If I told my family that I spent part of a Saturday afternoon writing a review on how different power cables sound, they’d think I’ve gone batty. Power cords? Come on! But it’s true, it’s crazy but true. And while I am a full-monty audiophile, I’m also trying to keep my audio habit (sounds like a drug, and kinda is) in check, financially speaking. That means trying to stretch my purchasing dollar as far as possible. For the past 2 years, I’ve been using a DIY power cord that I have about $400 in that has absolutely smoked anything remotely close in price. The cord itself is quite simple to construct: use an Oyaide P46 (palladium) and C46 (gold) set of plugs, along with some Acrolink bulk P4030 AC cable, and piece it together. It’s not the last word in any particular area, but it’s wonderful and it’s cheap, and I strongly recommend it.
I do believe that part of the reason my DIY cord (credit to Frank Latimer of TG Audio for the formula) sounds so good is simple: it uses terrific materials. Read any tweak blog and you’ll see how highly regarded the Oyaide plugs are, and deservedly so. But the raw cable itself makes a BIG difference in my experiences in the DIY world. Acrolink has a reputation for going for uber-high purity in their metallurgy, and I’ve no doubt that it influences the liquidity and ease-of-listening sensation with this simple and overachieving AC cord.
But I’m not a cable designer, and I readily cede that some cables are far beyond what anyone can DIY. Better materials, shielding, connectors, geometry, etc, all impact the sound, and dedicated resources can address these matters systematically through trial and error far more so than I could by tinkering around in the garage on the weekend. So when I was approached to audition and review the actual Acrolink cable line, I jumped at the chance. I want to know, first hand, if and how much better than my homebrew cables these beauties from Japan are.
Joe Cohen of the Lotus Group, the distributor for Acrolink, sent me 5 different cables along with some wonderful glossy brochures, which I hoped would help me write background info for the review; unfortunately, all the brochures were written in Japanese—as our French readers say, “merde.” However, I can say that Joe’s web site, www.lotusgroupusa.com, has a lot of great info on the Acrolink products, their construction, materials and design goals.
One highlight that stood out to me is the fact that Acrolink is the only user of stress-free 7N copper in the world, thanks to their relationship with Mitsubishi Cable Industries. Now, my experiences in the DIY world and with various commercial cables tell me that using high-purity conductive material is ALWAYS a good thing. When I built identical sets of interconnects, one with 4-9 purity and another with 6-9 purity, holding all other factors constant, the 6-9 purity cables always sounded noticeably sweeter and with less grain. I, for one, am a believer in high purity, and it seems Acrolink takes purity seriously too (their literature states that they also take resonances seriously, which I have never tried to design around in my homebrew cables).
The cables themselves, 2 Mexcel RCA-type interconnects (DA 6100, the best they make, and the 2500, just one step down), 1 Premium XLR interconnect, 1 Premium AC cable, and the Mexcel speaker cables, were of great fit and finish, with the power cord and interconnects using custom-made connectors (the Mexcel RCA cables had a very tight fit on female RCA jacks), while the speaker cables had a very unusual set of terminations: the spades have a locking nut to allow the user to loosen the nut, adjust the angle of the spade (or even switch to bananas), and tighten the nut to lock the angle into place. Sounds ingenious, no?
Now, the down side: the Mexcel speaker cables are as wide as a man’s wrist, and as flexible as a pressurized fire hose. When my wife saw these big, python-like cables, she was aghast, probably having flashbacks from the movie “Anaconda” when she saw me wrestling them into place. In my small room, installing these speaker cables took an hour, and I had to move my McIntosh 501s in order for the cables to have clearance due to their stiffness (the other cables were plenty flexible and much easier to route). I have no doubt that their stiffness will prove prohibitive in some systems where space is at a premium.
Then again, no one will buy cables like these without auditioning them in their own system first. And if you get them installed (and can afford them), I’d bet the chances are pretty good they’re staying.
AC: The PC7100 Premium Series AC cord
As my Einstein preamp requires a right-angle IEC, the only place I was able to demo the Acrolink PC7100 was on my digital gear, the Esoteric XO1-D2 at present. When reviewing my listening journal, I saw that the first impressions I scribbled were “I love it! How much is it again?” I must say, this cable is only the second I’ve heard to absolutely trash my DIY cable, the first being the $4k MSRP Isoclean Supreme Focus.
