Publisher Profile

Iconoclast by Belden Speaker and Interconnect Cables and BAV Power Cords Review

By: |

My agenda and reviewing realities

My agenda is simple; I want the best sounding cables, and so I have handled many sets and spent inordinate time writing about them. I want to find a vastly improved sound quality with every new cable brand I review, but often that does not happen. I want you, the readers, to know about the best cables I find, and I want the company that makes them to flourish. I want you to adhere to my system building methods in order to advance your systems in a more rapid and direct way than by following the received wisdom of the community.

What about high profile cable makers such as MIT, Transparent, AudioQuest, Synergistic Research, Nordost, Cardas, and the like? Let the best wire win.From one perspective, Iconoclast by Belden is the antithesis of the giant killer meme, not because of a disparity in size (I refer here to Iconoclast, not Belden), but the disparity in knowledge and resources on the side of Galen and company. There are currently many whale-sized audiophile cable companies that sell far more wire than Iconoclast, but in my estimation, they do not have the intellectual resources that are available to Galen and Iconoclast. These others are whale sized in terms of sales, while Iconoclast is whale sized in terms of research and design. I rather like that, and the results are borne out in my listening room that it’s good to be the company with whale-sized experience and intellectual property. I will be interested as time goes on to see how many people try Iconoclast cables and dump their bejeweled, expensive cables, because that is my recommendation.

I do not hold allegiance for freebies and loans. Some reviewers will not change allegiance from a product left to them on loan, because if they do, it would mean no longer getting the free loan, and perhaps causing them to have to spend money and/or do another review in order to get cables. In that respect there is a reward for reviewers to be lazy, to not force themselves into another review of a product that could upend their current reference. It creates a conundrum to handle a new product that is better, yet not be able to use it on loan. It is also easier for lazy reviewers to tie in with a cable brand, and have them send the latest product for review, than to scour the marketplace for a new product.

The honest truth is that much of reviewing in the industry is for a convenience relationship, such that the reviewer gets to use products ongoing for reviews. It is much easier to blunt the opinion, to qualify the result, rather than announce clearly the superiority, at least in the eyes of the reviewer, of one product over another. If I say that Iconoclast Cables by Belden and BAV (Belden Audio/Video) Power Cords are superior to others I have used, such as Morrow Audio, Snake River Audio, Teo Audio, Silnote Audio, AntiCables, and Clarity Cables, I might stir up displeasure, but in my experience it is true. As for passively networked cables such as MIT, or cables with a charged dielectric, such as AudioQuest, I long ago dismissed those technologies as not being game changers; other less expensive wires compared quite well, and several outperformed. So much for novelty, or as Galen says, “strange and fanciful” designs, winning the cable war.

Which leads back to the fact that Iconoclast by Belden cables are not exotic, not quirky or obtuse, but have simple, clean construction and design. It shows how the purest, simplest, tightest tolerance product can win against all manner of alternative products. Iconoclast and BAV Cables have no mystery box with passive electronics inside. There are no magnet arrays or exotic gasses or fluids. There is a solid conductor of a precise gauge and diameter, drawn precisely, with a specific dielectric, and finished with a high-quality jacket and termination. Frankly, in one sense the jacket is the most exotic part of the cable, and it need not be that fancy. However, I do not find it out of line for a product at this price level, and it does distinguish the Iconoclast cables from others that are as slim but are weaker performers.

Would it be surprising that the jacket of the cables has been as thoroughly researched as the conductors? The potentiality of a jacket material to degrade was taken into consideration, and the tougher exterior is intended to resist degradation through the years. I appreciate that, considering that particular petroleum byproducts used in cables and remotes can break down, producing a sticky chemical residue; it happened to me with an older AudioQuest pair of interconnects and a Peachtree Audio remote. The tough Iconoclast jacket does mean in practical use that they do not bend easily and are not to be crimped. They do not twist easily, as well. You will have to work to get an XLR plug to rotate 180 degrees to insert it if the cable is resting incorrectly. Thankfully, the plugs are robust and never showed any hint of weakness when wrestling them into place over dozens of insertions and removals while system building.

