Audience Au24 SX Cables

Au24-SX-group

Audio cables are an interesting product that can bring the best from your stereo components. I have listened to many types that vary in conductor type, dielectric material, and termination method. This time, I have replaced my system with the Audience Au24 SX cables- from wordclock, AES digital, to balanced analog, and their speaker cable. To understand Audience’s approach, we shall first examine their design/construction.

To start, Audience uses Ohno cast copper, 6 nine’s to be exact. The dielectric is a cross-linked polyethylene known as XLPE, made of a better quality than from previous generations. Cryogenics are also used to treat the individual components of the cable, as well as the entire cable after completed construction. As for there geometry, Audience uses a dual concentric coax, perfect lay ribbon wind with opposing angles of the two conductors. This design is said to have a better linear signal transfer with more accurate timing. While no shielding is used around the cable (this may slow dynamics), the angle or relationship between the two conductors is said to balance the electromagnetic field by rejecting noise. The construction of these cables is top notch, without any unnecessary bulk. Their flexibility and low-mass allowed me to easily dress these cables around my various systems.

geometery

Audience dual concentric coax, perfect lay ribbon

My listening was was done with several computer audio systems including a mastering facility, but for the long haul evaluation I chose to use a home system which included the latest DAC design from David Hill of crane song for my source. Every component was connected via balanced Au 24 SX cables. I was even fortunate enough to use a Sony broadcast CD player with word clock input, fed from an Antelope rubidium clock generator via a custom Au 24 SX bnc cable. For speakers, I used the Lipinski (powered), and Green Mountain Audio Eos HX. I also incorporated two passive power distribution centers from Oyaide to separate my analog and digital power circuits. I let these cables play for many days/weeks before attempting any evaluation.

As this is my first experience with Audience cables I will, as I always do, focus on the sound in relation to neutrality. My background as an audio engineer has always led me to better understand live acoustic sound and the way we can capture this with as much preservation and fidelity.

To get things rolling I started with the David Grisman Quintet’s Dawganova release from his own label Acoustic Disc (16/44.1) played through Pure Music via a macbook. This is a childhood favorite of mine, and subsequently got me chopping away on the mandolin. Featuring outstanding musicianship, with Enrique Coria (guitar), Jim Kerwin (bass), Joe Craven (violin, percussion), and Matt Eakle (flute, bass flute), and of course the original Dawg himself Mr. David Grisman. With the Audience Au SX 24 transmitting all the bits to my DAC and subsequent balanced analog to the amplifier and speaker cable, I dug into my chair for a critical listen. Being very familiar with this album, allowed me better insight into how these cables performed. Some cables have a tonal signature, or obvious color- not so here. In fact, I was amazed at the balance and stereo width and depth achieved with the Audience cables. With layers of competing midrange information, the Au24 SX cables allowed me to hear the cohesive group performing, but without blurring each instruments placement in the mix. Mr. Kerwin’s upright bass played full and extended with attack that connected with the musical whole. Speed and was a noticeable attribute, allowing my 2-way speaker’s diaphragm’s to more quickly respond to changing dynamics. Scale and size of instruments was also reproduced with clear  font-to-back and height information intact. I felt these cables brought the performance to my room rather than in the constraints of a stereo system.

I continued listening with a variety of musical material, including Kings of Convenience, Jenny Lewis, Herbie Hancock, and several orchestral performances by the Berlin Philharmonic. In each case I was rewarded with a full mid and low bass, magically clear midrange and extension to the top end frequencies without any harshness. With mastering varying greatly, some with heavier compression and other with a light touch, the Audience cables confirmed that they were not contributing or masking anything the artist intended you to hear.  The Audience Au 24 SX has quality I have only found with few other designs- distortion free transmission, without any congestion or compression.

You won’t find me endorsing many cable designs, simply because I have rarely heard such an improvement and balance to the presentation. With the Audience Au 24 SX, I have found a new friend in reproducing the magic of the original recording. It has been my pleasure to finally find a cable design that I can truly live with. The team at Audience has delivered a easily manageable cable system that extracts the whole performance from your recordings/stereo equipment with balance and grace.

Happy Listening!

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Oyaide Armored Series IEC AC Plugs

December 8, 2017 is the release date for the new Oyaide Armored series of electrical AC plugs. Available in three versions; AC-004, AC-037, AC-029 (Platinum + palladium, Thick meat silver + rhodium, No-plated barrel polishing).