What struck me was that the PC7100 has a markedly better tonal palette than any AC cable I’ve ever heard, next to the Supreme Focus; this was easily discerned in the midrange, where our ears are most sensitive to anomalies. Listening to the Decemberists “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” off Picaresqu , a wonderful disc by the way, the PC7100 gave rise to a fuller, richer expression of vocals that separates great systems from state-of-the-art systems. Other AC cables I had on hand sounded monotone in comparison in the midrange. Additionally, the PC7100 proved to be an exceedingly detailed cable; whether it was the high-purity conductors, the effective shielding, the resonance control, or the custom connectors, I found the PC71000 delivered much better separation of notes during a performance. With lesser gear, a guitar being strummed has each string mashed together, giving the strum a holistic sonic envelope, but obscuring the sound each string delivers.
The PC7100 delivers the sonic envelope, but it also delivers the sound of each string, from a well defined leading edge to a fully developed tone and onto the decay into the pitch black that the “Mariner’s Revenge Song” uses to such dramatic effect. Also, I can say that the cord does a terrific job at frequency extremes, giving terrific weight and heft to the nether regions under 100Hz while also providing clarity and extension in the treble without sounding harsh (a stereotype I previously had based on my experiences with palladium & rhodium; again, dedicated manufacturers can solve problems DIYers cannot). All in all, this is a wonderful cord that I can recommend without any reservations whatsoever.
Interconnect: 7N-A2070 Premium Series Interconnect, XLR
Given the premium pricing of the Mexcel series, the Premium series is obviously targeting a different market. I will say that these cables, while clearly not up to the standard set by the Mexcels, offer terrific value and performance for a not-too-considerable sum. Hell, the XLR connectors alone retail for $600!
While providing great frequency extension, a very black background (this silent background is a trait shared by all Acrolink cables) and great PRAT, the Premium series were a little light in their tonal balance, noticeable as a coolness in the upper midrange when compared to uber-dollar cables; this tonality would make the Premiums a terrific match for tube-based systems and a less ideal match for systems with solid state gear that sounds cool. I did find myself greatly enjoying recorded piano (Final Fantasy, Keith Jarrett) greatly with the Premiums in the mix, which should give you some indication of how benign this coloration was, but it was there.
Moving on, the bass was well extended, but there seemed a little less of it than there should be, along with a little less control than ideal, with some tonal expression in sub-100Hz being obscured, and the region losing a bit of the pitch definition that the best cables provide. Do bear in mind, however, that few speakers can pass 20Hz to 100Hz properly; mine cannot, but I did take the cables to another reference system for evaluation purposes which confirmed my listening impressions.
Staging was balanced and well-defined, and the cables themselves had a terrific sense of PRAT, never letting the music get bogged down or feel slow (a sensation I’ve found in networked cables). Also, while I found the cables to provide a terrific sense of transparency and clarity (which was partially a false observation per the lighter tonal balance, which gives rise to a sense of clarity even if none exists), they did not resolve the lowest-level details like the wide-open window of the Mexcel series; then again, what does?
I may sound critical here, and that’s my job. But let me say this: at roughly 25% of the price of the DA6100s, the 7N-A2070 Premium easily deliver 80%+ of the performance of their big brothers, at just 25% of the cost. These cables represent excellent value and can easily prove the cornerstone for cabling in a great many hi-fi systems.
Interconnect: 7N-A2500 Mexcel, RCA
This is a much tougher product to review; as they are priced significantly more expensive than the Premium series I just cited, one would expect them to deliver nearly all the performance of the DA6100. The A2500s had a much improved tone relative to the 7N-A2070 Premium line, with virtually none of the coolness that their little siblings had in the upper mid’s, instead exhibiting a sweetness and purity to the critical midrange region that invited long-term listening sessions. These cables had excellent frequency extension and had far better bass weight and definition than the Premiums, which one would expect given the price difference.
Additionally, the A2500s were absolutely sublime with struck instruments. I’ve always found cymbals to be a difficult instrument to recreate in the home. As I cited in my review of the Esoteric XO1-D2, cymbals on lesser systems / cables decay as a constant sheen of energy, losing the brassy microdetail in the decaying reverberations (as easily heard on the recent Police remastered catalog). Cymbals sound like an explosion of white light with poor cabling. The A2500s commit none of these sins, instead allowing the tonal decay of the cymbal to be fully realized. These cables will be absolutely adored by those who love piano concertos, so wonderful are they with attack, tone and decay.
