Recommended Components: 2017 Edition Cables

Interconnects

AcroLink 7N-DA2090 Speciale: $2375/1.5m pair
The less-than-snappily named 7N-DA2090 Speciale is technically laudable; commendably, AcroLink publishes the specs for this product's resistance (18milliohm/meter) and electrostatic capacitance (56pF/meter). It's made of 99.99999% pure multistrand copper, arranged in what AcroLink calls a "balanced twin core structure." According to MF, substituting the AcroLink interconnect for his TARA Zero Evolution "produced sharper but not unnaturally defined transients, shorter sustain and decay, and an overall well-detailed and more speedy sound." (Vol.39 No.3)

Fono Acustica Virtuoso: $20,384/1.5m pair
The conductors are an alloy of silver and gold (shades of Burl Ives!), the styling is Spanish Cowboy Baroque, and the price is enough to buy a brand-new Volkswagen Golf and a couple of Brooks Brothers suits. What does that add up to? According to MF, when substituted for his reference TARA Zero Evolution interconnect, the Fono Acustica made for "more graceful, almost cautious, romantic, but somehow still precise and well-detailed attacks, and long, long sustains." On switching back to the TARA, did Mikey miss the Fono Acustica? "Yes—but you can't have everything!" (Vol.39 No.3)

Audience Au24 SE: $1190/1m pair
Audience's latest interconnect uses an RCA plug of tellurium-copper alloy with a single, small contact point, meant to reduce the formation of eddy currents. Compared to Audience's Au24 e, the SE version offered superior detail, clarity, timing precision, and image focus, said BD. Au24 e owners can upgrade to SE status for $220. (Vol.36 No.12, Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

Audio Art Classic IC-3: $100/1m pair (RCAs), $125/1m pair (XLRs)
The IC-3—available with Audio Art's own gold-plated brass RCA plugs or, for $10 more, DH Labs' Ultimate XLR plugs—uses conductors of silver-coated, oxygen-free copper, a foam polyethylene dielectric, aluminum-Mylar shielding, and a PVC jacket. Compared to AudioQuest's Big Sur, the IC-3 lacked some midrange body and warmth but produced a pleasantly forward, detailed sound with an unusually wide soundstage, said SM. Sold direct with a 30-day, money-back guarantee. (Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

AudioQuest Big Sur: $109/1m
AudioQuest Golden Gate: $69/1m
AudioQuest Evergreen: $35/1m
AudioQuest Tower: $25/1m
AudioQuest's Bridges & Falls interconnects (of which these are the four least expensive models) put left and right channels in a single cable, thereby minimizing manufacturing costs while maximizing termination possibilities. Available terminations include RCA-to-RCA, mini-to-RCA, mini-to-mini, DIN-to-DIN, RCA-to-DIN, iPod-to-mini, or iPod-to-RCA, making these interconnects ideal for desktop and portable applications. The Tower and Evergreen use AQ's solid Long-Grain Copper (LGC) conductors. Golden Gate uses higher purity Perfect-Surface Copper (PSC) conductors. Big Sur uses even-higher-purity Perfect-Surface+ Copper (PSC+) conductors, and upgrades the other models' gold-plated RCA plugs to gold-plated plugs of pure purple copper. All four models are insulated with foamed polyethylene, and are attractive, well made, and very flexible. Moving up the line, SM heard improvements in image focus, tone color, drama, and overall clarity and extension. "If you're in the market for truly affordable, truly high-quality interconnects, I can think of no better place to start than AudioQuest," he concluded. SM used it between his laptop and PSB Alpha PS1 desktop speakers. Compared with the stock PS1 cable, the AQ produced a larger, more present overall sound, with deeper silences, longer decays, cleaner highs, more realistic bass, and richer tone color. "Suddenly, I had real high-fidelity sound coming from my laptop," SM enthused. (Vol.36 Nos.7, 8, Evergreen; Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

AudioQuest Earth (balanced): $750/0.5m pair
KR, who hates wrestling with stiff cables even more than Rick Grimes hates wrestling with stiffs, has welcomed into his home a set of AudioQuest's Earth balanced interconnects, terminated with XLR plugs and featuring AQ's 72V Dielectric Bias System (DBS). Cable conductors are solid, perfect-surface copper, while the plugs are high-purity red copper with hanging-silver plating. KR's only disappointment: AQ's omission of a latching feature from the "otherwise impressively designed" XLRs. (Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

