Gramophone Dreams #63: Cardas Beyond interconnect & loudspeaker cable Page 2

Moreover, I noticed a newfound well-sortedness and a new form of dark quiet—a silence quite unlike any I'd experienced before. Switching from Cardas's budget-priced, $125-per-meter Iridium to Cardas's $4250-per-meter Clear Beyond changed my system's sound character as much as changing phono cartridges or DACs: The Bartók DAC became more silent, grainless, full-spectrum, and beautiful-sounding than it had been with any of my other cables. Right away I wondered how much of this radical quiet was the result of the Cardas cable's extensive shielding.


I notice things like grain and noise most easily when they suddenly go away. When I installed the Cardas Beyond cables, it was instantly clear how foggy and restrained the gray-sheathed Iridium had been. This large upgrade in clarity and quiet was similar to the effect I encountered when, in Gramophone Dreams #61, I switched from AudioQuest's budget Red River interconnects to their not-budget Mythical Creatures ThunderBird. The main difference in sound quality between these two popular cable brands was that the AudioQuest ThunderBird made recordings sound dramatic, rapturous, spread out (soundstage-wise), and transparent, while the Cardas Clear Beyond endowed the sound from the Genelecs with a sublime quiet, a grand spaciousness, and seemingly infinite LSD detail. Both cables endowed recordings with an aura-like radiance similar to what I experienced with analog tape and silver cables.

The finest audio systems are admired for their ability to resolve ambient detail and let music emerge from black, silent backgrounds. The Cardas interconnects specialized in both capabilities. But those are just hi-fi traits. The Clear Beyond 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.

The sonic effects of interconnects I've just described, while possibly capturing a glimpse of the innate "personality" of two different cable geometries and two different approaches to cable design, represent nothing more objective than what I observed with my own specific system in my own room. When I used these wires in differently configured systems, the degree and nature of these effects varied noticeably.

Setup two
My second cable-review system added one more interconnect and two new components. Genelec's G Three speakers were connected to HoloAudio's incredibly uncolored and uber-transparent Serene line-level preamplifier, fed by the Denafrips Terminator Plus DAC, to form a very revealing system. I tried AudioQuest's ThunderBird and Cardas's Clear Beyond in two positions: between the DAC and preamp and between the preamp and speaker. The cables accomplished slightly different things in each position.

This was an important experiment, because I am currently trying to find the most beautiful and excitement-inducing interconnect to use at the output of the Terminator Plus DAC. At this point in my reviewing journey, Denafrips's flagship DAC is delivering reference-level audio splendor: It makes recordings feel vivid, present, sensuous, and stoner-level hypnotic. The T-Plus makes soundwatching a nightly habit; it makes recorded sounds "look" like they are emerging from a black, before-the-universe-began abyss. The extreme tactile quality of this darkness is the Terminator Plus's biggest plus.

Before the Cardas Beyond arrived, I had been completely happy using the sounds-like-its-name ThunderBird out of the Terminator Plus. The T-Bird goosed up the T-Plus's dynamics, drive, and clarity in a way that made it sound more awake. After liking the Bartók with Clear Beyond so much, I felt certain the flagship Cardas would allow the T-Plus to expose even more recorded beauty—and in its own way, it did. But the Cardas Clear Beyond's beauty added to the Denafrips's beauty felt like too much beauty. Like a Rococo boudoir. Like a Fragonard painting. I quickly missed the just-right brightness, bounce, and rhythmic drive the ThunderBird extracted from the T-Plus.

The sonic differences I've alluded to are not subtle. Subtle differences are not interesting. The only sonic differences I care about are those that affect every recording, every time I listen. I believe the differences I've described would be obvious to anyone who listened for them (footnote 2).

Most cable manufacturers would like users and reviewers to perceive their products as best employed in full-system looms. I cannot fault them for that except that electrical conditions can vary radically between connected components. Because I view audio cables as active, component-level participants in the electrical impedances drama, I continue to examine each connection separately.

My reference system consists of many different brands, and because I switch components frequently, I tend to associate specific cables with specific components. For example, I have a favorite tonearm cable (the energy-preserving AMG reference), an MC SUT to RIAA preamp favorite (the texture-preserving Auditorium 23), and a phono pre to line-level preamp favorite (the invisible Black Cat). Now, for my system's most important connection—the Bartók DAC to the Serene preamp—my favorite is the Cardas Clear Beyond, balanced. I have also just observed that the Denafrips Terminator Plus becomes enjoyably strong and alive with AudioQuest's ThunderBird.

