THE SC-5se SPEAKER CABLE
PRICE: $395 per 6' pair
Robert Fritz of Audio Art contacted me about a new speaker cable that he'd just released and wanted to know if I would like to review them. As I'm always game for new cables, I said bring them on. I am also not new to Audio Art cables as I have had in my system at one time or another his IC-3 interconnects, SC-5 speaker cables, and Power 1 ac power cord which I reviewed.
The SC-5 speaker cables in my opinion had great midrange timbre, dead silent background, good solid bass, and highs with nice overall detail but maybe rolled off just a little, so I was eager to see if this had been corrected and other areas improved upon in the new SC-5se.
These new cables are part of the Signature Edition Series and come decked out in nice looking techflex and terminated with Furutech FP-201(G) spades or FP-202(G) banana and Cardas Quad Eutectic solder. My pair came with the locking bananas on both ends.
As stated by Audio Art, Their approach to the development of the SC-5se speaker cable is: “Offering a tricked out, hot-rod version of the Award Winning SC-5 speaker cable seemed like a natural progression, after the overwhelming success of our IC-3SE. While we had things on the drawing board, our intentions were not only to push the envelope of an already great cable to theoretical limits, but also to come up with a breakthrough product. To again offer cost no object performance, at an Audio Art Cable price.”
The Task at Hand
“Here’s the ugly truth: Any length of speaker cable degrades a system’s performance by affecting the amplifier’s efficiency. Like the effects of shunt capacitance in instrument cables and series inductance in microphone cables, the signal degradation caused by speaker cabling is always present to some degree. The most obvious negative effect of speaker cabling is the amount of amplifier power wasted.
Although silver and copper are very good conductors, they’re not perfect. Both metals have a certain amount of resistance, and are “seen” by the amplifier as part of the load.”
“So, how to improve performance results associated with resistance? First, minimize the resistance of the cabling. This can be done by using larger gauge conductors, or in this case, using a double run of cable, which effectively increases a single 14 gauge SC-5 cable to a beefed up 11 gauge cable! Doubling up a run of cable improves the "damping factor" of the amplifier. In other words, it couples the amplifier to the speaker more efficiently by cutting the resistance (and inductance) of the cable in half. The huge improvement in performance this brings to an audio system must be experienced to be believed, as the difference in sound is greater than a small reduction in resistance might logically predict.”
You may wonder if all this is just sales babble or if there is the ring of truth to the above. Well all I can say is that these are great sounding cables and they do improve upon the SC-5. Now that I've spilled the beans you may wonder how I came to this grand conclusion. Read on to get all the juicy details.
Dac – Ack Dack 1.2e
Transport – Vanguard CDM-12 Pro
Preamp – Belles 21a
Amp – Consonance Cyber 800 Mono blocks
Speakers – Usher 6381
Interconnects – Grover SC., 6sonsaudio Windigo, KCI entry digital
Speaker cables - PNF Symphony Bi-wire, Straley Reality
Speaker Jumpers – Audio Art SC-5
Power Cables – 6sonsaudio Windigo, Thunderbird, Wind Spirit II
Line Conditioners – Alan Maher power enhancers
I have tube amps and find it very boring trying to keep up with how much time is being totaled burning them in, but it is a necessity because cables absolutely do change from out-of-the-box new over time in use. As our publisher often says, one of the most frustrating things for manufacturers when submitting their products for review is that many reviewers simply do not take the time to run them in before they begin critical listening. Whether it is ignorance or plain laziness the reviews are not accurate and therefore misleading to the public. For Stereomojo reviewers, proper burn in is always required, but many companies make sure their products are burned in before they are sent out for review jsut to make sure their products are reviewed at their optimum performance. Of course, burning in cables is a pain in the you-know-what for purchasers, too. That's why in a rather oldmove, Audio Art will burn their cables in for you before they are shipped for an extra charge of only $12.50. It delays the time you receive them by 72 hours, but they are well cooked and ready to play when you get them. Well worth the extra coins in my opinion.
Let's bring on the music!
I pulled out Mary Black's “Babes In The Wood”, talk about beautiful voice, Mary's voice is to die for. On the first cut, “Bright Blue Rose”, the thing that stands out is the overall balance from top to bottom. There is no one area that stands out. The vocals are smooth with no sibilance whatsoever. There is a naturalness of tonality with strings having a nice warm vibration to them. The pace of the cable is spot on as you get that toe tapping feel.
On “Golden Mile” the bass is tight and very musical. The vocals along with instruments have their own space with plenty of air surrounding them with no smear, great sound stage.
Some people ask what does the term "musical" mean? Well to me musical means: sounds like music and makes you want to close your eyes and dream as opposed to analytical, mechanical and academic.