BIS Expression: 500 (Canadian)/1m pair
From Quebec-based BIS Audio comes their middle-of-the-line interconnect, the Expression: a cable of moderate thickness and flexibility, covered in a sheath of braided polymer and terminated with Eichmann BulletPlugs (RCA). AD found that the BIS Expression allowed his system to perform "with good drive and momentum," and while the Canadian interconnect lacked the subtler musical and sonic strengths of his more-expensive Audio Notes and Shindos, the BIS performed "somewhat better . . . than its relatively humble price predicted." (Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

Cardas Audio Clear Rev.1: $2020/1m pair, balanced; $1840/1m pair, unbalanced
Rev.1 applies to both Cardas's Clear balanced and single-ended interconnects; JM tested the balanced version, which incorporates Cardas's heavy, gold-plated CG XLR plugs. With the Rev.1 in his system, JM gained significant measures of detail and transparency. (Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

Kimber Kable Hero: $329/1m pair with WBT-0114 ★
The "strong, silent type" when it comes to cables, says the inestimable JM. "And reasonably priced, into the bargain." (NR, but see "The Fifth Element" in Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

Kimber Kable PBJ: $117/1m pair, as reviewed ★
Originally released in the late 1980s, PBJ is a minimalist design comprising three high-quality, multistrand wires in individual Teflon jackets, braided together and terminated with Kimber's Ultraplate connectors. With the PBJs in his system, SM heard greater clarity, detail, depth, and presence. Compared to AudioQuest's Sidewinder, the PBJ lacked body and warmth but was more muscular, insistent, and precise, said SM. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

Kimber Kable Tonik: $84/1m pair
Kimber's most affordable interconnect uses three stranded copper wires neatly braided in a noise-canceling pattern. Though they lacked the resolution of much more expensive interconnects, the Toniks "offered clarity without brightness, and reasonably good amounts of color, texture, and touch. For $80, that was A-okay with me," said AD. Price includes Kimber's Ultratike connectors. (Vol.34 No.11 WWW)

Kubala-Sosna Anticipation: $500/m pair; $180/additional meter ★
Like the K-S speaker cables (see "Loudspeaker Cables"), the K-S interconnects are based on a low characteristic impedance and solid construction. The results are uncolored sound and extremely low noise pickup. (Vol.29 No.7 WWW)

Kubala-Sosna Elation Interconnect: $6000/pair first meter, $1200/each additional meter

Expensive but superbly transparent interconnect that JA found worked synergistically with YG's Sonja 1.3 speakers. (NR)

Luna Red $1920.00 CAD/0.5m pair, $2400.00 CAD/1m pair
See Powerline Accessories

Nordost Valhalla 2 interconnect: $7599.99/1m pair
Characterized by the inclusion of Nordost's Dual-Mono-Filament spacing between conductor and dielectric, as well as of Nordost's new Holo:Plug connectors, the analog interconnects, speaker cables, phono cables, and power cords in the company's Valhalla 2 Reference series impressed BD, whose system had been wired with Nordost's original Valhalla-series cables. With the new cables in place, BD heard gains in a number of areas—especially improved transparency and resolution, greater clarity in the reproduction of spatial information, and greater timbral warmth and richness—compared with his ca-2001 Valhallas. BD added that, of all the cable products in the new Valhalla 2 Reference series, "it was the 1m interconnect with RCAs ($7599.99) that had the greatest effect on the sound of my system." (Vol.39 No.7 WWW)

Pure Silver Connection (PSC) PST 8: $1500/1m pair ★
Balanced interconnects featuring solid, silver-plated 6N copper and round conductors. LG reported that they reduced system hum problems and were "highly recommended!" Price is for both balanced and unbalanced interconnects. (NR)

