Cardas Clear Beyond Speaker Cable
PRICE: $8,668/2.5m pair
The dreaded cable review! Beyond that, an expensive cable review! I believe one of the hardest and most challenging audio equipment reviews is for cables/cable sets. Why, you ask? It is no secret reviewers do not flock in droves for the chance to review cables. Cables represent the interaction of three inter-related electrical parameters which have to be evaluated within the context of a particular system. These electrical parameters include inductance, capacitance, and resistance. These three interact/ interplay within a system and are very hard to quantify for the general public. On top of this quagmire you have different speakers, electronics, and room acoustics which may not relate even remotely to your listening circumstances.
I could tell you what I hear in my system which may not translate to anything meaningful for your system. Hence, the problem with reviewing cables; we each hear differently and have systems and environments which make it hard to compare sound. My impressions are valid within the context of my system which may not be true for yours. The interplay of the above parameters between components in your system will vary. What is not apparent is by how much and whether those differences negate my general listing impressions of the sound as it would apply to your system.
Many reviewers generally play it safe with broad sweeping generalizations about the superiority of one cable versus another cable. There are floods of audiophiles on the internet who are very vocal about their views including discussions around the hype in today’s audiophile cables as being all voodoo, snake oil, or simply put, a bunch of BS. If this view is held due to the marketing literature and hype surrounding new technologies, I can understand the general frustration. While sonic differences can be small, they can be the difference between contrived and real perceived sound in a system. One way I have heard it stated is the difference may be small but it is musically meaningful and huge when related to making the sound more like real life.
Most reviewers want people to respect our aural perceptions and understanding of all things audio. If I declare something as wonderful, revelatory, or heads above the rest, the natural response is that I want others to draw the same conclusion and agree with me. But here at Stereomojo, we honestly don't give a flying squirrel if others agree with us or not because our standards are higher and not susceptible to advertiser or that "good ole boys" insider crap. Still, cables can put you in a position where others wonder if you have some wax build up in your ear canal. Go figure!
Cardas Cable Company
Interconnects and speaker cables were largely an afterthought throughout most of the 1960s/1970s. Today, cables are generally recognized as fundamental components of a high-performance audio system. Into this bold new world, pioneers who helped define the modern audio cable include Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable, Bill Low of AudioQuest, Bruce Brisson of Monster then MIT, and George Cardas of Cardas Audio. Kimber, Low, and Brisson came from the music and hi-fi industries. By contrast, George Cardas’s background was with the telephone company, where he was responsible for solving problems in transmission lines. Of course, MIT and Audioquest are much more the mass marketers today. Monster cables are the staples of the Best Buys of the world.
This is a custom built mufti stage controlled atmosphere stranding machine - it allows to draw the strand in a reduction atmosphere (hydrogen) in progressive stages while simultaneously annealing between the stages. Drawing and annealing in a hydrogen atmosphere purges any trace impurities (such as oxides) from the conductor as it is drawn and allows the metal to meld into itself as a continuous piece --in the end they forge the conductor into a connector that is made out of the same metal.
Yes, here's another of our famous "Dirty Little Secrets" - stuff most of the audio industry doesn't want you to know - but we do!
When it comes to producing cables, most companies come up with a recipe, send it to China and hope that what comes back is in someway similar to what they specified. They don't actually have a hand in the manufacturing of the cable at all and they often don't even know what the final product is gong to sound like. They just know what it's going to cost. This is especially true of amp and speaker makers or distributors who have no facility to produce cables on their own. Others design and market the cables they sell, and quite a few assemble their final products. Cardas is unique in actually drawing the wire and machining the connectors themselves right here in the USA. This vertical integration allows Cardas to understand all aspects of building their cables. This approach and the resultant economies of scale, allow Cardas to maintain a high-value position in a segment of the audio industry often criticized for stratospheric prices uncorrelated with underlying materials cost. In spite of this industry position, it seems all designers keep moving up-scale to see what they can accomplish.
George started with his cable foundational principles and applied new insights into metallurgy, conductor geometry, and dielectric materials. He embodied all the company’s patented technologies found on their already-well-respected ranges of Litz-design cables and raised them to new levels. George wanted to take everything he has learned over the years and apply this knowledge to his statement product which he believes will establish his legacy.
