June 2003Audio Magic Sorcerer Interconnects and Speaker Cables
by Tim Shea
I value neutrality in my audio system -- at least I think I do. The problem is theres no way for me to know what neutrality truly is since I wasnt in the recording studio when anything I listen to was actually recorded. Then again, I feel like I know neutrality when I hear it, or maybe its more accurate to say I know neutrality when I dont hear it. Ugh. Its no wonder this topic has sparked some lively exchanges among reviewers on the SoundStage! internal mailing list.
While Im certainly not going to open this Pandoras Box any further here, suffice it to say that neutrality was a recurring thought that bounced around the back of my mind as I listened to the Audio Magic Sorcerer interconnects and speaker cables.
Description, setup, and use
Until these cables arrived I had only been familiar with Audio Magic through reading reviews of their highly regarded Stealth power conditioner, but cables sure seem like a natural stablemate to power products, and they are the products with which the company began. Audio Magic furnished me with two pairs of their recently redesigned Sorcerer interconnects and a shotgun biwire pair of speaker cables from the same line, which sits just below the top-of-the-line Illusion series.
What was immediately obvious was that these cables are seriously built. The speaker cables ($1500 USD per eight-foot single-wire pair) in particular exude a solid, handmade quality -- which, in fact, they are -- that would make even the most insecure audiophile flush with confidence. The midrange/bass cables are considerably larger in diameter (think garden hose) than their high-frequency companions, and both come with rhodium-plated Cardas spades that are so substantial they could be used for gardening (Audio Magic has since changed to an adaptable connector that allows the user to switch between spades and bananas, which is a fantastic idea). The conductors are said to be made from ultra-pure six nines silver that is specially treated to further optimize conductivity, and each conductor is contained in its own individual housing rather than positive and negative conductors cohabiting together. The cables are also packed with Teflon beads that are said to provide further damping, but Im quite sure it does nothing to help with flexibility.
Speaking of which, the practical down side of these cables is that they are very stiff, especially toward the ends, and installing them resembled more a wrestling match than hooking up audio equipment. Since I only have one pair of binding posts on my amplifier, Audio Magic put banana connectors on the high-frequency cables so they could work off the same output terminals as the mid/bass cables. I typically prefer spade connectors for speaker cables, but these particular spades really drove me bananas and might have actually driven me to the less substantial connectors if I had the choice.
The single-ended interconnects ($699 per meter pair), in complete contrast, are almost as light as their air dielectric and are a breeze to work with. (Get it? Air. Breeze.). Whats immediately interesting about the design of the interconnects is their elliptical-like shape that accommodates a flat silver conductor and utilizes the same silver material found in the speaker cables. Another interesting feature is the Eichmann Bullet Plug connector that has replaced the WBT connector used in prior models. They are a little odd looking and certainly not as solid-feeling as the WBTs, but Jerry Ramsey at Audio Magic claims they offer a significant sonic improvement, so looks be damned and in they went. Oh, did I mention both the speaker cables and interconnects, including the connectors, are cryogenically treated? No one can accuse Audio Magic of not sweating the details. One set of interconnects was installed between my DAC and preamplifier, and the other pair between my preamp and amplifier.
What do Magic cables sound like?
I started with a wholesale change and substituted both the interconnects and speaker cables at once. Since the cables were not only by the same manufacturer but also shared the same Sorcerer name, I wanted to hear any synergy that might exist.
Enter the Sorcerers new clothes. As a quick aside, its amazing how many people, once they learn that I am reviewing cables, ask me if they really make a difference. Well, a few days after I installed the Audio Magic cables, my wife and I were on our way to a friends house, and a few minutes into the trip she volunteered out of nowhere, "You know the stereo sounds clearer now." This comes from a woman who never sits down and critically listens to music on our system, so if she can pick this one out of thin air, well, theres a nice little anecdotal answer to the question of whether or not cables make a real difference. The thing is, my wife really nailed it in one sentence. (By the way, Im convinced that women innately have better hearing than men, as my wife does this to me a lot. It can be a real blow to the male-audiophile ego.)
Since my wife has basically stolen my thunder, Ill just proceed to go into a little more detail on what defines "clearer" in this case. One of my absolute favorite live jazz recordings -- heck, one of my favorite recordings, period -- is Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note [ECM 1577 314 527 641-2]. This is definitely one of those "you are there" experiences in recorded music, and the Sorcerer cables brought everything through. What was immediately striking was the reproduction of the cymbals; there was a much more vivid picture of what a cymbal actually sounds like in real life (as a drummer, I am very sensitive to this area in audio reproduction). This was actually a mixed blessing in that when you sit near a drum set the metallic impact of cymbals really come through and can easily catch more of the ears attention than the drums themselves. This is exactly how the Audio Magic Sorcerer cables communicated the drum set in this recording and really led me to believe I was pushed up a few rows closer to the band.
I want to stress, however, that this was not the result of anything being unnaturally bright or pulled forward, but rather a more complete communication of the instrument in terms of its absolute metallic hardness and impact. More neutral? Again, I cant answer that, but I can tell you it certainly made the performance come across as more authentic and real, if not as homogenized. And heres a little impress-your-friends sonic treat for yall. Skip to the end of track three on Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note and crank the drum solo; you should really get the feel of an actual life-sized (rather than the more common panoramic-sized) drum set being played in your room. Thats certainly what I got with the Audio Magic cables in my system.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot -- theres also a bass and piano in this jazz trio. Jarretts piano was as present and also life-sized as ever, as were his trademark vocal interjections, and the overall sense of the performance space was also preserved and communicated most effectively. The stand-up bass, although subdued as it usually is in an actual acoustic jazz setting, was spot-on both tonally and temporally.
