It’s Christmas 2018, and I’m at my in-laws’ for the holidays. Doug Schneider pings me via text and asks if I’m interested in reviewing Audience’s Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables. They’re in his car, see, and he’ll be driving right past Campbellford, Ontario, the rural town in which Marcia’s ’rents live. How ’bout he just drops ’em off?
I try not to review audio cables any more frequently than once every five years because, my stars, they’re a lot of work. I figure it just has to be five years since I reviewed Nordost’s Tyr 2s, right? Of course it has.
Yep, I’m in! I reply. Doug and I meet for breakfast in nearby Tweed, Ontario, where he hands off to me these soft, slinky, sexy cables.
Turns out it’s been only four years since I reviewed the Nordosts. Oh, what the heck -- what’s a year among friends?
Smaller is better
Remember when a tiny flip cell phone meant you were important -- a mover? Then, after the Apple iPhone revolution, the bigger the screen, the bigger its owner’s worth.
For a while, cable sizes paralleled phone sizes. A big, thick, power cord obviously offers better current flow than a smaller one, and that’s how it was for years -- power cords and speaker cables grew and grew, gaining girth as well as intermediate boxes and circuitry.
But you can make a cable only so large before its size gets ridiculous. While there have always been companies that make sensibly proportioned cables, the industry now seems to be returning to the basic concept of what a cable needs to do in order to perform its job.
And so I turn my gaze lovingly to Audience’s Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables, which I can easily hold in one hand without pulling a muscle. These cables -- especially the speaker cables -- aren’t all that thick, and there’s a reason. Audience believes that thick cables are compromised by eddy-current resistance: “When an audio signal flows through wire, the magnetic fields associated with the signal, are shorted or interrupted by the conductive material. The result of this action is the generation of an opposing field phenomenon called eddy currents.” According to Audience, their lower-mass cables minimize eddy-current resistance.
Soft, slinky, sexy
Although most folks handle cables only twice -- when they install them and then when they remove them -- the first tactile impression made by a cable is important. It’s the only time you get up close to a cable, really get your nose in there.
The Audience cables were pleasures to work with. Fishing the XLR interconnects behind my equipment rack was extremely simple. (I used XLRs only between the Constellation Andromeda phono stage, Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp, and Bryston 4B3 power amp.) The jackets on the Audience cables are braided, but tight and smooth enough to slide along sharp edges without snagging, and robust enough not to complain about such treatment. And they’re wonderfully flexible, which further eased installation and cable dressing.
The XLR connectors themselves are meaty little guys -- beautifully polished, they evoke some sort of futuristic weapon or space-suit hardware. Per Audience, both their XLR and RCA connectors are made of brass plated with black chrome. The ground pin of the RCA connectors is beryllium-copper, while the XLR connectors have pins of tellurium-copper and sockets of beryllium. Because tellurium is more conductive than but not as flexible as beryllium, the sockets -- which must expand to accept the pins while holding them securely -- are made of beryllium. I did an Ouroboros with one interconnect, plugging its male XLR into its female. After the male had tightly snicked into place, there was essentially zero play -- the tolerances were exceptional. And when I pressed the connector’s release button, male and female amicably parted, either when self-coupled or when inserted into one of my components.
All connections in the Au24 SX line other than the XLRs are cold-crimped and solderless; in fact, Audience’s design for the RCA plugs is proprietary in this regard. The XLR connectors are soldered.
An important design note here regarding the XLR cables: Audience doesn’t just slam an XLR connector onto the same wire they use in their RCA cables and call it a day. Instead, the company essentially doubles up the connectors into a true balanced design, with two conductors side by side, wound in opposing directions. This is why the balanced cables cost more than the unbalanced. The single-ended Au24 SX interconnect retails for $1999/1m pair, plus $316 per additional 0.5m; the Au24 SX balanced interconnect costs $2640/1m pair, plus $440 per additional 0.5m.
The Au24 SX speaker cable is a dual-helix, twin-axial ribbon, the two conductors wound in opposing directions, which Audience describes as a perfect-lay design. The conductors are of 99.9999%-pure, Ohno Continuous Cast (OCC) copper sheathed in a dielectric of ultra-high-quality cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE). My samples came terminated with spades (BFA banana plugs are also available) that mated perfectly with the Estelon YB speakers, whose terminals don’t much cotton to banana plugs.
It’s instructive to take a good look at the lay of these speaker cables. They’re trim, lithe, and happy to lie flat, and are most conducive to being dressed as needs require. The Au24 SX speaker cable costs $3300/2m pair, plus $316/additional 0.5m, terminated with bananas or spades.
