Gramophone Dreams #63: Cardas Beyond interconnect & loudspeaker cable

I was born an obsessive reader and a compulsive tinkerer. During the '60s, I subscribed to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Motor Trend, Road & Track, and (of course) Stereo Review and High Fidelity. Every one of those magazines presented articles discussing the importance of upgrading stock wiring to better-quality "premium" wires, citing improved electrical performance and greater reliability.

That was a time when drag-racing cars began using thick, "fuel- and flame-resistant," silicone-sheathed wires between magnetos and spark plugs. Every street rodder who could afford it sported a Mallory Super Mag distributor. Exposed engines were the norm, and a Tach-Drive Super Mag with expensive, bright-colored spark-plug wires was a status symbol on street rods. Even the humble act of replacing the black-rubber–sheathed wires on your daily driver with the five-times-more-expensive bright-red silicone-sheathed Mallory or cadmium-yellow Accel cables proved you were serious about high performance. Likewise, at home with your hi-fi, abandoning lamp cord and rolling your own better-quality speaker cables proved you were serious about high-quality sound.

Magazine articles focused on wire gauge, conductor purity, strand geometry, and dielectric material. I remember reading, in an Audio Engineering Society article on telephone communications, that the difference between conductor and dielectric time constants was an important factor for speech transmission. Cable science was a hot topic during the Summer of Love.

Hi-fi magazines encouraged readers to experiment with heavier-gauge, high-purity copper wires in either solid-core or multistrand configurations. They advised enthusiasts that speaker wires affected sound character differently when deployed in parallel (as in lamp cord) than in twisted pairs. During my first year in college, I DIY-tried every such speaker-wire configuration. After two semesters of experimentation, I determined that loosely twisted pairs of 14-gauge solid-core wire best captured the snap of the snare and the leading edge of piano notes, while tightly twisted pairs of 14-gauge multistrand best displayed the pure tone of sopranos and the wavering textures of piano sustain. My annoying, high-IQ, drag racer, bass player, radar technician buddy Bill Brier said repeatedly that vacuum, then air, then silk followed by cotton were the most effective dielectrics for accurate signal transmission.

So here we are, 50 years later, still debating the best way to make audio cables that preserve the leading edge of plucked, strummed, bowed, and hammered notes, as well as their full decay. And here I am, still looking for wires that can do that. Fortunately, I learned a few things during those 50 years. For example, when comparing two cables, I make sure to note the degree of effect each cable has on the sound of my system. I assess the quantity of change. If that quantity is small, it's likely not important. If the quantity is large, I try to assess it qualitatively. Which wire preserves the signal best? Which is more accurate? These are abstract, system-dependent queries that every audiophile must answer for themselves, by listening.

Certain things—photons, gravity, beauty, love, art, audio accuracy—are in a sense invisible, yet they're experienced directly. When pianos and sopranos sound right, I know I am having a direct experience of accuracy.

One other potentially important thing I've learned from fiddling with audio wires: Original analog signals, like the ones I've heard from 15ips tapes, always display a natural harmonic halo, a tangible radiant aura. When this halo is present during playback, I know I am experiencing a good level of accuracy. I am not sure where audio signals acquire this radiant effect. Maybe it's from ribbon microphones? Or the recorder heads? Or the tubes in the microphone preamp? Or the mu-metal transformer cores? Maybe it's because more low-level harmonic information (maybe –60dB from the fundamental signal) is making it through the system? All I know is that the more I listened to LPs and analog tape, the more I recognized that harmonic halo. When I began using Koetsu cartridges, it became extremely obvious. But it wasn't there when I listened to CDs.

Now I am noticing that halo again—not just via triple-A analog but while streaming contemporary digital recordings through my dCS, HoloAudio, and Denafrips DACs. That same shimmering aura, or something very much like it, appeared in force when I switched from audio cables costing hundreds of dollars to more comprehensively engineered and meticulously manufactured cables costing thousands of dollars. I noticed it first in Gramophone Dreams #61 with the AudioQuest's ThunderBird interconnects, and I noticed it again this month with Cardas Audio's flagship Clear Beyond interconnects and speaker cables (footnote 1).

