Audio Cables Without the Wires

There are a myriad surefire ways to get audiophiles riled. Just bring up $350,000 tube amps, iPods as serious audio devices, or SACD versus DVD-Audio versus DualDisc versus iTunes.

Or mention expensive audio cables that use deviant technology.

Much of the fervid debate about analog audio cables centers around whether or not different types of wire and shielding techniques do indeed sound different—especially if they cost a lot.

But Jim Wang of Harmonic Technology has found that what really makes a difference is eliminating the wire and its need for shielding altogether. His company has just entered the cable fray with its new CyberLight Analog Interconnect, using what the company calls LAM (Light Analog Module) Photon Transducer technology.

According to HT, the new line of cables is based on miniaturized LAM electronics in the cable's RCA or XLR connector that convert analog signals to light, which is sent down an audio-grade fiber optic cable and then converted back to analog signals.

The company describes the LAM Photon Transducer as "so small it fits right into the cable's connector," and says that it's powered by either a wall-wart AC remote power adapter or an optional "Cyber Power Pack" UPS-type battery/charger that delivers 12V DC to the LAMs. HT says this second option is the one to choose "for absolute best performance."

It would seem reasonable to ask at this point why someone would want to send their analog audio signal through the LAM conversion process. HT says there are two immediate benefits: no physical wire effects and no ground loops.

"There's zero capacitance, zero inductance, zero skin effect, zero phase shift, and zero signal loss up to 200m, plus we control the resistance/impedance with our LAM Photon Transducers," explains Jim Wang. "No longer will passive control preamplifiers suffer degraded sound quality because of metal-conductor RC time constants that alter frequency response based on the volume control setting."

CyberLight cables, when used in the battery-only mode, also break the electrical connection between components, and in so doing, breaks inter-chassis ground. The company reports, "This alone yields a significantly cleaner signal that's unaffected by the noise humming along on your system's ground plane. These ground currents—typically never at the same electrical potential—try to equalize each other, and flow back and forth creating undesirable hum and noise components."

HT also claims that because there is no wire running between components, CyberLight cables are "completely immune to RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) and EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) when using the Cyber Power Pack, and only slightly less so with the wall-wart remote power adapters or charging Power pack, since they don't conduct ground between components."

How does the LAM converter work? Wang explains that, unlike light-signal transmission in Toslink, CyberLight cables don't initially digitize the signal, send it via LEDs, and convert it back again. Instead, the LAM Photon Transducer takes the line-level analog signal and converts it "immediately to a strong light signal with a laser diode—avoiding unnecessary digitization—and transmits it through an audio-grade fiber optic link, where a LAM receives and converts the signal to analog again."

The result, says Wang, is a physically flexible cable with "a very low noise floor, and no loss of quality from too many digital conversions." Wang also points out that impedance matching is critically important with audio components, adding, "The beauty of the variable LAM converters is they can be individually trimmed with great precision." Frequency response is claimed to be 5Hz to a full 30MHz. That's Mega Hertz.

The debate will soon commence as to how all of this sounds compared to tried and true metal wire. In the meantime, if you want to hear them for yourself, a 1.5 meter pair of CyberLight P2A with RCA connectors (source or preamp to amplifier) or CyberLight Wave (source to preamp) cables with RCAs will set you back $1199. The recommended Cyber Power Pack Battery/Charger is $499, and longer cables and custom lengths are also available, up to 200 meters long "with no signal degradation whatsoever."

A 200 meter pair with no signal loss! That ought to get some tongues wagging.