and slightly forward clarity that majors on presence and impact. Dynamic heft and weight are immediately impressive and the overall effect is one of substance and immediacy. Detail and clarity are also first rate, rounding out exactly the sort of performance that will attract instant attention in the showroom.

But listen longer and a little deeper and you start to unearth the weaknesses hiding behind the bold front. Voices and instrument are big, solid and focused, but whilst you can hear exactly what TvZ is singing, as well as the rising and falling contribution of his sometime harmony singer, the actual relationship between the lead and backing vocal, the position of the two singers in the room, the dimensions of the room itself, are all much more equivocal. It’s odd, because the voice itself is mightily convincing, with a very realistic quality and presence – it is the relationship it bears to its recorded surroundings that’s more problematic.

This concentration on the source of each sound undermines the sense of acoustic space, a lack of dimensional coherence that overlaps into the temporal domain too. So playing the Art Pepper track, you don’t just miss the weighting of the piano phrase and its heavy bias on the final chord, the drums are detached and fail to really hit the off-beat their patterns are there to emphasize. In contrast, the dense mix and pile-driver momentum of ‘Copperhead Road’ are meat and drink to the Mavros cables, as they pile on the presence and energy, digging out the detail and hidden intricacy. At the same time, it doesn’t challenge the cables’ dynamic range in the same way that a solo voice and guitar does. The Atlas wires impose a subtle restraint on the signal’s dynamic range, so that things tend to be a bit “all loud” or “all quiet”, rather than allowing instruments played at different levels to coexist. It’s subtle enough that it will likely pass unnoticed without direct comparison, rather like the Crystal’s smoothing of dynamic jumps, but it does dilute the dynamic contrast and drama in a performance.

Which leaves us with something of a curate’s egg. Like the Magnan cables, an extent, the spatial and temporal coherence of the system in which they’re used. If their view of the world matches yours, or compensates for failings in your system, they might be the perfect fit. If you are after delicacy, intimacy, transparency or the sense of air and space in a recording; if your system needs help in those regards, then you might find the results a little clumsy and awkward. But if you want sheer substance and detail and don’t give a fig for the niceties of acoustic perspective or the subtle inner workings of an arrangement, the Mavros cables will be right up your street. Listen to them – but listen long and listen deep, to make sure that their obvious virtues aren’t bought at too steep a price elsewhere in the performance envelope.

Cables And The Credibility Gap

One of the enduring problems facing cable companies and frustrating audiophiles is the sheer cost of top-quality cable looms, especially given the apparent physical disparity between the cable itself and the price demanded. It’s not helped by the presence of so many “off the shelf” conductors, dressed up to look good and rake in a healthy profit. Existing cable technology can deliver astonishingly good results but should benefit from the cost savings that industrial scale production of the principal elements entails. The Chord Company are an excellent example of a brand that uses careful selection and obsessive attention to detail when it comes to construction and termination, to deliver excellent results at reasonable prices.

But what if you want to extend the envelope beyond that? In fact, the really high-end cable companies find themselves in a difficult situation simply because few people really understand the cost and complexity of what they do. The genuinely top-flight cables are nearly all purpose designed solely for audio applications. That means that they have to be specifically manufactured in (what are in industrial terms) very small quantities. Add to that the increasing number of companies working on their own terminations and you are looking at an actual manufacturing industry, as opposed to a simple assembly task. That means that all the manufacturing and development costs land lock, stock and both smoking barrels, firmly at their feet. Contrast that to amplifier manufacturers who generally build their products from components, assemblies and even casework actually manufactured by third parties; it’s a completely different cost structure. The trouble is, understanding that doesn’t make the products any cheaper or more accessible.

However, if we stick to basic principles and materials, the enthusiastic amateur can actually create a cable of surprisingly capable performance for comparatively limited cost. Let’s not forget that the first rule of cable construction is that less is more. The fly in this particular ointment is the your views on the Mavros will depend on where your priorities lie – and, to considerable effect that choice of termination and the skill with which it’s executed have a profound effect on the final result – both of which are generally dependent on experience, which is where the professionals score. But what I have collected is a pair of signal looms created along just the lines I’ve suggested (I didn’t venture into the realms of power cords for obvious reasons) yet actually offered for sale by their creators. Indeed, in the case of Vacuum State they even offer kits and publish The Super Cables Cookbook for those who want to go it alone…

Vacuum State Cables

Vacuum State delivered both their Silver Wire interconnect and their Copper Foil speaker cables. The former is almost as minimal in appearance and dimensions as the Crystal Piccolo, and looks rather nice in its thin black sleeve. Constructed from three, thin solid-core silver conductors, employing one for signal and two for return, these are enamel insulated and tightly twisted before being terminated with Eichmann Silver Bullet plugs. You don’t get much simpler than that, a simplicity that’s echoed in the speaker cable. This uses two copper ribbons, placed back to back with a thin layer of urethane insulation between them, producing a 25mm wide, flat cable, much in the style of a Goertz or one of the various other, similar designs. The cable itself is sleeved just like the interconnect, although the finishing where it interfaces with the 4mm Z-plugs leaves a little to be desired. True purists can of course dispense with the plugs altogether and simply cut “spades” into the end of each foil ribbon, a fragile but undeniably direct connection. Bought fully built, interconnects will set you back £400 for a 1m pair (with an additional £150 for each extra meter), the speaker cables the same, whilst kits are available (direct from Vacuum State only) for around half that. Maximum lengths in both cases are 3m, making this one of the shorter cable options on offer. In use, their flexibility, compact dimensions and good quality terminations make the Vacuum State cables a cinch to use. In the absence of a matching power cords I stuck to the CrystalPower cables and block, which seemed closest in terms of conceptual simplicity.

