Listening said it could. With the qualities of the SE2 Brio as baseline, the upgrades yielded an even lower noise floor plus a slight increase in microdynamic resolution and transient edge for enhanced detail like the end of decays and richer venue information. The Kryo interconnect preserved the richer tonal balance of the new Audio Art SE2, showcased superb midrange-through-upper-bass density but added a touch more openness in the upper mids. These subtle improvements combined to reveal more character detail on instruments like cello by revealing the interplay of wood body, metal strings and bow hairs as an emotionally and technically intense experience. Highs were extended and sweet with a wealth of microdynamic detail. Soundstaging, already impressive with Brio, gained layers of refinement, tighter image focus and more venue detail. The accumulative gains of the cryo mod and costlier terminations amounted to a serious sonic upgrade over the SE2 Brio for a modest price increase. Consider the upper-tier stripes well earned.
Now we enter the world of unbalanced audiophiles – and apparently there are many. For those with neither ability nor inclination to go balanced, Mr. Fritz worked hard to achieve mostly identical performance from his unbalanced version of the IC-3 e2 Cryo featuring ETI silver Kryo RCA – with a proviso. In theory and over sufficient lengths, the XLR variant in a properly optimized true balanced circuit will have a noise advantage. In practice, that did play out. The silver Kryo RCA gave all the performance of the Kryo XLR but exhibited somewhat higher noise as well as a slight reduction in soundstage dimensions. However, the degree of difference was minor and otherwise both cables were cut from the same cloth.
The performance of both IC-3 e2 cables was extremely high to easily surpass the earlier efforts and offer a steadfast reference against all other cables on hand. By comparison, the Madison Audio Labs e3 Extreme1 at twice the cost hit similar dynamic marks, played strong pinpoint lateral positioning and thanks to its proprietary outboard grounding box, lower noise against the RCA IC-3 e2. While the Audio Art could approach but not quite match those parameters, it countered with a considerably more immersive soundstage and more tangible venue envelope. With the Audio Art, the artist and venue were more in the room as opposed to outside the listening area. Additionally in every comparison I tried, the Audio Art held its own against more expensive competition in its new strengths of dynamic gradation and transient edge and ultimately only yielded in areas of advanced refinement.
Next on the roster were Mr. Fritz's new speaker cables. The SC-5 e2 could be easily overlooked by the bigger-is-better crowd. Being based on the enduring SC-5 workhorse—a 14-gauge silver-plated OFC copper formula that continues to garner recommendations in the entry level—made for an intriguing candidate for a next-gen upgrade. Lavished with full cryo then nano liquid and Kontak ECOx and dressed in formal mesh Techflex and ETI Kryo terminations, the flexible little e2 will boldly go where no engorged speaker cable can maneuver. Here was a petite powerhouse that might deliver superior music and practical conveniences. Had Mr. Fritz managed to polish his little SC-5 to sufficiently tempt us?