Example of Cardas' Golden Proportion Cable design
Electrical & Relevant Parameters in Cables
In order to understand why cables can sound so different and why everyone has a favorite flavor, you need to have a basic knowledge of what makes up a wire. I’m not talking about the actual wire or weave or dielectric but rather the electrical parameters as a result of the design choices. There are three basic factors that make up cable construction:
Here is George told us about these:
"Inductance is a complex factor it has both quantity (henries) and quality ( "Q") both are relevant but in different ways Q represents the time factor it needs to be low and constant - intimate construction and strand scaling allow us to keep the field of the cable compact. If you look closely at the photos (above) of the conductors you will see that they are built up in many discrete layers each strand is coated and individually insulated you will also see that there are some red and white layers dividing the strand layers the reason for this is to divide the"conductors" they actually both positive and negative so essentially they null their own field -Clear cables combine two of these conductor in a mirrored set (+/-) (-/+) nulling the external field involvement and time lag of the field (resulting in an exceedingly low "Q" or loop inductance delay factor) - in addition every strand is layered down in a sequence of very controlled alternating spirals to match their propagation to the surrounding dielectric's propagation delay . Thus nulling the electro and magnetic fields and preserving the original attack and sustain of the musical material."
"Spacing balances the quantities of capacitance and inductance and to some degree the "Q" and establishes the characteristic impedance range. "Beyond" is called this because its impedance range runs beyond the need of any speaker ever made. It is, in fact, over kill! Most speakers can be served quite will with vastly less expensive "Clear" or "Clear light" as the time required to build these layers is enormous - the cost of the cables is basically proportional to this time."
Resistance is the tendency for the wire in a cable to oppose the flow of current. In cables, it is all about timing in the end. Cables, like any other element in the chain, must be designed to a neutral time constant (leading edge should match trailing edge) - but like any other element perfection is elusive I always try to seek towards perfection for warm side (decay exceeds rise). This keeps things musical, warm and detailed - not etched. I find that any exaggeration of the leading edge kills the musicality and is fatiguing rather than soothing. (This is the most common flaw in cables by far)"
George Cardas has always stated there are other factors which have to be considered if the cable is to be outstanding. I counted more than 17! I don’t know about you but the possibilities are beyond my comprehension. For more detail about the cable geometry, materials science, and connectors check out the Cardas Audio website. They do a significantly better job explaining the technical detail than I could ever dream of. Copying and pasting a bunch of technical detail takes way to much space and not everyone is frankly interested in the science.
While I can appreciate the concepts, I just listen to the end result. If they tell me they have addressed 10 parameters others forget but it sounds no better or slightly worse, who cares about the science. Again, you have to consider aspects the designer can’t deal with such as room acoustics, equipment match/mismatch, etc.
A quick rundown of the specifications for the Cardas Clear Beyond cable:
Outside Diameter: .934
Dielectric Type: Teflon®, Air
Inductance: .01 uh uh/ft/loop
Capacitance: 446 pf pf/ft
Bi Wire Option: Yes
Cable AWG: 5
Conductor Type: Perfect Mirror Octoaxial
Termination: A new form of termination where the spades are crush forged onto the cable to create one solid copper junction.
The Clear Beyond speaker cable, which contains twice as many conductors as the Clear is priced at ($8668/2.5m pair; add $700/pair for bi-wire), and resembles a 1” blue hose. While quite large and massive they are compliant and easy to work with. No stiff cable to move pieces of equipment around on a shelf.
Clear (and Clear Beyond) cable uses Matched Propagation conductors, recently awarded US Patent 7,674,973. With all the decades of cable research and all the different types of cables out there, it's pretty hard to get a new patent on a cable, so this is a major development. George explained it to us like this: "Matched propagation represents a unique method for matching inductive an capacitive time constants (by matching propagation velocity). The patent really does represent a very simple understanding of how cables work. For 100 years the world has tried to compensate for the delay characteristics of cable with networks and coils - "Matched Propagation" corrects the anomalies at the source, within geometry of the cable itself."
The Sound of Clear & Beyond
Before I talk about my listening impressions of the Cardas Clear Beyond, I want to share my experience with the Cardas line of cables in general. I have always found the cables to be well engineered with less marketing hype than most. George has openly shared his engineering concepts and why he believes they make his cables sound so musical and real. Cardas has earned a reputation for being reluctant to sing his praises; he’d rather the results speak for themselves. I have always found the Cardas cable sets to have a family sound which is slightly warm, a touch forgiving with a slight mid-range bloom, and trading a pleasant musicality for the last bit of neutrality. Don’t get me wrong, I have found this to be a very welcome situation with many solid state units and digital in general. It boils down to a question of what is neutral and what is slightly euphonic. You have to answer this question for yourself.
