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Heard It on the Wire
Aurealis Litz 400
Talk to the people who know me and all three of them will tell you I do not like wire in my hi-fi system. It gets in the way of the magical “signal” that goes from one connection to another. You know, the electromagnetic field sourced from laser pulses, or stylus vibrations, and that ends up appearing at the speakers, if you are lucky, as a reasonable simulacrum of what is generally known as “music”. These same people will tell you that I’m a “dedicated hi-fi enthusiast”, which is their way of saying I’m a bit of a “loony”, I suppose, when it comes to music reproduction in the home. Ah well, if you need to believe in magic, it’s all a fantasy – thanks Alan Parsons!
So, understanding my enthusiasms and lunacy, please read this review with that in mind and the fact that all my enthusiasms are tempered by the cold hard facts of scientific measurement, highly critical listening, with my own ears (indeed, have you ever tried using borrowed ears?) … and ... listening to the criticisms of others, who have listened to what I have just listened to – make sense? I know, I’m a bastard because I nearly ended that last sentence with a preposition. Now, let’s talk about wire, shall we?
Another hi-fi enthusiast alerted me to the presence of Aurealis Audio cables being made in my home town of Brisbane. Something I should have been aware of in any case, but there you have it. Call me dumb, call me a johnny-come-lately, but don’t call me late for dinner – OK? I sent my usual response via SMS to my friend - “No, I don’t like ‘listening’ to wire. It makes very little difference to the sound and it is only useful in carrying current from one place to another”, or something like that. However, my friend, as always, was insistent and since it was a “home town” operation, I weakened and there went that fortnight.
Aurealis Audio makes cables for hi-fi systems. The sentient universe has known this for years and years, except for me. I emailed Geoff Maloney and asked about loaning his Litz 400 speaker cable for a bit of a “listen”. Even as I write that, it sounds stupid. One does not listen to cable, but that ought to come out in the wash of what I say later, I hope. I told Geoff, straight out, that I was not a big “fan” of “wire sounds”, just so my prejudices and cards were on the table to start with and he still found it in his heart to loan me his top speaker cable. There was a small delay of a month while others in the queue listened before me, and I went fishing...but that’s another story. The appointed day arrived and I drove to Geoff’s place to collect the Litz 400 cables. I could describe them here, but you can just as easily look the things up on the web at www.aurealisaudio.com.au and see for yourself. Go ahead, I can wait.
You are not about to hear a long list of comparisons between Aurealis Litz 400 and K-Kool Kable 1067, or Not-Quite-Nude-Nordic Emperor’s Clothes, or AudioQuack-ComeQuick Cable, of whichever model and price. Comparisons, are, in general, odorous and I cannot conceive of any useful comparison which one can make wire against wire, and say “good”, “better”, or “best” without tongue firmly in cheek. There is only one aim in this hi-fi game and that is to reproduce the original sound from the CD, or vinyl disc, as nearly as possible. For maximum reality, we assume the recording people have done their very best at the other end in committing the sounds to disc. So, as you would expect from a Quad person (me), the ‘closest approach to the original sound’ is my standard for listening.
You might also expect, from a Quad person, “cold hard facts of scientific measurement” as mentioned above. There are, at the least, two relevant articles/papers that should be read by anyone pursuing cable phenomena, whether you care to peruse my scribblings further or not, as follows: Prof. M.O. Hawkesford, “Electrical Signal Propagation and Cable Theory” and Ben Duncan, “What a Difference a Wire Makes”.
The interested enthusiast should also look at all of Hawkesford’s references:
 Magid, L.M., Electromagnetic Fields, Energy and Waves, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-56334-X, 1972.
 Skilling, H.H., Fundamentals of Electric Waves, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 1948.
 Larrain, P. and Corson, D., Electromagnetic Fields and Waves, W.H. Freeman and Company, ISBN 0-7167-0331-9, 1962.
The dates of these articles are salient too. As you can see, nothing particularly new under the sun, and cable makers claiming recent “advances” and “discoveries” have published little or nothing new and an absence of significant patents in the area suggests more bullshit than advancement.
