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  1. #1

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    Default Audioquest Sky Interconnects vs. Audioquest Niagara Interconnects

    Introduction

    Quote Originally Posted by DarqueKnight View Post
    I wanted to go for AQ’s top of the line Sky XLR interconnects, but I knew I would have always been nagged by the thought of: “Was the extra cost over the Niagaras justified?” Sometimes with audio cables, there is less than a gnat hair's difference between a manufacturer’s top of the line and their second best.
    In the course of my quest for better audio performance, I ran across a fellow who was looking to unload his Audioquest Sky XLR interconnects (with 72 volt dielectric bias system (DBS)). He had recently traveled up the audio chain to some more expensive interconnects. I thought this was a good opportunity to try out the revered AQ Sky interconnects, plus I could get a nice package deal if I bought several pairs. I'll just cut to the chase now and tell you that there was no need for a package deal. The Skys were a little better than my AQ Niagaras in the digital side of my two channel system. In the analog side of my two channel system, the only difference they made was the sound was an average 2 dB-C louder. My review of the AQ Niagara interconnects is here.


    Figure 1. AQ Sky (blue) and AQ Niagara XLR Interconnects.

    All The Way To The Clear Blue Sky

    In my Niagara review, I had expressed some skepticism that the Skys would provide a dramatic, revelatory experience over the Niagaras, even though the nice folks at Audioquest promised me such [footnote 1]. After all, the only internal differences between the Skys and Niagaras was that the Skys had 50% bigger Teflon insulating tubes around the silver conductors (50% more air ) and the Sky's larger conductors provided 15% more silver. However, I try to keep an open mind. I have been surprised before by substantial performance gains brought about by a seemingly modest change in equipment specifications. The "TL" mod for my SDA CRS+'s and the improved SDA interconnects are two that come to mind.


    Figure 2. AQ Sky Interconnect with 72V DBS. They provide a little more
    than a gnat hair's improvement over the Niagara interconnects...but
    only for my digital source.


    The retail price of the Skys is 70% more than the Niagaras. On the used market, Sky cables are only 18% to 21% more expensive than Niagaras.

    Test Procedure

    A 1.5 meter Sky XLR interconnect was placed in succession between 1)my SACD player and line level preamp, 2)my phono preamp and line level preamp, and 3) between my line level preamp and power amps.

    First, listening notes were made with the Niagaras in place. The position of instruments and voices within the soundstage were noted on a chart. Notes were also made regarding the character of sounds within the soundstage. Volume levels were measured with an analog Radio Shack sound level meter and the preamp volume settings corresponding to a particular sound level were noted.

    The Sound

    A. Sky IC Between SACD Player and Line Level Preamp

    The most obvious difference was the sound was measurably an average 2 dB louder than with the Niagaras. I turned the volume down a couple notches to match the volume level of the Niagaras. Soundstage dimensions and image placement was the same as with the Niagaras. There was a little more detail at the edges and rear of the soundstage. Stringed instruments had a little more overtone and decay. I heard no difference in brass and woodwind instruments. Voices had a little more weight. Low level detail was a little better. I did not notice an increase in pressure against my body from bass notes. On some instrumental music, there was just a subtle difference in detail in favor of the Skys.

    When I used a Niagara cable on the left channel and a Sky cable on the right channel, images in the center of the sound stage shifted to the right about a foot. On some music, which had a lot going on at the sides of the soundstage, there was a noticeable difference in clarity and detail between the left and right channels. On other music, where the sounds were clustered in the area between the speakers, the difference between channels was subtle or not noticeable at all. There was a rise in volume with this configuration of about 1dB.

    Quantitatively, I only gained about 10% more resolution with the Skys or, put another way, the Niagaras gave me 90% of the Sky's performance for 43% less money (MSRP prices) :) [footnote 2]. Since my Sky's were acquired off the used market, I only paid an 18% premium over the cost of the Niagaras for a 10% improvement.

    B. Sky IC Between Phono Preamp and Line Level Preamp

    There was no difference other than a 2 dB rise in volume. I only expected a small difference since there was only a modest difference when I replaced the PS Audio Transcendent cables with the Niagaras. However, I was not expecting to hear no difference at all in sound quality. There was only an increase in the quantity (level) of sound.

    C. Sky IC Between Line Level Preamp and Power Amp

    There was no difference other than a 2 dB rise in volume.

