"High-end audio cables with unique geometry, unique wire, unique insulation and all the old rules have been re-written." - Mark Jenkins. Chief Executive at Antipodes Audio Limited.
Antipodes Audio high-end audio cables are another product along with MSB Select DAC, that caught me off my guard while inserted into my system recently. These intriguing cables are Mark Jenkins' brainchild and they're diametrically opposite by both design and sound as the Antipodes word meaning. I'll write more regarding my listening impressions when complete cabling set will arrive for test and review, in the abundance of high-end audio cables on the market Antipodes are really making more then just a subtle difference. They pushed me out of the comfort zone and ignited both my passion and curiosity...
Below is short white paper regarding the Antipodes unique approach to the cable design...
Phase-Accuracy In Any System
The vagaries of input and output impedances in audio systems create a signal transmission challenge. A cable's geometry is about the wire gauges used and their physical orientation with respect to one another. It is important because a wire carrying a music signal also creates a changing electrical field around it, and how the fields around each wire interact with each other is crucial to the electrical properties that create the transmission capability of the interface between your components. This is why cable geometry is so crucial to cable design. The reality of transmitting a music signal is far from being just about what happens inside the wire itself.
Virtually all cables are designed to run 'close to the edge', in terms of their electronic characteristics, in order to minimize the pick up of noise. But the problem is that with different equipment having different input/output characteristics, the 'edge' is in a different place in each system, and this is why audio cables are very system-dependent. The cables create different phase errors in different system interfaces, often producing unnatural sound that your ear/brain system does not recognize as real.
Antipodes cable geometries eliminate the problem altogether. Our breakthrough geometries run 'far from the edge', avoiding unexpected interactions with the input/output impedance, sounding the same in any system context, and without any of the phase anomalies of other cables. The breakthrough is how the noise penalty normally associated with this approach is completely avoided. The superior phase accuracy of Antipodes cables renders the finest of detail resolution and dynamics without stress, and the music breathes freely like real instruments in real space.
There is a potential downside. We rarely encounter it, but if a system has an earthing anomaly it can undo our design and the cable will become an antenna for noise. Fix the earth issue and you eliminate the noise.
Our Own Unique Dead-Soft Wire
A clue to whether a wire (made from an appropriate metal), will sound great is the metal's softness, malleability and ductility. Pure metals form a giant lattice of ions, not atoms, surrounded by a sea of shared/free electrons. The openness of this lattice enables the electrons to flow freely along long lengths of the wire. It is also what makes a pure metal soft, because a plane of ions can slide past other planes without disrupting the structure. A soft wire tells you that unwanted contaminants have not entered the gaps in the metal's lattice to impede the flow of electrons. Alarmingly, the so-called long crystal wire so commonly used in audiophile cables is relatively stiff and even springy. A long crystal is of no benefit if it is contaminated. Antipodes manufactures high-purity wire that is dead soft, and made in a single manufacturing step. No post processing such as annealing or cryogenic treatment is needed or used - these are 'band-aids' that will improve badly made wire, but have side-effects that are best to be avoided if the wire is already contaminant-free.
Timbral Accuracy By Combining Silver & Gold
The choice of metals used is important, and relates to the metal's ionic structure - the way the atom separates into positive ions (which include some of the electrons) and free electrons (able to conduct a music signal). This has a significant effect on both the mechanical and electrical resonant characteristics of the metal, and is what gives each metal type its characteristic sound when used to conduct a music signal. This characteristic sound directly affects timbre.
The characteristic sound can be manipulated in two key ways. One way is the selection of the wire gauges as this affects the mechanical resonance and that in turn affects the electronic resonance of the wire (scientific theory is a simplistic representation of reality and the direct link between mechanical and electrical properties is often overlooked). Even the mechanical resonance of the insulation used has an effect. Another way is to combine different metals together. We have found that mixing silver and gold together provides a much better result that any other combination of the good sounding metals (copper, silver and gold), and much better than any of them used on their own. The sound characteristics of silver and gold are almost mirror images of each other and so can be artfully combined to virtually cancel each other out. We find that the best way to combine silver and gold is to keep the metals pure and therefore combine pure silver wires with pure gold wires, as we do in our top of the line interconnects. The relative wire gauges used is important and sadly the thicker gauge wires need to be the much more expensive gold wires.
To address the sheer cost of this approach, Antipodes developed what we call a silver/gold Varalloy Wire. This was first achieved in 2004, and resulted in the launch of Antipodes Audio as a cable company. Since then we have improved our Varalloy wire in a number of large steps. On the one hand, an alloy is normally a bad idea for conducting a music signal, because of the way it distorts the metal lattice. But silver and gold have similar atomic radii, and using specialized techniques, can be combined in an alloy to form a nearly perfect metal lattice that is soft, malleable and ductile. On top of that, the Antipodes Varalloy wire is an alloy where the gold content increases towards the surface of the wire, providing a beautifully balanced and natural timbre, and considerably superior to a simple silver/gold alloy. Using our silver/gold Varalloy wire, we can achieve 85+% of the audio performance of using separate silver and gold wires, but at a fraction of the cost.
