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Product Review
 

Harmonic Tech Magic Digital One and Link One Audio Interconnects

February, 2004

Jason Victor Serinus

 

Specifications:

 

  • Magic Digital One
    1 Meter Single Crystal Magic Digital Cable (XLR or RCA, BNC) - $400.00
    Additional Stereo Meter - $150.00

  • Magic Link One
    MagicTM Link One (RCA) - 1 Meter Pair. Single Ended Single Crystal Copper Link One Interconnect Cable - $700.00
    MagicTM Link One (XLR) - 1 Meter Pair. Balanced Single Crystal Copper Link One Interconnect Cable - $725.00
    Additional Stereo Meter - $300.00


Harmonic Technology

www.harmonictech.com

Introduction

Flashback to the early 1990s. I am in the midst of purchasing my first entry-level high-end CD player, a $595 Rotel. $595 constituted a major expense for me at the time, one I did not undertake without much deliberation.

As Iím reaching for my VISA card, still wondering if Iím biting off more than I can chew, salesperson Glenn at Oaklandís Pro Home Systems pulls out a more expensive menu. He tells me that I must spend at least $78 on an interconnect (AudioQuest Ruby, the only brand he carries) in order to do the player justice.

I am incredulous. After sundry exclamations of outrage and much discussion, I agree to sample the Ruby. For the heck of it, I also ask to sample the next level up, AudioQuest Quartz ($110). (This was a sure sign of an audiophile in the making.) Then I drive to another high-end store in Berkeley and borrow a $48 MIT interconnect for comparison.

The results are incontrovertible. Not only does the AQ Ruby sound better than the MIT, but the Quartz sounds much better than either. I invite friends over and they agree. Convinced, I shell out $110 for the Quartz. Cables do make a difference. End of High End Interconnect Lesson No. 1.

Flash ahead to the final fall of the old Millennium. The Rotel is long gone, replaced by an Audio Alchemy transport, AA Pro 32, and Theta Gen. Va DAC. Only a single pair of discontinued AudioQuest Quartz remains, relegated to low-level status on my ancient VCR. My digital interconnects are Nirvana Transmission (then $599 each). The interconnects linking Theta DAC, preamp, and amp are Nirvana SL-1 ($599) and Tara Decade ($799). Speaker cables are AudioTruth Dragon, the companyís former top-of-the-line silver speaker cable ($3600).

After visiting Clement Perry on the East Coast and discovering how good Harmonic Techís Pro-Silway interconnects sounded in his system, I agreed to review HTís entry-level Precision-Link interconnects. A pair of 1 meter RCA-terminated Precision-Link interconnects still retails for the same $129 the company charged in 1999.

Since the AQ Quartz and HT Precision-Link cost almost the same, I compared their sound. I found that the Quartz had more life and edge on top, but communicated far less information than the Precision-Link. As I reported at the time, on my bright, hardly high-end Kenwood tuner, ďThe non-fatiguing top on the entry-level Precision Link made for the most pleasant listening. It may not convey all the three-dimensionality and air I desire, but for an entry-level interconnect, it is clearly a candidate for audition in a lower-priced sound system. In a system with a bright digital setup, of which there are countless millions, it may in fact prove a perfect choice.Ē

Early last year, Jim Wang of Harmonic Technology asked me to review his top-of-the-line Magic One interconnects. When I told him that my Nordost Valhalla interconnects cost a good 300% more than Magic One interconnects, he showed no fear. In fact, he welcomed the comparison. Although at CES 2004 Harmonic Tech introduced improved Magic Reference Tweeter speaker cable ($1800/8 ft. pair), improved Magic Reference Woofer speaker cable ($2500/8 ft. pair), and new Magic Reference Bi-wire speaker cable ($3500/8 ft. pair), their top-of-the line interconnects remain Magic Digital One and Magic Link One.

I must admit that I had my doubts. Since my system was undergoing rapid transition, and I wanted to maintain a constant of interconnects and speaker cables in order to properly evaluate each change, I held off auditioning the Magic Ones. Frankly, it was to Jimís advantage. Upgrades to my Talon Khorus X speakers, purchase of a new transport and amp, a nearly full complement of Elrod EPS-Signature power cords, the loan of the superb Reflection Audio preamp, the recent addition of Ganymede supports under transport and amp, and the use of Shakti Stones on amp and DAC, have taken my system to a much higher level. It is with this newfound degree of clarity, timbral accuracy and resolution that I finally began my comparisons. I thank Jim Wang for his trust and patience.

