2012 Recommended Components Cables

Loudspeaker Cables & Interconnects

Editor’s Note: Rather than place cables in the usual “Recommended Components” classes, we’ve just listed those cables that members of the magazine’s review team either have chosen to use on a long-term basis or have found to offer good value for money. They are therefore implicitly recommended. Where a cable has been found to have specific matching requirements or an identifiable sonic signature, it is noted in the text. “Try before you buy” is mandatory with cables; many dealers have a loaner stock to make this easier.

Interconnects

Audience Au24e: $990/1m pair, unbalanced; $1595/1m pair, balanced
The updated version of Audience’s Au24 uses the same conductors, materials, and construction as the original, but requires a much more labor-intensive process to attach the terminations to the cable. With a tonal balance that fell midway between the cool-sounding Nordost Valhalla and the warmer Nirvana SL, the Audience Au24e had a powerful and immediate sound, with huge, fast, clean dynamics and transients. Compared to the original Au24, the “e” version had greater transparency and resolution, said BD. Costs to upgrade an original Au24 to “e” status are $195 unbalanced, $225 balanced. (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

Audience Au24: $795/1m pair, unbalanced, $455/additional meter; $1350/1m pair, balanced, $845/additional meter ✩
“The Au24s had a neutral, relaxed sound,” said BD, “with good extension at the frequency extremes and a wide, deep soundstage.” However, they did not reach the density of tonal colors and the extreme inner detail of the expensive Nordost Valhalla. Nor could they match the Nirvana S-X Ltds.’ incredibly natural soundstage reproduction. Nevertheless, “The Au24s were no slouch, just a bit off the standard set by the very best I’ve heard.” (Vol.25 No.8 Read Review Online)

Cardas Clear: $1840/1m pair, terminated in RCAs
Partnered with the Clear speaker cables, these interconnects added measures of resolving power and timbral coherence to JM’s system. (Vol.33 No.10 Read Review Online)

Crystal Cable Ultra DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $5000/1m
With its slightly forward upper midrange and slightly dark lower midrange, the Crystal Cable Ultra provided a “pleasing immediacy that ‘looked’ like a black-velvet painting,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.7)

Crystal Cable Micro DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $1150/1m
Similar to Crystal Cable’s larger Ultra, at a much lower price, but with an overall brighter, leaner, less closed-in sound, said MF. (Vol.32 No.7)

Esoteric 8N LE Reference DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $2600/1.2m
The overall winner of MF’s phono-cable shoot-out, the 8N LE Reference was “ultraclean, yet precise and extended on top,” with a “rich, smooth, and coherent” midrange. “The Esoteric’s ideal balance of attack, sustain, and decay produced a vivid, three-dimensional picture that was tonally and physically inviting,” said Mikey. (Vol.32 No.7)

Fono Acustica Armónico: $6850/1m pair
See “Loudspeaker Cables.” $1300 each additional 0.5m; balanced version fitted with XLRs: $8100/1m pair, add 0.5m: $1,500. (Vol.34 No.6)

Furutech Ag-12 DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $490/1.2m
Combining excellent performance and high build quality at a reasonable price, the Furutech AG-12 won the prize for “best value” in Mikey’s phono-cable shoot-out. Though it lacked the spacious soundstage and top-end extension of the Esoteric 8N LE Reference, the Furutech provided a similarly rich midrange and warm bottom end. (Vol.32 No.7)

Graham Music Groove 2 DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $1200/1.25m
MF: “The Graham [called Hovland at the time of the review] Hovland produced a pleasing, well-balanced picture that combined clean attack, precise sibilants, midrange richness, plenty of body, and long, detailed decays. An all-around excellent performer.” (Vol.32 No.7)

JPS Labs Aluminata: $3499/1m pair RCA or XLR, $700/additional 0.5m ✩
This unusual and expensive interconnect, comprising a quartet of 15-gauge solid-core Alumiloy conductors insulated with Kapton and terminated with WBT locking phono plugs, made AD’s system sound larger, “with a more convincing gradation of scale between the extremes.” See also “Loudspeaker Cables.” (Vol.30 No.4 Read Review Online)