Stealth Sakra V16 interconnect: $12,000/1m, $7,600 each additional meter; balanced version fitted with XLRs: $16,000/1m pair, $9,500 each additional meter ★
Lightweight, very flexible, and finished in an outer jacket of near-opalescent white, the Sakra interconnect is built into a hermetically sealed, helium-filled tube and terminated with proprietary solid-silver connectors. The overall sound was open and clean, with lightning-fast attacks, generous sustains, and long decays. Compared to the TARA Labs Zero, the Sakra had a bit more midrange body and texture but lacked some air and speed, felt Mikey. (Vol.34 No.6)

Surf Cables balanced headphone cable: $65–$160/set depending on length and connectors
JA's current affordable reference cable for use with the Ayre Codex and QX-5 Twenty, the Sony PHA-3, the Fiio K5 player, and the Pono Player, all of which use a 3.5mm stereo jack for each channel's balanced output. Available with Dual male XLRs, a single 4-pin female XLR, or connectors for Sennheiser headphones and Ultimate Ears IEMs. (NR), but see JA's follow-up on the Pnono Player in Vol.38 No.6)

TARA Labs Air Evolution interconnect: $2495 1m (RCA or XLR); each add'tl meter is $250
TARA Labs Evo Ground Station: $2495

A slightly less expensive alternative to TARA's Zero Evolution balanced interconnect, the Air Evolution also uses rectangular-core copper conductors for both its positive and negative legs. Its shield is floated with respect to the signal conductors, but is terminated at the source end with mini-banana plugs that can be connected to TARA's optional Evo Ground Station, designed to shunt shield noise to ground. Although MF observed that the Air Evolutions weren't "quite as resolved on top" as the costlier Zero Evolution, he thought the two models were "close." (Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

TARA Labs Zero Evolution: $18,000/1m
The Zero Evolution is an all-new, physically flexible, easier to manage air-dielectric interconnect than the original Zero with non-insulated square solid-core conductors. Because neither end of The Zero Evolution's shield is attached to ground, TARA employs the Floating Ground Station, a heavy, black box containing Ceralex, a combination of ceramic materials and metallic compounds that absorbs RFI and EMI. Switching from the original Zero to the new Evolution Zero, MF's system benefited yet further from an enormous addition of lushness, texture, and warmth, along with major extensions of air, detail, and transparency. Due to The Evolution Zero's ultrawide bandwidth, some outside transient noise can leak into the system when nearby appliances are activated. But—"I've heard nothing like it," he declares, adding "a genuine breakthrough, though hideously expensive. The TARA Labs Evolution Zero had a fast, clean, open overall sound, with airy highs and tight bass. The Evolution upgrade adds the rich, textured midrange of the Stealth Sakra, while continuing to produce faster attacks, longer sustains, and deeper decays, said MF." (Vol.29 No.12, Zero; Vol.34 No.6 WWW, Zero Gold; Vol.36 No.11, Zero Evolution)

TARA Labs Zero GX DIN-to-RCA tonearm cable: $3800/1.0m ★
Though it was "somewhat bereft of physicality," the Zero GX's accentuated sibilants and precise attack made it "a good choice for detail devotees," said MF. (Vol.32 No.7)

Tellurium Q Black XLR: $500/1m pair
A new company based in Somerset, UK, Tellurium Q is a cable specialist offering three lines of products, with Black squarely in the middle. JM responded well to a pair of Black balanced interconnects, which he found "on the slightly warm or musical side of neutral," and praised for sounding "quieter and far less closed-in at the top" than his comparatively plebian Canare interconnects. Extra points for emphasizing engineering over fancy packaging. According to JM, this entry-level-premium cable line is "well worth exploring." (Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

Teresonic Clarison Gold: $3495/1m pair ★
The Clarison Gold is handmade using gold-plated crimp sleeves and gold-plated RCA plugs. Its solid-gold conductors are enclosed in a spiral-wound, galvanized ferromagnetic material. Though it lacked the detail resolution of the much more expensive TARA Labs Zero, the Clarison Gold was dead quiet and produced sweet highs, a lush midrange, and clean bass, said MF. (Vol.36 No.8)

Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 7: $3000/1m pair
Though it wasn't as transparent as the TARA Labs Zero, when used with the Constellation Centaur Mono monoblock amplifiers, the Eclipse 7 "produced a much better overall picture in terms of tonality, texture, and transients," said Mikey. (Vol.36 No.11)

