Say it with me: "Metal is bad." There, that wasn't so hard, was it?
Saying it -- and even believing it true -- is, however, far easier than crafting legitimate high-performance audio cables from anything other than metallic conductors. After all, what else is as conductive as copper, silver, gold or Palladium? And if it were, is it defense-related $1K/ft unobtainium of interest merely to NASA and the Trilateral Commission? And what, pray tell, is wrong with metal anyway? Are we now dissing copper and silver just to introduce another completely unnecessary and nerdy worry to audiophiles who are already frantic to keep up with digital jitter, break-up modes, Mosfet mist, break-in, wire directionality and other imaginary/real conundrums?
One thing common to metals is their crystalline molecular structure. If certain propaganda is to be trusted, this creates miniature barriers for propagating electrons, meaning that less (or longer) crystals sound better than hordes of really short ones, no boundaries better than even just a few. (And in case you wonder like me what happens to so-called zero-crystal conductors when they're handled and bent - well, let's just say it seems like a good question to ask. Wouldn't bending introduce microscopic fractures?)
Amorphous metals (or metallic glasses) are subject to intense hi-tech research because they end up in a physical state analogous to liquid glass - free of any periodic boundaries. Amorphous metals usually depend on complex alloys whose pre-melt makeup of differently sized and shaped molecules is said to prevent them from grouping together in recognizable formations when the liquid metal is cryo-cooled so rapidly as to prevent crystallization.
|Van den Hul and Stealth Audio Cables both utilize amorphous conductors and VdH also offers carbon variants. Harmonic Technology's Cyberlight cables employ fiber optics instead and Cerious Technologies uses synthetic ceramic-impregnated fibers surrounded by a ballistics-derivative semi liquid-solid shield/damper.
Though it isn't common news yet, efforts are thus underway to develop non-metallic conductors for audio applications. Still, available R&D funding in our cottage industry is far too small to support such an ambitious project. We'll have to look at IT, military, space and medical sectors to create these new raw conductors and their technologies of manufacture. It's then that enterprising cable manufacturers can step in to experiment with these raw materials and learn how to manipulate, shield, terminate and arrange/twist/ layer them -- and at what diameters -- to produce the best measurable and audible results for our intended applications.
|Next time you hear about non-metallic or amorphous-metal cables, don't immediately write them off as baloney. If it's good enough for Caltech, DARPA and the NSA, you can bet serious money that we're not talking fringe science project but serious research and hyper-critical applications. As usual, identifying a problem -- in this instance, metals induce a base set of issues which cannot be overcome regardless of treatments, geometries or dielectrics -- and devising a solution that eliminates these issues without introducing|
|its own new set of problems is two different propositions entirely. It then stands to reason that the very first such introductions of our 'new breed of audio cables' may not be completely flawless. After all, everything electronic thus far is wired up with regular cable. That goes for inductors, capacitor leads, transformer windings, resistor leads and hookup wire.
|Simply inserting a few meters of non-metallic or amorphous (true zero-crystal) cable may not be able to offset the 'damage' done by all the other metal-based parts preceding and following it. In other words, this whole subject is still very much in its infancy and anyone pioneering such technology certainly wouldn't be daft enough to first waste it on the beleaguered industry that is HighEnd audio. However - early examples thereof are already here and more are in the works. If initial experiences with the Stealth Indra are any indication, there's indeed a lot of promise in this new field of cable design.
On a related subject, there's a parallel move away from metals in electronics enclosures. Besides field effects, there's resonances. Those who've experimented along these lines will tell you that the shape and makeup of a chassis has profound effects on the sonics of the circuits contained therein. Race cars and mountain bikes are two high-performance fields that have already seen a lot of applications for composite materials. Grand Prix Audio, Black Diamond Racing, Mårten Design and Wilson-Benesch are a few examples of audio companies who already work with composite materials for equipment supports and loudspeaker enclosures.
|Again, audio as an industry is too small and insular to generate large-scale breakthroughs in enclosure manufacturing technologies. Bent sheet metal is far easier and cheaper to produce and/or outsource than trying to catch up with decades worth of very specialized and applied research performed elsewhere in composite manufacture. However, just as with liquid or non-metallic cables, efforts|
|are underway to incorporate this type of amorphous-shape enclosure design to audio to finally liberate designers from walking the straight and square and instead experiment with curvaceous organic forms. It truly is testament to the creative and pioneering individuals in HighEnd audio that we would even witness such cross-pollination from other industries. If metal be bad, inventiveness and passion are good. Kudos to those then who push the envelope - just because. It's certainly not for widespread recognition or their own his'n'hers garage of Porsches. It's to take the pedal off the metal...|