This month’s article is going to tackle one of the more controversial subjects in audio. Yes it’s true, this article is going to be all about wire. Earlier this evening my eldest daughter exclaims, “What is so importanta bout wire? Who would want to read about that”! Unfortunately, this is an attitude that is held by many people in the audio world, as well as fourteen year old girls. Quite often a person goes out and carefully selects hundreds, if not thousands of dollars worth of equipment. When it finally comes time to connect all these components, many audio enthusiasts turn into the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. I am not suggesting that everyone needs spend thousands of dollars for cables, but instead they should keep an open mind about how cables will affect the overall sound of their system. Since HFR is about the pursuit of the best possible sound, while staying within a real world budget, I decided to devote this months article to reasonably priced cables.
In the past I have had positive experiences with Audio Magic power cords with a variety of different electronics, so I called up Jerry Ramesy at Audio Magic. He was kind enough to send out two pairs of interconnects, and an eight feet run of speaker wire. My overall intent is to look at how the Extreme cables perform as a complete package in my system, and determine if there is anything unique about this wire that will allow it to stand out from the crowd.
Who Is Audio Magic?
When you flip the calendar back to the early 1990’s there were only a few marquee cable companies in the market. The most recognizable brands were Monster Cable, MIT, Audioquest, and Kimber Cable. At this time, Jerry Ramsey was working as a manager of an audio store, and in his free time he began experimenting with cable designs. Eventually, Jerry began working with silver wire and, as they say, the rest is history. Over the years, Audio Magic has earned a reputation of being a respected, high-end manufacturer of silver cables. While it is true that Audio Magic’s upper end cables require a significant outlay of cash that many audio enthusiasts are not ready to make, Jerry has developed the Extreme line of cables that allow the frugal audio enthusiast the possibility of enjoying the merits of a well-designed silver cable.
Audio Magic cables review
Silver VS Copper Round 1
It is common knowledge in audio community that silver is a more efficient conductor than copper. If all things are equal, silver has the theoretical advantage of being a better material to use to make a speaker wire or interconnect. However, there is one other factor that must be examined in order to understand the big picture in the silver versus copper debate. It is a fact that over time all metals will oxidize. While construction techniques and topical treatments can slow down and minimize oxidation, the truth is that oxidation cannot be eliminated. When oxidation occurs, pure copper wire will form a coating of copper oxide, which is actually a semi-conductor. So over time, copper wire will lose a percentage of it’s conducting ability, which results in the degradation of its sonic abilities. On the other hand, a silver wire will form a sheath of silver oxide, which incidentally, has a higher level of conductivity than pure silver does. It is due to this process that Jerry bases his belief that Audio Magic cables will continue to improve sonically as they age.
Do You Need Deep Pockets?
One downside to silver cables is the cost. Historically speaking, silver cables have tended to cost more than a comparably designed copper cable. I have seen some manufacturers offer their designs in both copper and silver, with the cables built out of silver usually costing at least thirty five to forty percent more than a comparable copper design. When dealing with long runs of large diameter cables, the prices begin to escalate quite quickly. Since the Extreme cables are built to a price point, Jerry was required to examine design alternatives that could still take advantage of his favorite materials. It is a delicate balancing act for the designer when attempting to create a high performance wire and still keep it under a price point that the majority of buyers can expect to afford. For instance, the interconnects employ a pure silver center conductor, teflon dialectrics, and locking RCA plugs. While the speaker wire is a copper conductor with a double coating of silver. Jerry puts the overall silver content of the Extreme speaker wire at forty five percent, which is substantially higher than most other comparably priced hybrid wires. When you look into the technology that is packed into these cables, it easy to understand why they perform as well as they do.
A Speaker Wire That Only Sounds Expensive
The Extreme speaker cables consist of two ten gauge copper conductors with a double coating of silver. Teflon is used as the dialectric, which is superior to the poly-vinyl chloride that is usually found at this price point. One notable attribute of this cable is its flexibility. This is a substantial cable with large conductors, but I did not have any issues with routing it behind my components. All of the cables that Audio Magic sent me have spent time on their cable cooker. This is a service that is offered to any customer free of charge. I found that it significantly lowered the break in time for the speaker wires. Terminations are spade lugs, which appeared to be of excellent quality. Overall, the build quality and appearance of the Extreme speaker cable is first rate.
I find that a full-scale orchestral musical performance is the quickest way to determine any irregularities in a cable’s tonal balance. The music covers such a wide frequency range that any flaws will surely come to light. Since an orchestra places instruments in specific locations, any issues with the presentation of acoustical space also become apparent. Aaron Copland’s “Buckaroo Holiday” [Rodeo; NAXOS 8550282] showcases an orchestra’s commanding frequency range. The Extreme speaker cables are capable of presenting this piece in a remarkably balanced manner. For instance, the brass section has an easy flow, yet still maintains the bite that horn instruments are capable of. Trombones and French horns are presented in a rich and smooth manner, while trumpets come through with a crispness that sounds very natural. While instruments in the lower registers have a nice heft and balance to them. The tympani’s are powerful sounding, and individual notes have a natural decay pattern. When I listen to the tubas, I hear a rich resonant brass instrument that is presented with commendable clarity and focus. The Extreme cables really excel in the reproduction of upper register instruments like piccolos or flutes. There is a smoothness to these instruments that is rarely found in the repertoire of most budget speaker cables. In the end, the Extreme speaker cables were able to reproduce Copeland’s composition in a manner in which I was able to experience all the subtleties of the performance.
“All That Glitters Is Not Gold….”