Hookup out of the way, it was time for . . .
Sitting back for a listen
The Audience Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables encouraged in me a relaxed, reclined listening attitude. I didn’t feel the need for an extended break-in period -- from the moment I began playing music, the Au24s’ sound was smooth, comfortable, and enveloping. Natural and relaxed, confident and extended at the frequency extremes -- sounds good, right?
It sure did. I’ve swapped out and in a significant number of cables in my years as an audio reviewer, and for years before that as well, and I’ve always experienced an acclimatization period in which the cables and I got used to each other. Perhaps it was me who needed break-in, or the cables that needed to relax -- who knows?
But not with the Audience Au24 SXes. I felt at home with their sound immediately.
There was a harmonious rightness about the Audiences’ sound. It began in the midrange and ascended through the lower treble, where the Au24 SXes struck a perfect balance between encouraging detail and just plain old sitting back and letting the music flow.
I mentioned in my last “For the Record” column that I was about to attend a concert in King Crimson’s 50th Anniversary tour. What a magnificent evening that was, an absolute thrill -- a crisp, precise, exciting retrospective of this formidable band’s career. That concert sent me off on a KC spiral, listening to my favorite periods of the band, in chronological order. I’m a huge fan of the albums King Crimson made in the mid-1970s with the late bassist and singer John Wetton (1949-2017), and the high-voltage arc of Red (1974) burns its way to the front of that queue. My recent 200gm reissue LP is excellent -- far better than the associated reissues of the ’80s trio of albums.
“Starless” is a massive, nearly symphonic piece of rock, and it highlit what the Audiences did so well. Listening to this track at a high volume level, I felt as if the music was pushing me down into my couch with weight, power, and majesty -- as if the force of gravity had increased in my room. From the initial rich, melted chocolate that is Wetton’s voice, overlaid with Robert Fripp’s biting guitar and David Cross’s violin, I felt a depth in the sound. At no point did the Audiences seem to have any axe to grind. There was no edge or grit in the sound -- far from it. As I listened to Bill Bruford’s slashing ride cymbal in “One More Red Nightmare,” the Au24 SXes let me feel the brass, pushing it in my face only at those moments when it’s really close-miked -- which was only proper. In its entirety, Red is an assault. It’s Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” and High on Fire’s Lumineferous crammed into a blender and whipped to a froth. This album is supposed to be in-your-face, but a badly matched system can emphasize the anger to a point where it’s just abrasive. With the Audience wire in my system, I could simultaneously relax into the music and feel my heart rate increase with the anxiety this music can evoke.
What in some ways came across as a self-effacing, get-out-of-the-way sound was continued in the Audiences’ reproduction of aural images. Nothing was forced, nothing was minimized, nothing exaggerated. Instead, the Au24 SXes presented fully formed, fleshed-out, life-size images. I’ve blathered on about Talk Talk’s final two albums for years now, and I continue to return to them when I want to hear what a component is bringing to the table. When you have time and a free mind, try really listening to “Inheritance,” from Spirit of Eden (1988), in a darkened room. It begins with a rich build-up of gentle ride cymbal over deep bass and piano notes in harmony. A guitar comes crunching in, adding tension in that trademark Talk Talk manner, then Mark Hollis’s plaintive voice soars over the ethereal soundscape. It’s a masterpiece.
The Audience cables added a gravid majesty -- depth, weight, grandeur -- that never became ponderous. A flock of acoustic instruments provides textures to “Inheritance,” and the Au24 SXes sent them soaring above the dense sound of the main bed of driving, symphonic rock. But it was that core message of the music that the Audiences delivered -- the juice, the flavor of the absolute meaning of this deeply evocative track.
Firing up John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (LP, Atlantic SD-1361) and settling back as Coltrane drags me through candyland at the end of his soprano sax, I was more aware of the crispness of his band. McCoy Tyner’s piano had a more solid presence, and at first Elvin Jones’s ride cymbal seemed to punch through more than I was used to. But after listening for a few minutes, I realized that the Audiences were casting images of both that sounded more solid, more corporeal. As the solos close down near the end of the title track, the band joins Coltrane in working over the melody. At this moment the Au24 SXes did that heavy-gravity thing, projecting an image of the entire band with greater weight than I’m used to and giving me the feeling that the other players had moved physically closer to their leader’s mike at the center of the studio -- or, anyway, the center of the soundstage. Is that what actually happened in New York’s Atlantic Studios that day in late October 1960? I can’t find any record of it, but the Audiences convinced me that it did.
