Questions are sometimes raised about which cable is "best". This is very difficult to answer objectively because so many variables are involved. Listener preferences in music and sound reproduction, equipment choices, and equipment synergy, along with cable selection, all play a role in the final sonic presentation of a system.
I have found it helpful to start out with a sonic reference to work toward. My primary listening preference is jazz and my sonic reference is the sound of live jazz music performed in an acoustically favorable environment.
The following interconnect cables were evaluated in my two-channel audio system: (1) MIT Shotgun S3 (RCA), (2) Monster Z200i (RCA), (3) Monster Z200i (XLR), (4) Signal Cable Premium XLR, (5) Signal Cable Analog 2, (6) MI-330, and (7) Ethereal Elite EP-A.
These sorts of evaluations are best done in a "blind" format where the evaluator has no knowledge of what is being evaluated at a particular time. The evaluation method used here is a departure from that, but still provides good objective results. In these evaluations, one track from a well-recorded jazz CD was played using each cable. The soundstage rendering (characteristics of the sounds heard and the placement of sounds within the soundstage) was recorded on a chart of the soundstage space. The result was a cable-to-cable record of the changes in the soundstage corresponding to changes in interconnect cable.
The cables evaluated varied widely in price. There was no correlation between price and performance.
Soundstage evaluation notes from audition sessions are attached in PDF format. Some instrument notations on the soundstage evaluation charts have a +/- number next to them. This number indicates the apparent distance in front of or behind the front plane of the speakers.
The reader should be mindful of the fact that the results presented here are no indication of what a particular cable's performance would be with different equipment. The common caveat that "your mileage may vary" (YMMV) is highly applicable in this situation.
Equipment: Adcom GFA-5802 power amp, Adcom GFP-750 preamp, Adcom GCD-750 CD player, Yamaha PF-800 turntable, Yamaha MC-705 moving coil cartridge, Nakamichi CA-5 preamp for turntable, Polk Audio 1.2TL speakers, Monster Cable Z3 Reference speaker cables. Signal Cable Premium XLR cables between amp and preamp. The Adcom preamp's XLR outputs have a higher output level than the RCA outputs. A Radio Shack sound level meter was used to match the output levels of both XLR and RCA outputs to an average 88 dB.
Audition cables were inserted between CD player and preamp.
Session 1: Signal Cable Premium XLR ($54 per 3 foot pair)
Neutral, balanced sound throughout the audio frequency range. Crisp stick impacts on the snare drums. Alto sax had a light airy “reedy” quality. Drum kit hi-hat had lots of natural sizzle (not sibilance) and metallic shimmer. Overhang of piano notes was very apparent. Lots of space around individual instruments. Piano and snares were projected 2 feet forward of the speaker plane.
Session 2: Monster Z200i XLR ($280 per 2 meter pair)
Music seemed slower and less dynamic. A little less bass articulation and detail. Piano is pushed back to the speaker plane. Less depth overall. Hi-hat had a muted metallic sound. Reedy quality of sax was gone. Less detail in high frequency range. Less clarity and detail in saxophone.
Session 3: Monster Z200i RCA ($200 per 2 meter pair)
These should sound very similar to the Z200i XLR since they are (theoretically) the same cable, but they sounded completely different. The Z200i RCA’s sounded more similar to the Signal XLR’s than the MC Z200i XLR’s. There was a little less high frequency detail. The music did not slow down and become less dynamic as with the Z200i XLR’s. Instrument placement within the soundstage was the same as Signal XLR. Bass was slightly more pronounced.
Session 4: Ethereal Elite EP-A RCA ($25 per 1 meter pair)
Bass was more pronounced from the drums, and acoustic bass. Low notes on piano seemed heavier. Drum image was a little bigger. Piano width shrunk. Depth was shortened in front and back so that all instruments were spread along the front plane of the speakers. There was less high frequency detail. Metallic overtones in the hi-hat were muted.
Session 5: Signal Cable Analog 2 RCA ($54 per 3 foot pair)
Sounded similar to Ethereal Elite EP-A in treble region. Sounded just like MC Z200i in bass and midrange. Instrument placement in soundstage was same as Signal XLR.
Session 6: Turntable Trials
The Adcom GFP-750 does not have a phono stage. The Yamaha PF-800 turntable is connected to a Nakamichi CA-5 preamp (which does have a phono stage) with Monster Z200i cables. The output of the CA-5 is fed into one of the AUX inputs of the GFP-750. The Monster Z200i between the turntable preamp and the Adcom GFP-750 was replaced by Signal Analog 2 and Ethereal Elite EP-A. With each replacement, an objectionable amount of hum and noise was heard.
Session 7: MIT Shotgun S3 ($449 per 1 meter pair)
These cables were the most unusual design evaluated. The S3's use a passive filter network to vary the impedance of the cable from low to medium to high. Impedance is selected by a switch on the bottom of the network box. The impedance of the cable must be selected to match the input impedance of the component receiving the signal.
The Adcom GFP-750 preamp has an input impedance of 47 k-ohms, therefore the S3’s middle impedance setting was used. The most immediate impression was reduction in soundstage height. Instrument placements were lowered about 1 foot. There was much more soundstage width and depth than any of the other cables auditioned. Acoustic bass notes were a little more pronounced. There was a little less metallic shimmer in high hat and cymbals. Stick impacts on the snare drums was a little softer. Both snares and the piano were projected 3 feet forward of the speaker plane. The “brassy” ring of the alto saxophone notes was slightly muted.
The S3’s sounded completely different with the low impedance setting. Soundstage depth disappeared with all instruments plastered against the speaker plane. Acoustic bass notes were blurred. Music sounded slower, muted, and “cold”.
When the S3’s were inserted between the turntable preamp and the GFA-750, the increase in soundstage width and depth apparent in Session 7 was still there, but this time there was no reduction in soundstage height. The S3’s had a little more clarity throughout than the Monster Z200i’s. I liked these much more in the turntable circuit than in the CD player circuit.
I really liked the S3’s locking RCA connectors. I wish all RCA cables came with similar locking mechanisms.
Session 8: MIT MI-330 (price unknown)
These cables are an older version of the MI-330 Plus II cables. They do not have the passive network box that the current MI-330's have.
The acoustic bass really bloomed with this cable. It seemed twice the apparent size compared to other cables. The bass did not become "boomy" or even unpleasant, it just became the center of attention. Music sounded a little slower. This cable had the strangest soundstage arrangement of the group: The piano and acoustic bass were pushed to the right. The alto sax and drums were pushed to the left. There was nothing in the center. There was little soundstage depth. All instruments were in the speaker plane. High frequencies were slightly muted. Stick impact on snares was highly muted. Although the frequency extremes were not well reproduced, the midrange reproduction was very good.
Rank in order of performance:
1. Signal Cable Premium XLR
2. MIT S3*
2. Monster Z200i RCA*
3. MIT MI-330
4. Signal Analog 2
5. Ethereal Elite EP-A
6. Monster Z200i XLR
* I liked the MIT S3 and the Monster Z200i equally well, but for different reasons.
The MIT MI-330, Signal Analog 2, and Ethereal Elite EP-A were close to being tied for third place. I gave the MI-330 the edge because of its midrange presentation, particularly with regard to piano notes.
I would like to thank forum member dorokusai for the loan of the MIT and Ethereal cables.