Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Rotel RCD-971 CD player modified with IEC jack instead of captive AC cord; Hit Audio/Cayin CD-22 CD player [in for review]; Shanling CD-T100C CD player [in for review]; Pro-Ject 1 Xpression turntable w/AT95E cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Zone AMP-1; Audio Zone STi [in for review]; Manley Labs Stingray; Bryston B60; Unison Research Unico; Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage.
Speakers: Meadowlark Kestrel 2; Reference 3A Dulcet [in for review]; Omega Super 3R [in for review]
Cables: DH Labs Q10 loudspeaker cables, DH Labs Revelation and Air Matrix interconnects, GutWire Power Clef SE power cables [in for review]
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand.
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow, GutWire MaxCon Line Conditioner [in for review]
Sundry accessories: Pro-Ject Speed Box; Duende Criatura tube dampers; Grand Prix Audio APEX footers [in for review]; Gingko Audio Cloud 11 vibration control platform; Walker Audio SST contact enhancer; Audience Auric Illuminator; GutWire Notepads; Black Diamond Racing cones; AudioPrism Isobearings; Vibrapods; dedicated AC line with Hubbell outlets; homebrew acoustic treatment.
Room size: 13' x 17' x 8'
Review Component Retail: Interconnect $232 /1m; Speaker Cable $399 /2m; Speaker Bi-Wire Jumpers $201; Power Cable $449 /6ft.
Psst. I am going to let you in on a little secret. Few if any cable companies actually fabricate their own raw conductors. Based on much of their retail pricing, audiophiles can be forgiven for believing otherwise. Alas, there are only a handful of firms on the planet that actually 'make' wire as in casting or drawing copper or silver conductors from raw metal ingots. Most if not all cable companies purchase their essential ingredients from wire makers who produce them to their specs. Much of this raw material is obtainable for a fraction of the finished product's retail cost. However, keep in mind that the cable company still has to perform final assembly, testing, packaging, marketing and distribution. These costs -- plus what in certain cases seems like an excessive profit margin -- are built into the final selling price.
Depending on the company, cable firms will also spend considerable R&D resources to design their merchandise. This does not come cheap. But since most audiophile cable outfits are not burdened with the expense of erecting and outfitting their own cable production (rather than merely assembly) facilities, I refuse to recommend spending more than a few hundred dollars on an interconnect and perhaps two to three times that on speaker cables - unless of course, there are extraordinarily expensive materials or manufacturing processes employed. This is why I am fan of DH Labs - no marketing BS, no kilo-buck pricing. Audience's cable lineup also dovetails nicely with my low-brow cable criteria. Instead of hawking a dozen different models (an exercise I find pointless unless of course I was a cable manufacturer - er, assembler), Audience follows the 'good, better, best' strategy familiar to anyone with even the most rudimentary marketing experience. The highly regarded 'best' Au24 sits right at the edge of my cable cost threshold while the Conductor fills the inexpensive 'good' range and the Maestro the mid-priced 'better'.
The audio press has heaped much praise on the Au24 but has thus far spilled little ink on the more affordable Maestro. All three lines share the less-is-more aesthetic of being thin, flexible and devoid of fancy outer sleeving or audio jewelry connectors. While fellow moonies Mike and Stephæn recently reviewed the Conductor interconnects, powerChord and Au24 cables, I was curious to audition the oft-neglected middle child. Audience's John McDonald sent me a complete set of Maestro cables including custom bi-wire jumpers along with a pair of powerChords for a follow-up to Mike's original review. Included with each cable was a tube of Caig's R5 Power Booster contact enhancer. Go-fast accessories? Cool.
The Au24, Conductor and Maestro are all primarily designed around low eddy-current resistance. According to Audience, magnetic fields build up and collapse around cables when an electrical signal is present. When this field subsides, it induces an opposing voltage into the cable. This is what causes the eddy currents. The time-delayed opposing voltage disrupts the original signal and causes smearing artifacts. Audience believes that cables which sound detailed, overly relaxed or abnormally powerful in the bass all suffer the effects of time smear. Through material selection, construction techniques and geometry, all three of Audience's cable lines are said to exhibit low eddy-current resistance as their secret weapon for good sound. For further information, check out Audience's website as well as Mike's and Stephæn's reviews.
The Maestros are thin, light, and flexible and a welcome relief to the stiffer-than-a-corpse behemoths that 'philes go jonesing over. I have never subscribed to the 'bigger is better' philosophy in anything, hence my proclivities towards small fuel-efficient cars, low/mid-powered integrated amps, 2-way loudspeakers and my petite, low-maintenance woman.
Many cable firms cite lower DC resistance as their raison d'être for hose-sized cables. Audience believes DC resistance to be relatively unimportant and claims that the cable's characteristic impedance or AC resistance is more important and thus designs their cables accordingly. Therefore music signals will pass through their cables with less actual impedance than cables with lower DC resistance. The folks at Audience suggest all the additional conductor and dielectric mass in larger cables will distort delicate audio signals.
Both cables utilize high-purity, oxygen-free copper insulated in a cross-linked polyethylene dielectric housed within a soft, attractive dark blue PVC outer jacket. While slim and flexible, both cables were sturdy and rugged, suggesting they might be ideal for professional use. The interconnects are terminated with the same low mass, low contact resistance, gold-plated beryllium/copper RCA connector as the more expensive Au24, while the speaker cables sport rhodium-plated spades. All in all, the Maestros were easy to route and terminations were snug and secure with little play.
|The powerChords were also refreshingly flexible and unimposing compared to most of their competitors. This is due to their multi-stranded design and lack of shielding. No shielding? Do not serious AC cables require shielding to|
|banish the evil twins of EMI and RFI? Perhaps not. Audience believes shielding actually causes more problems than it solves by increasing the cable's impedance, which in turn restricts current flow. Furthermore, Audience claims their low-impedance design naturally rejects noise and interference thus obviating the need for shielding. The powerChord also utilizes a low loss dielectric to avoid excessive energy storage i.e. capacitance which, according to Audience, can lead to smearing artifacts. Therefore, the powerChord follows similar non-interventionist principles as the Maestros. The powerChord is encased in a black plastic sleeve and terminated with a Marinco plug on one end and a Wattgate IEC socket on the other.|