March 15, 2003
Shunyata Research Constellation Series Aries Interconnects and Lyra Speaker CablesI know there are plenty of people for whom talk of interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords is a bunch of hooey. Well, they should give the folks at Astoria Studio in London a call. That's where David Gilmore of Pink Floyd fame does his thing. Or they can give Doug Sax and James Guthrie a call -- when they're done re-mastering Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for SACD, that is. If they are still not satisfied, they can try the Crest National SACD replication plant.
You see, they all use Shunyata Research products, as do high-end manufacturers such as Halcro, Balanced Audio Technology, Jeff Rowland Design Group, Audio Research, and Pass Labs -- just to name a few. They've all probably heard what I heard, and now there's no going back.
Shunyata Research came into being as the result of Caelin Gabriel's 15 years as the leading researcher for the National Security Agency, or NSA for short. Working in the field of low-level signal emissions, Gabriel developed equipment designed to extract and decode the most minute transmitted signal. With the elimination of electronic noise as an essential goal in this endeavor, Gabriel's skill set is a perfect fit for the field of high-end audio wire.
For reviewers, it is all too easy to sing the praises of the latest entry into the high-end wire game. I have become rather blasť when confronted by the prices of some of the mainstream manufacturers mega-cables and power cords. But the Aries interconnect makes this an exiting opportunity to spread the word -- for two very important reasons. First, the Aries is the jewel of the Shunyata Constellation series, not an easy achievement in such an accomplished repertoire, and it is also one of the finest interconnects I have ever used. Second, at $650 per meter pair, the Aries is one hell of a great deal.
Before I get to the nitty-gritty, let me introduce the rest of the players. At $1250 for an eight-foot pair, the Lyra speaker cable delivers well beyond what its price may suggest, if not to the revolutionary extent of the price:performance ratio that the Aries interconnect delivers. The Phoenix speaker cable, $1995 per eight-foot pair, resides above the Lyra, and topping off the Constellation series is the Andromeda speaker cable at $2995 per eight-foot pair.
Technically speaking, the Shunyata speaker cables represent a serious leap in geometry sophistication. Dubbed Matrix, this geometry consists of two counter-rotating spirals that are interlocked at the center point. Each spiral is composed of three, four, or six individual wires (depending upon the cable model). The spirals wind counter to one another to cancel common-mode interference patterns. The individual wire strands are widely spaced and cross at approximately 90-degree angles to eliminate cable capacitance. The open design with multiple smaller wires reduces self-inductance compared to conventional construction of equivalent wire gauge.
Matrix is the most complex braided geometry that I am aware of. Each cable must be braided by hand to length. In other words, if you need a ten-foot cable, it must be braided specially to that length. Obviously, those who braid the cable are very talented and have months of training.
The Aries interconnect is based upon three conductors that are of litz construction. There are more than 600 individually insulated fine strands of wire. The wires are wound around a hollow core to reduce inductance and are separated by isolation rods to reduce capacitance. The clear jacket material was chosen to reduce distortions caused by the carbon-based coloring agents in conventional insulation.
Don't let me down
My source is the Linn Sondek CD12 CD player. Preamp duties were split between the Jeff Rowland Coherence II and Pass Labs X2.5. Amplifier duties were split three ways among the Pass Labs X600 monoblocks, Krell FPB-700cx stereo amp, and Jeff Rowland Model 302 stereo amplifier. Avalon Radian, Talon Audio Khorus X, and Sonus Faber Amati Homage served as speakers. Power distribution was provided by both a Cinepro Power Pro 30 power conditioner and a Shunyata Research Hydra.
Just to put my experience with cables into a little perspective, I have owned or used wire from MIT, Transparent Audio, Cardas, Monster, and XLO. Of those, MIT's Oracle V2 line has found a permanent home in my system for the last two and a half years. MIT Oracle is one of the most accomplished designs around, and if you can afford the price of admission, you will not regret your choice.
I began the review by inserting the Aries interconnects and the Lyra speaker cables into the system in place of the MIT cables. I was not confronted with the expected let down one would anticipate from a product roughly one-ninth the cost of my reference. Quite to the contrary, and to my shock, the Aries/Lyra combo held its own -- and then some. There's a directness to the sound of the Shunyata combo that is riveting. Backed by a background that strikes me as close to total silence, sonic imagery simply pops into focus. The soundstage is something to behold -- wall to wall, the room fills with images like those presented on "Willow Weep For Me" from Duke Ellington's Indigos [Columbia CK-4444]. The spread of horns along the back of the stage creates a very strong illusion of the real thing. The air between and around the instruments was charged with energy, bringing the acoustic to life in a way that cables that smear minute details or lose low-level focus couldn't muster. Disc after disc confirmed that the Aries in particular was taking the state of the art in wire design closer to the ideal of no wire at all.
Other areas that really separate the best from the rest are how a wire renders tonal balance and timbre, and how well it can convey dynamic shading. Nearly every cable I have used has in one way or another altered one or all of these critical areas. In the case of the MIT Oracle V2, these areas are left relatively unscathed. Music breathes naturally, and high-level dynamics neither compress nor constrict the bloom of the instruments' natural timbre.
Here the Aries once again proves to be hot on the heels of the MIT. Dynamics seem to flow and breathe naturally. Used in conjunction with the Pass Labs X2.5 preamp and the new Jeff Rowland 302 stereo amp, the Shunyata cables portrayed some of the best dynamic contrasts I have ever heard outside a live performance. Subtle shifts in volume are rendered with grace, particularly in the treble where cymbals just shimmer with life. These interconnects and speaker cables should never be accused of being boring or rolled-off. Reaching for Tommy Flannigan's Sea Changes [Evidence 22191], I found the brushes on the snare and the blows landed upon the cymbals to possess complexity and action. Once again, there seems to be very little getting in the way of the signal's integrity.
Assuming you can clear the financial hurdle, if only a portion at a time, and your components are up to snuff, I suggest starting off with the Aries interconnects and the Lyra speaker cables -- even though Shunyata has pricier speaker cables. This combo will likely yield the greatest overall improvement. Even if you are using state-of-the-art wire, you may well find the Aries and Lyra more to your liking. Breaking it down even further, compared to the Aries interconnect, the Lyra speaker cables seem to have a slight subtractive coloration, perhaps favoring speed and transparency to heft and tonal weight. This was true when -- unfairly, mind you -- I compared the Lyra to the seven-times-the-price MIT Oracle V2.
There have never been so many choices confronting the audiophile. With every aspect of the high-end system being addressed, companies like Shunyata Research are finding ways of advancing and expanding the state of the art in high-end home audio. Those who have achieved a comfortable level of satisfaction with their systems can now find a large measure of improvement with the inclusion of the Shunyata product line without the worry of throwing off the hard-fought, delicate system balance that yields the sonic magic.
For the price of entry, the Aries interconnects and Lyra speaker cables offer an enormous amount of performance. The Aries, in particular, is flat-out awesome. The Lyra proved to be better suited to systems that need just a touch of speed and delineation. For instance, using the Lyra with the Sonus Faber Amati Homage, which is rather lush, proved to be a perfect match.
The level of refinement both in terms of transparency and accuracy of timbre, as well as the dynamic dexterity provided by the Shunyata lineup made the act of listening to music more of an event that I participated in rather than the passive, rather static relationship with the music that is often passed off as involvement. With the addition of the Shunyata products, my system truly became music to my ears.
Prices: Aries interconnects, $650 USD per meter pair; Lyra speaker cables, $1250 per eight-foot pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Shunyata Research Inc.
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