Those disinterested in the technical background should just read on, but, keep in mind that this is indeed a real world, measurable phenomenon. That does not, of course, mean that human beings can always sense said phenomenon, anymore than we can directly sense a microwave field, but it may be present, nonetheless.
I might need to use a word like “musicality” later in this article, but then, I need to explain that, since almost nobody ever does. Let’s be clear, my hi-fi system cannot make music, but it can screw it up, and so can yours. E♭ and D# for example are identical (same frequency), outside of a composition, A♭ and G# are in a similar relationship. If you’re not particularly musical then, in the English language, you could consider two words like “fart” and “farther”; both contain a “fart” but it changes meaning (!), depending on how it is placed in relation to other letters and sequences thereof. To tell me that a piece of wire has altered the musical relationship of notes in this fashion is pretty much drivel. The wire cannot alter relationships between notes, but it can distort the notes. When it does that, then the change is obvious. Hence, the contribution of a piece of wire can be detected without the need for any comparison with other wires, and the inevitable changes they make, simply by knowing the tunes being played, and having the score, (where available), in front of you while listening (if your memory ain’t that hot). Arturo Toscanni would not have needed the opera score, for instance, because he had most of them memorized and that, indeed, from the original manuscripts – yet another long story. Luckily, I have a few instances of well known music where the score is available and the recordings are also well known. This helps to form a base from which to listen to other music. In summary, if you are to say a cable is “musical” then you’re not saying much at all. It doesn’t screw with the pitch of notes and other gross nonsense, that is about it.
Pace, Rhythm and Timing (PRaT) is often talked about, in various hi-fi reviews of turntables, for instance, and I have seen this terminology used in connection with speaker cables also. Give me a break, wire will not alter the pace, rhythm or timing of your recording. A turntable, which is much more akin to a tunable musical instrument, can certainly affect all those things, in combination with your tone arm and cartridge, but wire?
Then, there’s “tone” and I’ve heard this used and misused in a few cable reviews as well. What is tone? Traditionally in Western music, a musical tone is a steady periodic sound and it is characterized by its duration, pitch, intensity (or loudness), and timbre (or quality). Of these definitional features, we can imagine that wire can alter all four, and referring to M.O. Hawkesford, we can probably come up with a physical mechanism for three of the four. One of them, intensity, is fairly straightforward to characterise, such that, if you hear a change in the intensity of a note, or notes, then something is seriously the matter with the cable in terms of its resistance properties (reactance really, since we are talking a.c. signal). Too much resistance at a given frequency or a drop in resistance at another frequency could cause small changes in the intensity of the note, but, having said that, the cable would have to be grossly flawed to do either. It should be flat across the audible frequencies and, according to many mavens, beyond. A piece of wet string will be somewhat subdued at all frequencies, for instance! Timbre, as part of “tone” is very important for us listeners of music, otherwise C played on the piano, guitar and being sung, would sound the same (soulless) frequency. This is the quality of “tone” that is essential for us when we are agonising over how someone is playing their instrument. Also, if it was important for Daniel Barenboim (for example) to choose a Steinway to play a piece, then we should be able to hear that it is indeed a Steinway. Love or hate it, this piano has, like other makes of instrument, a timbre/character of its own, and a few other things, that lead us to identifying its overall “tone”, particularly the middle octaves on this make of piano. The absolute ultimate fidelity would be a recording and reproduction equipment so good that you could tell that the instrument was the one played in the EMI studio for the Complete Mozart Piano Concertos – ahem – without(!) reading the record sleeve.
Enough about tone, already! Cable/Wire should not alter the tone one iota. If you have listened to a cable that you find “colder”, “warmer”, “brighter”, “more fluid” or some other misplaced adjective, then that cable should be politely returned to the manufacturer and you get your money back. Why? It has altered the “tone” of the music being played and does not, therefore, fall within the scope of being “high fidelity” equipment. Your hi-fi system and therefore its wiring, is not meant to be part of the performance. OK, we’re a distance from that, a lot of the time, but you get the picture.
