by Keijo Tanskanen
I’ve noticed that very few speaker cable tests and comparisons have been done during the last years. This motivated me greatly to do this test. I tried to have five speaker cables approximately from the 10 kilo euros price class for the test. The cables were Bertram Proxima Silver, Transparent Reference XL (MM tech), Tara Labs the One, Nordost Valhalla and Analysis Plus Golden Oval. Tara Labs the Ones were not available in Finland at the time, so I had to accept the Twos. Golden Ovals were neither available in Finland. Actually the most expensive Analysis Plus cables, which would have been available, were Crystal Oval 8s and those were too much out of the price range. Because of these limitations a test was going to be a quartet. As a reference I used my extremely expensive Transparent Reference MM (MM tech) cables. All cables chosen for the test were used for a quite long time. So, I did not pay any attention to in-burning process.
I decided to make the test in two partially different audio systems, in order to get some information how each cable pair will behave with different kind of speakers. My friend’s audio system was used besides the one of my own. But as usually happens the plan didn’t fully work because the Nordost Valhallas had only banana connectors and the Tara Labs the Two’s length was only 2 meters. Because of the connector type I couldn’t test the Valhallas properly with my Watt/Puppies (extra jumpers were needed). So, the sonical evaluation of the Nordost Valhallas is mainly based on the listening experiences which were got in my friend’s listening room. Tara Labs the Two’s length was insufficient for my friend’s audio system. Because of this all the sonical evaluation of the Tara Labs the Twos is based on the listening experiences which were got in my listening room. Transparent Reference XL and Bertram Proxima Silver were tested in both systems.
I’ve always been very confident in my first impressions during audio equipment evaluation. Although a bit more exact opinions, especially from listening tiredness issues, have sometimes got after a long term listening, the very first impressions have never changed remarkably afterwards. Because of this fact I have also usually accepted quite fast test schedules. This time we took two weeks for testing for being sure about the final evaluation. The conclusion was that couple of days for the test would have been enough for achieving the same results!
I will not go to the philosophies of each cable brand. It would take too much writing space and time. Every cable brand has the home pages of their own in the internet and I will strongly recommend looking for them for further technology and philosophy information.
Bertram Proxima Silver
Bertram is a newcomer in Finnish high-end cable markets. Because of this Bertram Proxima Silver was probably the most interesting participant in the test. Hifi Guru had only 3 meters pair available which list price was 17.776 euros! Despite of the over price and over length, I naturally accepted the offered pair for the test, just because shorter cables are remarkably cheaper and this cable really deserves some presentation. As seen from the photo the cable is like a jewel tube! It shines beautifully under the appropriate light. Proxima Silver speaker cables have spades which feet are silvered tubes. When the speaker terminals are tightened properly the small tubes will slightly out-flatten. This may well be their consciously chosen feature and not a flaw!? Anyway this may get some users to be a little bit worried about the solidness of the spades. During the test the spades worked without any problems and they stayed in the form got after the first tightening.
Still the sound is what really matters, and it was extremely immaterial, transparent and fast when Bertrams were used. Live feelings were very easy to get and one could greatly enjoy immediacy of the music. This speaker cable seemed to be a real live music hunter! The frequency balance was excellent, but very slightly more concentrated on the highs than in the cases of the most neutral speaker cables. This made some instruments and tones to be very slightly more “on the surface” or nearer than I’m used to hear. The bass was dry and clean but some slight lacks of punch were registered, especially when compared to Transparent. Additionally some trembles of drums faded just a bit more strongly than with the best speaker cables. But, these cons were very subtle and noticeable only in this kind of micro “investigation”. On the whole, the remaining feelings were very positive.
Transparent Reference XL (MM tech)
Transparent Cables has already a very good reputation. I must confess that I’ve found their products usually fulfilling my requirements and preferences as well. Transparent speaker cables have extra filter boxes on the signal path and this makes them quite special ones, although filtering is a very old method in information transmission. This kind of technology is anyway very sensitive and needs flawless planning and production. Transparent Cables has anyway proven that they can do both of them! The length of the tested pair was 2.4 meters and the price of the cables was 12.000 euros last year in Finland. Now Transparent Cables will deliver only MM2 tech versions which are naturally said to be even better especially because of the more accurate filter adjustment. Transparent Reference XL (MM tech) has a very trusted look. A big and robust filter box lying in the middle of the cable, a strong black grid covering the cable surface, very solid shouldering and massive golden spades make you feel relaxed even before those sessions!
But, more importantly this cable makes you feel relaxed especially during listening sessions! The sound was fabulously coherent and natural from top to bottom. Transparent Reference XL delivers more “flesh on the bones” than any other speaker cable in the test. But finally, especially when compared to much more expensive Reference MM (also MM tech) some tiny cons were noticed. Despite of its superiority in performance, Reference XL had very slight roundness and oversupply in bass region. This may suit well for many tastes and situations, but this may also be a tiny con when even the slightest emphasis is unwanted! Additionally my extremely expensive Reference MM speaker cable could also dig out a bit more micro details, like very low level string tones of double bass. Despite of these tiny lacks, Transparent Reference XL (MM tech) seemed to deliver very, very high quality sound, and probably even more importantly the most solid performance!
