Recommended Components 2021 Edition Interconnects

Interconnects

Analysis Plus Apex Silver: $996/1m pair
The Analysis Plus Silver Apex uses as its conductor an oxygen-free copper "stabilizing strand" covered with pure silver, in an arrangement the manufacturer describes, somewhat elliptically (haw) as "a hollow oval cable inside a hollow oval cable inside a hollow oval cable," said to be double shielded and thus quiet. And MF found it to be so: In his words, the Silver Apex is "highly recommended!" (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

Audio Art Cable IC-3 Classic: $120/1m pair (RCAs), $140/1m 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: $129.95/1m ★
AudioQuest Golden Gate: $79.95/1m
AudioQuest Evergreen: $49.95/1m
AudioQuest Tower: $29.95/1m

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): $999.95/0.5m 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 RCA 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)

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)

Kimber Kable Hero: $366/1m 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: $132/1m 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: $94/1m 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: $7000/pair first meter, $1500/each additional meter ★
Expensive but superbly transparent interconnect that JA found worked synergistically with YG's Sonja 1.3 speakers. (NR)

Luna Red: $2400/1m pair
See Power-Related Accessories.

Nordost Valhalla 2 Interconnect: $8374.99/1m 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: $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)

TARA Labs Air Evolution interconnect: $1895 1m; each add'tl meter is $200 ★
TARA Labs Air Evolution w/Evo Ground Station: $2495 each add'tl meter is $250 ★

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 w/HFX Ground Station: $18,900/1m, each add'tl meter is $2000 ★
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: $3800/1m, each additional meter $600 ★
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 II 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." Black updated to Black II, at a lower price. (Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 8 Interconnect: $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)

COMMENTS
grymiephone's picture

The Linton Heritage is not an audiophile speaker, and I will stop there, it's hard to find music it plays well

Glotz's picture

And it sounded fantastic with 'entry'-level Hegel components.

Everyone is different, and especially when one levels generalist comments.

grymiephone's picture

I had a response with more details but it was deleted.

Glotz's picture

Sorry man. I think the site had some issues a week back as well. Anything that was edited sometimes got deleted.

grymiephone's picture

Oh, well. for what's it's worth:
I tested the Linton with 5 other speakers. When I ordered it, the sales person said: be warned, it's NOT an audiophile speaker. And it didn't compare well. I wanted to love them but my 23 year old Celestions had more image and punch than the Lintons. I am sure they can sound good in a different system

MatthewT's picture

I agree with the "not an audiophile speaker" remark. I wish we could know what Art Dudley thought of them. I love them, FWIW.

Glotz's picture

I appreciate both of your insights here.

It helps me come closer to the truth. Or that's not right- The perceptions of each person lend us insights into how each person feels in their system.

I know a lot of times it's hard to speak to one's system for fear of others being critical.

Nonetheless, it does tell me what possible variances there are. I thought the double Linton's were impressive, if expensive. The dealer had them in a pseudo-d'appolito configuration, with the top speakers upside down and on top of the bottom pair.

liguorid42's picture

I agree everyone's opinion of what he or she likes is valid, and an opinion that you shouldn't like something because it's not an audiophile product is invalid. That being said, if you're a wine connoisseur you wouldn't necessarily make a buying decision on a pricey Cabernet based on the opinion of someone whose beverage of choice is Mountain Dew. And "not an audiophile speaker" can just mean your favorite reviewer has not made the sign of the cross before it, and is pretty useless without some description of what you perceive its sonic flaws to be.

Glotz's picture

I think all stereo products can have a home, but you are right it's all about context.

I was impressed with the Denton's midrange, but perhaps that's not fair given I was listening to the collective output of 2 pairs of speakers working in tandem.

mememe2's picture

PLease put this in the "useless phrases" section of your mag. Can we have good pace but lack timing -no. can we have good rhythm but lack pace - no. Can we have good timing but lack rhythm - no. This description seems to be aimed at audio prats (in the original meaning of the word).

Charles E Flynn's picture

"captures the emotion"

liguorid42's picture

Back when founding father Gordon Holt started Stereophile he tried to develop a lexicon to describe how things actually sounded--things like "liquid", "transparent", "grainy", "warm"--as opposed to how things emotionally affected him personally. Theoretically you could go to a hi fi emporium, listen to KLH Nines driven by Audio Research electronics and hear for yourself what he meant. Though he did open the door with his "goosebump test". These days terms such as you describe have made subjective audio reviewing so subjective as not to be very useful to anyone else.

Charles E Flynn's picture

Thanks for your reply.

I have always wondered how one could determine that a playback chain captured the emotion of the performers when the only evidence we have about their emotions is what is provided by the playback chain.

The reproduced sound may convey or provoke emotion, but whether what it conveys is what the performer felt is something we can never determine on the basis of only the reproduced sound.

liguorid42's picture

..in the Firesign Theater album said, "That's metapheesically absurd, mun, how can I know what you hear?"

Heck, you can't know if what you're feeling is the same as what the performer is feeling even at a live performance. Not even close would be my guess. What I'm feeling when I play the piano in private is very different from when I get conned into playing for someone. What the composer felt when setting the notes to the page, different still. I doubt a loudspeaker, let alone a piece of loudspeaker cable, has anything to do with any of this.

George Tn's picture

the Schiit Sol made it on to the list in such a high spot for its price. I've been rooting for that product and it's finally being seen for how great it is.

PTG's picture

Yup.. So happy to see Sol finally get some recognition. SOL had a very rough launch but they owned up to it and made it right ! I would love to get one but am worried about how much tinkering is needed to make it right.. Still thinking about it.... It LOOKS amazing !!!

georgehifi's picture

Same for the Aegir, a A20w Class-A stereo in Class-A Stereophile. I can only think of one similar that could/would do that, and that's the mighty 20w Mark Levison ML2 monoblocks.
https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d6/6a/cc/d66acc2c1d4fa7ea17f5a9bb9345e912.jpg

Cheers George

Glotz's picture

Yes, these components are great to see classified, but it's one person's ranking for a component. The classes also cut a large swath in performance of any one category- and within each class.

That being said, I do think the Sol is pretty-well-reviewed for the money and if my rig broke suddenly... I'd get this one to tie me over.

PTG's picture

Did I miss it or was Bluesound family of products (Node2i, Vault2i ??) totally dropped off the RC2021 list ? If yes, I wonder why...

Jim Austin's picture

On previous lists, when several Bluesound products were listed together, we put them under "Complete Audio Systems." We dropped most of them simply because they haven't been auditioned in years--indeed, no Stereophile reviewer ever tried a gen-2 version of any of the products except the Node2i, which I bought a few months back and use daily. Dropping products that haven't been auditioned in a long time is longstanding RecComp policy.

With only the Node2i on the list, it no longer makes sense to list it under Complete Audio Systems; it should be moved to Digital Processors. But I overlooked that fact when preparing the 2021 edition.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

C_Hoefer's picture

I just navigated to this page intending to point out the error in location of the Bluesound Node 2i - glad to see you already caught it! It belongs in digital players.
--CH

prerich45's picture

I'd like to see some of the other offerings tested by Stereophile. The Gustard dacs have measured well by another site. I've actually purchased one to see how it fairs to my ears - as I've already seen its numbers. SMSL,Gustard, and Topping are making some possible world beaters, it would be interesting to see this publication put them on the bench.

Fstein's picture

Lirpasound announces $79 amplifier, states previous price of $159,000 a joke no reasonable person would believe

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