RS Audio Cables Review 
Home Theater Accessories AV Cables
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 06 January 2010

Can there be a more polarizing topic among audiophiles than cables? Audio forums are filled with animated chats, debating the validity and effectiveness of after-market speaker cables, interconnects and power cords. Non-believers affirm there is nothing to gain by paying additional money for cables – “wire is wire.” Others have spent thousands of dollars on cables and swear the improvements are real. And judging by the number of cable manufacturers and different designs offered, there certainly is a market of consumers hungry for – or at least very curious about - wiring upgrades. The skepticism, however, is not surprising, considering the movement toward designing audiophile-grade cables didn't take full flight until the 1980s.

Ever since, hobbyists and manufacturers themselves have been engaged in lofty discourse over what cables actually do to the sound of an audio system – if anything. I don't believe that any single cable material, design or construction holds the answer; it ultimately depends on the application and the end-user's audio priorities. I view cables like a pair of eye-glasses or contact lenses. Just because you have a certain optical prescription doesn't mean that you grab the first pair of specs from the rack or tell your optometrist to “just give me what's in stock” for new contacts. What works for me probably won't work for you, even if our eyes require the same corrective measures. That's what the appointment is for, a consultation to make sure you and your eyes get what works best. The same holds true for audio cables and the ears and personality of the listener. All cable makers can do is offer their particular vision of how to best reproduce the sound originally laid down in the studio.

And to step outside for a moment, let's stop the blind blasting of wire for cost alone. I grant that many audio cables are exorbitantly – even embarrassingly – priced when considering what it is you're buying. Still, I cringe when cable manufacturers are subjected to criticism for the sake of criticizing cost. I like to use watches as an example. Visit Amazon.com and do a “Watch” search. My most recent activity unveiled the Breguet Classique Mens Watch, priced at $131,693.93 – marked down from its list price of $139,900. Does such a watch tell time more accurately than a $30 model? Probably so, but doubtfully to the magnitude that the cost may imply to those who don't appreciate fine watch making. And believe me, you can spend a lot more on a watch than $131K. All screamers who blast cable makers for offering pairs for thousands of dollars or more should keep this in mind: High-market cables are “luxury” products. You don't have to buy – or even like them – but keep an open mind and realize that the signal being carried from source to amp to speaker is fighting an uphill battle all the way.

At what point did we “perfect” that operation? My experience with anyone in the cable-making game has been very positive. In most cases, the “business” has arisen from an initial love of music and a sincere desire to reproduce the signals being outputted from a source to speaker with as much accuracy as possible. So, when I come across cables that are affordable, well-made and purported to do everything they're supposed to – carry audio signal with speed, transparency and not sacrifice dynamic range – then I'm interested. Very interested. You see, I'm a skeptic, too.

RS Audio Cables sprung from a desire to combat the many bank account-draining cables proffered in audio land; instead, offering direct sales to customers and significant savings to boot. The company in 2001, when Richard Sachek, the “RS” behind RS Audio Cables, “was looking to purchase some of the then-newfangled silver interconnects for personal use. At the time, there were only a few companies offering them and the prices were simply astronomical. I began to investigate sources of silver wire, teflon dielectric, etc., and realized that I could make the interconnects myself, add in a modest profit, and market a competing product that was priced hundreds of dollars less than current offerings. And that is exactly what I did. Also, since we only sell direct to audiophiles, an entire layer of profit (which would normally go to the dealers) is eliminated which helps keep pricing competitive. By the following year, orders were so brisk that I felt comfortable leaving my "day job" to pursue RS Audio Cables, LLC full-time. In 2003, we became only the second company worldwide to offer audio interconnects containing 99.9% purity palladium conductors.” Thus a cable company was born.

Silver as Super Conductor?

Most audio cable makers use silver or copper in their wares, because these elements are very good conductors. Sachek goes with silver, which has a slight conductive edge over copper material some folks think is actually too conductive and results in an overly bright and edgy sound. I wanted to hear what RS could do for my system, and Sachek sent me a pair of Silver Speaker cables, Illumé Interconnects and Kevlar Starchord power cable to test. I think most audiophiles expect some break-in time for any cable introduced into an audio system. The basic theory is that during break-in, electrons have a chance to “find their way” through the maze of wire, from source signal to amplifier. Sachek noted, “The power cord is a well-used demo but the interconnects and speaker cables are new, so they will require a break-in period. As you will see on the packaging, we recommend 50 hours as a benchmark where the silver cables will mellow to the point where our customers can determine if the cables are suitable to their tastes and compatible with their components or not. However, the cables will actually continue to subtly improve up until the 200-hour mark.”

Illumé Interconnect ($179/1-meter pair)

The Illumé is an updated version of RS's Solid Silver cable, employing braided geometry and sporting Eichmann Silver Bullet plugs and an opaque pearlescent monofilament protective jacket. The Eichmann plugs were engineered as mini-cables themselves and feature 99.99 percent pure silver rod contact pins for speedy signal transfer. Eichmann reports the Bullet Plug, “makes single point contact with the side wall of an RCA socket - concentrating electrons to one point thereby reducing distortion.” I like the Plugs for the very secure connection they make.