So, I am hesitant to throw a single-brand house-sound blanket over the whole, constantly evolving system. I fear that if I weave my system with a single cable brand, it will (a) look like a product endorsement and (b) influence the outcome of every component I review. That said, many of the finest audio systems I've encountered consisted of amps, speakers, and cables from a single manufacturer.


The Cardas Loom
In later installments of this ongoing cable study, I will describe and compare the diverse construction and design strategies of the brands I have auditioned. I will also compare speaker cables by brand and outline the drama of their difficulties. But for now, I want to describe how my bunker system responded to a full loom of fully broken-in Cardas Audio Beyond cables.


I ran balanced Clear Beyond from the Bartók DAC to the HoloAudio Serene preamp and single-ended Clear Beyond from the Serene to Pass Labs XA-25 amplifier. I used Clear Beyond speaker cables from the XA25 to my Falcon LS3/5a "Gold Badge" speakers. The effect of the full Clear Beyond loom was to saturate the entire playback chain with a markedly luminous character. The first words that came to mind when I played "Pierre" from Alexandre Tharaud's album Barbara (16/44.1 MQA, Erato/Tidal) were breathy, intimate, and dreamlike. That accurately describes my visual impression of the Cardas's soundspace. The Clear Beyond endowed this moody, exquisitely performed homage to Monique Andrée Serf (a popular French cabaretière who worked under the stage name Barbara) with that radiant, halo-like aura, transporting my mind to the smoky footlights in a wartime cabaret. My experience suggested that the Cardas cables delivered more low-level information than any other copper cables I've used.

I do not regard this attractive, dream-like vibrancy as a coloration or deviation from neutrality. The Clear Beyond was never soft, hazy, or unfocused; its saturated tones were not exaggerated. It had finely detailed imaging, near-infinite depth of field, and exquisitely subtle dynamics. After a week of listening, my brain adapted to the Cardas loom. Its dreamlike qualities slipped into the background, replaced by a day in, day out sense of focus and precision. My Falcons played more sensuously—more breathily—than ever. Pianos and sopranos sounded as I thought they should. What more could I want?

Some audiophiles select their system's cables not on the basis of comparative listening but through ill-conceived notions about how certain cables affect a system's character. I know this to be true because I too am guilty of it.


Until lately, my strategy, as a blue-collar Stereophile reviewer, has been to choose solid, well-built cables costing less than $1000 per set from popular, long-established brands. My comparative listening experiments with different brands and different models within brands had been limited and inconclusive. They centered mostly on whether a given budget cable made my system, or the component it was connected to, more or less clear and engaging. I simply had no idea how much flavor and excitement got lost in those pedestrian wires. Each of my chosen cables made recordings sound clear, tone-correct, and alive, which was all that concerned me. The ones I deemed most invisible—those that appeared to affect the sound the least—I put in the most important places. It never occurred to me that the cables that affected the sound the most might be the best for my system. Even after a decade of using expensive silver cables, I still didn't fully grasp a point that is now obvious: We might just get what we pay for.

Some audio cable manufacturers explain their technologies in great detail, with high-quality photos, videos, and diagrams. Cardas has one of the most informative websites in audio. I encourage readers to visit it—and also the company's YouTube channel. On the website, in addition to information about their engineering, you will find sounds and images of the company's home in breathtaking Bandon, Oregon, of the people behind the scenes, and of the beautiful machines that make Cardas's wires.

Footnote 2: It's worth pointing out that we all hear differently, with—importantly—a different sense of proportion. To Herb, these changes are not subtle, but others may perceive them as subtle—yet, even so, subtle changes can be very important in conveying the life and emotion in music.—Jim Austin

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


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


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


"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


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


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:
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?


Jack L's picture


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


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


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


Jack L's picture


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'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.

Long-time listener's picture

"So either: a)those wonderful aspects you heard were there in the first place - and don't require special cables;"
1: Presumably at least SOME (if not all) of those "wonderful aspects" were captured adequately enough by non-audiophile cable that they can still be heard, due to the sheer proximity of the mic to the performer and the first cable run to the mixing board. How do you know that they wouldn't have been captured even better by better cables? You're assuming that EITHER they were captured OR they weren't, but it's not and "either/or" situation but a matter of degree. And there's no reason to assume that those "wonderful aspects" would be preserved equally well, without degradation, through all the further steps in the mixing/playback process when using ordinary "zip cord."

