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GROUP TEST

AV INTERCONNECTS

 

COPY/INTRO

Mention cables to most people, even those with a mild interest in hi-fi and home cinema, and just watch their eyes glaze over, and with good reason. For the uncommitted cables are inconvenient lumps of wire needed to connect the various boxes in their systems together. These people tend to dislike lots of boxes full stop, and they like cables even less because they get in the way; they look untidy, trip people up or have a nasty habit of getting sucked up in the vacuum cleaner.

 

Those who take their home entertainment a little more seriously fall into three fairly broad camps when it comes to cables. There are the mildly indifferent, those who rightly suspect that that there are noticeable and quantifiable differences in the quality and performance of AV cables and reckon that it is probably worthwhile spending a few bob – but not too much – on a decent set of leads. Then there is the third much smaller group of individuals who, for the want of a better word, we’ll call cable ‘freaks’. They’re the sort of person who doesn’t bat an eyelid at the prospect of spending several hundred pounds – and often a lot more -- on cables, moreover they are wholly and unshakeably convinced of the purported benefits of copper wire so pure, that it can be expressed to eight decimal places.

 

Ok, you first lot, the cable-haters, scram because nothing we are about to say will be of the slightest interest to you. And you freaks, you can bugger off too because you are going to argue with everything and write in complaining that we haven’t included any hand-woven diamond encrusted cables that cost two hundred and fifty quid an inch and have to be ‘burnt-in’ on a 200 megawatt valve amp for three and half weeks…

 

Hopefully if you are still with us you are of a sane and rational disposition and accept – or are willing to be persuaded -- that there is an important place for good quality cables in home cinema. Actually, at the risk of being ever so slightly pedantic we should try and refer to them as ‘interconnects’ from now on. Cable is really the stuff linking the plugs and sockets together, and bare ended wires used to hook up loudspeakers, so now we’ve got that out of the way, let us begin.

 

In truth there is an awful lot of hooey spouted about cable and interconnects, mixed in with healthy doses of pseudo science, the odd dash of witchcraft and some sound physics. However, behind it all is the quite sensible premise that analogue audio and video signals (we’ll come to digital in a moment) are a complex mixture of multi-frequency waveforms that are affected by the electrical characteristics of the conductors along which they travel.

 

There are a surprisingly large number of factors at work in interconnect design and construction, which can have subtle, and not so subtle effects on what we loosely describe as picture or sound quality; here’s a few to be getting on with. Electrical resistance, or rather impedance, has a direct bearing on how much of the signal gets from one end of a interconnect to another. The bits of the signal that don’t make it are lost -- so you’re not getting your full money’s worth – and reduced levels mean the components at either end have to work harder or at reduced efficiency. The materials or impurities in the conductors that impede signal flow can even generate noise that can be both heard and seen. The capacitance and inductance of an interconnect determines which frequencies get through, and which do not, and again this is something you can see and hear, when making side by side comparisons. The standard of construction and materials used in the conductors, contacts and screening can have an enormous effect, generating noise, allowing (or preventing) interference to mingle with the wanted signal; poor contacts create intermittencies that can damage or even destroy equipment and we haven’t even begun to talk about foamed PTFE dielectrics, stranded (or non stranded) construction, and the merits of oxygen free copper (OFC) nor are we about to, because you are starting to look drowsy again.

 

Digital interconnects work on a slightly different level in that the signals they transport are a great deal simpler in structure and are less affected by the characteristics of the cable, though some will doubtless contend otherwise. Nevertheless, the point is these cables carry digital data or streams of numbers that either get through or they don’t. The frequency or bandwidth characteristics of the cable are not as important either, provided the data passes through unhindered, so there tends to be fewer subtleties to consider. We are also including optical digital interconnects in this roundup, and needless to say an optical fibre has an entirely different set of characteristics to an electrical conductor, but again we firmly believe performance is much more black and white, compared with the many shades of grey, with analogue interconnects.  

 

And so on to the tests. As you are doubtless aware standardisation is not a concept familiar to makers of AV equipment and there are several zillion different types of plugs and sockets on the backs of hi-fi and video boxes but we’ve decided to narrow the field down to the six most popular types – the ones you’re most likely to encounter in mainstream AV, and they are: fully wired SCART to SCART, S-Video to S-Video, twin phono to phono, triple phono to phono, single phono to phono (for sub-woofer and digital coaxial) and TOSlink digital optical.

 

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONET

Taken in isolation the electrical characteristics of a ‘wire’ interconnect -- namely impedance, capacitance and inductance, or any other parameter you can measure -- tell us comparatively little about how well (or otherwise) they perform in the real world. For that reason the bulk of the tests were conducted using the type of AV equipment you would be likely to find in a typical mid to high-end home cinema system. This also happens to be the kind of equipment that benefits most from an interconnect upgrade. For the AV source components we used a pair of high-end DVD players plus a digital camcorder, these were connected in various permutations to a 5.1 AV amplifier processor, widescreen TV and a high-performance video monitor.

