Sunday, October 29, 2006

To Ayre is Human

Recently, designer Charlie Hansen of Ayre was injured when he was struck by a motorcycle while biking on a trail. I have been fortunate enough to meet Mr. Hansen on one occasion. From the couple of hours that I spent with him he struck me as a passionate and honest individual, both things that are lacking in the world in general. Some of his friends have set up a blog so that we can all follow his recovery. It even has a comment section where one can leave their well wishes. The link will be added to the side bar to the right. Perhaps he will continue to update it after he has recovered. I think that it would be fascinating to watch the genesis of his next product. I Wish him a speedy and full recovery.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's good to have connections

Under comparison will be three pairs of balanced interconnects. Ayre Signature, Transparent Balanced Music Link Plus, and Transparent Balanced Music Link Super. Each cable was broken in before evaluation began. Just to be safe each cable had eighty minutes of music ran through it as well as the thirty second Ayre sweep tone. Each song was played twice on each cable. The first time just for listening, the second time through was to confirm findings and to jot down quick notes. The cables were used between the Theata DSPro basic III DAC and my Adcom GFP-750 preamp in active mode. Interconnects between the preamp and the amp were Audioquest Panther. It would have been ideal if I could have had two pairs of interconnects on hand so that the preamp to amp interface would have also been changed as well but that proved impractical.

Music for the shoot out was Robinella and the CC Stringband’s “Man Over” off of their self titled major label debut, Belle & Sebastian’s “Is It Wicked Not To Care?” from the album “The Boy With The Arab Strap” and Thelonious Monk’s “This Is My Story, This Is My Song.” from the recent Columbia re-issue of “Straight, No Chaser.” Between each phase of the testing a break was taken to make sure that listerner fatigue did not become a factor. After this process I listened to two albums using each cable to double check my earlier findings and to deepen my understanding of each cable abilities.

Both Transparent cables utilize their network technology. The network has a number of duties that it is intended to perform. Every cable acts as an antenna, picking up RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) if you know the length of the cable along with some other key information it is possible to calculate at what frequencies this will occur. One of the network’s jobs is to get rid of this unwelcome noise. Transparent also believes that there is an optimum balance of capacitance and inductance, the network also helps to maintain this balance. The interesting effect of this adjustment of capacitance and inductance is that a 3 foot, 6 foot and 10 foot pair should sound virtually identical. In other cable designs this isn’t the case. Conventional audiophile wisdom says that the shortest cable will sound the best because it is the shortest signal path. But in practice short cables tend to raise capacitance which reduces bass and can cause the system to sound bright (all of these things affect speaker cables as well.)

In general the Ayre cable tended to mute the leading edge of plucked strings. On both the Robinella and Bell & Sebastian tracks acoustic guitars lost some of their fullness as a result of the transient response malady. The Ayre also had trouble when two instruments were playing the same melodic line, as the hollow body electric and the violin do on “Man Over.” This same tendency cropped up on the B&S selection when in the middle of the song a male voice comes in to double the female lead. The Ayre Signature also lacked space within the recording. It was as if all of the musicians took two steps closer together. The Signatures also tended to add a very slight grain to female vocals. This grain was also added to lower treble notes on Monk’s “This Is My Story, This Is My Song.” In addition with the Signatures in the system it was less than clear that Theo. was playing a grand piano.

The Transparent Music Link Plus was better with the initial attack of plucked acoustic instruments. The “Chugga-Chugga” of the mandolin on the Robinella song was a much bigger part of the song, setting the rhythm of the performance. Because this song, in fact the whole album lack a drummer this is very important. The bass on this track also had more body. The Music Link Plus also gave this performance more space so it didn’t sound as if the musicians were standing right on top of each other. At the beginning of the Bell & Sebastian number the female vocalist opens her mouth and takes a deep breath before delivering her first line. The Plus allows even this simple act to have more dramatic tension than the Ayres. The Pluses also allowed for a richer sound on Mr. Monk’s piano. Now there was little question that this was a grand piano.

With the Transparent Music Link Super both vocal performances were much more engaging than with either of the other cables. This was primarily due to a better sense of micro dynamics in the voices of both of the women. “Is It Wicked. . . “ took on a much more hushed, almost whispered quality to the vocals, increasing the intimacy of the lyrics. It was almost as if the performance was just for one listener. The violin on “Man Over” also seemed more emotionally engaging because it’s lines seemed slower and more lovingly played. The bass line, while not louder or deeper than the Pluses was easier to follow. Subtle flourishes on the acoustic guitar and mandolin near the end of the Robinella selection, that had previously gone unnoticed also added to the presentation. Theo.’s piano now IS undeniably a GRAND piano and this joint now takes on a much more dramatic and impressive tone because of it. The listener is pulled to the edge of their seat waiting to find out what the next salvo of notes will bring, even if they have heard the performance hundreds or even thousands of times.

Don’t judge the Ayre Signatures too harshly, none of their errors were on the magnitude of being major, if one didn’t have the opportunity to hear the Transparent cables it would be difficult to even notice these imperfections. Also I believe that the Martin Logan CLS electrostats tended to highlight these flaws because of their strengths in these areas. For a brief time Transparent’s Balanced Ultras were to be part of this survey but sanity and my pocket book got the better of me. I don’t want to listen to anything in my system that I can’t afford and take the chance on falling in love with them on the spot. I have heard them in other systems on many occasions and already know what I don’t want to know for sure, that they are a world class cable. Many years ago 7-Up used the slogan “The Un-cola.” Too bad it’s already taken because Transparent could easily and truthfully have used the slogan “The Un-cable.” Maybe they already have in their own way. Maybe that’s why they named their company Transparent. No single word better describes their character, or lack there of.