The biggest difference between this cable and the DA6100 is the way it threw a soundstage. The A2500s threw a stage that placed performers laterally and front/back, but one which never quite got beyond the front plane of the speakers to reproduce the “you are there” feeling about the performance. As such, they will be well matched in forward / aggressive systems that need to take a little edge off the presentation, or for symphonic recordings or opera, but not for the steady diet of rock and jazz that composes 90% of my listening. Do understand that I’m not in any way implying that they’re rolled off or soft. They clearly are not. This is simply a soundstage issue, and in all other respects I find it difficult to fault their performance.
However, I must say that, given the DA6100, this product doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If I were a buyer who has budgeted almost $4k to spend on interconnects, and I listened to the A2500 and the DA6100 side by side, I’d be eating Raman noodles for a few months in order to save the extra scratch to get the DA6100s. But again, I’m being harsh, as I could live with these cables forever and never once complain.
Interconnect: 7N-DA6100 Mexcel, RCA
Now, this one is easy. If the DA6100s are not amongst the best interconnects money can buy, then I will cash in my chips, cancel all my magazine subscriptions, and sit down with a Bose and the CD from that unfortunate lad from American Idol who sang “She Bangs” for the next 40 years.
For $5k a meter pair of interconnects, you expect it all. With the DA6100s, you get it. Take a fully fleshed-out tonal palette, add full frequency extension from the uppermost treble to subterranean bass, now throw in lightning-quick dynamics, along with the Nth–degree of detail and the best soundstage I’ve ever heard from a pair of cables. That’s the DA6100s.
While the A2500s were absolutely excellent in frequency extension, color and detail, the DA6100s proved their superior in these regards, though it was more of a subtle difference than night and day. Retrospectively, staging, however, was night and day, with the DA6100s providing an altogether unique listening experience; so let me dwell on the soundstage for a moment.
In two different reference-caliber systems, the effect was the same: the DA6100s extend the stage height a solid 2 feet, while also extending the stage in front of the speakers, providing more space between performers and giving a tangible sense of body to the players on the recording. It was easy to forget that there were speakers in the room, as good recordings were completely freed from the confines of the transducer. It was magical. Granted, it takes reference-level gear to hear these effects, but I consider that point a given if anyone is looking into owning the DA6100s.
If you are budgeting first-car money for a pair of interconnects, you absolutely owe it to yourself to demo the DA6100s.
Speaker cable: 7N-S20000 Mexcel Speaker Cable
For a moment, let us ignore the fact that I was forced to route them such that they are suspended 3 feet off the floor of my listening room in a giant half-moon semicircle, simply because they were too inflexible to route directly to my speakers.
(OK, I cannot ignore it. The routing arrangement of these cables look like a mini-replica to the Arch of St. Louis; think wifey-poo would like them in her well decorated living room? Me neither).
Much like the DA6100s, the Mexcel 20000s strike me as another Acrolink foray into the “best-damn-cables-money-can-buy” club. My initial focus was on the bass; there was no false emphasis, boom, or bloat, which other cables employ to trick the listener into thinking they are “good with bass”. Instead, bass with the Mexcels simply took on proper dimensions which, when coupled with the spot-on pitch, left this reviewer reevaluating previous conceptions of how recorded bass is reproduced in the home. There was no question in my mind that what I was hearing was right, and that this was the first time I had heard it. However, it did require some perceptive adjustment that, subjectively, less is better, as there was indeed less aggregate sub-100 hertz bass with the Mexcels vs. some other cables I had for comparison.
Actually, it reminded me of when a subwoofer gets tuned properly in a 2-channel setup; improper tuning of the sub and you’ll gain too much low frequency information while also localizing the sub, whereas proper adjustment of the sub results in a seamless blend to the main speakers while the sub’s presence is only known in ultra-deep musical passages and in venue information. If you’re considering the Mexcels, you need to answer the question of what side of the subwoofer analogy you fall on, as this will very well tell whether you’ll love the Mexcels or find them objectionable.
The other defining characteristic I heard was the way the Mexcel 20000s, much like the DA6100s, gave body and presence to the performers. Though they had just a smidgen less depth than the best I’ve encountered, there was a defined space around the performers, and a freedom of the confines as defined by the speakers and their interaction with the room (and as I listen in a small room, this is no small feat!). Again, listening to “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by the Decemberists, it was almost frightening when the voice of the re-incarnated mother urged her son to avenge her, so palpable was the voice in the room. This rendering of space and body was always done with a stage that was realistically proportioned (i.e. no 5-feet-wide singers) but without restrictions on width or depth.
