Product: Maestro Interconnect Cables and Primus Power Cables
Manufacturer: KAS Audio - USA
Approx. price: Prices variable according to length.
Maestro Interconnects 0.5m $200, 2.0m $550; Primus Power Cable 2.0m $300
Reviewer: Richard George - TNT USA
Reviewed: March, 2005
Cables. It has been over four years since I last officially reviewed a set of audio cables. In the meantime, numerous interconnects have passed through my listening room ranging in price from about $1000 per pair down to extremely inexpensive home-brewed contraptions. Some worked well and others charitably could be called a waste of time.
The subject of cables often arises in discussions of audio equipment and reveals yet another dichotomy of thought within the audio community. While perhaps not evoking the fervent passion characterized by the 'tube vs. solid state' argument, there are, nonetheless, zealous adherents to the two mutually exclusive points of view about cables. That is, there are many who firmly believe that cables make no difference in the overall sound of a system, and others who claim to believe that cables may be the most important component in the audio chain.
As is usually the case where two extremes of opinion are involved, both are only partially correct. The truth lies somewhere between. Cables can make a substantial difference in the sound quality of a system. However, cables cannot act by themselves. Some companies imply through creative advertising that a set of their $2,000 interconnect cables will make a $100 CD-player sound like a high-end player. This is, of course, unreasonable and ludicrous. A cable cannot add quality sound to a system that has substandard components or poorly recorded source material. At worst, a cable can compromise the sound quality of the other components by smearing the sound or raising the noise floor through internally generated or externally sourced noise such as electromagnetic interference (EMI) or radio frequency interference (RFI); at best, properly designed and constructed cables are able simply to allow the system to sound as it should. Generally speaking, the better the system, the more it will benefit from cables that are well-matched to the system.
Most people, except the most extreme in the anti-cable camp, would agree that a change of interconnect cables can make a difference in sound with most systems. After all, small changes in inductance, capacitance, resistance, noise, or other, more subtle effects in the cables can cause changes in the sound quality that may be amplified along the audio chain. This is especially true with phono output, which has such a low voltage output and requires so much gain that any extraneous interference or noise will be amplified in kind.
While there is little controversy regarding the importance of interconnect cables, the most controversial cables would have to be power cables. After all, electric power is electric power - right? As long as the power is getting to the components and supplying proper voltage and frequency, how can the type of cable make any difference at all? Since reason applied with insufficient information cannot explain how a power cable can make any difference at all, many people will not even try premium power cables.
The subjects of this review are the Maestro Interconnect Cables and the Primus Power Cord made by KAS Audio. KAS Audio supplied one pair of 0.5 meter and one pair of 2.0 meter Maestro Interconnects, and one Primus Power Cord. While I had some expectations for the Maestro Interconnects, can the expensive power cord make an audible difference?
In order to find the answers, I used the most detailed and sensitive audio gear I had available. The primary source was a nOrh CD-1 using a pair of Amperex 12AX7 output tubes and a Herbie's CD mat. For a very brief time I was able to use a Sony SCD-XA9000 SACD player. The amp was a Decware SE84C-Select with a Siemens E88CC driver tube and a Sophia Electric 274B Meshplate rectifier. The speakers were a pair of Hornshoppe Horns with a Hornshoppe Hornline Bass Augmenter. This combination of equipment provides excruciatingly clean sound, extreme detail, and holographic imaging, with the right source material.
Unlike many 'premium' cables that utilize multistranded, silver wire or silver-plated copper wire, KAS uses a 99.99% pure silver, single-strand, 18-gauge, Teflon-coated wire for the main lead. According to the product description, KAS Audio uses a unique design to maintain a 2.5cm spacing between main and ground leads. (While curiosity made me want to take one apart to find out how the design was executed, decorum dictated that I not ruin a product that did not belong to me!) Maximum isolation of the two leads and reduction of EMI and RFI appeared to be the goal of this design. Another interesting design detail includes a 96-hour, cryogenic treatment in liquid nitrogen for the conductors and the Cardas silver RCA connectors. Since the conductors are silver, KAS Audio believes the connectors should be made of the same metal. The Maestro Interconnects are also available with Neutrik silver XLR connectors.
Is silver wire better than copper? There is no easy answer for that question. Silver has slightly different electrical properties and may have the potential to sound better than copper, yet both require proper implementation for optimal audio quality. While some people believe silver is always better, in my experience, properly constructed copper cables are easily superior to improperly constructed silver cable. So, where does that leave the Maestros?