I ended with “The Dimming of The Day”. The three dimensional portrayal of Mary's voice is fantastic. Sound stage starts at the front of the speakers and extends back, up, and outside the speakers.
Next up is one of my favorite jazz pianists, Andre Previn and his “Uptown” CD. This CD also shows off the great balance of the SC-5se's. On “The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea”, the depth of sound stage is clearly brought to front by the piano. Lowe's guitar work has great attack as well as Previn's piano.
It is fun to follow Ray Brown's bass line on “A Sleeping Bee”, so easy going with the notes being clearly defined. Great stuff as the piano and guitar dart in and out with ease and grace.
On “Over the Rainbow” the black back ground is highlighted as the guitar just floats in the air. I have yet to get the music to sound harsh.
On the Ramsey Lewis Trio CD, “Time Flies” there are two cuts I wanted to listen to as they both have mass choirs, “Open Your Heart” and “Hosanna” and on both the individual voices are clearly defined with a nice delicate sounding high end.
On Nils Lofgren's “Acoustic Live” I listened to “Little on Top” and “Keith Don't Go” to evaluate the great midrange tonality and speed of the strings. The SC-5se did not disappoint.
The last CD I used to evaluate the SC-5se cables was Ray Brown's and Laurindo Almeida's “Moonlight Serenade”.
This CD is great for tonality, attack, bass, timing, and spacial cues within the sound stage. I think this is mostly due to the simplicity of the recording, only two instruments. Great stuff, again the SC-5se came through with flying colors.
You might ask how the SC-5se compare to other speaker cables in their price range, well I had two on hand, Straley Reality cables and PNF Audio Symphony speaker cables. The Straley's have been a staple in a lot of systems for years and the PNF cable have garnered budget cable of the year from “The Absolute Sound” years 2007 and 2008. Which means very little considering Absolute Sound's reputation - publisher
When comparing the SC-5se to the PNF's, the bass of the SC-5se was tighter but not as powerful sounding. On a side note I got in another pair of interconnects and with the SC-5se in place, the bass output did pick up quite a bit. So you might conclude that the SC-5se's are putting out what comes in. The midrange of the SC-5se was cleaner with a much lower noise floor but the PNF's have a harmonically richer sound which adds some more layers to the midrange. The highs are more extended with the Audio Arts but the PNF's are a little smoother sounding.
Comparing the SC-5se to the Straley's, again the better noise floor of the SC-5se stood out. The Straley's midrange is a little warmer sounding with bass being a push between the two. The SC-5se are more extended in the highs. Both have good pace. The Straley's have a fuller sounding midrange with the edge in tonality going to the Straleys.
In the end I think your choice will come down to preference and system compatibility when choosing between the three speaker cables but you can't go wrong with either.
In conclusion I feel the SC-5se speaker cables will do justice to a lot of systems with the only minor warning being if your system leans toward the bright side I would be careful as these cables are revealing. Some take the word revealing as meaning bright, but bright they are not in my system but you do hear what you put in. Audio Art prices the SC-5se for a six foot pair with spades $399 and bananas $430. There is also a premium burn in service for $12.50. There is a trial period of 30 days and 1 year warranty.
As far as meeting their goal, I would have to say that Audio Art has succeeded and brought another fine audio component to the market.
My intention in designing the SC-5SE was indeed to “offer a “Cost no object performance choice in a the high end speaker cable marketplace, at an Audio Art Cable price.” Having had numerous requests over the years from my customers to develop a product meeting this description, and/or to enhance SC-5 with upgraded connector options, the project was started somewhat by “popular demand”. And with the (now referred to as) “Classic” version of SC-5 having developed such a strong following, I decided to stick with what was already working, and “hot rod” the SC-5.
I think you’re assessment of the cables being exceedingly neutral, and delivering exactly what your components feed them is accurate. In my experience, although Audio Art products have all been designed to keep a neutral perspective, they definitely lean towards the “warm, rich, textured, full” side of the tracks, while being nicely detailed, and definitely not dark sounding . Although SC-5SE pushes the resolution envelope on extreme ends of the frequency spectrum, as well as the midrange, and are indeed quite revealing, I still find a strong degree of warmth, body, texture, and fullness to be present with my Naim XS, Naim CD-5i-2, and rega P5/Nagoka/Graham Slee analog rig.
Their neutrality may also have been a factor, as you suggested, with the bass results you were getting using different interconnect cables, with “output” and “power” improving with an IC swap-out. As the signature series AA interconnect, IC-3SE’s bass performance has been praised in reviews, perhaps I could get some of these IC’s out to you, and let you experiment with an all Audio Art “SE Series System” in your rig. What do you think?
Again, thank you, and thanks to James Darby & StereoMojo for listening to the SC-5SE’s, and for an extremely well written review.
If you have any further questions contact Robert Fritz at audioartcable.com
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