 

We pay particular attention to design and construction, which basically means taking the interconnects apart (where possible) checking on how well they’ve been put together and assessing things like the quality of soldered joints and cable anchorage or ‘strain relief’. This part of the test also includes some fairly vigorous intermittency checks, plus a few good hard tugs to make sure they’re not going to fall apart after a few swap-overs. Although in their natural habitat most leads tend to remain hidden from view, we may occasionally award extra points to particularly smart looking interconnects that deserve to be seen.

 

Our viewing and listening material includes a mixture of electronically generated and pre-recorded test signals plus some favourite and very familiar sequences (to us at least) from various DVDs and CDs, which over time we have found to be particularly revealing of system inadequacies. For the record they include bits from The Matrix, The Fifth Element and Dances With Wolves plus tricky tracks on CD from Messer’s Brahms, Saint-Saens and The Beautiful South.

 

JARGON BUSTER

 

BURN IN

A controversial effect whereby a cable’s characteristics change with use. Some say it’s to all to do with a realignment of crystals in the conductors, others say it’s all in the mind…

 

CAPACITANCE

A measure of the electrostatic field charge that exists between two conductors, separated by an insulator or dielectric. In the case of a coaxial cable, between the centre conductor and the screen and any adjacent conductors. A cable’s capacitance (and inductance) has a direct bearing on its frequency handling characteristics

 

COAXIAL

The commonest type of ‘screened’ cable where the central signal carrying conductor is surrounded by an insulating layer (dielectric) and wrapped in a woven braid or foil (sometimes both) connected to earth or ground. The screen’s job is to provide an earth or ground connections and prevent electromagnetic radiation from leaving or leaking into the centre conductor.

 

DIELECTRIC

The insulating material (or air-gap) between two conductors in a cable, the choice of dielectric has a direct impact on a cable’s capacitance and frequency handling characteristics, consistency and ability to resist deformation is vitally important.

 

IMPEDANCE

Measurement, in ohms, of a conductor’s resistance to an alternating current (AC) signal

 

NOISE

The unwanted part of a video or audio signal, that manifests itself as hiss, or speckles on the screen. Noise is unavoidable and generated inside all electrical conductors and electronic components; the trick is to have as little of it as possible. Noise is much less of a problem in the transport of digital signals over short distances.

 

OFC

Oxygen free copper – very pure copper wire with a regular and highly organised crystalline structure (also PC or pure crystal OFC)

 

PTFE

Polytetrafluoroethylene, slippery plastic material with highly effective insulating (dielectric) and protective qualities

 

SCART (ala Peritel & Euroconnector)

Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radio Recepteurs et

Televiseurs, 21-pin connector system used on AV equipment sold in the EU

 

S-VIDEO (aka Y/C)

Separated video, brightness (Y) and colour/chroma (C) information in a video signal is carried on separate conductors to prevent them interacting with each other

 

 

THE TESTS

 

SCART TO SCART

 

HAMA 29418 (1.5m), £14.99

VERDICT **

Apart from the gold plated shield and contacts the 29418 is a fairly standard design with ABS plastic covers and a conventional single foil screened cable. Inside the build quality is adequate, though not especially neat with irregular lead to contacts lengths, the earth wire is under a fair amount of strain at one end. Moreover, the earth wire is a simple push-fit between the earth shroud and the plastic contact block and could detach quite easily, if pulled. The contact pins are quite thin and not very rigid and may bend if not inserted carefully (as happened on one occasion). The lack of internal screening showed up with some slight instability when the cable was flexed. Noise levels on the video feeds were low, compared with the freebie benchmark cable but the stereo audio had a couple of problems, treble was a touch muddy and big bass effects lacked punch. It is a step up from cheapie freebies but we are not terribly impressed by the standard of construction or stiffness of the pins, adequate for the price is about the best we can say.

 

Contact Hama (01256) 374700

 

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Features             gold plated contacts

           

Caption

·          A rather basic lead, suitable for undemanding applications like STV boxes and VCRs

 

 

IXOS 126-75AV (0.75m), £34.99

VERDICT *****

Legend has it the designer of this lead is a railway enthusiast, which explains the in-house nickname ‘Mallard’. It’s unlikely, even in the sometimes fanciful world of interconnect marketing, that the streamlined shape of the heavy metal plug casing has any tangible performance benefits but the very high quality and extensively screened OFC cable certainly does. The gold plated contacts and very high standard of construction also helps, and goes a long way to justifying the price, certainly if interconnects were sold by the kilo this one would be a bargain. The shorter length is also worth a mention – very few other manufacturers bother with leads less than a metre long -- but apart from looking a lot tidier it reduces the length of signal paths, lessening the impact of noise. Not that it’s a problem with the Mallard, what goes in comes out, on both the audio and video feeds, there’s no detectable colouration on the stereo pairs and contact integrity is excellent. The old saying about ‘if something looks right, it usually is’ definitely holds true in this case.

