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Clarity Cable Organic Interconnect, Speaker, Digital Cable Review

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Don’t be fooled by appearances…

There is no way to know precisely how a component will sound by looking at it. The same holds true of cabling. Perhaps you have had a similar experience to mine; some cables look killer and sound not so killer, while others appear unassuming and are system radicalizers!

Clarity Cable’s appearance is inversely proportional to its performance. If you are a person who tends to select components based on looks as much as specs or listening, then you might want to blindfold yourself when inspecting the Clarity line. It appears similar to about one hundred other generic appearing cables; black woven sheath, shrink wrapped ends and a black and white name band with an arrow designating direction of connections. It does not look as though it has had the touch of a machine assembling it, and in this instance that is a good thing. The gold individual banana terminations also appear not exceptional. The spades are a different story, as they are milled from a solid piece of copper. One gets the sense that the cables are designed not so much to look right but sound right.

The cables have two distinct degrees of stiffness to them, the more pliable being the interconnects and the stiffer ones being the power cables and speaker cables. I attribute this to the thickness of the outer sheath material, which on the speaker and power cables feels like a substantial polymer-based tube. The soldering on the terminations was solid, as for months of use and literally dozens of times moving them none worked loose. One of the shrink wrap tubes at the end of an interconnect slid down marginally (approx. 1/8”) but I encountered no other cosmetic issues.

The spade terminations are quite large and thick, which causes them to not fit entirely into some component posts. Many binding posts are now plastic encased, which means larger spades will not fit. I encountered a similar difficulty when working privately with Harmonic Technology’s larger spades. The simple solution is to run one leg of the spade into the center of the post and cinch it down. When doing so make sure that you are not positioning the “outer” legs of the speaker cables toward each other, or they may inadvertently touch – not a good thing when the amp is turned on! I used to be uptight about things like having both legs of the spade in contact with the post, but not anymore. The one legged Clarity cable setup easily betters many other cables with both legs hanging onto the post.

A word about terminations and bi-wiring which may be of use to novices. When you consider bi-wiring, know your amp’s terminations – whether it accepts only spades or both spades and banana terminations. Looking before you leap with your order can save some frustration and money. For example, the Cardas “wheel” binding post connection accepts only two sets of spades. Most amps will accept one set of spades and one of bananas simultaneously. When reviewing cables I typically order one set of speaker cables terminated entirely with bananas and one with spades. Does the difference in terminations influence the sound to the point of needing one type or the other termination? No it does not; in many rigs under the $60-75k point I can swap the banana ended cables with the spade ended cables and am hard pressed to hear a difference; this distinction fails the Law of Efficacy. Change one power cord or interconnect and you will influence the rig far more than worrying over bananas or spades. Perhaps if you had two full sets of cables with bananas and another two sets with spades you might perceive a difference. Short of that this will be a non-issue for you. Mind you, I’m not saying terminations have no influence, but rather that in most applications without conducting direct comparisons the result will be negligible.

Transparency and Detail

Transparency in a component is directly tied to the amount of detail one can hear. Translucency is when the transparency is diminished. It also means that a perceived tonal change has occurred which moves from what the hearer considers to be neutral. Consider: When looking through a clear window one does not perceive any color to the glass. However, if the window is translucent there is always a color to it. As an illustration, it is one thing to be able to hear the shimmer of a cymbal clearly, it’s another to hear that cymbal as a sharp thinner metallic sound or a softer, thicker seemingly synthesized sound. The former is transparency, the latter translucency.

It is important that you grasp this concept, as it subtly influences what you feel about a system’s high end performance. Especially in the treble the degree of transparency dictates the degree of decay of instruments, air perceived around them, and extension of the venue’s space. Kill the transparency and the whole these all collapse. Jack up the transparency and the feeling of being at the venue increases dramatically. Clarity cables have seriously jacked up transparency.

Clarity Cables have so much transparency that they can be used quite accurately to assess the transparency of components. I have never found another speaker cable which could do so. Compared to cables from MIT, Harmonic Technology, Wire World, et. al. the Clarity Cable is so supremely transparent that these others seem to have a cloudiness of one degree or another to them. After I have used the Clarity Cables for a while, then switch back to one of these others I am met with the frustrating realization that I cannot conduct an accurate assessment of the system at hand because I know that a certain amount of cloudiness has been caused by the cabling and it is impossible to know precisely how much is from the components and how much is from the cables.

Case in point, recently I conducted intense Opamp rolling with the sensational Eastern Electric Minimax DAC. Imagine a DAC with the sizzling ESS Technology Sabre 32 bit Reference DAC chips, and upgraded Opamps with the Kingsound King full range ESL speaker – a detail lover’s paradise! One variant of this system incorporated my Pathos Classic One MkIII tube hybrids running in Mono mode. There was simply too much softness and indistinctness to the treble; the top end was simply rounded off. I had heard the ability of the Clarity Cables to reveal treble intimacy so well that I knew it could not be due to them. Had it been any other cabling I’ve used I would not have been sure.

