Transparent Music Link Reference interconnect & Music Wave Reference speaker cable Page 2

This becomes obvious in works that emphasize precision timing—such as the art of flamenco, and in the music of its preeminent practitioner, Paco de Lucia. Flamenco has a remarkably complex rhythmic structure—the legacy of Moorish music's collision with the even more Eastern traditions of the gypsies. In Andalucia last summer, I became fascinated by the strolling players and their partners who accompanied them with precise and intricate hand-clap patterns. After a week or so, I concluded that these patterns were metrically too complicated to be committed to a score—reinforcing Percy Grainger's belief that so-called "primitive music is too complex for untrained modern ears." (footnote 3)

I came home from Seville with de Lucia's 1969 Fantasia Flamenca CD (Polygram Iberica Philips 842 953-2), a virtuosic reverie on flamenco roots. In "El Tempul," resguiedo (chords strummed so furiously that they sound like solid bursts of static) alternates with emphatic melodies that are punctuated with the golpe (the technique of tapping the face of the guitar with the ring finger). Even perfectly portrayed, the piece is hard to follow—de Lucia has lightning-fast technique, which means that essential musical components, like thunder, lag behind the event. The Transparent Reference cables have proven to be indispensable in sorting out what's happening, and when. I took this CD around from room to room at the Summer CES; most systems, even those composed of state-of-the-art components, tended to blur these details. I might even go so far as to say that I have never heard them presented correctly in a system that did not contain the Transparent cables.

Spain was also instrumental in helping me to comprehend—sort of—the whole issue of how the resonant point affected musical meaning. While I went to Iberia to get away from my regular life, including things audio, I found that my thoughts were never far from musical matters. How could they be in a country filled with music and bird song? And where there was music, how could I not obsess over hi-fi? One Sunday afternoon, at an organ recital in the cathedral at Cadiz, I had an epiphany. As I listened to the lingering decay of a final chord, it struck me that there was, perhaps, in physical resonance a concrete (ahem) analogy to the electrical phenomenon.

Thurston Dart, in The Interpretation of Music, points out how much compositional style depends upon where the music was intended to be performed. "Musical acoustics may be roughly divided into 'resonant,' 'room,' and 'outdoor.' Plainsong is resonant music...Perotin's music, in fact, is perfectly adapted to the acoustics of the highly resonant cathedral (Notre Dame, Paris) for which it was written...The forms used by Mozart and Haydn in their chamber and orchestral music are identical; but the details of style (counterpoint, ornamentation, rhythm, the layout of chords, and the rate at which harmonies change) will vary according to whether they are writing room music, concert music, or street music." We could go even further and maintain that acoustics have driven musical development—would Bach's music have sounded anything at all like it does if Thomaskirche at Leipzig had not been remodeled when the sermon became a major element in the Protestant service? With a mean reverberation time of 1.6 seconds, Thomaskirche was ideal for large choral works (such as the Mass in b): the string parts would have been easily heard, and faster tempos were possible compared with a vaster, more reverberant space.

Just as reverberation in space obscures change in pitch and meter, it occurred to me that the electrical resonant point—falling well into the audio frequencies—tends to obscure them on a signal level. Reduce its presence in the midst of the fundamental frequencies and everything becomes clearer and better articulated. Reduce noise—the inevitable random effect on adjacent frequencies—and you exponentially increase your ability to hear into the musical event.

What's the connection?
The Transparent Audio Music Link Reference interconnect is handsome stuff. Clad in black mesh wrap, the pearl-colored insulation gleams through, revealing directional cues printed on the cable. Six inches from the end of the cable (away from the source end) are the 3"-long, 1"-thick network cases. Terminations are Transparent's proprietary locking-RCA plugs—they're durable and sound good, but are a pain to use. Lock them on to inexpensive, flimsy RCA chassis jacks—which I emphatically do not advise—and you might remove the grounding sleeve when you disconnect them. But even if you use them with practical, sturdy connectors, these 3" terminations are connected to cable that's not all that flexible. You need lots of room behind components, and you need to give yourself lots of slack in the cable—it doesn't react favorably to being kinked (but who does?).


