[SoundStage!]Planet Hi-Fi
Back Issue Article

December 2002

Empirical Audio Holophonic and Holophonic PC Interconnects and Clarity 7 Speaker Cables

Back to school, hit the lab, memorize those formulas!

I must admit, I like the name of the company that makes these cables -- Empirical Audio. The name conjures up images of Physics 101, Chem Lab, and Rocks for Jocks (Geology 101 for those in the know). If you hit the Empirical Audio website at, you will be greeted with the following definition:

em·pir·i·cal (em pirŽi k'l) adj. relying or based on experiment or experience

The company was founded eight years ago and in general built its mission statement around the use of technology to optimize the sound of cables. For this company, utilizing the best technology while eschewing expensive aesthetic features and esoteric materials allows it to provide, in its opinion, outstanding products at affordable price points. I guess in Empirical Audio's view, if it doesn’t make the cables sound better, best leave it out.

I cannot agree more with Empirical Audio’s utilitarian philosophy. Heck, I still haven’t purchased a kick-butt learning remote control. My $30 Radio Shack special has worked fine for over eight years. And every time I begin researching the latest remotes to place on my Christmas list, I inevitably cross it out and replace it with a similarly priced cable upgrade or accessory. I have a limited budget, so I have a difficult time parting with even a few bucks when it comes to items that make my system easier to use or more pleasing to the eye. Give me better performance!

While most cable manufacturers use insulated conductors aligned in some form of proprietary geometry, EA (official abbreviation -- I’m a big fan of acronyms) utilizes bare conductors in its designs. Comprised of 99.99% pure silver, the bare conductors inside the Holophonic interconnects ($399.98 USD per meter pair) are custom stranded around air dielectrics. According to EA, this produces signal-transmission devices with the lowest capacitance on the market. Unfortunately, I cannot verify this claim, but honestly, I don’t really care. As they say, the proof is in the pudding -- or more specifically, in the sound. But it does make sense. Dielectrics, even the foamed Teflon and innumerable other-branded Teflon as well as custom proprietary insulators, absorb signal to some degree. Successfully address this point and you will improve signal-transmission efficiency and hopefully sound quality. These interconnect cables also come terminated with the excellent Eichmann Bullet Plug RCA connectors, complete with Tellurium Copper contacts and a "single return point."

The Clarity 7 speaker cables ($998.98 per eight-foot pair) contain similar design elements and cable technology as the Holophonic interconnects. Comprised of seven pairs of bare silver-plated OFC conductors in a patented geometry, the Clarity 7 allows for inductive "coupling" to occur when used in one’s audio system. This allows the speaker cable to use small-gauge conductors while maintaining very low inductance. In turn, this allows EA’s design to provide low inductance while reducing skin effect. In addition, the Clarity 7 contains provisions to reduce nasty electrical resonance within the cable. This is addressed with EA's Anti-Resonance Terminations. The combination of the aforementioned technologies creates a cable with high bandwidth (we’re talkin’ even radio-frequency range) that helps shift the natural cable resonance of the Clarity 7 to a much higher frequency -- a frequency whereby the Anti-Resonance Terminations can then mitigate the resonance without interfering with the lower audio band. Cool concept.

More cables=more fun

Marc Mickelson gave me the heads up about two months ago, as I was finishing up my previous column for SoundStage!, that I was to receive a pair of interconnects and speaker cables from EA, with plenty of time to break them in and evaluate the cables at my leisure. And sure enough, a week later, the UPS guy dropped off a large box containing one pair of Holophonic single-ended interconnects and a pair of Clarity 7 speaker cables. What I wasn’t expecting was another delivery from Empirical Audio about a week after the first shipment. This box held another pair of interconnect cables: a pair of Holophonic PC single-ended interconnects ($449.98 per meter pair).

PC? Yeah, PC -- as in Perfect Crystal. Empirical Audio believes that the additional processing steps used in manufacturing Perfect Crystal silver provide a differently balanced sound as compared to the standard Holophonic interconnects constructed using regular 99.99% silver conductors. The price difference is negligible, only about $50 more for the PC version, but depending upon your system’s sound, you may want to try one or the other -- or both. Apparently, the regular Holophonic interconnects have more liveliness and energy -- punch if you will. The PC version falls on the warmer, more refined side of the spectrum.

I like my coffee with a little ephedra

I hooked up the regular Holophonic interconnects between my DAC and integrated amp and the Clarity 7 speaker cables in place of my existing Harmonic Technology wire. I ran them both in for approximately 80 hours with the XLO/Reference Recordings Test & Burn-in CD [Reference Recordings RX-100] at regular listening levels. After this break-in period, about two weeks of actual time, I popped in Natalie Imbruglia’s White Lilies Island [BMG, BG2 68082] and cued up "Wrong Impression." I heard this one in my car awhile back, but I never really gave it much thought. Gridlock traffic tends to put you in the wrong mindset for listening to good music.