The wires I've tried
I have not used lamp cord for speaker cable since Annette Funicello was stuffing Wild Bikinis. In the early '70s, I switched the connection between my modified Dynaco Stereo 70 amplifier and my Large Advent speakers from a homemade, braided, stranded wire to an unbraided solid core. I thought it tightened up bass transients. When I switched to the Hafler DH-200 solid state amp, I went multistrand again with Fulton and Monster Cable. I thought both took the hard edge off the DH-200. When I built tube amps in the '80s, I advocated for cloth-covered NOS Western Electric (WE) wires. I made all my DIY interconnects with twisted, unshielded pairs of WE wire and Switchcraft connectors. In the early '90s, I became a full-on Kimber Kable fanboy/devotee, using Ray's silver and copper wires as interconnect, speaker cable, and hookup wire inside my DIY amplifiers.

Silver Kimber Kable introduced me to what I call the "silver aura," a type of radiance much like the shimmering harmonic halo I experienced with analog signals. I thought this luminous aura made recordings sound beautiful and luxurious but still pure, naturally bright, and microscopically detailed. I was predisposed, therefore, to the silver-wire sound when I took over the US distribution of Audio Note Japan in 1993. Audio Note's hand-drawn silver Litz seemed relaxed and natural. I used Audio Note's silver wires exclusively until 2003, when I sold off all my fancy amps and expensive wires and reverted to a much simpler system: a Linn LP12 turntable, a Creek 4330 integrated amplifier, and my BFF Rogers LS3/5a speakers, on wall brackets. With this system, I used copper wires from the $100 end of the AudioQuest line.

I lived happily with what I call my "British Home Office System" until 2014, when I began writing for Stereophile and realized I needed to investigate how far cable engineering had advanced since Annette was a Mouseketeer. Now, here I am, worshipping deceased opera singers transported to my little room through thick, high-tech copper cables that cost several thousand dollars per meter.

822gram.call

Cardas Clear Beyond interconnects
Great opera singers like my beloved Maria Callas supercharge the air in front of them with the purest tones and the most dramatic dynamics. They electrify large halls to the point where the audience feels the song's energy penetrate their being. My favorite audio systems mimic this effect: They put sound into the room with vigorous, tangible force. The singer's raw energy captured on the recording is not lost. It is projected in an exciting, believable fashion.

Only a few months ago, I could not have imagined the amount of change I experienced when I removed Cardas's entry-level Iridium interconnect between the dCS Bartók DAC and Genelec's G Three active speakers and replaced it with that maker's flagship Clear Beyond interconnect. Cows from the next county came running on hearing the intensity and force of Callas's voice performing Georges Bizet's "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle," from Carmen, on Pure Maria Callas: Callas Remastered (24/96 FLAC Warner Classics/Qobuz). When I inserted the Beyond interconnect, the apparent volume of the recording venue expanded dramatically—and with that expansion came an equally dramatic sense of separation between the supporting forces of the Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris and the Choeurs René Duclos.


Footnote 1: Cardas Audio Ltd., 480 11th St. SE, Bandon, OR 97411. Tel: (541) 342-2484. Web: cardas.com
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Lars Bo's picture

Quote: “But those are just hi-fi traits (ambient detail and black background). The (product) accomplished something I feel is more important: It gave consistently clear structure to the sounds it reproduced, emphasizing the interconnectedness of harmonic forms. This, in turn, made the music feel whole and easy to connect with.”

I find this musically insightful observation - how and why, and as a supreme quality, a product in review conveys play of music well - to be one of the most significant in audiophile journalism, I've read in recent years.

Thank you very much, Herb.

tenorman's picture

Great review Herb - your description of the Clear Beyond is spot on . My audio dealer has been insisting for years that I audition the Cardas Clear Beyond cables in my system at home. As a die hard Nordost fan I was very skeptical but I finally took him up on his offer and I’m sure glad I did . The Cardas Clear Beyond cables in my system have been a revelation.

Allen Fant's picture

A very fine review- HR.
Descriptive, insightful and tangible. All of the qualities any Audiophile seeks in cables/cords. I am already looking forward to future installments. Subtle change(s) is/are not necessarily a bad thing in one's system. Piano recordings are the way to test any Cable's capability. Melodic and percussive in nature.
Happy Listening!

David Harper's picture

huh??????? is this review a joke? are you making fun of audiophiles?

MatthewT's picture

Brand of coat-hanger interconnect?

Jack L's picture

Hi

If YOU think reviewing cables were "a joke" to audiophile, you should not here making noises as you are not an audiophile !

Listening to quality cables is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

Dielectric, in simple language, is a non-coducting material capable of passing alternating current (AC), e.g. insulator. The ability of the material to pass AC relative to passing AC thru vacuum is the dielectric constant of that material (e).

