Monster Cable Sigma Retro Gold speaker cables & interconnects Page 2
Monster's Sigma Retro Gold speaker cable is similar in construction to its interconnect sibling, but a bit simpler. In the speaker cable, each conductor bundle uses two different gauges of six-nines copper conductors, again wrapped with microfiber, then woven around a solid, nonconducting core. The bundles, again two, are encased in extruded PEX-2 insulators and laid up using Monster's Super Multi-Twist architecture. In the case of the speaker cable, there is no outer PEX2 tube and no shielding—the twisted pair is wrapped directly in the fabric. Terminations are 24k platinum-gold-plated spades of three different sizes.
As with the interconnects, my first impressions of the Sigma Retro Gold speaker cables were all quite positive. I let the cables break in by running my system 'round the clock for several days, and though I didn't do any serious listening during this time, the music was always in the background, and I did sit down for a few minutes here and there, just to relax and listen. The sound was great: vivid and engaging, but with nothing overt jumping out and demanding attention—no overt anomalies, in other words. I always hated to get up and leave the music.
As I listened more carefully, homing in on the details of the Monsters' performance, I continued to be impressed. Their overall performance and character were very similar to the Sigma Retro interconnects, and very similar to my reference Audience Au24 cables (Nordost Valhalla was my other reference).
Like the Au24s, the Monsters were tonally very neutral, though there were subtle differences in their personalities. While I wouldn't say either was right or wrong, or that the Monsters sounded "cool" or "lean," they weren't quite as warm- or rich-sounding through the midrange as the Au24s. Red Garland's Bright and Breezy was a great example. The Monsters did a fantastic job of capturing the initial attack of the piano hammers hitting the strings, but the Au24s filled in slightly better the notes' bloom and resonance following the initial transients.
On drums, too, the Monsters' attack was sharp and realistic, but the round skin tone behind it, particularly in the case of lower toms, wasn't quite as rich and tonally dense as with the Audiences. Ditto for Thad Jones' cornet on the wonderful The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Quartet (Artisthouse AH 9403). With the Monsters, Jones' cornet had a bit more brassy blare; with the Au24s, a little more golden bloom. On the other hand, the differences between the Monsters and Nordost's Valhalla were in the opposite direction, and a bit larger. The Monsters had a significantly richer, more tonally dense sound than the Valhallas, but not their speed and precision.
The Monsters were excellent at the frequency extremes, and kind of a hybrid of my two reference cables. Their accuracy and excellent reproduction of dynamic transients extended to the very bottom, sounding a lot like the Nordosts in this regard. They didn't, however, have quite as much bottom-end warmth or power as the Au24s. For example, the Au24s made Sam Jones' bass sound a bit bigger and warmer; through the Monsters, the instrument sounded slightly cleaner and more precise.
On top, the Sigma Retros were again clean and precise, but not quite as extended as either the Audience or Nordost wires. With the Monsters, Charlie Persip's cymbals on Bright and Breezy had a sharper, more powerful initial crash, but the shimmering waves moving outward were a bit attenuated. Or, for another example, listen to the maracas on "Migration." With the Monsters, the sharp, hollow attacks when the instrument is shaken were very precise, and snapped with a very realistic impact. When the instrument was swirled around, however, some of the low-level, higher-frequency subtleties weren't as evident—the ssshhhh was a bit deeper in pitch and just slightly dulled.
The Sigma Retro speaker cables revealed huge soundstages, although, as with the interconnects, these stages were a bit more wide and tall than deep. Individual images were nicely detailed and tangible, but not quite as dimensional as with my reference cables. Unlike the Sigma Retro interconnects, which had a consistent, slightly forward perspective, the speaker cables were more neutral, neither noticeably forward nor at all recessed.
The Sigma speaker cables' resolution of detail and edge definition were superb, and there was the same beguiling, crystal clarity in the spaces between images that I noted with the Sigma interconnects. Also like the interconnects, their ability to precisely describe miking patterns, or the fragmented spaces blended together in a studio recording, was incredible. Buffett's A-1-A really showed this off. In the closing moments of most of the songs, as they fade out, there are very soft percussion instruments. Even at the limit of audibility, the sizes and characteristics of the spaces around these instruments remained discernible.
Summing Up: As good as Monster's Sigma Retro Gold speaker cables were, I wasn't quite as taken with them as I was with the interconnects. It's odd, because both wires had very similar characteristics, and I'd be hard-pressed to say in which wire these characteristics were more obvious. But while in my current setup I slightly preferred the Monster Cable interconnects to my other reference wires, I preferred—again, only slightly—the Au24 speaker cables.
On the other hand, it's possible that the Sigma Retro Gold speaker cables are a bit more narrowly focused than the interconnects, and Monster's targeting of the SET market in their development of the Sigma Retro line has resulted in a speaker cable that's not ideally suited to my 600W VTL Ichiban monoblocks and power-hungry Thiel CS6 speakers. But even with this potential mismatch, the bottom line is that these are still great speaker cables. Depending on your associated equipment and listening preferences, they might be absolutely perfect.
Where does that leave us?
It's been a while since I thought about Monster Cable in the context of super-high-end cables. Sure, their product name, like Scotch tape or Xerox, has become synonymous with an entire industry. To the rest of the world, Monster Cable is high-performance cable. But somewhere along the line, rightly or wrongly, they lost their high-end credibility—at least with me. It became easy to dismiss them as "no longer a high-end company." And who could blame them? The world and its riches lie in Game Boy and car audio cables, not in our tiny little audiophile utopia.
But somewhere deep inside Monster Inc., Sigma Retro Gold was conceived and now exists as a kind of outlaw. It's ironic, because the technological and financial power that make possible the development of special materials and constructions such as the ones in the Sigma Retro Golds also put very real constraints on the bottom line. When Demian Martin discovered the superior performance of his platinum-gold-plated spade lugs, he toyed briefly with similarly plated conductors, "but I knew that [head monster] Noel Lee would never go for it because of the expense. I'm just grateful that we were able to build Sigma Retro in a company like Monster. I'm not sure that Noel is even really aware of this product, which is probably good for me."
It's certainly good for us. Outlaw product or not, Demian Martin and Monster Cable have built a line of superior cables in their Sigma Retro series, cables that are fully competitive with the very best I've heard. In some ways—how they balance continuity and edge definition, for example, or the amazing clarity between their images—they might well be the best I've heard. In other areas, or in other systems, I might prefer another of my reference cables by a bit. I can't say whether or not these cables will be the best match for a particular system and listener. I can definitively say, however, that anyone shopping for high-end cables should give them a listen. Highly recommended!