 

Contact Path Group, (01494) 441736

 

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Features             gold plated contacts, twin–layered OFC conductors with aluminium foil screening

           

Caption

·          streamlined looks and performance

 

 

PROFIGOLD PGV782 (1.5m), £29.99

VERDICT ****

The most obvious feature is the flat ribbon cable, which Bandridge cunningly associate with widescreen TV, though it’s hard to make the connection (pun intended) on technical grounds… However the cable shape may make a difference to ease of installation on some systems, particularly those with longer runs, where the low profile makes it easier to run the cable under a carpet. The plugs are metal cased and sealed, so we’re not able to comment on build quality but from the outside it looks very well made, the contacts are firmly anchored and it passed all of our intermittency and interference tests. The plugs are a good snug fit too, which is just as well as the leads are quite heavy. Video passes through and no additional noise was apparent. Stereo audio and DPL was generally okay though instruments putting out a lot of top-end treble were not picked out quite as clearly as the best very best interconnect in this group.  

 

Contact Bandridge (020) 8542 2665

 

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Features             24K hard gold plated contacts, flat ribbon with 99.96% OFC cable

           

Caption

·          A good performer and longer lengths of the flat cable could solve some installation problems

 

 

PROWIRE PHC7715 (1.5m), £19.99

VERDICT ****

The all metal plug body look and feel really tough, and they’re heavy too, so make sure that whatever it’s going to be used with can take the strain. The cable is a fully wired design terminated at each end with 24K plated contacts. The standard of construction is very good and the contacts resisted our attempts to unseat them. Inside the build quality is neat with additional insulation on secondary joints, so there shouldn’t be any problems with chafing or intermittency. The cable is a heavyweight design, soft, flexible and shrouded in a tasteful blue outer layer. Reliability of contact is good and they fit very snugly. The shielding is highly effective and unaffected by movement or close proximity to power and other signal interconnects. Video passes through unhindered and here was no detectable increase in noise. Stereo and DPL imaging is sharp and the midrange is packed with crisp detail, bass is big and well rounded, treble is clean and unfettered. A definite all round improvement on standard offerings and built to last.

 

Contact Vivanco (01442) 403020

 

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Features             24K gold plated contacts, 100% PE copper braid shield, Teflon dielectric

           

Caption

·          Heavy duty industrial strength design that’s almost completely transparent

 

 

 

S-VIDEO TO S-VIDEO

 

HAMA 42784 (1.5m), £4.99

VERDICT ****

Physically the 4278 gets off to a good start, the moulded strain relief provides excellent protection around the cable exit point and the chrome-plated barrel/handle makes it easy to insert and withdraw the plug, insertion force is quite high but once in place it stays put. The shield and pins are all gold plated and overall the standard of construction appears to be very good. The chrome barrel can be unscrewed and it is largely cosmetic but it’s a tight fit and won’t come undone by accident. It’s a moulded construction so we can’t say much about build quality, apart from the fact that the joints are solid and free of any intermittency. The screening is effective both against external sources of interference and between the Y and C signal paths and the cable is stable with no visible effect on the video signal during the flex and kink tests. There was no increase in noise and no visible change in image quality so it gets a clean bill of health.

 

Contact Hama (01256) 374700

 

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Features gold plated contacts, chrome plated body, moulded strain relief, OFC cable

           

Caption

·          A decent quality lead for a very fair price

 

 

PROFIGOLD PGV6605 (5m) £24.99

VERDICT ****

This is another lead where the moulded construction prevents us from having a poke around inside but encapsulating all of the connections and the cable does provide additional security and protection. It just means that if something does come adrift it cannot be repaired. However, the price looks reasonable – it is a 5-metre length – and judging by what we can see of it, build quality is good. The shield and pins are all gold plated and the (mostly) decorative sleeve is made of a lightweight alloy; a knurled ring gives you something to get hold when plugging and unplugging. The cable is double screened, clad in a darkish blue outer sleeve and it’s moderately flexible. S-Video signals do not travel especially well and runs over 10 metres can run into problems with noise but there’s no sign of any problems with this cable, which is completely transparent, very stable and with highly effective screening. All the signs point to it being a quality item and good value too, especially for systems requiring a longer cable run.

 

Contact            Bandridge (020) 8542 2665

 

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Features             gold plated, double screened, moulded strain relief

           

Caption

·          Good at any length but a 5-metre run could come in handy for PC to TV hook-ups

 

 

PROWIRE PHC8815, £16.99

VERDICT ***

The short profile could turn out to be quite useful in a tight situation, on installations where’s there’s restricted room behind the back panel. It looks quite smart and the rubber finger grip around the collar makes it easy to fit and remove; insertion force is a little above average, it feels very positive and secure. The collar unscrews and it’s possible to see that the soldering quality is only mediocre and on one end a secondary insulating sleeve had been omitted whilst the other was rucked up and could do no good whatsoever. A toothed metal clamp provides strain relief, it deforms the cable but the outer layer is thick and protecting the twin screen cabled inside. Video performance was good on all counts with no change to noise levels or any degradation of the signal. The 8815 has the potential to be a very good cable indeed, and it passed the electrical checks without any difficulty, but we’re a little concerned by what appears to be somewhat slapdash quality control.

