Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Power Conditioning
Cerious Technologies Digital Cables

New Reference at a Bargain!


January 2006

Got Ceramic?
“If you don’t bring something new to the party, STAY HOME!” seems to be the new mantra when it comes to audio wire. Recently, several manufacturers of high-end audio cables have moved away from traditional metal conductors into a surprising variety of materials. Products are now available in carbon fiber, laser (via photon transducers and receivers), and synthetic ceramic. Each technology brings with it claims of superiority over metal conductors. By corollary, each brings with it a unique set of challenges.

A newcomer, Cerious Technologies is one company subscribing to the philosophy of “innovation instead of imitation.” They began offering unique speaker and wire products on June 1, 2005. “Clean-sheet” designs support their corporate mission of bringing innovative, high-performance products to the consumer at affordable prices. Because long-term performance is a high priority, materials and construction are designed to avoid the degradation over time they claim occurs in standard wire cables. All Cerious Technologies products contain “synthetic” ceramic and are a combination of materials each chosen for specific attributes. The ceramic materials used are described as “synthetic” because they are not made from traditional methods or formulas. I recently had the pleasure of reviewing their ceramic-conductor digital interconnects, the subject of this review.

Construction Methods and Materials
Cerious Technologies cables are not bulk Taiwanese-built cables that are simply peeled off of a roll, terminated, and then sold at a ridiculous mark up. Each is hand-built to length using a laborious process. The main conductors are a composite micro-fiber saturated with a liquid synthetic ceramic. This conductor is inherently non-magnetic and does not share characteristics normally associated with metal-based conductors, such as skin effects and absorption of RFI and EMF. It is very low in mass, which affects its mechanical energy storage properties.

To make one conductor, micro-fibers are cut to length and twisted together to add stress which lowers its ability to resonate. This bundle is saturated with liquid synthetic ceramic and pulled through a matching Teflon tube that has been cut to the final finished length. The Teflon tube is undersized to provide compression to the conducting elements. Next the conductor is cleaned and the ends re-saturated and crimped in ultra-pure copper collars. Adhesive-lined shrink-wrap is added to seal the tubes and provide strain relief for the connections.

Construction of the 14-gauge silver ground wire is equally unique and labor intensive. Bare silver would start to degrade immediately so it is custom ordered with a triple jacket of environmental barriers to keep it from oxidizing. Immediately before production, the barrier jacket is stripped to expose bare wire. It is cut to length, hand wrapped with micro-porous Teflon and submerged in Constant Cleanse fluid to reach equilibrium. Constant Cleanse is a formula developed by Cerious Technologies to keep the silver conductor from oxidizing. After about two days in the fluid bath (the time varies by conductor size – bigger gauges take longer) it is ready for final assembly. A digital RCA cable contains one fiber conductor and one silver ground wire. A balanced version contains two fiber conductors and one silver ground wire.

Final assembly begins with the conductors being fed into the external striped jacket (cut to length) and one end being terminated with the connector and sealed. Next, liquid ceramic damping fluid is flowed into the external jacket. The liquid ceramic also contains cleaner that continually bathes the silver ground wire through its porous Teflon wrap. The liquid ceramic is thinned to allow it to flow better but it is still a slow process. The assembly is hung to settle and allow the thinning agent to rise to the surface where it is poured off and discarded. More fluid is added to fill the tube and the whole process starts over until the cables are full. The “pour” end is then sealed and the final connector is terminated using highly polished crimps to minimize reflections. After crimping the contact is sealed to retard aging. It is now one week later and the one-meter interconnect is complete. Certainly a far cry from hacking off a length of bulk wire and terminating in less time than it will take you to read this review.

