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

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 It is, we think, one of the hallmarks of cable voodoo that its methods and notions are always obscure —proprietary terms of uncertain meanings on the technical side, and vague promises framed in the most poetic and inspirational terms on the subjective side. We don’t aspire to rewrite the laws of physics, or to craft lovely descriptive phrases. This is engineering, and the results of audio engineering are in the domain of sound. We open the book to you on our engineering; as to sound, we invite you to decide whether you like what you hear. – “White Papers and Clear Answers,” iconcolastcable.com

Iconoclast by Belden SPTPC speaker cables

Vast unhappiness

I would like to thank Bob Howard, head of sales at Iconoclast by Belden, for his enthusiasm in regard to this article. I approached the company with some concern that I might be wasting my time in this review, that the product might be another nice but not exceptional cable. Bob was emphatic, stating energetically and repeatedly that I would be delightfully surprised, and that they would be the best cables I had ever used. I thought his confidence might be misplaced, given that I have heard and handled so many cables. Bob, you were absolutely correct!

Many people will be unhappy about this review, chiefly those who make and sell very expensive, esoteric cables, as well as those who try Iconoclast and realize they paid sky-high prices for other cables having poor electrical properties and mediocre performance.

 

Iconoclast controversy

Iconoclasm, or the Iconoclastic Controversy, refers to the destruction of religious images during the Byzantine Empire, wherein icons (Christian images) were targeted by those who disdained them as a violation of the Old Testament commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters beneath. You shall not bow down to them… (Exodus 20:3-5a).” Wikipedia details: Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction within a culture of the culture’s own religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually for religious or political motives. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, Greek for “breakers of icons” (εἰκονοκλάσται), a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any person who breaks or disdains established dogmata or conventions.

Could it be that Iconoclast by Belden is out to topple some “idols” of audiophile established dogmata and conventions? I can hardly conclude otherwise, given the challenges laid down by the company on its website, iconcolastcable.com. Consider the following:

At the Belden Engineering Center in Richmond, Indiana, there was an engineer who found himself in the odd position of having one foot in each camp. Galen Gareis had decades of experience in designing practical, well-engineered cables for a wide variety of professional applications; but he was also a high-end audio enthusiast, and when he began to try different audio cables, he heard differences for which he could not fully account. But why? Most engineering problems are basically problems in optimization, and if you don’t know what it is you’re trying to optimize, you’re flailing in the dark. For Galen to take his expertise and turn it to the task of redesigning audio interconnect and speaker cables, he’d need to better understand what these designs needed to do.

 

Note the phrase, “… if you don’t know what it is you’re trying to optimize, you’re flailing in the dark.” That is a broadside against the myriad of garage and basement shops, even the populist Monster Cables of the world. The message is clear: no one out-researches Belden, and consequently no one will make a better cable. It’s been measured to be not just better, but the measurably best cable!

An even more strongly worded introductory paragraph intones:

Engineers and audiophiles have locked horns time and again, in one long argument about the attributes of speaker and interconnect cables for high-resolution audio reproduction. Audiophile designs for wire and cable products are often strange and fanciful, and for the most part they haven’t earned a lot of respect in the engineering world. Audiophiles, meanwhile, often find that engineers do not take their evaluations of cable products very seriously. The result can be that these two groups talk past one another, as the audiophile appeals to the realm of subjective experience and the engineer dismisses it all as nonsense.

 

Really, such an impasse in the audiophile world? The moment the name Iconoclast was chosen for these cables was not as dramatic as the posting of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther, but it has had a similar result, the industry is being cleaved in two in a dramatic fashion. Increasingly the persons derided as “measurementalists” are making products that simply outperform esoteric offerings.The cables from Iconoclast are one such example. Galen shares about testing of early designs, “The name was an accident, as my test engineer said the data was iconoclastic as to what he expected to see in such a large number of small wires. The name stuck.”