Loudspeaker Cables

Audio Art Classic SC-5: $235/10ft pair (spades), $240/10ft pair (bananas)
The SC-5 has silver-coated OFC conductors (14AWG), a foam polyethylene dielectric, a PVC jacket, and an internal packet of vibration-absorbing fibers. It can be terminated with gold-plated brass banana plugs or, for $10 less, DH Labs' gold-plated copper spade lugs. Compared to AudioQuest's Rocket 33, the SC-5 lacked body, weight, and warmth, but produced a detailed, dramatic overall sound, with clean transients and impressive dynamics, said SM. Sold direct with a 30-day, money-back guarantee. (Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

AudioQuest Oak: $3040/8' pair
AudioQuest's Oak speaker cable, available terminated for full-range, biwiring, double biwiring, or bi-amping, features double-counterspiral conductor geometry and AQ's 72V Dielectric Bias System (DBS). KR, who actually admits to not obsessing over cables—"confesses" would be more like it!—has now switched from older AudioQuest cables terminated with spade lugs to a set of Oaks terminated with AQ's SureGrip silver-plated beryllium-copper banana plugs, which "fit so tightly into the amp and speaker terminals that I can just barely insert or remove them by hand." (Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

AudioQuest Rocket 33: $329/10ft pair ★
AudioQuest's 14AWG, solid-core Rocket 33 speaker cable offered an exciting leap in performance over SM's RadioShack Flat Megacable speaker wire, infusing music with more low-level resolution, transient speed, clarity, and physicality. (Vol.34 No.9, Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

Cardas Clear rev.1: $4085/2m pair, terminated in spades ★
JM was most impressed by the Cardas Clear's low-frequency clarity and resolution, finding the Clear to give two or three more bass notes on a pipe organ, with a lower noise floor and "spooky" resolution compared with his reference MIT MH-770 CVTerminator cables. "The best-sounding cables I have heard," he concluded. JA agrees that these are fine-sounding cables. (Vol.33 No.10 WWW)

Kimber 4PR: $137/10ft pair, as reviewed
Practically unchanged since its introduction in 1979, the 4PR is Kimber's most affordable speaker cable. It employs the same braided geometry found in the company's more expensive 8VS, but instead of the 8VS's eight gray and eight black conductors, the 4PR has four pairs each of black and brown conductors in an apparently looser braid. Compared to RadioShack's inexpensive 16-gauge zip cord, the 4PR offered greater nuance, detail, clarity, and bass control, said SM. Price is $90/10ft pair without connectors. (Vol.35 No.7 WWW)

Kimber 8TC: $505/10ft pair w/o connectors ★
(NR, but see "The Fifth Element" in Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

Kimber 8VS: $271/10ft pair, as reviewed ★
Kimber's 8VS is made up of eight gray and eight black conductors in individual polyethylene jackets, braided together and terminated in a choice of high-quality spade lugs or banana plugs. Compared to AudioQuest's Rocket 33, the 8VS lacked body and warmth but offered greater clarity and control, said SM. Compared to Kimber's 4PR, the 8VS offered similar tonal qualities but presented music with even greater urgency, drama, and purpose, said SM. Price is $231/10ft pair without connectors, $271/10ft pair with bananas. (Vol.35 Nos.6 & 7 WWW)

Kubala-Sosna Elation Speaker Cable: $6000/pair first meter, $200/each additional meter
A JA favorite. See "Interconnects." (NR)

Kubala-Sosna Fascination: $1000/m pair; $350/additional meter ★
Kubala-Sosna claims that their OptimiZ technology "results in a lower characteristic impedance and a higher ratio of capacitance to inductance than any other cable." Each cable consists of a hefty pair of conductors twisted around each other, sheathed with a knitted cover, and solidly terminated in thick spade lugs. The current versions have sleek, tight jackets that make them easy to snake and arrange. With the K-S cables in his system, KR noted a decrease in overall residual hiss and softer but more precise highs. "I can't say that the change is substantial, but it is definable." Further auditioning with his multi-channel system completely wired with K-S cables led him to describe these cables as among the quietest and most transparent cables he has encountered: "Overall, they seem to get out of the way of everything else and let the system do its thing." (Vol.28 No.3, Vol.29 No.7 WWW)