Kimber Hero: $310/1m with WBT-0114
The “strong, silent type” when it comes to cables, says the inestimable JM. “And reasonably priced, into the bargain.” (NR, but see “The Fifth Element” in Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

Kimber Kable Tonik: $80/1m
Kimber’s most affordable interconnect uses three stranded copper wires neatly braided in a noise-canceling pattern. Though they lacked the resolution of much more expensive interconnects, the Toniks “offered clarity without brightness, and reasonably good amounts of color, texture, and touch. For $80, that was A-okay with me,” said AD. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Kubala-Sosna Emotion DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $3000/1.25m
The Emotion “sacrificed some transient detail and speed for the sake of lushness and rich physicality, and will better complement lean, detailed cartridges,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.7)

Kubala-Sosna Anticipation: $400/m pair; $150/additional meter ✩
Like the K-S speaker cables (see “Loudspeaker Cables”), the K-S interconnects are based on a low characteristic impedance and solid construction. The results are uncolored sound and extremely low noise pickup. (Vol.29 No.7 Read Review Online)

MIT CVT Terminator 2: $499/1m pair ✩
Cut from the same sonic cloth as the CVT Terminator 2 speaker cable, this interconnect had a detailed, uncolored midrange, and offered superb dynamic articulation. Compared to MIT’s older, more expensive MI-350 CVTwin, the CVT Terminator 2 had greater bass extension, clarity, and high-level dynamic slam. (Vol.31 No.10 Read Review Online)

Momentum Signature DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $459/1m
With a sound that was similar to the more expensive Crystal Cable Micro, the Momentum Signature was delicate and detailed, and produced clean, accentuated sibilants, said MF. (Vol.32 No.7)

Nordost Valhalla: $4500/m pair, with WBT Nextgen RCA or XLR (+$600/0.5m pair) ✩
Although these cables are “insanely expensive,” BD was sure that you’ll love what they do for your system. Images were detailed, distinct, and densely filled-in and three-dimensional. The soundstage moved out farther than BD had ever experienced. However, while it was obvious that the Valhallas were special, it was also obvious that they had a distinct tonal signature. BD wrote, “The system always had a lighter, drier sound with the Nordost—the tonal balance was shifted slightly upward, and the overall presentation was a touch cooler than with other wires.” RD: “Expensive, but, boy, are they good!” BD’s long-term reference. (Vol.24 No.11 Read Review Online)

Nordost Heimdall: $899.99/m with WBT Nextgen RCA or XLR (+$200/0.5m pair) ✩
The Heimdall interconnect uses four 26-gauge Micro Monofilament conductors, wrapped with a braided shield and covered with an FEP jacket. AD found the Heimdalls, used in generous lengths between preamp and power amp, to be the biggest bargain of the Nordost line. They preserved his system’s sense of presence, kept spatial, timbral, and textural realism intact, and were “worth every penny, and then some,” he said. (Vol.29 No.10 Read Review Online)

Pure Silver Connection (PSC) PST 8: $708/1m pair ✩
Balanced interconnects featuring solid, silver-plated 6N copper and round conductors. LG reported that they reduced system hum problems and were “highly recommended!” (NR)

Signal Cable Analog One: $36/2' pair
The thin, flexible Analog One has 18AWG oxygen-free copper conductors and tight-fitting gold-plated RCA plugs. Compared to the RadioShack 42-487 interconnect, the Analog One offered a more organized and forceful portrayal of the music, with rounder bass, cleaner highs, and faster transients, said SM. $4/pair each additional foot. (Vol.34 No.8 Read Review Online)

RadioShack Catalog #42-487: $7.49/3' pair
An extremely affordable interconnect with unfussy RCA terminations, the RadioShack lacked clarity, speed, detail, and nuance, but got the job done, said SM. (Vol.34 No.8 Read Review Online)

Signal Cable Analog Two: $49/2' pair
Less flexible and a bit thicker than Signal Cable’s Analog One, the Analog Two has a coaxial construction: Its 22AWG center conductor of bare copper is surrounded first by Teflon insulation, then by a shield of bare, braided copper wire, and finally by an outer jacket of Teflon. Compared to the Analog One, the Analog Two seemed slightly faster, more insistent, and more assertive and forceful, said SM, who preferred the Analog One’s more laid-back sound. $6/pair each additional foot. Terminated with ETI plug: add $40/pair. (Vol.34 No.8 Read Review Online)

