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Equipment Review
July 1998

JPS Labs Superconductor Interconnect

Sometimes the money sneaks up on you. That's how it was for me and sunglasses. I had always bought those $5 throw-away sets that you end up losing at the beach, and I never felt a need for anything better. When I started doing a lot more driving, I found that pulling down the old visor just wasn't cutting the sun like I wanted; perhaps better sunglasses were in order. I visited "The Shade Shack," looked over (and through) some reasonably priced models, and bought a pair made by Bollé for the princely sum of $20. My sister, far wiser than I in such things, informed me I had made a choice both fashionable and functional. After adopting some ground rules so that these didn't join my old sunglasses and socks in the area of the world that collects things I've lost (rule #1: don't take them out of the car), these sunglasses lasted me two years before they leapt out of the car and disappeared forever. During that time, it became painfully obvious just how limited my previous sunglasses had been. The reduction in glare and eyestrain with the Bollés during sunny times was so remarkable that I became rather dependent on them. The month that passed between their loss and my second visit to the Shack was a whirlwind of illegible signs and barely avoided accidents as I careened around the highway, barely able to see during my sunset commute home. This time, I stepped up a couple of models and bought Bollé's $50 offering. The improvements in this model are only marginal over the less expensive pair, but I find myself far enough along the expensive-sunglasses path that I don't ever see myself using $5 or even the $20 pairs again.

And then there's interconnect cables.

In the last two years, I've crept up from using the cables that came in the equipment boxes, passed through AudioQuest for a while, and settled down with some DH Labs BL-1 interconnects. At just under $100 for a meter pair, the BL-1s were worthy and reasonably priced replacements. The last few months have found me moving away from my budget roots and picking up some rather upscale equipment. My current system uses a number of CD players feeding the Lexicon DC-1 and driving a Warner Imaging VTE401S amplifier. Speakers range from the Magnepan MMG/Audio Concepts Titan subwoofer combination to the NEAR 50MEs. Recently I added up the retail price of this stack and noticed two things. First, I was approaching five figures for the total investment. Second, I only had one analog interconnect left. While I'd never planned on spending even more money on cables, my rules of thumb on cable budgeting suggested that an outlay of several hundred dollars on that one pair of interconnects wasn't unreasonable. Since Joe Skubinski at JPS Labs had whispered in my ear before with an offer to evaluate the $295 Superconductor interconnects, I yielded to temptation and asked for a review pair.

If you've read SoundStage! for any length of time, you're probably familiar with the JPS Labs name. I mean, that banner ad stares you in the face every month. How could you miss it? Most of the high-end cabling I see is remarkably similar. Why, I would ask, should I spend several hundred dollars on cables using wire just like the ones I already have? I'm rather critical of many manufacturers whose products look suspiciously similar to the wire I can buy in bulk from companies like Belden. To get me to consider spending several hundred dollars on interconnects, you'll have to do better than that. Joe's cables are certainly different, that's for sure. Solid core aluminum? Copper tubing as a shield? These are obviously not knock-offs, and when you look at the construction quality you can start to see why the cables cost what they do.

Let me make this perfectly clear: The Superconductor interconnects are a pain in the ass to deal with. The tubing, although not quite fragile, can be damaged if you're not careful how you bend it. This ends up being a complicated exercise whereby you slowly route the cable while keeping an eye on the turn radiuses and other such details. Next, you plug the RCA jacks in. They turn and lock. Don't turn them too much, as I did once. Once. It took me half an hour to figure out how to apply enough force to disconnect the damn things without tearing the RCA jacks up. Now I don't even get close to tightening them down for fear I'll never get the cables off again.

Why in the world would anyone go through this exercise more than once? For the sound, of course. I went through the usual cable upgrade procedure when the Superconductor cables arrived. I plugged them in and was unimpressed. As with many other tastes, I've learned that my ability to appreciate interconnects better than I'm used to requires some adjustment time. The last few months have been spent exclusively with the JPS cable in place. Last week I unplugged it for the first time and went back to the DH Labs BL-1 again.

Hey, who turned out the music?

I picked a few of my favorite demo tracks. Toy Matinee's "Last Plane Out" [from Toy Matinee, Reprise 2-26235] starts with a whirling effect that's always tough to pick out amidst the music going on during the opening. It's clear as day with the Superconductors. Switch back to BL-1s and it's not nearly as noticeable. When the bass guitar comes in, you get this gigantic sound on the bottom end. My less expensive cables just don't unleash the punch of the music I listen to like the JPS cables do. On recordings with a noticeable sense of space, the Superconductors present the most expansive soundstage I've ever heard from my system. Even the DH Labs cables shrink the size of the recording appreciably.

As I got deeper into the comparison, the subtle points started to emerge. On segments with lots going on in the bass, you hear not only all the instruments playing but every minor pitch change, all without any smearing. Vocals have more presence and instruments just hang in space with no audible means of support. Switch back to any of my other cables and it's just not the same. Not that the Superconductor cables are perfect for everything. There was a bit more emphasis on high-frequency notes with the DH Labs BL-1s, and the less prominent bass could be a better match for systems that are on the warm side. For my system, the JPS Labs cable is obviously a better choice. For three times the retail price, it better be.

One reasonable question is just how inexpensive of a system you could have and still be able to justify spending this much on interconnects. As I see it, most of the things that the Superconductors do better than cables not quite as good are details that you don't get from inexpensive systems anyway. Who really cares if you get better-defined bass below 30Hz if your speakers don't go there? What's it matter if the soundstage might be a bit bigger if your amplifier is going to collapse it anyway? The things that are significantly improved by the JPS cables aren't there in the first place on the budget systems I hear.

These are the kind of cables you become a bit of a slave to. You carefully install them and you don't just swap them out whenever you feel like it because they're too tough to move. If you care at all about convenience, this is not the wire for you. But if you're chasing after the best sound for the dollar and you've got a good-sized investment in your system already, you put up with them because the JPS Labs Superconductor cables lead you to a better place to listen from.

...Greg Smith (gsmith@westnet.com)

Other SoundStage! Reviews Online:

JPS Labs Superconductor Interconnect
Price: $295 USD per meter pair ($50 per additional 1/2 meter)

JPS Labs
6 Hampton Court
Lancaster, NY 14086
Phone & Fax: 716-685-5227

E-mail: joejpslabs@aol.com
Website: www.jpslabs.com

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