 

Contact             Vivanco (01442) 403020

 

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Features             24K gold plated, OFC conductor, double shielding

 

Caption

·          A compact good looking interconnect but build quality on our sample was suspect

 

 

IXOS 124AV-100 (1.0m), £17.95

VERDICT *****

The fat green cable might look like an off-cut from a set of jumper leads but there’s no question that what’s inside the softer outer sheath is quality schmutter. The twin conductors are made from PC-OFC with OFC shield braiding and the whole caboodle is encased in an aluminium foil wrap for good measure. The plugs are quality items too with gold plated contacts and a solid-looking strain relief clamp to protect the clean soldered joints. A threaded metal collar with knurled grip makes then easy to handle. It never missed a beat during the stability tests with no detectable change in the picture, or when laid alongside other signal carrying leads or power cables. We’re not wholly convinced by the signal flow arrows printed on the outer insulating layer, it works perfectly well in both directions though there is a theory that prolonged use results in a realignment of the crystals that effectively polarises the lead. In fact it’s hard to see how the performance could be improved upon since it appears to be 100% transparent.

 

Contact Path Group, (01494) 441736

 

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Features             gold plated, PC-OFC conductor, twin screening

           

Caption

·          A big cable for a big super clean signal

 

 

STEREO PHONO TO PHONO

 

HAMA 44030 (1.5m), £16.99

VERDICT *****

The 44030 has the makings of a very fine set of interconnects. It’s a pseudo-balanced configuration, which mimics the characteristics of pro-style ‘balanced’ audio connections (two conductors inside an earthed screen). However, phonos have only two connections so to avoid the screen becoming a signal path the foil and braid screen is connected the outer/earth at one end only. Inside two independent oxygen free conductors carry the signal, the whole thing is encased in a tough outer protective layer with a polyethylene filling; arrows printed on the outside show the preferred direction of signal travel. The plugs are high-grade items too, with gold plated split centre pins for good contact integrity. The metal outer collars provide a good level of protection for the emerging cable, which is retained by a simple metal clamp. The 44030 produces mostly neutral sound, bass and treble details are very cleanly resolved, revealing extra subtleties and fixing DPL effects more firmly in the soundfield  

 

Contact Hama (01256) 374700

 

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Features     hard plated gold, OFC conductors, polyethylene filler, aluminium foil screening, pseudo balanced

           

Caption

·          A well made cable with quality connectors

 

 

PROFIGOLD PGA4201 (1m), £14.99

VERDICT ****

The design and construction of this interconnect is almost entirely conventional, though the shorter than normal length option of 1 metre (other standard lengths are of course available) is worth a mention since most leads are way too long and this might make the back of your system look a little less like a rats nest. The plugs at either end have a solid centre pin; this and the earth shroud are both gold plated. The knurled alloy collar is purely decorative, and very nice it looks too. Removing the collar reveals little except for an all moulded interior and cable strain relief. This bodes well for reliability and our tests confirm that the connections are indeed very stable. The cable is a 99.96% oxygen free copper type. The screening is effective and it sounds fine, treble notes occasionally lack the pin-sharpness of the very best interconnects but you have to listen hard and often to be aware of it, and even then it’s subtle enough to be debatable.

 

Contact            Bandridge (020) 8542 2665

 

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Features             gold plated contacts, OFC conductors, twin coaxial, moulded construction

 

Caption

·          A good all rounder and the shorter length will help tidy your system

 

 

VAN DEN HUL STORM II (0.8m), £29.95

VERDICT *****

Storm II is the only twin lead set in this group, it’s also the only one to come with it’s own life history in the packaging. It certainly makes interesting reading, for example we learn that the single strand centre conductor is made from high grade copper with a dense and very pure layer of silver and van den Hul’s own Linear Structured Carbon coating. The brown outer layer, which we have to say makes it look a bit like cheap TV aerial wire, is made from a chemically inert material called Hulliflex 3, and so on. Actually it is a very impressive piece of kit and the plugs are very well engineered with all contacts gold plated and it has very effective strain relief. Being the dearest (and the shortest) means they have a lot to live up to, and we’re pleased to report they do not disappoint, they sound totally clean and there’s an added precision to treble sounds and effects which appear to be more sharply defined within the soundfield, compared with standard freebie phonos. In the context of this roundup they’re quite expensive but the better your gear the better they’ll sound.

 

Contact van den Hul (020) 8997 4280

 

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Features             single strand high grade copper conductor, Hulliflex 3 outer jacket

           

Caption

·          No, it’s not a cheapo aerial cable, this is a class act!