The Transparent Audio Music Wave Reference speaker cable looks substantial—to say the least. The main cable run, again clad in black mesh, is 1" in diameter. The network casing is a hefty 11" by 3" by 2", from which protrude a pair of 1!0-long flexible wires attached to the thickest and most substantial spade lugs I've ever seen. If your speaker or amplifier manufacturer has used nonstandard binding posts, you'll have one bear of a time trying to spread the forks of these connectors. I don't know what to suggest here, since it's obvious that these are extremely-high-quality connectors, but I did need to mention it. If you use stand-mounted speakers, the network box is left dangling from its short wires—not to worry, Transparent will provide you with a Velcro harness to attach the box to your speaker stands, providing strain relief.

The Music Wave Reference cables are not designed for bi-wiring—a relief, as doubling the price of this cable takes us into cost-no-logic territory. Transparent makes specially networked bi-wire runs, or will provide suitably high-quality jumpers. Once they warned me against bi-wiring with this cable, I just had to try it—and they're right: don't do it. I did bi-amp the MartinLogan Aerius with a pair of Conrad-Johnson Premier Eleven As and two runs of Music Wave Reference, and it was heaven! But add up the tab and you come up with $7000 worth of amp and $8000 worth of speaker cable, all driving a $2000 speaker. Still...

We know what it costs, but what is it worth?
Here we are, back at that sticky cost question. There's no way to get around it—these babies are expensive. Taken out of the context of the high-end world—where we try not to deal with the ultimate logic of price tags—they might even be construed as obscenely expensive. Certainly that's how my friend Randy, the one with the college bills, sees it. I can't justify it on that level, nor will I attempt to. But if we leave the real world of mortgages and school loans and retreat back into high-end fantasy land, I can say that I don't know what they should truly cost, simply because I've never heard anything else that can do what they do.

I asked Karen Sumner to comment on the subject of cable pricing, and she said, "These products take a long time to build from start to finish—our cables are quite labor-intensive. The physical relationships of the components in our networks need to remain stable and constant—which is the reason we need to pot the networks—and this means that assembling them requires a lot of skill and training. I liken it to making hard-wired tube amplifiers—which aren't inexpensive, either.

"Scale factors in, too. We use very few off-the-shelf components, and that means that we pay through the nose for them. And while customers hate to hear that they're subsidizing R&D, we spend a bunch of money on components so that we know firsthand how our cables interact with the equipment our customers are using. We pride ourselves on how much we actually listen to real-world systems in order to know what is going on out there."

What we play is life
This has been a lengthy discussion, especially considering that some of us still deny that there even are cable differences. But I consider Transparent Audio's Music Link Reference interconnect and Music Wave Reference speaker cable benchmark products; for me, at least, they've completely raised the level of the category.

This doesn't mean that they've cornered the market on audio purity—God knows, and I know, that I haven't heard everything out there. I am intensely interested in (and now have for audition) the latest generation of MIT products; I'm sure the differences are instructive. Nor am I convinced that networks are the only true path; no cable could appear more different from the Transparents than Kimber's KCAG and 4AG designs, yet the Kimbers have impressed me in short-term auditions.

Disclaimers aside, the Transparent References have done as much—or more—for my musical enjoyment and understanding in the last year as any product I've ever lived with. Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself whether the performance justifies the price. I'm sure I know what your ears will tell you, but your wallet may well have the final say.

Yet look at the benchmark products of the audio past: both Quad loudspeakers, the Marantz 10 (which, when the manufacturer tried to keep its cost in line with other tuners, may have bankrupted the company), the Linn LP12, the Mark Levinson ML-2, Audio Research's SP-11, the Levinson No.30 and No.31. In their respective eras, people questioned whether their costs could be justified—yet all are now, quite rightly, revered as quantum steps forward, advancing our expectations of the possible. These two products from Transparent Audio seem destined to join that illustrious list.

Footnote 3: I mentioned this belief to David Chesky, when he returned from a stay in Seville, and his response was unequivocal: "Oh, no—I went back to my hotel and stayed up all night writing them down!" That's the difference between a composer and an ordinary person.
Transparent Audio, Inc.
47 Industrial Park Road
Saco, ME 04072
(207) 284-1100

monetschemist's picture

Thanks to Stereophile for putting these interesting articles back in circulation. And thanks to Wes Phillips (requiescat in pace) watching over us all.

eriks's picture

My point of view is that amps are more susceptible to impedance changes than we think, but that in the dawn of the 21st Century, we should have updated our measurements.

