AudioQuest Cheetah interconnects & Mont Blanc speaker cables Page 3
I began by replacing my homemade interconnect cables—single-conductor solid-core silver in clear, loose-fitting polyethylene jackets, terminated with inexpensive gold-plated Deltron plugs—with a 4m set of AudioQuest Cheetahs.
First I listened to a few songs from the brilliant I Ain't Marching Anymore, which Phil Ochs recorded for Elektra in 1965 (on a Carthage LP reissue, CGLP 4422). I swapped the cables back and forth while listening to a few different songs, including "Iron Lady," "Here's to the State of Mississippi," and the title song, all of which are simple guitar-and-voice performances—albeit with more in the way of subtle tempo and dynamic shadings than one usually finds in this genre. (I should also point out that the recording quality is fair at best, and that, even when played back at believable levels, the realistic scale of a powerful singer and a dreadnaught-sized steel-string guitar simply isn't there.) I listened closely for differences in timbre or balance or flow or musical ease or imaging or scale or whatever else I could detect—but I couldn't detect much of anything. In both cases, the sound was pinched and small, but neither cable seemed to get in the way of the very powerful music. On the basis of this comparison, I would have recommended going the cheap-wire route.
I tried something a little more challenging: the Brahms Serenade No.2 in A, Op.16 (on a London LP, CS 6594). I listened with my own cables, noting the very realistic and seemingly uncolored timbre of the woodwinds in that recording, and the way all of the London Symphony players leaned into the music under the direction of master Brahmsian István Kertész. (In contrast with the Ochs, this recording also has superb scale—almost as good as it gets.) Then I tried the AudioQuest Cheetahs. In fact, I went back and forth about six times during that one record side alone. If there was an audible difference, it was as slight as slight can be. There isn't a whole lot of bass in that recording, but the AudioQuest sounded minutely fuller down there.
Have you noticed that, in reproduced music, silences can sound not only silent but have both a sense of "darkness" and an "implied" sense of bass extension or depth, as well? If you're still with me after that bit of nuttiness, then perhaps you'll also be willing to take my word: The AudioQuest was marginally better in getting that sense across.
I also suspected that, with the AudioQuest Cheetahs, the sounds of the instruments popped out from the mix more believably during the lovely middle section of the Adagio, especially the few dozen bars where the strings are silent, leaving a single horn and some woodwinds to play. The silences in that portion were, again, blacker and deeper with the AudioQuests.
And on XTC's "Senses Working Overtime," from the LP English Settlement (Geffen 2GHS 4036 F), the differences were just about the same—categorically similar, and similarly slight. The sounds of the damped acoustic guitar, electric bass, and drums seemed to "bloom" a little more, in a more believable way, with the Cheetahs. By comparison, my cables—which I made, mind you—were a little pinched and a little "hi-fi." Not by much, of course.
In any event, I enjoyed listening with the AudioQuest Cheetahs in place. I kept them there. Music flowed beautifully, and there was nothing musically unnatural or sonically pinched or distorted about it. With them, my system sounded lovely.
Then I compared the AudioQuest Mont Blanc speaker cables, which are multiple runs of solid-core copper, with my home-made speaker cables, which use multiple runs of solid-core silver. Both pairs are 10' long.
My findings were so similar to those regarding the interconnect comparison that it's almost scary. On the wonderful old fiddle tune "Texas Gales," from the first duet album by Tony Rice and Norman Blake (a fine-sounding LP—thanks to the engineering of Billy Wolf—available as Rounder 0233), the two guitars were coming out of a darker, deeper silence. If the notes were the sounds of pebbles tossed into a pool, then with the AudioQuests the pool sounded deeper, bigger, blacker, stiller, wetter—all right, I'll stop there—albeit by a small margin.
More important, both cables got all the timing information right: the rhythms, the momentum, even the subtle differences between Norman's approach to the tune (straightforward and trad, but jaunty and sunny nonetheless) and Tony's (more use of arpeggios at the beginnings of phrases, and a little more syncopation and swing in his improvisations). Both cables made me lean forward and smile. Both cables sounded smooth and natural—but the AudioQuest was very slightly more so.
After spending several days with the AudioQuest Cheetahs and Mont Blancs, I tried disconnecting their DBS battery packs. I couldn't hear the slightest difference in either case—neither immediately after, nor when their "charge" had had a week or so to die away.
The new AudioQuests are very good-sounding cables. The Cheetahs, in particular, performed beautifully well in my system: They're among the two or three best interconnects I've ever experienced. But I find their cost prohibitive, especially since cables that perform almost as well—and silver cables, at that—can be made for less than the AudioQuests' price.
I'm inclined to believe that the Cheetah interconnects and Mont Blanc speaker cables sound good because they're reasonably simple—simpler, even, than other, earlier AudioQuest designs. I think it's also because their connectors are sensibly low in mass, because they're well made, and because they use conductive metals that are evidently very high in quality. My belief is that their "dielectric bias" system, which I wound up removing and leaving in my desk drawer, has no influence on their performance one way or the other. I remain open to suggestions that I'm wrong (footnote 2), but only if those suggestions are offered with such features as CUD (calm, unheated discourse) and ELFC (extremely low fertilizer content).
And years from now, when I'm busy reviewing hearing-aid batteries for the large-print edition of Stereophile, I will look fondly back on this portion of my professional life: when I got paid for listening to wires. Maybe this job isn't so bad after all.
Footnote 2: I swear to you, as God is my witness: Just as I was writing that sentence, a very large bumblebee flew past my window—and that, as we all know, is also scientifically impossible.—Art Dudley