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Tara Labs RSC Air Series Cable System Review

Doug Schroeder on the mysterious gaze of the Tara Labs RSC Air Series cable system

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Included was an older design of the Power Screen, but identical operationally to the PM/2 Power Screen, so any comments here will apply to the PM/2. The Power Screen is a power bar designed to absorb RFI and EMI from AC power before it can distort the audio signal. “Ceralex” absorbers on the wires inside serve this purpose. Each Power Screen is tuned for analog, digital or balanced transmission.

The principle behind the RSC cabling seems to be a hybridization of the solid core and multiple-stranded designs. I have spent much time settling on a preference for solid core cables. The RSC series is intriguing to my ear since it simultaneously seems placid and uncolored, yet strikes me as having frequency diminishment at the extreme low/high frequencies. In changes to the speakers as well as source and amplification this impression stayed with me.


RSC Air 1 Series 2 as jumpers

I very much enjoyed the use of the RSC Air 1 Series 2 interconnects as jumpers for the Dussun V8i integrated amplifier. The Dussun leans toward a mellow yet powerful presentation. In use as jumpers, the Air IC’s pulled more detail and vibrancy from the V8i while not exaggerating the powerful low-end of the V8i. In many instances, this Dussun amp proved bottom heavy, but the Air IC’s realigned the bass to orient it more naturally with the mids and highs.

Terminations of RSC Air 1 Series

One of the most unusual aspects of the Air 1 series IC’s is that they have interconnects for the interconnects.

While not technically correct, to the eye that is what the smallish leads protruding from the terminations of the RSC Air 1 series 2 IC’s look like. They are described by Tara Labs as, “…interconnects that will connect our open ended shields combining them to disperse RF/EMI more evenly, lower the noise floor and keep soundstage and channel separation.”

These are truly fine, as in small, wires that I would guess at close to 32 Ga complete with their own petite terminations. Straight up, I didn’t hear any change sonically when I unplugged them, nor when in use for extended periods. This may be primarily that I utilize power conditioning and have a very clean audio signal chain. In a poorer environment with dirty AC, or on a circuit with five pieces of equipment their effect may be more noticeable. They also were prone to having the hair thin dielectric on them cut by movement against the sharper edge of the main termination’s barrel. The blue metallic sleeve is beautiful but dangerous to those small leads! For those who set up and leave their equipment this is not an issue. But if one is for any reason swapping IC’s with regularity it bears special attention that these are not unduly worn. Having said that, I had the cables in and out of the system over months and I didn’t encounter any lead severing itself from its “mother IC”, so I would think it might never occur in the typical audiophile’s system.

The Sound

The beauty of these cables lies in what they do with the mids. They remind me of the uncluttered beauty of a single-ended triode amp’s midrange forsaking the absolute extreme frequencies of the spectrum; they draw the ear to the middle frequencies. They do not push the envelope on highs or lows. I found them to have a slightly softer sound at the extremes, but dazzling openness and no hint at all of haziness or a veiled sound in the midrange.

There are many who have heard the MIT cables with their network boxes affixed. The main complaint I have heard about them from other audiophiles is that they are too edgy, too harsh in their pursuit of detail, or that they do not keep the dynamics in proper perspective. If that describes your view of those cables, then you would likely lean more toward the Tara Labs cabling, since it is not nearly as forward and emphatic sounding.

“…the Tara Labs fell somewhere between the brisk full spectrum emphasis the MIT AVt MA cables yielded and the very reserved, slightly distant sound of the Jena Labs cables.”

Compared with other cables I have reviewed recently, the Tara Labs fell somewhere between the brisk full spectrum emphasis the MIT AVt MA cables yielded and the very reserved, slightly distant sound of the Jena Labs cables. Their midrange was very similar to the Magnan Signatures, but with a bit of roll off on the upper and lowermost frequencies.

Most readers will be familiar with the phrase “frequency limited subwoofer,” which indicates a sub designed to perform within certain parameters and which audiophiles do not expect to plumb the depths. The Tara Labs cabling struck me as being similar. They allowed neither uncontrolled bass, nor hot highs. Not being an engineer, I wonder if the rectangular conductors are the reason for this controlled frequency range. It is entirely possible that in listening tests at Tara the extra information which is not passed on through their cables is considered extraneous and conducive to more noise in the signal. If that is the case, then they have successfully diminished the perceived noisy signature that resides on many other cables.

