As digital has matured many of its early problems have finally been identified. Chief among them may be jitter. To combat that beast new digital boxes have been born (Audio Alchemy's family of DTI's, Theta's TLC, Sonic Frontier's Jitterbug, Monarchy's box, etc.), proprietary digital transmission lines developed (Linn, Wadia, etc.), and different digital links have been explored (TOSLink, AT&T glass, coax, AES/EBU). Of that last class of digital fixes one of the oldest, surprisingly, has emerged to do serious battle with the jitter fiend, I2S. A part of the original Red book spec, but not implemented until recently by Audio Alchemy, I2S, unlike any of the other four listed types, does not combine digital datastreams when moving them from transport to processor. By giving all 4 data types their own line (the fifth line is a ground), signal related jitter is eliminated. In addition jitter related to signal extraction by the processor is likewise eliminated. Many Audio Alchemy products now include I2S connections, and reports of their efficacy are near universal.
Jerry Ramsey, the design brains of Audio Magic, a Colorado based cable company, after taking a look at the I2S cable supplied by Audio Alchemy for use with their components, asked the logical question, "If material and construction matters in interconnect design, does it matter in this specialized cable as well?" In answer to that question he constructed several prototype cables and discovered that it did matter. The result of his first forays in the I2S design was the Audio Magic Mystic cable, favorably reviewed by our own Workin' Man, Dave Duvall (please look in the archives for Dave's excellent comments on this cable). I've had the Mystic in my system for 6 months as well, and found that replacing it with any other cable has resulted in decreased performance, at least until I encountered the Mystic's big brother.
Audio Magic's new I2S cable, the Mystic Reference, does not replace the older cable, as it retails for about twice the price, and in fact, the Mystic remains available. What it does is to take the Mystic idea a step further. With 25% more conductive material and 6 more shields than the Mystic, the new Reference is a beefier and (hopefully) quieter cable than it's stablemate.
To check out the new cable I dropped it in the system, letting it break in for 80 or so hours before comparing it directly with the Mystic. To make this easy, it was an improvement. Overwhelming? No. As significant a step over the Mystic as the Mystic was over the stock cable? Once again, no. Well, was it at least an important improvement? You bet. The Mystic Reference added a bit more harmonic bloom to each instrument, helping to further define it. This enhanced the staging as well, as each instrument's personality was easier to pick out. Staging gained in other ways. The corners of the recording venue, while no brighter than before, seemed easier to locate. Depth was increased, with an additional layer or so noted while listening to complex orchestral music. Treble was also presented with greater delicacy and purity. But the largest improvement came in a better sense of bass and timing. The Reference, without boosting the lower level in the least, was able to boost bass detail. For example, wood was easier to hear, kick drum had a more defined shape and impact, and all this contributed to a better sense of rhythm. Listening with the Reference made it easier to hear the musicians listening to each other, as the timing between players took on greater palpability.
While somewhat subtle (except for the bass), the cumulative effect of these improvements is significant. My recommendation is, if possible, to try them both in your system. In some systems the improvements may not reach a critical mass while in others the improvements will mandate the inclusion of the Reference. In my system the changes were large enough that if forced to give a blind recommendation, I say go for the Reference.
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