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Audio Blast: Three new cables from two cable makers

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Over the past two years my go-to cables have been from Clarity Cable and TEO Audio, makers of the Liquid Cables. I have put together literally dozens of systems using these brands, from full looms of one brand to mixtures of both. Most of the time I use them in combination to improve the performance synergy of a particular combination of electronics and speakers.

I came to each of these cable manufacturers through independent paths, yet I have learned that Chris and Melissa Owen of Clarity Cable and Taras Kowalszyszyn of TEO have great respect for each other’s cables. Unsolicited sincere complements of the other company’s sound occur with regularity, something I do not see all that often in the industry. I have heard both parties declare the house sound of the other to be of a similar nature to their own. I find that to be true, and that is perhaps one reason I have stuck with using both of them for years. My perspective is that as an audiophile spends time with a variety of brands of cables certain designs and house sounds will seem most correct to the ears. The cables from both of these brands have proven very useful in my system building and reviewing.

Clarity has a characteristic solidity, weight and bottom end bloom, while TEO has a lighter and more consistent distribution of emphasis across the frequency spectrum. Clarity Cables can add layering of tonal color, while TEO Liquid Cables offer an expanded and and filled-out soundstage. Both have excellent detail retrieval.

In the past year both companies have introduced at least one new cable, and I have had the pleasure of extended use of these new products. With that perspective I am adding the models discussed below to my recommended list for each company.

 

TEO Audio Kronon Liquid Interconnect 

As a lead in to this update on TEO Audio’s newest cable, see my review of the Liquid Cables, where I discuss the background of the company and its design of the liquid conductor. The calling card of TEO cables is the liquid metal conductor, a curiosity in audiophile circles. But, do not disregard it as a gimmick, for the technology holds potential to not only carve out its own niche but also to supplant traditional wire conductors.

TEO can do XLR interconnects, but they don’t promote them aggressively. Their philosophy is that a well-done RCA interconnect can perform just as suitably, something I concur might happen, but not universally across all brands and models of cables. The KRONON Liquid Interconnect is the next generation of liquid cable, a clear advancement from the Splash series. A critical change to the cable construction led to a shocking improvement in the sonic character of the liquid cable.

The nature of the change is proprietary, but I will share that it involves both the outer and inner construction of the cable. From my perspective it seems the change to the inner cable provides the lion’s share of sonic improvement, while the change to the outer part largely improves the reliability and user-friendliness of the KRONON. As with the Splash, the leads to the terminus of the cable are long, so care must be taken that one has sufficient room for their insertion. Also, as the conductor is liquid, the owner must not bend the cable too severely, i.e., at a sharp, 90-degree angle, so as to bend the tube containing the conductor, and placement of sharp or heavy objects on the cable is to be avoided.

I will vouch for the improvement, as I still have in my possession the Splash RCA interconnects from my initial review. Side by side comparison/use reveals the KRONON vastly superior in dimensionality and detail retrieval. Tonality has always been good with TEO, but the depth of tone color is improved as well. Still, the most arresting aspect of the KRONON is how deep the soundstage goes, how dialed in the detail and how taut the bass. The highs are gathered more tightly and yet without harshness. Micro dynamics are impressively increased with the KRONON. It is a leap forward in sound quality for the liquid conductor cable maker.

 

Clarity Cable Natural Speaker Cables and Supernatural USB Cable

Clarity Cable also has its proprietary methods and has altered them to achieve both a more flexible speaker cable and a better sounding one. You can catch up on my initial assessment of the Clarity Cable line in my review of the Organic and Vortex products. The much higher flexibility of the new speaker cable is a very welcome advancement for Clarity. I have wrestled with the Organic Speaker cables for years purely for the reason that they have yielded a rich, complementary sound to many components. I would loathe snaking them through a tight cabinet or wall, but they have been workable with my open rack system and plentiful space between it and the speakers. Now, however, the hand wringing of manipulating the cables against the stiff, curved outer casing is a thing of the past.

