Sunday, February 14, 2010



Life goes on. We Americans live in a country that, by rights, should be holding out a tin cup to reduce our deficit, but instead spends like there's no tomorrow (does somebody know something?); an elocutionary doof of a president insists on force feeding the populace with "change" the majority doesn't want; as if our schools haven't been dumbed down enough, one state has proposed to stop teaching any history before 1877 -- of course, nothing happened before that except slavery, which is obsessively covered in every other class; &c.

But ... life, civilized life, does go on. The consolations of art have lifted people above political strife and the ring of sword on sword since at least the Graeco-Roman world, and today's possibilities are in some ways greater than ever before.


I can't read a note of a musical score, but listening to music on my audio system, and sometimes watching and listening on my audio-video system, are among my favorite forms of uplift. And the better the quality of the systems, the more solace or excitement, depending on the need of the moment, I derive from them.

This brings me to the latest upgrade of my audio-video system: Anti-Cables.

Anti-Cables? Well, they are speaker cables, running from the Marantz SR-4002 multi-channel receiver to the Focal Chorus 807V main speakers. But the company has chosen the Anti-Cables name because they are different in design philosophy from other audiophile speaker cables.


They are offered as serious "high end" cables for very expensive (as well as less expensive) audiophile systems, and were reviewed favorably in The Absolute Sound, where obsessive-compulsive, cost-is-no-object aficionados gather.

High-class cables are mostly of the "fire hose" type: thick cords containing multiple copper (sometimes silver) strands in complicated and exotic configurations, surrounded by a pillow of insulation intended to avoid unwanted interactions, plus artistically woven outer sheaths.

Anti-Cables are, in contrast, about as simple as can be: very pure 12-gauge copper with a thin, festively red coating that serves as insulation. They're about the thickness of coat-hanger wire, but much more flexible. Coiled up, as they are for shipping (also recommended to take up any extra wire when installed), they look like a big version of the "Slinky" I played with as a kid.


You shape the wires from your power source to your speakers. Paul Speltz, the designer, recommends twisting the + and - cables around one another. One feature of the semi-rigid design is that they will stay off the floor, which some say results in a sonic improvement.

Anti-Cables cost -- are you ready for this? -- 10 bucks per foot-pair. (That is, a seven-foot pair goes for $70.) In audiophile circles, speaker cables selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars are not uncommon. I have seen ads for some priced above what I paid for my first car.

I am not in that financial league, and if I were, I'd rebel against spending so much on cables; even an audiophile needs perspective. Besides, at some price point (the wizards of sonic absoluteness disagree where) the law of diminishing returns sets in. The only times I've heard a system with truly big-ticket wires were at dealers' demo rooms. The cables seemed to work pretty well.


So, what difference have the Anti-Cables made in my system? Wires are not supposed to sound like anything, of course, just to let the current through with as little mischief as possible. Cables (like all components) should ideally "disappear."

But improvement can be described. I hear more "presence," definition, separation of instrumental lines, nuances. In short, the experience is more musical. For DVD soundtracks, the upgrade is probably equivalent, although generally not as important for dialogue as for music.

By the way, the Anti-Cables didn't replace crummy lamp cord; their predecessor was Straight Wire Rhythm II, recommended to me as a quality product (and it is).

With any system improvement, the drawback is that bad recordings, such as those that are multi-miked and poorly mixed, or some of old vintage, sound worse, not better. But most of the CDs I've played through the Anti-Cables reveal new details and depths.



"Marcus" said...

Oh no, an audiophile! Worse than yachting...

Nevertheless, thanks for this review. I just received the new Peachtree integrated amp with tube pre amp and a wonderful DAC. It's supposed to be designed to soften hard drive music from itunes or an iphone. It also has a very good, independent video stage. All for $1500 or so.

ANYWAY, I still also use a Marantz SACD, and with a pair of Klipsch Cornwalls I'm inheriting, trying out some inexpensive cables sounds like a good deal. I do not read those mags enough to have known of them.

But as to your point, yes, music and high culture have become more important to me and others over the past years. Living in what I call The Age of Folly makes one turn away from quotidian politics to more permanent things, a strange advantage to being disenfranchised. Think of all that great material written and composed during the Soviet era. Would Shostakovitch have survived an American Idol-Lindsay Lohan culture?

Enjoy the stereo and forget about those jokers in DC...genuinely awful people.

Rick Darby said...


I have had very good results with Marantz CD players. A Marantz CD 5001 is the front end of my audio system.

Apparently it is no longer a Philips brand, as it was for a while in the '90s. It seems to be an independent company again.

I take your point about adversity being a critical element (obviously not the only one) in the development of great artistic ability. Possibly a Shostakovich raised in the contemporary United States would be a successful film score writer living in the Hollywood Hills. But the Shostakovich we know couldn't exist had he not endured the war and the Stalin regime.

MnMark said...

Why couldn't one just go to the hardware store and buy 12-gauge electrical wire and use that?

Rick Darby said...

Mn Mark,

I'll defer to Mr. Speltz, if he is following this, but I think the copper must be very pure, and that's a specialty item you probably won't find at Home Depot. Then there is the coating -- the "dielectric" in electronic jargon -- which has to be applied carefully.

But that said, I think what the Anti-Cables company has done is, in principle, something like what you are suggesting. They don't buy the idea that complicated configurations of many strands, which is what most expensive cables are, are necessary.

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