Audio Metallurgy Audio Cables
|Audio Metallurgy Audio Cables|
|New Alchemy with a Midas Touch|
I first heard about the Audio Metallurgy cables from my long-time audio buddy Steve Rounds. Ordinarily I dismiss rambling raves by well-meaning friends, but this time it was different. It was different because I had recommended that Steve try my favorite, the SignalCable line of audio cables – and he did. Still, one day I opened his e-mail and he was going on about how the SignalCables were okay, but that the Audio Metallurgy GA-0 interconnects (affectionately referred to as the “Zeros”) were throwing this huge image and had really opened the soundstage for him. This piqued my curiosity since he was directly comparing the Audio Metallurgy cables to my reference SignalCables on the feisty Silverline Prelude speakers that I use as my small-room reference loudspeakers.
Steve recommended that I e-mail his contact at Audio Metallurgy, sales consultant Sandi Bates, for more information, so that’s what I did. Sandi was both gracious and helpful and appreciated that I was recommended to her by someone she knew. Sandi agreed to send me a pair of the company’s Gold Reference speaker cables, and a couple of pairs of the GA-0 interconnects for evaluation and review.
When I unpacked the Priority Mail package, I was impressed by the care of the packaging. Not only were the cables bubble-wrapped in a clean zip-lock plastic bag, but the connectors were individually foam padded. “Nice touch,” I said to myself. It indicated to me that the company valued its products and took pride in their quality of presentation.
Not just another pretty face
GA-0 Interconnects: In addition to the Audio Metallurgy cables being somewhat attractive, I was struck by some unique features regarding their composition and construction. The GA-0 interconnects begin with two single runs (three for the balanced version) of gold-plated, gold-alloy conductors sandwiched between two identical, flexible, medium-strength magnets. There is no insulation on either run, and nothing separating them but air. The only contact made with the wires is a small amount of adhesive holding the wires in place during assembly and a small cross section of the magnets. This is a very complex design that requires no batteries, capacitors, or resistors to achieve a perfect signal flow. As the current passes through the signal wires contained in the magnetic gap, it creates its own electromagnetic field surrounding the wires transferring the signal. This field becomes the perfect shield that has almost no interaction with the signal, which is not true of other cables that employ active, externally powered shielding.
The wire itself is a 20-gauge, gold alloy consisting of gold, copper, and silver metals combined into an alloy, which is then plated with pure 24-karat gold. The gold-alloy wire is sent out for a cryogenic treatment process prior to its assembly. The GA-0’s are supplied with locking WBT Midline RCA connectors, which can be upgraded to WBT Topline Nextgen RCA’s (WBT-0110Cu) for $55. Audio Metallurgy is a WBT dealer and can terminate their cables with any WBT connectors the customer specifies for reasonable fees. A balanced version of the Zero’s is available with Neutrik XLR connectors. The price of a 1-meter pair is $415. Both shorter and longer lengths are available and are priced proportionately.
Audio Metallurgy includes a word of caution, which applies only to the GA-0 design due to its unique construction. They assert:“Since they are delicate electronic devices, they will not stand to be plugged/unplugged by the magnets instead of the connectors, and they are a little less flexible than your typical interconnects.”I found the Zero’s to be quite robust as long as you follow the designer’s advice to grasp them by the connectors (not the magnets) when plugging and unplugging them.
Gold Reference Speaker Cables are available in standard stereo or bi-wired configurations. They are terminated with either 1/4” or 5/16″ WBT spades, or with WBT locking banana plugs. Again, the premium quality WBT connectors are available for an extra charge. For added performance, the connectors are treated with contact enhancing, Caig Laboratories, Inc., ProGold G5. This product helps improve conductivity and can provide lubrication and long lasting protection on precious metals such as gold. The Gold Reference cables are constructed of 36 strands of the 20-gauge, gold-alloy wire, which is silver-plated (as opposed to the gold plating on the GA-0 interconnects). This results in approximately an 11-gauge cable. Each strand is individually encased in its own Teflon dielectric. The complete wire array uses a triple helix, litz configuration. The outer jacket is super-tough Kevlar, which aids in the shielding of the cables. A special braiding technique allows for greater flexibility; and I can confirm that the Gold Reference speaker cables are easy to twist and turn into position. All Audio Metallurgy cables are carefully handcrafted in the United States with much attention to detail. They are claimed to be very labor-intensive to construct, and knowing how they are built, I believe it. The price for a 5-foot pair is $600, or $700 for the bi-wired version.
