THE SNAKE PIT: Transparent MusicLink Plus interconnects / MusicWave Plus speaker cables

by Dayna B, The Hi-Fi Hussy
The Audio Adventure, October 1995, Vol. 2, Issue 10.
Reprinted with permission


Into the Pit!

Here I stand in a room full of snakes - all coiled up, ready to strike, some with their forked tongues sticking out! My task: taming them! I'm referring, of course, to cables and interconnects. And to tame them, I have to review them. Well, at least these snakes won't bite (or will they?). And I know through struggle and experience that good cables can open up a system and allow it to "breathe." My aim is to make your cable decisions a little easier. So, please join me in my adventures!

This column is dedicated to searching out interconnects and speaker cables that meet our magazine's criteria. First, they must be true to the music. Naturally, not all cables will be able to meet that standard, which is why I'm reviewing them. But I will be true to you, and provide my honest Hussy evaluation of performance. Second, I must maintain a price ceiling of approximately $250 per one-meter pair of interconnects and $500 per eight-foot pair of speaker cables. And of course I'll search for budget gems.

Why do cables and interconnects merit their own column? Well, they are probably the most misunderstood component in any high-end system. Yes, I said component. Cables may not be "active" components, but let's not forget how important passive elements are in audio. Designers go to great lengths to choose just the right resistors, capacitors, internal wiring and even volume pots, because they know that each passive part -- each connection -- affects the music.

Interconnects and cables are a bit like hoses, allowing the electrical signal to pass from component to component. Each hose can either restrict the "flow" of music or allow an open outlet. A perfect flow is impossible to achieve and each cable and interconnect has a inevitable, detrimental effect upon the music. (In electrical terms, things are much more complicated, of course, but you get the idea.)

METHODOLOGY (Or How I Make My Judgments)

My initial impressions come from two testing techniques. For interconnects, when possible, I use the Wire World Interconnect Comparator, operating in direct bypass versus the snake in question. You cannot improve the source signal; you can only minimize the damage done to it. The final test is using the cables and interconnects under normal conditions against the reference of live, unamplied music. My review system is comprised of American Power and Light Alix ANNE loudspeakers, Musical Design D150 power amplifier, Melos SHA Gold preamplifier, Well Tempered and Linn Axis turntables and Musical Design CD2 Signature CD player. Cabling throughout is provided by Transparent Ultra products (including bi-wired speaker cables).

THE SWEET SPOT

Transparent Audio MusicLink Plus Interconnects ($240/1-meter pair)

Many manufacturers have a targeted "sweet spot" for their products, where the product reaches the magical point of diminishing returns and you start paying more for ever-smaller improvements in performance. The MusicLink Plus is Transparent Audio's sweet spot interconnect.

How sweet? Pretty damn-tastic! These babies are sonically neutral, doing remarkably little to interfere with the music signal. Do they impart any "signature" of their own? Naturally. Every interconnect will impart its own character to the music (at least until someone comes up with an electrostatically shielded, symmetrical-coaxial, inert gas-filled cryogenically-treated unobtainium foil tubes - in the next millennium!)

And how do these snakes sound? Actually, I found it difficult to pinpoint their "sound," and finally turned to my "main" system, which consists of high resolution panel speakers and subwoofer with a crossover point of 40Hz. With the Pluses in this set up, the higher octaves seem slightly overwhelmed by the overtones, causing a touch of brightness. The mid-range is natural and flows smoothly into a powerful, punchy bass that goes down, down, down ('ello, mate!). This is well demonstrated on Tracy Chapman's Matters of the Head (Electra 9 61215-2). Better still on her self-titled debut LP (Electra 9 60774-1). The harmonics hold on tenaciously to the fundamental notes, producing an excellent soundstage, with full images of vocalist and instruments.

Quite often, good soundstage width comes at a sacrifice of depth - but not in this case. The bass remains quite solid in image and control, yielding a tightly controlled, powerful quality. All things considered, these interconnects are well named - they come close indeed to sounding "transparent!" Yes, I know that's the no-no word. But the Transparent Audio MusicLink Plus interconnects just get out of the way and allow you to hear the music! What else can I call it?

TONALITY     82
Incredible pitch linearity, but overtones are a bit over-emphasized in the upper frequencies.

DYNAMICS     86
Virtually unrestricted. If these were really hoses, firemen might be tempted to use them.

RESOLUTION     83
Timbre and subtle nuances are captured well, especially with LPs.

IMAGING     83
Good soundstage depth and unwavering images with excellent "air" around instruments and voices. Superb silence between images, especially with LPs.

TIMING     85
Rhythm is exceptional across the audible spectrum. A driving beat can compel you to get up and boogie, baby!

OVERALL     85
Any challengers? Drop us a line!

Transparent Audio MusicWave Plus Speaker Cables ($475/8-foot pair)

Let me avoid redundancy by saying that these speaker cables have very similar sonic characteristics to the MusicLink Plus interconnects. After listening through a number of components and systems, I wondered how they could sound so neutral under such varied conditions. Well, like the MusicLink Plus, the MusicWave Plus has "magic" boxes at the terminations, which are said to stabilize impedance behavior at lower frequencies, in turn allowing the fundamental frequencies to pass in phase. This permits the cables to communicate the dynamics, authority and definition of the music.

Judging by the MusicWave Plus's performance, these network boxes do indeed work. The most apparent and important quality of these cables is that they are pleasant to listen to and convey the emotional message of the music. If you have high resolution speakers, then you may find that there is a slight loss of definition and cohesion from the mid-bass down. This presents itself as a loss of dynamic impact, since the arrival time of the fundamentals versus their harmonics is slightly off. If you have more forgiving speakers -- and many under $1,500 are forgiving in this area -- this will be a non-problem. For those of you so lucky as to own high rez speakers that produce tight, dynamic bass, I recommend trying the $1,000 MusicWave Super speaker cables. Check them out for yourself.

TONALITY     80
Tonal accuracy is great down to the bass; then pitch goes ever-so-slightly off.

DYNAMICS     80
Dynamic shadings and overall dynamics are super. However, there is a slight loss of mid-bass to bass impact.

RESOLUTION     83
Timbral resolution is right on. The feel of the music comes through. Very detailed without sounding clinical.

IMAGING     81
Imaging of most voices and instruments is excellent; however, bass instruments and drums are slightly diffuse.

TIMING     80
Rhythm is compelling, but slam is a little weak. There's a slight loss of body in the bass.

OVERALL     82
Great cables for nearly any system. For high rez systems, give the MusicWave Supers a listen!