Flip the record over to side 2 and listen to Gershwin’s “Summertime,” specifically Jones’s drum solo. I guess jazz drummers didn’t get to solo much in those days -- this is a bit of a herky-jerky, I-wasn’t-expecting-this effort. Still, the Audience Au24 SXes built a corporeally solid drum kit right there in the middle of my room. The size of that minimalist drum kit was appropriate, but it was the physical weight of that image that most struck me. I’ve listened to this album for years, through many different cable looms, but I’d never before experienced such solidity of image.
The Audiences presented a lower end that was rich and detailed but not unrealistically tight -- a contrast in terms that requires some explanation. Sound that contains a lot of bass detail usually comes along with tightness, the ability to start and stop on a dime -- generally requires it, I’d say. Well, the Audiences’ bass was plenty tight, but not that artificial “hi-fi” bass that sounds great at first but doesn’t bloom like real instruments. Nope. This was rich, satisfying bass that didn’t seem to sacrifice even the tiniest bit of articulation to a realistic, nuanced sound.
That’s a damn good trade-off, in my books, and one I’m not sure I’d ever experienced before. Listening to Giant Sand’s Chore of Enchantment (LP, Thrill Jockey 79), I was struck by the solidity of Joey Burns’s stride bass in “Temptation of Egg.” There was the requisite whomp coming right out of the cabinet, but also a feeling of Burns’s fingers on the strings, which was new to me for this track. It’s way down in the mix, but it revealed a juicy new dimension of a recording I’ve listened to and written about often over the years.
What I’d never experienced before
Over the past few years I’ve been using Nordost Tyr 2 interconnects and speaker cables. The Tyr 2 models are top-notch, and I’ve been thrilled to have them as my reference loom. But the Audience Au24 SX loom presented music very differently.
The Tyr 2s encourage sit-up-straight, fully participatory listening. Their sound is exciting in that they dredge up all kinds of musical information and place it precisely in space. In my system, the Nordosts make me smile and shake my fist at the sky as they thrust the music out at me with a sound that has copious snap and dynamics. It’s a fun way to listen to music, and despite my thinking that one day the Nordosts would fight-or-flight me into exhaustion, it’s never happened. The Nordost Tyr 2s are dynamic, almost active parts of my system. As such, their sound draws attention to itself.
The Audience Au24 SXes didn’t do that. Their presence in my system was a most agreeable change -- a holiday. If the Nordost Tyr 2s are a zipline across a yawning mountain gorge, the Audience Au24 SXes are a day camping on the peaceful floor of an old-growth forest. There’s tons going on in this peaceful grove, but I’m not beaten about the head and neck with details -- instead of a thrilling assault, the subtleties are unfolded in layers.
That doesn’t mean the Audiences were boring -- far from it. These cables were all about unforced ease and neutrality of sound. “Try to relax” is a contradiction in terms, yet large numbers of audiophiles are members of the Detail Is Paramount camp. If that’s your cuppa, look for different wire.
But sometimes I don’t want to have to work at enjoying my music. Sometimes I want it to just play over me, envelop me. If, like me, you want to sit, listen, and not be assaulted by details at the periphery of the musical experience, if you want to relax into the music and let the messages it carries envelop you, you should definitely check out Audience’s Au24 SX interconnects and speaker cables.
. . . Jason Thorpe
- Analog sources -- Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare, Pro-Ject RPM 10, VPI Prime Signature turntables; Roksan Shiraz, EAT Jo N°8 cartridges
- Digital source -- Logitech Squeezebox Touch
- Phono stages -- Aqvox Phono 2 CI, Constellation Andromeda, JE Audio HP10
- Preamplifier -- Sonic Frontiers SFL-2
- Power amplifier -- Bryston 4B3
- Speakers -- Estelon YB, Focus Audio FP60 BE
- Speaker cables -- Nordost Tyr 2
- Interconnects -- Nordost Tyr 2, Furutech Ag-16
- Power cords -- Nordost Vishnu
- Power conditioner -- Quantum QBase QB8 Mk.II
- Accessories -- VPI Cyclone record-cleaning machine, Mobile Fidelity Super HeavyWeight record clamp, Furutech Monaco LP Stabilizer
Audience Au24 SX Speaker Cables
Price: $3300 USD/2m pair ($316/each additional 0.5m).
Audience Au24 SX Interconnects
Price: $2640 USD/1m pair, balanced, XLR ($440/each additional 0.5m); $1999 USD/1m pair, unbalanced, RCA ($316/each additional 0.5m).
120 N. Pacific Street, K-9
San Marcos, CA 92069
Phone: (800) 565-4390, (760) 471-0202