Effects of Cables
At this point in time, it is difficult to predict what effects a cable’s materials and construction configuration will have on its sonic presentation. While some folks believe that there are no audible differences among cables (mainly because this hasn’t been proven with double blind testing) decades of my own hands-on experience has taught me otherwise. Indeed, my feeling is that different cable types sound different from one another in predictable ways that can be identified and catalogued. For instance, I have quite a few different power cords and each type has its own predictable sonic signature. So I know that if I use “Cable A” on a given component it will have more deep bass; “Cable B” might have softer, less-articulate bass; and “Cable C” may have less bass extension but excellent articulation. The midrange and highs will have their own unique sonic signatures, as well. It’s gotten to the point where I can tune my system to sound the way I choose, based on my cable selections.
Ideally, cables should be “neutral” in sound character, but in practice, and in my experience, few of them actually are. That said, some can be much more neutral than others. I generally try to use the most neutral sounding cables I can find so that I can better assess the character of the active components that comprise my system. Conversely, I generally try to build my system on very neutral sounding components, so that I don’t need to use the cables as a method of corrective equalization.
Case in point: Recently I invited a few audio friends over for a listen to my system. I played through a few familiar tracks and everyone seemed impressed by the sound, but they had a couple of reservations. You see, these fellows were confirmed tube-o-philes, and they were used to hearing certain tube colorations that my all solid-state system (on this night) lacked. Specifically, they were used to a plumper mid-bass emphasis and highlighting of the upper-midrange/lower treble area.
Anyway, we substituted a Bluenote Koala tube CD player for my Rega Apollo and the bass did plump a bit while the lower highs became more pronounced. This they liked although they conceded that the soundstage had flattened, the deep bass was gone and the system dynamics had decreased. But they were hooked on this thing where they had to see the female vocalist’s tonsils (lower treble highlighting) and so we experimented further.
Next, we put an expensive power cord on the Rega, which made almost no difference, so I could tell it was a decent, neutral cord even if it did cost 20 times as much as my existing black AC Wonder cord. Then, we put a pair of Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II interconnects from the Apollo to my preamp and heard more of a difference. The bass was a bit different, and I wasn’t sure it was an improvement, but that upper-midrange/lower treble area had taken on a mild prominence, which highlighted all sounds in that band of frequencies. While my friends definitely preferred the AZ’s presentation, my view was that it was the mild colorations that they preferred, but that it was not exactly neutral. Yes, they could see further down the throats of their favorite divas, but this up-front more forward lower treble was a double-edged sword in my view, as other recordings became too sibilant for polite company. Admittedly, these were recordings with noticeable sibilance to begin with, but my point is that these types of recordings were now unbearably sibilant. My conclusion is that colorations can be both a blessing and a curse, especially in a highly resolving system.
Enter the Audio Metallurgy Cables
Okay, I told you the above story as a preface to this story. A couple of nights before we made the cable comparison in my system, I had taken the Audio Metallurgy GA-0 interconnects to my friend’s home, where we compared them to the above-mentioned Acoustic Zen Silver Ref II’s. It may come as no surprise that in my friend’s system the Zero’s sounded more laid back in the upper midrange/lower treble than the Acoustic Zen cables. Also not surprising was the fact that my friend’s liked the AZ’s presentation (because that’s the kind of sound they like), while I preferred the smoother, more relaxed sound of the Audio Metallurgy Zero’s. With the Acoustic Zen IC’s the plucked guitar strings, to my ears had more bite, while the Zero’s offered a more natural and relaxed presentation, without the overbite.
Getting to the meat of the matter, the strong suit of the GA-0’s is their ultra-smooth, grainless and relaxed presentation. To my ears, their tonal balance is nearly neutral. They offer deep bass slam, weight, and articulation when called for, and make midrange instruments like brass and woodwinds sound as naturally smooth and sweet as the actual acoustic instruments can sound. My hunch is that this smoothness is a trait of the pure-gold connection from connector to connector. The cryogenically treated gold-alloy wire makes a glorious highway for signal transfer.