Make no mistake, Iconoclast by Belden rests solidly on the foundation that nonsense (departure from measurements) has no basis in the manufacturing of great cables, and he aims to prove it. Galen is declaring that the other cables I have enjoyed are not serious, not made in conformity with the highest standards of the measurable cable attributes of R (resistance), L (inductance) and C (capacitance). The engineer is telling this reviewer he is washed up, wrong. Clearly, Iconoclast is gunning for all other audio cables! As I flesh out this article after dozens of hours and a variety of systems, I am forced to conclude that, thus far, these cables have smashed every idol encountered.

 

Whales

It is fairly common knowledge that whales are the largest of mammals on earth — the Blue Whale can reach 100 feet in length and weigh 200 tons! Fossils of titanosaurs reaching 100 feet in length have been discovered, but they did not have the bulk of the largest baleen whales. In comparison, the largest living, land dwelling animal is the African Elephant, with a potential weight of 7 tons.

Let’s bring some balance to the discussion of “giant killers.” After decades of handling gear and building literally hundreds of systems, it has become apparent that most components, cables and speakers that are termed giant killers in reality are not. Most often, the people who make such claims are thin on experience, chintzy, or both. They desperately want their system to cost not too much and be comprised of outlier components that perform well beyond the norm. Many have not spent the money to attain a superior system. They assuage the concern that the performance is not great by asserting, debating, hoping that their “sensibly priced” audio gear performs on the same level as the expensive stuff. They love to throw around phrases such as “diminishing returns” in order to feel good about stopping far short of ultra-level audio systems.

Remember not so long ago when teenagers thought that they were unique individualists with their Goth culture? They looked like hapless ghosts with their black clothes and white makeup. They were all desperate to be different. Such off-putting appearance can be a cry for help. Imagine how many parents watched, horrified, as their rosy-cheeked children morphed into zombies. God willing, it was a puerile phase and they let go of it to become something more than fringe members of society. In the same way, low-cost components are supposed to be unique. For the most part, they aren’t; they are serviceable, but unexciting. Perhaps 5% of the purported giant killers actually are exceptional. People who build systems with “giant killer” gear in actuality have lower end HiFi sound. Their ego tells them it is much better, but it is self-delusion. What does this have to do with whales? Read on!

There are certain things in business that do not seem fair. This year I watched as Apple crossed the two trillion-dollar valuation threshold! It boggles the mind to think that any one company could have such a valuation. It took Apple 42 years to reach one trillion, and a mere two years to double it. Already the speculation is that the company might reach three trillion by 2023. The company is undergoing a revision of its valuation, moving from a historic PE (price to earnings ratio, a metric used by investors) in the high teens to about 24, and upward into the high 30s. It may go higher, as the company is creating an entire user ecosystem of medical, financial, and social dimensions, and beyond being a manufacturing company, is moving to become a subscription services company. As this review unfolds, I have seen Apple bringing its own chips to market for its computers, another potential blockbuster maneuver. It has the experience, the money, and the momentum to steamroll most companies that would try to stand in the way. It, as well as other FAANG stocks, have been the scrutiny of the government in terms of an anti-trust probe, but no action has been taken yet. (This is not a recommendation to buy the stock.)

Every audiophile company wants to be distinctive, and while they may be in some less important ways, the whales, enormous-sized,companies, have an advantage —a big advantage, which has not come overnight but has been built over time. Once the pieces are in place for a titanosaur-sized enterprise to act, the results are overwhelmingly powerful. I wrote recently about the Tri-Art Audio B Series of Bamboo clad components, including the enchanting Series B 5 Open Speaker. In that article I discussed Intelligent Design Theory and how it was immediately obvious to me upon spying the system for the first time at AXPONA (may audio shows rise again!) that there was a business with enormous means behind the effort. I learned that Tri-Art is a company specializing in art supplies and has a global reach. The depth of the company, including capacity to manufacture nearly any bamboo product imaginable, has been put to work on behalf of Steve Ginsberg’s passion for HiFi. In a sense, Tri-Art is an 800-pound gorilla in the art supplies sector, but is a big scale whale entering the value HiFi products sector of audiophilia.