Tara Labs the Two
Tara Labs is probably a little bit unknown cable brand here in Finland. On the contrary it has a great world wide reputation! For this test Tara Labs speaker cable participation was a must. Unfortunately the most expensive models were not available in Finland as I already mentioned. Tara Labs the Twos were anyway impressive cables. Their outward had a stamp of high quality, except the black grid on the cable surface seemed to be too loose and/or weak for heavy use. The pair I got had supposedly used a lot and there already were some breaks on the grid. Otherwise the tested Tara Labs cables were ok. Especially interchangeable spades had a dependable outlook and proved to be easy to use. The length of the Two’s was 2 meters and they cost approximately 5000 euros in Finland (3m cables cost 6000 euros/pair).
Sonically the Tara Labs the Twos did not shame among the expensive partners at all. From the very first listening moments it became clear that this cable can produce very high neutrality. The Twos had fabulous balance without any oversupplies. By help of this the Twos could create very natural tonality. The over-all listening results reminded a lot what Transparent Reference XLs did. The differences became from the abilities to create dynamic peaks, spatial information and immediacy. The Twos were slightly mercer in fast transients and dynamic peaks than the other tested cables. They just couldn’t quite achieve the very last bits of clarity, transparency and dimensionality of sonical picture. I also noticed instruments to be just a bit further than I’ve used to hear them to be. On the other hand focussing was on the same level with the other cables. As a result I can assure that the Twos are truly very high quality high-end speaker cables which surely will meet preferences of many audiophiles. For me they delivered a great new audio experience, especially when taking account their relatively low price!
Nordost Valhalla speaker cables have reached even a cult reputation among some audiophiles. They’ve been used successfully in many reference systems and typically they’ve been one of the most used speaker cables in numerous high-end events. Valhalla is a flat cable including two flat lines of silver for the both poles of signal. The cable pair which I had for the test had only banana connectors and its length was 3 meters. The price of the cable is 10.360 euros. Two meters version is naturally clearly cheaper. The over-all impression of the look and quality was very high and personal, although the width of the cable (approximately 10 cm) may cause a bit “strange” feelings. On the other hand this kind of cable is very easy to locate for example under carpets!
Nordost Valhalla had quite the same strengths as Bertram Proxima Silver. It could deliver extremely fast and transparent sound! Its ability to deliver micro details like tiny spatial reverberations of the stage and concert halls was nothing but stunning. It was also very easy to get live concert feelings with these cables. Actually Valhalla might well be slightly the best cable on this feature. The highs and mids were also very clean and natural-like. The cons lied on the other side. The bass was very dry and well controlled, but also lacked some energy. The spectrum of tone colours seemed to be slightly restricted and there was less “flesh on the bones” effect when Valhallas were used, probably at least partially because of the slight lacks in the bass region. So, the critical analysis of instrument tone colours and bass energy revealed that there is still space for further development. Nordost Valhalla seemed to be the most double-faced cable of the test. In some sonical areas it delivered the best or equally best sonical results, in the other sonical areas it had the clearest aberrations, although the differences may still be quite subtle for many audio enthusiasts.
Each speaker cable of this test can take you into Audio Nirvana if your equipment and preferences allow it! The final choice is vitally dependent on setup, preferences and listening abilities of each audio enthusiast. This means (again!) that there is no single truth for every case. Of course this means also that every audiophile must test the speaker cables by himself. Anyway, there are certainly a lot of features which will be the same or almost the same despite of the previously mentioned system dependencies. This was also why I wrote this article. So, probably it is not necessary to test all these cables again but only to test the pairs which fulfil one’s requirements most probably.
What will the best speaker cables then do? Actually they will do nothing but transmit the information with minimal distortion. Additionally they will help in concentrating more on music and forgetting for example all the stressing feelings. Because of this and the most solid performance the Transparent Reference XL (MM tech) became my favourite!
• CD player: Audio Aero Capitole Mk II SE with Shakti stones
• Amplifier: Audionet AMP II Max monoblocks
• Speakers: Wilson Watt/Puppy 7
• Interconnects: Transparent Reference MM (MM tech) unbalanced cables
• Speaker cables: Transparent Reference MM (MM tech)
• Power Filters: 3 x one outlet Transparent Reference XLs (for the CD player and monoblocks)
• Power cords: Shunyata Copperhead for the CD player and Shunyata Taipan Alpha (2005 model) for the monoblocks
• CD player: Audio Aero Prestige CD player with Shakti stones
• Amplifier: Audionet AMP II Max monoblocks
• Speakers: Burmester B-100
• Interconnects: Transparent Reference MM (MM tech) unbalanced cables
• Speaker cables: Transparent Reference XL (MM tech)
• Power Filter: Burmester 948
• Power cords: Transparent Power Link Reference XL15 for the CD player, Transparent Power Link Reference for the amps