Recommended to speaker manufacturers

Slowly, speaker makers are waking up to the advantage of utilizing upgraded wiring inside their speakers if they want to achieve premium sound. Both Jim Salk and Scott Kindt —you know the first name, and I hope you learn the second —are no-nonsense designers. They don’t go for foolishness, and when it comes to wire for their speakers they tend toward a pragmatic perspective. I am trying to change that, and I am using my influence as a reviewer to get them to test out different internal wiring in their products. Extreme audiophiles, as they read this, are saying, “Thank you,” and I respond, “You’re welcome!” Thrifty audiophiles will say, “But that will add to the cost of the speaker,” and I reply, “Then, buy the cheaper version!”

Especially affordable speaker designers seem not to have the time or inclination to conduct extensive comparisons of internal wiring in their speakers. This is an industry-wide problem. Is it really a problem? Yes, because failure to include higher quality wiring inside of speakers hinders their potential. The audiophile is spending a tidy sum on an extravagant product, and it can harbor a basic design weakness. Both Jim and Scott make very high value speakers, to the point that they are not getting wealthy making them. I won’t go into the particulars, but there are a lot of companies that are not even close to making a killing. They are often working to give the audiophile a great experience, and the principals are not getting enriched. Both Salk Audio and Aspen Acoustics fall into that category. These speaker companies typically make a decision to eschew fancy internal wiring to keep the MSRP of their speakers down. I am trying to convince them that it serves their interests to at least offer an alternative wiring upgrade because earnest audiophiles seek an edge in terms of performance, and upgrading the wiring will juice their speakers’ performance to the degree that improved sales will follow.

I am not compensated for my informal consulting, as it would obviously be a conflict of interest. It should be known as well that I do not consult on a current review product. I do not get to keep the products I review, and I consider any product left in my possession to use ongoing for review purposes as not mine, but the property of the company. I regularly contact companies over time, notifying them if I have not been using their product for a while, requesting them to arrange for a return of the product. In my forthcoming review of the Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra Amplifier you will read how I contacted Pass Labs to voluntarily return the amps left in my possession, as I will be turning to the i.V4 Ultra as my reference. I’m not even finished with the review yet, and I’m going public with that fact —that is how stunningly the i.V Ultra series of amplifiers from Legacy Audio perform, and yes, they are Class D.

Some companies are not interested in seeking my input as regards products under development. Others are quite interested in gleaning my input, and are also curious about other company’s products I am reviewing or pursuing. Occasionally, if the variables line up to benefit companies, I will make an introduction. I introduced Bob and Galen first to Scott, as the review of the Lagrange L5 MkII was underway and I had consulted with Scott regarding the development of the future flagship speaker, the L1, urging him to incorporate high quality internal wiring. Later, I introduced Jim Salk to the team at Iconoclast because of the upcoming review of the SS 9.5 and my desire that it have upgraded internal wiring.

Practical considerations rule the day for manufacturers, and in both cases, they opted for a level of internal cable below the top Iconoclast model. Both of these makers saw quickly that the price of the SPTPC (Silver Plated Tough Pitch Copper) cost structure is incongruous to the overall cost of their speakers. While I believe the speakers would sound best with that model internally, the conditions were not justifiable at the MSRP of these models (both approximately $10K) to use that wiring. A less expensive model of cable (Iconoclast offers three levels) was deemed more appropriate. Iconoclast does not yet have a specific cable designed for internal use — the company is excited by the idea, and Galen is at work on it. Likely, speakers with an MSRP of approximately $35K or higher will fit the template for use of this top line cable internally. The internal speaker-appropriate cable that will be developed I suspect will be less expensive to employ, allowing more manufacturers to benefit.