    Conclusion

    Maybe I would have heard a little bit more difference if the preamp to power amp cable was replaced with Sky interconnects in conjunction with the source to preamp cable. I am content to leave that idea firmly within the realm of the theoretical. Based on these trials, I expect that I might only gain another 2-3% in resolution, if that, by installing a Sky interconnect between preamp and power amp...but at what cost [footnote 3]? After all this, I realize that the Skys might make a dramatic difference over the Niagaras in another audio system, they just didn't in mine.

    If the planets and stars align correctly and the right deal comes along, I might even break down and upgrade my tonearm and cartridge...and I'm not even into analog...that much.

    ***UPDATE 02/09/2007***

    As usual, my curiosity got the best of me and I broke down and replaced all the Niagara Cables in my 2 channel system with Skys [footnote 4]. Plus, the devil agreed to pay half.

    There was already a Sky IC between the SACD player and preamp. Adding a Sky IC between the preamp and power amp produced the following changes:

    1. Increase in volume of 2 dB-C. This provided a cumulative SPL increase of 4 dB-C for the two Sky IC's between each source and the power amp. (The volume was turned back down to match the previous SPL levels with the Niagara cables.)
    2. More image solidity and weight, especially at sides of the sound stage.
    3. More bass impact and definition.
    4. Faster, tighter, bass.
    5. Richer, more defined overtones on stringed instruments.
    6. Front edge of the sound stage advanced forward 1 to 2 feet, depending on recording.
    7. Enhanced SDA effect with a greater sense of space between images. Sound stage width remained the same.
    8. More low volume detail and clarity.
    9. A little more high frequency clarity.


    Figure 3. Sky cables provided a noticeable, rather than dramatic,
    improvement in my two channel sound.


    Replacing the Niagara cable between the phono preamp and line level preamp, along with replacing the Niagara cable between the line level preamp and power amp, produced the same improvements noted above with the digital source, just to a lesser degree. Seems like the analog source didn't need as much "help".:) Recall that when I replaced the Niagara IC between the phono preamp and line level preamp, the only difference I heard (and measured) was an increase in volume level of 2 dB. I have now had an opportunity to evaluate my audio system wired completely with Niagara IC's and then with Sky IC's. I would quantify the improvements of Sky over Niagara as 15% better on the digital side and 10% better on the analog side.

    Associated Equipment ***Edited 2/9/2007***

    Pass Laboratories X.02 Preamp
    Pass Laboratories Xono Phono Preamp
    Parasound Halo JC1 Monoblock Amps (600 wpc into 6 ohms)
    Teres Audio Model 255 Turntable with Graham 2.2 Deluxe Tonearm
    Sonic Purity Concepts and Design Record Clamp ("The Clamp")
    Ortofon Jubilee Moving Coil Cartridge
    Cary Audio CD 306 SACD/HDCD/CD Player
    Polk Audio SDA SRS 1.2TL Speakers (Modified)
    Audioquest LeoPard 72V DBS Phono Cable
    Audioquest Sky 72V DBS Interconnects (Preamp/Power Amp and Phono Preamp/Preamp)
    Audioquest Everest 72V DBS 9 AWG Speaker Cable
    Signal Cable 10AWG MagicPower Cords for Amps and SACD Playsound stagesound stageer

    Such good sound.:D

    -----------------------------------------------------
    [1] By phone conversation and through the Sky IC's marketing materials.

    [2] The MSRP of a 1.5m Sky interconnect is $3200. The MSRP of a 1.5m Niagara interconnect is $1875.

    [3] Gowannnnnn do it! You know you want that extra 2-3%! C'mon...I'll pay half.

    [4] ] Remember...curiosity killed the cat.

    Yeah, but satisfaction brought him back!;)~DK
    Last edited by DarqueKnight; 02-09-2008 at 06:40 PM.
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    __________________
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK

  2. #2

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    Whats funny about Audioquest is as you go backwards in there line, there wires really all have the same sound quality is the smallest of detail differences.

    Personally I like Audioquest better then anything I have ever used. The battery thing still kills me as so did the network bricks on my Transparent cables. But if thats what it takes to get it done then so be it.

    I think all wires are way over prices. Hell I have all Jaguars and they where 350.00 per 1m pair. I think thats alot. I wouldn't buy the Skys just out of sheer price. Thats just out of my league.

    Dan
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.

  3. #3

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    Great writeup !
    I love when you do cable shootouts!

    I have been very curious about the upper level Aq cables..

    It`s strange how the dollar amout goes up drastically, and the sound quality does not.

