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My Audio Cables
What can MAC do for you…?

 

 November 2009

 
               

Over the last year or so, I’ve been seeing a lot of Internet buzz, mainly on AudioGon about a relatively new player in the audio cable game, My Audio Cables (MAC), which was founded in 2004 by its president and chief designer, Stephen Hallick. In view of the many positive comments about MAC and also noting that MAC cables were very affordable compared to other high-end company’s offerings, I thought it my duty to track down Mr. Hallick and see if he would supply some of his most popular cable models for review. After playing e-mail tag for a while, Stephen graciously came through and sent me a reviewer sampler box of his cables.

Any cable review using 5 different types/models of audio cables will introduce a myriad of new variables into a given audio system. I’ve noticed that many reviewers just take the whole gaggle of review cables and throw them into their systems and then try to report the results. I don’t know how valid or relevant this approach may be to someone who may be buying only one, two, or three cable products at one time, so I made a conscious choice to do things differently.

Conventional audiophile logic dictates that one should wire a complete system with the same model and brand of cables. In my case, since I received 3 different models of interconnects, I not only tried each model individually in two or three different systems, but I tried the MAC cables in different combinations with one another as the manufacturer suggests (and other ways not suggested). Thus, I not only know how the cables sound working together, but how each one sounds separately. The results may surprise you, so read on…

Cable Candidates
I evaluated the following MAC products:

Power Cords: MAC HC Sound Pipes in 3-foot and 5-foot lengths.
These hand-made cables contain 3-strands of 10AWG pure oxygen-free stranded copper wire with a pure Teflon dielectric, and TechFlex mesh covering. Price: $149 for 3’ and $189 for 5’

Speaker Cables: MAC CuQ Sound Pipes in 6-foot length.
8AWG pure copper stranded conductors with quality gold-plated
banana plugs or spade lugs. Price $209 for 6’ pair



Interconnects: MAC UltraSilver+ Sound Pipes, one 3-foot pair.
22AWG polished pure silver conductors. Review samples had the original MAC silver center-conductor RCA plugs (Cardas or Neutrik RCA’s also available). Price: $199

MAC Palladium Sound Pipes, one 3-foot pair.
Palladium cables use air as the primary dielectric with Teflon as the secondary. These cables are unshielded, have a high DC resistance and use a silver center conductor. Price: $429

MAC Mystics Sound Pipes, one 3-foot pair.
Mystics cables use 24AWG gold/silver alloy conductors that are heavily internally dampened. They use a proprietary twist and a Teflon/air dielectric. Mystics come with either silver-soldered WBT or ETI Silver BulletPlugŪ RCA’s (review samples). Price: $499

Note: none of the MAC cables in this group are shielded. The decision to use unshielded cables can be a double-edged sword. The upside is that the cables may sound a bit smoother or more musical, while the downside is that the cables are not protected from picking up EMI or RFI and can raise the noise floor of a given system. Hallick suggested that the interconnect cables might not work well as phono cables because this is a high-gain position that would tend to magnify any noise issues.


To the chase
Okay then, my first contestant is the MAC HC Sound Pipes power cord. After playing with different power cords on my Whest PS.30RDT phono stage and trying to find “just-the-right-one,” I chanced to install the 3-foot HC Sound Pipes (aptly named) power cord. Now I know what you’re thinking… “Why is this guy putting a 10-gauge power cord on a phono preamp?” Well, hush your mouth, because your preconceptions are wrong!

To my surprise, the HC power cords caused my phono playback to spring to life. The bass grew deeper and had a greater sense of slam; there was greater front-to-back depth in the soundstage, and the dynamic swings just about knocked me out of my seat. This was a serious improvement. When I went back to other power cords of even the 14-gauge variety, the soundstage flattened out and the dynamic swings sounded very tame by comparison.

I then tried the 5-foot HC power cord on my Cary CAD 120S tube amplifier in my large-room reference system. In that position, the sound was just a touch smoother than my favorite 14-gauge Belden-type cord and seemed a bit more expansive. However, I did not experience the same degree of dynamic improvement that was plainly evident on my Whest phono stage in the small-room system.