Putting it in perspective, e of vacuum is 1. Air being closest to vacuum, e= 1.0059 (or 1.06 micro-second/1,000ft). Tefon TFE & FEP: 2.0,
cured silk: 1.2-1.75 & cotton: 1.6.

From Cardas web, it showed the construction detail of clear Beyond, different from the picture at the top of yr review.

My question to Cardas Audio:-

(1) Copper Class 1 used to build the signal conductors: what Class 1 indicates? Purity or what? So what % purity is it ?
(2) PFA + air used as insulation for the 4 signal conductors.
PFA is the improved version of Teflon FEP in term of rigidity &
high temperature resistance. But e of PFA is 2.06. a bit lower than
FEP 2.0. So why PFA is used then ?
(3) PFA + AIR used as insulation for the 4 signal conductros. But I only the 4 conductors are 'skinned' with PFA jacket. So where is the "air".
(4) The 4 signal conductros each is cored with Kevlar yarns which trapped "air" inside. Is this what Cardas meant "air" as the dielectric ???
If so, it would be a very inefficient way of airing the conductor !

I expect to see the copper strands actually 'bathing' in a batch of air ! My design/built 99.99% pure silver solid conductors are all 'bathed' in a batch of air !!!!

Overall, I think Cardas Auudio has put the cart before the horse in the design of this $4,000++ interconnect. Too much cost gone to multi layers of air-tube suspension, double layer shielding & special compound overall jacket !!

Overall shielding is not a blessing at all technically & sonically.
Overshiedling shielding generates uneven inter-capacitance between signal conductors & the shielding itself plus inter-capacitance among the signal conductors already always there. Cable capacitance determines the characteristic impedance of the entire cable which loads the receiving end.

Clear Beyond installed 2 layers of overasll shielding !!!!!!!

So no overall shielding means the overall capacitance of the cable is much much much less than with overall shieldig.

Sonically, cable with no shield sounds so much more open, & spatial. All my design/built silver cables/power cord are done WITHOUT any overall shielding.

With my 3 active subs (L+R+LR) full volume on, playing LPs thru my tube phone-linestage, I don't hear any hum/RFI intermodulation at all.

Knowledge is the power to save !

Listening is believing

Jack L

teched58's picture

Where did you go to engineering school? Are you really an EE?

MatthewT's picture

Just accept the fact that Jack knows more than anyone else, Cardas included.

Jack L's picture

Hi

"All roads lead to Rome" a Medieval idiom.

Beat the conventional 'wisdom' if one is knowledgeable enough !! No copycats please !

Jack L

PS: I indeed look foward to engaging some thoughful classical music lovers in music talks, e.g. whoever sopranos/tenors performed however...

hb72's picture

first thought was, he doesn’t seem to know that epsilon (the dielectric constant) isn’t one constant really, it has real and imaginary parts, so that dielectrics with same number epsilon (rms?) might still sound and electrically behave different one from another.

the other point about shielding (and advantage of lacking same): hmm, depends on the components and what cable capacitance they were designed for: taking shielding out reduces capacitance ie takes down parallel capacitance between signal conductors, thus slightly lifts treble: no mystery, but then the cable might pick up rfi, to which source or amp might be more or less prone to pick up. there is not an easy & general answer to what sounds better imo.

Jack L's picture

Hi

You talk like you are only guessing ! Are you sure ?? May I suggest you to read more in cable kowledge before you open you mouth.

As I already stated above post, "All roads lead to Rome.". So why be a copycat - sticking with overall shielding like most most, if not all, brandname cable makers have done, ignoring its pitfalls !

There is a better alternative to fight RFI/EMI noise than the conventional overerall shielding, IMO. A hint - dig up Belden, probably the largest networking connectivity manufacturer in the world, to learn how it builds RF cables for miles miles run without any overerall shielding decades back.

I'vr managed to improve on it for audio appplication. I hate copying !

Cable ABC: -
Inductance - An opposite voltage generated whenever an AC current passes along a conductor, against the forward flowing current - reducing the normal change of the current. This is the self inductane of the conductor.

Cable conductors 100% CONCENTRIC with overall ROUND shield (in ideal situation only, practically it seldom exists due to mobile placement of the cable), the self inductance is typically 5 times the conductors without any overall shield.

That explains why cable without overall shield sound so much more open & spatial than with overall shield - inductance + capacitance that slow down the AC wave passage.

