Audience Au24 SX XLR, Redux

Magical Realism

Francis Vale

I had once thought it was all so straightforward, music and audio gear.  Get some quality high-end components, hook up them up with good wires, and play great recordings.  What could go wrong? Just about everything, actually.  Chances are good that audio rig you bought for the price of a BMW 3 (or maybe, one or two B7 Alpina’s) and had professionally installed is operating nowhere near its full potential.  How could that possibly be? Before you bought everything, you may have first read the prestigious high-end mags, scoured web sites, checked and compared instrumented review specs, and even pursed your lips over articles who said almost all high-end audio gear is crap when measured properly.

Well, here’s the thing.  Lurking beneath the realistic waterfall plots, bar graphs, spec’d voltages, watts, and measured distortion lies a fabulist world; it spins its miraculous tales of musical wonder as ecstatically as an ash painted shaman sucking down a battered metal pot of ayahuasca. Those who peddle high-end audio tales of you-are-really-there experiences are actually pinching your nose down the path of magical realism.

I have been reviewing audio gear for a while now, seen many a component come and go, and also gushed pools of delighted ink over them sometimes.  But let’s step back. We have all probably read reviews where the reviewer changed such and such component, and voila, the piece of gear of review interest suddenly sprung to musical life. But they never explain exactly what brought about this miraculous resurrection (Me? Ever explained? Mea maxima culpa). They may harumph various posits, but, deep down, they are clueless. And they, we on the inside also, know it. The high-end mags, when they publish their annual best of gear lists, often asterisk that, hey, just because you buy the very best of each listed here and hook them up together, it doesn’t automatically mean you will get the absolute best sound, just saying.

I have a system in a room that has been my go-to for a musical fix.  It consists of a pair of floor-standing horn loaded speakers, the Impulse Ta’us. When driven right, they are mighty, indeed. The original sin occurred many years ago by hooking them up to a tube filled chariot, then under review, whose license plate read Graaf GM 200. This Italian beauty sprouted more glowing tubes than a 1930’s Times Square marquee. The GM200 pumped out 200 watts into 4 ohms, was fully balanced, and, OMG, was OTL. And then one day, this furnace of tubes left.  Ever since, I have been chasing after this original fantastical. Came so ever close, once; looking at you, EveAnna Manley, and your company’s amazing 300B tube amp.

The latest iteration of my chase has a Rogue 100 Stereo Amp (very good, and benefits from tube rolling), connected into a Schiit Freya Plus preamp (also really good, and also happier dining on finer tubes), and a Cary Audio digital front end (no slouch, that), all feeding the Ta’Us. This ensemble was all quite wonderful, but I was still left searching for the golden cookie, Proust, and his madeleine of fond memory, had nothing on me. Can’t fault the Rogue, whose $3,500 price is a fraction of the late 1990’s GM200 in 2023 dollars, about $23,000, a price accurately reflective of this mad Italian assault on the sonically possible.

Shortly after a den redecorating, which room has a pair of full range ribbon speakers, Omega's, made by Analysis in Greece (think long gone, Apogee Diva ribbons), I decided that a gear revamp was also due; in truth, the change mostly driven by my frustration to get Graaf-like results with the Ta’us system, on a budget. The Analysis are driven by a Sanders Magtech stereo amp, a powerhouse that was designed to drive demanding speaker loads, like that of ribbons and electrostats. No matter, if this amp is not on your great gear shopping list, it should be.

I pulled the Freya preamp out of the Impulse system, installed it in front of the Sanders, and also yanked out the Cary unit and plugged that into the Freya. In my soulful quest for some kind of sonic redemption, I also pulled a pair Audience Audio Au24 SX XLR interconnects from another system, and popped them between the Freya and the Magtech. 

Then I turned everything on.  I was not prepared for what happened next.

For as long as I have had them, these full range ribbons would start flapping anxiously about at frequencies below 50hZ, think Batman swinging with a suddenly cut bat-line tether. But, now, no more. Bass was something these big Greeks no longer had to arduously avoid, like a kasseri cheese pie left out in the hot sun. The ribbons accurately thumped and whumped, and annoyingly vibrated the neighbors, in a most satisfying way. 

More than that, recordings I thought I knew very well suddenly gave up their heretofore hidden secrets.  Unheard details now presented themselves. The lack of really hearing an audience in the Chet Baker and Stan Getz in West Coast Live album always made me think the title was marketing mischief.  But now, here they were seated, not loud or annoying, and clearly keeping a respectful distance from Chet and Stan.

Baffling revelations abounded. With good recordings, the soundstage and performers were no longer over there there (apologies, Gert), but rather, here here.

Another recording, Putumayo Presents: African Blues, featuring various artists, has this one track, Dhow Countries, played by the Taj Mahal Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar, with a unique percussion element, sounding all the world like metal hard striking metal. Before, the metal strike was an accent, now it was alarming, like chains being violently struck off, and maybe, the real point.

Vocals, always a strong feature of these big ribbons, were now at the level of actually sitting in the club or concert hall. To hear Nina Simone sing I want a Little Sugar in My Bowl, well, this cut was now grounds for a divorce request.

As for pop and rock, Lorde’s Pure Heroine album has some tracks, like Buzzcut Season or Tennis Court, that have bass moments that used to have these speakers picking up their ribbon skirts and running away in horror. Not anymore. The thumping beating heart of Buzzcut Season was located squarely in the middle of the soundstage, not smeared out like a gone bad cardio-transplant. The big Analysis floor standers dug in, dished out. Sort of that delicate aunt, who suddenly got into thrash metal, in a good and nasty way.

I could go on, but the point is made: this was a transformational system change, but why, and how. My suspicions mostly centered on the Au24 SX XLR interconnects, reason being, I had seen their addition to another system of mine cause a remarkable uptick in audio performance.  But not at this level.

In the event, worth a shot, out came the Audience XLR wires, and in went a pair of Nordost Valhalla RCA interconnects, which are very, very good. The decrease in performance was bewildering.  The system went from, I never knew you had it in you, to merely excellent. It couldn't grasp the over-the-top slice separating the gold from the silver. Back in went the Audience XLR wires, and behold, a wonder.

Ask me how come.  Busted. I can only speculate. Sanders Sound Systems also makes electrostatic speakers, notoriously difficult divas with load whims any amplifier would find maddening to satisfy. The Sanders Magtech amp no doubt was designed in mind for its own fussbudgets, but also bad boys from other speaker makers, whatever technology used. Still, I had been using the Magtech stereo amp for some time, and it had never revealed the bounteous and awesome nature of these Greeks as now.

Some say in a true high-fidelity system where the longest interconnection is typically about a meter, there’s no need for the advantages of a balanced XLR connection. Others say anyone looking for the best quality audio transmission possible, go XLR. I say, I really don’t know, nor give a shit. Pass the pot of ayahuasca.

What I do know, is that your system, good as it may be, is likely still holding back some secrets from you.

Right now, I can think of no better way to discover the real audio truth of what you bought than Audience Audio Au24 SX XLR interconnects.



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