Monday, August 19, 2013

Clarus Crimson Cable Review – Part 1

On August 15, my wife and I toured the Clarus Sound factory in Orlando, FL. There we met the owner, Mr. Joe Perfito, who told and showed us why he believes that his cables are the right ones for you.  In this factory sat several technicians busily terminating custom cable lengths and creating audiophile masterpieces.  During the tour, we grew to appreciate many things about the care and concern about quality placed at each step of the production process assuring that no detail is overlooked, something in which few companies today invest and fewer at the level this one does.

After understanding the methods behind the manufacturing process, Joe entertained us with his tale of how he began his career in cable production.  The world of the high-end is one of many unique and varied specialists who in themselves are experts, dilettantes, and authorities in one field.  Joe, whose background was in electrical engineering and sales, had an insight to two-fields and combining that with a passion for listening found it natural to pursue the sonic truth and purity of the simple interconnect cable.  Listening to the differences in cables and wires while observing the need for electrical connectivity and end-user frustrations, he developed cables to not only make things sound better but also make the overall experience of audio cabling simpler. 

For example, in one of his many field trips to dealers, he developed an S-video cable that was quite the cat’s meow.  But when approaching his dealers about adding these cables to their inventory, he learned that the complicated switching between signal inputs and receiver settings made it difficult.  Late-day calls from frustrated customers not being able to figure out how to properly select the correct sound and the picture from the various audio and video formats proved to be a challenge for the non-technical crowd.  So his solution was a converter cable to unify all video signals to one format (a composite video to S-video converter) thereby eliminating this multiple-switching issue.  With this simple device, his journey into the mystical world of cable design began.

Joe heard differences in cables and as an engineer he could not really explain them.  But he also did not let that stop him from trying to better what the industry had available.  Starting with modest single-ended RCA cables, his engineering mind understood that once a cable is bent (something all audiophiles do when they connect one piece of equipment to another), the insulator inside of the cable distorts and the center conductor no longer stays exactly at the center of the cable.  An astute observation and one that changed the design of his simple RCA interconnects.  Developing a three-layered insulator that withstood twists, turns, and kinks, his cable’s center conductors remained centered as they should and his early cables indeed were superior to others.  With this success in the mid-fi field, he set his sights on the high end.

Now those configurations and considerations for making exotic cables were beyond his knowledge and fortuitously he encountered an individual who approached him at an expo.  Basically, this person said, “So what are you going to do next?”  After a brief interaction, Joe realized that to get better, he needed to surround himself with expertise, the sign of a true leader.  Long story short, this person who approached Joe (Jay Victor) had connections to not only lower his development costs but also employ a staff of existing wire-production experts.  Combine this with this person’s engineering prowess who already understood what it took to make a better sounding cable and it was a partnership made in audio nirvana.  The stage is set.

Designing a good sounding cable is an expensive proposition.  To test a design concept meant dedicating huge front-end funds into the minimal run needed to evaluate the theory.  Of course wire manufacturers charge their customers for the setup, tooling, and materials required for “sample” runs and this is where the majority of people stop: it just takes a huge capital commitment to realize what your design ideas are.  A mistake in just one small area makes the difference between a piece of mediocre wire and a superb sounding design.  Much thought must be given before taking the five-digit plunge in just the test cable much less the six-digit order for the first production run.  But partnering with Jay’s contacts these seemingly insurmountable financial limitations were one-by-one overcome and as a result, Joe has created his current cable offerings.

His line consists of three: mid-fi cables under the Tributaries brand name, the next step into the high-end realm called the Clarus Aqua line, and the no-holds-barred top-of-the-line models called the Clarus Crimson line.  In themselves, these cables are worthy of the finest praises for the highest-quality assembly and quality assurance techniques. But the bottom line is “how do they sound?”  So leaving with a box of their products, my wife and I drove back to our abode in central Florida weary from a long day’s journey but smiling from the friendship we just established.

I believe that there is no such thing as a coincidence.  In our chat with Joe, we discovered many, many parallels in our ideas and desires, but also the same friends, acquaintances, and professionals were also members of our elite audio circle.  We both began our life journeys in the United States Air Force, we both embraced a love for audio in our teen years, we both met the same people from prestigious audio manufacturers, we both…you get the idea.  It was as if we were looking in the mirror at our life’s dreams and goals and saw each other. 

At the end of this tour, I was handed enough cables and speaker wires to completely change all of the interconnect cables, speaker wires, and HDMI cables in my entire system.  With an armful of new toys, I eagerly drove the two-hour trip back home postulating how these may transform the sound.  Joe advised a burn-in time of at least 120 hours and so this is where Part 1 must end since any reactions to cables, positive or negative, will change as these cables “burn in.”

