When it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to find a wireless/streamable speaker system with audiophile capabilities to fill the Great Room (a fairly large space off the kitchen that measures 18’ x 26’), we decided to go with a pair of floor-standing Dynaudio’s and an ELAC subwoofer. Paired with a Samsung 82” QLED TV and matching UHD Blu-Ray player, with Denon handling the front-end electronics, we finally assembled (what we would consider) an entry level performance audio/video system over the holidays. Supporting the system is a dedicated music server and Roku streaming box (perhaps in another article I’ll explain why we use Roku and not the built-in streaming capabilities in the Samsung).
Two months in, after tweaking and calibrating and getting used to the sound and video performance, we finally dropped in an array of AudioQuest cables to see how much impact they could offer in today’s AI-scaled, 7.2 4K world. The bottom line – appreciable. Which is pretty amazing considering we were already blown away by the system’s performance.
Initially, we installed the standard Insignia brand (Best Buy’s house brand) for the interconnects (and they aren’t cheap, by the way!) and Monster speaker cable (we found reams of it in a box labeled “wire” in the basement and sliced and diced and crimped on some new gold banana termination ends, removing any oxidation) – so we started off with a pretty good reference point. It wasn’t like we put in Radio Shack crap for $10 and called it a day! (Sorry about that Radio Shack, that was a cheap shot.)
Cinnamon. The AudioQuest Cinnamon HDMI cables, if you read their literature, is pretty space age stuff. “Solid 1.25% Silver LGC Conductors, Controlled for Direction. Noise-Dissipation System, 100% Shielding, Gas-Injected Insulation.” I mean, wow. Now, in all honesty, we do understand a lot of the technical benefits that go into the construction of these cables. In the age of ‘digital’ any artifacts rendered onto the screen or through the speakers degrades performance, so solid conductors and hard-cell foam insulation have scientific merit. Our evaluation process for the HDMI cables really centered on gaming, where speed and accuracy help to eliminate lag and jag. Gaming is all about speed (refresh rates and front-end/monitor compatibility) as far as the image goes, and we noticed a significant improvement when the Cinnamon cables were deployed. There just wasn’t as much jaggedness to the images, which improves the context of how you immerse yourself in the game – and I have to believe that improves performance. The auto-game mode incorporated into the Samsung products reduces lag time, and every millisecond gained is an advantage when competing against humanoid lifeforms.
There was also improvement on native 4K DVD performance and streaming channels. We all thought the picture had a more natural and warmer appeal versus the standard Insignia cables. Text was sharper, contrast was improved (one of the main selling points of QLED technology!) and color was richer and more textural. Swapping the cables in and out, you could appreciate the noticeable improvement rendered by the AudioQuest cables. We were pretty amazed at just how much improvement we realized.
Aspen. The AudioQuest Aspen speaker cables, outfitted with silver banana connectors, proved to be a remarkable upgrade to the (admittedly) older Monster speaker cables. The Monster cables are just thick copper, without any of the insulation and solid-core technology in today’s more modern offerings from audiophile-grade companies. So it was to be expected that today’s performance cables would eclipse yesteryear’s state-of-the-art. The soundstage widened and depth became much more apparent. In cinema mode, center channel dialogue became much easier to understand and allowed us to better equalize the front soundstage. There is a point you get to when you painstakingly set up a performance audio system, where the system no longer is the focal point and there is just music playing as if you were sitting in front of the band. Audiophiles know what I mean. It just feels f__kin’ good! On your body and in your head. And, the cool thing about the AudioQuest cables? We didn’t need a medicinal prescription from our local herb vendor to enjoy the experience. (Although in further testing we did experience a heightened sense of awareness!)
Final thoughts. If you’re like us and have put together A/V systems over the decades, you probably have a ton of junk in your basement that you would naturally think about utilizing instead of shelling out more dough after you see the price tag for today’s 4K TVs and newest audio rigs. After all, add-on products are just the newest shiny objects retailers want to upgrade you to in order to make the sale somewhat more profitable, right? Well, we’re here to say that putting a few more bucks into the kitty for the latest cable technology can appreciably improve system performance. Don’t cheap out when it comes to maximizing your investment. Get the good stuff!