- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 23 December 2009
In Use and On the Bench
Emotiva sent me a full set of cables, except for HDMI, so I was able to connect my Blu-ray player Toslink audio output to my SSP, the SSP to the power amplifiers, and the amplifiers to the front main speakers for stereo audio listening.
Emotiva claims that there is " . . . no hype, no redefining the laws of physics, just the highest level of workmanship and performance."
What I found was a sound that was pretty much what I hear with my reference cables, which cost a lot more. Bass was deep and the highs were clear. You can't ask for more than that.
Although I am skeptical about whether or not AC power cables can improve the sound, I do like the idea of having a more robust power cord than is usually included with most components, and have no problem with spending the $70 for an Emotiva X-Series AC power cable. It's very heavy, and power cables do tend to get strained and bent because they have to go from the equipment rack down to the AC receptacle on the lower part of the wall or AC power strip on the floor. So, for example, they are more likely to get pushed against when vacuuming the floor behind the equipment rack.
If you compare the impedance curve of the Emotiva speaker cables (3 meter length) with that of Legenburg's Zeus speaker cables (my current reference cables), you can see that the Emotiva cable has a bit more impedance in the frequencies above 4 kHz, but even at 20 kHz, the impedance is only 0.2 ohms. Keep in mind this is the reactive impedance, not resistive (not DC impedance), which includes the effects of any capacitance and inductance. Whether or not this produces an audible high end rolloff is debatable. I could not hear it. The Legenburgs, which are the size of a garden hose, are $8,000 for a 10 foot pair.
Here is the Impedance-Phase curve for the Emotiva X-Series RCA coax cable. This one was 2 meters (a little over 6 feet) in length. The impedance curve represents "reactive" impedance, meaning the impedance when alternating current (like music) is passing through the conductors.
I have used Nordost cables over the years and have several models because I really like them. I decided to compare the Emotiva to a Nordost RCA coax cable, so here is the curve for a 5 foot Nordost Valhalla.
Lastly, the Impedance-Phase curve for a 12 foot Radio Shack RCA coax cable.
What is interesting here is that the Emotiva coaxial cable was 0.1 Ohm for most of the audible band, and then rose to 0.12 Ohm at 20 kHz. The phase was 240 at 20 kHz. For the Nordost Valhalla, the impedance was a bit lower for most of the audible range (0.06 Ohms) and then rose to 0.1 Ohm at 20 kHz. So, the Valhalla cable had a higher rise in impedance (0.04 Ohm compared to the Emotiva which rose 0.02 Ohm) than the Emotiva, and the Emotiva was a foot longer. The phase for the Emotiva cable rose to 240, while for the Valhalla, it rose to 300 just before 20 kHz, then dropped slightly. This indicates that the Emotiva X-Series RCA interconnect has slightly superior performance, which is saying something considering the price difference, although it is impossible to say if this difference is audible. The Radio Shack 12 foot RCA interconnect was 0.3 Ohm impedance through most of the audible range, then rose 0.05 Ohm at 20 kHz. The phase rose to 300. The Radio Shack cable was 12 feet in length, so if it were 6 feet instead, the impedance would have been 0.15 Ohms instead of 0.3, which is still higher than either the Emotiva or Nordost. Note that all the cables tested for comparison had gold-plated terminations. I tested the cables using DH Labs RCA connectors which had been "zeroed" as to their own contribution to resistance and reactive impedance. The DH Labs connectors are pure copper with gold plating.
Now to something very intriguing that has just been published. In the latest issue of Audio Xpress (November, 2009), Ed Simon wrote an article about building a distortion meter to test audio cables. He was very surprised to learn the following:
(1) Solder connections were at least 50 times better than the best plain mechanical connections. (in other words, ICs should be soldered onto their circuit boards, not just plugged in).
(2) Gold connectors mating to gold connectors work best.
(3) Shiny (chrome, nickel) connectors mating to gold are not quite as good - when clean and newly inserted - but become worse within hours.
(4) Shiny plugged into shiny is not as good as gold on gold.
(5) Some gold (connectors) made for video and audio were horrible (the really cheap ones, probably gold on tin).
(6) Putting a surge through a cable lowers the distortion for a time, but it comes back.
What we can conclude from this is that a lot of what has been reported in cable reviews, as to an increase in clarity, "as if a veil had been lifted", etc., could very well be due to the simple act of pulling out the old connector and inserting a new one (a cable being reviewed). Also, whether there was gold on gold, or gold on tin, or tin on tin, could have an effect on the sound. In other words, the "improvement" in sound with a cable under review could be more from the connector - the type of metal on the surface and having just plugged it in - than from the wiring. Lastly, there are some products out there that "condition" or "burn in" cables. They may actually work, but only for awhile. So, if you have one of these burn in products, use it often. My theory about how this might work is perhaps the oxidation on the surface of the connectors is affected by a high voltage signal surge, but that is just a guess.
I was really glad to see that the Emotiva cable connectors are gold-plated. That is half the battle of the connectors. Some of my components have gold-plated plugs and jacks, others don't. I would suggest to manufacturers that they routinely use gold-plating on all of their input and output jacks. It would be important to use high quality solid copper plugs and jacks, perhaps with 0.5% tellurium as the alloy, which will make machining easier (and less expensive). They should have Teflon insulators and all connection surfaces plated with at least 3 microns of pure gold. XLR cables with gold-plated contacts are rare, and I plan on using the Emotiva XLRs in the lab now (most of my equipment is XLR balanced). So it raises the price a little. We will gladly pay it, because apparently, it will make a difference in the sound quality.