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EQ Your World with “Here Active Listening”

Doppler Labs just raised $17 million to produce a wearable bionic hearing device. Here Active Listening is being dubbed the first true “hearable tech.” These are not earbuds for listening to music, but rather a kind of bionic hearing device for engaging with real world sounds around you. By using two ear buds with microphones and internal processing, an individual user can curate his/her own listening experience in various acoustic environments (with the aid of a smartphone app). Noisy environment, bad mix at a live concert- any situation where you are engaging with real-world sounds.

Here, Hans Zimmer (film composer) discusses the future of sound and how wearables may change our perception of sounds around us:

The New Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

Green Mountain Audio Eos HX
photo by Vahan Baladouni

Associated Equipment:

Source: Macbook Pro running Pure Music with a large variety of recordings and resolutions.

Amplifier: Anthem MCA-2 class A/B

Computer interface: CI Audio Transient II USB to S/PDIF converter and VDC-5 MK II (power supply)

DAC: Crane Song Avocet DAC/Monitor controller (Discrete Class A)

Power: Shunyata Hydra 2 x 2 and power cables (various: copperhead, sidewinder VTX, Hydra VTX…)

Cables: Audio Magic Sorcerer speaker cable, Excalibur II interconnect, DH labs D-75 BNC to RCA, & Wireworld starlight USB

Eos HX

When you think of traditional speakers you often expect a wooden box of some type with drivers arranged inside. Not so with Green Mountain Audio’s Eos HX. In fact, no wooden cabinets here, except for the lovely Cocobolo wood that surrounds the tweeter. By taking a closer look it becomes evident that unique materials were used to build this speaker. The handcrafted Eos HX from Colorado Springs, CO combines artisanal workmanship with engineering refinement.

The Eos HX Tweeter surrounded by Cocobolo wood
photo from Green Mountain Audio

This HiFi meets steam punk design is the brain child of designer Roy Johnson. Mr. Johnson has spent years researching and developing a full range of speakers, and the Eos HX sits at the top of his 2-way designs. Never quite satisfied, the Eos has seen three iterations: the Eos, the Eos HD, and the latest being the HX. 

These speakers are  full of innovation. Starting with the Q-stone cabinet material, these monitors have a unique ability to be shaped in acoustically appropriate ways while also maintaining a low self resonance. The curved shape around mid/woofer allows for the fullest dispersion of sound, and the adjustable tweeter employs wool felt discs to eliminate early cabinet reflections. Without metallic resonances, the lightweight soft dome tweeter from Seas extends beyond 30Khz. The twin ports for the woofer have  been specially designed to more efficiently handle bass pressure. What you end up with is a truly tuneful bass response with an excellent percussive attack.

The heart of the Eos HX is found in its crossover circuit. Through much refinement, Roy Johnson has arrived on a crossover design (1st order) that works at achieving time-coherence  across the audible frequency range. Further sonic enhancements include Marigo internal wiring and Audio Magic nano stream process for the entire crossover circuit (including internal wire and binding posts). All these combined refinements further the speaker’s ability to reproduce nuances in the music.

The Eos HX rear with Vampire Wire binding posts
photo by Vahan Baladouni

Spending some quality time with the Eos HX proved to be very enlightening. While the bass extension rolls off around 50 hz, these 2 way compact speakers (6 inch mid/woofer and fabric dome tweeter) produce an even and smooth marriage between tweeter and woofer. The dual ported Eos HX maintain an accurate and satisfying extension of low-end, especially in smaller listening rooms. Recordings like Count Basie to more modern pop styles of Beach House were reproduced with greater resolution than I had previously heard. Even micro details were more readily heard, but never in an overhyped way. With such a natural sound reproduction of voice and instruments, I found myself hearing much deeper into recordings. The stereo image is quite amazing for a monitor of this size.

I cannot emphasize enough the emotional quality these speakers reproduce. All the attitude and inflection of singers were heard with an obvious transparency.  listening to multiple voices proved to be very revealing, localization and distinctions from singer to singer became more obvious. When I turned my attention to percussion instruments like cymbals, the articulation of attack was easy to hear and subtle differences between strikes were apparent. Cymbals have never sounded so real and fully textured. Whatever the instrument, The Eos HX have an uncanny ability to reproduce it without adding to or smearing the sound. Most importantly, these speakers produced a highly musical and involving listening experience. Without reservation, I highly recommend auditioning the Eos HX.

Pure oxygen free copper directly gold-plated binding posts
Photo from Green Mountain Audio

Further information on Green Mountain Audio can be found here.

Happy Listening!

