Audience Au24 SE interconnect Page 2

About 15 seconds into the first track, "You Got It," it became obvious that I wouldn't have to work so hard. Orbison's voice was unique: tentative and almost nasal lower in his range, then, as the pitch rose, growing in strength and body as he used more and more of his chest and lungs. These changes were much more obvious with the Au24 SEs in the system. As the pitch rose, I could easily follow the smooth but deliberate progression of his vocal sound, and how each note originated from deeper in his chest. And his voice was noticeably clearer, with more inner detail evident.

Emerging from the Orbison spell, I also noticed how the Au24 SE's superior focus and resolution affected other aspects of the sound. In "You Got It," the guitar strums and individual strings were sharper and more distinct, their leading edges cleaner. In "Real World," the echoes superimposed on Orbison's voice became clearer, as did the ones in the space surrounding sharp percussion transients. Nuances of backing vocals emerged, and I was more aware of individual voices. The plucked bass strings in "I Close My Eyes" had more of the elastic, rubbery quality of the strings, and evolved much more clearly as they grew in volume and harmonic complexity before fading into the background.

The timing was more precise as well, with notes starting and stopping more cleanly. The system's spatial precision improved as well—there was now more air around the image of each musician, and the images themselves were more tangible and three-dimensional. A particularly striking element of the Au24 SE's sound was that the music's dynamic range now seemed wider, extending further toward both pppp and ffff.

Mystery Girl's final track, "California Blue," clinched the deal. As I was noticing how solid and "in the room" Orbison's voice was, I realized that the Au24 SE hadn't merely improved my system's performance, it had raised it to a new, higher level.

I worked through several multimiked studio albums of different genres, and with each heard the same sort of differences between the Au24e and the Au24 SE. I ended by switching back to the Au24e and cuing up Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (LP, Warner Bros. 25264-1). With my ears and expectations now recalibrated by the Au24 SE's performance, the album didn't sound quite as good as I remembered. I found myself picking at nits—a slightly indistinct bass, or pan flutes that didn't pop out as sharply as I expected. Even the guitar solos seemed to be a little down in the mix, and sharp transients like rim shots didn't cut through the space as dramatically as I remembered.

Switching to the Au24 SEs restored the album's remembered glory—or, rather, raised it to meet my newly adjusted expectations. Percussion instruments were sharper, images were more three-dimensional and surrounded by more and clearer space, and the overall soundstage was a bit wider and considerably deeper. Even the insects buzzing at the end of "Ride Across the River" had more energy and life. As with the voice of Roy Orbison, the improved focus and inner detail made the sounds of Mark Knopfler's voice and guitar more complex and involving.

Line Level and Digital
I then switched to my digital setup, installing the Au24 SEs between a Primare CD31 player and Sutherland's Line Blocks. As before, I began by reacquainting myself with the standard Au24e, starting with Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, performed by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, featuring violin soloist Elizabeth Blumenstock (CD, Philharmonia Baroque 03). The performance was lovely, as always, and the sound was engaging, natural, and drew me into the performance.

The effects of installing the Au24 SE interconnect were much the same as with the analog setup. I immediately noticed more tightly focused images that were more widely spaced on a deeper, airier soundstage. In particular, Blumenstock's violin stood out more, and was more clearly separated from the other strings. In addition to the greater dynamic range, I also heard a more direct indication of a lower noise floor: the removal of a slight electronic haze. The air surrounding the instruments was subtly but noticeably clearer, the images of those instruments more sharply drawn. More inner detail of the instruments' sounds was revealed, making the resonant character of the violins' soundboards richer and woodier, and revealing more solidity and complexity in even such minor details as Blumenstock's breathing.

I reinstalled the Au24e, dropped in Gillian Welch's The Harrow & the Harvest (CD, Acony ACNY-1109), and concentrated on track 1, "Scarlet Town." There was nothing to complain about, and the immediacy and presence I love about this disc were there in spades. As good as things were, however, switching to the Au24 SE again took the sound and my connection to the music to a higher level. There was the lowered noise floor, cleaner transients, a larger and more open soundstage, and more detailed, more tightly focused images. Two examples that were especially obvious were the greater sense of three-dimensional solidity in Welch's voice and the better resolution of the backing voices.

The improvements were also obvious with "Midnight in Memphis," from Doug MacLeod's Brand New Eyes (CD, Fresh! from RR FR-703): his voice and resonator guitar were richer and more detailed. More than the other LPs and CDs I listened to, however, "Midnight in Memphis" showed that the Au24 SEs expanded the Au24e's' performance envelope not only toward the detail, focus, and edge-definition end of my scale, but toward the coherent, continuous, flowing end as well. Here, with the A24e, there was just enough discontinuity between the main body of each note and its echo to make the latter stand out as a separate entity. That wasn't the case with the Au24 SE, where both note and echo were more solid and detailed, but the two blended more seamlessly.

I ended my listening with Acoustic, by Everything But the Girl (CD, Atlantic 82395-2). Here, again, my digital system was satisfying with the Au24e's—I easily forgot about the sound and melted into the music. Ben Watt's and Tracey Thorn's voices were rich and lovely, but obviously processed to sound a little sweeter and smoother than natural, in the process losing a bit of detail and urgency. It wasn't a night-and-day difference when I swapped in the Au24 SEs, but the voices, guitar, and piano all gained a bit of detail, particularly at low levels, and the overall articulation improved. The duet passages in "Alison" felt more like two voices playing off one another than with the Au24e's, where, in comparison, the interfaces were more vaguely defined. The voices were still smoothed out, and dynamic transients were softer than reality, but everything was a bit sharper.

I had expected the differences between the Au24 SE and Au24e to be less obvious through the digital setup, simply because it lacks the resolution of my analog rig. Don't get me wrong—the Primare CD31 is excellent. It's just that I wouldn't expect a seven-year-old, $2295 CD player to match the performance of $25,000 worth of record-playing gear. If anything, however, the differences between the two cables were more obvious with CDs than with LPs. It's unlikely anyone would pair an $1190 interconnect with a $2295 CD player, but doing so confirmed that the Au24 SE affected both low- and line-level signals, and both analog and digital formats.

Summing up
Audience's Au24e cables have long occupied the middle ground of my interconnect continuum. They combined a good mix of resolution and detail on one end with an equal dose of continuity and coherence on the other. With the Au24 SE, Audience has expanded the Au24e's performance envelope to encompass much more of my continuum. The improvements are primarily in detail, clarity, and resolution, areas where they now compete with cables that optimize those attributes.

What's more, the Au24 SE's level of overall performance is a step or two beyond that of my other reference cables—so it's time to dive back in, listen to the latest and greatest, and rebuild my continuum model. For now, however, the Audience Au24 SE is the best cable I've heard in my system, and significantly better than the Au24e. For $220, the upgrade delivers huge bang for the buck. I don't know of another way to spend $220 and get the level of improvement I heard with the Au24 SE.

At $1190 per meter pair, the Au24 SE interconnect is expensive. But if you're shopping near that price, you owe it to yourself to check it out. And if you already own Au24e's, I strongly suggest that you run, not walk, to the post office to send them back to Audience along with a check for $220.

Audience, LLC
120 N. Pacific Street #K9
San Marcos, CA 92069
(800) 565-4390

romath's picture

Thanks for the reviews.  So are these still on the cool side?