Cardas Golden Cross: Revisiting a Classic
by Dave Duvall
The Cardas name is synonymous in high-end circles with well-constructed interconnects and speaker cables. George Cardas' patented designs revolve around the concept of Golden Section Stranding, which is based on the Golden Ratio of 1 to 1.6180339887 or .6180339887 to 1 used in the geometry of his designs. (Applying the Golden Ratio to speaker setup in your room can be quite effective too. For further information on this, visit www.cardas.com ). According to Cardas, the object of this philosophy is "to create a multiple-strand conductor, where the individual strands share no common mathematical node or resonant point and in effect cancel the noise they generate." Benefits of the Cardas way of cable design are low resistance, low inductance, and low capacitance with a very high "Q" or resonant point. With this particular cable design, flexibility and low energy storage were objectives. With all Cardas cables, each wire strand is individually coated to protect copper purity and eliminate corrosion.
With a UPS package full of Cardas cables in hand, I once again made the sojourn upstairs to the room where the family says I hide out too much, acting like all I do is work, work, work. I like the sympathy. Hell, I'd be up there listening to music anyway if I weren't doing this reviewing thing. We don't have to tell them that, though, do we?
Before we move on, do me a favor. If anyone sees the terms "aplomb," "has it in spades," or "boogie" in this article, please send me some email directing me to the nearest Thesaurus for some new buzzwords.
The outside diameter of the Golden Cross interconnect is .415"; and with 174 discrete conductors, the cable is 16.5 AWG. The Golden Cross speaker cable sizes up at .600" outside diameter, 752 discrete conductors, and 5.5 AWG. The conductor geometry for both the interconnect and speaker cable is classified as "Golden Ratio, Constant Q, Crossfield, Multi-gauge Pure Copper Litz," and each individual strand has an enameled coating to eliminate corrosion. Dielectrics used are Teflon and air. The cables are double-shielded, and the outermost layer is a urethane jacket. Capacitance in the interconnect is 25.5 pF/foot (RCA), and 15.5 pF/foot (XLR), while the speaker cable sports a capacitance rating of 154 pF/foot. The speaker cables are internally single-, bi-, and tri-wireable and are terminated with Cardas Rhodium spades. All RCAs, XLRs and spades are made by Cardas, and all terminations are done at the factory by Kip Dobler's "Silent Terminators" (as is indicated on each cable). Finished off in a burgundy-colored jacket, the Cardas products are excellent examples of quality craftsmanship.
Discs spun on the Stable Platter mechanism of an Audio Alchemy DDS PRO transport. (Who cares if they're not in biz anymore? AA is still good-sounding stuff.) Audio Magic Mystic Reference I2S cables fed both the Audio Alchemy DTI Pro 32 and DDE v3.0 D/A converter (upgraded by Dusty Vawter). A Monolithic Sound Master Power Supply (aka MPS) powered the DSP and DAC units, while the PSB Stratus Golds were energized by a McCormack DNA-1 stereo amplifier. A full compliment of Kimber PowerKords were in intimate contact with Jack Bybee's Power Purifier, which in turn worked its way back to a hospital-grade outlet on a separate 20-amp breaker in the upstairs sub-panel. For comparison purposes, Cardas Cross ($498 USD per 1.5-meter pair) and Nordost SPM Reference ($1,100 USD per 1-meter pair) interconnects saw duty. Kimber BiFocal-XL internal bi-wire ($2,000 USD per 4-meter pair) and double runs of Nordost SPM Reference ($3,350 per 8-foot pair) speaker cables were also used. Yes folks, that's $6,700 USD worth of Nordost speaker cables. Whew!
Relaxin' in the Ol' Easy Chair
But not for long. I was up and down so many times changing interconnects and wires during this review that I'm not really sure if my butt ever touched the chair. This is the exact opposite of how I hope most of you spend your well-deserved listening time. There's nothing like enjoying a disc from start to finish.
The burn-in ritual lasted almost 100 hours before I got down to any listening worth writing about. The Cardas products were a little brash and out of focus for the first few hours, but they were the complete antithesis of this after they finished the opening ceremonies. After burn-in was complete, the system was set back up with the Cross interconnects and BiFocal-XL speaker cables to establish a baseline prior to A/B/A and long-term listening sessions. Material used for A/B/A testing included "Blue Spanish Sky" from Chris Isaak's Heart Shaped World (Reprise 9 25837-2), "Something More Besides You" on the Cowboy Junkies' Lay It Down (Geffen GEFD-24952), and "In A Hurry" from Gettin' To It by Christian McBride (Verve 314 523 989-2). I know these cuts so well that it would be difficult to miss what effect a product under review was having upon the music.
Round One: Cardas Golden Cross Speaker Cables
The Cardas, Kimber, and Nordost speaker cables all handled the soundstaging stuff quite well, which one would expect from cables in their price range. The Nordost tended to have a slightly less deep presentation, and the Cardas was the equal of both in the air and dimensionality departments. Image focus was outstanding with the Golden Cross, as it was with the other cables. Detail, especially low-level ambiance cues, was very good via the Cardas, though not as discernible as with the Kimber or Nordost products. At this level of performance and price one must keep things in perspective. Understand that I set the bar high to begin with, and most of my critiquing starts only at this lofty point. Also, the characteristics described above originate with the electronics and speakers in the system, and the cables shouldn't diminish the equipment. The Cardas Golden Cross performed admirably in passing along the vital soundstaging characteristics of a good recording.