At the heart of the Extreme interconnects is a thin silver ribbon that is responsible for it’s excellent sonic performance. This cable’s other notable design features are a teflon and air dielectric, silver shielding, and locking RCA connectors. Just like the speaker cable, these interconnects have a combination of materials that cannot be found in other cables at this price point. One important characteristic to note about this cable is a long break in period. Even though these cables spent time on a cooker, I found that an additional break in period was required. When first installed in my system, I found them to be somewhat bright and forward sounding. For the first seventy two hours there was very little change in their tonal balance. Once these cables hit the two hundred hour mark, they began to exhibit their true character. The midrange became robust; the treble smoothed out and was brought back into balance with the rest of the music. One pair of cables was installed in between the amp and pre amp. The other pair was used to connect the pre amp and power amps. For the interconnect evaluation I left the Extreme speaker cable in place. My intention was to develop an overall impression of how the Extreme cables performed as a complete system.
In my house folk music is played on a daily basis. So it is only natural that this style of music is used in the evaluation process of all the equipment that finds it’s way into my house. Just a couple of years ago I was introduced to a fabulous duo of folk singers from Portland Oregon, who call themselves “The Gypsy Moths”. I was fortunate enough to hear them perform live at the Tumbleweed Musical Festival that is an annual Labor Day event in Richland, Washington. . I also purchased their self-titled disc, which quickly became established as a regular in my listening sessions. Little White Candle [The Gypsy Moths; White Rose Media WRM-002] is a well-crafted song that highlights Meredith Cushing and Rania Rose’s complex and intricate vocal styles. Not only are these ladies accomplished vocalists, their abilities with the guitar should not be overlooked. Both Meredith and Rania are accomplished players, and their compositions have a complex melody that melds seamlessly with their beautiful voices.
This duo of young ladies from Portland Oregon is a perfect example of what wonderful music that can be found in the genre known as modern folk music. The Extreme interconnects turn in a remarkable performance in regards to vocal reproduction. While Meredith and Rania have similar sounding voices, these interconnects are quite adept at presenting all the subtle shades of each singer’s style. Yet the overall performance is not dissected by this interconnect, so all the vocal harmonies and interplay is reproduced in a very natural sounding manner. The guitar melody on this piece is quick, lively, and surprisingly intricate.
These interconnects do an admirable job of reproducing the texture and detail of these acoustical guitars. It is possible to hear the faint metallic overtones when strings are plucked, and the subtle resonance of the guitar body. The Moths also use hand strikes to the guitar body to give the song a percussive element, and the Extreme interconnects do an admirable job of reproducing these strikes with a high level of clarity. For an interconnect that sells for slightly more than a hundred dollars a meter, the Audio Magic wires turn in a rock solid performance that sets it apart from the vast majority of budget interconnects.
Removing The Rose Colored Glasses
While the Audio Magic Extreme products undoubtedly offer an excellent level of performance for a modest price, there are limitations to what these wires are capable of. Both the speaker cable and interconnect have the tendency to shorten the presentation of front to back depth in a recording. The soundstage consistently sounds a bit flatter when compared to other cables that reside in the next price tier. The Extreme speaker cables turned in an exceptional performance; although there is some hardening of the notes located in the highest registers. In regards to this cables overall performance, this is a minor aberration that does not detract from the overall value of this cable. In regards to the interconnect, there are just two areas where a higher quality cable will eclipse them. While the tonal balance of the Extreme interconnect is very good, it does have a slight tendency to sound lean in the lower midrange. For instance, vocals do not have the same amount of weight and body as the Tara Labs Air 3 interconnects I use. Also, these interconnects cannot pass the same level of fine detail as the Tara’s. Once again this is a minor criticism, and the Extreme cable performs admirably well for an interconnect that sells for slightly more than a hundred dollars. Please keep in mind that the cable I am comparing them to sells for approximately five hundred dollars a meter. It is interesting to note how well the Extreme cables work together as a cable system. The strengths and limitations of each cable tend to offset each other, and the end result is a synergy in which the overall performance level that these cables are capable of is greater than their individual contributions.
Let Us Wrap This Up
It has been my experience that inexpensive wire will excel in one or two major areas. However, these cables always seem to have at least one major shortcoming that limits their effectiveness in a wide variety of applications. Given the right combination of components, this kind of cable will often astound listeners with its abilities. The trouble ensues when a new owner brings this kind of cable home and cannot get the same results with their current system. Then the chase for the perfect cable begins. Some will find their dream cable, while others will become disillusioned and claim that all cable manufacturers are charlatans. The Extreme cables have two notable attributes that separate them from the pack of other cable contenders vying for the title of “best budget wire”. First of all, these cables are able to reproduce the “big picture” of a musical performance. Not only do these cables pass more sonic information, they also have the ability to reproduce the emotional side of a piece of music. While these cables have practical limitations, they still get so much of the music right, and in the end, stay faithful to the artist’s creation. System flexibility is another factor that weighs in on the side
of these cables.
Jerry Ramsey has designed a rigorous bed of test components at Audio Magic to ensure that his products will excel in a wide variety of systems. Jerry’s final evaluation of the Extreme design takes into account what types of systems his customers are likely to use his cables in. This is great news for an audio enthusiast on a real world budget. They can finally purchase a cable that can reside in their system, even if components are swapped out or upgraded. My personal listening experiences with these cables have all been positive. I believe that this is a product that our readers need to experience. It has the ability to show you what your components are capable of, and at a price that most of us can afford.
Equipment Used For Review Electra Print 300DRD amps Electra Print PVA pre amp
- Sony SCD-595 with Tube Research Labs mods
- GR Research Paradox 1 speakers
- Audio Pro Avantek subwoofer