Stealth Sakra interconnect: $11,000/1m, $7000 each additional meter; balanced version fitted with XLRs: $14,000/1m pair, $10,000 each additional meter
Lightweight, very flexible, and finished in an outer jacket of near-opalescent white, the Sakra interconnect is built into a hermetically sealed, helium-filled tube and terminated with proprietary solid-silver connectors. The overall sound was open and clean, with lightning-fast attacks, generous sustains, and long decays. Compared to the TARA Labs Zero, the Sakra had a bit more midrange body and texture but lacked some air and speed, felt Mikey. (Vol.34 No.6)

Synergistic Research Tricon Analog DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $1000/1.25m
Like the Hovland Music Groove 2, the Synergistic Research Tricon Analog proved “an all-around excellent performer,” producing “pleasingly lush but detailed and well-controlled vocals, clean sibilants, and an ideal balance of direct to reverberant sound,” said MF. The conventional RCA–RCA version costs $900/1.25m. (Vol.32 No.7)

TARA Labs The Zero: $15,900/1m ✩
The Zero, now called the Zero Gold, is an air-dielectric–evacuated interconnect with noninsulated conductors. (The air pressure inside the cable is nowhere near a vacuum, however.) Because neither end of The Zero’s shield is attached to ground, TARA employs the Floating Ground Station, a heavy, black box containing Ceralex, a combination of ceramic materials and metallic compounds that absorbs RFI and EMI. MF’s system benefited from an enormous addition of lushness, texture, and warmth, along with major extensions of air, detail, and transparency. Due to The Zero’s ultrawide bandwidth, some outside transient noise can leak into the system when nearby appliances are activated. But “True vacuum or not, I’ve heard nothing like it,” he declares, adding “a genuine breakthrough though hideously expensive. Sonically similar to the ZenSati #1, the TARA Labs Zero had a fast, clean, open overall sound, with airy highs and tight bass. Though it lacked the rich, textured midrange of the Stealth Sakra, the Zero produced faster attacks, longer sustains, and deeper decays, said MF. “A few readers with ‘F... You’ money took a chance and thanked me. Names available upon request.” (Vol.29 No.12, Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

TARA Labs Zero GX DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $3800/1.2m
Though it was “somewhat bereft of physicality,” the Zero GX’s accentuated sibilants and precise attack made it “a good choice for detail devotees,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.7)

Teo Audio Super PDL: $2400/1m pair
Signal conductors within the Liquid Cable are said to be a slurry of gallium, indium, and tin, to which the conductors are soldered by means of short, stiff copper barbs at the ends of each tube of slurry. Compared to Art’s reference Shindo interconnects, the Teo Audio Super PDL sounded “marginally darker and a bit less open.” (Vol.32 No.12 Read Review Online)

van den Hul D-501 Hybrid DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $450/1m
Though it was “fuller, richer, and far more listenable than vdH’s Orchid,” the D-501 Hybrid couldn’t match the detail and spaciousness of Hovland’s Music Groove 2 or the Synergistic Research Tricon Analog, said MF, though both are twice as expensive. (Vol.32 No.7)

K

AudioQuest Wild, Kimber Hero, AudioQuest William E. Lowe Reference, Sain Line Systems Balanced Pure Reference, Crystal Cable, Acrolink 7N-DA6100 Mexcel.

Deletions

AudioQuest Alpha-Snake, G-Snake, Nordost Tyr, discontinued; Zensati #1 not currently available in the US.