Digital vs. Analog Construction
Some manufacturers sell half of an analog pair and call it digital but not Cerious Technologies. As Robert Grost, Director of Engineering of Cerious Technologies, explained to me, digital requires much more precise cable than analog, especially with regard to ground and impedance. In analog you can kind of “fudge it” with regard to impedance, especially in tolerance across a cable. In digital cables you want 75-ohms (or 110) at all times through the cables. This requires high tolerances. Secondly, digital is very touchy with regard to ground, wanting to see as little resistance as possible. That is why large, pure silver conductors are used for digital grounds. That causes all the problems associated with metal wire. To retard degradation over time, the Teflon jackets for the grounds are permeable allowing penetration of the cleaner-containing ceramic fluid. Mr. Grost claims that because of this method the silver will take about twenty years to start breaking down and thus provides consistency of product with the micro fiber based conductors that do not age. Cerious Technologies analog interconnects use micro fiber grounds that are higher in resistance but sound much better in analog applications.

Mr. Grost further elaborated on his theory of digital cable design. He believes that vibration from external sources and structural resonance that occur within the conductive bundle are at least as important as electrical considerations. Therefore, each Cerious Technologies cable employs a reactive liquid ceramic damping material that actively responds to both internal and external vibrations. The synthetic ceramic is non-conductive and is claimed to have excellent rejection properties for RFI and EMF. The ceramic used is unique in that it moves continually between a solid and liquid state. When no vibration is present the ceramic is solid but it liquefies when there is vibration.

The damping jackets are highly capacitive, effectively adding a capacitor across the conductors to filter out high frequency noise. Cerious Technologies digital cables are effectively a giant capacitor, linear in value at any point in the cables. This eliminates sub-resonance and minimizes reflections at the connector contact points. This, along with their physical damping, is what creates the silent backgrounds.

Before I get any farther into the performance review let me briefly describe my system since it is atypical. There are no analog crossovers, analog interconnects, or low-level DACs in my system. I accomplished this by using TacT Audio all-digital components. The digital preamp performs not only room correction but provides the crossover between the main speakers and the subwoofers. Two of the digital-input amplifiers are programmed as crossovers. One powers the woofer panels on my Apogee Acoustic Mini Grand loudspeakers and the other powers the midrange/tweeter ribbon. The third digital-input amplifier powers two subwoofers. Conversion to an analog signal for the speakers occurs at the power output phase of the amplifiers. An all-digital system makes the perfect format for evaluating digital interconnects without the masking of analog interconnects and crossovers found in a typical configuration. Further, Apogee Mini Grand loudspeakers are taken to a new level of dynamics and detail with the active and passive analog crossovers eliminated.

For this review, I used three Cerious Technologies digital interconnects. Two were RCA and one was AES/EBU (balanced). I did not use Cerious Technologies on the subwoofer amplifier. In my system I found the Cerious Technologies cables performed best at the sampling frequency of 192 kHz.

The generic locking RCA terminations were typical of other locking connectors I have used. The RCA connectors hold well and do not have to be tightened beyond snug. For balanced terminations, Cerious Technologies uses Xhadow because they can be terminated with a gas tight crimp rather than solder. The attractive and durable exterior of the cables is translucent white.

Because the pins required proper orientation, the balanced interconnect was a little difficult to twist into position. The Cerious Technologies cables are semi-stiff and do not twist well. These cables do not have the familiar feel of wire cables. They have a pressurized hydraulic hose feel. Think of a garden hose but with higher water pressure.

The Cerious Technologies digital interconnects had the strangest break in I have ever experienced. They were very confused and muddy at first. They seemed to evolve in an uneven manner. Middle frequencies developed first, low bass next, and highs last. Although the manufacturer claims little break in is necessary (three days), I found it took two weeks before all the confusion disappeared and the sound opened up. The sound continued to open up during the third week (approximately 300 play hours) and seemed fully developed by the fourth. I confess that I did not listen consistently during the first two weeks. I just left my system run at low volume for about 12 hours a day. I periodically stuck a toothpick in the cake and determined that it was not done yet.

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Cerious Technologies Digital Cable