TIME TO LISTEN
Originally, I had planned to listen to products from just one supplier. But the two shipments were sent out almost simultaneously, so I gave them both a listen. The AudioQuest package arrived first, and I added their cables to my system right away.
There was an immediate transformation. Playing a variety of jazz and classical albums I know well, I noticed greater speed and clarity, but also greater refinement and delicacy. Dynamics were improved. The background was blacker; and the sound was purer, with less grain. A casual listener might not notice (or care about) these improvements, but I think any audiophile or music-lover would.
The Torus products arrived a couple of days later, so I swapped in the TOT Max for the Energy surge suppressor I've been using for several years. There was an even greater improvement in blackness, speed and especially dynamics. Not only were transients faster, the sustain and decay were more natural.
Many of AudioQuest's high-end cables, including the Star Quad GO-4 speaker cables supplied for this test, feature the company's Dielectric Bias System, which uses a 72V battery to polarize molecules in the insulation. The result, AudioQuest claims, is greatly improved detail and dynamics. GO-4 cables also feature high-purity Perfect Surface solid copper conductors and partially conductive carbon-loaded polyethylene insulation. The latter prevents RF noise from being fed back into the amplifier, AudioQuest says.
The combination of new cables and power conditioner made it easier to separate different strands of music. A case in point is Michael Nyman's MGV (Argo, CD rip, ALAC). Composed for the launch of France's Train à Grande Vitesse, this marvelous score recreates the rhythms and sounds of train travel. With the AudioQuest cables and Torus conditioner, my system opened up these layers in a way I'd never heard.
There was a marked improvement in bass, probably because the Sunfire subwoofer was getting more energy more quickly. Bass was more impactful and articulate, and better integrated with the KEF monitors.
Besides improving intelligibility and resolution, these add-ons made the music more organic, more whole. And it sounded bigger. I recall listening to Sir Colin Davis conduct Elgar's Second Symphony in London's Barbican Hall several years ago, and thinking to myself that bigness is what separates reproduced sound from major live events. No hi-fi could ever sound this big, I thought. While my system didn't sound Barbican-big with these enhancements, the sound assumed a different scale.
Stereo imaging improved as well, especially in precision, with musicians being more firmly delineated in the space between and behind my KEF LS50 monitors.
Were these big cables making me fool myself into hearing what I saw? Had I swallowed a placebo with all that cable Kool-Aid? I found out a week later when I restored my system to its original state.
I did it piecemeal. Going back to the Excelsior speaker cables, the sound was a little more veiled and a little less dynamic. Going back to a generic USB cable, the sound became more smeared and less involving, and less dynamic as well. After replacing the big AudioQuest power cords with generic cords, I noticed that transient attacks were slower, and dynamics were less exciting. Going back to the Energy suppressor from the Torus conditioner, the sound became more veiled and grainier. Transients became duller still, and the overall presentation became smaller. My system as it was before this experiment now sounded less organic, less involving, less whole.
Ten minutes told me I wanted the new stuff back in. Reconnecting the Torus and premium cables, the sound again became bigger and more dynamic. The listening experience became more of a musical event, as opposed to a succession of sounds. Details were rendered more convincingly, with greater expression. I was more aware of both musical technique and artistic intent.
During my final few days of listening, I substituted the Wireworld products for the AudioQuest package. The improvements over the generic cables were on a similar scale; but there was a difference in emphasis. I thought the Wireworld products sounded slightly more neutral and precise; while the AudioQuest cabling sounded slightly bigger, more dramatic and more rounded. I think the difference would matter only to very obsessive audiophiles.
A tiebreaker, if one is needed, is appearance and domesticity. The AudioQuest cables are thicker and more visibly dominant than their Wireworld counterparts. The power cords and speaker cables are only slightly less thick than a garden house, and about as (in)flexible. On more than one occasion, moving the Moon Nēo 340i amplifier slightly dislodged the AudioQuest power cord, shutting the system down. To adapt Floyd Toole's colourful analogy, exotic cables may not be just audio jewelry. But they certainly are jewelry in the sense that appearance is part of their appeal.
Priced at $1,295, Torus Power's TOT Max toroidal isolation power conditioner has a 1,800VA transformer, and can deliver 15A of instantaneous current to devices connected to its eight AC outlets.
So after drinking all this cable Kool-Aid, what do I think of it? I like it! These products transformed the sound of my system, to the point where I want them to be a permanent part of my setup. Rather than changing my components' overall character, they seemed to unlock their true potential.
I've put my money where my mouth is. The Torus TOT Max is a no-brainer for me; it definitely stays. I agonized for a couple of weeks whether to opt for an AudioQuest or Wireworld package. As noted above, I found a whole lot to like about both brands. In the end, I went with Wireworld, with the jewelry effect acting as a tiebreaker. I found Wireworld's flat power cords domestically friendlier than AudioQuest's cables. It could easily have gone the other way though.
The main takeaway is that after hearing how these products transformed my system's sound, I couldn't go back to status quo ante. If that makes me a convert, so be it.