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Tara Labs Zero Gold Interconnect Review

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Tara Labs Zero Gold Interconnect
 

Hyperventilation

 
I wasn’t sure how to begin when reviewing a cable which many knowledgeable reviewers have dubbed the best they’ve ever heard. It’s hard to be objective when your expectations are stratospherical, as they should be when you are talking about $17,900 for a 2-meter pair of analog interconnects. Let’s be honest – I kept checking the UPS website for tracking information and left work early the day the Zero Gold arrived. When I walked into my main listening room with the cables in my hands I felt like a rookie walking onto the court for his first experience in the NBA playoffs. Even my heart rate was elevated.
 

Technology and design

 
I urge you to read the technical description of the Zero Gold posted on Tara’s website. It describes how the Zero Gold’s conductors are suspended in an internal vacuum. There’s no point to reprinting it all in this review, but here’s a slice that summarizes the key points:

The conductor that is used in the Zero Interconnect is the Rectangular Solid Core® conductor, exclusive to TARA Labs. The RSC® conductor begins as 99.999999% (8 Nines) pure copper, which is then super-soft annealed, and polished in line after annealing. TARA Labs has determined that this conductor, measuring 0.0024” by 0.0011” has advantages not offered by other conductor designs.

To complete the Zero interconnect cable it was necessary to develop an RCA plug and an XLR plug that would be an absolutely unique design, and the world’s first ever to hold a vacuum. The sophisticated design draws upon technologies from other industries, such as mass flow control and aerospace engineering, and requires manufacturing of Mil Spec precision.

Moving forward from the rear of the plug, the plug itself comprises a clamping mechanism to fix itself to the air-tube and an internal chamber, which is sealed with O-rings. Through a specially designed valve in the plug, a vacuum is drawn within the chambers of the air-tube so that the conductors themselves are within a vacuum environment.

Anyone familiar with manufacturing processes will immediately understand how complicated this design is to properly manufacture. However, Tara says that this is the reason why the Zero Gold is as good as it is, and it also explains the Zero Gold’s astronomical price.

There are a few user restrictions that come with the need to maintain a tip-to-tip vacuum, but nothing unusual. There are specific areas near the connectors that are designed to take a 90 degree bend, and though I needed to exercise care in routing the Zero Gold, it was nothing that I had difficulty in doing.

The Zero Gold also come with Tara’s HFX station and connectors. The system creates a true floating ground and implements passive noise reduction through the use of a noise-absorbing compound. There are small pigtail connectors at both end of the Zero Gold, and the pigtails at the source plug into the HFX grounding station which also holds the compound. The pigtails at the other end plug into each other, thus creating the floating ground. The HFX station itself then is connected to chassis ground or earth ground. In my case I connected it to the ground of my Lessloss Firewall power conditioner.

The Zero Gold are very quiet without plugging them into the ground station, but implementing the HFX connections takes them to another level of quiet, or more appropriately, non-existent, listening background.
 

Getting right to comparisons

 
Tara Labs Zero Gold interconnect

Let me first assure the skeptics that I could hear the improvements rendered by the Zero Gold within seconds of first installation, and I was able to hear them without incessant swapping of other cables. The Zero Gold managed to make what objectively might be described as “many small improvements” over my other top cables, but did so in a way that added up to much more than their sum. Indeed, after just one hour of listening after break-in, it was difficult to bring myself to take the Zero Gold out and run comparisons. Nonetheless, I forced myself to do so, and the direct comparisons were revealing.

My two principal points of comparison were my 2-meter Silent Source Music Reference interconnects ($5300/pair) and the 2-meter MIT Oracle MA-X Proline Balanced ($8850/pair) (see my November 2010 review in Dagogo). Let me state that these are really, really good cables. The Music Reference is actually a great value for elite cables, and the MA-X with its manually adjustable impedance matching and articulation settings allow you to tune the cables’ character to your system and your taste. Both sound better than what the vast majority of audiophiles will ever get to hear. Nonetheless, I can’t deny it: the Tara Labs Zero Gold is top-to-bottom the most complete interconnect I’ve experienced in any setting, especially when it comes to reproduction of the nuances of timbre, attack, bloom, decay and weight and near-holographic presentation. How so? Inserting just one pair of Zero Gold interconnects between my DAC and my digital room correction resulted in the following:

– Every soundstage is not just wide and deep, but becomes much more three-dimensional.

– Every performance venue’s boundaries become discernible.

– Each instrument’s body and character are accurately conveyed.