Importantly, we can bring you this technology at reasonable prices. Because we buy our raw gold and silver directly and manufacture our own wire, the cost to us of the finished wire is between 10% and 20% above the commodity price of the raw metals. This gives us a massive advantage over almost every other cable manufacturer using wire they buy commercially.
Natural Oil & Cotton Insulation
Cotton is a vastly superior dielectric to any plastic, because the process of storing and releasing energy as the field changes happens much faster than it does in plastic, making it more able to mimic the signal traveling in the wire. The only downside is that it is hard to do properly. We are not just talking about using a thin layer of cotton on the wire, as we sometimes see. To get the full benefits of using cotton insulation you need to avoid any other materials within the electrical field that surrounds a wire carrying a music signal. To deal with these issues, each Antipodes signal cable uses a 15mm (3/5") thick all-cotton assembly. One challenge is that the gap between the wires has to be kept constant, so we employ a hard resilient yet flexible cotton core at the centre of the assembly, with the wires positioned at the edge of this core. The rest of the assembly is softer containing more air and protects the field when the cable comes into contact with another material such as flooring, wall, rack or equipment. You cannot do it better than this, but none else does it because you cannot do this by the kilometer, as you can with plastic. Each cable must be assembled to length by hand.
Another challenge is that while very high purity silver and gold will not oxidise in air, silver can sulphidise in some parts of the world where there is thermal activity. Cotton is also hygroscopic and so will always contain some water. Water that forms in the cotton will be pure and so not have any conductive properties, but the wire needs to be protected from the water. To protect the wires, each receives a microscopically thin layer of natural oil that dries to form a permanent protective layer that the soft cotton insulation will not damage.
We go to all of this trouble because with an imperfect insulation, the rapid changes in the music signal cannot be perfectly mimicked in the field that surrounds the wire. Plastics cannot store and release energy anywhere near as fast as cotton and the difference between the signal in the wire and the field in the plastic is fed back into the wire, smearing the signal in time. This has a much greater effect on shorter wave high frequencies than longer wave low frequencies, and the effect is a shouty and strained sound that can make bell sounds come across as a snat. Some listeners, not familiar with the sound of real instruments, mistake this as 'detail'.
Don't be fooled by claims of an 'air-dielectric' created in a plastic cable. All they mean is they have created a small air gap between the wire and the plastic. The plastic is still in the music signal's field, and the inconsistency of the insulation created by the air gap causes reflection effects.
One downside of our approach is that you must handle Antipodes cables gently and never stretch them. There is no plastic to stop you stretching our super soft fine wires to breaking point if you handle them roughly. Once you know this there is no problem, but you can't swing from them as you might with other cables.
All of the challenges of using all-cotton isolation are worth it because there is an upside. The upside is natural clarity, without the smearing that plastics impart, particularly in the purity and naturalness of high frequency content.
Sound With The Natural Beauty Of Real Instruments And Voices
The result of cables that are built like no other is that they sound like no other cables. The natural beauty of the timbres of real instruments and voices in real spaces is presented without artifice. The fine detail resolution is remarkable throwing full-sized sound-stages and images. This is no tonal-shaping trick. The absence of harshness and aggression is complemented by stunning speed, immediacy and dynamics.
The reason that metals are good signal conductors is that metal atoms separate into positive ions and free/shared electrons. Within a crystal, the positive ions form a lattice that the shared electrons can travel freely through. When there are impurities in the lattice, these need to be removed before the cable can perform at its best. Conventionally made wire has contaminants that need to be removed by annealing and/or cryogenic treatment, and this reduces the unusual audible effects heard during burn in. But these processes have unfortunate side effects on crystal structure and harm the performance of the cable in the long run.
Some people do not believe that cable burn in exists, simply because they don't understand how it occurs. But there is no mystery. Burn in is a process where contaminants in the metal lattice are dealt with, by the conductive forces gradually either pushing them aside or even burning them off.
Antipodes wire is of exceptional purity so we prefer to avoid annealing and cryogenic treatment, and leave it to the burn in process to bleed off any remaining impurities naturally. This means Antipodes Audio cables can take several weeks to burn in but the long term benefits are decidedly worth the patience and effort.
The burn in process goes roughly like this:
- During the first 4 weeks, the top and bottom extension are truncated, and a large shimmy bass and a harsh upper mid-range come and go, getting a little less intrusive each time.
- By the end of 4 weeks the sound is balanced and stable, but the top and bottom extension are still truncated and bass has a woody characteristic. At this point the cables will sound like merely good cables.
- Over the next 3 weeks the top and bottom extend, and overall naturalness and refinement improve.
- By the end of the first 7 weeks you will realise how exceptional the Antipodes cables are, and the changes will have nearly ceased.
But they will continue to improve, and at various points over the first year there will be a few days when the sound simply shifts to another level and you will know it when it happens.
During the early weeks we strongly recommend that you leave the cables in place in the system. Removing the cables from the system for any length of time will result in the cables reverting and losing ground in the burn in process. The longer the cables have been used the less the cables will lose ground when you remove them. All high-performance cables go through similar burn in stages, but the burn in of Antipodes cables is a little more pronounced, because of our decision not to anneal or cyrogenically treat the cables.