The Supernatural USB Cable is not more flexible than the Organic one it supersedes, but it distances itself in terms of performance. In an about face, the Supernatural USB is now somewhat less flexible than the Natural Speaker cable! The degree of inflexibility did not impede any system setup, but did involve the USB cable binding mildly so as to fold akin to a protein. The connectors held fast and there were never any dropouts associated with orienting the cable, which is two or three times heftier than scrawny, lower-priced ones.

If construction and geometry of a USB cable have never been important to you, one listen to the Supernatural will disavow you of that opinion. The Supernatural USB is very smooth, yet it is lively and extended at the extremes. It has the best top to bottom delineation of details, from cymbals to electronic LF, that I have heard from any USB cable. At one point I had 12 USB cables on hand for a shootout, including the progenitor Clarity Cable Organic USB, which took top honors. Now, the advanced Supernatural USB makes lower end USB cables from Furutech and Pandora in the $100 range (I have examples of each) sound broken, as though they were designed for an alternative application and misapplied to a USB DAC. These other cables in comparison are cramped sounding, veiled, dynamically limited, and less delineated.

The Supernatural USB has performed in an exemplary fashion with the Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Supreme, Exogal Comet with Plus Power Supply, and most recently the Benchmark DAC3 DX; all reviewed for Dagogo.com. The most telling characteristic of this USB cable is weight, a sense of not just solidity but of gravitas. I continue to be amazed at how much influence a USB cable such as the Supernatural can have on the performance of an audio system.

The Natural Speaker Cable pair I used was in a shotgun configuration (for each channel one set of spades at amplifier end leading to a pair of spades at the speaker end). The spades are smallish 5/8-inch, but the cable can be configured with larger 9mm spades. I appreciate the raw copper termination, which is perhaps the most affordable, highest quality material for a termination on the market.

Compared to the performance of a set of two Organic Speaker Cables used in a quasi-shotgun parallel setup, the Natural was cleaner, more weighted and less strident in the upper quadrant of the frequency spectrum. The Natural is a better frequency-weighted cable, approaching the spectrum balance of the TEO liquid cable but with a warmer character and a bit of low-end emphasis.

 

My best results

I have said previously in cable reviews that, despite manufacturers’ desire to sell entire looms of cables, I regularly achieve my best results in a system when I combine these two brands. In this particular case the three cables discussed in this review make for a splendid combination, perhaps my favorite setup to date. I have been using them in my most recent system with success; the system is as follows:

Salk StreamPlayer III with stock power supply and Clarity Cable Vortex Power Cord; Clarity Supernatural USB 1M; Eastern Electric Minimax DSD Supreme DAC with Vortex Power Cord; TEO KRONON Liquid Cable Interconnects (RCA); Redgum Articulata Integrated Amplifier (review underway) with Vortex Power Cord; Clarity Natural Speaker Cable (8’ with 3/8” spades); PureAudioProject Trio15 Horn 1 Speaker with optional Leonidas crossover and aftermarket Mundorf Evo oil filled capacitor; additional set of Silnote Anniversary Speaker Cable 8’, banana termination) wired to the same integrated amp output posts sending speaker level signal to Legacy Audio XTREME XD Subwoofers with Vortex PCs.

By discussing this system I do not mean to suggest that this is the only combination of gear suitable with TEO and Clarity products. There are multiple beneficial combinations possible with different components and speakers. This system has a sense of scale and speed comparable to that from a large electrostatic speaker, and with dynamic performance to match a massive tower speaker. Consider that with this setup I am doing double DSD with an opamp-enhanced DAC, the signal sent to a high power integrated amplifier with 200wpc driving hybrid horn speakers with a sensitivity of 95dB! Including the Legacy Audio XTREME XD Subwoofers there are eight 15” woofers in play. The feeling of music being expansive, impactful, and lightning quick in transients is a direct outcome of this combination of gear.