Part of the challenge is that, according to Galen, the current speaker cable is most appropriately employed for external use with speakers, and the cable under development is specifically targeted for internal use. He said it is not necessary to have such heavy conductors internally to the speaker’s drivers, but that a cable with less AWG would suffice. I encourage speaker makers to put 10 AWG into speakers to all drivers, so I have no issue with mongo internal wiring! Speaker makers are typically shocked at my suggestion to use 10 AWG for all drivers, considering this to be overkill, out of bounds. I encouraged Galen to do an actual comparison, as opposed to making the decision based solely on theory. Often, when one actually hears the comparison, the results differ from pure theory. When Scott did the comparison, it was conclusive; he is using 10 AWG in the L1. In whatever way the future Iconoclast internal speaker wire develops, I expect Galen will refine it to an exceptional degree.

Scott had put economical wiring inside the Lagrange L5 MkII, and despite that it sounds crazy good! Eschewing the temptation to have Scott rework the internal wiring of the review speaker midstream, which would give unfair advantage to Aspen over other reviewed speakers, I discussed with him how to take advantage of internal wiring in the L1. More about all this will appear in the review of the L5 MkII, wherein I talk about how Scott was converted to believe in the importance of upgrading interconnects for the active bass plate amplifier.

Though I have not had extensive follow up with either of these manufacturers, I hope they are giving more serious consideration to the importance of internal wiring for their speakers. Perhaps the day will come when all HiFi speaker manufacturers will not have to be tugged out of the orbit of cheap wire inside their upper range models. It is a complement to Iconoclast that I felt the cables worthy of recommendation to these speaker designers.

Nuts and bolts of the wires

I previously thanked Bob, and now I thank Galen, for sending me reams of data, white papers, and graphs galore that make my head spin with analytics. Some of it was so dense with data that I couldn’t begin to unpack it. When the man says he designs cables based on measurements, believe it! Should you wish to immerse yourself in the minutia of the design of these cables, I encourage you to spend time at the iconcolastcable.com website, particularly the “Design Theory” tab, which drops down to reveal two additional links, to the “Design Papers” and “Technical Papers” pages. Scads of research are collected in regard to the time domain, the development of the interconnects and speaker cables, and the preferred “mini-star-quad design” used in the interconnects. I would love to regale you with tales of the technical heroics of these designs, but I am not the person to do so. I can, however, regale you with tales of the several systems I set up, and the heroics of the sound!

I am going to address one tangential aspect of this review that I sought to incorporate both for the benefit of Iconoclast customers and the general edification of the community. The benefit of bi-wiring is not much debated, save for those who prefer a higher degree of drivers integration. My experience is that, typically, aside from saving money, there is no benefit to not bi-wiring a speaker. There is usually benefit to doing what I call “parallel double” wiring of speakers, using two full sets in perfect parallel, so as to avoid an electrical short, to change the AWG, which is quite efficacious! I always try this method when working with single wired speakers, such as the Salk Audio SS 9.5, on review. A word of warning: below I discuss the Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra Amplifier, on review, a differential Class D design. Such differential designs are never to be used with multiple channels’ L and R signals summed.

The question is, does a bi-wired speaker benefit more from use of a good quality jumper or from a second set of speaker cables? I strongly recommend that if bi-wiring is considered, identical sets of cables are the proper starting point. Frankly, results have varied over the years, but currently I am of the opinion that in most cases a second set of speaker cables is preferred. It held true in extensive comparisons with the Iconoclast by Belden products. At my request I was supplied with four pairs of 2’ jumper cables (2 pairs with spades, and 2 pairs with bananas) having the same conductor as the speaker cables, eschewing the finished product’s external sheath. The external sheath is quite stiff, and for jumper cables that have to potentially make sharper turns, elimination of the outer cover is a benefit.

I have several pages of notes from systems I built while hearing dozens of pieces of music used in this particular assessment; due to the involvement of this review, I am distilling them. The newcomer speakers used were the sensationally upscale performing Lagrange L5 MkII, which sport separate mid/bass and treble towers. The mid/bass towers have two sets of posts, the lower for the operation of drivers in the mid/bass tower, and the upper, which offer the option of using jumpers to the ribbon driver of the treble tower. Gold plated jumpers for use between the bottom mid/bass inputs and the upper posts were included. I would normally replace the jumpers used on the mid/bass tower in favor of aftermarket jumpers, however, I chose to make matters simpler rather than more complex, so I left them in place and focused on the Iconoclast jumpers being assessed only in use between the mid/bass tower and the ribbon tweeter tower, which is closer to a typical use of jumper cables. You will appreciate the emphasis is on simplicity as I continue, for I also assessed the use of doubled up jumpers, similar to my Schroeder Method of Interconnect Placement, which doubles interconnects!