Belden cable is a whale.

A recent visit to the Belden website had me looking at their new MarineTuff fiber optic cable. Belden not only makes cables but entire connectivity solutions, including the associated hardware for both industrial and enterprise applications, and it is a publicly traded company. With a market cap of about $1.5B, for billion, “Belden’s billions” have been applied to being a premier global wire supplier —and none for the audiophile industry! We hear a collective sigh of relief from the cable makers! Not so fast; the whale has a calf.

Belden is known as an industrial and commercial cable company, but is often mistaken for Belkin, which sells consumer-market cable assemblies. Belden historically showed no attention to audio cabling; they make armored, IMSA Traffic, Power Control and Tray, VDF, Instrumentation, Fiber Optic and Industrial Ethernet cables, among others. Yet, under the categories listed, nothing is said of audio cables. Even a site search yields dissatisfying results for the audiophile.

At the Iconoclast by Belden website, the “About Us” page states, “Iconoclast Cable products, and the Iconoclast Cable brand name, are the intellectual property of Belden, Inc.” The cables were designed by now-retired Belden engineer Galen Gareis and are built by Blue Jeans Cable. The Blue Jeans site shows the following:

Blue Jeans Cable is a cable assembly shop in Seattle, Washington. It was formed in 2002, when Kurt Denke, formerly a lawyer and ham radio hobbyist, decided to try to bring some of Belden’s commercially successful cables to the consumer market for audio and home theater enthusiasts. The effort was well received in the online community, and in addition to selling “stock” Belden cables, Blue Jeans Cable eventually introduced various custom cables of its own, such as the BJC LC-1 Audio Interconnect, and broadened into the broadcast and data markets as well. We now employ about ten full-time people in assembly and distribution of electronic cables of many different sorts.

A word to the smarmy, arrogant types who make ridiculous proclamations in regard to all cables sounding the same, and that there is no “science” behind aftermarket cables. I submit for your education Galen’s nearly three-hour YouTube video of his discussion with the San Francisco Audiophile Society in regard to the science behind cable design and manufacturing. It is an eminently in-depth discussion, and that alone should make skeptics think twice before demonstrating their ignorance. When you have one of the world’s foremost authorities going through the minutia involved, you do best to keep your mouth shut and listen!

It appears, then, that Iconoclast by Belden is an industrial cable engineer’s assault on the audiophile cable industry, and Kurt’s Blue Jeans Cable is part of Belden’s “military industrial complex.” Let the conflict begin!

 

Combative perspectives

Audiophiles, manufacturers, and even reviewers can get fierce when defending their methodology and conclusions in regard to their favorite products. I regularly get into disagreement with audiophiles over my Audiophile Law regarding burn in (Audiophile Law: Thou Shalt Not Overemphasize Burn In). A distributor of a pricey German cable brand who wanted me to review the products insisted repeatedly they were the best in the world. He provided samples for review, but became disgruntled when I told him that there must be a problem with his cables, because the Iconoclast cables were vastly outperforming them. I had reported it as a first listen and comparison, and the German cables had not been broken in. He summarily cancelled the review because I had not broken in the cables. What he did not know is that the Iconoclast cables were also new, perhaps with 5-10 hours on them! Supposedly, the German cables needed hundreds of hours of break in, and then would sound glorious, but practically new Iconoclast cables were not suffering from lack of burn in! How many times have you heard a similar objection regarding burn in when a product simply does not perform well? Galen will be pleased to know that I don’t give credence to the fantasy of burn in, as my article dedicated to that topic shows.

