Audio Magic Xstream Speaker Cable,
Interconnect, Digital Cable, and Power Cord
Audio Magic may not be a familiar name to most GoodSound!
readers, but the company has been producing high-quality silver cables for almost a
decade. Audio Magic, until recently, offered a dizzying array of models to choose from at
many different price points, with names like Scepter, Spellcaster, Apprentice, and Presto.
In a recent conversation with head magician, Jerry Ramsey,
he admitted that all those lines may have been confusing to consumers and that he was
attempting to streamline Audio Magic's product catalog. He was also introducing a complete
line of lower-priced cables that he hoped would set a new standard for performance at
Audio Magic's new line of cables has been dubbed Xstream
and it offers many of the design features that the company has incorporated into its more
expensive products. The Xstream cables start at under $100. A simple system consisting of
an integrated amplifier, CD player, and a pair of speakers can be outfitted with a
complete set for a few hundred dollars. While this is not an inexpensive proposition, it
can help to make sure that the system you have invested hundreds or even thousands of
dollars in will perform to its potential.
Xstream construction quality
Audio Magic Xstream cables look like they cost a lot of
money. They're quite thick and solid, without being cumbersome to use, and they come in
attractive, if somewhat unconventional, colors. Xstream cables contain solid silver or
silver-clad copper conductors and the digital cable and interconnects even have locking
RCA connectors -- features not normally found at this price. The interconnects and digital
cables also employ a Teflon-and-air dielectric, which is usually reserved for more
expensive cables. According to the company, Teflon is a superior dielectric to the more
commonly used PVC, and air is even better, but suspending the conductor within the cable
to take advantage of air's superior qualities makes construction time consuming and
The mauve power cords are relatively thick, yet
surprisingly flexible. They cost only $69 each and are available only in 6 lengths.
The 15-amp, 16-gauge cords conductors are double-coated silver-over-copper with
Mylar damping. The materials and quality of construction appear to be very good.
The Xstream speaker cables use 10-gauge double-coated
silver-over-copper conductors and Mylar damping. They cost $114 for an 8 pair. The
girth of the cable is impressive and it feels very heavy and solid. The individual
positive and negative conductors at either end of the cable are quite stiff and have a
reassuring feel to them. Although the speaker cable is relatively thick, it can still be
bent and manipulated easily enough. The cables I received were terminated with banana
plugs at my request, but usually come terminated with spades. It is finished with a thick,
but pliable outer jacket that is a striking royal blue.
The most impressive cable in the Xstream line is the stereo
interconnect. At a price of $100 for a 1m pair, it features a solid-silver ribbon
conductor, silver shield, Teflon-and-air dielectric, and heavy-duty lockable RCA
connectors that provide a tight connection. The interconnect is said to have low
capacitance and low inductance, which helps to prevent signal degradation by reducing the
cables tendency to store energy (capacitance) or lose energy by generating a
magnetic field (inductance). The cable is covered with a very cool-looking pinky-purple
The coaxial digital cable is nearly indistinguishable in
design and appearance from the interconnect, except that it appears to use a thinner
conductor. It is priced at $50 for a 1m length.
I did most of my listening to the Audio Magic Xstream
cables with a system consisting of Blue Circles new CS integrated amplifier, Axiom
M3Ti SE speakers, and a NAD 502 CD player. I also used them on a secondary system
comprised of an Arcam DiVA AVR100 receiver, Athena Audition AS-F1 speakers, and a
Panasonic DVD-A110 DVD player. With both of these systems I used a set of speaker cables,
a power cord with the integrated amplifier or receiver, and one set of interconnects with
the CD or DVD player. I used the coaxial digital cable between the DVD player and the
receiver mostly for multichannel music and DVD soundtracks but also for regular CDs.
Although Jerry Ramsey burned-in the cables prior to sending them to me, I let them settle
into each of my systems for a day or two prior to performing any critical listening.
Most throwaway cables and the cheap zip-cord-type speaker
wire that's thrown in when you purchase hi-fi gear at the store is sorry stuff -- and it
can have a deleterious effect on the sound of your system. Generally, this manifests
itself as loose boomy bass and a harsh-sounding treble that can become fatiguing over
time. Many people wrongly assume this is simply what the components they bought sound
like, but it's robbing you of the true sound of your carefully assembled system. You may
think that you aren't missing anything, but once you try high-performance cables in your
system, you will not want to go back. The reason I know this is that it's exactly my
experience with the Audio Magic Xstream cables.
When I swapped out some "gimme" cables for the
Xstream cables, imaging became more defined and the bass sounded tighter and more
articulate. The mids and highs were smoother and less piercing during peaks. While some of
these differences were fairly subtle and somewhat dependent on the playback material, the
overall effect made me feel as if I was squeezing the last little bit of performance out
of each component in the system. This might seem like hyperbole, but with the Xstream
cables the Blue Circle/Axiom/NAD system had a more coherent sound -- one where everything
just seemed right. This allowed me to concentrate on tiny details in the music that
had not been noticeable before.