Hard disk space is cheap, calibrated microphones and data logging devices can be had for a fraction of what they would have been in the 1970's when most audio measurements were standardized.

It is time for a revolution in measurements to happen. Let's figure out what is being heard, let's make it repeatable, and it will become inexpensive.

So long as we avoid these questions and opportunities, cables cannot help but be in a murky realm.

ok's picture

..I have recently bought some decent 20$ 1.5m headphone cable in order to use it with my smartphone as a replacement for an inconvenient 200$ 3m luxury cable that came along with my cans; I’m a skeptic and a cynic and a practical guy and after all it’s only a smartphone –so what could possibly go wrong? Didn’t take long 'fore I found out that the dearest king-size one might be snake-long or even snake-fat, but snake-oil it definitely ain’t. Not that all cables always make an audible difference to everyone nor that the cash involved necessarily worth it – but whoever says that no cable makes any difference whatsoever is simply a liar.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It all depends on several factors ........ If your headphones are dynamic driver type and, if your phone has high output impedance, yes, cables can make a difference ........ Dynamic drivers present variable impedances and phase angles to the amplifier in your phone ........ If you use a planar magnetic type of headphone, which present a uniform resistive load, the cable change may not make a big difference ........ If you can use a well built, conventional headphone amplifier between your phone and your headphones, you may not notice that much difference with cable change ........ Just like most of the well built loudspeaker amplifiers, well built headphone amplifiers can handle variable impedances and phase angles, and are less susceptible to cable change :-) ........

ok's picture

..I have also tried them with my dedicated amplifier (equipped with variable output depending on headphone impedance) and the outcome is always the same.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

What are your headphones and what is your amplifier? ....... I can check with some of the available measurements at Stereophile and Inner/Fidelity websites, which may be helpful :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May I make another suggestion? ........ If you get a chance, give a listen to the new Benchmark HPA-4 headphone amp/pre-amp (about $3,000, with or without remote) .......... HPA-4 can drive any headphone, which was ever made on this planet before and, can drive any headphone which will ever be made on this planet into the future ....... May be a little exaggeration there, but, almost true :-) .........

Electrostatic and ribbon headphones are excluded from my comments above :-) ..........

Of course, if you like Bluetooth headphones, you don't have to worry about any wires and external amplifiers :-) ...........

ok's picture

but I’m quite happy with my current hardware (names and measurements available if you insist, though I’m not especially keen on promoting my own gear) and, mind you, I’d rather improve my existing setup through sensible cabling than investing big time on elite electronics. As for the aforementioned "cable effect": yes, it could be the result of the 1/3 amplifier-output/headphones-input impedance ratio or maybe of the 7N vs unspecified purity copper wiring or whatever one wishes to believe – but if you ask me (disclaimer: Tony don’t read this!) at least as far as my smartphone is concerned, well, it’s all about that evil chinese plot to take over the world initially by forcing western audiophiles into a terminal cable-ignited civil war..

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Regarding input/output ratio ........ If the headphone impedance is 20 Ohms and the headphone amplifier output is 1 Ohm, the 'damping factor' is, 20 divided by 1, which is 20 ........ That 20 damping factor is good but not great ....... If the head-amp output is 0.1 Ohm, then that damping factor becomes 200 for the same headphone ....... that 200 number is excellent ...... Damping factors of 100 or more are in the excellent range for all impedances ....... That 1 Ohm output is more suitable for high impedance headphones in the 100 Ohms or more, impedance range :-) .........

BTW .....Same input/output ratio applies to loudspeakers and loudspeaker amps, as well :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hope you didn't buy a $100 Rolex from the same people who sold you that $20 cable ..... Just kidding :-) ........