Luna Mauve: $1800.00 CAD/2.5m pair
See Powerline Accessories

MIT CVT Terminator 2: $1999/8ft pair ★
Compared with earlier MIT cable designs, the CVT Terminator 2 has additional "pole networks" for wider bandwidth, and adds the CVT Coupler input module to minimize energy reflection. It offered "clear, crisp, clean highs" and outstanding dynamic articulation, but had "a touch of warmth" in the low end, said BJR. Biwire version costs $1299/8ft pair. (Vol.31 No.10)

Naim NACA5: $25/ft $$$ ★
Inexpensive spaced-twin cable that ST found to work well with the Spendor S100 loudspeaker. Unchanged in Naim's product line since 1986, the NACA5 is made of two chunky runs of stranded heavy-gauge wire twisted into a very tight bundle and molded into a thick sheath of Teflon. "Stiffer than Swedish roadkill," said AD. Compared to RadioShack's inexpensive SW-1650 speaker wire, however, the unwieldy NACA5 was better at communicating pitch relationships and had "a more realistic sense of flow." Worth investigating as a good-value cable, thinks JA. (Vol.32 No.8 WWW)

Nirvana Audio S-X Ltd.: $2780/2.5m pair ★
"A dynamite speaker cable," the S-X Ltd. was tonally neutral and produced well-defined images, powerful and fast transients, and incredible transparency. The only nit BD could pick was a slight compression of front-to-back soundstaging depth. "A big jump in performance from the company's SL." Add $50/pair for biwire configuration. (Vol.28 No.10 WWW)

Nordost Valhalla 2 loudspeaker cable, $9599.99/1m
See Interconnects.

> Stealth Dream V16: $14,700/2m pair, $6,600 each additional meter ★
The hermetically sealed, helium-filled Dream V10 is a thick yet flexible cable made of three flat solid-silver wires and a conductive carbon-fiber core. Compared to the TARA Labs Omega Onyx, the Stealth cable had a richer, warmer sound, with a softer attack for a slower overall musical flow. Partnered with the Stealth Sakra interconnects, the Dream V10 cable produced a more textured midrange but lacked the TARA's upper-octave air, said MF. Bi-wiring adds $1300 regardless of cables' length. (Vol.34 No.6)

TARA Labs Air Evolution loudspeaker cable: $4200 1m (RCA or XLR); each add'tl meter is $360
See "Interconnects."

TARA Labs Omega Evolution SP loudspeaker cable: $34,000/8' pair
The new physically flexible TARA Labs Omega Evolution, incorporating almost twice as many rectangular, solid-core "8 Nines" oxygen-free copper elements (280 versus the Gold's 156), adds the speed, transparency, dimensionality and, especially, textural suppleness that the previous Gold cable lacked, thus losing the Gold's "somewhat laid-back overall sound," with no sonic penalty paid for the major improvements, said Mikey. (Vol.36 No.11)

TARA Labs Omega Evolution: $32,000/8'
The recent and physically flexible TARA Labs Omega Evolution, incorporating almost twice as many rectangular, solid-core elements of "8 nines" (99.999999%) oxygen-free copper (280 vs the Gold's 156), adds the speed, transparency, dimensionality, and, especially, textural suppleness that the previous Gold cable lacked, thus losing the Gold's "somewhat laid-back overall sound" while paying no sonic penalty for the major improvements, said Mikey. Even more recent is TARA's Omega Evolution SP speaker cable, a higher-inductance and identically priced variant intended as a better match for amplifiers with very low damping factors and/or speakers that present distinctly reactive loads. In his system, in comparison with the less expensive TARA Omega Golds, MF found the Omega Evolution SPs to offer "more precise note attacks" and "greater textural nuance," among other attributes. (Vol.36 No.11, Vol.38 No.12)

Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 7: $24,400/3m pair ★
Compared to the new TARA Labs Omega Evolution, the Platinum Eclipse 7 is equally transparent, resolving, and dimensional, but less texturally supple and extended on top, with a less richly drawn midrange, said MF. (Vol.36 No.11)

Deletions

TARA Labs Omega Gold no longer available.

