November 2005TARA Labs RSC Vector 1 Interconnects and Speaker Cables
by Vade Forrester
TARA Labs has been making cables since 1986, which makes the company a genuine industry pioneer, and offers a wide variety of cables in all price ranges. Ive heard a few TARA Labs cables over the years, but I never found them to be a good match for my various systems. However, when ads for the RSC® VectorTM 1 interconnects and speaker cables began to appear, it looked like TARA Labs had rethought their design from the ground up. Reinvention of products and services is necessary for survival in a competitive industry, and whats more competitive than the cable business?
Even a casual audiophile can attest that theres no shortage of hi-fi cable designs today. Some cables are completely open and unshielded (basically just two wires, which may not even be located close to each other), and some are heavily shielded (usually due to the professed need to protect against EMI and RFI). I live about four miles from a broadcast antenna thats shared by several radio stations, including an FM station that broadcasts a 100,000-watt signal. In spite of the resulting high RFI levels, Ive been able to use most open interconnect designs with no RFI pickup.
The Vector-series products (currently Vector 1 and Vector 2 interconnects and speaker cables) are said to be unique in that they are the first computer-modeled designs from TARA Labs. Computer modeling was used to determine much of the cables construction, including the number of conductors, the size of the center air-tube, and the number of spacer filaments needed. The Vector cables use TARA Labs' patented Rectangular Solid Core (RSC) conductors, which is 99.999999% pure copper. As the name implies, each conductor has a cross section shaped like a rectangle.
Most of TARA Labss cable designs are shielded, but the Vector series makes use of "common mode rejection geometry" that TARA Labs claims is inherently resistant to RFI, eliminating the need for shielding. According to TARA Labs, cable shielding does to the sound what it does, physically, to the cable: closes it off. So unshielded cables sound more open and multi-dimensional than shielded cables. Eliminating cable shielding has an additional benefit: unshielded cables are more flexible, an important attribute for home-theater use, where cables must pass through tight spaces or be pulled through walls.
Vector 1 interconnects ($295 USD per meter pair) are constructed around a central Teflon tube. The tube is inserted into an open mesh, and the RSC conductors are woven into the mesh, which establishes the "common mode rejection geometry" that protects against RFI intrusion. Then the tube and the mesh, along with the RSC conductors woven into it, are tightly fit into a very open white sheath made of TARA Labss proprietary Aero PE®, or Aero-Space Polyethylene, which is essentially a chemically stabilized form of Polyethylene that protects the conductors and the Teflon tube against damage.
The Vector 1 speaker cables ($1195 per eight-foot pair) are built like the interconnects, using RSC conductors, only lots more of them -- 24 positive and 24 negative -- making them equivalent to 10AWG in size. They offer interchangeable screw-on terminations of either spades or banana plugs, making it easy to adapt the cables to different speakers or amps. The spades are massive, thick designs constructed from gold-plated high-conductivity brass (brass with a higher copper content than typical copper/zinc alloys). The speaker cables arent available in a biwired configuration, so youll have to use separate runs if your speakers require biwire connections. This usually sounds better anyhow, although it also costs more.
The Vector 1 interconnects are sheathed in a white outer shell, while the speaker cables are in a bronze-colored sheath that looks good on my cheap contractor-grade carpet. The conductors are visible through the sheath. The Vector 1 interconnects come with either proprietary locking RCA connectors or XLR connectors for balanced cables.
I used Vector 1 interconnects between CD player and preamp, phono section and preamp, and preamp and power amp. Speaker cables were eight-foot lengths with spades on both ends. TARA Labs claims that the interconnects are flexible, but you shouldnt bend them in a diameter of less than eight inches or the inner tube collapses, messing up the geometry and possibly damaging the cable. The Vector 1 speaker cables also have a bending-diameter limitation, four inches, so they're not as rigid as the interconnects.
Because I have a lot of space behind my equipment rack, the interconnects were not difficult to install, and I could accommodate the bending-diameter limitation. The speaker cables were another story. The resistance to twisting the cables was so strong that, at first, I twisted the screw-on spades loose on the end of the cables. I was able to screw them on tighter and eliminate the problem, but this illustrates how hard it is to twist the speaker cables to make the connections fit. My speakers have their terminals close to the floor, so it was hard to maintain the minimum bending diameter when I connected the Vector 1s. Youll need to be sure the speaker and amp connectors are screwed down on the spades tightly; I found the combination of cable stiffness and extra-thick spades tended to make the connections loosen up, often requiring retightening after the initial connection.
Like every interconnect and speaker cable Ive tried, the Vector 1s required a break-in period. So I first set them up in a break-in system and played TARA Labs excellent Cascade Noise Burn-In Disc for about 200 hours. I sampled their performance in my main system, and gave them even more break-in time. Finally, the top end smoothed out and became very listenable.
So how do they sound?
TARA Labs met its design goals with the Vector 1 cables. They sound very open and extended in the highs, with a very spacious soundfield. There was a lot of high-frequency energy, which mostly added detail and sparkle, but on a few occasions verged on brightness in my system. My system is somewhat forward-sounding; owners of more conventionally voiced systems with a more laid-back sound will probably find that the Vector 1s provide great transparency. This just proves that you need to match cables to your system as carefully as you do electronics or speakers.