Just as a reality check to see if the highs were in fact being unduly emphasized, I pulled out Cyrus Chestnuts self-titled CD [Atlantic 83140-2], which is an exceptionally clean studio recording. Again the cymbals came across undistorted and pure, but this time they were more blended in with the whole of the recording rather than projecting a front-row presence, which to me somewhat vindicated the Sorcerers up-front portrayal of cymbals in the Jarrett recording. The Chestnut CD also presents a challenge in the form of Anita Bakers vocals on two of the cuts. If not served up with an even hand, Ms. Bakers voice can easily be parsed into an oil-and-water mix of coarse sibilants and husky intonation, and the Sorcerer duo reproduced both without emphasizing either, resulting in one very natural- and rich-sounding vocal performance. Which brings up another one of the Audio Magic cables' strengths, and those of you out there with the preconceived notion that silver cables are all sterile-sounding should take note here: There was plenty of life emanating from the depths of Anita Bakers soul in this performance. Put another way, these cables manage to do both music and detail well, which is a delicate and not-so-often achieved balance in cables or any audio component.
To explore further the Sorcerers ability to dig down and flesh out the meat and potatoes of the music, I put on "Cliftons Gold" from Joe Samples Old Places Old Faces [Warner Bros. 9 46182-2]. The sax on this track is recorded up front and center, and as a result all the nuances, inflections, and tonal variations are clearly and fully captured. In short, you really get the full intent of the musician, and the Sorcerer cables did an excellent job of capturing every twist, turn, rise, and dip along with lots of tonal color and feel. Another area in which the Audio Magic cables shone was in keeping the beat moving along. This particular song has a low bass line that can easily bog things down if not handled well, and the Sorcerers kept things moving along nicely. I would categorize bass in general as a strength of these cables, as they proved as adept at unleashing the power of the kick drum as they did at keeping control of the low strings.
Separating the Audio from the Magic
Most of the time I listened to the Sorcerer interconnects and speaker cables together, but I did audition them individually to see what each was contributing to the mix. Ill start with the speaker cables because theyre easy. I found them to be just flat dead neutral to the point where there was no area I could point to where I thought these cables were adding to or subtracting anything from the sound I was hearing. If anything, I heard a slight improvement in the extreme bass and upper treble areas over my reference speaker cables, but these changes were so small I don't think I could identify either cable in a blind test. The benefit of the Sorcerer speaker cables lack of any identifiable character was that every time I changed interconnects it was very easy to identify differences no matter how subtle.
As for the interconnects, here I did hear some significant differences. Maybe its my system, but I often hear much bigger differences between interconnects than speaker cables, and this time was no different. Plugging in the Sorcerer interconnects contributed mostly to the clarity my wife alluded to in her offhand comment. In my system as it exists there was added transient snap, speed, and definition that benefited the music but sometimes commanded too much attention to individual pieces rather than the whole. Maybe this is actually more neutral and Im just getting more of what I paid for out of my CD collection, but I found myself wishing I still had the excellent Marsh A400s amp available as its more refined character may have been a better match with the Sorcerer interconnects in my system. That is a combination I would have liked to have heard. Suffice it to say the new Sorcerer interconnects are not going to sugarcoat anything, but they certainly wont leave your right brain cold either.
My reference Acoustic Zen interconnects offer a more interesting comparison to the Sorcerer interconnects, and while neither has severe flaws, there are some clear trade-offs between the two that should point audiophiles in one direction or the other. The Acoustic Zen interconnects possess some of the air and bite of the Sorcerer interconnects, but they were also a little more forgiving in the treble region, especially with cymbals. Also, despite the fact that I never felt anything lacking in the mids when listening to the Sorcerer interconnects, upon direct comparison, the Zens were a little more fleshy in this area. However, the fleshy mids came at the expense of a slight perceived softness in that area that continued down into the bass region, where the Acoustic Zen interconnects were definitely less tidy than the Sorcerer interconnects. I have no idea which one is more neutral, but Im sure after this comparison you know which way youd lean, and thats the whole point here anyway.
As for the Sorcerer speaker cables, they were just about dead ringers for my reference Acoustic Zen Satori cables. Ive had some close calls comparing components before, but this is the first time I cant or wont try to pick out differences because Id be guessing more than anything. All I can say is that if youre looking for speaker cables that do nothing but pass along whats fed to them, then either one of these would be an outstanding choice.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, I cant know what neutrality is, but I am fairly confident in picking out something that is not neutral. During my time with the Audio Magic Sorcerer cables, the thing that ultimately stood out is that nothing really stood out on a consistent basis. The Sorcerer speaker cables are about as transparent to the music as I could imagine possible, and they are as solidly built as any cable Ive seen. With the interconnects there were certain recordings where the treble may have been a touch on the energetic side in the context of my system, but there were many more recordings where everything fell into place perfectly. The all-important midrange communicates both detail and emotion very well without hyping either, and bass control and definition are excellent also.
These are not cables for those who are looking for tone controls to add sweetness or warmth to their systems. Rather, they are for audiophiles who are after the truth and nothing but the truth, and when the Audio Magic Sorcerer cables were in my system, this was certainly "clear" to me.
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