Back To Black

Using optical disc as the source, replayed on the Atlantis Reference Transport, substituting the Reference DC leads for the standard umbilicals wrought a literally shocking difference in the musical presentation. The disc I was using for the first comparison was the Jordi Savall/Concert des Nations recording of the Beethoven 3rd Symphony (Beethoven Revolution, Symphonies 1 à 5, AliaVox AVSA9937, 3x SACD). The opening tuttis exploded from the speakers with a suddenness and impact that was wholly unexpected. There was a heightened sense of purpose and energy in what is already an incredibly lively and vibrant recording. The drumbeats detonated behind the orchestra, the jumps in dynamic range and instrumental density leapt into the room with an incredibly natural presence and immediacy. If you want to feel like you are in the same space as the musicians, this upgrade definitely takes you there!

The drama and energy that characterizes the Savall/CdN performances was a serendipitous choice, fastening instantly on the areas where the Reference DC cables impact performance. But understanding just how and why the musical and sonic difference is so dramatic needs a little more explanation. The disc in question gets a right royal boot up the dynamic fundament – and revels in it. But that’s not all that’s going on. Break down the performance and you (perhaps not surprisingly) discover that the obvious increase in dynamic range, transparency, focus and definition is built on the basis of a significant drop in noise floor. Audiophiles and reviewers are awfully fond of talking about ‘blacker backgrounds’ and it would be easy to resort to that cliché here. However, it’s more instructive to look at the impact on a more granular level. Look past the impressive energy and musical bombast of the Eroica and what you discover is not so much ‘blacker’ space between the instruments, but more sharply defined dimensions and separation, an absence of information bleeding into the gaps. Leading edges are crisper and more explicitly defined, climbing faster AND further. The spatial clarity extends through the soundstage and out to its limits. It also extends into the instruments themselves, revealing a greater sense of dimensionality and more developed harmonics. The drums that are such an obvious feature of the Savall performances are a case in point. Impressively solid and purposeful with the standard DC cables, the Reference cables reveal their hollow volume and the texture of their skins all while giving a much greater sense of the weight and energy that’s injected with each strike. It’s more than an incidental detail. It adds intent to their musical accents and depth to their atmospheric underpinning: the rhythmic hesitations and transitions that sprinkle the third movement flow more naturally, the playing and direction more articulate: the humour in the pizzicato passages that open the fourth is more obvious and makes more sense. Those examples are significant in that they illustrate just how the Reference DC cables operate on both the obvious sonic level but also on a more subliminal musical one, adding to the engaging, communicative qualities of the system. It also reveals perhaps the most important aspect of their performance – the way it functions as the icing on a (very considerable) cake.

Finishing touch?

What the Akasa Reference DC cables bring to the party in terms of greater resolution and a lower noise floor, wider dynamic range and more explicit dynamic discrimination is undoubtedly impressively effective. However, whereas their sonic impact might be considered a no brainer, it’s real importance rests (and relies) on whether it works on a musical level. Without the structure and pattern to bind the dynamic fireworks together, without the security of a firmly defined temporal foundation, all that extra energy and dynamic contrast will serve only to pull the performance apart. The Reference DC cables rely absolutely on the structural and temporal integrity of the DAC’s processing and output. And that matters because it puts the standard DC leads in context. Run the Ref DAC with those standard leads and you will get all of the time domain and amplitude benefits that have been so widely reported and translate directly into the most engaging and natural digital replay I or many other commentators have experienced. You also get the natural tonality and harmonic development, weight and presence that the Wadax is rightly renowned for. The Reference DC leads just deliver more of the same – and very welcome it is too. They increase the DACs expressive range and sharpen its musical intent still further. But – and this is the most important point – they in no way invalidate the performance with the standard leads. The DAC and Server already set the standard for digital replay. Adding the Akasa Reference DC leads to the DAC just raise the same bar that much higher.