This may have much to do with the power supply design of the respective components, but since there were improvements in both systems, I can heartily recommend the MAC HC Sound Pipes power cords.

Next up, were the CuQ SoundPipes speaker cables. I installed these in the small system in conjunction with the HC power cord on the phono stage and the sound became smoother, but also more forward. The heavy-gauge CuQ’s certainly had plenty of sock and no real drawbacks. I think that they may not have been as forward if used in combination with an all-MAC cable chain, but unfortunately I did not have a long enough pair of MAC interconnects to put that theory to the test.

Truth be told, I liked the SignalCable Silver Resolution’s more neutral soundstage perspective just a little better. However, these results could easily vary according to the system synergy (or lack thereof) with one’s particular components and other associated cables.

The MAC Interconnects
Evaluating the MAC interconnects was interesting because although there is a family resemblance, the three MAC models proved to have their differences.

I’ll begin by saying that all of the MAC models sounded very good. If there is one trait that they shared it would be an innate smoothness. Indeed, the MAC cables are among the smoothest sounding cables I’ve ever heard. And by smoothness I mean freedom from grain rather than lack of detail.

I initiated my experiments with the UltraSilver+ SoundPipes. I first inserted them into a system that used a vintage (and quite good sounding) Onkyo receiver for power and the Ohm MicroWalsh Tall SE speakers. This system also employed a G&W dedicated headphone amplifier and a pair of Sennheiser HD595 headphones.

My immediate impression upon hearing the UltraSilver+ with familiar male and female vocalists was first that the cables are smooth (that word again) and second, that they are very coherent and natural-sounding.

Trusting my first impression, I transplanted the UltraSilver+ into my large-room reference system between my CD player and tube line stage. I was playing Eagle-Eye Cherry’s “Comatose” from his Desireless CD (Sony/Work OK 69434) and was very impressed by the naturalness of the vocal, which sounded particularly open and well focused. The highs were sweet and extended while the lows had very good articulation. Overall, I liked these a little better than the SignalCable Silver Resolutions they replaced, mainly due to the airy quality in the upper treble and the grainless coherent midrange reproduction.

The Paradoxical Palladium
My curiosity made me look up the definition of the word “palladium” in the North American Encarta dictionary: “a malleable silvery-white metallic element resembling platinum. Use: catalyst, in electrical contacts, jewelry, dental alloys, medical instruments.” “Hmmm,” I mused…

MAC states that the Palladiums have a high DC resistance and use a silver center conductor. Indeed, whipping out my trusty multi-meter, I compared the resistance of a 3-foot Palladium to a 3-foot SignalCable Silver Resolution. Sure enough, the resistance of the Palladium cable was over fifteen times that of the Silver Resolution cable.

I cannot help but wonder what effect the increased resistance of a long cable run would have on a given system’s performance. Sorry my friends, I can’t answer that as I was only sent a 3-foot pair.

Swapping them into the same CD-to-preamp position as the UltraSilver+, I was a bit perplexed by the results. The Palladiums threw a huge but somewhat diffuse soundstage, and sounded very smooth and sweet—overly smooth, really. And the bass was ample with a lot of bloom and energy, but was not very taut or well defined. I took a pause to scratch my head and deduced that I had created a classic mismatch.

Shortly thereafter, I removed the Palladiums from the large-room system and took them up to the small-room reference. There I used the Palladiums on an Oppo DV-970HD DVD player feeding directly into my VTL amp and Maggie 1.6 speakers.

In this position, the Palladiums sounded much better. The focus and detail improved noticeably, the bass was big and bouncy, and there was a slight sweetness to the sound that many will find beguiling. My overall view is that the Palladium has a tendency to sound like a vintage “Loudness” control, whereby the bass and treble (lower treble really) are slightly elevated. This left me with the impression that the midrange was mildly recessed, and curiously, I would say it sounded a bit thin in the lower midrange. With Ingrid Michaelson’s ukulele, for example, on her song “Be OK,” the string sound was not as rich and full-bodied as I remembered it being.