In addition to the neutral tonal balance and the outstanding smoothness of the Zero’s they are also very quiet. The natural electro-magnetic shielding created by the wire in the magnetic gap appears to work very well to suppress spurious noise and high frequency hash that results from RFI and EMI. This effect manifests itself as a greater sense of quiet within the soundstage between the instruments. Resultantly, each instrument sounds clearer and cleaner, and this supports the illusion of a very vast and very holographic soundstage, with precise layering of the various instruments and voices. I believe the natural harmonics of the instruments and the room/hall ambience is also very well rendered by the GA-0’s.
As I look back, I see that I’ve written this review in reverse chronological order (emulating the recent trend in network tv programs) because I’m now getting to the sound of the Gold Reference speaker cables—which was actually the first pair of Audio Metallurgy cables I inserted in my system.
If you recall, in my description of the Audio Metallurgy cables, I said that both the GA-0 interconnects and the Gold Reference speaker cables used cryogenically treated gold-alloy wire. One big difference (aside from the gauge and cable construction) is that the Zero’s are gold-plated and the speaker wires are silver-plated.
My general feeling after my initial installation of the Gold Reference speaker cable was that the upper high frequencies were even more extended (or maybe cleaner sounding) than the highs reproduced through my SignalCable Silver Resolution speaker cables. Curiously the Gold Reference had less of a prominence in the lower highs, right where the Silver Resolutions had a slight prominence. This was a minor difference in character, where I preferred the Gold Reference as being a bit more natural. The Gold Reference also seemed slightly smoother. I would not have said that the Silver Resolution cables had any sense of grain, except in comparison to the Gold Reference.
Additionally, it seemed that the soundstage had become slightly more holographic. Taken one to one, the improvements over the SignalCable Silver Resolution were not huge or earth shattering. My opinion is that the sum total of improvements in the highs, the smoothness, and the holographic imaging add up to a very excellent sounding set of speaker cables. But those on limited budgets would do well to consider the SignalCable Silver Resolution speaker cables, as they are not very far off the mark in any particular way.
That said, I further believe that I got an extra performance boost by using the GA-0 interconnects in conjunction with the Gold Reference speaker cables. The two cables blend synergistically to provide a very neutral tonal balance, wide dynamic range, and expansive holographic imaging on a velvety-quiet soundstage.
The GA-0 interconnects may be directional. My friends and I all thought the cables sounded slightly “better” installed with the serial numbers in one direction compared to the other. I’d recommend trying them both ways to see which direction sounds more natural in your system.
The GA-0 interconnects are a little clunky and it can be difficult to get them to where you want them to go. Also, due to their construction, you need about 4 inches of clear space behind the component before they can bend around a turn.
For whatever reason, the direct RCA inputs on my Parasound P/LD-2000 preamp had a hum/buzzing problem and sound dropouts when used with the WBT Nextgen Topline connectors that originally came with my GA-0’s. Apparently something about the construction of that particular WBT connector caused the problem. I sent the cables back to Audio Metallurgy and they sent me a pair of Zero’s with the standard WBT Midline connectors that worked fine with no problems. Any differences in sound quality were minimal, in my estimation. For the future, there are other models of WBT RCA connectors that Audio Metallurgy can recommend as reliable upgrade options. They definitely don’t want their customers to have any problems.
The WBT spade and banana connectors on the Gold Reference speaker cables performed flawlessly and there are no connection or performance issues to report.
No audio cable will be the best match for every system, listener, or recording. In my view, Audio Metallurgy has come up with a winning combination of materials and design parameters to create some of the most neutral sounding audio cables I’ve ever heard.
Since the cable’s presentation tends to be ultra smooth and mildly laid-back, I would think that they should work like magic in systems that tend to be just a little bright or aggressive. On the other hand, if you prefer cables that offer a brighter, more in-your-face type of sound the Audio Metallurgy cables may not be the best candidates.
As for me, I can appreciate what the Audio Metallurgy cables don’t do—as much as I enjoy what they do for my system. Sorry Sandi, I won’t be sending your cables back anytime soon!
Audio Metallurgy, Inc.
PO Box 472
Larned, KS 67550
Price: 1-meter pair interconnect: $415; 5-foot pair speaker cable $600, or $700 for the bi-wired version.
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