"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;"
2. The argument is not that good cables "add in" or "color" anything, but that they preserve and transmit it better. And since you don't believe cables do anything, your argument that they "add to" or "color" the sound is not one you can logically make -- it's obviously sophistry in the service of your argumentative nature and your own personal bias.

"or c) it's purely expectation bias and imaginary on your part."
3: "You can't fool all of the people all of the time," or to paraphrase, no one can fool ENOUGH people ENOUGH of the time that they can support a whole cable industry on it, unless there's actually something there. Good cables aren't "snake oil"; they do make a difference, whether you hear it as subtle or as something more than subtle. And "expectation bias" is just as likely to be working on you as on anyone else, isn't it? If such biases are so prevalent, how do you know you're not free of them?

I recently bought a pair of Cardas Clear Reflection interconnects, and after break in, they sound better than any of the many other cables I have (at least one of which is equally expensive). The difference is audible and not due to expectation bias.

DH's picture

Sorry, either they were captured originally by the standard cable being used or they weren't - there's no "degree" of the capture.

There is degree of the playback of what's on the capture, but that is something else. Don't confuse the two.
No interconnect cable can add in what isn't on the original recording or release format, unless it is adding something that wasn't there - in other words adding it's own color.

You certainly CAN fool most of the people most of the time - high end audio depends on it.
Few audiophiles actually test themselves to what they actually can hear or discern. They assume they have golden ears and superior listening ability - but most don't.
Testing from people like Harman shows this.

You can learn to become a more discerning listener - few audiophiles actually do it in a verifiable way (like the Harman listening course, where you have to test yourself and prove your listening abilities, not assume you have them).

Most audiophiles fail to discern many of the "obvious" differences they claim to hear when sighted listening (knowing which component is being played) is taken out of the picture.
In many cases the "obvious" differences aren't there and expectation bias is all that is there. There's no other explanation for why those differences disappear when listening isn't sighted.

Few audiophiles are willing to test themselves and find out the truth.
It's easier to hide behind imagined listening skills and imagined differences and constantly self confirm what a great set of golden ears you possess - even when you don't.

But if the original was all captured with standard cable, t
hen standard cable should be able to play back all that was captured.

By definition, you have no idea whether the differences you hear are real or based on expectation bias. You can't know, b/c you haven't tested it.

I have taken listening training and have setup non-sighted evalutaions of equipment. I've learned that some of the things I was sure I could hear I actually couldn't when knowledge of what was being used was removed.
I sold an expensive streamer and got a much less expensive one b/c non- sighted testing proved to me there wasn't a difference between them - or at least not one I could hear.
More audiophiles should test themselves. They'd save money and lose some of the need to constantly upgrade when they find out that they can't hear a difference between two components of the same type at different price levels.

Long-time listener's picture

"You can learn to become a more discerning listener - few audiophiles actually do it in a verifiable way."

I've been tuning musical instruments by ear, among other things, since I was a kid. My listening skills are fairly acute.

"In many cases the "obvious" differences aren't there and expectation bias is all that is there."

Expectation bias is all that is there? You guys seem to think that expectation bias is the most powerful thing in the human mind -- like it's some kind of steamroller that obliterates all reason, common sense, or listening ability. Ridiculous. As long as you understand that there's a possibility of expectation bias you can overcome it. If you only trust measurements and not your own hearing then you've got a serious problem in life. Why bother to even listen to your equipment at all? Just buy something expensive that you know measures well and take it home and look at it. Don't even turn it on. Because expectation bias will provide everything else you need for total enjoyment. It's all there is.

Jack L's picture


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

DH's picture

I said the studio clearly used standard cable - not some special "audiophile" cable. So what's your post about?

xtcfan80's picture

I recently put a short pair of Cardas Clear Sky ICs between my phono stage and preamp. For me, a cost effective way to increase the sense of real music being played by real musicians...Have been using Cardas cables for many years and first visited the Oregon coast in Bandon, OR...went by the Cardas HQ in Bandon while we were visiting...Nice beach, nice town, nice people and great cables!

jeffdyer's picture

Yes, good place to invest in cables. Speakers not so once you've got thick enough conductors. Not enough frequency range in audio signals for any fancy dielectric nonsense.

jeffdyer's picture

Yes, good place to invest in cables. Speakers not so once you've got thick enough conductors. Not enough frequency range in audio signals for any fancy dielectric nonsense.