But now I found myself thoroughly enjoying Imbruglia’s vocals and the top-40 pop rhythms of her band. Although I had listened to this CD briefly on my home system about a month earlier, I do not recall myself really getting into it and bouncing my leg, tapping my heels, and bobbing my head like a teenager caught on MTV’s TRL. Carson Daly would be proud, and my wife utterly embarrassed.

There is something really exciting about the Empirical Audio cables. The Holophonic interconnects and Clarity 7 speaker cables combine synergistically to produce a very appealing sound. I’m in no position to say what sounds or does not sound like the original recording. Let’s leave that one to the recording engineers present during Imbrulia’s sessions. But, in comparison to my current cabling, the EA team from Portland sounded more alive and energetic. Music appeared more exciting, more dynamic, and certainly more forward in my system -- forward, but not in a bad way. The sound quality never became harsh or overly aggressive, nor did it over-emphasize high frequencies or the midbass region. In the way of the immortal television chef Emeril Lagasse, these cables just spice the sound up a notch.

I find the EA cable combination to be refreshing, especially on pop and rock recordings. Check out the Foo Fighters' recently released One By One [RCA 07863 68008-2.] This disc is phenomenal. And even if you’re not a big Foo fan (yes, I’m a dork and receive the fan newsletter), I believe this fourth release is the band's best yet. Harder and somewhat less processed than their three previous albums, One By One sometimes harks back to 80’s metal/hard-rock land. No, not the Cinderella and Dokken stuff -- more like Ian Astbury and The Cult. On "Times Like These," the opening riff sounds like it could have been ripped off some B-side of The Cult’s Electric album. And with the Holophonic and Clarity 7 in place, Dave Grohl and team blister through three minutes of body-rocking escape. Leading edges are crisper and bass more timely. Guitars carry more weight throughout the song, forcing the rest of the band to keep pace or risk falling behind.

When I switched to smaller-scale jazz and with more intimate solo vocals, the music remained compelling, but it lost some of the ear-opening appeal that was so obvious when running rock'n'roll and pop recordings. It sounded pretty much on par with my current cabling system, with perhaps a slightly more audible edginess to percussive instruments such as high hat and cymbals. My one complaint would be the EA cables’ inability to communicate the lushness and texture of stringed instruments and male vocals as effectively as my current cables. Now, this is just my opinion, and my preference for that matter. My current cables could be further from the truth than the EA cables in this minor respect. But as with all equipment, it is what the user prefers, not what is most "accurate" to the original or live event, whatever that is.

Going PC

When I switched in the PC version of the Holophonic interconnect cable, I found something quite different. Yes, there was the get-up-and-go quality I had witnessed from the regular version on rock and pop recordings, albeit to a lesser degree. And there was the snappier presentation from guitars and drums as well as the quick and authoritative pumping from kick drum and tom tom, again with less intensity than the regular Holophonic interconnects. But I also heard a bit more warmth, body and fullness to smaller-scale music. I wouldn’t characterize the difference as one between, say, tube and solid-state amplification, but it was noticeable, and in the context of this column, significant enough that I would gladly pony up the extra 50 bucks for Perfect Crystal.

Stock-market performance peaks and dips, and so does high-end audio

For many new members of our beloved audiophile community, $400 may seem like quite a lot of money for audio interconnects, and $1000 may seem like insanity for speaker cable. But in reality -- audiophile reality, that is -- $400 and $1000 are considered mid-priced for interconnects and speaker cables. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s a correlation between price and performance, nor am I saying that $400 and $1000 are not a lot of money. Think about how many diapers and how much baby food you could buy at Sam’s Club for these amounts!

With the Holophonic-series interconnects and Clarity 7 speaker cables, I believe Empirical Audio has produced a very compelling reason to stay at the $400 and $1000 level -- the products sound awfully good. When I read the company's literature stating the intention to provide great-sounding products at reasonable prices using the best technology, I acknowledged the goal, but I didn’t put much thought into it. Now after living with EA products, I believe in it.

...Greg Kong

Empirical Audio Holophonic and Holophonic PC Interconnects and Clarity 7 Speaker Cables
Holophonic interconnects: $399.98 USD per meter pair; Holophonic PC audio interconnects: $449.98 per meter pair; Clarity 7 speaker cables: $998.98 per eight-foot pair.
Warranty: Three-years parts and labor.

Empirical Audio
3240 NW 132 Place
Portland, OR 97229
Phone: (503) 533-1772

E-mail: support@empiricalaudio.com
Website: www.empiricalaudio.com


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