I've been using the Nordost Quatro fil for as long as it's been out along with the SPM speaker cable as it seemed to be the closest thing to no cable at all when it came to sound. I recently got a 2 meter pair of the Designer Reference interconnect with the Active Shielding box in from my dealer for evaluation. In the past (two years ago) I tried the original Designers Reference and frankly, while it sounded nice, it just couldnt match the Quatro Fil as it sounded a bit fuzzy in comparison.
Advance forward two years to the new Active Shielded version of this cable. I have to say I wasnt prepared for this one. Running the cable sithout the box connected produced a nice slightly less distinct sound than the Quatro fil, but plug in the box & WOW! Dramatic improvement in transparency, lower noise level, greater purity and a very welcome sense of body and life. Its everything I liked about the Quatro Fil taken up a couple of notches. After listening for about 2 weeks I switched back to the Nordost just to make sure - the result? The previously neutral sounding Nordost sounded opaque, artificial and basically unlistenable. Not a subtle difference.
I'm at a bit of a loss to expalin the poster below who found little difference with the box unless its attributable as he suggests to the use of balanced connections (I'm running RCAs). To my ears this was one of the single largest sonic differences I've heard in my system - comparable to a dramatic upgrade in amplifiers. An easy recommendation. If you get the chance you really should check the active shielding out. Myself? The Quatro Fil is going back to the dealer I'm keeping the interconnects and I got the active shielded version of the Designer Reference dig cable to boot.
I used a pair of SR XLR (old version w/o shielding)for over 3 years. Before that I used the AQ Diamond 3 XLR, it sound great comparing to AQ. Good sound stage, detailed and very quiet background that most aufiophile wanted. Someone might say that it is less musical but to me this is just right. I have borrowed a pair of the Venture UR RCA cables with an added on 30% cost from the vendor, this is even better than the SR with add on crystal like sound, instrument positions are clearly defined when listen to classical music, but considering the cost difference, SR is still worth at it's value.
System used for comparision: ML37 CDT, ML 360S D/A, ARC LS25 Pre and ARC VT-130 AMP, Wilson Benesch ACT 1 speaker.
I am currently evaluating interconnect & speaker cables, with a view to replacing my own cables (Transparent MusicLink Plus balanced interconnect & MusicWave Plus speaker cable, and one run of Super balanced interconnect) with something better. This is prompted by the recent replacement of one set of Plus interconnects with Super, and what a big difference that made! But, Transparent cables are not cheap, and if I’m going to be spending that much money, I need to make sure I’ve spent it wisely.
I spent a week in the company of Synergistic Designer Reference balanced interconnect, with a Master Control Centre doing the “Active Shielding” thing as well. I tried it between DAC and pre-amp, between pre and power, and finally using the DAC to drive the power amp directly. Unfortunately it could be argued that my listening tests were flawed, since I kept Transparent cables for the speakers, but it can’t be helped! Besides which, the speakers themselves are wired with Transparent Reference cables (the so-called “Puppy Tail” between WATT and PUPPY).
Here in the UK, the Synergistic plus MCC costs 3-4 times more than the Transparent Super, and 7-8 times more than the Plus. So I was expecting a lot out of it, and ended up slightly disappointed. True, in pure hi-fi terms it beats the other cables, as it should for the price. For example, the bass was more extended and clear, the treble less bright and splashy, the midrange very full. The soundstage widened slightly. Also, the MCC made a noticeable difference when I plugged it in, although not quite as I expected: rather than lowering the apparent noise floor, it simply enriched the midrange and gave it slightly more “slam.” I guess you may notice more if you use single-ended interconnects; mine were balanced.
Also in pure hi-fi terms, on the downside I noticed a slight loss of fine detail. Images were clear and boldly lit, but somehow isolated from other elements in the soundstage. Ambience cues seemed to be missing or muted, but overall this was a subtle effect.
My main gripe, and the real reason why I don’t want to buy these cables, is the sudden loss of musicality switching from Transparent to Synergistic. This is a difficult thing to write about since musicality is often an excuse used by reviewers to put down something they like or don’t like, but just don’t understand. I shall try!
Firstly, the switch back to Transparent cables reduced those hi-fi qualities listed above and re-introduced a level of brightness and splashiness to the treble (not so much with the Super but definitely with the Plus) I hadn’t noticed before. Smaller soundstage, bass less well defined and powerful, etc.
