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Reviewer: Mike Healey
Source: Audio Refinement CD player, Bel Canto Design DAC2, Technics turntable
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Refinement Complete integrated, BVaudio P1 preamplifier
Amp: BVaudio PA300 stereo amplifier
Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Haydn
Cables: Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables, Analysis Plus Oval One interconnects, Analysis Plus Digital Oval, 2 x Audio Magic Xstream power cables, 2 x Shunyata Research DiamondBack power cables
Stands: Sumiko Foster & Lowell Standards, StudioTech Ultra 5-shelf audio rack
Powerline conditioning: Shunyata Guardian 4-HT
Sundry accessories: Cardas Signature RCA caps, Bybee Plug & Play speaker purifiers (for review)
Room size: 11' x 17' with 9' vaulted ceilings
Review component retail: $113/8'/pr

Don’t you love it when you can purchase a brand new product for a ridiculously affordable price? I had this experience a few weeks ago when I bought a pair of walking shoes for $18. Maybe this is another sign that I'm pushing 40 but I was genuinely happy when I slipped on (no laces) my new comfy shoes for morning walkies with the dog. Some readers may laugh at this. However, cheap shoes make sense when faced with the inflated costs of health care, gasoline, heating and electricity, groceries and even audio equipment (gasp!). The thousand dollar stereo system of yesteryear has been replaced with the ten-thousand dollar interconnect. Finding a musically refined component that is sanely priced is truly a cheap thrill.

Almost two years ago, I reviewed a pair of Audio Magic Xstream power cables. These affordable cables have been extremely handy and are a major upgrade from "boring black" Belden cables. After a year of use, the Xstreams are still intact with little signs of wear. No damage to the thick eggplant colored jackets or the connectors; just a little bending from a lot of use. More importantly, the Xstream power cables offer a musical presentation that is competitive with cables costing almost twice as much.

Since completing that review, I have been curious to hear whether a little silver in my speaker cables would reveal further sonic improvements. Of course, all audiophiles know that everything makes a difference - but we still want proof. After perusing information about affordable silver, silver/copper and other silver mixes, I decided to try the Audio Magic Xstream loudspeaker cables.
Jerry Ramsey, Audio Magic's cable wizard, shipped the cables in a nondescript manila bubble envelope. The two 8' lengths of cable were coiled in the envelope and arrived undamaged. The Xstream loudspeaker cables are stiff, thick and just a little bulky (although not extremely so). The blue-jacketed cables look dapper and my wife did not mind their appearance. During my three-month review period, I frequently removed and connected the Xstreams for ABA testing. The Xstreams were easy to insert and did not show any signs of wear or breaking.

The Xstream cables use 10-gauge silver-over-copper conductors. They are directional - a blue ring indicates the leads that connect to the loudspeakers. Retail price for an 8' pair of Audio Magic Xstream loudspeaker cables terminated in bananas is a lucky (and affordable) $113.

Right out of the bubble bag, the Xstreams offered quieter backgrounds and improved lower midrange and bass frequencies. Over time, the cables opened up to reveal fine detail and improved soundstaging. Jerry Ramsey told me the Xstreams were connected to a cable cooker before shipping. The cooking is helpful in reducing the amount of burn-in time for a new cable. However, I still ran signal through the cables at home during the day while was at work and did not start to critically evaluate them for two weeks.

I tried the Xstreams with the different amplifiers and different speakers as well as my reference BVaudio amplifier and Vienna Acoustics Haydn loudspeakers. This latter setup showed the Xstreams in their best light although their musical qualities were consistent even with different loudspeakers.

Are the Xstreams the best cables I have heard to date? Can I do a silver cable shoot out? How about a double-deaf test? These questions and more will remain unanswered. For those obsessed with minutiae, my listening time with the Xstreams took place somewhere around the 49th parallel, between the months of September through November; during a drought where the local climate shifted from 94 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit and back again - sometimes on the same day.

"The Highest Fi!" from Bells are ringing with Dean Martin and Judy Holliday
A loudspeaker cable should not do anything to the music other than encourage your components to sound their best. However, cables do have certain audible characteristics and will influence certain parts of the musical presentation of your system. Whether connected to the Audio Refinement Complete integrated amp or the BVaudio preamp and power amp, the Xstreams offered quieter backgrounds. While this did not necessarily result in more details than I could hear with my reference speaker cables, those details were more clearly defined and in sharper focus. This was especially apparent with macro and microdynamics. The musical drama of Haydn's Die Schöpfung [Naxos, 8.557380-81 2005], was heightened with the Xstreams. From the solos with baritone and organ to the joyous singing of the entire chorus and orchestra, dramatic shifts in the music sounded more exciting. Less background noise provides a clearer sonic picture as the music accelerates from silence to glorious sound.

