ANTICABLES is both the most musically satisfying and the most sonically correct wire I’ve encountered. It balances the sound envelope in a new (for me, at least) way, one which is more faithful to the signal than any other I’ve encountered. Combining the ANTICABLES speaker cable, interconnect and power cords made my systems perform better than they have in twenty years.
By patiently refining his designs, Paul Speltz has managed to combine the features we have all been seeking in our wires. Think of the rounded fullness of tube amplification matched with the controlled precision of solid state, or the virtues of vented speaker enclosures combined with those of sealed boxes, and you have a sense of what ANTICABLES provide. Add to these performance virtues the physical flexibility of the wires – no stiff garden hoses here, and the – by current standards – modest prices, and you have a line of irresistible products.
I’m sure you’ve all read reviews in which the reviewer fills pages about how a component revealed some previously inaudible aspect of a recording. Another related cliché is how the listener stayed up late listening to new discoveries on old recordings. I won’t tell you about how I heard something new and amazing in discs have been on my shelves for decades. The difference with ANTICABLES lies in the sense of correct tone, of detail balanced with musicality that made me nod: this is how the performances should sound.
Why has it taken until now to recover this natural perspective? Permit me to dilate on the history of high fidelity cables.
The Conventional Wisdom, 1991
Subscribers to The Audio Critic were treated to an article in the Spring-Fall 1991 edition that described a simple method by which one could measure how any loudspeaker cable would perform. No more golden ear reviewers writing subjective reports on how they imagined a component sounded! From now on, high fidelity would be guided by scientifically performed assessments. You read along at link.
Editor and publisher Peter Aczel reduced the music’s journey through the loudspeaker cable to a series inductance, a shunt capacitance, and a series resistance – an RLC circuit. Aczel inserted RLC values for over forty well-known speaker cables into a circuit analysis program programmed with a known amplifier and a known loudspeaker, et voila!, he charted the frequency response of the cable.
The resulting frequency curves were anything but linear. Some wires were mildly uneven, with gradual undulations of 0.5 dB over the audio range, while others showed abrupt sharp rises and falls of over 3 dB.
Aczel concluded that by inserting a simple compensation circuit with the appropriate RLC values between amplifier and speaker, one could reproduce the sound of any given cable. The price of such a circuit would be a few dollars, and result would be the sound of a several thousand-dollar loudspeaker cable. (Is such a circuit the secret of MIT Cables’ Articulation Consoles, those large extruded aluminum modules that appear just before the speaker interface? Even allowing for inflation, they cost quite a lot more than a few dollars.)
In the article, Aczel derided “cultists”, people who made unscientific judgments based upon taste and preference. Who could choose pace and ambience over scientific measurement?
Even then, I was a cultist. In addition to pace and ambience, I valued more than a dozen properties that produce the characteristic sound of a component. Then and now, I feel that it’s quite easy to distinguish between an Audio Note tube amplifier and a Krell transistor unit. It’s not hard to pick between an amplifier using KT150 tubes, and another using 300Bs. I’ll go further and declare that you can hear the difference between different brands of the same tube.
But that was over twenty-five years ago, you say. By now, you would expect that our understanding of high fidelity should be based on Daniel von Recklinghausen’s axiom: “If it measures good and sounds bad, it is bad; if it measures bad and sounds good, you have measured the wrong thing.”
Alas, that’s not what’s happening in cable marketing.
The Conventional Wisdom, 2018
Ah, my friends, we’re older but no wiser, for the dogmas of 1991 still fill the pages of today’s high fidelity magazines. I direct your attention to the Nordost web site.
There you may read that Odin 2 loudspeaker cable carries signal with a “Velocity of Propagation” equal to 98 per cent of the speed of light. Heimdall 2 cable, an offering in the more modestly priced Norse 2 line, carries signal at a nearly-glacial 96 per cent. Capacitance and inductance values are included.
In other words, the sound of a product may be determined in a laboratory, just as Aczel told us years ago. Don’t bother listening, or listen only to confirm what has been established scientifically. Don’t trust your ears, those puny flesh-covered cartilaginous structures, or the brain between them.
I’m not picking on Nordost, but the cable industry is full of engineering models and technical arguments, all of them advanced to proclaim the invincible superiority of a product. Here’s a detailed paper from the Analysis Plus website. “Objective testing, patented technology and superior materials set Wireworld apart.” There’s supporting material at link.
Underlying much of these reports is the concept that speed is good. Here is a comparison of metals’ conductivity:
If speed determines sonic performance, then all we need do is build our cables out of silver. Why did I even bother to include copper, gold and aluminum? And why did I include palladium at the bottom? It’s more than an order of magnitude slower than silver.