Listening

I decided to go whole hog and use Magic One in my entire chain. I proceeded to connect my transport and DAC with the Magic Digital One, and DAC-preamp-amp with two sets of Magic Link One. [A complete equipment list can be found at the end of this review.] Although Jim was good enough to break-in everything beforehand, the cabling had sat unused for a year. After cleaning connections, I followed his suggestion and alternately played music and Ayre break-in tones through them for over 72 hours. By the time of my final audition, the interconnects had charged for a good 144 hours.

My initial impression was lukewarm. I had just finished preparing to interview mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli by replaying The Salieri Album (Decca), and gave it another listen through the Magic Ones. Bartoli sings the opening track at breakneck speed, pushing her voice to its absolute limits in order to express fury while negotiating over two octaves of hellish coloratura. Not only did I miss the top-end openness of the Valhalla, but the voice sounded uncomfortably shrill. The accompaniment of the period instrument Orchestra of the Enlightenment also lacked the sparkle and air I routinely hear when attending live performances of similar ensembles.

Next I turned to Cheskyís new recording of Rosa Passos and Ron Carter performing a fusion of jazz and bossa nova. Passosí voice lacked color and overtones, and the pitch of Carterís boomy bass was difficult to determine. The whole presentation seemed rather flat, something I never expected from a Chesky product.

So I tried an experiment. I replaced the Magic Digital One (XLR) with my Nordost Valhalla digital. The change was marked. Much of the color I had expected to hear from Bartoli and Passos returned. All of a sudden, air, three-dimensionality, a black background, treble extension and overall clarity were back.

Further experiments led me to change first the Magic Link One between DAC and preamp to Valhalla, then replace the Valhalla digital with the Magic Digital One, then return entirely to Magic One, then switch just the interconnect between preamp and amp to Valhalla, etc. etc. etc. I repeated the process over the course of several nights, repeatedly trying every permutation and combination I could think of. I also added Hilary Hahn playing Brahms and Terry Evans singing his soul out to the mix. I even trotted out my old (and excellent) Nirvana Transmission Digital cable. Since the latter has BNC termination, adding it enabled me to simply flip a switch on the Theta and compare Harmonic Tech Magic Digital One to Nirvana Transmission Digital. The Nirvana, I might add, cost $200 more several years ago, and probably costs even more now. I would expect it to sound better.

Interestingly enough, I could hear little difference between the two digital interconnects until I added Nordost Valhalla between DAC and preamp. Then the Nirvana Transmission Digital began to shine, clearly passing more information than the Magic Digital One.

I also compared Nirvana Transmission digital to Nordost Valhalla digital. I could hear little difference between the two when the remaining interconnects were Harmonic Tech Magic Link One. It was only when I had replaced all Harmonic Tech Magic Link One with Valhalla that I could clearly hear that the Valhalla digital transmitted more information and greater body than the Nirvana Transmission digital. It also sounded smoother on top.

Finally, I paid a lot of attention to Ron Carterís bass. The more Valhalla I added to the chain, the more under control and in tune his instrument became. Since bass is not entirely under control in my room, some who have criticized Nordost Valhalla might suggest that the reason Carterís bass sounded better with Valhalla has more to do with the fact that Valhalla is bass shy rather than Magic Link One lacking ultimate bass control. I personally have never been convinced by such criticisms; I think most interconnects lack control in the bass and tend to give it too much weight. I am of the opinion that since Valhallaís transmission speed is so extraordinary, it may sound bass shy compared to other cables when in effect it is simply more truthful. I am far from alone in this assessment. As an interconnect, in many equipment configurations Nordost Valhalla remains unsurpassed. [A review of the new Nordost power cords is forthcoming.]

Putting this all together, I reached the tentative conclusion - remember that word tentative - that the weak link in the Harmonic Tech Magic chain is the Magic Digital One. The Magic Link One may not equal Valhalla in range, speed and openness, but for close to four times less money, it does a pretty fine job.