So how does the Cardas Clear compare to the Cardas house sound I have described above? This cable dances on the razors edge between musicality and resolution. Some high performance cables can tend to be "too revealing" but not the Clear. Due to its sophisticated construction it is a pure window into the music. As corny as it may sound, they really are “clear” compared to their other products. In my system and to my ears the Cardas Clear Beyond is pretty much dead neutral without the characteristic slightly warm sound of the rest of the line. Many have yearned for just a little more clarity and transparency and a little less warmth. I believe George Cardas has hit the nail on the head.
I could dissect the bass, mid-range, treble, imaging, etc. although I find those types of reviews rather boring, suspect, and not necessarily representative of what I might hear in my system. Suffice to say, it has no tonal aberrations or perceived alterations of the signal. It passes what is coming from your amplifier to your speakers unchanged. Not overly warm or overly bright but just right to allow the music to flow with pace, rhythm and elegance.
Clear Beyond seems to increase the perceived speed of the overall sound compared to their previous top cable sets. This may, as George said earlier, seem to some to be overkill but it actually corrects the slightly warm and transient lacking top end. I believe Clear (and Clear Beyond) actually gets the balance right and stands above the other Cardas cable sets.
Another interesting sound characteristic is the absolutely black quiet noise floor. Until using Clear Beyond, I didn’t realize other cables seemed to have a grey noise floor which didn’t really go to black. With my previous references, I could not hear the depths of the sound, especially on very low level detail buried into the musical mix. A great example of this is on Coastal Ships by Kari Bremnes from Norwegian Mood. At the end of the song her voice fades away into the background and gets quieter and quieter. I can actually hear more distinct words as the song gets quieter than with other cables. This speaks volumes to the resolution capability of the cable. If I had to provide one sentence to describe the Clear Beyond, it would state the greatest attribute was its clear, enveloping, natural musical presentation. Very impressive results indeed.
Publisher's note ~ Mr. Cardas commented on Brian's assessment of the noise floor: "Wow! Thank you! You nailed it! That was my dream exactly !! The "out of time" energy is exactly that gray noise you described!"
No, this cable is NOT a candidate for our Stereo For Cheap Bastards category; not by a long shot. But it is definitely a top candidate for "Stereo For Bastards Who Won't Settle For Anything Less Than The Very Best".
I believe this is the best speaker cable Cardas has ever produced and certainly among the very best available at any price or brand. Be advised however that this cable, because of its double stranding, is specifically designed for high power, ultra high-quality amplifiers. Lesser amps should use the standard but still amazing top of-the-line Clear at half the price. Also be warned the the Clear Beyond is a limited production cable and may be hard to find.
We talked alot about the construction of the cable itself, but not to be overlooked is the new and time intensive new form of termination where the spades are
crush-forged onto the cable to create one solid copper junction. Termination plays a pivotal part in overall sound quality. George knows something about that as well since he makes what many consider to be the very best speaker terminals on the planet.
In the context of my system it seemed to balance on the razor's edge and offer more of what I wanted. Not too warm or too bright, just dead neutral with a sense of the music flowing unrestricted and enveloping you. I believe Cardas Clear Beyond has achieved new levels of neutrality, extension, refinement, and resolution.
People often ask about what value a product has. Cables are one of the worst offenders considering the price charged often doesn’t seem to reflect the cost of the individual components which make up the cable. How can cables cost close to $9,000 and be considered a good buy? Well, Nordost Odins are $10,000 for ONE meter or about FOUR TIMES the price. AudioQuest’s K2’s are about the same price as the Clear Beyonds.
Value is a relative term and each person has to define it based on their circumstances. Our job is to make that process easier. The Clear Beyond cables are the most expensive Cardas makes and by a significant margin. Value in this case is based on both the ratio of component/manufacturing cost to MSRP and, especially, the performance they provide relative to other uber high-end cables. And let’s face it; if you own uber amps at $100,000 per channel, an $8,000 cable is not unthinkable and quite a buy compared to Odins and several others at multiples of the Beyond's price. By the way, our Publisher James Darby had a whole loom of Odin for a while that cost $150,000!
Mr. Cardas told Darby at the Denver show that the Clear and Beyond was his crowning achievement, the culmination of all he has learned and knows.
We could not agree more.
The Cardas Clear Beyond, as well as the similar Clear cable, is a revolutionary product that advances the science of audiophile speaker cable technology.
As such, we award it and George Cardas our rare Maximum Mojo Award. While not inexpensive, it represents a "clear" value among state-of-the-art speaker cables.
Congratulations to all those at Cardas.
Mr. Cardas responds: "Wow what a cool site! Brian did a great job on the review. I am totally impressed with your attitude and Brian's review-- we do not usually seek reviews or court reviewers - for the envious reasons you have pointed out in your mission statement. Bravo"
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