The Iconoclast by Belden cables do not need a “break in period”; they sound fantastic from the get-go. One of the things that indicates to me that Galen is an engineer of extreme competence and integrity is his dismissal of the “break in” fallacy. Would the German cables and the Iconoclast cables swap positions over even 200 hours of burn in? Of course not! Burn in/break in is a waste of the audiophile’s life! How many wasted hours of dissatisfaction did I endure waiting for better sound? I no longer wait, and I no longer have patience for products that cannot deliver from the start. I am not content to wait ridiculous periods of time, such as weeks, for results, but rather, I make results happen! In two or three days, through active manipulation of the system, I get results that most audiophiles might never achieve because they spend their lives waiting instead of changing things to get better sound. If you do not agree with my reviewing criteria, then rather than attempt to pick a fight with me, I encourage you to turn to another Dagogo reviewer for guidance. I do not intend for all of this to come off as combative, but it is direct so that the reader will understand precisely how I evaluate audiophile products. Let’s be honest; there is a war over methodology in the community and industry, and now you know the position from which I operate.

I do not play games when building systems with cables, and that means typically reviewing them as sets (or looms), as manufacturers recommend, not individual pieces. The sets are holistically either good or poor, either fitting for a review or not. I’m glad I didn’t have to spend more time on those other cables, and I’m quite happy to spend much more additional time with the Iconoclast cables. I’ve been reviewing long enough that I am not captive to either the pleas or the protestations of dealers. I compare, and may the best cable win!

9 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

  3. Geoffrey de Brito says:

    Well, I went to their website and $1200 -$1900. for an 8ft pair of speaker wires is far too much not just for me but I suspect for most audiophiles. The simple reason why most audiophiles look for giant killer components is because we can’t afford a truly high end system. Salk’s $10k speakers fall into that category as well. Based on the author’s commentary, I guess this is a rich folks hobby, as no one else need apply? Sad…

  4. Geoffrey,
    God’s Peace,

    Read to the end of the article, please. There are other models of the cables, and some less expensive from the Blue Jeans Cable brand, with similar design that are much cheaper.

    A story to encourage you; when I was in college I thought I never would own fine audio equipment, as I had school debt and did not anticipate having high income. I worked at it, did not overspend on eating out, trips, clothes, alcohol, did not gamble, etc. I also budgeted, and in the budgeting included some for audio. Decades later, I have achieved far more than I dreamed, due to God’s blessing, smart investing and budgeting (and living by the budget). If you do similar, you may find yourself with a stunning HiFi someday. Today? No. Someday? Sure! Working toward, and achieving longer term goals in HiFi is greatly rewarding!

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

    • Geoffrey de Brito says:

      Thanks for the encouraging words. To my embarrassment, I did not read the entire article. Ill check out the more affordable offerings you cite.

  5. Harvey K. Rosenbaum says:

    Dear Doug,
    Thank you for your detailed review. Did you compare the versions of Iconoclast interconnects built with other “grades” of copper?
    Kind regards,
    Harvey

  6. Harvey,
    God’s Peace,

    I appreciate your reply. No, I did not compare the other conductors in use by Iconoclast. The review was sweeping, prolific, and frankly, I spend my time with upper end products now mostly. I prefer to compare the best between companies, not mid-level products. So, I cannot speak specifically to the comparative sound of the lower line products.

    However, I believe they would be impressively capable compared to other comparably priced cables, given that they are using the same geometry and AWG. Iconoclast discusses the expected difference in performance between them and the top models. I would trust them on that discussion, given my findings in regard to performance. Were I to need some more affordable cables, I would be looking at Iconoclast first.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  7. Hi Doug,
    A little off-topic, but I am curious if you have listened to any of the higher-end Pangea cables? The design and manufacturing philosophy appears similar to these Iconoclast by Belden, and as with the Beldens and Blue Jeans they are sold through one retail outlet (AA). I have a few of the Pangea interconnects and power cables and have been impressed by the performance/price ratio.

  8. Bob,
    God’s Peace,

    No, I have not compared any Pangea Cables, so I will not speculate. I tried an inexpensive Pangea USB Cable which was serviceable, but not exciting.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

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