One possible way of considering what the nature of Tara Labs cables sound like is to conceive of an artist in either a hall with reverberation or in a studio – a much more acoustically controlled environment. For instance, lately I have been enjoying Sam Moore and his disc Overnight Sensational – a clever title for a man whose singing career spans over 35 years and who can garner the likes of Wynonna Judd, Jon Bon Jovi, Sting, and Travis Tritt to accompany him on his duets.

Sam does not have the silkiest voice in the industry, a potential reason he’s been 35 years in the making. On a revealing system, it borders on howling when he reaches for high notes. The Tara Labs cabling always presented him with the edges taken off, which made for a more relaxed presentation. The first track, “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” is precious, hearing Wynonna and Sam belt out the Blues. The strength of the Tara cables became evident when Sam teamed up with Steve Winwood on “Ain’t No Love.” If there was ever an artist who’s voice can grate on my ears, Winwood’s got it. As he reaches for high notes, I envision his throat constricting… I found him difficult to listen to with either the Magnan cables or MIT line. But the Tara RSC’s kept his screeches in check.

“…the saving grace of Tara cables is that they bring a tonal correctness to the game.”

It may sound like the kiss of death for a cable to produce any kind of frequency limitations. However, the saving grace of Tara cables is that they bring a tonal correctness to the game. I knew at times I was hearing less absolute bass, less absolute frequency extension of the highs, but in no time that was forgotten as I continued to gravitate toward the vocals.

I very much appreciated solo instrumentals heralded through the Tara RSC’s. Clarinet, guitar and piano, pieces without heavy synthesized or percussive backgrounds shone brightly. Again, if you prefer the intimate, studio experience the RSC’s will treat you right. They also were superb for addressing hot treble.

When I was reviewing the Eminent Technology LFT-8B’s and listening to Michael Hedges piece, “Arial Boundaries.” On this and other tracks on the Pure disc, Hedges’ fingers strike the strings forcibly. The nails fairly crash into the strings to create an explosive noise. While powerful sounding, the LFT-8A’s (pre-tweeter upgrade!) were accentuating the nail strike and not so much the note, making it sound more like he had steel fingernails! I kept hearing the “twok, twok” of the fingernail to the point of distraction! The RSC’s lassoed the ET8’s planar tweeter and lent a little flexibility to Hedges’ nails, saving the piece.

“The Tara IC’s are so mid-range centered that they worked well with either the intense MIT range or the laid back Magnan Cables.”

Tara Labs cabling can also accommodate and compensate for the stridency of other cables. I had left the RSC Air IC’s in the link between my Rega Saturn cdp and the Monarchy M24 tube DAC for the longest time because no matter which round of cabling I introduced for speakers, the RSC’s mated well with them. The Tara IC’s are so mid-range centered that they worked well with either the intense MIT range or the laid back Magnan Cables.

I am similarly inclined to describe the Air AC Power cables and Power Screen’s performance. Both had the characteristic “mellow at the edges and clear in the middle” sound employed in the Air series IC’s and speaker cables. Especially with the power cords, this stands to reason as they are constructed with the same rectangular copper as the other cabling.

I found it very useful to employ the Power Screen and Air power cables with the Eminent Technology LFT-8A speaker. In fact, an all-Tara-Labs-cabling scheme was best with any “rigorous” sounding rig, for the above mentioned reasons. The Air AC’s seemed most suited to solid-state electronics as they made my already polite Pathos Classic One MkII tube hybrid monos a bit too laid back. But, with the Eastern Electric BBA Buffer Amp, which tends to “tone up” music (that is, to make it sound tonally pitched up slightly and more bright) and Monarchy SM70 (solid state) monos, they mated well.

I would heartily suggest these cables to persons who feel most CD’s are recorded “hot”, or at extreme recording levels. Also, if you want to escape bass heavy material, then look no further. You may enjoy heavier music but not the “whomp!” that accompanies it – definitely demo the Tara Labs line.

I began with a comment about Tiger Eye, the semi-precious gem stone. When turned in the hand, it glints gold and flickers back to black. Sonically, I found the RSC Air 1 line to do similarly by glinting golden midrange and flickering toward the extreme edges of the frequency, where they darkened. Like a feline’s mysterious gaze, the Tara Labs cables tantalized me in the mids and left me looking harder at the darker “edges” of the music. A mysterious creature indeed!

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