For example, the Axiom M3Ti SE speakers had more defined
and accurate bass -- and this with less-than-stellar recordings. The opening drum beat on
"Rock & Roll All Night" from Kiss Double Platinum [Mercury 314 352
383-2] now sounded more like tom-toms, which were readily discernable from the snare drum.
On better-quality recordings, such as the soundtrack from Rosewood [Sony Classical
SK 63031], the bass was startlingly tight and visceral with very little overhang. The
midrange and highs were also sweet and noticeably free of grain. The vocals of both Holly
Cole and Ed Robertson on the title track from Baby Its Cold Outside [Alert
6152810382] were liquid and smooth without smearing.
The Blue Circle CS integrated amp also seemed to benefit
from the use of the Xstream cables. Even though its only rated at 50Wpc, the CS
sounds quite powerful when used with the Axiom M3Ti SE speakers. With the addition of the
Xstream cables, its sound was even more authoritative and dynamic. The cables also
tightened the soundstage, which resulted in more precise imaging and better depth. Audiophile
Reference IV from First Impression Music [FIM SACD 029] clearly illustrated this --
the standup bass on "Georgia On My Mind" imaged more to the outside of the left
speaker and Mari Nakamotos vocals originated from farther behind the plane of the
speakers. With the Xstream cables, the saxophone and percussion on "High Life"
also exhibited pinpoint imaging and a convincingly real sense of the recorded event's
The Audio Magic Xstream cables similarly enhanced the
performance of the Arcam/Athena/Panasonic system, adding subtle improvements when I used
the digital cable and the Arcam receiver's internal DACs. The Xstream digital cable had a
relaxed, natural presentation and it provided similar improvements to the lower registers
as did the rest of the Xstream cables. On the Diana Krall: Live in Paris DVD, John
Claytons standup bass sounded better controlled and seemed more coherently
integrated with the rest of the instruments. With the digital cable in place, Ms.
Kralls vocals and piano were placed farther back in the soundstage and seemed less
Taken as a whole, the complete set of Xstream cables was
able to improve the transparency, increase the dynamics, and resolve more detail in
recordings. Lowering the subjective noise floor in this manner has the effect of making
the system sound louder, yet at the same time more composed. This ability to hear deeper
into the recording allowed me to turn the volume down a notch without losing any nuance or
detail. It also let me crank it up without the sound becoming harsh or unlistenable.
Taking away or adding only one of the Xstream cables at a time had a relatively minor
effect on the overall presentation of the system, but changing all of them at once had an
effect that could be nearly as noticeable as upgrading a source component.
The Audio Magic Xstream cables are similar in price and
performance to the Analysis Plus
cables recently reviewed in GoodSound!, but the Xstream line includes
reasonably priced, high-quality digital cables and power cords as well. The Xstream
digital cable represents a cost-effective upgrade for anyone using the digital decoding of
a surround receiver or DAC, while the power cords are a definite improvement over stock
IEC power cords.
I did think that the Analysis Plus Clear Oval speaker cable
($99 per 8 pair) bettered the Xstream speaker cable in terms of transparency and
speed. However, some might find the Clear Oval's sound somewhat lean in comparison to the
Xstream and prefer that cable's added richness and liquidity, especially with
bright-sounding pop recordings. The Xstream speaker cables made the forcefully recorded
vocals and acoustic guitar of John Mellencamp on Cuttin Heads [Columbia CK
86202] sound smoother and more inviting without robbing them of their dynamics.
The Xstream interconnect sounded startlingly good and
exhibited transparency and neutrality that bettered even the accomplished Analysis Plus
Oval One ($89 per 1m pair). The Oval One seemed slightly darker with a less-focused,
smaller soundstage that contained less space and delineation between individual elements.
The Xstream interconnect even gave the more expensive Nordost Blue Heavens ($200 per 1m
pair), which are a standout at their price, a run for their money. With Eva Cassidys
Live At Blues Alley [Blix Street G2-10046] the differences were almost
imperceptible, but with more complex arrangements such as "It Doesnt
Matter" from Alison Krauss and Union Stations So Long, So Wrong [Rounder
610365], the Xstream's presentation was not as spacious as that of the Blue Heaven. That
said, the Xstream's bass was comparably articulate and its midrange was nearly as good,
exhibiting surprisingly little coloration or grain.
The value of the Xstream line of cables from Audio Magic
is, as the name suggests, extreme. The inclusion of both a digital cable and power cord in
the line allows one to outfit an entire system with high-quality silver cables for a
reasonable price. Each product in the Xstream line is well made and, more importantly,
provides excellent sound quality for the price, particularly the interconnects, which
offered a surprisingly elevated level of performance.
Price of equipment reviewed