Another characteristic of the Xstreams is how well they revealed detail without sounding fatiguing. My Haydn loudspeakers are particularly sensitive to components that over-emphasize details. The speakers won't sound bright per se but they can sound spitty in the treble. The higher frequencies won't have the same sense of air and space around the instruments. To see if I could make the Haydns spit, I played an old Tangerine Dream CD from the 1990s that has thin bass and steely high frequency sounds [The Private Music of, 82105 1992]. The song "Electric Lion" includes saxophone, electric guitar and bright synthesizers. My daughter told me that this CD reminded her of a music box. I think she was describing how the synthesizers could sound like plucked metal. With the Xstream speaker cables, the metallic sounds remained appropriately bright. They did not smooth out this edginess in the recording.

However, the Xstreams also did not over-emphasize the detail to make the recording sound fatiguing. The synthesizers also had greater weight in the lower frequencies. This was particularly surprising because my Haydn monitors only have a 5 ¼" mid/woofer. To further explore the bass abilities of the Xstream cables, I played "Canto de Ossanha" from Paula Morelenbaum's solo effort, berinbaum [Universal, 3695 2004]. With the Xstreams, the catchy Brazilian rhythms and low frequency synthesizers swung lower and wider, revealing just a little more booty than was there before - like the new fashion that requires young girls to wear their pants below the waist and their underwear up to their armpits. Midrange frequencies were also well-presented. Paula's voice sounded appropriately smooth and inviting like a lover's caress. Sibilants were also clear. I love it when you can hear a singer smiling!

Compared to my Analysis Plus Oval 12 loudspeaker cables, there were quite a few differences. What you choose will depend on your system. However, after three months of listening with the Xstreams, I realized that I could live happily with either set. The musical characteristics of each cable will recommend one over the other depending on the application. The Xstreams encouraged my system to sound more forward than with the Oval 12s. This was helpful whether listening at lower volumes late at night or cranking David Bowie's Reality [Iso/Columbia, 90576 2003] during my lunch hour. The BVaudio preamplifier and amplifier are so neutral that I sometimes feel that they are withholding some of the midrange. That's what you get when you combine paranoia and audiophilia - a person who thinks their music system is out to get them!

The Xstream speaker cables let the midrange move forward in the sonic picture. David Bowie's vocals on "Fall Dog Bombs The Moon" had greater presence in my listening room. In particular, his raspy and world-weary Cockney accent sounded more distinct from the weird wall of sound in the background. In this respect, the Xstreams were preferable to the Oval 12s with the BVaudio equipment.

However, the forwardness of the Xstreams also resulted in a brighter musical picture - but this was minimal. I did not notice this as much with the Tangerine Dream recording because I expected it to sound bright. A better recording to demonstrate this potential drawback is the viol (precursors to modern stringed instruments) music of Orlando Gibbons performed by Phantasm [Avie, AV0032 2004]. Even though the music is soothing, friends can't resist telling
me that this is "vile" music. With the Xstreams, the viols had greater musical presence. Yes, I was fooled into thinking the instruments actually sounded closer but it was also easier to follow each line of the melody and distinguish the sound of one viol from another than with the Oval 12s.

"Fantasia I" has a faster run of high notes played on the viols. With bright equipment, this passage can sound more like an accordion than a stringed instrument. With the Xstreams, the midrange was correct but the rapid bowing had some of that accordion-like sound. For this recording, the Oval 12s were smoother in the higher frequencies and the viols were placed further back in the soundstage so the music sounded appropriately viol and less vile.

Because of this high-frequency emphasis, the Xstreams might not sound as satisfying with components that are already a little bright. For components that sound a little dark or aren't hyper-detailed in the upper frequencies, the Xstreams will work like a nice cup of fair trade breakfast tea. They are a pick-me-up cable, not a jolt of espresso caffeine!

The Xstreams did not offer the same soundstage depth I was used to hearing with the Oval 12s. When I played the "Symphony No. 8 in D Minor" from a collection of the music of William Boyce (Naxos, 8557278 2005), the Xstreams did not offer as much air around the violins. Naxos recordings can sometimes be hit or miss but this recording sounds accurate with good hall ambience. With the Xstreams, the trailing notes and subtle echoes that give an aural sense of the recording venue didn't travel as far. All of these details were present but to a lesser degree. Switching back to the Oval 12s provided more air to the recording (and hair because the backgrounds were noisier) and the acoustic space surrounding the stringed instruments was rendered more clearly.

Cheap Thrills
The shortcomings of the Xstreams were few (less depth in the soundstage, less air, some brightness) and not overly offensive. Even though they were less airy than my reference cables, they did not completely cut off the oxygen supply to my favorite CDs. They were more forward than my reference cables but did not step over the line to make my system sound fatiguing. The Xstreams also offered a refined and detailed midrange, improved bass, improved presence in singing voices and brought me closer to the music. These strengths were so satisfying that, for $113 for an 8 foot cable, the Audio Magic Xstreams are an easy recommendation for music lovers on a budget. If you are looking to upgrade your loudspeaker cables, the silver Xstreams might be just the thing to make your heavy equipment sing like a canary!
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