AudioQuest Cheetah interconnects & Mont Blanc speaker cables Kalman Rubinson, November 2004
Over a period of several months I fielded requests from Joe Harley of AudioQuest to install their new Dielectric-Bias System (DBS) cables in place of the AQ cables I already had. I cannot convey how unenthusiastic I was about changing my cables, and I was not encouraged by Art Dudley's assessment of AQ's single-ended Cheetah and mono-wired Mont Blanc in the August 2004 Stereophile. Cables have never been a big deal for me. As long as they're competently made, electrically and physically, I adapt pretty readily to them. Besides, the extent to which you can hear anything unique or distinctive from a cable is, I think, the extent to which it or something else in the system has fallen from grace.
The cables in my main system include 10m pairs of JPS Super-Conductor 2 and AQ Python, both balanced, which I swap as the spirit moves me. I also have a pair of single-ended Cardas Cross and a shotgunned set of Straight Wire Virtuosos that I use when I fiddle with biamping. They all sound different to my ears: the AQ lighter and airier than the JPS, which sounds smoother, with a quieter background. As for speaker cables, I have tried many, and a few have distinguished themselves from the pack: I didn't like them. I kept AQ's Granite biwire set because it didn't seem to do anything.
But in the face of Harley's persistence, resistance proved futile: I agreed to try out a 2m biwire speaker set and a 10m balanced interconnect. Harley recommended the DBS Mont Blanc as an equivalent upgrade from the Granite speaker cables, and DBS Panthers to replace the Python interconnects.
I guess something had come over me. I'd just rewired my multichannel system in the country with dedicated, high-quality AC outlets and power-surge protection and filtration, and was sorta looking to mess around with my main system. First, I plugged all my components, except for the power amps, into a Monster Cable Home Theatre PowerCenter HTS 2000 Mk.II ($229.95). Then, in an inexplicable flurry of activity, I replaced the system's AC outlets with World Power's cryogenically treated Hubbell 8300GY outlets ($55 each). The PowerCenter provides some surge protection and filtering while letting me organize my rat's nest of AC cables and dispose of a raft of TrippLite four-outlet surge boxes. The World Power outlets replaced aging generic outlets and provide reassuringly stiff resistance to insertion and removal. One can only hope that such resistance is the companion of good, solid connectivity.
Son of a gun! Background noise in the system seemed to drop like an anchor. Commensurately, there was an impression of greater effective dynamics due to the lower noise floor. This was exhilarating, and spurred me on to gild the lily and compare the new AudioQuest DBS interconnects and speaker cables with their predecessors. But this could not be a fair fight: The new DBS cables come with their batteries connected and the printed message that they are charged and ready to go. To what would I attribute differences, if any? Are the new cables really different? Is the DBS feature significant? Both? Neither?
To attack the problem in a semi-organized way, I disconnected the batteries from the Mont Blancs and Panthers, installed one of each cable in my system's right channel, left the resident Granite and Python cables in the left channel, and tried to ignore the issue for three weeks. As there was no overt imbalance, that was pretty easy to do. At the end of that period, when I assumed that any charge on the DBS cables would have completely dissipated, it was time to compare.
I connected a mono source to the left channel of one input and the right channel of another input of the Sonic Frontiers Line 3 preamplifier. This permitted me to A/B the two channels with the same signal. Back and forth I went, recording after recording, hearing no differences. Even physically switching the sides to eliminate any bias (so to speak) due to differences among amps, speakers, and room environment for each channel failed to reveal anything to distinguish them. Nada. Zilch.
That did not surprise me. I've found that different cables from the same stable are often quite similar. But what about the DBS cables' raison d'être—the biasing of the dielectric, which, AQ contends, makes the cables more accurate conduits of musical information? The only thing to do was to plug the batteries in, wait a few days, and repeat the comparisons.
Done. Superficially, there was still no difference. But this entire business is about subtle changes, and, indeed, activating the DBS system had made a difference. From my usual listening seat, one side sounded like the other. Sitting closer, with reduced room influence and, perhaps, suboptimal driver integration, the DBS side had a slightly better, smoother transition from the midrange to the treble. It wasn't much, but it was audible with female voices and treble strings, both of which lost a bit of edginess. This difference was also highly dependent on the orientation of my ears to the drivers, and was apparent only when I listened on the tweeter axis. And except during A/B comparisons, the difference wasn't great enough to be discerned at all—in the time it took to swap cables for other comparisons, the small distinctions evaporated.
This was the most I could wring from my comparisons. It's not much, and the results didn't come from a double-blind test. When I installed the second set of DBS cables in the right channel of the system, it sounded great. For now, the DBS Mont Blanc and the DBS Panther remain in my system, their batteries plugged in—not because they sound better than everything else I've tried, but because they sound at least as good as anything else I've tried. After all, shouldn't cable manufacturers, too, observe the first commandment of the Hippocratic oath? Primum non nocere: Above all, do no harm.—Kalman Rubinson