Listening to unshielded cable s believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

Please explain it by reference to any published data.

From the dielectric constant table of solid materials (not gas, not liquid), e is pretty constant, with exception of some fabrics made up of different physical shapes.

Jack L

hb72's picture

Yes, „pretty“ constant, but maybe not really; I‘v thrown that one in because I doubt that small differences in real component might not be as important as they look.
Source for complex permittivity (sorry I have no data): my script from lectures in Theory in Relativity and Electrodynamics ( ;) ) , or this here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permittivity#Complex_permittivity
I agree with the importance of hearing (I am not an ASR-brigadist), measurements always second for judgment, but first for explanation.
Re coax - good, but isn’t a coax essentially the most basic shielded cable (with the disadvantage of draining the picked up noise to components on either ends of the cable)? Perhaps a double coax, with an outer shield, a hollow ground in the middle and a signal conductor in its centre?

Greetings,
HB

Jack L's picture

Hi

The "permitivity" issue you bring in here is for capacitor dielectric not for cable as clearly shown in the drawing on there with + & - polar potential of a capacitor.

It further go on to capacitor dielectric application in electrolytic capacitors, etc.

Sorry, not for cable, my friend.

You are correct: any cable with overall ROUND shielding is basically a coaxial cable. To get its best noise shielding effect, the conductor MUST be 100% concentric : the conductor must be 100% equidistant from any point on the perfectly round shielding wrapping around the conductor - ideal situation !!!

As I already said in my above post to you, it is practically impossible to ensure such the overall shielding is always 100% round & equidistant to the centre conductor at ALL time- e.g. when the interconnect is hooked up to the audio components - mobile situation.

"a hollow ground in the middle"???

What is a "hollow ground" ? How in the middle ?

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

You can't hear difference. Too bad. Either go tune yr ears or listening more music to train up yr ears.

I do HEAR the difference & I therefore want to find out what makes the sonic diference. I know I have done it.

Spend more time to acquire yr cable knowledge like I did. No free lunch, pal.
Listening is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

To qualify yr above personal question to your truly, which is REDUNDANT in any public venue, may I ask YOU the same question: "are YOU really an EE ?????"

Listening to quality cable is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture

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Jack L's picture

Hi

Though Maria Callas is not my favourite opera singer, I still own 2 of her old-timer stereo LPs (vs some 20 LPs of L Pararotti, my very favourite tenor!).

One of the 2 Callas LPs, incidentally, is also on Carmen: "Carmen Highlighs" (Angel 36312), featuring N. Gedda as tenor, Choeurs Reni Duclos, the chorus, performed by Orchestre du Theatre National de l'Opera, conducted by Georges Pretre.

Does it sound familiar with yr FLAC version of "Callas Remastered" ??

Nothing else could replace its original analogue version on LP, sonically, IMO.

The other Callas LP I own is even an older timer than the LP above:
"Maria Callas & Joan Sutherland - The Art of Coloratura" (Everest 3293).

Joan Sutherland is one of my very favourite soprano, of whom I own quite few stereo LPs. Talking about "vigorous tangible force" of sopranos, I go for Sutherland any time !!!

Listening to analogue vocal is believing

Jack L

jfeighny@mac.com's picture

Do you ever feel once you hear something on an amazing system, you hear It just as well on a less resolving system? I feel when I listen at home and hear the halo effect, I can then sometime then hear on my Subaru car stereo. I know my mind is upsampling. I makes me wonder how much we are filling in the blanks...

DH's picture

Callas was recorded ages ago using long runs of standard pro studio cables of the time - nothing audiophile. So either: a)those wonderful aspects you heard were there in the first place - and don't require special cables; or b) these cables add in (artificially color) all those wonderful things that weren't actually recorded in the first place, as special cabling that does this wasn't used in the original; or c) it's purely expectation bias and imaginary on your part.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Who gave you such idea recording studios ever use "audiophile" cables ????? Most most recording studios nowaday use balanced cables, from microphones to mixers, processors & then recorders. Some long established studios still retent using unbalanced signal cables.

How can they afford $4,000 a 3-ft long "audiophile" cable when miles run of cables are needed in a studio ??? Get real !

"these cables add in (artificially color)"

How do you know? You ever compared or simply your imagination ?? Are you accusing all recording studios in this world built using standrard "pro studio" cables (which are NOT costly "audiophile" grade for very sure), record music with "artificially color" because of the cables ???

Get real, pal.

Listening is believing

Jack L

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