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Inakustik Reference LS 4004 Air Speaker Cable, Reference Digital 2404 Air Coax cable and Reference High Speed USB cable Review

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Inakustik Reference LS 4004 Air speaker cable

Synopsis for those who hate to read

The Inakustik Reference LS 4004 Air, Reference Digital 2404 Air, and Reference High Speed USB are all not only among the best audiophile cables I’ve heard, they are also among the best values in high-end components that I’ve encountered in the last several years. I have no compunction about naming each of these three cables as one of my NBRs: (“No-Brainer Recommendations”). Let me expound.

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted to review a full loom of cables. I was told that the products were by a German company I had not previously encountered: Inakustik. “Sure, send them over,” I said.

After I received the products, I immediately encountered some limitations. Not all of the cables with their lengths and types would work in my main system. Although I could install some of the cables in my secondary systems, initial listening quickly made it evident that these cables should be evaluated in the main system. Consequently, I was disappointed to be unable to give the Reference NF 2404 Air interconnect a thorough test, though based on the results obtained using their USB, digital coax, and speaker cables, I have no doubt that the companion interconnect is quite good. I decided to start with the easiest cable to evaluate in my main rig — the USB cable.

 

Cables in general

Since this review covers three different types of cables, it’s useful to describe my philosophy on cables. I’ve had a wide variety of power, interconnect, speaker and digital cables in my systems, including my main system and two secondary systems. The suggested retail pricing for the cables I’ve actually tried ranges from $50 to $22,000. In all cases, the more expensive cables sounded “better” in some ways, but sometimes the improvement was so slight than it took extensive listening to identify it.

I have had cables in my systems that were intentionally used as “tone controls” to adjust for a perceived shortcoming in the system’s sound. This approach is roundly criticized by many audiophiles as a band aid solution for a problem in the underlying equipment combination. I agree with this criticism, but of course it fails to take into account the fact that people don’t generally have infinite resources to replace expensive equipment and applying cables as tone controls may actually result in a perceived improvement at a much lower cost. Financial reality matters! To be clear: the Inakustik cables are definitely not tone controls. In fact, they are probably the most neutral cables I’ve heard. More on this below.

Over time, as my main components improved, it became increasingly important to use cables that are fundamentally neutral. This is very difficult to assess in listening tests. First, you need to select a reference for “accurate” reproduction of the music. This alone is actually impossible to do if you weren’t present at the recording venue when the recording was made. The closest you can come is to regularly attend live performances in good venues and then attempt by memory to recall the live sound when you are back in your own listening room. I live in the Chicago area, and my principal references are Symphony Hall, the Green Mill, City Winery, the United Center and Lincoln Hall. These venues are all vastly different and present a wide variety of music genres, which allows distinctions between a small acoustic jazz trio, a full symphony and a loud rock concert.

Once you’ve identified your reference performance venue and genre, you then must repeatedly change out cables and listen for any differences. This is extremely tedious, and I’ve periodically rejected doing cable reviews because I was just not in the right frame of mind for such an exhausting task. Furthermore, as you continuously make improvements to your system with better cables, the differences between cables tend to become more and more minute.

 

Initial evaluation

My typical approach to evaluating cables is to start by inserting them into one of my secondary systems. At this point I had no idea where these particular Inakustik cables fit into the Inakustik hierarchy, nor did I have any idea of their prices. I replaced a Creative Cable Concepts Black Knight digital coax ($99) with the Inakustik Reference 2404 Air digital coax and an AudioQuest Type 5 speaker cable with the Inakustik LS 4004 Air speaker cable. Substituting high end cables in a midfi system is very dicey. The vast majority of the time the midfi equipment is not resolving enough to highlight differences between cables. It’s not until you put the cables into a high-end system that differences become apparent. That was not the case here. Despite the modest system and poor room, everything about the music was just a bit more: more extension, more resolution, more sense of space. Time to move on to the real evaluations in the big rig.

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