Let me propose a cultist, fully subjective notation for speed. Any musical signal occupies time from attack to decay. If the sound is reproduced so that I hear the initial portion very clearly, my notes reflect it this way: >>>>. If the sound fades into silence in a completely convincing way, I mark down: <<<<. If the attack, the first part of the event in time, is reproduced more prominently than the decay, I (and you) hear the wire as “fast.” That is my experience of the Nordost house sound. It conveys the first part of the musical event more vividly than the latter. It sounds like any number of loudspeakers that employ ribbon tweeters and plastic or paper cones. I have the uncomfortable sensation that the high frequencies are conveyed more quickly than the midrange and bass. And yet these loudspeakers have flat amplitude response across the audio spectrum.
Silver wire, if you will, is like solid state amplification and its emphasis upon clarity, while copper is like tube gear with its more musical presentation. What I have been seeking all of these years is equipment that combines the virtues of both while sacrificing the virtues of neither.
This brings me back to the subject of this review, the ANTICABLES.
What is an AntiCable?
Paul Speltz built Zero-Autoformers. From the ANTICABLES web site:
The ZEROs are the simplest type of transformer called an auto-transformer or autoformer. They are used to multiply the impedance of any speaker so that it “feels” like the optimum load for the amplifier being used. They are very helpful in matching speakers to amplifiers. By adjusting the speaker’s impedance, both the damping factor and the maximum power transfer of the amp/speaker can be tailored for best sound. Almost all amplifiers sound better when driving a higher impedance speaker, because amplifiers produce less distortion when driving less current.
In their original form, they look like this. (You can now order them in very handsome wooden boxes, too.)
Paul noticed that the sound of his autoformers changed when he used different speaker connecting wire. As you see, the wire is a few inches long. How could it make an audible difference?
And yet it did. So Speltz set out to make wire that sounded better, even in the very short lengths used in his autoformers.
Paul sent me a note about his progress:
“I offered 100% silver interconnects for a few years. I really liked how resolving silver is but struggled with its lean tonality and forward staging in the highs. The music sounded cut in half with the highs positioned in front of the speaker and the rest of the music behind the speaker . . . Solid gold sounds very bass full, lush, and relaxed . . . Gold is a lot more expensive than silver, so the goal is to use as little gold as possible to resolve silver’s sonic issues . . . without taking away silver’s highly resolving attribute.”
There’s not a single word about technical matters. This note, like all the others I gotten from Paul, is concerned solely with sound. Either a design sounds better, or it’s discarded. As it happens, Paul is an engineer, so I’m certain that he could have laid out a manifesto of technical advances only he had made.
One day I asked about his use of solid core wire. He replied: “Experimenting years ago, before I started this business, I observed complex braids really screwed up the sound. It does make the cable look and feel nice though.”
The Proof is in the Listening
In comparison with the usual wrist-thick, inflexible and heavy-as-lead (copper, silver) cable, which usually arrives inside a luxurious wrap inside an engraved wooden box or Halliburton case, ANTICABLES Level 5 Signature looks quite modest: a sealed, clear plastic bag holds relatively thin wires covered with white insulation. They weigh next to nothing, and bend without the use of mechanical assistance.
A couple of my non-audiophile friends were visiting as I pulled the Acoustic Zen silver cables out of the system. These are 6 awg 6N zero crystal silver wire assembled in a hybrid configuration with 6N zero crystal copper. I’ve used them as one of my references for years. It’s reliable, doesn’t do anything to draw attention to itself, and sounds good. While not cheap, it doesn’t cost as much as a compact car, either.
One of my friends rolled the ANTICABLE between thumb and index finger. “Doesn’t look like much.”
I kept busy, making connections. Level 5 Signature costs $2,800 for an eight foot pair.
“Your old wire sure looks better.”
I told everyone that the wire was fresh out of the box, and that wires often take weeks to sound their best. With that, I turned on the system.
Before the first disc ended, my critical friend turned to me. “There’s more going on.”
That summarizes the experience of listening through ANTICABLES they don’t impress with one frequency band, or with one of the many audio virtues; and yet you hear more of the music.
My own comment from that first session is succinct: “Generous.” Over the months of listening I expanded that to “warmth without losing incisiveness,” and “precise but still harmonically rich.” If you can imagine the clarity and speed of silver cable coupled with the relaxed tonality of copper, you will have a fair sense of what ANTICABLES can do. Now bring the harmonic rightness a bit further. That is what gold in proper amounts brings to the mixture.
I tried Level 5, switched to another multi-strand pure silver cable, a couple of high-purity copper wires – all of them well-known and all of them good performers – and returned to the ANTICABLES for their sense of relaxed and revealing sound. ANTICABLES take somewhere around 150 hours to burn in. My notes from the first couple of months reflect superior decay almost from the first hour, with good attack that became excellent over time. This is the only cable product I have heard which offers this balance of sound.
