Audio cables! With the plethora of options, where does one start?
There aren’t a lot of “go-to” audio cables in the industry. Mostly because it depends on your preferences and sensibilities. Hence, the best way to find out if a cable works – is to borrow and listen. If you’re in the US, The Cable Company is a great place to start.
Although…there might be one exception: Audience. Many audiophiles consider them to be a “safe bet.” Reason being, they have a reputation for being a company with “great ears” – and excellent sounding products.
In fact, a few of my very first high-end cables were from Audience. At that time, they just seemed to be voiced more naturally over the other cables I’ve heard – and were an easy choice.
What makes a great cable company?
Each of Audience’s designs places musicality first. Most importantly, they surround themselves with people who know how music is supposed to sound. This includes involving musicians, engineers, and non-audiophiles in the design process.
Cable designs are only finalized after many listening tests – with many different ears. Consequently, there are fewer “subjective gaps” – which typically leads to a more “intentional” and well-thought-out product.
As a result, it’s this subjective aggregation that you’re hearing in the Audience’s line of cables. Not one man’s opinion of what sounds good. And that’s a good thing.
True to the collective team vision, Audience products have always been entirely hand-built by experienced craftsmen at the factory in San Marcos California. Great care is taken to inspect, test, and package every product that is built. Customer’s complete satisfaction with the performance, fit and finish is paramount. John McDonald, president, is an enthusiastic professional who believes in providing the best customer service possible…an all too rare concept in today’s business climate.
Hi, Jay. I can’t agree with your assessment of Audience frontRow versus SX cables. I had a full loom of Audience Au24 SX cables in a single-source CD system for two years—two AC cords, one RCA pair, and speaker cables. Three months ago I installed Audience frontRow interconnects and speaker cables. They do require break-in time, especially with intermittent play (no surprise). I have no hesitation in saying, the frontRow cables are a HUGE step up. It’s no contest. frontRow removes not a veil, but a blanket from the musical picture. For most people, the lifelike clarity, immediacy, and presence, and distinction of instruments, will be a revelation. Simply put, the frontRow cables clearly show that ordinary cables—even at $2-3 thousand—convey a shocking overlay of noise and distortion. “Ordinary” cables are like driving basic Ford and Chevy all your life—they are shades of the same thing—and then discovering Ferrari. Now, I’m just one guy, and I have no idea how frontRow compares to top Synergistic Research or Crystal Cable or High Fidelity cables that cost a lot more. I would bet on a horse race. But I fully expect that frontRow cables will be a revelation to most folks, and for those of us who care, will be well worth the price. In any case, I greatly appreciate the cable comparisons you are doing, and I welcome ads to support your work. Thanks much.
That’s awesome, David. 🙂 I’m actually thinking about buying the fronRow speaker cables, and I do prefer the frontRow XLRs over the Au24 SX variant. As for the RCAs, I still dig the Au24 SX. And for the powerChord, the Au24 SX as well. The team at Audience have really good ears so it’s really hard to go wrong. All of these cables have their house sound – and I like them for different reasons.
Next stop: Speaker cables.
“The tonal color of the frontRow is slightly cooler versus the Iconoclasts’ more toasty presentation. Due to the thicker sound of the frontRow, it does come off more tangible at times. Consequently, the Iconoclast has more brilliance and energy – but is relatively leaner. As always, find the balance that works for you.”
If I understand you correctly, the frontRow is fuller and cooler and the Iconoclast is leaner and warmer???
I wouldn’t always put those descriptives together.
I purchased the Iconoclast XLR cables based on your review and although it took about 3 weeks for them to develop their character. to the fullest, I wound up appreciating them in comparison to my Audioquest WEL which I use as a reference.
Where do the ZenWave D4 and D5 sit in comparison with the frontRow and Iconoclast with regard to detail and warmth?
My apologies, by cooler I actually meant a “greyer” color – which when I think about it is actually warmer. I’ll make that correction. When I speak on tone, it usually refers to just color. I’m actually creating a visual chart soon:
So the balance seems to be if you go below “the brown, golden warmth” you’ll get more solidity, but at the tradeoff at truer tonal color (it’ll be more a shade of gray).
Wow, it beats out the Audioquest WEL? Good to know. Which Iconoclast XLR?
I don’t have the D5 RCAs on me but, from memory, it’s a smoother, more tonally lifted Iconoclast. TBH, the D5 has it’s own “sound” that balances both qualities well but isn’t as raw as the Iconoclasts. The frontRow is relatively darker to both to my ears.
Thanks for clarifying – I see what you mean about tonal color and the tradeoff between solidity and color.
I purchased the OCC (green) Iconoclasts. Somewhere around 3 weeks in, they developed a warmth that seemed absent during the first few weeks. It wasn’t until the last week that I decided to keep them.
I can’t say the Iconoclast beats the WEL in every category but it might integrate better with other cables and components in one’s system. The important thing for me is that it gives up little or nothing with regard to subtle details and doesn’t have the slight veiling or haze that 95% cables I audition seem to have. One doesn’t realize that it’s there until one hears the rare interconnect that doesn’t have it. It’s possible that’s what gives you the impression that it’s “raw” sounding.
The WEL was the first interconnect I heard that doesn’t have that veil. The Iconoclast is the second.
Where the Iconoclast differs is that the WEL has a much greater range of tonal colors and takes the details and colors and stretches them out more, so to speak. The Iconoclast integrates those musical elements in a more compact fashion, but not in a way that I feel I miss out on details – only colors.
But depending on what power cable and speaker cables I plug in, either cable might can come across more musical, natural, and engaging, which is my goal. At least that’s my impression at this point.
I’m trying to decide if the frontRow XLR or D5 (or D4) might offer the musical attributes I appreciate without having the veiling I notice with cables other than Iconoclast and the WEL.
what do you think about valhalla 2 with frontrow
Hello Jay, great review. Did you also have a chance to demo their frontRow BNC SPDIF, did it fall in the same dark/warm sound. I know you did a comprehensive SPDIF comparison a while back and wondered if you recollect the Audio Art D-1SE. Do you think for a powerful, full bass these two would compare? I cable character I was drawn the most from your review was the Wave Storm.
I think there are many of us who read your reviews (and subsequent reader comments), that rarely get into the ‘conversation’.
Being one of them, I want to thank you for your (unheard-of), dedication and relentless caring to advance music-listening.
Having your previous? years of non-Audiophile experience, just adds to how much I trust and believe ‘your ears’.
Too often, non-believers rely on numbers only; I remember (back in the 70’s), my friends and I would go the stores in the Los Angeles area – Pacific Stereo, etc. We would buy the top-of-the-line Nakamichi or Pioneer, etc, receivers.
They were solid-state of course; and, we really just relied on the printed brochure and its spec’s. Gee, .0005% THD at 1K – LOL! I think that some of your critics (as few as they are), must have produced those units and/or brochures!
Keep up the great work – You are really a diamond-in-the-rough.
Thank you, Craig, for your words of encouragement. Readers like yourself keep me positive and motivated about this hobby. If there are any topics you’d like to see more of, please let me know. The YouTube studio is almost finished. It was much more work than I had anticipated – but I’ll probably enjoy that format better. Cheers!