Magic Link Interconnect; Magic Digital Link; and Fantasy AC cables

Underestimated siblings:
Let's be blunt and straight to the point from the very outset: Cable reviews are the ugly sisters of the glamorous component reviews. Although cable reviews are nowadays more prevalent than ever (as are mushrooming new cable "manufacturers"), we nevertheless primarily and greedily consume as a priority any print on the gorgeous new multi-driver, high-tech, mega- dollar loudspeaker. We impatiently wait and then pounce on the reviews of the exotic super-powered, over-built valve/solid-state amplifiers. Let's not even start with the angst-ridden orgy (where are we going?) of "super format" source equipment reviews that are anxiously yet voraciously consumed.

Like Gollum tempted by the ring, the audiophile seeks to unlock the review's secrets. In turn, these glamorous reviews mysteriously tempt the audiophile. Cable review, however? I'll come back to you, let's first just check out those new speaker specs. What was the finish on that glorious timbre again?

My Preciousss:
Obviously, without cables, an audio system remains a collection of inanimate objects. Expensive silent boxes. However, any cable will make them work - sounds do emanate. And sometimes -- actually, more often than not -- music does not. So while this above-mentioned ugly sister tends to be a misunderstood and neglected kind spirit, if you're fortunate and pay proper homage, her worn, blackened teeth may indeed smile upon you.

As a curious reader, your interest may now be piqued. You may be motivated to experiment - perhaps to try a different interconnect with unusual technology, or even an AC cable with added RFI shielding. By chance and with an open mind, you may stumble upon a most synergistic, holistic combination. In this event, talking about a total transformation of your system may be an understatement and in turn, quite the unexpected enlightenment. Regardless of component quality, your good system could suddenly bloom into something magical that belies its modest cost. More rewardingly, your audio buddies might aspire to replicate it. That, in this hobby, is the truly big payoff.

Apropos, by pure coincidence or Kismetic destiny, I have enjoyed a long-lasting and -- I am glad to report -- quite pleasant history with Harmonic Technology cables. I've been an avid fan and user of their high-value TruthLink and Pro Silway interconnect cables for a number of years. I also use their massively built, boa constrictor sized PRO-9 loudspeaker cable, which, once installed in my system, was a revelation in extension and clarity when compared to my previous highly regarded cable.

So stay with me as my tale of Magic and Fantasy unfolds.


It's always a pleasure to deal with Jim Wang, principal of Harmonic Technology (henceforth HT). Service is a priority at HT! Jim is prompt in all communications - via email in my case. I can always bank on having my queries responded to within hours, without exception. As promised, the cables arrived within a few days in Down Under. The top-of-the-line HT Magic cables come in a generous vinyl zippered bag with interior pocket and clearly stenciled manufacturer and model details. Nice touch. Opening the bag revealed beautifully built and assembled, purple jacketed 1m RCA-to-RCA interconnects. Note from the pictures the high-quality RCA plug made by Furutech. Magic Link is US$700 for a 1m pair and Magic Digital is US$400 for the same length. The Fantasy AC was just as beautifully built and arrived in a dark blue jacket. Also note from the pictures the Australian AC plugs thoughtfully supplied by HT. A 1-meter Fantasy AC cable sells for US$320.

Both cables share certain design philosophies. HT is a big believer and modern implementer of single-crystal copper and/or silver conductors within all their designs (I write "modern" because I believe Toshiba did some work along similar lines a few decades ago). Details about the casting method, conductor topology and numerous other mythical bedtime entertainment topics such as skin effect, dielectric materials etc can be found at the comprehensive and user-friendly HT website. Commendably, HT also provides specifications on capacitance, resistance, inductance and adds a white paper about design choices.

As is common with all HT products, the perception is of a classy item at a very high value for the money charged. In other words, physically and aesthetically, the impression is that of a product far more expensive than it turns out to be.

Hey, let's put 'em into the system. The Fantasy AC leads were used to power my Gryphon -- and alternatively, the Blue Circle BC26 -- power amplifier and the preceding Blue Circle BC21.1 preamplifier. Magic cables were used to interconnect my Bel Canto DAC-2 to the Blue Circle BC21.1 preamp and its outputs to the power amp. The Sony CDP-XA5ES fed my Bel Canto DAC-2 from its coaxial output via the Magic digital lead.

