Shoot-out Part II! (Thats it, no more, I quit! :)
XLO Type 1, Nordost Blue Heaven
Aural Symphonics, MIT 330 Series 2
Have you read Part
I yet? I leave most of the details of my XLO, Nordost sound in Part
Start-up with Aural Symphonics
Initially, I plugged the Aural Symphonics into the CD-pre position so
I could do real time A/B against my XLO type 1. However, I was also aware
of the possibly that the differences could be cancelled out by Nordost
Blue Heavens at the pre-power position (something which I also noted in
Part I) but I just wanted to check anyway.
Listening to Tori Amos Lust, the
differences were obvious as the Aural Symphonics had an audible midbass
lift but otherwise seemed to extend just as deep.
Other than that, the differences were really, really, hard to spot.
Straining hard to listen for the differences at the top end using
opening the cymbal percussion line in Beth Orton's Central Reservation,
I barely heard a slightly less sparkling treble. However, listening
on and on; I couldn't really put my finger down but there seemed to be
a difference vocals wise. For some reason, the vocals seemed thinner
which seemed to be the opposite of what to expect since the cable was
not as bright/detailed as the XLO.
So why bother, lets just go CD-power amp
direct for the remainder of the test which is what the rest of this article
The test songs this time were:
Tori Amos, Lust
Beth Orton, Central Reservation
Texas, Summer Son
Natalie Merchant, Gun Shy
Sarah McLachlan, Building a Mystery
The Aural Symphonics cable is
an unassuming black sheathed cable so theres nothing to write about description
wise. When I removed the pre-amp from the loop and plugged the cable direct,
the first thing I noticed was the left/right soundstage disappearing.
This is no joke. It was that obvious. At first I thought that it was just
that my tube pre-amp improved soundstaging (which is true, but not to
that extent as I remembered it). Question arises - why didn't I
hear the soundstage shrinking? (1) Maybe I did, when I felt there was
a 'thinness' (2) maybe the BH+pre-amp in the chain helped restore some
of the soundstage, but because they cannot fully restore what is not there,
there is a 'thinness'.
Anyway, listening on, I confirmed that the
AS was a tiny bit less bright/detailed (still haven't decided :)) than
all the other cables but as for all important midrange, there wasn't really
much of a difference that I could put a finger on. The slight midbass
lift was confirmed but it was not a problem and listening to the synthesised
bass line in Amanda McBroom's Dreaming confirmed that there was
Speed-wise, its not a slow cable; I suppose
the XLO was faster but you can't really tell.
XLO Type 1
Plugging in the XLOs, the soundstage
was restored and the sparkle in the treble seemed to give more 'life'
to the sound. I supposed I am biased towards a bright sparkly presentation
as long as the treble is smooth (which is why the Blue Heavens sometimes
annoy me). The rest of the presentation such as rhythm, pace, timing was
rather hard to distinguish from the rest.
MIT MI-330 Series 2
These appear to be destined for
the downstairs system and of course, MITs with their large white/light
coloured network boxes are simply unmistakable (and an extreme pain to
arrange behind my rack :)). What made it worse was that this was a 1.5m
pair (don't they make them any shorter) After making the necessary adjustments,
including styrofoam spacers to make sure they don't touch other cables,
the listening test began.
I have to say that I was immediately impressed.
The sound was audibly fuller and richer and the soundstage appeared to
expand a little bit. Yet, it retained the qualities of speed, pace and
rhythm found in the XLOs. Bass was as deep and full as the XLOs. In the
context of my test CDs, I found the bass quality and speed just as good
as the XLOs (maybe a 'live' drum set would set the 2 apart, but I can't
comment on that...)
Nordost Blue Heaven
Finally, I plugged in the Blue
Heavens. The first test track was Gun Shy and coming just after
the MITs, the sound, though leaner, was equally enthralling as Natalie's
beautiful and enthralling voice was wonderfully conveyed by the Blue Heavens.
The operative word must be expressive. Critically listening further,
I of course began to notice the slight spotlighting at certain frequencies
(listening to how sibilants were treated, for example). But Gun Shy,
being a rather rolled off CD with no extreme treble, didn't highlight
the main problem with the BHs. Putting on Central Reservation,
the opening brush cymbals revealed a splashiness in the treble not found
on the other cables. On an absolute scale, the BHs are actually pretty
good in the treble, its just that the MITs and the XLOs are on the different
class - with extended smooth treble (the AS, with a tiny roll-off in the
treble, is smoother but thats easier to accomplish...)
Just to confirm the bass peformance, I played
Lust and the BHs acquitted itself very well. It still went down
low enough (definitely lower than the disappoint Esoteric cable mentioned
in Part I) and hit satisfyingly hard. XLOs bass advantage appears to be
mainly that it is more propulsive (like when following fast bass
lines in tracks like Nancy Bryan's Blood Song).
I am very impressed
by the MIT. The sonic qualities
of the XLO + a more fullness is a very neat trick to achieve. If I could
not detect any more differences between them, one must also take into
account the fact that my system is rather cheap and the cables I'm testing
should be in higher end territory. As for the Aural Symphonics. Sorry,
the soundstage shrinkage was a bit too much to bear even though I found
almost every else fine.
However, 1.5m length and a big box causes
serious cable entanglement problems in my little rack but is fine for
the downstairs system. But if you have the space, I'm now a believer.
As for what exactly is in those network boxes (air?), I suppose it doesn't
really matter with performance like this.