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Published February 1, 2005

 

Audience Conductor Interconnects and Speaker Cables, powerChord AC Cords


Conductor interconnects

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Conductor speaker cables

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powerChord AC cord

Audience is a diverse company that manufacturers the acclaimed Auricap capacitors, Auric Illuminator CD and DVD enhancer, and the just-released adeptResponse power conditioner. They also perform modifications on Sony and Denon optical-disc players to enhance their digital performance. In this review I look at Audience’s affordable Conductor line of interconnects ($154 USD/1m pair) and speaker cables ($320/3m pair), as well as their power cord, the aptly named powerChord ($449/6’).

Cable reviews

It’s difficult to come to grips with cables. The obvious physical differences (e.g., in digital chips or capacitors) among source components, speakers, and amplification devices can be correlated with perceived differences in sound. Such differences aren’t always obvious with cables. They don’t seem to do much of anything. Sure, cables transmit signals from source to amp and from amp to speaker, but they have no buttons to press or cases to open, and there’s not much to look at. But while different cables can indeed make audible differences in a system’s sound, those effects are often subtle, and hard to describe as "better" or "worse."

I hear differences with different cables, and some I prefer more than others. But I don’t know why I hear the differences I do, nor do I know whether you will hear similar differences. If you’re a cable skeptic, good for you and your bank account. If you do hear differences between cables, then before you buy, do yourself a favor and make sure you audition them with the equipment you’ll be using with them.

I’d heard good things about Audience’s pricier cables, the Au24 series, and looked forward to hearing how the Conductors stacked up -- I’d grown tired of the speaker cables I was using and wanted to try something new. If the fact that I’d "grown tired" of cables doesn’t seem strange to you, then you’re as hopelessly addicted to audio playback as I am. Most people don’t even think about their speaker cables.

Auditioning the Conductors

When the Audience cables arrived, I spent a good deal of time replacing all of the cables in my system. All of my Analysis Plus interconnects were replaced with 1m Conductor interconnects, my Kimber Kable 4PR speaker cables were replaced with Conductor speaker cables and jumpers, and everything with a removable power cord got a new 6’ powerChord. (The cable lengths, of course, were determined by how my system is set up; all of the Audience cables are available in other lengths.) My system included a Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amplifier, Denon DVD-2900 universal audio/video player, Rotel RT-02 AM/FM tuner, and Rotel RCD-1070 CD player.

I like the Audience cables’ appearance. Many cables’ bright colors and awkward thicknesses seem designed to call attention to themselves, but the understated Audiences are sleek, black, and flexible enough to be easily snaked around corners and up and down cabinets. While I understand the desire to make a colorful product, the discreet Audiences can blend into their surroundings much more easily than many other designs -- important in listening rooms, such as mine, that require longer-than-usual runs. The Conductors’ black, rubbery coating covers not only the cable itself but the sides of the connector. Along the connector covering you’ll find the only adornment: the tasteful Conductor logo and a black or red band that identifies which half of the pair the cable is. The speaker cables look similar to the interconnects but are slightly thicker.

I was at first skeptical about the benefits of a new power cord, but my mind has been changed. If you’ve bought a CD player or amplifier for several hundred dollars, you don’t immediately want to hear that things might be better if you spend $449 more for an AC cord. But if you decide to, the powerChord is a good option. Like the other Audience cables, the powerChord is flexible and well made. The cord itself is about the diameter of a dime; it’s coated in a vinyl mesh and has a large Marinco plug on one end and a Wattgate IEC socket on the other.

Usually, friends and family find the products that I review -- and their prices -- to be otherworldly. I was pretty sure that my father, a practical man, would find the idea of a $449 power cord absurd, and he did -- but he wasn’t so dismissive of the job it might be doing. He runs power plants, and suggested that the power coming in from the street might be infected with noise, particularly if the power company allows Internet transmissions over their lines. (Thanks, Dad!) I’m convinced that the powerChord played a role in the overall sound of my Audience-infected system, and continued to do so when I began changing interconnects. It was a subtle role, however, and none too obvious. Instruments seemed to appear more distinctly against blacker backgrounds, I think because less noise was getting through to my system.

I had originally asked Audience for a pair of biwire speaker cables to run to my Quad 21L speakers, but Audience favors using single speaker cables and jumpers for biwirable speakers. Their jumpers share the same physical characteristics of the speaker cables. Still, Audience supplied me with both a biwire pair and a single pair with jumpers so that I could hear the difference for myself. For most of my auditioning I used the single pair/jumper combination, and was very pleased. But the biwire pair, too, sounded very good; I was hard-pressed to hear a significant difference. Audience backs up their preference for single-wiring with some technical literature, and the price difference is small: a 3m pair of Conductor speaker cables is $320, a pair of jumpers $193; a pair of 3m biwire speaker cables is $449.

Sound

When I first sat down to listen, I was listening for shortcomings, but none sprang immediately to ear. Playing the recent SACD reissue of Bill Evans’ Portrait in Jazz [Riverside RISA-1162-6], there was no background noise and the sound was very well balanced. The biggest problem I’ve noticed with inexpensive interconnects is that the sound can suffer from a tinniness, but that was not a problem here. Nor did I find the sound too bright or too dark. The piano sounded like a real piano, which is not an easy thing to achieve. I kept trying to find things that were lacking or exaggerated, but over time I found myself just enjoying the music.

After living with the Audience cables for several weeks, I switched back to my Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval interconnects and Kimber 4PR speaker cables. When I replaced the interconnects the sound became slightly brighter, but the detail was noticeably better on such hard-to-reproduce sounds as cymbal crashes and acoustic guitar. On the Evans SACD, the instruments’ physicality seemed to be slightly more present. Remember, though, that with the Audiences I wasn’t consciously able to pick this out as a problem -- I was happy with the Conductors. So, while in almost-direct comparison I slightly preferred the Analysis Plus cables, which are more than double the price at $399, the differences were marginal.

The Audience interconnects and speaker cables were pulling their own weight and actively making a positive contribution to the sound of my system. I find a lot of the terms used to describe cable performance to be meaningless; the best I can do to sum up the differences I heard is that, with the Conductors, the sound was closer to what I would expect from an analog source rather than the disc player I was using: balanced, neutral, and smooth. Those, I think, are very good things.

When purchased in bulk, the Kimber 4PR costs less than $2 per foot; even including the cost of termination, it is much less expensive than the Audience Conductor speaker cable. But the Audiences would be well worth the investment based on their transparent but pleasing demeanor. Overall, the Audience cables made me very happy with my system’s sound, and I was very pleased with their price/performance ratio. I think you’ll be more than just satisfied with the Audience Conductors; I think you’ll be happy.

Conclusion

Toward the beginning of this review I suggested that those who are skeptical about the effects of interconnects and speaker cables are lucky, if for no other reason than that it leaves them more time to devote to important things -- such as music. The best way to do this, I think, is to find cables you like, buy ’em, install ’em, and forget about ’em. The cables you choose should leave you with no doubt that better performance can be had only at a far greater cost that would be out of proportion with the cost of the rest of your system.

The Conductor cables from Audience fit this description well. I can think of no good reason to spend more on cables for an affordably priced system. While using the Audiences, I never once longed for more. The Conductor is the affordable cable I’ll be recommending to friends and family.

The powerChord AC cord would be a more costly addition to your system. If you’re happy with all of your source components, speakers, and amplification, then it’s worth auditioning the powerChord to see how it might affect your system’s sound. If your experience is anything like mine, you may very well end up buying a few.

...Eric Hetherington

Prices of equipment reviewed


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