Fantasy and Magic! Did Gandalf waive his staff at this?
Abracadork. Not convinced about the validity of the break-in phenomenon? Do you think it akin to a fairy tale filled with elves and Hobbits? If so, buy a set of these cables. Your Thomas shall doubt no more. As it turned out, you will need to be a patient skeptic. Out of the box, these cables sounded very detailed and airy but with a rather bright balance that bordered on the harsh, the interconnect and AC cables more so than the Digital Link: Major listening fatigue, alas not entirely surprising with brand-new cables. So began my break-in saga.

Subsequent to the out-of-the-box listening session, I clocked in a further 50 hours via a TV, VCR and tuner system sans active listening. Listened briefly again: No good, still bright. Given that I still hoped this was a burn-in or conditioning-related problem (an early email from Jim Wang had warned of this extended process, albeit rather conservatively), my concern was that I did not want my hearing to become acclimated or used to this bright balance. So off to the TV, VCR etc it was. A further 50-odd hours elapsed. I briefly listened once again: No amelioration.

What if this was no anomaly? What if there existed some system incompatibility (clutching at straws)? I have owned many products that required lengthy break-in (the Thiel CS2.3s come to mind as a prime example) but nothing like this, certainly not with cables. I became rather concerned what my review was going to say about this statement product. What to do?

Time to de-rig the whole kaboodle and call our heroic "Break-in Man". Who is this bearded, dark and caped figure? Too tall for Frodo and not as handsome as Aragorn. A benevolent Orc perhaps? Actually, he is brother-in-law Michael. Michael and his wife Veena play music almost 24/7. Background, foreground, in-between, whilst cooking, bathing, de-fleeing the dog, nooking etc. You get the drift: Michael would break in those suckers in no time. Add seven days with Break-in Man and the saga concludes.

Harmoniously yours:
Driving back from Michael's place, I couldn't help but ponder how my investigations into this hardness would continue. I crossed fingers and toes that finally all was broken-in. Time for some serious listening.

Hey skeptic, still out there? What a difference! All traces of hardness were gone now. However, the incredible detail still remained. In addition, the soundstage opened up in terms of depth, width and top-end air.

A recording I'm really smitten with at the moment is Patty Larkins superb Regrooving the Dream [Vanguard CD 79552-2, 2000], one of the highest- quality productions I've heard. The HT cables did nothing to hold back this recording's awesome dynamics and brutal drum whacks in "When".

If you own speakers like my Wilson Watt/Puppies that excel with dynamics, you haven't heard them until you play this track loud. Just pray your entrails can take it. At the same time, the more delicate passages presented the listener with a tremendously detailed window into the music. "Anyway The Main Thing Is" begins with a brief soft bluesy guitar riff leading into the full instrumental body of the song. There are a myriad little guitar and percussive effects filling out layers beneath Patty's superb yet restrained voice. The HT cables allowed the system to resolve all instrument lines with clarity and unforced detail yet somehow preserve the holistic integrity of the song. There was no strain in following say, the bass line, but in doing so, my mind could also ingest the sum of the musical content as a coherent whole that included vocals and the above- mentioned effects. Of course this phenomenon gives the impression of enhanced reality. As I write this now with music in the background, the toes are a-tapping to the point of soreness.

Another superb recording I've been rediscovering of late is the Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions [BMG 74321446372, 1988]. "I Don't Get It" has a superbly recorded harmonica that truly showed off the timbral capabilities of my HT-outfitted system. For lack of a better term, the harmonica had an enhanced sense of presence and "truth" when compared to the system sans HT cables. The subtle breath actions of the harmonica player were obvious yet didn't detract from the musical content - just as it would be when hearing this instrument live. Margo Timmins' voice is seductive and has that slight throaty, raspy quality that only high-resolution cables can transmit without smearing. If your cables and equipment weren't giving you that information, her voice would still sound lovely - you just wouldn't be hearing it accurately and naturally. It's a case of what you don't know won't hurt you. Ah, but once you do know...

Track 5 is a superbly moody version of Hank Williams' "So Lonesome I Could Cry". The brushed cymbals and snare have the delicacy, harmonic detail and ambience of the Church in which this CD was recorded. Not that I was present during the recording sessions nor indeed to ever visit that church - but the illusion was powerful regardless. The drum kit was presented 6 or 7 feet behind the speakers, Margo's voice ever so slightly forward of the speakers to maintain realistic perspectives of relative performer placement.

Timbral and dynamic accuracy also shone through beautifully in Haydn's Cello Concerto in C [Philips Duo 438 797, 1972], with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart (until recently, resident conductor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra). Christine Walevska's cello was glorious in its con arco detail. Throughout the instrument's full range, there was coherence from the uppermost notes to the seemingly extra octave of bottom-end extension. No frequency jumped out or receded in contrast to any other. This was of particular importance to me because some time ago, I struggled for several months to defeat a nasty mid-bass lift that I blamed the room for. After plenty of heartache and agony, I discovered that a particular combination of cables -- and to a certain extent the insertion of the Bel Canto DAC-2 -- finally exorcised the boom. It was a relief to not find the HT cables revisit this problem - because other cables since have.