BTW ..... I think The Cable Company may let people 'try before you buy policy' for headphone cables, also :-) .......

ok's picture

..don't even think that the cheap cable sounded really bad in typical "audiophile" terms; my first reaction was in fact rather positive (hey, I've spent a whole bunch of 20$ after all..) I actually believe that many a folk would rather prefer it over the "stock" cable –me also perhaps at some brief blind procedure (Archimago, you haven't read this..) Quite a construction and a lively character into the bargain, but its highly artificial, plastic rendering I just can't stand it no more.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Plastique' music ...... not C-4 :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be not a healthy life style but, 'short and fat' seems to work with cables :-) ........

ok's picture

..though "long and fat" works also fine for the time being :-}

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The long and short of it is, may be no need to use 'elevators' :-) .........

ednazarko's picture

I know several people who swore that their lamp zip cord speaker wires sounded no different to them than the high end speaker wires I loaned them. One seemed disappointed that I didn't argue back. I don't, other than to say, be careful about generalizing what YOU hear on YOUR system.

I have two pretty nice systems where I can definitely hear the difference between speaker wires. Got a lesson in that when I moved and could only find system #2's wires when I set up system #1. My wife arrived that evening and wanted to know if the movers broke something in the system. She doesn't have spectacular listenings kills (listens mostly to books on tape through cheap earphones) but could hear something was off. The next evening, I'd found system #1's cables and swapped them in. She came home from the store and said, ah, what happened, now it sounds right. Both sets of cables are in the premium (not super premium) category. System #2, I went through three or four different sets of speaker cables (on offer from the audio shop) and one set stood out. But, they aren't the best choice on my other system.

I have two systems where I use relatively cheap Monster speaker wire. I've tried both sets of premium cables on them, and there was no real difference between them and the retail Monster wires. Neither system is what I'd call high end. I call that phenomenon "putting slicks on a stock Ford Pinto." While slicks let me go way faster in my race cars, a Pinto would still be a Pinto. The hardware package matters when you're trying to detect nuance.

I've also had a couple of my "can't hear a difference on my system" friends ask me why I have those ugly fat stiff cables. So, I did a listen, switch, listen, switch with three different cables. Most of them COULD hear the difference, where they couldn't on their systems. (Just like I can't on two of my systems.) A couple of them could not, though. And that's fine - it says their wetware is the system limitation in nearing nuances. I can't tell a 2014 from a 2015 same vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. One of my friends can taste a glass and tell me the label, year, and where (inside the specific region) the grapes were from. My wetware can't do that.

What I save on fancy wine costs, I spend on things where I can tell fine nuances.

ok's picture

..a single woman's take is worth of a million blind men tests no less.

JBLMVBC's picture

Thanks to this article, I ventured to the manufacturer's 2019 website and decided to price the ultimate upgrade for my 4 way active system, using their state of the art products, since one has to go all or nothing in order not to lose the precious signal along the way. I am happy to report that the entire thing, including power cords, can be had for just under $1,000,000 USD without taxes.
And now, since all the components of the recorded music we have access to were likely NOT connected with the aforementioned cables, should we expect the quest for these micro details that have likely been irremediably or selectively lost from the very start might be... meaningful in this context?

drblank's picture

I had a conversation with Bruce Brisson of MIT Cables back in the early 2000's about using MIT Cables for a recording studio, and he showed me a box MIT custom made for SkyWalker Sound. Apparently, they could hear losses of quality in the long microphone cable runs and they were in contact with MIT Cables and they had custom designed/built boxes with their passive components for microphone cables that are still used (to my knowledge) for their main tracking room and for recording foley artists. They also use their cables in the playback systems for their main control room.

There are more and more top end recording studios that have been upgrading cables over the years and where the cables make a difference is in the playback system as the recording engineers and mastering engineers are altering the sound of the recording based on what they hear.

I do agree that microphone cables and all interconnects in the studio is an area of concern here, but we have to remember that microphones filter the incoming signal based on the response curve of the microphone, and recording engineers sometimes take great care in picking the right microphone to capture the voice/instrument to their liking.

But at least if more engineers at least used these types of cables in the playback system, etc., then at least they are getting a more neutral representation.

What I find a little annoying is that Transparent not only puts networks inside their boxes like MIT, what they don't do is explain how theirs is different in a clear and understandable manner. MIT's much better at explaining their method of using passive components and they even have boxes that have been cracked open so we can see inside.

I've used both MIT Cables and Transparent cables and would recommend both. HOWEVER, if I was to choose one over the other, then my decision would be MIT. They initiated this type of design, they are definitely pumping out more revisions to further improve sound quality, but I feel MIT"s build quality is better. At least they give the customer a number that relates to the number of networks inside, and yes, the more the better.