Loudspeaker Cables

Audience Au24: $1925/3m pair, single wire, $450/additional meter; $3450/3m pair, biwire, $845 additional meter ✩
“It was as a speaker cable that the Au24 really shone.” BD actually preferred the Au24 to his reference Valhalla in terms of tonal balance, imaging, resolution of inner detail, and soundstaging. (Vol.25 No.8 Read Review Online)

Audience Au24e: $1795.50/2m pair
Original Au24 can be upgraded to “e” status for $300. $400 each additional meter. See “Interconnects.” JA found the Au24e to sound too warm with the Vivid B1s. (Vol.33 No.6, Vol. 34 No.10 Read Review Online)

AudioQuest Gibraltar: $1410/8ft pair, single bi-wire configuration, spade-lug or banana-plug termination ✩
Each half of the twin lead houses a helical wind of four solid ultra-pure copper conductors with one set for bass signals, the other for treble, while the overall twin-lead layout keeps the two sets magnetically separated in a true biwire design. BD found that the flexible Gibraltar was “easy to run and accommodated most extreme bends and crinks....The Gibraltars caught me off-guard with their subtlety and nuance, and even by sounding slightly muted at times....Tonally, the AQs were slightly to the warm side of neutral and a bit bigger on the bottom than my other cables....Their soundstage was a little narrower than that produced by my other cables, with images concentrated between the speakers and, if anything, slightly recessed....[They] also didn’t seem to produce quite as much air, or reproduce the space around the images as well as I’m used to.” Nevertheless, KR has settled on a 6' double biwire run of Gibraltar as his standard cable for speakers that permit biwiring. The set consists of two full-length runs sharing only the amp-end terminals and is priced, appropriately, at twice the price of single runs. JA also finds the Gibraltar an excellent value. (Vol.26 No.6 Read Review Online)

AudioQuest Rocket 33: $299/10ft pair
AudioQuest’s 14AWG, solid-core Rocket 33 speaker cable offered an exciting leap in performance over SM’s RadioShack Flat Megacable speaker wire, infusing music with more low-level resolution, transient speed, clarity, and physicality. (Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)

Cardas Clear: $5500/3.5m pair, terminated in spades
JM was most impressed by the Cardas Clear’s low-frequency clarity and resolution, finding the Clear to give two or three more bass notes on a pipe organ, with a lower noise floor and “spooky” resolution compared with his reference MIT MH-770 CVTerminator cables. “The best-sounding cables I have heard,” he concluded. JA agrees that these are fine-sounding cables. (Vol.33 No.10 Read Review Online)

DNM Stereo Solid Core Precision: $12/ft pair, plus termination ✩
Each conductor comprises a single solid wire molded into the dielectric so that the positive and negative runs are spaced precisely and consistently from one another. The four connectors required for a stereo system are molded together, side by side, for greater control over spacing and, consequently, electromagnetic interference with the audio signal. Compared to the Nordost Flatline, the DNM cable sounded “ever so slightly smoother, with a not-so-slight improvement in spatial focus,” said AD. When used with his Shindo Cortese amp and Audio Note AN-E/SPe loudspeakers, however, the DNM’s smoothness sounded “a bit uninteresting and lacking in texture,” he decided. (Vol.31 No.3 Read Review Online)

Fono Acustica Armónico: $18,950/2m for a set of four cables
Handmade in Andalucia, Spain, the Armónico uses a proprietary alloy of precious metals, Teflon and air dielectrics, and premium Oyaide connectors. Each cable is threaded through a sculpted block of wood said to provide resonance control. With a smooth top end and a harmonically saturated midrange, the Armónico cables produced a warm, rich, physical overall sound. Though MF appreciated the Armónico’s relaxed rhythm’n’pace, he preferred the tighter, more nimble presentation of the TARA Labs Omega Onyx. Add $4700/each additional 0.5m. (Vol.34 No.6)

JPS Labs Aluminata: $8999/8ft pair, $1200/additional 2ft pair ✩
The Aluminata’s insulated conductor cores are surrounded by a thick blanket of granulated aluminum, densely packed and held in place with a polymer jacket. The 6" leads at the ends of the cables are 8-gauge stranded alloy wires insulated with Teflon and terminated with the buyer’s choice of WBT spade lugs or locking banana plugs. The Aluminatas offered superb tunefulness, rhythm, and musical flow, along with a spacious, smooth, and noiseless presentation. “Without a doubt and by a significant margin, the best audio cables I’ve used,” raved AD. Somewhat unwieldy. (Vol.30 No.4 Read Review Online)

Kimber 8TC: $460/10ft pair w/o connectors
(NR, but see “The Fifth Element” in Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