 

 

STERLING GOLD SG22 (1.5m), £12.99

VERDICT ****

Printed signal path arrows on the outside of the cable suggested that this might be a classy pseudo balanced lead or even an exotic ‘polarised’ design. However, opening it up confirmed what the modest price was telling us, that it is a fairly ordinary single conductor coaxial – albeit a good quality OFC type – and the arrows are merely decoration. To be fair build quality is very good and the gold-plated plugs are well made with solid strain relief clamps. The plastic outer covers have a rubbery collar, though this makes them quite fat and on at least one of the devices we tried it with the plug bodies are hard up against each other, which can’t be good for the sockets. Our suspicious about the arrow business were confirmed by reversing the leads, with no discernible difference in audio quality. On the whole they performed well, they have a clean open sound but there’s a touch of shrillness at the top end with some instruments not being as clearly defined as they might otherwise be, nevertheless, it’s well made and good value.

 

Contact Keene Electronics (01332) 830550

 

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Features             gold plated contacts, OFC conductors

           

Caption

·          Ignore the little arrows, this is a normal coaxial cable, and watch the plug thickness, they can be a tight squeeze

 

 

 

TRIPLE  PHONO TO PHONO

 

HAMA 43134 (2m), £8.99

VERDICT ****

At first glance the 43134 looks pretty much like the standard offering you get with items of AV equipment, though appearances can be deceptive. The plugs conform to the usual colour coding with red and white for the stereo audio pair, and yellow for composite video. They are a moulded construction, so we couldn’t open them up, however the pins and contacts are nickel plated for corrosion resistance. This particular lead set is 2 metres long, which is a useful length if your system boxes are spread around the room. What makes the 43134 different is the type of cable, and the way it has been formed. The video cable is in the middle and a noticeably thicker grade, for the wider bandwidth of the video signal. In practice this seems to provide better screening and improved stability, compared with an ordinary freebie, certainly our flex and twist tests had no impact on either picture or sound quality. The video feed was very clean but treble on the audio feed sounded just a touch harsh, lacking the clinical clarity of the one or two of the others.   

 

Contact Hama (01256) 374700

 

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Features             nickel-plated contacts, coaxial, moulded construction

           

Caption

·          Not much to look at but a notch up on most ordinary giveaway interconnects

 

 

PROFIGOLD PGV5302 (1.5m), £19.99

VERDICT ****

There is a clear family resemblance between the 5302 and the Profigold stereo interconnects, down to the silver-grey plugs and OFC copper cable. The composite video cable is joined on to the stereo pair and it’s a good deal thicker. Though all three plugs use the same moulded construction and strain relief. The plugs have colour coded lettering around the metal sleeve to delineate between audio (red and black) and video (yellow), though you have look quite closely to spot it. Like its stereo stablemate the audio leads are conventionally wired coaxial with gold plated contacts and a solid centre pin. Physically the leads are well put together and resisted our best attempts to induce any intermittency. They’re a fairly tight fit needing a little more than average force to insert and withdraw. The slightly strident treble we noted on the stereo leads was nowhere to be heard on this set, which had a largely neutral sound. Composite video signals emerged with no additional noise and the screening proved to be effective. 

 

Contact            Bandridge (020) 8542 2665

 

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Features             gold plated contacts, 99.96% OFC cable, moulded construction

 

Caption

·          A solid set of interconnects at a sensible price

 

 

STERLING GOLD SG32 (1.5m), £15.99

VERDICT **

The SG32 shares a number of features with the SG22 phono to phono interconnect, including the chunky plugs, but the cable is a rather different, not to say much more ordinary item. It’s a three-way coaxial and like most of the other triple phono leads in this roundup it uses a heavier grade cable for the video feed. The audio cables are quite a bit thinner than the SG22, and there’s no silly arrows this time, however the standard of construction does leave something to be desired. Because the cable is a good deal thinner the metal strain relief clamps get no grip whatsoever and the cable slides in and out. One sharp tug and the connection will be broken. This is a major flaw and spoils an otherwise competent Interconnect. The video cable provides a clean and practically noiseless signal path, the audio connection is okay though DPL and stereo imaging is a little muddied and some effects are not quite as crisply defined as the better twin phono and one or two of the triple phono leads.

 

Contact Keene Electronics (01332) 830550

 

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Features            gold plated contacts, OFC conductors

 

Caption

·          A potentially decent lead let down by ineffective strain relief

 

 

IXOS 171AV-200 (2m), £29.95

VERDICT *****

The flying lead construction on the 171AV is unique in this group -- the thick green cable has no separate shielding of it’s own – it simply protects the three individually screened cables. This arrangement also reduces the amount of room needed around the back panel and lessens the likelihood of the cables being sharply kinked. In fact screening isn’t an issue since each cable has a Mylar aluminium wrap around the conductor’s outer insulation, and that is encased in an OFC braid. The plugs are also top-grade items with gold plated conductors and effective strain relief in the form of tight metal clamps. The centre pin is split for increased contact efficiency, giving a good tight fit. Although the three cables look to be identical -- apart from the colour-coded insulation – and appear to have the same electrical characteristics, what’s good for high-frequency video is clearly beneficial for the passage of audio signals and there is no discernible colouration across the band. A highly competent set of interconnects and a possible problem solver for tight situations

 

Contact Path Group, (01494) 441736

 