– Each note exhibits its full attack, bloom and decay in a very realistic way.

– Every style of music exhibits correct pace, rhythm and timing.

– Every instrument is presented with appropriate weight and slam.

– Every performance is unified, while letting the listener also hear individual performers.

Let me illustrate these qualities with specific examples: the hi-res versions of the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed (24/96), and Elton John’s Madman Across the Water (24/96). I used these two recordings extensively when I inserted the Zero Gold while reviewing the Linn Akurate system (see June edition of Dagogo) and the GamuT M7, so I had plenty of opportunity hear its effect in multiple equipment configurations.

Tara Labs Zero Gold interconnect

There is some dispute about this, but the Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed was, in addition to an early attempt to blend rock and symphonic music, in part a project designed to showcase Dream Records’ newest recording techniques. For many years I was unable to really hear the musical details in Nights In White Satin, both because of system limitations and because of poor versions of the recording; the early CD reissues were terrible. Thus, when the Moody Blues collection was reissued in SACD I eagerly bought it. Nonetheless, despite the huge improvement, I felt the recording was still lacking in some detail and nuance. In particular, the strings never quite sounded natural to me. I took another step forward in the quality of the reproduction when I went to a hard drive-based system and downloaded the high-res version of the recording from HD Tracks. For the first time the strings sounded like massed instruments instead of a wall of background sound, and I thought I finally had the right reproduction of the recording. That is, until I substituted the Tara Zero Gold for the Silent Source Music Reference between my DAC and room correction. Not only did I get a tad more detail out of the strings, but now the strings also exhibited tonal nuances that distinguish violins from violas, and arise from the bowing technique employed. In addition, the placement of the orchestra became more apparent and three-dimensional. In some respects, you might say the improvement was minor – after all, it was the last of a long series of improvements in the musical presentation. Nonetheless, its emotional and psychological impact was huge because it caused me to cross the line that separates excellent reproduction from holographic believability.

The title track on Elton John’s Madman Across The Water builds to several crescendos. With Diana Lewis on the ARP synthesizer and Rick Wakeman on organ, each crescendo arrives with a buildup of electronic upper bass and lower midrange of the synthesizer and organ, followed by Paul Buckmaster’s orchestral arrangement coming to the fore as attacking violins and violas assert themselves. As in my prior description of these instruments on Nights In White Satin, I hadn’t heard the violins and violas as much more that background sounds until insertion of the Tara Zero Gold. The TZG actually created a very clear sonic picture of an orchestra on the soundstage with Elton John’s band. In addition, I’ve always had the impression of synthesizers as amorphous instruments – chameleons by their very nature. I’ve often felt an inability to discern the sounds created by a synthesizer from the sounds created by other instruments in large-scale recordings: I really couldn’t tell what instrument was actually producing which sound. Once the TZG was in the system this feeling disappeared. The synthesizer became as distinct as any other instrument, with its own nuances; yes – nuances in a synthesizer.

I could easily go on with dozens of similar examples where the combination of holographic presentation and instrumental timbre and nuance pushed me over the musical line that divides great hi-fi from “being there.” The force and sound of the kick drum, the natural vibrancy of well-played piano, a piercing trumpet – all of them acquired a lifelike feel that previously was absent. The only “downside” (other than the $$) was that the Zero Gold totally screwed up the comparisons of some other products I had in for review before it arrived. For example, I had the excellent Linn Akurate system in for review and had already taken extensive notes on the components using other cables. One combination I had already tried and had in place was the Linn Akurate DS and Kontrol feeding my Lyngdorf digital room correction device. I thought the Linn was great and had already written a portion of the review. I substituted the Zero Gold for my Silent Source Music Reference, which is one of the best interconnects you can buy, between the Kontrol and the Lyngdorf. Five minutes into playing music I realized I had to upgrade the Linn review as nuances and dimensionality I had not ever previously heard manifested themselves.
 

Conclusion

 
This was a short review, not because I couldn’t go on for a long time about the Tara Labs Zero Gold’s virtues, but because this is one of those audio components whose virtues clearly stand out.The Tara Labs Zero Gold is absolutely everything it’s billed to be. It is an incredible combination of holographic imaging, dead silence, body, pace and rhythm, detail, performer placement, sense of space, and every other audiophile value you’ve ever heard of. The admittedly high price will prevent all but a few from affording the Tara Zero Gold, but if you can and have the other components to match you will get yourself as close to musical nirvana as you can get. Do what you can to audition these phenomenal interconnects.

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