Audiophiles are a lucky group in many ways. We get the obvious pleasure from listening to our preferred forms of music. Beyond that primary reward, we often learn about different kinds of music, are motivated to attend live music performances, challenge ourselves (and our budgets) to recreate the feeling of live music in our infinitely varied home listening environments, and have a lot of fun creating a collection of electronic gizmos that result in a music system we take pride in and enjoy. Is this a great hobby, or what?
Fortunately for hard-core audiophiles and also for those who are not so tweaky but still very interested in having a great music reproduction system, we have a huge variety of gear from which to choose. When we focus on interconnect cables, we are especially fortunate because there is a seemingly endless supply of new companies trying to convince us to try their version of perfection. One of those companies is Oritek, and their sole product, the X-1 interconnect, is the subject of this review.
Oritek Audio Products may be a new company, but this product is the result of an experienced engineer’s investigation into cable design and performance, and comes to you after several years’ work by someone who appreciates good sound. It is the result of extensive product comparisons and the firm commitment to only produce a product that is obviously better than the competition. A lofty goal, to be sure. Oritek’s motto is “Breaking the Sound Barrier”, and while that sounds like just another tag line, you will begin to take it seriously soon after hearing this cable. When you know that “X-1” refers to the supersonic test aircraft of the late 1940’s, the reference to breaking the sound barrier is clear. The introductory price is $199 for a 1 meter pair, and I suggest you take advantage of it before they become a successful company and have to raise the price. RCA terminations are standard because the X-1 is optimized for unbalanced use. Balanced XLR cables are not available at this time. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” cable. The cables are professionally finished and their robust construction should provide many years of consistent, reliable performance.
Note: Those of you who think you must spend a lot of money to get a great cable, or believe that price is directly related to sound quality can click “Home” on your browser now. Bye. Still with me? That is good, because you are in for a treat.
Let’s get down to business. Associated system components included a Conrad Johnson Premier 15 Series 2 phono stage with Jensen transformers; BAT VK-31SE, AES AE-3 DJH, CJ PV14LS-2, passive, and Conrad Johnson Premier 17 preamps; Audio Research VS-110, Jolida 502B, Innersound ESL300, and Conrad Johnson Premier 12 amplifiers; and Conrad Johnson (that name keeps popping up!) DV-2b CD player. Other cables on hand include Nordost Valkyrja and Valhalla, Tara RSC Air 1, Mogami 2534, and PS Audio xStream Plus and Statement.
First, there is almost no break in period. THANK YOU! The cables receive this treatment at the factory so you can enjoy them right out of the box. The sound does settle in for a couple of hours which is common with most cables that have been installed in a new position. I suggest that cable manufacturers who do not supply their products ready to use, especially those who include stratospheric price tags, are just plain rude. While I would not want to buy a new car with 500-1000 miles already on it, I object to the 2-3 weeks of use, which many audio products need before they sound their best, before I can enjoy my new toy. Even though breaking in new components is not work, it is also not fun. Thank you for indulging me as I get that off my chest.
Most often we settle for incremental improvements when replacing a component. This amplifier has better bass. “Sold!” That preamp has a more realistic soundstage. “Done deal!” It is time to reevaluate your criteria for upgrades. A component upgrade may give an incremental improvement in one or more areas, but the goal should not be better bass or improved soundstaging. Why?
Because judging improvements with this mindset forces an ongoing, never-ending, repetitive, expensive, and ultimately dissatisfied search for your dream sound system. After hearing from many of you, I believe most of you are frustrated with deep bass and airy treble. You are looking for bass that smoothly and seamlessly integrates and FLOWS into the upper bass that is not a separate entity from the midrange. You want a midrange that is an equal partner to the lower and upper treble, treating the fundamental sound of a voice or instrument realistically, with the harmonic content accurately reproduced and not highlighted or subdued. This is the area which most products fail to deliver and that drives component replacements. You want a soundstage that makes it simple to see discrete and individual musicians placed on a stage that has convincing width, depth and height. Each musician on this stage also should have width, depth and height without the sense that they are some flat, processed simulacrum of a real person. You want to relax and enjoy music, realistically rendered without harshness or other artifacts that invariably lead to tired ears and wandering thoughts.
This is where the Oritek cable can help your aural gratification.
There is not a lot of value in discussing the bass-midrange-treble performance individually because the X-1 does each one so well, but also so evenly and “fairly” compared to the adjacent frequencies that no area outshines any other. It is not like the Tara RSC Air 1 that has particular strengths in the upper midrange, or either Nordost cable that seems to specialize in soundstaging and very low level detail. The bass is excellent: tight and resonant, with great depth and power. Yes, better than Valhalla, especially when presenting the impact of the leading edge of bass notes. The mids are warm and lucid on one hand and also focused and tactile on the other hand. Voices possess a convincing humanity.
