Cables are a topic without beginning and without ending. Because we deal with this topic quite often, I will not repeat all the arguments for treating this element of the audio system at the same level with regular devices, or try to find any arguments against. Yes, I am convinced, that cables change the sound in an equally fundamental way as the change of any other element. If they do not fit the rest of the sound path – then it will be bad, if they will be weaker than the rest of the path – it will be bad, etc, etc. The problem with cables and the fact that it is so hard to accept from the beginning, that such an inconspicuous element is so important, is related strongly to the measurable parameters of the connected devices, and the way the cables “sound”.
We chose four systems for listening:
As you can see, the readers of “High Fidelity” could meet with almost all of the cables in person or at least in test. I use the Velum in my system for three years, the XLO I tested as a set for “Audio” and one of the members of the KSS owns them. The interconnect from Tara Labs was also tested by me, and from some time we listen to it in a set with the Omega in the audio system from Janusz, a further member of KSS. The only unknown is Acrolink. But not fully, you probably do remember, that I tested the top power cables from this Japanese company (7N-PC7100, test HERE), and I bought two just after the test. And also Janusz bought three pieces after the test, and later two more (for which he is now waiting). But with regard to sound cables we were “green”. Except for the Acrolink, the systems were cables of the members of KSS. On one hand, this was an asset, as they knew the cables well, and had plenty of comparisons done. Even more – they chose them consciously, taking into account their assets in their systems, that became key. On the other hand, the drawback was that the owners – like owners usually are – are emotionally connected to their cables. They did spend lots of money to buy them, and this made them (us) stand up and defend the cables. But the clash of many opinions allowed to reach a few interesting conclusions.
As usual in testing, one of the most important things is methodology. This in case of the KSS was worked out during the last four-five years and consists of listening to the tested elements one after another. Without blind tests, we know what we listen to. I wrote many times about double-blind tests, but I repeat the most important statement: those tests do not prove anything. To make those tests properly very short music samples are needed (about 10-20 seconds) and the only thing that can be tested is if the listeners hear a difference (the accent is on the ‘listeners’, and not on the ‘hear’). Everything else: how big the differences are, what are the differences, etc, is not available in those tests. These are the conclusions I came to after many tests made during the Little Audio Shows in “Audio”, and KSS. And this is not easy to abandon a test, which is regarded as the only ‘objective’ one by many people. This is of course crap with the objectivism, as still people are involved in the test, and the preparation of the test is done by people, but my education requires from me such 0-1 approach. The conclusion was quite simple (after a few years of many approaches…): the blind test say the truth mostly about the listeners, and not about the tested equipment. This because the tests were influenced by elements like: fatigue of the test persons, the length of the sound samples, used music, the people themselves. The correlation of those factors with the results was not predictable. And above all – the only thing to know was if there is a difference at all. We could ease the rules; listen to longer samples, covering the system. And probably that is how it should be done in the future. But I say it straight: we did not have the ability to cover everything and not lose anything from the sound. All tested cables are thick and rigid (especially the Acrolink) and by plugging the devices had to be switched off. And this means, that the comparison is based on longer memory, and not on direct comparison. And this is how I do listening sessions on a daily basis. To not bore you further: from my experience it turns out clearly that the best listening comparisons are when we use long parts of recordings, with repeats and returns. The knowledge of what we are listening to has a much lesser value. Because it still does have an influence, I will strive to listen ‘blind’, but in the fashion I mentioned a few moments ago. And one more thing, that seems to legitimate the way we listen to the cables: the differences between them were very big for every listener – those who are acquainted with systems of that class, and with those who have that contact only from time to time and in general are not cable ‘believers’. And our impressions were similar to a big extent, regardless if this was the owner of the cable set, or the distributor (Acrolink) or anybody else.
We started with the Acrolink, then went to the XLO Limited. Its owner describes it like this:
Please look at the stratification visible in the last responses: the game is between the Acrolink and Tara Labs. XLO is a different, separate world. Every time the same, without surprises but also without dazzles. Warm, full, colorful, but always in the same palette. Velum – I wrote that already: it is splendid, but this is not the same league. And finally the two best cables: in my opinion the Acrolink declassed everything else we listened to, including the Tara. The latter presented a sound that resembled the Velum in a way, but all the elements were a few classes better. The sound was presented farther away from the listener and was – in my opinion – more damped. This is not about cutting the treble, but about less life in the transmission. Only the lower bass was better here – more massive, more present. But that what the Acrolink presented was completely surprising for me: it combined the close presentation of the XLO with Tara’s neutrality (or even surpassing it) it showed everything in an exciting, resolved and very natural way. I cannot agree with Janusz in terms of the space 0 in my opinion the Tara showed a more grey, devoted from that silky Acrolink black background, stage. This is of course an incredible cable and sound, but for me the Acrolink gave more “music” and less “technology”. This is my opinion.
Summarizing: all systems are absolute top, and only the Velum was a little below that level. However not as far as the difference in price would show. Every set guarantees outstanding sound. But every one is different. About the choice tastes will decide, but in my opinion Acrolink went a step further than the Tara. The latter profited from the fact, that the system was tuned, or even built in its presence. Acrolink had also a handicap, because the source (drive and two converters) were powered by means of the 7N series cables by the same manufacturer. XLO is a separate world, fantastic, but away from what I understand as neutrality and “ampliwire” concept. The latter statement is of course and utopia, an ideal, unreachable summit, but we have to go in that direction, or we will go in circles.
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