In fact, the whole bass range has never been better in my room. I can think of several CDs that although musically featuring amongst some of my favorites, were previously unlistenable for acoustic reasons. As I already shared with relief, this anomaly is no longer an issue - however, the Magic and Fantasy leads had an influence on the quality of the bass. As compared to my current cables, there was superior detail and tighter control, qualities that Rock and Jazz lovers drool over.

The force of a full-blown orchestra proved heart-stopping. The "Allegro" of Shostakovich's Symphony No.10 as interpreted by the London Philharmonic under the tight grip of Bernard Haitink [DECCA Ovation 425 064] simply was awesome. All instruments were placed and sized in a gargantuan soundstage as you would expect or at least hope for. When the orchestra burst into full assault mode, the result was a wall of sound of such power that the walls seemed to flex. A few minutes into the "Allegro" when the snare sounded, it seemed to emanate from way back in the beyond: Again, what depth, what ambience retrieval! This is beginning to sound like the perfect and best system in the world outfitted with the best cables in the world. Well, it ain't and never will be. However, as it stands now, my system as a whole is doing some quite remarkable things that place it up there with the state-of-the-art in many areas. All things being equal, it ought to. There are no budget components here. You have to expect and indeed demand superb reproduction from such an equipment list. But it's not always so, is it? In this case, however, it is.

Having said that, are there any remaining criticisms? That's a hard one because during review sessions, sheer enjoyment tended to overtake quantitative qualifications. Since I have to make a call here, there are a couple of areas where, Oliver Twist-style, I could ask for more. Bear in mind though that these are preciously slim nit-pickings: In the upper midrange only, rhythm and pace is one area where I could have wished for a little more. The speed of transients driving the music, e.g. snare, was a little slower than with my other silver cable. There was less of that jump factor. Only a smidgen, though.

Although overall dynamics and impact were coronary-crunching -- especially in the bass -- dynamic attack again in the upper midrange to lower treble band was ever so slightly diminished Once again, I tended to notice this where the snare lives. I'm especially sensitive to minor phenomena in that range. Odd perhaps, but it's how my ears are wired. However, this effect is very subtle, narrow in bandwidth, negligible on classical music, and noticeable only after A/Bing with Jazz and Rock. This observation is obviously tied in with the points made above regarding rhythm and pace. The flip side of this? Sibilants were slightly reduced to appear smoother, yet without loss of vital detail.

I just finished listening to Duet [FDM 36604-2, 1999] a superb CD by French master guitarists Sylvain Luc and Bireli Lagrene. These cats play guitar like there's no tomorrow. As a guitar player myself, I'm very familiar with the sound of the instrument. Most decent systems can reproduce guitar quite satisfactorily. A great system however can transpose the guitar sound almost into the room, recording permitting. This recording certainly does - permit. "Douce Ambience" is a platform for Sylvain and Bireli to show terrific guitar skills and some playful percussive ad-libs on the acoustic guitars' bodies. The HT cables reproduced the timbre and attack of the guitar's wooden structure incredibly realistically. When struck by either player, the hollow thud of wood and air resonated into the room as if a few mere feet away from me. Strummed and picked guitar had that accurate timbre and presence I mention above. Finger noises on steel and nylon strings were heard yet did not detract from the music. Superbly detailed yet integral. Placement of the duo within the soundstage was focused and did not wander in position throughout the track. With these cables, images always remained locked-in.

It's Magic, you know - never believe otherwise:
As I wrote above, my Wilson Watt/Puppies, the Gryphon, Blue Circle and Bel Canto DAC-2, as good as they are, are nothing but black boxes - okay, the BC stuff is silver. Tie them up with the right cables and that mélange can be synergistic. The Magic and Fantasy offerings certainly work extremely well in my system.

The Magic and Fantasy cables will allow your precious and glamorous equipment to perform at its best, to extract the last ounce of detail, timbre, soundstage etc from the recording. They are neutral, dynamic, detailed and smooth. All high-quality systems should benefit from their inclusion. By accurately transferring signal to your various components, said systems will reach their potential. Don't hold your system back with shoddy life support lines.

May the gritty warty lips of the ugly sister of cable considerations then brush you with a benevolent caress.

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