In the last few months I’ve reviewed the Pass Labs XS300 monoblocks, the Tannoy Canterbury GR speakers, and the Bricasti M1 Stereo DAC (review to come). In some cases these different components’ reviews overlapped one another, and for a short time all three were used together. The constants during all these reviews, however, were the various cables that connected and powered them, and include in that group of cables were the Audio Reference Technology (A.R.T.) Super SE cables.
I am lucky to have two reference interconnects that I could use for comparison, as well as several excellent step-down ICs. The reference ICs were the Tara Labs Zero Gold (MSRP $16,000) and the Silent Source Music Reference (MSRP $7,600), both of which are, in my opinion, at or near the pinnacle of interconnects. I also have the Silent Source Silver Signatures (MSRP $1,800) and the Lessloss Tunnelbridge System ICs (MSRP $2,500, plus $2,600 for the special power supply), both of which are very good cables, and much less expensive that the Zero Gold and the Music Reference. The A.R.T. Super SE (MSRP $5,650) comes in at the same price point as the Tunnelbridge, though the Tunnelbridge’s power supply unit handles up to 4 interconnect pairs.
My speaker cables are two separate pairs of the Silent Source Silver Signatures (can’t recall the exact MSRP for the silver signatures, which don’t appear to made anymore, but estimate $2,500 per pair) for biamping, used together with two sets of Walker Audio Eliminators (MSRP $450 each) and multiple Z-Sleeves (MSRP $200-400, depending on configuration). The A.R.T. Super SE speaker cables don’t fit into the Z-sleeves, so I could not compare them to the Silver Signatures with the Z-Sleeves. The A.R.T. Super SEs come in at an MSRP of $9,750.
My own power cords are Isoclean Super Focus and Lessloss DFPC Signatures. Both of these are excellent power cords, very clean and extended, with good body. Both are also in the middle/upper middle of their manufacturers’ range of offerings. From a pricing standpoint we are comparing PCs that have MSRPs of $3,000 (A.R.T. Super SE), $1,150 (Lessloss DFPC Signature) and $2,100 (Isoclean Super Focus).
Listening and Comparisons
Super SE Interconnects. The Zero Gold was consistently at the top of the heap when comparing individual characteristics, as well as in overall presentation. This is as it should be, given that the Zero Golds list for more than twice as much as the next most expensive competitor. However, I was struck by how good all of the ICs sounded overall. Just to get a reality check, I went down to my storage area and pulled out several of my old cables from the early days of upgrade fever – ICs in the $75-250 range. Substituting these for any of my high end cables immediately confirmed that there is indeed a reason why we sometimes spend insane money for a cable.
So how did the Audio Reference Technology Super SE compare in specific ways? Let’s start with pace, rhythm and timing (PRAT). In this respect Silence Source interconnects are my reference, being among the 2 or 3 most lively interconnects I’ve ever heard. As expected, once my comparisons began, the Silent Source interconnects, both the Music Reference and the Silver Signatures, conveyed the best sense of speed and PRAT, with the Zero Gold the slightest bit “slower”. The Super SE was in turn slightly “slower” than the Zero Gold, but provided a much fuller bass with greater body and bloom than the Silent Source Silver Signature. The difference was not huge, but nonetheless obvious with careful listening. Now I want to be clear here: these are all excellent interconnects, and if you weren’t running head-to-head comparisons you might not even notice the difference. The Super SE has very good PRAT and you will be tapping your toes on lively music.
Moving on to bass reproduction (which is often closely tied to PRAT because it affects the perceived “speed” of the music), the Tunnelbridge was my preferred cable by a hair. However, all three of the Super SE, Zero Gold and Music Reference were so good at bass reproduction that this was clearly only personal preference and (possibly) system synergy.
In the all-important midrange the Super SE really shines, and I mean that almost literally. The most distinctive trait of the A.R.T. Super SE was a “sheen” that made voices and the midrange have an inner glow. I have a memory of a similar experience listening to a BAT preamp and amp many years ago. I thought that there was a quality to the music that made it seem as though it was illuminated from within. I know that’s a poor description, but I’m a bit at a loss to come up with something better. It did not feel as though something artificial was being added to the music. Rather, it felt as though some quality of the music that was always there was being revealed. Ok – I know that sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but it’s the best I can do.
Compared to the $16,000 Tara Labs Zero Gold XLR interconnect, the Super SE holds its own very well. It required attentive listening to identify the differences between the two cables. Though there is an slight loss of dimensionality, the chief difference between the Zero Gold and the Super SE was the Zero Gold’s ability to vividly portray nuances and tonal pallets. Otherwise, in terms of all of the other audiophile characteristics the two cables are remarkably close, despite the large price difference.
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