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Let’s start with the Extreme Standard 1 interconnect. The midrange-centric tonal balance was very much in evidence with a rich and detailed lower midrange through upper bass. Upper frequencies were extremely smooth with a slight softening in the extreme highs. Essentially, sweet yet detailed and thus non-fatiguing. Lower frequencies were mildly diminished in the lowermost octaves. Overall balance was on the warm side with an acoustically natural presentation. This emphasized tonal weight on instruments but lacked a bit of transparency.

Resolution was extremely good especially where the design concentrated its tonal effort. Fine detail was not merely revealed but enhanced. Dynamic performance was extremely good, especially in the midrange which exhibited dynamic ‘bounce’ without the traditional etching and upper mid emphasis that would normally accompany it. There was also a higher perceived level of fine dynamic detail due to a subtle bit of compression in the soft end of the dynamic spectrum which boosted the low level floor. The resulting effect was that changes in dynamic information small and large were emphasized, bringing greater excitement and life to the music.

Images were near-field microphone perspective, slightly large and favoring instrument information and texture rather than firmly establishing venue cues for a question of content versus context. Focus was good and instruments had strong dimensionality with very good forward projection and palpable weight. Depth was slightly foreshortened as were the spaces between instruments, resulting in some diminishment of venue size in that plane. Performers and instruments had tremendous immediacy and there was ample acoustic air around instruments but the overall hall information was secondary and dependant on instrument interplay. Live performance, darker hall. The overall presentation was extremely vivid and intensely organic rather than transparent. This wasn’t an impartial observational viewpoint. This was 3-strip Technicolor in 3D with richness, pop, and tonal saturation in the critical octaves the ear recognizes as real. Slightly exaggerated and very intense.

Next up was the Extreme 2 interconnect. Switching between the two cables showed very subtle differences and I rapidly discovered that any description of the 1 was in general terms pretty much identical to the 2 with the proviso that the 1 was incrementally slightly superior. There were no drastic alterations in the basic style of presentation. Both cables were cut from the same sonic cloth. The Extreme 1 was slightly smoother in the upper mids and more extended in the bass. The Extreme 2 had a slightly more ‘piquant’ flavor in the upper mids that would complement systems lacking a bit of detail or energy in this region. Both cables were dynamically charged and detailed, with the 2 being slightly more frequency restricted. Imaging strengths and weaknesses of the 1 were mirrored in the 2, with the more junior cable being a little less vivid and slightly less precise in imaging. Keyword throughout being ’slightly’.

The Extreme Reference 1 Speaker cable was the most adept chameleon of the group . It translated the company’s sonic signature faithfully but also played sufficiently neutral to pass the character of the other cables employed without major editorializing or coloration. The various combinations revealed a cable that retained midrange warmth and dimensionality over a broad range of system configurations and achieved good extension in the extremes. In single run it meshed well with the JPS jumpers, gaining a bit of extra bite and high frequency extension in the pairing. In a biwire arrangement it became a little softer and sweeter in the top end and further emphasized weight in the lower mids through upper bass. The double run combination also produced more hall acoustic as well as tightened instrumental focus. This reproduced images with slightly more proportional size and more accurately placed them in a more distinct venue. The full Madison Audio Lab loom was natural, detailed and lively.

Comparative study. My tried and trusted cables were inserted in mix’n’match combinations to distill the fundamental characters and priorities of the different designers. The Signal Cable Silver Reference falls into a price point between the Extreme 1 and 2. It utilizes a 5N silver/copper alloy and a braided 5N silver-plated OFC copper shield with an extruded Teflon jacket. Connectors are Eichmann plugs. It had a similar tonal balance to the Madison Audio Lab with a slight superiority of high frequency extension, soundstage definition and instrument focus. It did not quite match those cables in vividness in the range where they showed strength and the Signal Cable’s dynamics while similar overall were not as pronounced.

The Audio Arts ICE-SE interconnect runs about $100 higher than the Madison ESi-1. It is a silver/OFC copper-based cable using foam PE insulation and is terminated with hefty Xhadow silver-plated OFC connectors. The Audio Arts has a decidedly different personality from the Madison Audio Lab. In contrast to the organic style of the Madison, it opts for intense transparency punctuated by a very precisely defined leading edge and deep articulate bass. This gave it an advantage with material with quick transients, especially synthesizer material. It also continually illuminated the dimensions of the soundstage, better defining the placement of the performer in the hall. The Madison Audio Lab interconnect in contrast only revealed the acoustic as a consequence of interactions with the instruments. In terms of size of apparent soundstage, the Madison played nearfield perspective - up close, intense and very personal. The Audio Arts played the midfield working with a considerably larger space and opened up greater distances between instruments on that stage. It also offered a different interpretation of midrange through upper bass information that was comparatively cooler against the intensely vivid saturation the Madison brought to the table. Quick, clean and transparent against denser and more intimate.