MIT also has a loaner program so one can try before they buy, which I think ALL expensive cable mfg. should provide. I know it's expensive to administer and the companies end up with a lot of demo units they have to sell at drastic discounts, but at least people can try for a month before they plunk down sizable amounts of money.

JBLMVBC's picture

This kind of investment may, in the absolute, make sense for very successful commercial studios that can afford it and amortize it fast i.e. not passing an unreasonable cost increase onto their clients. Yet, all should be aware that 99% of their music will be heard, degraded and through little boxes. Are we closing on the the point of diminishing return here?

Brian C Stewart's picture

Perhaps cables at these prices make another argument for active speakers. You could purchase a great pair of monoblocks for $30k to &50k. Maybe a pair of Magico M2's D'Agostino or Constellation editions.Eliminate the cables altogether

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Active speakers are like Bluetooth headphones (almost) ........ No cables, no amplifiers, no worries :-) .......

drblank's picture

would at least remove the speaker cable component, but it still leaves the interconnect cable, unless it's an all digital design. The problem with active speakers is you are held hostage with the internal electronics and the internal electronics of most active speakers aren't typically as good as what's available for separates. Plus, I haven't seen any tube electronics used in internal active speakers. So you are held hostage in the internal electronics, which to me, is also critical.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Bryston offers active versions of some of their speakers, where multiple external amplifiers are used ....... Of course, Bryston uses their amplifiers with those speakers ........ I don't know whether they allow other manufacturer's amplifiers and electronics for use with those speakers ......... I don't know whether any other manufacturer sells such a type of active speakers ....... :-) .........

B&W has come out with the new Formation Duo active speakers, which are totally wireless ....... No need for any inter-connects .... not even between the speakers ... except for power cord connections, of course ........ If and when B&W comes up with a battery powered version of the Formation Duo, then we can call them Ultimate Formation Duo wireless speakers :-) ........

Archimago's picture

Regardless of whether one could hear a difference or if "communion" was achieved, I think we can agree that since 1995, the idea of cable designers putting "compensatory networks" into the designs of cables (and presumably needing to charge big bucks for this) has not survived the test of time. The folks who did this clearly enjoyed sharing their theory.

A nice entertaining read in any case... RIP Mr. Phillips.

drblank's picture

MIT has been putting networks inside has lasted 24 years and companies like MIT and Transparent are still in business. It's just that they have to be expensive for several reasons.

1. They are more expensive to mfg.
2. They have to hand match each component for consistency and they have to use expensive high precision measurement tools. And they have to throw out a lot of components that don't "match".
3. There is a lot of R&D involved which has to be recouped.
4. These are cables for a small niche market, and dealers still need their markup, which is why the price gets increased.
5. Pricing has come down. Both MIT and Transparent also offer models at lower, more affordable price points, so one doesn't necessarily have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on cables.

They both offer add-on boxes to be used with generic 12guage wire and they cost around $200 or more per box.

Archimago's picture

Basically what I mean is that over the decades, there has been no general acceptance that the theory being discussed here is beneficial for playback other than presumably a form of tone control.

Would be interesting to see the impedance curve of speakers using these add-on boxes in speaker cables. Maybe have a look at what happens to frequency response when using this type of cable with interconnects to one's DAC or CD player.

Unclear what kind of R&D we're talking about here specifically.

Allen Fant's picture

Agreed- R.I.P. Mr. Phillips.

I can attest to owning the TA Musiclink MM2 Super level loom.

On several occasions, I have had the pure listening pleasure of TA Reference/Reference XL and OPUS cabling systems.

Lars Bo's picture

A very interesting read. Thanks for republishing.

Especially the subheading "Music is the art of thinking with sounds" and WP's thoughts on uniformity, here in tone and time, made me think--perhaps--more clearly on the fabric of musicality:

An aptitude for coalescing, rather than separating, music's parts and elements into a moreness of meaning. As such, vital contents of music, and thus musicality, be it the art of thinking with sound or humanity's aesthetic communication by sound, are "not even there" in any material sense.

In any degree of accuracy, hi-fi does not sound sound musically.

David Harper's picture

and there's a lot more going on in our heads than we're aware of.