The highs, importantly, are clear, very open and extended, but in exactly the proper proportion required by the harmonic overtones to be realistic. The terms harsh or bright do not apply: the treble simply is what is required. In this area especially, X-1 is clearly superior to either Nordost cable. While the X-1 offers a more open and extended treble than Valhalla, there is no hint of any problem such as glare as a result. On the contrary, where many cables and components show their weakness in the critical mid-to-lower treble range, the Oritek cables offer an outstanding and rare quality: texture. Easily heard is the gravelly texture of a male voice or quivering falsetto of a female singer. This is not a variation on the term “grain”: bells ring very smooth and pure, open and clear. Beautiful, really. Again, not bright, just realistically present with resolution that defines the term “transparency”. It is not a case where the X-1 is better at this particular character than other cables: the X-1 is simply right. And this is just as true for cellos as it is for flutes. All cables I have heard to date offer their own perspective on the relationship between an instrument’s fundamental tones and its upper frequency harmonic content. Most are wrong, which is a conclusion that is both surprising and obvious after listening to Oritek X-1 cables.
I struggled with this evaluation because I began listening with the standard mindset of bass-midrange-treble-soundstage-dynamics. Cable A has better bass than cable B which has a deeper soundstage than cable C. Man, let me tell you, with the numbers of cables on hand, and the possible connections between all those amps and preamps, this got old pretty quick. I was helped in this task by both the BAT VK-31SE and the Conrad Johnson Premier 17 preamps which have remote switching of inputs. A-B type cable comparisons are simple with the push of a button. I should not have bothered. This is not what the X-1 is about. It is not about 5 second sound-bites. It is about 5 minutes of “stopping to smell the roses”, forgetting about sonic dissection and then really hearing the musical performance. It is about listening for hours and then wanting to hear more. This is where it becomes apparent that Oritek cables are truly, and possibly uniquely, special.
Let me be arrogant for a moment and suggest how you should listen to the Oritek cable. Find a half hour or so when you can relax undisturbed. Put on (LP) or in (CD) some well recorded music with which you are familiar. Lower the arm or hit play. Listen to the performance and not to the sound. …………… Welcome back. Take a deep breath. You can find the remote near your right foot. See what I mean?
Friends, Oritek X-1 is the real thing and easily one of the best ICs you can buy today. Do not make the mistake of equating price with performance in this case. It would be a costly error. However, I can not tell you that this is the best interconnect cable for you. System synergy, the listening room, and personal preferences will all influence your decision. I can and do strongly urge you to listen to the X-1 cables in your system. You may find, as I did, that your audio system is a lot better than you ever imagined possible. We are lucky.
Overall Rating: 8.5 LPs
NEWS FLASH: Oritek X-2 in Pre-Production
Shortly after the X-1 review was posted, I received a pre-production prototype of the new Oritek X-2 cable. While the X-1 is an excellent cable that competes with and bests any current cable that I have heard – and is an outrageous bargain at its price – the new X-2 takes the performance of audio cables to a new level. There are two major improvements provided by the X-2 cables, and they are not subtle. First, bass goes from powerful with the X-1 to explosive with the X-2.
I had always lived with an almost inaudible grain in my audio systems. It was a type of sound that we simply accept as part of reproduced music, and as our systems improve, is continually reduced. This very subtle fog lives on the subconscious level and it is one of those artifacts of an electronic music system that is always present and easily ignored – until it is gone! The X-2 transcends all previous cables by eliminating this electronic artifact and allows this listener to enjoy a dramatic increase in the believability and enjoyment of recorded music.
Since this background noise or distortion is eliminated, there is a significant increase in resolution from the low bass to the highest treble. It is as if I added a ribbon tweeter to my speakers. The amount of low level detail increased significantly, and now it is simple to hear each individual cymbal in a drum set shimmer and ring with its own distinct sound. This clarity is also noticeable when several voices are singing together: X-2 pulls each one out of the mix and presents them much more clearly and distinctly that I have ever heard them before. X-2 surprised me that many commercial recordings are much better than I ever expected them to be.
The X-1 is an excellent cable by any measure and is an absurd bargain. It rules entry level, and one or three levels above. The X-2 is a superb cable, easily the best I have ever heard – or not heard! The new X-2 will not be sold for a few months until a patent is filed, and its price will be substantially higher than the X-1. Oritek Audio will keep the X-1 in their product line as their very affordable cable, and introduce the X-2 as the ultimate interconnect cable. A trade-up program is being developed.
Ratings on 10 Audio are based on the Zen Test, and the X-1 deserves its original 10 LP rating. The X-2 is a significantly better cable, but until a production sample is evaluated, the formal award of 10 LPs will have to wait. To be fair to the superior performance of the X-2, the X-1 rating is expected to be reduced to 8.5 LPs upon release of X-2.
To paraphrase my closing statement above: “We are very lucky”.
UPDATE November, 2005. The production version of the X-2 is finalized and it meets the evaluation above. Accordingly, to illustrate the improvement of the X-2 over the X-1, the latter’s rating has been adjusted. And, as expected, the X-2 easily earns the following:
Overall Rating: 10 LPs