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Reviewer: Jim Bosha
Source: VPI Scout/JMW Memorial 9 with Grado Reference Master cartridge, HHB CDP/R-800 Pro, Sherwood S-3000II mono tuner, Audio by Van Alstine Transcendence 6 hybrid phono stage with Telefunken smooth plate 12AX7s
Integrated Amplifier: Antique Sound Lab MG-SI15 DT integrated with Genalex Gold Monarch KT-88s and Telefunken smooth plate 12AX7s
Loudspeakers: Omega Grande 8-R ; Vance Dickason Titanic Mk III sub
Cables: VPI/Discovery and Signal Cable Analog 2 interconnects with Eichman Bullet Plugs; AudioQuest Mammoth speaker cable
Sundry Accessories: Vibrapods, Mapleshade Conepoints and Finite-Elemente Ceraballs used throughout
Stands: Sand-and-shot filled Lovan Classic racks, shot-filled Sound Organisation Hi Mass speaker stands
Power Delivery: Dedicated AC runs with Chris Ven Haus cryo'd Pass & Seymour Industrial Grade outlets, AudioPrism wall warts throughout residence
Room Size: 13' x 19' x 8'
Review Component Retail: $160/pr (15' for $180/pr, 20' for $200/pr)

And now, in the less than $200/10' pair category, wearing the black mesh, a new contender: the Ciao Audio speaker cable. Whether I have to or not, I chose to live my audio life in the price-is-an-object zone. So when the opportunity came along to pipe in on this new affordable cable entry from the folks at Ciao Audio, I was first in line.

My reference cable is the Mapleshade Clearview Double Golden Helix, smack dab in the same price range as the Ciaos and a natural partner with my SET and single-driver rig. I've heard this cable matched with similar power and identical speakers at shows and it's only served to reinforce my hard-won loyalty to the DGH as budget performer par excellence. In effect, the newcomers were entering a tradition-bound if not hostile environment. And gawd, how I hate switching out cables.

Here now the basics: the Ciao Audio cables are very solidly constructed, reassuringly hi-end in both feel and appearance. Stiff enough to signify some heft but flexible enough to take corners without swearing. This is a multi-strand wire, with each strand individually insulated. The effective gauge is 13.5. Designer/manufacturer Mark Magee plays the technical architecture very close to the vest, saying only that he sources "an affordable, audiophile-quality wire" for the job. All OFC, he's voiced the cable by sorting silver-plated and straight copper combinations until hitting upon the most pleasing recipe. The finished product is hand-made in Oregon, with Mr. Magee handling assembly of the runs himself but with all terminating done by those mysterious silent terminators at Cardas.

In efforts to keep this budget entry on budget, Mark had to fall on the proverbial sword to keep Cardas in the loop. Knowing how persnickety the Cardas people are when it comes to termination plus the famous quality of the hardware involved, he felt any inching northward of cost was well worth it. It's pleasant to think that, at least when a manufacturer puts his heart into it, top shelf workmanship and budget-mindedness can indeed shake hands.

In addition to being head man at Ciao Audio -- originally contracted by Aperion for the product at hand but since flying under its own flag -- Mark is a seasoned cinematographer with a background as a sound designer in film production. As a budding audiophile, Mark didn't believe wires made a difference. Then he built his first pair of CAT5s and had that mind-opening moment most of us in the hobby can recall. Many years later -- and as Magee puts it, "a long way from CAT5" -- we have Ciao's maiden entry into the category.

Over the span of its development, Mark subjected each iteration of the cable to what he feels is the most revealing and accurate test available - listening. From systems of stratospheric expense and ruthless detail to everyman rigs and every notch in between, Magee voiced the cable to represent the lesser of most evils. Not a strict believer in any component's 'neutrality' and suspecting that most music lovers aren't permanently strapped to the listening chair, Magee strove for a cable that delivered on a wide stage and a visceral level. "What I want to hear is the life of the music" he said. "If I can get that sense of space and place when not carefully positioned between the speakers, then I'm doing okay. Of course, much of this depends on your component choice but I try to cover all of the bases."

That sounds like a pregnant promise from any cable, let alone a model priced in the hi-fi basement. Let's see about those bases in need of coverage then, shall we?

Mark had first sent me a pair terminated with banana plugs, which I can't use for my Omegas with their spade (or bare wire) only Cardas binding posts, but can use for my subwoofer connection. As a result, I ended up with an all-Ciao speaker wiring harness for my 2.1 system and, after due cleaning and Pro-Gold'ing of contacts, was ready to start playing music.

As Mr. Magee's intentions would suggest, I'd classify the Ciao as a good-sounding cable. The midrange is lush and tube-like, the bass round and confident. The high frequencies, however, leave a little something to be desired. The hand claps that open John Mayer's "Clarity" [Heavier Things, Aware/Columbia CK86185], so clear through my reference wires, were rendered as annoying snaps with the Ciaos. This observation was reinforced by the top treble keys of the piano in Nine Inch Nail's "Right Where it Belongs" [With Teeth, Interscope Records Halo 19]. Bear in mind that these are both extreme examples worthy of a sniffy test record and Lucinda Williams "Bus to Baton Rouge" [Essence, Lost Highway, 188170197-2], ripe with twangy guitar highs, came across beautifully every time. And whether the cables burned-in or the listener did, this weakness became less and less an issue as the review period wore on.

The cable's strengths include a more 3-D presentation -- with exceptional channel separation -- than my reference has me used to. Mark's quest for that illusive "sense of space" seems a success, even from adjoining rooms.

All things considered, for those looking for a custom quality speaker cable at a chain store price, the Ciao cable is a must listen. And even though I suspect this cable is a better match with more, uh, 'traditional' systems than my own, I'm considering adding the Ciaos as an additional reference at the price point. YMMV, as always. But here the price/pitfall equation works out nicely and I can recommend this cable with a straight face even to those with more expensive habits than my own. Ciao.
Manufacturer's website