Kubala-Sosna Fascination: $950/m pair; $300/additional meter ✩
Kubala-Sosna claims that their OptimiZ technology “results in a lower characteristic impedance and a higher ratio of capacitance to inductance than any other cable.” Each cable consists of a hefty pair of conductors twisted around each other, sheathed with a knitted cover, and solidly terminated in thick spade lugs. The current versions have sleek, tight jackets that make them easy to snake and arrange. With the K-S cables in his system, KR noted a decrease in overall residual hiss and softer but more precise highs. “I can’t say that the change is substantial, but it is definable.” Further auditioning with his multi-channel system completely wired with K-S cables led him to describe these cables as among the quietest and most transparent cables he has encountered: “Overall, they seem to get out of the way of everything else and let the system do its thing.” (Vol.28 No.3, Vol.29 No.7 Read Review Online)

MIT CVT Terminator 2: $999/8ft pair ✩
Compared with earlier MIT cable designs, the CVT Terminator 2 has additional “pole networks” for wider bandwidth, and adds the CVT Coupler input module to minimize energy reflection. It offered “clear, crisp, clean highs” and outstanding dynamic articulation, but had “a touch of warmth” in the low end, said BJR. Biwire version costs $1299/8ft pair. (Vol.31 No.10)

Naim NACA5: $10/ft $$$ ✩
Inexpensive spaced-twin cable that ST found to work well with the Spendor S100 loudspeaker. Unchanged in Naim’s product line since 1986, the NACA5 is made of two chunky runs of stranded heavy-gauge wire twisted into a very tight bundle and molded into a thick sheath of Teflon. “Stiffer than Swedish roadkill,” said AD. Compared to RadioShack’s inexpensive SW-1650 speaker wire, however, the unwieldy NACA5 was better at communicating pitch relationships and had “a more realistic sense of flow.” Worth investigating as a good-value cable, thinks JA. (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)

Nirvana Audio S-X Ltd.: $2780/2.5m pair ✩
“A dynamite speaker cable,” the S-X Ltd. was tonally neutral and produced well-defined images, powerful and fast transients, and incredible transparency. The only nit BD could pick was a slight compression of front-to-back soundstaging depth. “A big jump in performance from the company’s SL.” Add $50/pair for biwire configuration. (Vol.28 No.10 Read Review Online)

Nordost Valhalla Speaker Cable: $5599.99/m pair, with banana-plug or spade termination (plus $1100/0.5m pair) ✩
The Valhalla contains 40 silver-plated copper micro-monofilament conductors, each polished and wrapped with a monofilament spacer prior to encapsulation in the Teflon ribbon. Similar to the Valhalla interconnect, the speaker cable’s overall presentation was “clean, airy, and detailed,” according to BD, “without ever being over-etched or harsh....The portrayal was incredibly compelling from top to bottom, but the midrange...seemed almost holographic....[They] sounded almost relaxed—but still clean and precise—and their images were dense, detailed, and dimensional.” An AD favorite. (Vol.24 No.11 Read Review Online)

Nordost Heimdall: $1399.99/m pair (+$400/1m pair) ✩
The Heimdall incorporates the same Micro Monofilament technology found in the much more expensive Valhalla, but contains only 24 air-insulated conductors compared to the Valhalla’s 40. The Heimdall exhibited all of the Valhalla’s good sonic traits, allowing AD’s system to breathe freely and naturally, but added the slightest bit of artificial texture. (Vol.29 No.10 Read Review Online)

Pure Silver Connection (PSC) R50: $2705/3m pair ✩
Features biwiring via silver-plated, solid-copper spades in tandem with gold-plated banana plugs. Optimized speaker response in LG’s system. “They’re solid-silver ribbons, incorporating ‘Cuiletto 1’ ribbon for the highs and R30 ribbon for the lows.” Again, “highly recommended!” (NR)

RadioShack Catalog #278-1273: $26.49/5'
RadioShack’s simple, inexpensive 14AWG braided speaker wire worked in SM’s system, but lacked the clarity, physicality, speed, delicacy, and grace of the much more expensive AudioQuest Rocket 33. (Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)

