PS Audio xStream Resolution Reference and Transcendent Interconnect Cables

PS Audio xStream Resolution Reference and Transcendent Interconnect Cables

Things are getting very interesting in the high-end audio arena, and you and I are the beneficiaries. We have seen new technologies introduced over the years with their high initial prices. We have watched as these state-of-the-art parts and manufacturing processes become more common and make their way into lower cost products. For example, we can purchase an excellent sounding integrated amplifier today for $1,000 that ten years ago would have required a separate preamplifier and amplifier costing over $10,000 for similar sound quality. The same is happening in every component category, and often with the added variable of the cost savings from off-shore manufacturing. The take-away from this brief discussion is that if you indiscriminately measure sound quality by a component's price tag, you are wrong.

PS Audio Reference Interconnect CablesPS Audio has been making all types of audio cables for many years. The two models under review here are about the 12th generation interconnects from this venerable manufacturer and are the result of improved construction, better materials, more efficient manufacturing, and the economies of scale that larger manufacturers enjoy. The price of 1 meter RCA copper Resolution Reference interconnect is ~$180 and the silver Resolution Transcendent is ~$350. Balanced XLR versions of either cable are also available. The physical construction of the Reference and Transcendent cables is identical; only the metal conductors are different. Both cables share these features:

  • Twin lead dual 18 gauge conductors
  • Triple shielded
  • Low absorption Polyethylene foam (PE foam) dielectric
  • High quality "WBT type" locking RCA connectors

The copper in the Reference model is the excellent sounding PCOCC (Pure Copper by Ohno Continuous Casting) that is also used in the xStream Reference speaker cable, which received a 10 LP rating here on 10 Audio. The outside soft fabric jacket is very nice and is a pleasure to handle. There are royal blue fibers in the mostly black attire of the Reference cable, while the Transcendent displays formal red threading. The connectors are marked for direction, and also denote the model. Flexibility is very good and the cables will stay in position without trying to coil or twist on their own. I invite you to visit PS Audio's Web page (link below) to learn more about the materials and design. One note about the packaging: Do yourself a favor and gently pry the paper wrapping away from the white foam along the lower edge with a dull knife. Then the foam bottom, along with the cable, can be slowly pulled away from the rest of the package without damaging the paper wrapping.

PS Audio asserts that many of the stereotypical assumptions about the sound of silver are due to the use of thinner (smaller gauge) silver conductors in some other cables that "lose a lot of information in the bottom end. This makes some solid silver cables sound bright and edgy; but in reality, they are simply missing the lower end of the musical spectrum." The only difference between the two cables is the conductor material, so we have an ideal opportunity to investigate the intrinsic "sounds" of copper and silver and hopefully reach a valid conclusion.

Enough of this folderol. How do they sound?

They sound good, very good, indeed. The Reference cable displays an excellent balance from low bass to the highest treble. The bass is powerful, deep and rich, having excellent attack and speed, but also great detail and resolution. The midrange is full and resonant and voices, both male and female, have believable body and presence. The treble is noteworthy in that it does not suffer - and this will be system dependent - from the common trait of many other cables that place the cymbals, for example, on a more forward physical plane than the rest of the drums. This is also apparent with any higher frequency instrument such as a piccolo or soprano voices, where these sounds move forward in the soundstage and cluster around the speakers instead of staying back where they belong.

PS Audio Resolution Reference ICsThis is somewhat akin to the house sound of some BAT gear, but I share this reference with you simply as a way to help communicate this character. I would not call these cables dark or laid back, but in comparison to say, the Oritek X-2, they are not as forward sounding. In my system, I find the Reference's high frequency balance more natural and neutral, but I can easily imagine a system where a little extra sparkle from an interconnect cable could offset an imbalance elsewhere in the system. The PS Audio's bass has bit more power and dynamic ability, while the X-2 is just a hair more detailed. The X-2's soundstaging is just slightly more precise in the depth dimension, although for electronic music of any genre, this is irrelevant. The two cables present an equal level of detail and resolution. Overall, the Oritek X-2 and PS Audio Reference interconnects are playing on the same field and the audio quality is very comparable.

I saved the best for last. The operative words in the preceding sentence are "the best". I made the following comment recently on Audio Asylum in response to a question about the Transcendent cables: "I think "Transcendent" is exactly the correct name for these edge-of-the-art cables. They provided the most significant system upgrade I have experienced in many years." I made this observation for one simple reason: with the Transcendent interconnect cables installed throughout my audio system, I am hearing a higher level of detail and resolution that is completely new to me. This is without any hint of tricks, such as boosting the upper midrange, or having a fat and over-full bass. There is just more. I hear individual background voices that were previously blended together in the mix, distinctly separate instruments in an orchestra that I assumed were homogenized in the recording and which previously sounded like one large trombone, or trumpet, or violin, or drum, or whatever. These cables present a level of realism and natural detail that I have never heard before from my recordings.

This level of performance does not jump out and shout "WOW. That sounds GOOD!". It is subtle. It is quiet. It is delicate. It is the perfect example of term "refined". I had the mental image of the Allstate Insurance® logo of the two hands, offering each note with special care. Don't misunderstand me, though. These cables are also exceptional in the macro-dynamic department, offering a level of dynamic contrast as good as any cable I have heard. They can rock when this is needed with leading edge transients as sharp and clear as ever. But where they clearly exceed my previous expectations is in micro-dynamics, and micro-detail. They will pull sounds out of your sources that you have never heard before. It is like getting MFSL or Sheffield or Stereophile audiophile recordings of every CD or LP that you own, while elevating audiophile pressings to a higher level. It is that significant.

I clearly remember the effect that the Koetsu Urushi cartridge had on me when I first heard it (and often thereafter). It had the ability to slow time, to make each note a unique event in time and space. When listening to this cartridge, I often forgot about the recording and became immersed in the performance. The Transcendent cable, even more than the Urushi, excels at the challenge of the Zen Test. I started with just one pair of cables between the CJ Premier 15 Series 2 phono preamplifier and the Placette preamp. In short order, it became obvious that a complete system rewiring with Transcendent interconnects was mandatory.

Copper vs. Silver. I have heard silver cables that were unbearably bright and forward. Transcendent is not one of them. Besides the vast improvement in low level resolution, silver is smoother sounding in the midrange and treble, but with no loss of detail. Relative to this, copper sounds a bit grainy or coarse from the upper midrange up. Silver is not brighter, thinner, sharper, or have less bass or a less resonant midrange than copper. Silver does have a slight advantage in power and dynamics below about middle C (262 Hz). We also see a slightly deeper soundstage with the silver cable.

I cannot stress enough that your preconceptions regarding the price/performance ratio of audio components are probably due for a major revision. Either of these cables is good enough for any audio system, and sets new standards at their respective prices. PS Audio Resolution Transcendent cables are perfectly named because their performance literally transcends - by at least one order of magnitude - any other cable I have heard at any price. They provide a level of enjoyment and involvement that I assumed was unobtainable from recorded music.

Overall Rating: 9 LPs (Reference)
Overall Rating: 10 LPs (Transcendent)

Link to manufacturer's Web site: PS Audio