Now that you have some idea of where I’m coming from, we come to the part where I talk about Aurealis wires and cables and things. My remarks are confined to the Litz 400 “audition” but I gather from others that these cables do have a family resemblance, and, judging by the construction descriptions, that’s not entirely unexpected. Also, if I’m too far wrong, I’ll only have to wait 10 to 15 seconds before someone corrects me. However, unless you are the maker, don’t expect much other than a polite, “thanks for your opinion”.
The Litz 400 prototype wire that I’ve had a good, long listen too and a chance to measure as well is truly worthy of accolade on the world stage. Equivalent to cables costing three to five times as much, it is one of those audio bargains that you will seldom find. How’s that? Go out and buy it, now...or, read on.
Alright, a few more words on the “sound” of Litz 400 then. Recalling what I’ve just said about “tone”, you can forget about this cable if you want some sort of esoteric “tuning” to occur in your system. If your system is dull and you want silver in the cables to “brighten it up” then you can forget it. If you have a bright system and you need to ‘dull it down’… you get the idea? Forget it. This cable has a broad, flat frequency response and let’s the rest of the system show its stuff. So, if your system is dull or bright, then you have, I am afraid, much bigger battles to fight than improving the wiring in the system. As a result of this complete absence of “tone” in the cables, I can still tell that Barenboim is playing a Steinway, and where, without the sonic cues being drastically altered. Barenboim does not sound like he has suddenly developed a small palsy of the index finger of the right hand or any other creative nonsense that some people insist they can hear when they listen to cables.
How does the fabled “sound stage” present itself? Just FYI, I use ribbon hybrid speakers and original Quad ESLs for listening and I do not “bang the head”. I prefer a “documentary style” of presentation, as I’ve already largely alluded and expect the sound, properly recorded sound, to appear to be as if I’m sitting listening to Gilbert and Sullivan being performed in the big room at the EMI studios as it says on the sleeve. That version I’m listening to has half a chance of sounding very similar to me since I know that, in the period that this recording was made, EMI was the biggest customer of Quad Limited for monitor speakers.
Oh, yes, sorry! Sound Stage is broad and deep as you might expect, but, there is a small artefact that these cables produce, a slight broadening and deepening from the original recording. Nothing offensive, but it is constant from record to record. A quite seductive effect, but I do believe an effect, coming as a result of the (very slight) disparate phase treatment given to the signal by the two different materials in use in this cable. “How could he possibly hear that and know that it was the wire?” I hear you ask. My Dear Watson, read the good professor Hawkesford, noted earlier in this article. We can use a known signal artifically generated and observe this to happen. You will have to read (and understand) M.O.H. to grasp this, but that may not be possible, so you will either have to take my word for it, or hear it for yourself. If using hearing alone, then you will be listening to the phase differences between your old cables and these cables. You will certainly hear it in any system of sufficient resolution, with phase accurate speakers, such as readers here will no doubt possess. It is subtle, definite and, yes, pleasant. You will have to ask yourself if you are going to accept the differences, as with all the other stuff you constantly keep changing in your system – mmm? Others who have listened along with me hear this effect, so I’m not checking the windows for a sight of the men in white jackets just yet. This is a property that multi-material litz cables seem to have in common and I mean all the way up to some unmentionably expensive wire from prestigious U.S. makers who seem to specialise in vacuuming the wallets of that particular hi-fi cohort that equates cost to performance. The same idiots who buy Ferraris as performance cars instead of a Tesla P100D at half the price, or less, which whoops the Ferrari’s ass in a straight line and carries five passengers – you guessed, another long, long story – see You Tube.
As litz wire forms the basis of this cable construction and definitively removes the possibility of “skin effect” and “proximity effect” from the product, you can rest assured that all the detail your system produces is being transmitted to the speakers as the recording engineer might have liked. Some reviewers and commentators may have described this cable as detailed, precise, open, with a broad and deep soundstage. I challenge their use of metaphor but agree with what I believe they are hearing and trying to tell me. Hopefully, they will agree with some of what I have said here.
If you live in Australia, there’s no need to shop outside the bounds of your country for cables. Aurealis will provide as good as you will find anywhere. My final advice is that you avoid the gadarene rush that is to come and secure yours now, before Geoff raises the price to a point justified by this level of performance.