Revelation

Part Two of my experiments came when I brought a single set of Magic Link One interconnects to my partnerís residence. David owns an aged Kenwood receiver (at least 20 years old, but built far better than comparably priced receivers today, boasting a discreet output stage usually only found nowadays in high-end equipment and an excellent tuner with a perfect waveform and adequate phase response to at least 53 kHz). He also has an early generation Sony CD player and antique Technics speakers.

The speakersí tweeters buzzed until we added an IEC connector to the Kenwood receiver and powered it with a $1500 Audio Prism SuperNatural S-2 power cord [See review in Archives]. That cord darkened the top, bringing the tweeters under control while greatly increasing midrange body and bass extension. I also put a Harmonic Tech Precision-Link interconnect between receiver and CD player, and HighWire speaker cable on the Technics. Forget about adequate support under components, ideal speaker placement, the large desk between and jutting in front of the speakers, and lack of standard size speaker inputs on the receiver and speaker. No room, no interest, no way.

Donít turn up your nose just yet. The thing is more than listenable, better than most modern mass market setups in fact. And if David ever gets different speakers, watch out.

Enter Magic Link One between receiver and CD player. Magic! From a serviceable system that I only used to audition a newly-released CD before taking it to my place to discover all it had to offer, I discovered one blessed with three-dimensional images, a beautiful and captivating sense of air and space around instruments and voice, and digital glare replaced by a pearly sounding, most inviting warmth. David initially missed the edge on sounds he heard with Precision-One, but after only 12 hours of signal passing through the cables, the highs opened up. At that point David was open to entertaining the notion that what he had up to then considered a live top had in fact been mainly digital glare and distortion.

The Ones made a fantastic improvement to the system. They were exceedingly quiet, three dimensional, and filled with color. There was a warmth to the presentation and a silence that I had never expected to hear from those antique components. Even outside the soundstage and standing way above the speakers, the system had come alive.

High-End Interconnect Lesson Number 533. Some cables form a better impedance match with certain components than others. The higher the driving impedance (output impedance) of a piece of equipment, the more sensitive it is to cable matching. When Magic interconnects (or any interconnect for that matter) are paired with the right components, the music shines.

Conclusions

As with all cabling, the Magic Digital One and Magic Link One are system dependent. Put into a system whose total cost of electronics equaled one set of Magic Links, they made it sound far more costly and musical, something I had never expected. They may especially excel with systems exhibiting a hard edge or digital glare and those lacking midrange warmth. Harmonic Tech Magic interconnects do not work their magic with all components, but with the right electronics, they truly shine.



- Jason Serinus -

Associated Equipment

Digital Front End
Sony 707ES transport modified by Alexander Peychev of APL Hi-Fi
Theta Gen Va single-ended DAC (to be replaced shortly by the Gen VIII)

Perpetual Technologies P-1A with Modwright modified Monolithic Power Supply and Revelation Audio umbilical power cable (not used for this review)

Amplification
Jadis Defy 7 Mk IV modified with a Siltech silver harness

Preamp
Bruce Moore Companion III tube preamp with Electro-Harmonix gold pin 6922s and Jan Philips 12AU7 equivalents;
Reflection Audio OM-1 Quantum battery-powered preamp in non-battery mode (used for this review)

Loudspeakers
Talon Khorus X speakers (with latest modifications and Bybee filters that render its response even across the spectrum and greatly improve the bass)

Cabling
Nordost Valhalla interconnects and digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Powercables: Elrod EPS-1, 2, and 3 and EPS-2 and -3 Signature on main chain plus Harmonic Tech, Nordost, and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 elsewhere

Accessories
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks, room treatment, and Audiopoints
Ganymede supports under amp and transport
Black Diamond Racing Cones
Shakti stones on Amp, Monolithic/P-1A and Theta
Bedini Quadra Beam Ultraclarifier
Audioprism Stoplight and latest, Marigo Stealth Mat for CDs
Sheffield/XLO degmagnetiser and break-in disc and Ayre demagnetizing disc

Analog (hardly the strong suit of the system, not used for review purposes)
Dual 1219
Sumiko Blue Point cartridge
Classe 6 phono preamp with optional umbilical cord
Interconnects: Tara Decade and Nirvana SL-1 to phono preamp

 

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