But a bigger question came to my mind: how can I test them with not only accurate subjective reports but also precise objective measurements and do so in a meaningful collaborative way?  This is a great challenge.

The objection statistic-based objective listeners have to subjective reviews is that they are etheric, meaningless words not repeatable between reviewers; the objection that content-based subjective listeners have to objective tests is that there is no correlation to what one hears and what the data reveals. I have an opportunity to hopefully change this, at least in some small way. What I desire to achieve is a better understanding of how measurements can glean some insight as to what something sounds like rather than a nebulous number implying that something is better than something else.  What I desire to gain is a correlation between this data and what one can hopefully expect to hear as a result of its review, a noble cause and one worth at least trying to unravel.

For decades, baseball ran on statistics evaluating batting averages, stolen bases, and other hard-core statistics that devised some measure of a player’s contribution to the team. These early statistics stayed with this sport from its conception until the creation of a new field of data called Sabermetrics. One day, someone decided that the data collected – while helpful – did not tell the whole story about a player’s abilities to be “good.” To do this, a new set of data needed to be studied with the primary objective of how to describe any person’s ability to “get on base.” After all, it was obvious that regardless of ERAs, batting averages, and the like, if you are not on base, you cannot score – and after all how you win is to score more runs than the opposing team. What I hope to do is to figure out how to measure what it takes to “score more runs” in a subjective audio evaluation, and maybe even what it takes to hit a “home run.”

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have mood swings from serious data studying to blissful off-the-cuff reactions to haywire experiments as well as applied engineering designs. With a background in the technology behind electrical engineering, I understand, at a different level than most audiophiles, what it takes to make something sound better than something else. And contributing to this edge is my unbiased opinion – I have no vested interest in anything since I am paid nothing. For example, there are certain things one can do to coax better sound out of almost any audio design, just like the DIY hacker who swaps out capacitors for esoteric types. Certain things bring additional revelation to the table that cost considerably more than other remedies and it is for the cost-vs.-return ration that only the best features appear in high-end designs. 

But cable design is very different than equipment design and there are many other forces at play in getting an unaltered signal from point A to point B inside of a tight bundle of flexible wires as opposed to moving it from the output of one gain stage to the input of another. Connector oxidation, pin/jack materials, solder composition, shielding styles, internal ground loops, conductor elements, wiring configurations, and insulation are all important players in the search for the home-run king of an audio cable. But much like ripples from a stone cast into a pond, electricity does not just go from point A and stop at point B. Some of it bounces back toward point A “reverberating” if you will just like echoes in a concert hall. And if all of these other issues are not properly addressed, even the best selection of components and materials will not get on base.

So to start this series of Clarus cable reviews, I will investigate more than just what cable “A” sounds like compared to cable “B,” I will also describe how the construction techniques varied between the two and which technique improved their chances at hitting a sonic home run. I will also measure what the insertion of a cable does to certain electrical measurements taken before and after the change. From this approach, I hope to change a little of how the data taken to determine what ball players are good and what are passed over in training camp. It should be interesting if nothing else.

So stay tuned to this series and be ready to learn more about the inner workings of how things sound than you had before. In this grand experiment, we will most likely both learn a few things and together we may come out with a better understanding of what to expect when evaluating a change in audio cables. Let’s see if we can learn what it takes to “hit a home run” and what else it takes to understand what is “good” and what is not.

My eBook Extreme Audio 5: Speaker Wires discusses this issue and others that help you make informed decisions about which speaker wires to try and what you can possibly expect. Knowing the “sonic signature” of a type of wire connected to a type of amplifier can help you narrow-down your search but the final choice should be made with your ears. What sounds right to you is what you should get.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny 

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remeber to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

My other titles include:

·  Extreme Audio 1: House Wiring·  Build an Extreme Green Hot Water Solar Collector
·  Extreme Audio 2: Line Filtering·  The Extreme Green Guide to Wind Turbines
·  Extreme Audio 3: Chassis Leakage·  The Extreme Green Guide to Solar Electricity
·  Extreme Audio 4: Interconnect Cables·  Meditation for Geeks (and other left-brained people)
·  Extreme Audio 5: Speaker Wires·  Althea: A Story of Love
·  Extreme Green Guide to Improving Mileage·  Build an Extreme Green Raised Bed Garden
·  Extreme Green Organic Gardening·  Build an Extreme Green Rain Barrel
·  Extreme Green Organic Gardening 2012·  Build an Extreme Green Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder
·  Build an Extreme Green Composter·  Extreme Green Appliance Buying Guide

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