GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published July 1, 2002

 

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 their price.

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 complicated.

The cables

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 cord’s 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 cable’s 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 sheathing.

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.

The Sound

I did most of my listening to the Audio Magic Xstream cables with a system consisting of Blue Circle’s 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 It’s 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 it’s 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 Nakamoto’s 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 space.

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 Clayton’s standup bass sounded better controlled and seemed more coherently integrated with the rest of the instruments. With the digital cable in place, Ms. Krall’s vocals and piano were placed farther back in the soundstage and seemed less forced.

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.

Comparison

GOODSOUND! APPROVED COMPONENT
Audio Magic
Xstream Interconnects

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 Cassidy’s Live At Blues Alley [Blix Street G2-10046] the differences were almost imperceptible, but with more complex arrangements such as "It Doesn’t Matter" from Alison Krauss and Union Station’s 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.

Conclusion

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


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