The short answer is that the people at KAS Audio appear to have done their homework. They have carefully designed and constructed the Maestros to take full advantage of the electrical differences inherent in silver as a conductor by using a simple, single-strand design, then optimizing the cable to reduce EMI and RFI to a minimum.
Aesthetically, the Maestros have a subtle appearance. From the silver connectors and gray rubber boots (which join the connectors to the main cable) to the nylon mesh (black with very fine, white pin-striping) the Maestros have a simple, yet elegant appearance. Unlike some high-end cables, they don't resemble anacondas, and they have no flash on them to scream that the owners are overly affluent. They appear to be just what they are - unpretentious yet high quality interconnect cables.
The Primus Power Cords utilize an interesting, and expensive, conductor design. They use a Hyperlitz cable in which all the conductor strands are insulated with a Teflon coating. As such, none of the strands touches any others for the length of the cable, except at the connectors on the cable ends. This design is used to minimize interconductor RFI and EMI generated along the cable length. As with the Maestro cables, the conductors and plugs are all cryogenically treated for 96 hours. Marinco and Hubble hospital-grade plugs are used on the Primus Power cords.
According to the website, each of the two leads of the Primus cable is made of 12 silver-plated, copper conductors. Four of the conductors are 16-gauge, four are 18-gauge, and the remaining four are 22-gauge. The resultant lead has a total cross-sectional area equivalent to an 8-gauge wire. This should be sufficient to supply power to a 1000-watt amplifier with room to spare - I certainly didn't push its limits with my 2-watt amplifier. Aluminum shielding is used to reduce externally sourced electrical noise. The cables are hand-assembled and adjusted for optimal fit into the component's IEC outlet.
While the Maestro cables are subtle in appearance, the Primus Power cord is slightly less so. It is covered with a light blue, soft polypropylene jacket and may be a little harder to hide than the Maestro Interconnects. It is not glaringly bright, but it is more visible than black cables.
An important aspect of interconnect cables is the transmission of musical detail to downstream components. To this end, the Maestro Interconnects excel. The delicacy of detail was superior to any interconnects I had available at the time. My single-strand, silver wire, home-brew interconnects were nearly equal in transmission of musical detail compared to the KAS cables, but the Maestros were clearly superior at external noise rejection. When listening to several recordings with which I was very familiar, I was delighted to hear background instruments and ambient sounds that were not audible with most interconnects. The same phenomenon was observed repeatedly.
This level of detail also enhanced the realism of recorded music. For instance, when listening to the Toucans Steel Drum Band, the high detail passed along to the amplifier and speakers allowed the complex harmonics and unique timbre of the steel drums to sound simply delightful.
Another aspect of well reproduced detail is enhanced soundstage and 3-dimensional imaging. The Arco Iris LP, Peace Pipes contains a few examples of superb 3-D imaging. The Maestro Interconnects transmitted such clarity and detail to the rest of the system that, in the Sunrise Chacerera cut, the drummer could be heard turning around in a circle to reach all the drums. While I have heard this effect with a few different combinations of components in the past, never before have I heard it with such clarity. It was enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck.
The Maestros displayed an improvement in the clarity of treble notes, but they did so without causing treble glare, which sometimes seems to be a problem with silver wire. The Ralph Towner CD Matchbook relies heavily on clarity of individual notes. The improvement over any available interconnects was readily apparent. Low frequency notes were also improved. While bass notes from the Hornshoppe Horns do not reach below about 70Hz in my listening room, the Hornline bass augmenter reaches down to about 30Hz. This combination provides wonderfully quick and clean bass transients. With the Maestros, bass transients seemed to be a little quicker resulting in more realistic and cleaner percussion.
Because of the improvement in detail and clarity of tone, vocal performances were also noticeably improved over other available interconnects. In particular, well recorded female vocals took on a more lifelike sound. The added detail and improved tonal quality was enough that Diana Kraal sounded more intimate and lifelike when using the Maestro interconnects. When listening to Lush Life, by Jacintha, I was impressed by the subtle, but real improvement when compared to my other interconnects.
To say that the Maesto Interconnect cables make a noticeable difference would be damning them with faint praise. In fact, I preferred these interconnects over the Nordost Quattro Reference interconnects that I had been using when I first received the KAS cables for review. Considering the price difference, that is high praise indeed. When comparing the Maestro Interconnects to comparably-priced cables, such as the DH Labs Air Matrix and the Tara Labs RSC Air 3, there was no comparison. The Maestros were found to have better tonal balance and superior detail and imaging.