The Mexcel 20000s delivered a lot more than that, however. The Mexcels strike me as having an optimal tone; its not “clean” or “detailed”, both of which audiophile definitions can be euphemisms for another word: “bright.” The 20000s are not bright, but they are indeed tonally pure, clean and have all the inner detail that one could wish for. They simply deliver the Nth detail in a highly relaxed manner without the slightest stridency. Some listeners will prefer the excitement of cables that have that traditional definition of “detail”, and I’ll just chalk that up to listener’s preferences; such listeners will likely find these cables boring (but will never be able to pinpoint as to why, since all the detail is still present). But I consider this “boring” cable an unmitigated success, as it doesn’t draw attention to itself the way a tone-control cable will.
Given the preceding statements regarding “detail” and “boring”, one might make the assumption that these cables provide some treble shelving or attenuation. Nothing could be further from the truth. These cables are simply sublime with struck instruments like bells & cymbals, which are defined by their attack, tone and decay. My Wilson Watt Puppies routinely fail in their reproduction of the complexities of a cymbal’s decay, instead reducing the event to a metallic “sheen” that has whitish elements to it—this is the typical gripe about the Focal tweeter. What the Mexcel 20000s do is give the Wilsons a signal that is devoid of the harshness that the Focals, with their expansive bandwidth, can express. Now, with a sweeter & less-extended tweeter (like a Dynaudio Esotar or a Maggie ribbon), the addition of the 20000s might result in too soft a treble, as the tweeter is soft to begin with. But that assumes the rest of your system is neutral, which is seldom the case (and why system building and synergy is so important).
Full Monty Acrolink
So, were there any unique conclusions to be drawn by outfitting my entire system with Acrolink? Yes; once I listened to my system with the DA6100s and the 20000s in the signal path, and the PC7100 on the Esoteric XO1-D2, I was immediately struck by how all concepts of imaging and staging were redefined. The stage extended significantly in front, behind, and laterally from the speakers, altogether losing the confines of the room. Again, performers took on a palpable body, with air around and behind the performer. The effect was similar to the contrast of having a conversation in a small closet vs. having one outdoors, so free was the music from staging congestions that I noted in other cables. The only other time the word “holographic” was as appropriate was when I was demo’ing the high dollar Transparent series, which also are quite unique in their ability to carve out space (the Transparent cables are quite similar in many respects, but are very different in their approach to treble and bass).
Another point of immediate distinction with full Acrolink cabling was the fine delineation and articulation—call it transparency. Details were not spot lit, but details that were obscured to me previously were now available. Generally, I’m very sensitive to how a recorded drum set sounds (one of my best friends in high school was a top notch drummer in the Neal Pert mold), and I was startled to find further distinction in the details behind a struck snare or cymbal. While listening to Jethro Tull’s “Song for Jeffrey,” it was easy to pick up the slight ringing that accompanies the decay of a snare drum; these details do not, from my perspective, materially add to my enjoyment of the music, but they do add to the realism of the playback, which is why we’re audiophiles, right?
As I noted in my segment on the Mexcel speaker cables, I did notice a slight reduction in overall bass energy in my small room.
Now, normally I’m a bass junky and I would object to anything that takes it away from me, but it became obvious that the bass the Acrolinks were delivering was heads and shoulders more accurate, defined, pitch-correct and deep than any I’ve come across. Sure, other cables can and will give more bass, the same way that a ported subwoofer will give more bass than a sealed-box. But all it takes is listening to both on recorded music and any self-styled audiophile will prefer the sealed-box subwoofer, as it is truest to the source. Such as it is with Acrolink cables and sub 100 hertz; it’s deeper, but it doesn’t go deeper in an overstated way that parlor-trick cables attempt to make you think they go that deep. Personally, after swapping them back out (and with the Mexcel speaker cables, its no small chore), I grew very disappointed of having to readjust myself to more bloated, boomy bass from my cables on hand.
Tonally, I couldn’t want for anything with the Acrolink setup. Bass & treble response were reference-level, and the midrange was fully articulate and colorful. One development I found most pleasant (and where some listeners might object) is the ability of the Acrolinks to make even bright recordings listenable. For example, the Beatles catalog is ubiquitously bright; George Martin was a great producer, but the recordings were poorly mastered. With the Acrolinks in the system, the Beatles catalog was still bright, but not as much as before, and yet there was a sense of increased detail. However, on properly mastered records, there was no sense of dullness. Quite a dichotomy, no? Actually, this is consistent with my experiences with high-purity cables (sweeter, more detail and more linear) as opposed to their less-pure brethren. Now, I am all for anything that increases the number of discs in my collection that I can sit and enjoy end to end without getting listener’s fatigue, but again I suspect those who own speakers or systems with treble performance on the soft side (unlike mine) may find these cables to be too much of a good thing, if absolute neutrality is the goal.