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Features             gold plated contacts, PC-OFC conductors, OFC braid, aluminium foil wrap screens

           

Caption

·          Sure-footed performance and excellent build       quality

 

 

PHONO TO PHONO

 

PROFIGOLD PGD491 (0.75m), £29.99

VERDICT ****

There’s little doubt where the money is going on this interconnect, so much high class ironmongery and fancy wirework is bound to cost a bob or two; the question is, is it worth it? From the point of view of design and build quality the answer has to be yes. The connectors – dead ringers for acclaimed ‘WBT’ phonos - - are about as far removed from ordinary phono plugs, as it is possible to get. To begin with they’re a locking’ clamp’ type design that grips the socket tenaciously by screwing back the chrome plated collar and inside they’re built like the proverbial brick outhouse. All contacts are gold plated and the centre pin is split. The cable is a 99.997% oxygen free type – we’ll take the manufacturer’s word for than – and it’s double shielded. After that little lot you may be forgiven for expecting us to say the performance blew our socks off. Maybe there are combinations of equipment where does make a difference but all we can say is that it works perfectly well, it looks great and we suspect it will last forever.

 

Contact            Bandridge (020) 8542 2665

 

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Features             gold plated contacts, 99.997% pure OFC, double shielded cable, locking connector

           

Caption

·          big and butch and they deserve to be seen

 

 

PROWIRE PHC113OD (3m), £12.99

VERDICT *****

Although the front of the packaging only lists AV amplifier to sub-woofer ‘Digital Audio’ does get a mention on the back, so we’ll take it as read that using it for digital coaxial hook-ups is an approved application. The cable and plugs are finished in the same all red/burgundy finish and moulded construction used on the Prowire stereo interconnect and the specs appear to be pretty much the same, including the fact that impedance is 50 ohms, rather than the more usual 75 ohms. All contacts are gold plated and the centre pin is solid, insertion force is a little lower than usual but the fit is secure and unlikely to come adrift. Contact quality is good too and was unaffected by a good hard jiggle, the screening also appeared to be effective, even when the cable was run alongside cables carrying video and audio signals. Compared with the ‘dedicated’ coaxial leads in this roundup we could detect no change in 5.1 quality or indeed any significant differences in soundfield that couldn’t be put down to other factors. 

 

Contact Vivanco (01442) 403020

 

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Features            gold plated contacts, OFC conductors, moulded construction, 50 ohm impedance

 

Caption

·          Cheap and cheerful and it does the job

 

 

STERLING GOLD SG12 (1.5m), £12.99

VERDICT **

The SG12 is a bit of an oddball; the cable appears to be a relatively ordinary low-loss OFC coax with a solid conductor but the phono plugs at either end are an unusually elaborate-looking design. They’re all metal construction with gold-plated contacts and screen grip with a two-part barrel and strain-relief collar. The quality of manufacture is clear to see and they’re certainly not going to come apart in a hurry. They are a good tight fit and the knurled collar means they’re easy to get hold of.  The choice of cable is a surprise, whilst there’s nothing wrong with it electrically, in this kind of application, but it’s not especially resilient and the single conductor doesn’t take kindly to excessive handling. The performance turned out to be satisfactory on the first of our tests but a fault developed during the check flex test. Taking the plug apart revealed that the central conductor had failed, and this was after just a couple of fairly gentle jiggles. It may be that our sample was an unlucky one-off but it is a cause for concern.

 

Contact Keene Electronics (01332) 830550

 

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Features             gold plated contacts, OFC

           

Caption

·          great plugs but the solid core cable needs to be treated with kid gloves

 

 

VAN DEN HUL SOURCE HYBRID (0.8m), £34.95

VERDICT ****

There’s a definite feel-good factor attached to this interconnect. The flyer in the (surprisingly cheap) packaging congratulates you on your purchase, spends some time telling you about the materials and manufacturing processes involved and then finishes off by wishing you many happy hours of listening. This all goes some way to softening the highish price, though be assured you can spend a lot more on cables from this esteemed maker. The conductor is made from 40-strand high-grade copper material and like its twin phono stablemate, there are additional layers and coatings, with a dense and highly efficient screen braid woven from silver coated match crystal OFC copper strands, 216 of them to be precise. The outer jacket is made of Hulliflex 5 and the plugs are identical to the precision jobbies on the twin phonos. There is no doubting the cable’s electrical performance and build quality and equally we are sure there are devices at the very high-end of the audio market that can reveal its qualities, however we cannot say hand on heart that in our tests it sounded any better than the others in this group.  