RadioShack Catalog #278-126716-Gauge Clear 2-Conductor Speaker Wire: $12.59/50'
Though “easier to install and to live with” than Naim’s unwieldy NACA5, RadioShack’s 16-gauge speaker wire tended to smear bottom-octave pitch relationships, resulting in a less natural overall sound. Nevertheless, “the RadioShack cable played music well enough,” said AD. “Crazy-high value that makes an 89-cent can of Bon Ami seem extravagant,” he sums up. (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)

Stealth Dream V10: $12,400/2m pair, $6000 each additional meter
The hermetically sealed, helium-filled Dream V10 is a thick yet flexible cable made of three flat solid-silver wires and a conductive carbon-fiber core. Compared to the TARA Labs Omega Onyx, the Stealth cable had a richer, warmer sound, with a softer attack for a slower overall musical flow. Partnered with the Stealth Sakra interconnects, the Dream V10 cable produced a more textured midrange but lacked the TARA’s upper-octave air, said MF. Bi-wiring adds $1300 regardless of cables’ length. (Vol.34 No.6)

K

AudioQuest Wild, Kimber 8TC, AudioQuest William E. Lowe Reference, Crystal Cable, Wireworld Gold Eclipse 3+, Harmonic Technology Improved Magic Woofer/Tweeter cables, Acrolink 7N-S20000 Mexcel.

Deletions

Nordost Tyr no longer available; Zensati #1 not currently available in the US.

Digital Data Interconnects

Analysis Plus Digital Oval: $190/1m
Replacing his older digital interconnects with the Analysis Plus Digital Oval resulted in improved dynamics, and more low-level detail, said ST. Current version fitted with RCA, XLR, or BNC connectors. (Vol.31 No.10)

Apogee Electronics Wyde-Eye: $59.95/0.5m; $69.95/1m; $79.95/2m; $89.95/3m; $99.95/5m; $109.95/10m $$$ ✩
“If you haven’t heard this 110 ohm balanced data cable, you’re missing out!” crows LL, adding that it’s “more transparent, more musically honest than any I’ve heard—and it’s ridiculously cheap!” JA is also impressed, and uses 50’ lengths for his Stereophile recording sessions. KR, however, while agreeing that Wyde-Eye is an excellent value, notes that it is less transparent-sounding than the (much more expensive) Illuminations from Kimber. Also available for the same price in a 75 ohm version for S/PDIF applications, using Canare’s true 75 ohm RCAs. (NR)

Canare DigiFlex Gold model RCAPOO3F: approx. $19.37/3ft ✩ $$$
Before you try any of the expensive coaxial links, CG advises trying this inexpensive, true 75 ohm cable with Canare crimp RCA connectors. He rates it as his first choice in a digital cable at any price, even preferring it to the Kimber AGDL. JA uses the 110-ohm version in various lengths for CD mastering. (Vol.16 No.7)

DH Labs Silver Sonic D-110 AES/EBU: $99/1m
(NR, but see EL’s review of the Bel Canto DAC3.5VB in Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

Kimber Orchid: $695/1m ✩
Expensive, but the best AES/EBU link JA has used. J-10 loved the Orchid’s midrange liquidity and detail, but preferred Illumination’s S/PDIF cable overall. SD (almost) doesn’t equivocate: “Probably the best out there for now....A stunner!” RH and RD are also fans. New lower price usefully brings this cable in reach of more music lovers. (Vol.19 No.5)

Kubala-Sosna Expression: $775/m, $210/additional meter ✩
A KR favorite. See “Loudspeaker Cables.” (Vol.29 No.7 Read Review Online)

Transparent Audio Performance USB: $95/1m
The Performance USB uses heavy-gauge conductors, robust connectors, and high-quality dielectrics and shielding, and can be used in runs of up to 30’. In addition to being significantly more durable than Art’s reference Belkin cable, the Performance USB was quieter and produced blacker silences. (Vol.33 No.1 Read Review Online)

K

Cardas AES/EBU cable, AudioQuest Optilink-5, AudioQuest Coffee USB, Nordost Blue Heaven USB.

Deletions

Nordost Silver Shadow S/PDIF cable no longer available.

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