ANTICABLES won’t give you what I call “show sound,” the impressive, detailed portrayal of musical events you hear at audio shows. What is delivers is music.
Harry Pearson at The Absolute Sound introduced the concept of “continuousness,” the desirable property of music flowing naturally. (At least, that was my interpretation of the concept.) My experience with all of the ANTICABLES products is that they possess this characteristic: music doesn’t get bunched into discrete quanta. The triumph of ANTICABLES is that it maintains continuousness while also preserving the delicate “space between the notes.”
V. More of the Same
If I’ve managed to convey the sound of ANTICABLES loudspeaker cables, then you know what the Level 6.2 ABSOLUTE Signature interconnects sound like. They’re smooth and revealing at the same time. A one-meter pair costs $570, with cryogenic treatment and burn in an extra $125.
The cable is slim and flexible, with a coil of copper wire serving as a shield. There’s no battery-powered bias, no graphene-doped dielectric. Again, the product comes in a clear plastic bag. The message is explicit: the object is sound quality, not conspicuous consumption.
You may discern one of Paul Speltz’s fundamental engineering principles as you insert the wires into your system, because you’re holding Keith Eichmann’s best RCA plugs, the Absolute Harmony. Sure, they cost more than the Canare F-10 plugs that Marc Stager uses, but they’re the best way to terminate an interconnect Paul has found. And, if you’re keeping score, they’re far cheaper than WBT’s best.
The Level 3 Reference Series power cords (five feet for $330) contain another glimpse behind the designer’s curtain. First, Speltz designed the best power cord he could, and then he spent time researching ways to reduce the material and labor costs while maintaining an offering that could still stand on its own and still out perform the competition at its price point
As a listener, I want the best sound; but I’m a consumer, too. Speltz recommends that the cord be used first on digital equipment, so I replaced an enormous ElectraGlide cable on the back of an Oppo 205 that was visiting the house. The effect, in my reference system, was modest: maybe a bit clearer sound, but nothing as marked as the improvement wrought by the speaker cable and interconnects.
I pulled Oppo and ANTICABLES into my modest system (Sophia 300B integrated, Scanspeak-based prototype speaker) and the difference between $1,200 ElectraGlide and $330 ANTICABLES power cord was immediately apparent: ANTICABLES sound was much more clear, emerging from a far darker background, and with greater dynamic range. Why didn’t the difference show up in my reference system?
Then I bothered to read the ANTICABLES web site (ANTICABLES recommend connecting power cords directly to the wall), which advises that power conditioners may impair the power cords’ performance. I’ve had a big Isotek conditioner in the reference system for a couple of years. The modest system gets its power right from the wall outlets.
I had been planning to ask an electrician to put dedicated power lines into my main listening room. After a bit of cutting, pounding, fitting and painting, I was back in business.
The same Oppo fed the Lampizator DAC, and this time the difference was pronounced: the very mild softening I’ve grown accustomed to was replaced by a more detailed, articulate sound that brought the music much closer to real life without ever stepping into hyper-etched rendition.
With a full loom of ANTICABLES wire in place, I ran through some favorites recordings. DuPre’s reading of the Elgar cello concerto (Warner Classics 552132) with Barbirolli has never been more raw and emotional than this. I placed my reviewer’s notebook down and listened to this familiar piece with a fresh sense of awe.
Another evening I listened to Furtwaengler conduct the Berlin Orchestra in the May, 1947 performance of the “Pastorale” (Audite 2140). The opening cadence sways as people do in a beer hall, clanking their mugs together. “Just right,” my notes say.
That same night I played the “Archduke” trio with Istomin, Stern and Rose (Sony 64513). Over the years, I have listened to this performance on vinyl, compact disc, and watched it on DVD. With ANTICABLES I experienced a greater sense of vitality, the sense of being present in the recording studio.
VI. What the market will bear
Fono Acoustica Virtuoso interconnect, a silver-gold alloy like ANTICABLES Level 6.2 Absolute Signature, costs a bit over $20,000 for a meter and a half.
Echole Omnia interconnect, which combines “Several runs of Teflon-insulated, 1.7 mm solid core… Silver/Gold/Palladium custom-structured alloy, several runs of 8N Purity Copper, hand-braided and fully symmetrical” cost $14,500 for three feet in 2016. (Now you understand why I included palladium in the chart above.)
Why buys this stuff?
There’s a saying among engineers: anyone can design a great product for a million dollars, but only a genius can design one for a thousand bucks. In Paul Speltz, I believe that we have found an engineer who can provide top-level sound at an accessible price.
ANTICABLES Audio Company Inc.
11200 Stillwater Blvd. N.
Lake Elmo, MN 55042