 

Contact van den Hul (020) 8997 4280

 

UP CLOSE

Features             silver coated linear structured carbon high-grade copper conductor, Hulliflex 5 outer jacket

           

Caption

·          impressively engineered but pricey

 

 

TOSLINK OPTICAL

 

PROFIGOLD PGD565 (5m), £49.99

VERDICT ****

This new blue ‘special edition’ Profigold optical cable is available in a range of lengths; the one we’ve been looking at is a 5-metre type, which could come in handy if your boxes are widely separated. The construction is very similar to that of a couple of other optical interconnects in this round up, so similar in fact we’re tempted to suggest that several of them may even be made in the same factory. The design is fairly straightforward with a gold plated tip and self-adjusting (spring loaded) core. The optical fibre is billed as an ultra low-loss PMMA material with a polished spherical surface with low attenuation. The outside is protected by an outer layer of high strength PVC. The connector has a good positive fit requiring moderately low insertion force. Stability is excellent and there was no detectable change in 5.1 or stereo audio during the flex and twist portion of the test, nor any differences that could be attributed to the longer than average length.

 

Contact            Bandridge (020) 8542 2665

 

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Features            Spherical polished fibre, gold plated tip

 

Caption

·          five metres of flexible fibre-optic finesse

 

 

PROWIRE PHCTT15 (1.5m), £19.99

VERDICT ****

A familiar looking design, almost certainly very closely related to one or two others in this group. The key features include a core made from medical grade optical fibre, encase in a durable PVC outer coat. At each end there’s a spring-loaded tip, it’s gold plated too, though we’re not sure what the benefits are, apart from corrosion resistance. The plug body is made from alloy and halfway up there’s a ribbed rubber grip, for your pleasure, and to make it easier to push in and pull out -- oo-er missus…This particular lead is 1.5 metres long and finished in a fetching grey colour. The mechanics are good and it fits securely. The datastream was completely unmoved by our tortuous tangle test. Listening checks involving both stereo audio from CD and 5.1 sources on DVD revealed no significant differences between this interconnect and our reference standard lead. Build quality is good and the price is fair

 

 

Contact Vivanco (01442) 403020

 

UP CLOSE

Features             medical grade optical cable, gold plated tips, precision alloy moulded plugs

           

Caption

·          Grey and unassuming but it works well

 

STERLING GOLD SG91 (1m), £14.99

VERDICT *****

If you are starting to experience a disturbing sense of déjà vu then it is hardly surprising since the SG91 appears to be almost identical to other Toslink leads in this roundup. This is a one-metre length, 2.5 and 5.0 metre lengths are also available (£19.99 and £24.99 respectively). However, as this example clearly illustrates there is one very obvious difference and that’s the price. This lead is currently selling for between half and three quarters as much as some of it’s rivals, as far as we can determine there is absolutely no visible difference, apart from some variations in the colour scheme, indeed we would be willing to wager 50 pence they are all peas from the same pod are probably all made in the same factory. The sometimes flowery descriptions relating to the fibre optic cable vary slightly from make to make but all of our checks indicate that there is nothing to choose between any of them when it comes to performance and stability or any of the connector’s physical properties.  You pays your money…

 

Contact Keene Electronics (01332) 830550

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features             self-adjusting, gold plated tip

           

Caption

·          An old friend but check out the price on this one

 

 

IXOS 106-100 (1m), £29.95

VERDICT ****

Appearances to the contrary this is a very lightweight design and the fat shiny connector barrels at both ends are actually made of plastic. Nevertheless build quality is satisfactory with effective strain relief, but unlike some varieties of optical connector the tip is rigidly mounted.  The optical fibre is a highly efficient medical grade type; it is protected by an inner black sheath and a softer and flexible PVC jacket. The ‘Optix’ connector engages in the socket with a reassuringly positive feel but insertion and withdrawal force are certainly not excessive. The connectors are unusually broad in the beam and whilst we’re not aware of any products where it could be problem, it’s as well to check since the extra girth could put it very close to other nearby connectors.  Try as we might we couldn’t detect any audible differences between this cable and the others, and it proved to be just as stable as its rivals, with no changes in stereo or 5.1 quality when the cable was flexed or twisted.   

 

Contact Path Group, (01494) 441736

 

UP CLOSE

Features             medical grade optical fibre, gold plated tip

           

Caption

·          podgy little chaps but the fibre inside is top grade stuff

 

 

THE VERDICT

We made several interesting discoveries and confirmed one or two long held suspicions during the course of this group test. The first and most important one was that in the applications we’re looking at here – namely mid-market to high-end home cinema -- you don’t have to spend a fortune to get good results. We were surprised – but not too much -- by the number of cloned leads bearing different manufacturer’s names but clearly manufactured in the same factory, sometimes cheekily selling at widely differing prices. This was especially true of the optical interconnects, where there was the widest price differentials and the least variation in performance.

 

Overall the quality of manufacture was commendably high, and that’s definitely something worth paying for, and one of the most noticeable differences between these leads and the ones that come in the box, when you buy an item of AV equipment. Behind the scenes we included a few freebies in the checks to give us some baselines to work from and although most of them performed satisfactorily it was clear that not all of them were not going to last very long and probably wouldn’t have survived our physical checks.

 

We hope we can put to rest the age-old question about whether or not the formulation of the signal-carrying conductor in a cable can influence sound quality. We noted a number of quite distinct changes to upper and lower frequency elements in our tests recordings during side by side listening tests. The differences were most apparent on the twin and triple phono interconnects, there was comparatively little to choose between the SCART to SCART leads though and we suspect this could be due to a relatively small number of sources for this kind of specialised multi screen cable.