No matter what system I used them with, these cables came as a breath of fresh air. Clean, quick, open, detailed and dynamic, as soon as the music started you found yourself relaxing and forgetting about their performance, focusing instead on THE performance. In that sense, they offered the same sense of rightness and musical coherence that made the Crystal Piccolos so engaging, but without that more affordable cable’s subtle sins of omission. As a result they are both more detailed and more musically expressive, not just letting you hear the background details on the TvZ track more clearly and easily, but making more sense of them too; you hear the dog bark more clearly, but it’s also less intrusive. Likewise, the snatches of whispered conversation are fully revealed for the first time in this group, as is the point at which our would be backing singer first starts her low, hummed harmony, something that escaped the notice completely with all the other cables here. The dynamic range and harmonic complexity are welcome too. For the first time you really get a sense of the low-frequency power available from Jackson Browne’s guitar on Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2, for the first time you realize that there are two instruments (guitar AND mandolin) on the opening bars of ‘Copperhead Road’. This level of detail, transparency and musical coherence is something I associate with the best cables. In comparison to those the Vacuum States come up short on colour, absolute weight, dimensionality and micro dynamic texture, but they don’t fall far short in any category – except price, which makes them a real bargain. These cables are certainly not cheap and they lack the finish, termination options, range and robust construction of more mainstream offerings. Instead, they major on performance, pure and simple – which actually sums their sound up pretty well!

The AntiCables

The AntiCables have already graced these pages in the perhaps surprising company of the Gryphon electronics in Issue 58. Well, now they return in their own right. Once again, simplicity is the watchword, this time applied to enameled copper solid-cores. The speaker cable is a simple twisted pair of what looks like a 2.5mm conductor, terminated in this case with the simplest of copper spades.

The interconnect is visually far more striking, a hair fine (0.25mm?) central signal conductor running through an extended spiral of the 1mm wire that provides the return. Plugs are once again Eichmann Bullets, but this time the copper version. And that’s all she wrote…

Although they are the most affordable cables here, the near-rigid conductors and startling appearance of the interconnects in particular, make the AntiCables far from shrinking violets; their springy nature means they stand out and up, and reward careful dressing to keep them as clear of walls and floor as possible. They do run in over time, although not as obviously as other wires, especially those using Teflon insulation. The effects of which are documented in detail on the company’s web-site – a site you’ll be visiting should you want to purchase the AntiCables as it is the only source.

Once wired in and settled down, the one word that sums up these cables is “unobtrusive”. To say that these wires succeed by dint of doing nothing wrong might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t. The problem that confronts too many cables is that their performance is uneven, delivering significant strengths that are offset by equally significant weaknesses. The Magnan and Mavros cables are cases in point, examples of the rule rather than the exception to it. All well and good if you subscribe to the corrective school of system cabling, but an approach that definitely limits their application. However, if you follow the foundation building logic advocated in this series of articles then it’s balanced performance that you require – and the AntiCables are the most affordable way of getting it that I’ve come across. Although not startling in any particular performance category, these simplest of wires scale their presentation near perfectly. So, they aren’t the most transparent, dynamic, richly coloured or quickest cables here. Their levels of detail are good rather than great, their presence and immediacy likewise. But the fact that everything is in proportion, that there’s no bloated or pumped up bass, exaggerated dynamics or etching, means that their sense of order, musical organization and flow is remarkably natural, making melodic lines lucid and rhythmic patterns clearly understandable. In absolute terms, you can criticism their lack of colour and a compression of dynamic contrasts – but that’s to ignore their cost, and the fact that they actually outperform their price peers in these respects anyway. And that’s really the point. These cables are so comfortable and confident in use, so listenable that you find yourself judging them by far more exalted standards than their cost dictates. Yes, you can do better – but at some considerable damage to your wallet!

Does the DIY approach make sense?

In terms of the performance/price equation, both the AntiCables and Vacuum State cables offer astonishing results for the money – but there is a limit to how far you can take them, a limit dictated by their lack of matching mains cables and power distribution elements. Their minimalist construction and limited insulation makes that a very, very sensible option on the part of their producers – especially if they want to avoid the sort of law suits that would put them out of business (and their customers in hospital, or worse…). That means selecting an alternative source for power cords and distribution and a limit to the ultimate coherence possible. On the face of it, the savings to be had make that a worthwhile compromise, but bear in mind that a cable system like the Crystals accommodates every eventuality and matches the conceptual simplicity and performance benefits of the DIY solutions – while also applying more sophisticated metallurgy and insulation materials. If you are using cables that haven’t kept pace with current thinking, or a mix and match loom constructed from various expensive options, a switch to something like the AntiCables could come as quite a shock – and a salutary financial lesson into the bargain. But the real lesson to learn here is theoretical. It’s not about one cable as opposed to another; it’s about understanding what allows cable systems to work and then selecting accordingly from those products that take those things seriously. The key words here are “simplicity” and “coherence”. What you have to decide is how far to take things within those concepts.

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