Anyone who is budgeting first-car money for cabling owes it to themselves to hear the Acrolink Mexcel series. The DA6100 interconnects and the S20000 speaker cables have to be included in any discussion of “best” cables. As is always the case in this hobby, “best” is both subjective and system-specific, so while some will flip for the Acrolinks as I did, others may like Transparent, or Nordost, or Prana, etc. for reasons that are specific to the confines of the system where evaluation was made, along with personal biases of what the recorded event is supposed to sound like. I’d personally expect the cables to work best with solid-state amps with high-current / damping (i.e. prodigious bass) or with speakers that have excellent but ill-defined bass response, while underpowered systems that have anemic bass response will be even more so with the Acrolinks than if the system were optimized around each element in the chain.
However, it is the Premium series that strikes me as being the sweet spot for this cable line. The PC7100 AC cord is, dare I say, a no-brainer given its benefits to tonal expression, detail and frequency extension. The Premium A2070 interconnects, while not reaching the performance of its big brothers in the Mexcel series, delivers 80-85% of the performance at a fraction of the price. Free from grain, noise and committing only marginal errors in tone and frequency delineation, the A2070s strike me as a bargain and a best buy at their price point.
U.S. Distributor’s Response:
We at the Lotus Group wish to thank Ryan Coleman and DAGOGO for his insightful review of Acrolink’s Mexcel® Series 7N-DA6100 and 7N-A2500 interconnects, Mexcel 7N-S20000 speaker cables, Acrolink’s Premium Series 7N-A2070 interconnect and 7N-P7100PC power cable, and also for the mention of the 6N-P4030PC power cable which was not part of the original review request. In Japan, Acrolink is the leading high-end cable manufacturer. Their Mexcel Series cables are distributed exclusively by Teac Esoteric in Japan, under the Esoteric label, but are otherwise distributed worldwide under the Acrolink moniker.
As stated in the review, Acrolink specializes in high purity copper cables. All of the cables in their lineup are at minimum 6 nines-pure (99.99997%,), with the top Premium Series and all of the Mexcel Series at 7 nines-pure (99.999997%). Purity of conductor, while not the sole criterion for creating a world class cable, is of importance, as minute impurities will create impedances which will truncate and distort high frequency response.
Acrolink and Mitsubishi joined forces to create the exclusive 7N pure Mexcel conductor. The Mexcel conductor is of a square cross section, litz-type conductor design. The corners are coated as evenly as the flat surfaces through the revolutionary Medis® process, created by Mitsubishi Cable Industries. Medis stands for Mitsubishi Electro-Deposition Insulating System and is the only process that exists for creating magnet wire through electro-deposition.
The tightly formed litz bundles allow for the Mexcel cables to have flat high frequency response up to 18 Gigahertz! While one may think that such high frequency extension would have no bearing on the performance of audio cables, that conceit would be incorrect. The obvious example would be with regard to digital cables which are required to faithfully replicate high frequency digital pulses. We have seen that the Mexcel digital cables have no equal, and would encourage others to test that claim. With regard to analog cables, the lack of impurities and the resultant unimpeded high frequency response allow for an airy, extended and extremely natural high frequency response.
The 7N-S20000 speaker cable is, as Ryan correctly points out, a no-holds-barred, cost-no-object creation. As such, the logical result is a cable that is somewhat unwieldy, given its weight and girth. The payoff is a cable with extraordinary characteristics. The 7N-S10000, at a little more than half the cost of the 7N-S20000, is more flexible and more manageable and provides a very high percentage of the performance of the 7N-S20000.
Clearly Ryan’s review reflects his thorough and diligent testing methodology. I am heartened that his characterization of all of the Acrolink cables tested is spot on, and especially appreciate his conclusion that the 7N-A2070 Premium Series interconnect is a best-bang-for-the-buck product. While most of us can only dream about owning the ultimate best, it is nevertheless encouraging to know that we can capture a huge percentage of the 7N-DA6100’s performance at a fraction of the price.
The Lotus Group
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