Audience Au24 SE interconnect Follow-Up
In my review of Audience's new Au24 SE interconnect in the December 2013 issue, a miscommunication with Audience's president, John McDonald, led me to report that their RCA-fitted Au24 interconnect, in either its Au24 e or SE configuration, is identical to the corresponding version of Audience's Low-Z phono cable; and that the High-Z phono cable is the same as Audience's Au24 e speaker cable. In fact, the opposite is true: It's the High-Z phono cable that's identical to the interconnects, and the Low-Z version, which is what I was sent, that's made from the speaker cable. The review sample was the right match for my Lyra Titan i cartridge, but the differences I heard between it and a standard Au24 e interconnect weren't solely due to the new SE RCA plugsthe wire itself was different as well. To close the loop and ensure that I was comparing apples with apples, Audience sent me a genuine Au24 SE interconnect, fresh from the factory, to repeat my listening with.
As an engineer, I'm pretty hung up on accuracy; snafus like this are frustrating and really stress me. But I'm relieved to report that the news is all good. The Au24 SE interconnect sounded a bit different from the Low-Z phono cable but was every bit as good and, as before, a significant step up from the standard Au24 e interconnect. When I directly compared the Low-Z phono cable and the actual Au24 SE interconnect, I found that the main difference was that the phono cable emphasized temporal and spatial precision a bit more, whereas the interconnect did a better job of reproducing tonal nuances and subtle inner detail.
When I again played Gillian Welch's The Harrow & the Harvest (CD, Acony ACNY-1109), which I'd used in my original review, the sounds were equally captivating, but I suspect that most listeners will prefer one wire to the other. The phono cable was a little brighter and sounded quicker, with more sharply bounded images that were spaced a bit farther apart on the soundstage. Switching to the interconnect removed a smidgen of immediacy and speed, but made up for that with more tonal richness, and how well it captured the nuances of the voices, guitars, and surrounding space.
Another intimate, natural-sounding recording I listened to was Brian Wilson's I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (CD, MCA MCASD-11270), especially my three favorite tracks: "Caroline, No," "Love and Mercy," and "Do It Again." The same differences I'd heard with the Welch disc were, again, slight but audible. Particularly with "Do It Again," I noticed the interconnect's more nuanced portrayal of the voices, and that the underlying bass was warmer and more firmly anchored to the other instruments than with the phono cable. In "Love and Mercy," the interconnect's superior tonal richness and body was most evident in the reproduction of the bass in the backing chorus: the voice was that of a person with a body and a chest. Through the phono cable, this voice sounded a bit disembodiedbut just a bit.
The bottom line is that, snafu or no snafu, the Audience Au24 SE is a fantastic interconnect. It did everything very well, substantially improving the sound of any system configuration I tried it with and making recordings much more compelling. I still don't know if the improvement in going from the standard Au24 e to the Au24 SE is "five times as big as the upgrade from Au24 to Au24 e," as John McDonald claimed, but the addition of the tellurium-copper connectors does make a huge difference. If you're shopping for high-end interconnects, the Au24 SE should be on your list to audition. If you already own Au24 e's, the $200 cost of upgrading to Au24 SE is ridiculously inexpensive, and the best bang for the buck you're ever going to find.Brian Damkroger