 

Our S-Video lead group also produced only very minor variations that we are reluctant to ascribe to the electrical characteristics of the cables, or would be reproducible or meaningful on a larger sample. The jury is still our on the coaxial digital interconnects, we had hoped that after prolonged listening tests we would be able to say unequivocally that there was a good case for spending a few bob on a top-flight lead, but in all honesty we can’t. We’ll bow to the superior aural sensitivities of those who say that the differences exist, but our feeling is that you’re not going to hear them on the kind of equipment, or on the sort of material, that most home cinema enthusiasts are likely to encounter, even if you do have a top-flight set up. Put it this way, if you could buy a small car with what you spent on the digital components in your system and you can hear a fly fart at fifty feet it’s highly unlikely you’d give houseroom to any of these interconnects in the first place, they’re all far too cheap…

 

The most important thing to have come out of this test is clear evidence that there is a good chance that you’ll improve the performance your home cinema system by upgrading to a set of good quality leads. We have to say that the benefits increase in direct proportion to the quality of the components and the best leads in the world are not going to make a scrap of difference to the performance of a crappy DVD player, cheapo amplifier nasty speakers or an old TV that’s on it’s last legs. On the other hand don’t let that stop you buying good leads, they’re an investment, you know they won’t be responsible for the lousy picture and sound, and you’ll reap the benefits as and when you upgrade.

 

BEST IN TEST

This somewhat eclectic collection of products is a fairly representative snapshot of what’s available in the mid-market sector of the interconnects market and within each group one lead stood out, either in terms of performance, price or simple desirability. The clear winner in the SCART section – and hang the price – was the Ixos ‘Mallard’, we only wish SCART sockets were on the front of AV boxes. The top S-Video lead was the Hama 42784, it worked as well as the rest but is all yours for a fiver. Hama take top honours again for the 44030 twin phono lead, though if your system warrants it the van den Hul Storm IIs are the one’s to go for.  It’s back to Ixos and the 171AV-200s in the triple phono category but the Profigold PGV530 deserves a mention for performance and value for money. Now we come to the digital leads and in the absence of any significant performance differences we’ll go for the products that offer the best value for money and that is the Prowire PHC113OD coaxial lead, and for the optical interconnects it’s the Sterling Gold SG12 and Prowire PHCTT15.

 

RIVAL BUYS

You can very easily spend an absolute fortune on interconnects, though it’s comforting to know that the dearest isn’t always the best, in this situation at least. Cable freaks are often at pains to point out that interconnects can behave in strange and unpredictable ways when connected to different makes brands and types of equipment. One of the more expensive interconnects on the market – and we’re talking here about phono-to-phono types, is the Tara Labs Prism 55-1, which will set you back a cool £195 for a 1-metre length. That buys a set of wires using an oxygen free copper conductor that’s claimed to be 99.999999% (that’s eight 9’s, count ’em) pure. Audioquest Coral, which is practically being given away for £99 is a top rated audiophile interconnect. One of the most consistently praised leads is the QED Qnect Silver Spiral – which also looks stunning – that sells for just £90 or so for a one metre length. However, TCI Viper Interconnects from True Colour Industries are regularly to be seen on the winner’s podium and they sell for the impressively low price of just £55.  

 

 

TABLE 1                      

Make/Model

££s

Type

Length

Hama 29418

14.99

SCART

1.5

Profigold PGV782

29.99

SCART

1.5

Prowire PHC7715

19.99

SCART

1.5

Ixos 126-75AV

34.99

SCART

0.75

 

 

 

 

Hama 42784

4.99

S-Video

2.0

Profigold PGV6605

24.99

S-Video

5.0

Prowire PHC8815

16.99

S-Video

1.5

Ixos 124AV-100

17.95

S-Video

1.0

 

 

 

 

Hama 44030

16.99

2-phono

1.5

Profigold PGA4201

14.99

2-phono

1.0

van den Hul Storm II

29.95

2-phono

0.8

Sterling Gold SG22

12.99

2-phono

1.5

 

 

 

 

Hama 43134

8.99

3-phono

2.0

Profigold PGV5302

19.99

3-phono

1.5

Sterling Gold SG32

15.99

3-phono

1.5

Ixos 171AV-200

29.95

3-phono

2.0

 

 

 

 

Profigold PGD491

29.99

Coax dig

0.75

Prowire PHC113OD

12.99

Coax dig

3.0

Sterling Gold SG12

12.99

Coax dig

1.5

van den Hul Hybrid

34.95

Coax dig

0.8m

 

 

 

 

Profigold PGD565

49.99

Optical

5.0

Ixos 106-100

29.95

Optical

1.0

Sterling Gold SG91

14.99

Optical

1.0

Prowire PHCTT15

19.99

Optical

1.5

 

 

---end---

ã R. Maybury 2000 1703

 

 

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