December 1, 2005Alpha-Core Goertz AG 2 Speaker Cables and TQ 2 Interconnects
The accepted wisdom among audio writers is that reviewing cables is a thankless task. One has only to read the audio journals to hear about the shootouts and the dead (usually copper-skinned) cables left lying in their wake. Take that, the reviewer concludes, and the reader is left wondering how the writer ever came to that conclusion. For a more "man-in-the-street" perspective, read the Internet forums, especially the noisy "my-cables-are-better-than-yours" variety. Like most, I read about copper snakes, silver snakes, gold-plated snakes, and find out that, yes, the cables I currently own are still dead. But common sense tells me that buying new cables would mean spending money I just dont have.
Fortunately, the subject of this review, Alpha-Cores solid-silver Goertz AG 2 speaker cables ($1088 USD per 8 pair) and TQ 2 interconnects ($186 per 1m pair) could make going into debt for new cables a thing of the past.
My system for this review was: JVC XL-Z1010TN and XL-Z1050 CD players (both modified); Philips DVD 963, Sony DVP-9000ES, and Philips SACD 1000 (modified) SACD players; First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk.II preamplifier; ASL Hurricane monoblock power amplifiers; Nola Elite Viper Plus loudspeakers; Nordost Valhalla interconnects and Valkyrja speaker cables; Finite Elemente Spider Rack with Cerabases; later on, the Benchmark DAC1 digital-to-analog converter and Meridian 508.24 CD player joined the fray.
Having installed the AG 2s and TQ 2s, I found myself unexcited by them. I clearly heard what they werent doing: They werent adding sizzle to the upper midrange, or over-the-top bass, or midbass boost. That was exactly the problem: they werent testifying. I didnt notice them at all. In fact, I thought they were pretty innocuous because the soundstage didnt seem bigger, deeper, wider. It took some time for me to wonder if they were just "nice" cables. They sounded nearly the same as my Nordost.
I should have thought this was a good thing, but how do you write about what isnt different with a new component? Nothing ever sounds completely real, even through the very best components. But theres so much emphasis in audio reviews on "better," which can simply mean "different," that whether or not a given component closely resembles a real violin or cello becomes superfluous.
The Goertzes characteristics were eventually revealed: wonderful microdynamics; considerable airiness; excellent midbass control, detail, and extension; Windex-clean midrange; and ethereal highs. Those with last-word systems will likely hear details in the highs that escape the Nola Elite Viper Plus speakers, which, good as they are, do not go out to the upper stratosphere. I bow to those with ribbon tweeters for the ultimate assessment of the Goertzes high frequencies, but in my system they were excellent. Nor was there any hardness when higher-range piano keys were banged on, when brass was blown hard (the surest and easiest test for upper-midrange glare), or any loss of delicacy, which for me is the sine qua non of audio reproduction.
Along with all that, the depth was stunning. I dont mean that the depth itself improved, but that, without the haze that fills the spaces between instruments, the depth was more apparent. Richard Tucker, in track 10 of a recording of Verdis La Traviata led by Fernando Previtali [RCA Living Stereo 68885-2], not only had air around his voice instead of a void, but the direction in which his voice traveled was easily apparent -- which speaks to a good sense of dimensionality as well as good focus. The Alpha-Cores also revealed great width and height of soundstage.
Higher-resolving digital -- the Benchmarks resolution or the natural sweetness of the Meridian -- gave differing accounts of the Goertzes sound. The wires stood aside to let these units entertain on their own merits. One of my favorite recordings is of Kurt Weills The Seven Deadly Sins [BMG 60119-2], with Marianne Faithfull in the role of Anna. The recording has everything: a three-pack-a-day singer (Faithfull), a barbershop-type vocal trio, and a full orchestra (the Vienna Radio Symphony). Through the AG 2s, Faithfulls voice was quite emotionally expressive. In "The Pirate Song," when Faithfull sings "this dirty shit hotel / will be spared rack and ruin / and youll say Whos the fancy bitch whos there?," I could easily hear the scorn in her voice, and a lilt to the tune that gives the song a yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum flavor common in pirate films of old.
I laughed out loud at the sheer fun the Goertzes "nonsound" allowed the system to deliver. This is no minor point. Too many cables push a system into sounding a certain way. The Goertz cables, in common with the Nordost, just allowed. This made music fun to listen to, and allowed recordings to sound different from each other.
I hate lean. Many so-called "transparent" cables thin out instruments in the midbass to lower-midrange frequencies, making their timbres sound emaciated. This is, to me, a coloration -- a shortcut to sounding transparent without actually being so. I have never heard this leanness live -- not in Carnegie Hall, Chicagos Symphony Hall, San Franciscos Davies Hall, or anywhere else. Brass always has weight in the midbass and the upper midrange. To slight either frequency is a deviation from reality.