The cabling gives no indication whatsoever of moderating the performance. After a person has established several systems with various cables it is elementary that cabling will either enhance the performance of the system or hinder it. It is possible to make a collection of fine components perform in an underwhelming fashion merely by using inferior cabling. One of the most basic mistakes in the hobby is to pursue one’s ultimate system, yet power it and transfer the signal between components using poorly designed, typically inexpensive, cables.

The TEO and Clarity cables are not cheap, however, their performance is also nothing like that of bargain basement wires. I have used enough of the $20/foot type of cables to know they typically offer not much in the way of superb results. In some cases they have been so poor that they lasted not even a day in my system.

I recall one time when a local audiophile contacted me asking me to come and assess his system. I went over to his house to see what could be done about the sound he said was unsatisfactory. One obvious improvement to his complaint of sloppy bass was placement of a rug on the hardwood floor between the system and the listening chair. He had asked me about the cabling he was using, so I brought over some interconnects at approximately four times the cost and swapped them for the thin, coated copper wires – you know, the “giant killer” type – he was using. It was instantly obvious how much the inexpensive, supposedly revelatory wires were choking the performance. The same week he purchased new interconnects and showed an interest in further signal and power cable upgrades.

In the same way, when someone finds a cable brand or two that, to their ears, sounds wonderful, an upgrade is often a “no brainer” when those companies produce a higher end model. If a few thousand dollars seem ridiculous for cables, consider that audiophiles regularly spend thousands, even tens of thousands, on upgrades to components and speakers, then slaughter the upgrade’s ultimate benefit by using mediocre cabling. That will not be the outcome if one chooses to work with TEO or Clarity Cable.

Finally, the construction and durability of both Clarity and TEO cables has been exceptional. I move cables around a lot, and a goodly number of cables come undone. The typical injury involves the mesh sheath pulling out from under the heat shrink. When the leads are twisted and pulled to reach posts for attachment that is a good test of interconnects or speaker cable build quality. One might think it an easy thing to make a cable that would “last forever” in such terms. But no; it is not uncommon over time for some to pull apart cosmetically. Never has this been the case with Clarity or TEO. Their long-term wear has been excellent. While this perhaps is not a high concern among those who set up a rig and leave it for ten years, it is worth noting for fans of equipment rolling who have the cables on and off gear regularly.

I continue to recommend both Clarity Cables and TEO Audio Cables due to their exceptional long-term performance and the value to performance they bring to systems. These new offerings are efficacious either as a step up in their respective cable lines or as a first listen for your system.

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin
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3 Responses to Audio Blast: Three new cables from two cable makers


  1. Cyrano says:

    Cables? Really?

    There are far more important components that make up a nice, affordable system than wire. You do us all an injustice by claiming otherwise but then audio is nothing if not ridiculously subjective. Otherwise, a fine site you have here.

    • Dear Cyrano,

      Thank you for your email and readership. In my view, Doug Schroeder’s Audio Blast is right on the dollar, and until that day comes when everything is connected wirelessly and it is proven to be superior in performance and value, cabling will always be crucial to some and a contending subject to others. If you are not using lamp cord or the cheapest iteration from Home Depot, then you acknowledge the role of cables, albeit in a less fervent way than others.

      It is not hard to imagine the sound of your system, or anyone’s, if it were wired with a $50,000 cable system. But we all have our spending priorities and limits, so no one is going to knock that audiophile spending $25,000 not on a good cable system but a summer vacation, or a new car when the old one can still run for another good 100k miles.

      Sincerely,

      Constantine Soo

  2. Douglas Schroeder says:

    Cyrano,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I have put together systems ranging in price from about $2K to $100K, and cables representing approx. 5% to 70% of total system cost. A ratio of cables costing about 25% of the total system MSRP, as in the article, is not out of the question. The lower the cost of your system if you have have spent %10 or less on cables due to convention, you likely have made a major error and are limiting the performance severely. Relegating cables to a less important role in an audio system is an easy way to get mediocre sound. So I am not interested in debating the issue further with you. In such instances only experience will change one’s perspective, and short of that argument accomplishes little.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

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