Digital Data Interconnects

AudioQuest Forest iPod–USB cable: $39/1.5m
If you use your iPod or iPhone plugged into your system with the ubiquitous white USB cable, pick up this inexpensive replacement. Bits may be bits, but you'll be gob-smacked by the improvement in sound quality sez JA. (NR)

Canare DigiFlex Gold model RCAPOO3F: approx. $19.37/3ft $$$ ★
Before you try any of the expensive coaxial links, CG advises trying this inexpensive, true 75 ohm cable with Canare crimp RCA connectors. He rates it as his first choice in a digital cable at any price, even preferring it to the Kimber AGDL. JA uses the 110-ohm version in various lengths for CD mastering. (Vol.16 No.7)

DH Labs Silver Sonic D-110 AES/EBU: $99/1m
(NR, but see EL's review of the Bel Canto DAC3.5VB in Vol.34 No.6 WWW)

Kimber Orchid: $757.50/1m ★
Expensive, but the best AES/EBU link JA has used. J-10 loved the Orchid's midrange liquidity and detail, but preferred Illumination's S/PDIF cable overall. SD (almost) doesn't equivocate: "Probably the best out there for now....A stunner!" RH and RD are also fans. New lower price usefully brings this cable in reach of more music lovers. (Vol.19 No.5)

Kubala-Sosna Expression: $775/m, $210/additional meter ★
A KR favorite. See "Loudspeaker Cables." (Vol.29 No.7 WWW)

Transparent Audio Performance USB: $100/1m
The Performance USB uses heavy-gauge conductors, robust connectors, and high-quality dielectrics and shielding, and can be used in runs of up to 30'. In addition to being significantly more durable than Art's reference Belkin cable, the Performance USB was quieter and produced blacker silences. Price increases by $30 for each additional meter. (Vol.33 No.1 WWW)

K

Esperanto Audio "Small-Batch" S/PDIF cable.

COMMENTS
Richard D. George's picture

Thank you for your efforts. These are always informative and interesting.

Comparing this web page for Loudspeakers with my iPad subscription, I believe that there is a section header missing after YG Acoustics Carmel 2 and before Bowers & Wilkins 683 S2.

Richard D. George's picture

Thanks.

rom661's picture

I'm surprised at the age of some of these components; at least two are discontinued. What's up?

John Atkinson's picture
rom661 wrote:
I'm surprised at the age of some of these components; at least two are discontinued. What's up?

We checked with every manufacturer and distributor in January about the current price and availability of everything included in the listing. It is always possible that some products have been discontinued since January.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Leoi's picture

An interesting cartridge to review, in the wake of yout review of the ART-1000, is of the AT ART-7. I've heard it and for the money I think is among the best; it might get a place in the next list of components.

Zenonu's picture

Please hyperlink each component to the manufacturer's website. I should be able to click through on each component w/o having to do a Google Search first. Perhaps some components aren't represented on the web, but that will be the exception rather than the rule.

gaddgadd's picture

Bob Katz compared in a blind listening the Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum Bundle: $5295 (with Voltikus power supply) and the Yggdrasil. Results...50-50. On youtube you will find a video...What are the reasons for this poor rating?
Numerous raving reviews and only Stereophile will tell us we are all wrong. mmhm

TheNoose's picture

Some major names not present...CH Precision, Tidal, Mola Mola, Nagra to name a few. Is that cos' you haven't had them in for testing...?

John Atkinson's picture
TheNoose wrote:
Some major names not present...CH Precision, Tidal, Mola Mola, Nagra to name a few. Is that cos' you haven't had them in for testing...?

That's correct. We have reviewed Nagra components in the past and have published a review of a CH Precision phono preamplifier since this list was compiled.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

TheNoose's picture

Thanks John. Much appreciate your super quick reply, and the basic list done yearly, very helpful to compare major brands. I like it a lot.

z24069's picture

Logged this in 2016 for those lists and with no response. The lists have not changed in many ways so sending again...

There are some fine choices on the Transports, Digital Processors, Preamp and Amp listings. I am puzzled however at the total lack of mention of any Esoteric Audio product. They are current products well known for their performance and musicality. What criteria being utilized could yield a recommended components lists where at least one of their products (or more) would not make it into the results?

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