More than any other component I'm asked about cables, specifically interconnects and speaker cables, by just about everyone I encounter who is into two-channel or multi-channel playback. Some are interested because they're on the "hunt" for the next tweak fix while others ask in an attempt to bust my balls over their personal belief that cables don't matter. For the record I DO believe cables matter and I consider them a vital part of any system be it two-channel or home theater, though I don't believe cables to be the missing link or a cure-all for poor system synergy or setup-this includes room acoustics, which is priority one.
If you "believe" in cables then your choices are vast as is the rhetoric behind each and every one of them. I don't want to oversimplify the R&D and knowledge that goes into designing, manufacturing and ultimately perfecting a cable but at times the self-congratulatory nature of this segment of the industry can become a bit nauseating, which is why cable critics no doubt claim that all cables are created equal for aren't they made from the same materials, just twisted or grouped in different ways?
Another problem among cables is the fact that so many of them are priced far too high for what they are, or should I say for the performance they offer. It's not uncommon in today's high-end and even mid-fi marketplace for a simple interconnect to cost more than $500 a meter. For the enthusiast running say a NAD integrated amplifier and a pair of Magnepan MMGs (a fantastic sounding budget system BTW), $500 a meter interconnects make absolutely no sense. Don't even get me started on speaker cables.
Which brings me to my list.
Below are five cable combinations, both interconnects and speaker, that perform as advertised, aren't filled with a whole lot of mumbo jumbo, mate well with a wide variety of systems and sound great-not to mention they don't cost a fortune.
(The following list is in no particular order)
Transparent Cable's The Link Interconnects and The Wave Speaker Cable.
Priced from $85 a meter The Link interconnects are Transparent Cable's entry level interconnect though their performance is anything but, possessing a rich, full, largely neutral sound that is ever so slightly laid back with excellent detail, air and speed. The Link interconnect is a great cable for many of today's budget and mid-fi components, especially MP3 players and other portable digital components such as iPods and iPads, which is how I use them. The Wave speaker cables are priced from $200 per eight-foot pair and like The Link are Transparent Cable's entry-level speaker cables. The Wave speaker cables are similar in sound to The Link and are obvious partners, though I believe The Wave speaker cables are marginally better than their interconnect counterparts, capable of performing quite well in systems costing considerably more.
Cardas 300B Microtwin Interconnect and Twinlink Speaker Cable
Priced from $115.95 per meter and $205.95 per eight-foot pair the 300B Microtwin interconnect and Twinlink speaker cables are Cardas' "entry" to the line, though technically they sell their Crosslink line which can be purchased in bulk and sits below both the 300B Microtwin and Twinlink lines. Both the 300B Microtwin and Twinlink cables feature Cardas' trademark Golden Ratio, Constant Q and Crossfield design and possess Cardas' trademark warm, open sound that is ideal for those with slightly bright systems or a tendency to listen to a lot of vocal heavy material-especially female vocals. I used a full compliment of 300B Microtwin interconnects and an eight-foot pair of Twinlink speaker cables for many years as my budget reference on my Parasound Halo rig powering Paradigm Monitor 7 loudspeakers with fantastic results.
Kimber Kable Tonik Interconnects and 8TC Speaker Cable
Kimber Kable's product line is vast though out of all the manufacturers it sports some of the more affordable lines; evident with their Tonik interconnects at $74 per meter and 8TC speaker cables at $20 per foot plus termination (roughly $384 for an eight-foot pair with Kimber Kable's spade lugs). The Tonik/8TC combo is one of neutrality, speed, detail and air though it lacks some of the weight and depth of the Cardas and Transparent combos listed above. Still, for the money the Tonik/8TC combo is hard to beat, which is why I used them extensively for many years in a variety of my budget review systems, especially one consisting of an NAD integrated amplifier and CD player feeding a pair of Soliloquy 5.0 bookshelf speakers.
Mapleshade Clearview Interconnects and Clearview Golden Helix Speaker Cables
Mapleshade Clearview cables may be the best kept secret in all of audio, be it on a budget or cost no object for their performance to price ratio is virtually unmatched in my opinion. Retailing for $120 per one meter pair for the interconnects and $95 per eight-foot pair of speaker cables the Clearview combination is quirky to say the least but sound far more high-end than just about any other budget cable I've come across. While their unique build and construction requires a gentle touch and some fine cable routing here and there their performance is open, agile, detailed, warm but not bloated and absolutely musical. Mapleshade's Clearview cables have served as one of my personal references along side my far costlier Transparent Reference cables for more than five years and I use them exclusively in my SET rig.
Wireworld Solstice 6 Interconnects and Speaker Cable
Retailing for $59.95 per meter pair and $249.95 per eight-foot pair the Solstice 6 interconnects are not the least expensive cables in Wireworld's stable but for the money are arguably the "entry" point to Wireworld's wonderful sound quality. The Solstice 6 interconnects feature silver-plated oxygen-free copper and feature Wireworld's signature DNA Helix construction while the speaker cables feature oxygen-free copper and the same DNA Helix construction. The result is an open, detailed, agile sound that is ever so slightly lean but very musical and engaging, so much so that you hardly notice and/or care about the Solstice's shortcomings.