An interesting aspect of power cables came about as I listened at different times of day and in different listening rooms. In my home listening room during mid-day listening sessions, the KAS power cord made an immediately noticeable and pleasant improvement in the performance of the system. However, during late night listening sessions, I found it difficult to distinguish between the KAS cables and my standard power cables, a set of homemade cables based on the Beldon 83802 cable.
The clearest difference the power cables made in my home listening room was a distinct reduction in the noise floor. At first, there seemed to be greater detail, sharper high frequencies, and cleaner bass. In other words, everything was improved. However, switching cables back and forth between the KAS and my standard power cable seemed to show little real difference in any of these parameters. However, what was plainly different was the sound when no music was playing. There was less noise with the KAS cables. The lowered noise floor translated to a clear improvement in the audibility of the music.
While the KAS power cables made a distinct improvement in sound quality during the day in my listening room, there was somewhat less difference late at night. After prolonged listening, I finally determined that there was slightly greater depth and a more open soundstage, and there was more distinct stereo imaging. In short, the Primus Power cord resulted in slightly better musical detail in the quiet of the night compared to my own power cable.
The results of listening to my system with the Primus Power Cord in my listening room were initially confusing - I expected to observe that the most significant improvement would occur late at night when the still hours after midnight would enhance audible differences. That was not what I observed in my listening room.
As a result, I decided to try the system in a different environment, one that was away from radio transmitting towers, cell phone repeaters, and the two local, general aviation airports. I ended up transplanting my system to another room in another city over 50km away. In this location, the late night listening sessions showed a clear superiority of the Primus over my own power cable. With a noticeably lower noise floor, greater detail was plainly audible. The resultant sound stage was more open with noticeably better imaging. In daytime listening sessions, there was still a difference between the Primus and any other power cords, but the difference was less pronounced.
Why did the sound of the system behave differently in the two different locations? I did not have the time or equipment to do an in depth, intensive study to find the answers. However, there are several likely factors affecting the test including ambient noise level, electrical noise carried by the electrical mains, acoustical differences in the rooms, and radio frequency interference. In short, the results in your location may, and probably will, vary.
In terms of audio performance, I could find no negative aspects with the Maestro Interconnects. However, it should be noted that all systems (which include the listening room as a major component) respond differently to changes. What works well in my system will not work in all systems.
One negative aspect concerning the performance of the Power cord was simply that, in my home listening room during my testing, the power cord did not make much of an improvement at night, although there was a marked difference in the daytime. In a secondary listening room in a more isolated location, the results were more clearly defined at night, while there was less difference in the daytime when compared to results from my listening room. Depending on how clean (or not) their electrical power is, some people may not perceive much benefit while using the KAS power cables, while other people will be amazed at the improvement that premium power cables can make to their systems.
One complaint I have with most premium cables also applies to the KAS cables. The cables are thick, heavy, and very stiff. Such cables could, through inadvertent application of weight and leverage, apply excessive torque to the RCA connectors. In rare cases, this could result in damage to electrical connections. As with all premium cables, the KAS cables may need to be properly supported, depending on the system setup, so the component RCA connectors do not hold up the weight of the cables.
KAS Audio has produced audio cables that, in appearance and performance, are excellent. They do not necessarily set a new standard for high end performance. However, even if they don't set a new standard, they very closely approach it, and they do so a price that is embarrassingly low compared to some high-end and high-priced competition. It makes one seriously wonder what the profit margin must be on $2,000 premium cables if a company can make cables as good as the Maestros and sell them for one-fifth the price.
A second aspect of KAS Audio products is that the factory direct price is within the range of low-end premium cables, such as Monster and and mid-level Tara Labs products. Having sampled more than a few bargain-priced, self-proclaimed "high-end" cables, seldom have I been impressed. In fact, for a fraction of the price, I frequently have used DH Labs Silver Sonic cables. For a price not much higher than Monster "high-end" stuff, truly high-end audio cables can now be had by anyone who has been tempted by the low-end of premium cables.
On the high end of the price spectrum, there will always be a market for super premium cables. After all, many people believe that if one spends more for a product, the quality MUST be better. For the rest of us who want to get the best performance possible for our money, KAS Audio makes cables that cost little more than the best offered by Monster or other mainstream, self-proclaimed "premium" cable companies, but deliver performance on par with products of many high end companies. In fact, the factory direct prices from KAS Audio are so low that many more people may be willing to take the plunge and give premium cables a try. After years of charging whatever people would pay, the time has come for upstart companies like KAS Audio to provide high-end cable quality at mid-fi prices. Isn't competition grand?
Many thanks to Khaliq of KAS Audio, for providing the samples used in this review.
© Copyright 2005 Richard George - www.tnt-audio.com