T.H.E. Show’s best demos

While hearing lots of different hi-fi stereo setups is tons of fun, it really grabs me when a demonstration allows listeners to discern sonic differences in audio equipment and formats. Several companies (Sony, Hegel, and Kimber) provided demos that allowed show goers to get a better grasp of different technologies. This type of informative listening session creates a better trust with potential customers.

Walking into the Hegel room at T.H.E. Show Newport was certainly fun, informative, and worthwhile. Rather than just hearing more music, we were treated to a full description and demo of the electronics. Music certainly played a roll, but it was used as a tool to show the differences in their various DACs (digital-to-analog-converters). This kind of demo can leave a lasting impression on our short audio/sonic memory.

Sony demonstrated the differences between PCM and DSD digital audio in an effective setup consisting of Meitner and Mytek DACs. While sonic differences between the DACs certainly exist, it was more startling to hear the 24/96 PCM vs the DSD. The DSD wins, every time! I am certainly looking forward to more USB DSD DACs in the future!

Kimber Cable did a fantastic demonstration of their Isomike recordings. The exhibitor demonstrated how the unique baffle of the Isomike allows four omni mics to pick up the full recorded event (4.0 surround). Both the directionality, and the space/depth of the recordings were rendered very well. To further prove the baffle’s effectiveness, we were treated to a race track recording. The wizzing by of race cars was quite realistic! I left with an excellent understanding of Kimber’s production methods.

It’s easy to jumble all the sounds of a hi-fi show. When trying to recall room after room of audio gear differences, I must always consult my notes… Except when a demonstration is done so well that it leaves a lasting sonic impression.

-untill next year!

HIFIQC

Is Your Album Transparent?

Your favorite music served up on various formats

Hi-resolution downloads have been on the audiophile scene for a while now with mixed user feedback. Companies like iTrax and HD Tracks have provided what they claim are high-resolution audio files for customers to purchase and download.  HD Tracks has been accused of selling upsampled digital audio masters instead of truly transferring the audio in real time from the master tapes. iTrax, on the other hand is adamant about their HD music downloads being authentic.  iTrax focuses on recent recordings made using new HD recording technology (i.e. 24 bit 96Khz Analog to digital converters used to convert the microphone preamp).

While HD Tracks has investigated the dubious upsampled audio, it is hard to keep track of how different mastering houses/record labels actually deal with the audio in their studios.  HD Tracks does not inform the customer about how or where the audio is from (save for one release so far). iTrax, for the moment, seems to be much more transparent about how their audio is dealt with. Older analog master tapes can be transferred to high-resolution digital audio files, it is up to us to demand that the process used is fully disclosed.

I notice a lot of discussion (web forums) about the HD Tracks releases and whether or not the files are real or merely upsampled. As an engineer, I can appreciate the scrutiny.  What I find curious is that these forum discussions seem to be concentrating on the science of the data. Sure, I care about that, but let’s actually use our ears and listen.  Did they do a good mastering job?  Was the music uncompressed but brittle?  Well, I personally am looking for a great rendering of a master recording.  Just because it is uncompressed does not mean it is better. While compression/EQ can be done too extremely (modern pop recordings), it can also be ignored to the point of being just as sonically tasteless.

Not only do we (the customer) not know who is engineering all these high definition reissues, we are also unaware if mastering took place or what exactly is going on. We the consumer must also realize that record label executives, distributors (like HD Tracks, Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions, iTrax), request different mastering techniques. Bottom line: different reissue labels will approach mastering differently. It is up to us to educate ourselves, and support those reissue labels who are sonically transparent about their mastering methods.

Audiophile Album Reissues

This brings me to another point about audiophile reissues. Often times I am disappointed to hear that audiophile labels don’t use EQ, compression, or anything.  Do they use a mastering engineer?  The only recordings I find that need little if no mastering are very well recorded orchestral music and small jazz ensembles.

It is unfortunate that the loudness wars of the 90’s have misinformed people about what mastering is all about. Through my investigation into audiophile music releases I came up with some thoughts:

  • The Vinyl record has certainly made a comeback – as it should.  Aside from having the ability to apply EQ for vinyl mastering, compression is dealt with quite differently. The physical limitations of the vinyl LP do not allow for too much compression, or the grooves will overlap when the cutting is taking place. Even more, vinyl demands care and attention when cutting is done.
  • This is not to say that vinyl records cannot be mastered poorly, those records certainly exist. It is just that in recent years, I have found a good number LP reissues that tastefully render the sonic qualities of a recording.

Know your record label

Great recordings in hi resolution exist, it is just important to request that these labels disclose the techniques and tools used.

Now go listen to an album! Repeat…

On the turntable:  Ella and Louis (mono45 RPM), Echospace Detroit