Below are the configurations I made as I changed cables. Some comments on the system setup are relevant. In some permutations the number of amp channels changed with cable changes. I include only pertinent components and cables (i.e., no discussion of source). I discuss elsewhere comparison of DACs with the Iconoclast cables. While I used XLR Y cables to split the output of the DAC, the configuration of those doubled interconnects changed dramatically, as I worked with two variations; four discrete inputs to four channels of the Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra Amplifier, and alternatively, combining the four interconnects into two by rejoining them with another set of Y cables, thus implementing the Schroeder Method of IC Placement (doubled ICs), which were feeding only two channels of the i.V4 Ultra amp. The Iconoclast interconnects are thin but tough. They are far more flexible than the speaker cables, but also do not twist well. The XLR and ergonomic locking RCA connectors are high quality and there is no mesh material at transition to the plugs to pull loose over time.

If this sounds confusing, the detailed description of each system’s cabling should help. In some cases, I skipped intermediate configurations as this saved me time as I avoided setups that, historically, had been consistently inferior. From these results audiophiles may find guidance as to how to approach the question of use of jumper cables versus bi-wiring. The Initial setup bi-wire and Best result overall, bi-wire configurations are identical, except for the placement of the banana and spade terminations, which was significant.

Initial setup bi-wire: COS D1 DAC + Pre-Amplifier/ Audio Sensibility silver XLR “Y” cables/two pairs Iconoclast XLR cables (no Schroeder Method in use)/four channels of Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra Amplifier/two pairs of Iconoclast by Belden speaker cables for bi-wiring the two towers of the Lagrange L5 MkII. Banana terminations placed on mid/bass tower and spade terminations placed on treble tower. One pair of speaker cables terminated with spades and the other with locking banana terminations; spades on the tweeter tower and bananas on the mid/bass tower.

Best result with jumpers: COS D1 DAC + Pre-Amplifier/ Audio Sensibility silver XRL “Y” cables/two pairs Iconoclast XLR cables (Schroeder Method in use) reduced to two pairs via second pair of “Y” cables/two channels of Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra amp (2 channels not used in this configuration)/two pairs of Iconoclast by Belden speaker cables in double parallel configuration, i.e. summed to two pairs to achieve heavier AWG/two pairs of Iconoclast jumpers (one spades, one bananas) from the mid/bass tower of the L5 MkII to the treble tower.

Best result overall, bi-wire: (Return to bi-wiring, with change of location of banana and spade terminations): COS D1 DAC + Pre-Amplifier/Audio Sensibility silver XLR “Y” cables/two pairs Iconoclast XLR cables (no Schroeder Method in use)/four channels of Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra Amplifier/two pairs of Iconoclast by Belden speaker cables for bi-wiring the two towers of the Lagrange L5 MkII. Spade terminations placed on mid/bass tower and banana terminations placed on treble tower.

2 Responses to Iconoclast by Belden Speaker and Interconnect Cables and BAV Power Cords Review


  1. Fred Crowder says:

    I just wanted to comment that I have heard these cables in a friend’s system with first the interconnects added and later the speaker wire. In each case the substitution was dramatic in its positive effect on the sound. They certainly are comparable to cables selling for a multiple of their price. Whether they are the “best” that can be had at any price remains unclear, but they are a wonderful value. With respect to break in, I will only say that my experience is different from that of Doug. This is particularly true of cables that use Teflon as insulator or which have very complex wire geometries.

  2. Fred,
    God’s Peace,

    Nice to have your contribution to the thread! Thanks!

    Blessings,
    Doug

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By : XYZScripts.com