The Golden Cross was a warmer-sounding cable than either the Kimber or Nordost. This contributed to a richness in the midrange that was pleasing. Male and female vocals were palpable and thus excellent--how could they not be with Chris Isaak or Margo Timmins at the mic? Instruments and vocals seemed harmonically complete, creating a liquid-sounding presentation that's far removed from threadbare and sterile. The more expensive Nordost SPM Reference was less rich, while the Kimber seemed to provide the best balance in my system between the richness of the Cardas and the squeaky cleanliness of the Nordost. The Golden Cross had an ease to its presentation that was not as evident with the Nordost but was equaled by the Kimber. The warmth found when using the Cardas cables will most likely mate better with other speakers. I'm guessing speakers from companies such as Merlin, Thiel, NEAR, and possibly some electrostatics could really make the Golden Cross speaker cables perform their best; but with the thicker-sounding PSB Stratus Golds, the Cardas cables tended to reduce transparency a smidge. Long-term listening made this less obvious than with A/B/A testing, impressing upon me the overall musicality of the Cardas cable. Certainly my use of 4-meter lengths is not ideal and could be part of the equation here.
Low bass performance of the Golden Cross was better than that of the Nordost in terms of "visceralness," but the BiFocal-XL seemed to have a slight edge here. The Kimber and Nordost speaker cables were a little tighter in the mid and upper bass, and they handled the sometimes overblown bass that the Cowboy Junkies' recordings tend to exhibit better. With the Cardas speaker cable in place, the acoustic bass on the Christian McBride disc seemed harmonically richer than with the others. When bowed, McBride's bass exhibited a full-bodied, "evident" sound that did not leave me wanting for more.
The upper registers were high-end-ready in all respects. Right-hand runs on the piano always replayed in a fine progression as the fingers moved further up the scale. Cymbals were unfettered by any sense of veiling, and the warmth mentioned earlier had no deleterious effect on the mid to uppermost highs. "Smooth," "unetched" (to the extent that upstream components would allow), and "clear" are all appropriate words to associate with the treble performance of the Cardas Golden Cross cables.
Round Two: Cardas Golden Cross Interconnects
Lemme see, where are those cut and paste buttons?
Not to shorten my work here, but there are minimal differences between the sound of the Cardas Golden Cross interconnects and speaker cables. In my mind, that's a good thing. In a lot of systems, this eliminates the tone-control use of various cables. I have subscribed to this theory in the past, utilizing only the Cross interconnect and Crosslink speaker cables and therefore using all cables from the same family. The Cross interconnect is certainly a notch above the Crosslink in performance, but both are products of good value from the same designer. Using the Cardas Golden Cross interconnect in tandem with the Kimber BiFocal-XL detoured me off the "all in the family" approach, as I found them a match made in heaven. My mind wrestled with the thought of accuracy versus the "one cable offsetting the other" line of reasoning, but I settled on going with the audible truth. The strengths of each let the music sound best in my system.
Could the fact that I was using shorter interconnects and looooong speaker cables have anything to do with why I preferred the Golden Cross interconnects/Kimber BiFocal-XL speaker cable combination? Dunno. More likely than not, the Golden Cross/Kimber combo just set better with my ears than the Cross/Golden Cross did.
The Cross interconnect, which retails at roughly $500 USD for a 1.5 meter pair, is similar in nature to the Golden Cross, but it lacks the degree of "analog" warmth present with the Golden Cross. The Cross can also sound a tad more forward, but nothing to write home about. The Golden Cross allows the listener another level of refinement, and more times than not, that carries a higher price tag.
How's About the New Toys Together?
Using the Golden Cross interconnects and speaker cables together was too much of a good thing, the overall warmth of the tubed Audible Illusions L-1 preamp and the PSB Stratus Gold speakers already moving the sound down the road of analog warmth. I am convinced that in another system this pairing of Cardas products would be sensational, but in my review system, the Cardas Golden Cross interconnects and Kimber BiFocal-XL played together in best harmony. It's all about balance and synergy in my room and head. These two aspects weigh heavily on my mind when evaluating equipment. Does that detract from the concept of accuracy so pursued in high-end audio? That's a matter of your own personal opinion.
In my mind (a dangerous place to visit), since I can't compare to the original event, or more importantly to the original master tapes as played on the original monitoring system, my sense of accuracy is determined by the combination of equipment that tickles the fine hairs inside my ears best. In this respect, accuracy would be defined as the combination of components and cables that provides a realistic portrayal of an actual musical event taking place. Without the master tapes to compare with, it seems almost foolish to think of accuracy in any other respect, but many would argue the accuracy of how I use the term accuracy. That's a discussion I won't have, because opinions are just that. Having a "dog chasing his tail" thread going is a very good way to kill all of your time and end up back where you started. End of Dave's philosophy discussion for today.
Am I surprised that the Golden Cross interconnects and cables met the level of performance that I expected when first asking for review samples from George and Colleen Cardas? Not one bit. I had heard and seen quality in the Cross interconnects and the entry level Crosslink speaker cables. I was surprised at the difference in the level of musical refinement, and I would not say that the law of diminishing returns comes strongly into play here. The Golden Cross products deliver a lot for the increase in price over their less-expensive brethren. While I would say that the combination of the Golden Cross interconnect and speaker cable was a little too warm for my system, substituting the Golden Cross interconnect for the Cross was a welcome, and balanced, improvement. Golden Cross can easily be considered a top-notch performer that requires proper system matching (as does any product). The Golden Cross line is a class act and one that deserves your attention. Once again, I'm impressed by the Cardas world--no bias, no bull.
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