Silver Speaker ($529/8-foot stereo pair)

The Silver Speaker cables feature .999 solid silver conductors, teflon dielectrics and the same mono jacket found on the Illumés. The 13 AWG cable is very flexible and can be ordered with Cardas rhodium-plated spades, Cardas banana plugs or without termination. My review pair came tipped with bananas. 


 

Kevlar Starchord ($179/6-foot)

The Starchord is a beefy, shielded cable built with “star quad” configuration, a design employing four conductors that RS asserts “minimizes the 'loop area' between twists of the conductors, and is laced with an external ground wire. Although the cord is thick as a pro wrestler's thumb, it's also very flexible and can be tucked into service neatly and nearly anywhere. The Starchord comes terminated with Marinco hospital-grade connectors. One caveat about the cord and termination: Make sure your AC outlet can “handle” such equipment, otherwise the weight of the cable may compromise the connection and pull the plug from the wall. I recently installed Acme Audio Labs' 20 amp/125 volt duplex AC outlet (Series 2), which provided an extremely tight connection with the Starchord. I experimented with the Starchord, using it as the power cord for amplifier and CD player. When paired with a player, the Starchord offered a better sense of detail and overall space. As I noted in my review of Electrocompaniet's PI-2 integrated amplifier, replacing the stock power cable with the Starchord significantly reduced any hum emanating from the amp. That was a very evident and repeatable result. Expect dead-quiet backgrounds, too. 

Listening

As I mentioned earlier, silver cables are sometimes prematurely labeled as bright or thin-sounding. I didn't have that experience with the Illumés or Silver Speaker cables. Once broken in – and they do need break-in – the sound is very smooth, detailed and never fatiguing. In my opinion, cables should be seen and not heard, and that's what RS does very well. Hook 'em up and just enjoy the music.

David Gilmour's On An Island is a generally breezy affair, with some guitar histrionics thrown in for good measure. Tunes such as the title track and “The Blue” are lush, dreamy numbers with superb background vocals from Rick Wright, Graham Nash and David Crosby. Through the RS setup, it's possible to hear the three vocalist's breathe as they expel the last syllables of a phrase – a wonderful thing. It's as if the words are picked up and carried through the air into your ears and allowed to float and sustain like a lingering summer cloud.

Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald's 1999 solo album Driver's Eyes didn't get much notice, but it features a formidable backing cast including G.E. Smith, Steve Hackett, Hugh McCracken, John Wetton, Lou Gramm, Peter Frampton, Gary Brooker and Michael Giles. McDonald taps into each for a colorful mix of rock, jazz and prog. “Hawaii” is a ride through '60's surf music with a touch of the orient bringing both sides of the Pacific together. Reverb was subtly dispersed and sparkling. The brooding “Let There Be Light,” sung by Brooker, was breathtaking in its intensity and grandeur, heightened by McDonald's string arrangement and Brooker's inimitable vocal.

Beachwood Sparks' 2001 release Once We Were Trees is absolutely dripping with reverb and glittering harmonies, recalling the glory days of late 1960's country rock. I've heard the album countless times, but what impressed me most here was the feeling of being in-studio as “Confusion Is Nothing New” and “The Sun Surrounds Me” played through the RS cabling. There's some magic happening here that's difficult to describe but easy to enjoy.

Steeleye Span's brilliant 2006 album Bloody Men features a gritty version of “Bonny Black Hare,” a traditional British folk tune taken to the extreme with octave violin solos. If Maddy Prior's saucy vocals don't hook your ears, Peter Knight's violins will. There was the perfect mix of detail and “loud” where all bloomed comfortably.

Listening to jazz guitarist Steve Khan's The Suitcase – a live recording from 1994 with Anthony Jackson on bass and Dennis Chambers on drums – was a treat. Khan's creamy guitar tone underlies Chambers' physical and driving drumming. The bell on the ride cymbal rang true, and the low buzz of Jackson's bass on cuts such as “The Suitcase” sounds at times like Tibetan throat singers or the very lowest piano keys. The bass response went far beyond my expectations.

Final Thoughts

It should come as no surprise that I liked these cables very much. Don't let the sticker fool you, RS Audio Cables are bargain cables in price only and only hint at their quality and level of performance. They make a very fine introduction – if not permanent stop – into the world of audiophile cables.

System Setup

Electrocompaniet PI-2 integrated amplifier
Electrocompaniet PC-1 CD player
Tyler Acoustics D4M loudspeakers
RS Audio Cables Kevlar Starchord Power Cable (6 ft)
RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Interconnects (1 meter)
RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables (8 ft)
Valhalla Technology VT Amplifier Feet 25
Valhalla Technology VT Spike Feet Deluxe
Acme Audio Labs 20 amp Cryogenic Treated, Silver Plated Duplex Outlet






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