Overall, the Palladiums sounded quite good. I believe they will appeal to certain individuals who like their particular character, or perhaps those who own speakers that are a bit bass-shy. I know from my first test that there is the potential for system mismatch with the Palladiums. Afterwards I used them in combination with other MAC cables, which yielded an expansive and musical presentation, though not the most precisely focused that I have heard.

Mystical Magic
Sorry about the subtitle, I couldn’t help myself. The last, and most expensive pair of MAC interconnects I received for review are the Mystics. While the UltraSilver+ and the Palladiums are both relatively light cables inside poofy black braided jackets, the Mystics have a much weightier feel and use the ETI Silver BulletPlug RCA’s, instead of the original silver MAC RCA’s that came on the previously mentioned interconnects.

I first installed the Mystics in my smaller system between the Oppo DVD player and my VTL ST-85 amp. My initial impression was that the Mystics sounded very clean, were better focused than the Palladiums, and did not sweeten or glamorize the sound much, if at all. They are more matter-of-fact, and seem to pass music signals without altering them to any significant degree.

On Vinx’s “Squeeze You,” from I Love My Job (Pangaea 2-13152), the scope and layering of the soundstage involved virtually the entire room stretching out from far left to right, and from well behind the front plane of the speakers—with some special percussive effects seeming to come from a place behind me. They put on a clinic for how the interplay of the bass drum, main & backing vocals, and percussive sounds all wove together to form an extremely cohesive musical fabric. This made for a very captivating experience.

While the Mystics have very good low frequency extension, they also possess a tight grip that reveals more of what is going on with bass instruments. When I put them between my Whest phono stage and Parasound line stage, the bass on many recordings, such as the B52’s “Love Shack” and “Midas Touch” by Midnight Star, really came to life. The drums and electric bass had a solidity and palpability I could feel.

In addition, on cuts like “Midas Touch,” there was more of a sense of continuity to stereo effects as they traveled from left to right and back again. The Mystics expose more musical nuances and offer more information. They do this while NOT sounding edgy, peaky, or analytical. In fact, they rendered the cello with a breathtaking body, warmth, and natural presence when I played Bach’s superb Suite #1 in from Janos Starker/Bach 6 Cello Suites (EUROS39016). This was mystical magic at its finest.

Conclusion
My feeling is that Stephen Hallick has done his homework in developing the MAC cable line. All of the cables in my audition came across as being very smooth and quite dynamic. This was the family resemblance. I have noted my findings for the specific models above. Of the cables I evaluated, the standouts are the MAC HC SoundPipes power cords, the MAC UltraSilver+ interconnects, and the MAC Mystics interconnects.

My intuition (although I could be wrong) is that part of MAC’s excellent sound quality stems from their not being a shielded design. Of course many other factors are at play, but one must realize that because of the MAC’s unshielded nature, special attention must be devoted to proper routing. This would include not putting long cable runs parallel to one another, and keeping signal cables away from power cords or crossing them perpendicularly when necessary. If your system cabling looks like a rat’s nest like mine sometimes does, this is easier said than done. In truth, I could hear a little more residual noise in my system when using the MAC cables. This was only noticed with no music playing and with my ears in close proximity to the speakers.

In view of the excellent level of performance the MAC cables provide, and their thankfully non-stratospheric prices I must admit that I’m suitably impressed and that I will be quite pleased to employ My Audio Cables in my reference, and my just-for-fun, audio systems.





My Audio Cables
Various models and prices as noted in review
Manufacturer
My Audio Cables
Contact MAC directly for introductory specials, and current pricing.
Trial Period: Purchases of many MAC products made through the MAC website come with a 30-day return policy unless otherwise noted. Custom-option items are NOT returnable. Kindly visit the website for complete details.
Warranty: MAC cable products have a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects.
email: myaudiocables@mac.com

Tel: 516-557-9172
Web: www.myaudiocables.com