Audience Au24e cables Page 2

It took about five seconds for the Au24e setup to completely upend my neat cataloging system of attributes and sliding scales. The "e" versions were still tonally neutral, and still hit just the right balance across all my scales, but they were revealing a much finer level of detail than had the originals. The overall sound was powerful and immediate, with dynamics and transients that were huge, fast, and clean. Most noticeably, the Au24e's were as transparent as any cable I'd heard, with nothing between images but the recording venue's ambience—or, in the case of a studio recording, crystal-clear space. As good as the original Au24s had been, the "e" versions blew them away. They maintained or improved on all of the originals' strengths and eliminated their weaknesses.

I listened to Ben Webster and Sweets Edison's Ben and "Sweets" (LP, Columbia/Classic CS 8691); my notes begin with "stronger, sharper, clearer"—exactly the opposite of how I would have described the original Au24. I noticed that the cymbals' shimmer was more extended in space and in time. I was hearing more detail, to the point that I felt I was hearing each individual vibration of the cymbal being launched from the instrument and radiating outward. The space around the cymbals was stunningly clear, the details of the surrounding surfaces of the room standing out to a degree I'd not heard before.

On the second cut, "How Long Has This Been Going On," I was struck by how right Hank Jones's piano sounded. The initial stroke of hammer was the perfect mix of transient and timbre: The textures evoked an uncanny and strikingly clear mental picture of felt-clad wooden mallets hitting the piano's strings. The balance of each note was perfect as well, filling in behind the initial impact, blooming and incorporating the soundboard's contribution, then expanding and spreading out into the space around the piano.

The Au24e's transparency really stood out when I cued up my beloved recording of Delibes' Lakmé, with Alain Lombard leading the Paris Opéra Comique and soprano Mady Mesplé in the title role (LP, Seraphim SIC-6082). The group portrait of the singers, orchestra, and surrounding space was clearer and more holographic with the Audiences than with my other reference cables. I could track smaller movements of the singers, and follow them more closely. And as each new singer entered, I could easily "see" the other singers, as they sang their next lines, turning to face the new arrival.

Perhaps the best example of the new Audience cables' performance, and their difference from the original Au24s', was how they portrayed the details of Ben Webster working the mouthpiece of his tenor sax. Some notes ended with a tiny pah of exhalation, as Webster pulled or rolled his lips away from the reed. Other notes ended differently, with a sharper lift of his lips and a short intake of breath. Still others ended with a softer, prolonged whoosh, when he simply relaxed his lips away from the reed midway through the note. Absolutely incredible!

With the Au24e cables, I never found a downside or a "but . . . " They were detailed without being over-etched. Soundstages and individual images were clearly portrayed, and the Au24e's transparency revealed the wonderfully rich and complex timbre of each instrument. Regardless of the type of music or source format, there seemed to be a bit more textural information through the Au24e's: brass sounded more like brass, wood more like wood. In some instances, I might have said that the new Audiences' tonal balance was shifted the tiniest bit to the cool side, but I attribute that more to their dynamics and overall impact. To borrow an annoying but apt catchphrase, it was all good.

A little context, or back to my sliding scales . . .
Among my sets of reference cables, the original Audience Au24s had been midway between the cool, fast, superdetailed Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cables and the warmer, richer, more coherent Nirvana SL cables. Both of the latter makes, however, were more detailed and transparent than the Au24s. And while the original Au24s tonally resembled Stereovox's SEI-600II interconnects and LSP-600 speaker cables, the Audiences' slight deficits in resolution and transparency gave performances a different, often less satisfying feel.

The results were similar when I compared the Au24e to each of my other sets of reference cables—with the notable difference that the new Audiences' transparency and resolution were every bit as good as those of any of the others, if not better. The Au24e's were still about midway between the cool-sounding Nordosts and the slightly-warmer-than-neutral Nirvanas. Where the original Au24 may have been at the warm edge of the neutral marker, however, the "e" versions were perhaps on the opposite, or cooler side. On a 1–10 tonal scale, with the Valhalla being "1" and the Nirvanas "10," the Au24s perhaps shifted from 5.5 for the originals to 4.5 for the "e" versions.

The Nordost wires still sounded sharper and faster than the Au24e's, and emphasized details and edges slightly more—as if an old TV's Contrast knob had been turned up, or Photoshop's Sharpen Image filter turned on. Conversely, the Nirvanas still had a more liquid, coherent overall sound that reminded me of what I hear when seated midway back in a warm, sweet-sounding hall. The dynamic transients of the Au24e's were sharp and clean, but not quite as much so as the Valhalla's, nor were transients quite as large. Through the Valhalla, a well-recorded rim shot still had a bit more of the impact that I hear live, though in this regard the Audience cables were a lot closer to the Valhalla's performance than to the Nirvanas'.

The Au24e cables most closely resembled the Stereovoxes, both tonally—as had been the case with the original Au24s—and now in transparency and detail as well. In back-to-back comparisons, I was hard-pressed to consistently call one more transparent than the other, or to say that either had the edge in resolution of detail. The biggest difference—and it wasn't very big at all—was in the sense of overall impact. Wired with the Au24e's, my system always sounded bolder and more vivid, with a better sense of pace and drive.

If I'm on a budget . . .
Audience's Au24e cables are huge improvements on the originals. For those who already own Au24s, upgrading them to "e" status at $195 (unbalanced interconnect), $225 (balanced interconnect), and $300 (speaker cables) will be money well spent. For new purchasers, the prices of admission are steeper: $877 (1m unbalanced interconnect), $1375 (1m balanced interconnect), and $1523 (2m pair of speaker cables). These prices aren't out of line for high-end cables, but will add up quickly for a typical system. I wish I could say that the first Au24e cable you buy will get you 90% of a complete set's overall improvement of your system's performance, but that's not the case: Each length of Au24e made a noticeable difference. I recommend starting at the front end, with the smallest signals, and working back toward the speakers as your budget allows—but that's based more on logic than on listening.

The last word
Audience's Au24e interconnects and speaker cables perform as well as any cables I've heard. What's more, they compare favorably with other reference-quality cables, not only as an overall package of strengths and weaknesses, but line by line, in any sort of audiophile accounting. Differences in rooms, equipment, listening preferences, etc., make it unrealistic to pronounce any one cable "the best"—but you can't go wrong with Audience's Au24e family. They're superb.

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