The Alpha-Cores did not sound lean. Their sound was weighty, solid, and present. The Goertz cables could be called "polite" only in that they gave all frequencies equal weight. For amplifiers like the Antique Sound Lab Hurricanes, this was a match made in heaven, as the Hurricanes also have great weight from bottom to top. Synergy.
So it went, disc after disc: Miles Davis, the Juilliard Quartet, Leontyne Price, La Traviata with Anna Moffo and Richard Tucker, Bill Evans, Ray Brown, and Gwen Stefani. What I heard sounded more like the quality of the recording than the quality of the cables: good (the first six) and overly processed (Stefani).
Leaving aside discussions of capacitance vs. inductance, which I am not technically capable of addressing, the high-capacitance Alpha-Cores sounded every bit as good as my Nordost. I care about a cables design only if it freaks out my amps: from the ASL 1009, Arcam A65+, Arcam FMJ A22, and NAD C320BEE integrateds to my reference Antique Sound Lab Hurricane monoblocks, no problem -- whenever the recording was exceedingly beautiful, so was the performance of the Goertz cables. For example, A Heros Welcome, an improvised performance by Alan Silvia and William Parker [Eremite MTE017], sounds musically fascinating but sonically confused, and the Alphas didnt disguise that. But with good recordings, the Alpha-Cores allowed the Meridian CD player to show off its very low noise floor, picture-perfect frequency spectrum, airy delivery, great imaging, and, most important, its ability to move me to my soul.
When I raised the Goertz cables off the carpet, the presentation lost a very, very mild haze that obscured low-level information: fingers on guitar strings and air around tambourines. When I lived on the West Coast, I never let my cables sit on the floor. This was before cable elevators, during my Enid Lumley Period. That writer for The Abso!ute Sound taught us that maple was better than MDF, that microwave ovens should be turned off when listening to music, that cables should be straightened out, and that they should never, ever be laid along the floor. But somewhere between then and my move to the East Coast, I lost my way -- until two weeks ago, when I looked at my cable elevators, then at the Alpha-Cores. Hmm . . . Until then, the Goertz speaker cables had sounded great but a bit fuzzy. With the Goertzes elevated, the smaller inflections of instruments, including slight hesitations in playing (timing), were even more clearly revealed. This tweak improved all the CDs I listened to.
I recently got back my Nordost Valhallas (Interconnects are $3300 per meter pair; speaker cables are $7350 per eight-foot pair), now newly equipped with the WBT Nextgen connectors, and theyve been in the system for a couple of weeks. Just a few nights ago I sat there listening, thrilled by how stunning the Nextgen upgrade was -- all of my music was now so much more moving -- until I realized that Id installed the Goertz cables in the system two nights before, and that they were what Id been listening to. The sound was so similar to the Valhallas in my not-quite-state-of-the-art system that, as far as I can tell, the difference will be rather small for most listeners. Both lines were equal in their ability to tell me, say, where a null point was in the listening room. To my ears, neither was better than the other.
The one area where the Goertz cables were clearly superior to the Nordosts was in the midbass, where the Goertzes images were noticeably more solid than the Valhallas. The improvement in the midrange, perhaps barely less transparent than the Valhallas, may not be discernible unless you strain your ears, and the two makes high frequencies, as previously noted, were very close. I make the comparison so often to the Valhallas because theyre one of the darlings of the new millennium -- so far. (The Valkyrjas are not in the same league as the Alpha-Cores, sounding a bit too ethereal and lightweight.) Besides, the Alphas and Valhallas were so close in sound that it was astounding not to be able to know which was in the system. Your mileage may vary.
What I liked about the Goertz cables was how easily they told me things other cables dont, such as the correct orientation of ASC Tube Traps with, say, dipole speakers (such as the Nola line) as opposed to dynamic drivers. The Goertz cables and Nola speakers made my conclusions obvious, whereas other cables were not so immediately persuasive. The Alphas were also wonderful tools for discerning correct polarity, null points in the room, best imaging, soundstaging, tonal purity, bass weight, you name it. Negatives? Could have slightly more power in the lowest bass. Slightly.
The Alpha-Core Goertz AG 2 speaker cables and TQ 2 interconnects are wonderful. As with other neutral cables, if you dont like their sonic attributes, its either system incompatibility or you just dont like hearing the truth. An audio system can deliver only as much as can its weakest link. In my system, the Alphas were definite strengths.
Alpha-Core Goertz AG 2 Speaker Cables and TQ 2
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