Score 1 point to Designer Reference.
Yet the Transparent had a coherent, seamless quality throughout the frequency range, with instruments that seemed to be played more “in time” with one another. This applied to the Plus cable and was more pronounced (and the gap, in pure hi-fi terms, between Transparent & Synergistic reduced) with the Super. What was much more obvious with the Super was the resolution of microdynamics, little audio cues that revealed to me slight variations in volume and attack from musicians, that just weren’t there with the Synergistic.
I admit that the sound produced by the Synergistic was more laid back, less forward and bright than the Transparent, and it could be argued that I simply didn’t spend enough time acclimatising myself to what they could do. However, my dealer warned me to expect and account for this effect, and I was careful to take the time necessary to make a correct evaluation. Despite this, as soon as I put the Transparent back in circuit, the slight frown I’d been wearing disappeared and my feet resumed their tapping to the music.
The cerebral music produced by the Synergistic was overwhelmed, in my system, by the emotional content of music revealed through the Transparent. For me, this was more important. Please don’t look at this (somewhat negative) review as a rebuttal of Synergistic cables; in my system they didn’t work to my personal tastes, but the qualities they had were definitely good ones, and you should give them an audition if you’re in the market for this type of cable. The “active shielding” and MCC does have an effect, though how well it works probably depends on what components you have, how close your analogue cables are to other power or digital cables, whether you use balanced or single-ended interconnects, and so on. If your system is forward, overly rich, or just in need of a bit of extra control, then these cables may be ideal, but for me they aren’t worth the money and I’m only prepared to give then three stars.
I have yet to hear Transparent Ultra or Reference cables in my system, although I’m trying to get hold of some, since they sit on either side of the price point set by the Designer Reference plus MCC. I fully expect them to match or exceed the hi-fi achievements of the Synergistic and maintain the listening joy I get from my current cables. Once tried, you’ll see an appropriate review in this forum.
System: dCS Elgar/Purcell DAC, Pioneer DV717 transport, Jeff Rowland Consummate preamp, Model 2 + BPS power amp, Wilson System 5.1
Really unbelievable! The best I've heard in my system. In case you are curious, here is the system. Theta Miles connected directly to a VAC 100/100 w/'68 vintage KT88 Gold Lions and Brimar CV4003s. DR has active shielding connected to the master control center (which improved my system at least 25%). If you haven't upgraded to the active shielding, IMHO, it is a must! Audio Physic Virgos are connected to the VAC with two runs of SR Resolution Reference (Bi-Wired). Power cords are Bybee and SR. Everything gets it power through an API Power Wedge Ultra 112. Tweaks include BDR cones under the amp and Vibrapods under everything else. The two components are on top of Bright Star Big Rocks w/ a little Rock on the Miles. The stand is a two shelf, sand filled Target B2.
I purchased SR Designer's Reference (balanced)5 months ago and replaced Audioquest Diamond which runs between the CD Player (Wadia 860) and the amp (Krell FPB600). I recently added the Active Shielding unit from SR and connected it to the interconnects. Speakers are Dunlavy SC-4A. Initial Listening:
Initially, a little less detail than the AQ, however, noticeably more "Air", soundstaging and treble purity.
3-5 months later:
This cable requires serious burn-in. Over a 2 month period, a significant increase in detail, tremendous increase in air, soundstaging, dynamics, treble and bass extension and especially timbral accuracy. At this point, I didn't think my system could sound better. Finally, with help from the Dunlavy's, it felt like the performers were in my listening room.
Holy S@&$! I could not believe how amazing Active shielding made my already excellent sounding system sound. Seriously, it sounded like I had just inserted a 3,000 watt per channel single-ended triode tube amp. Soundstaging, bass/treble extension and timbral accuracy were improved to unbelievable levels. This is probably the only piece of equipment in many years of experimenting that has ever tempeted me to write a letter to the manufacturer and has raised such emotional involvement in the music.
Until I tried Synergistic Research Designer's Reference w/ Active Shielding, I felt like my system was really missing that magical, elusive quality where everything sounds "right". I was contemplating maybe a tube amp?, better digital?, heck maybe going to analog! Well, I won't be needing to do any of those things now! Who needs to consider different electronics, when the performers are playing right in my living room?