It had been the better part of a year since I had used the Pathos amps consistently in Mono mode, and the wiring for them was counter-intuitive. I began to wonder if I had miswired them, as running the speakers out of phase would cause that blunted sound I was hearing. Sure enough, when I swapped the speaker leads on the amp’s posts the fullness of detail came rushing back into the sonic picture. The Clarity Cables were so refined, so clean that even the phase of the speaker hookup could be diagnosed though not having heard the amps in months!

Clarity Cable Organic Power Cable

What can a set of cables do for a system?

The average audiophile, I would assume, detects two voices of perceived extremism calling out regarding cables. On the one hand are those who intone that pursuing high end cables is “snake oil,” a waste of time, and the like. For such individuals all wires with the capacity to handle a required signal are sufficient and the matter is decided.

If that’s you, I’m not your man. I don’t know that I would consider myself to be on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, but I do assert that cables are far more critical to establishment of a premier system than many think. How critical? I would suggest that there is a wide gulf between merely good cables and great cables, and that a suite of cables is as important as any other component in the system. As such, depending on the priorities of the owner, it would not be out of line to spend up to 20-25% of total system costs on cables.

Before you conclude that it would be ludicrous to spend that much on cabling, consider this: The difference between merely decent sounding cables and top quality sounding cables can allow a person to save perhaps $20,000 or more on components! I thought that might get your attention, and I mean it in absolute seriousness! If you put a so-so set of cables on a rig you will have choked a surprising amount of life out of its sound. If on the other hand you put a stellar set of cables on a competent system it will leap up to sound like a higher end set of components. Here is the key: The more you want to save on components, the better your cables need to be.

So, what do most economically minded audiophiles do? They go modestly on expenses related to components, and they get absolutely chintzy on cables! What does that get you? Poor sound, far poorer than need be. Having built dozens of systems over the years with entry level high end gear, if approaching the task of building a good quality low cost system I would be loathe to downgrade the cables. In fact, I have several times built rigs with cables representing up to 30% of the entire system costs with quite acceptable sound. It is simply uninformed and potentially unproductive to insist that an audiophile never spend more than 5-10% on cables.

This can be a catch-22 situation, for if the tonality of the cleanest, or clearest, sounding cable is not to one’s liking, then they hardly do much good. Thankfully I have never had to deal with that situation when using Clarity products; the timbre has been equally outstanding. That has especially been apparent when hearing music with acoustic instruments. Such recordings either have a sense of “trueness” to them or do not. Switching cables on a system and listening for which sounds truer is a relatively easy task. In comparison after comparison Clarity Cables are more convincing in emulating the tonality of acoustic instruments.

When listening to piano I usually consider whether I’m hearing the string, the hammer, the piano case, the movements of the pianist, the hall, etc. With a terrible many cables on even a good recording one does not hear all of these elements, but with Clarity none of them goes unnoticed. I enjoy Bob Mamet’s Adventures in Jazz, Joe Sample’s Did You Feel That? and David Benoit’s Every Step of the Way. These are all mellow artists with a “smooth piano” sound, very relaxing music for de-stressing. They are also quite uncluttered artists, who are not drowning out the instrument with all manner of percussion and electronic instruments.

It is not uncommon when hearing tracks like Benoit’s “The Key to You” or Mamet’s “Observations” with less capable cables to have the case of the piano sound collapsed, shrunk or dulled. By “dulled” I mean little interplay between the soundwave of the string as it is reflected off the wooden case of the piano. In the worst cases only the note is heard and nothing of the hammer or case is heard. The Clarity Cables reveal the interplay of these characteristics of piano sound beautifully.

Of late I have been paying a lot of attention to the electric bass, especially how varied it can sound between artists and recordings. Sometimes it is heard as a relatively dull thudding in the background, but at other times its strings sing as beautifully as the aforementioned piano or violin. Artists like Kyle Eastwood treat listeners to deft acoustic and electric bass playing. Similar to piano, with less capable cables the acoustic bass body is flat, without indication of the woody, hollow nature of the instrument. The clarity cables not only bring Kyle’s bass to life, they add weight to the instrument such that it is easy to tell that thicker, heavier strings are being plucked. It is not just the tone which gives this away, but also the detail of hearing the individual cycles of the string’s vibration which excite the senses! The extremely high degree of resolution is demonstrated with the ease in which Eastwood’s plucking of the strings is never blurred or obscured. Similarly the blindingly fast right channel only solo from Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s Live in Japan. Most dynamic speakers simply cannot keep up with the rapidity of Rodrigo’s picking, and if lesser cables are in use the notes begin to blur into one another. It takes the Kingsound King ESL and the Clarity Cables to allow each note to exist independently in the split second it is played.

Clarity is a primary contributor to a speaker system sounding “fast.” Sadly, often more obscured sounding cables are used, which have the effect of making the speakers sound slower, sometimes even sluggish. In my use no speaker sounded slow, sluggish or obscured when the Organic series was on the rig.

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