    Thanks for the info/writeup....
    Cary SLP-98L F1 DC Pre Amp (Jag Blue)
    Parasound HCA-3500
    Cary Audio V12 amp (Jag Red)
    Polk Audio Xm Reciever (Autographed by THE MAN Himself)
    Magnum Dynalab MD-102 Analog Tuna
    Jolida JD-100 CDP
    Polk Audio LSi9 Speaks (ebony)
    SVS PC-Ultra Sub
    AQ Bedrock Speaker Cables (Bi-Wired)
    MIT Shotgun S1 I/C`s
    AQ Black Thunder Sub Cables
    PS Audio Plus Power Cords
    Magnum Dynalab ST-2 FM Antenna
    Sanus Cherry wood Speak Stands
    Adona AV45CS3 / 3 Tier Rack (Black /Gold)



  4. #4

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    Raife,

    You didn't say anything about taking out the batteries and trying them without the juice?

    I think you've got an EE background, can you explain in lay person's terms what the DBS pack does? It's not even hooked up to anything

    That being said, I own a pair of Jaguars and a pair of Panthers. Both are DBS, one 36V, the other 48V. I think both sound pretty damn good. How much difference does the voltage make?

    Although I liked their sound, I gotta confess that Ben's home brew silver cables gave me better sound. Maybe Ben will throw down the gauntlet and send to a pair to do one of your reviews. I think you'll like them. :D
    Carl

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by schwarcw View Post
    You didn't say anything about taking out the batteries and trying them without the juice?
    I tried my Volcano speaker cables without DBS because I was curious about the difference it made. That review is here. I did not try any of my other DBS cables without the juice because I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

    Quote Originally Posted by schwarcw View Post
    I think you've got an EE background, can you explain in lay person's terms what the DBS pack does? It's not even hooked up to anything
    I can certainly understand why this looks like voodoo on the surface. The positive and negative terminals of the DBS battery packs are connected to wires that run the length of the cables. The metal signal conductors are surrounded by a conductive Teflon or polyethylene dielectric material that absorbs the charge from the battery packs. In simple terms, you could think of the Teflon or polyethylene conductor insulation as a film capacitor placed across the leads of a battery.

    Since the Teflon or polyethylene insulation is fully charged by the DBS battery packs, it cannot absorb and release energy from the music signals passing through it. Audioquest claims that this absorption and release of energy by cable insulation is what robs music signals of detail and proper soundstage rendering.

    The patent documents and drawings for the AQ DBS system are freely available at the US Patent Office website (Patent #7,126,055). The patent documents include both technical and simplified explanations of the DBS system.

    Quote Originally Posted by schwarcw View Post
    That being said, I own a pair of Jaguars and a pair of Panthers. Both are DBS, one 36V, the other 48V. I think both sound pretty damn good. How much difference does the voltage make?
    Audioquest started out with a 12V DBS system and kept raising the voltage because more audioble benefits were being heard. Their research revealed that the audible benefits are very subtle and system dependent above 50 volts. According to AQ, the 72V system is overkill for most applications. However, the extra voltage is not harmful and they deemed it better to have too much of a good thing rather than too little.

    Also remember, the DBS system is just one facet of Audioquest cable's signal integrity program. Conductor material, conductor geometry, dielectric material, and the DBS system all work together for the desired effect.:)

    Quote Originally Posted by schwarcw View Post
    Although I liked their sound, I gotta confess that Ben's home brew silver cables gave me better sound.
    Well, clearly AQ's DBS cables, or any other cables, are not going to be to everyone's liking...otherwise I would not have been the beneficiary of some good deals on the used cable market.:D

    I have always asked sellers why they were selling and what didn't they like about the cables. Some of the responses were:

    1. "I needed the money from the sale."
    2. "They sounded too dry."
    3. "They sounded too bright."
    4. "I found something more expensive" (I'm not kidding.)
    5. "I needed longer or shorter lengths."

    Quote Originally Posted by schwarcw View Post
    Maybe Ben will throw down the gauntlet and send to a pair to do one of your reviews. I think you'll like them. :D
    I'd be happy to try a pair of Ben's cables.
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    __________________
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK

  6. #6

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    Thanks for the clarifications Raife. I think that I understand from your explanation. I read your link where you reviewed the DBS speaker cables. Cost will prohibit me from moving up the Audioquest food chain.:(

    Carl
    Carl

  7. #7
    stereo_luver
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    Wire is wire.....***ducking***

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