Faced with such bountiful high frequencies, I trotted out my favorite CDs to assess their performance. On Jennifer Warness "The Well," from the CD layer of the hybrid SACD by the same name [Cisco SCD 2034], the instruments were very realistic, with the cymbal overtones especially well defined. Rim shots had lots of impact, while voice overdubs were very clear. Warness voice had more high-frequency content than usual, but didnt sound peaky. But such high-frequency energy can have its downside in my system. José Carerrass tenor on "Gloria," from Misa Criolla [Philips 420 955-2], sounded a bit hard towards the top of his register, which is not normally the case. With Eije Oue and the Minnesota Orchestras "Kabalevsky: Overture to Colas Breugnon," from Bolero! [Reference Recordings RR-92CD], the sound scintillated with detailed high frequencies, but the percussion instruments were slightly over-emphasized.
The Vector 1s illustrated that extended and open highs normally produce an airy soundfield. "Gloria" had a very wide soundstage, with lots of detail, and each note was distinct in space. I could hear each guitar string as it was strummed. The chorus was spread across the space between the speakers, and it was obvious that they were singing in a rather reverberant location. On "Allegri: Miserere" from the Tallis Scholarss CD Miserere [Gimmell 454 939-2], each vocal part in this a cappella piece was distinct and precisely located in space. There is a small solo group behind the main chorus, and their location was obvious. Some products dont make that distinction very well, fusing the two groups sound into a single chorus, but the Vector 1 cables unraveled it all.
Presentation of inner detail was excellent; I suspect that this was partly the result of the plentiful high-frequency energy. In David Cheskys Concerto for Violin and Orchestra from Area 31 [Chesky SACD 288], transients had real impact, and instrumental timbres were accurate and realistic. Cymbals sounded real. From the impact of the drum stick, to the shimmering decay of the vibration, to the overtones of the instrument, everything was startlingly realistic.
Dynamics were appropriate -- neither exaggerated by calling attention to themselves, nor wimpy and diminishing the excitement of the performance. In the "Kabalevsky: Overture to Colas Breugnon," the considerable orchestral macrodynamics came through unscathed, showcasing the power of a well-recorded large symphony orchestra playing at full cry. The Chesky Concerto for Violin and Orchestra has some startling dynamic swings, and the Vector 1s dont detract from them at all.
Dont think the focus on high-frequency extension means the Vector 1s are bass-shy; like most other TARA Labs cables Ive experienced, the Vector 1s have deep, weighty bass comparable to the best Ive heard. On "Way Down Deep" from Jennifer Warness The Hunter [Private Music 01005-82089-2], the bass drum went very deep, with surprising impact and good pitch definition. Even through my speakers, which dont have the most extended low-frequency response, the bass was notable. On the previously mentioned "Kabalevsky: Overture to Colas Breugnon," the recorded weight of the Minnesota Orchestra came through spectacularly. I dont think Ive heard any cables with significantly better bass response than the Vector 1s.
Ive found that one of the more challenging applications for an interconnect is between the phono stage or step-up device and the line-stage or full-function preamp. So I used the Vector 1 interconnects between the Audio Research PH5 phono stage and my deHavilland Mercury 2 line stage. I thought the overall frequency balance was slightly less energetic on the top end, but there was still a barely noticeable increase in overall high-frequency energy. On Eva Cassidys Songbird [S&P Records S&P-501], "Leaves of Gold" was smoother than from the CD. The guitar was portrayed with abundant detail, sounding very realistic. There was a bit more sparkle to the sound than I usually hear, but it wasnt bright or peaky. On the same LP, the title track was haunting, with very solid and precise images.
I cant think of cables more physically different from the Vector 1s than Crystal Cable's CrystalConnect Piccolo interconnects ($399 per meter pair) and CrystalSpeak Micro speaker cables ($1950 per two-meter pair), which I reviewed some time ago and have been using ever since. Where the Vector 1s are somewhat thick and stiff, the Micros and the Piccolos are as flexible as a piece of string, and not much larger. Thats not hyperbole; youve probably seen Crystal Cables ads in which the cables are actually used to lace up a sneaker. (How did they get the RCA connector through the eyes of the shoe?)
The Piccolo and Micro illustrate how cables benefit from careful matching to the system in which they will be used. In a friends system, which is more laid-back and polite-sounding (but very enjoyable), the Crystal Cables sound somewhat closed down in the upper frequencies. In my system, they sound very dynamic, with exceptional instrumental timbres, and ample high and low frequencies. On the Chesky Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, the violin tone was exceptionally realistic, with more "body" sound than the Vector 1s. Having just heard an excellent violin played two days earlier at a local concert, I was struck by how similar the violin sound on the CD was to the real thing. Percussion instruments in the "Kabalevsky: Overture to Colas Breugnon" were more balanced; there was no emphasis at all, just superbly recorded, dynamic percussion.
Again, these are rather different cables, and each will have its greatest success when used in a sympathetic system.
The TARA Labs Vector 1 interconnect and speaker cables are a notable achievement in TARA Labss lineup. Their exceptional high-frequency energy and extension, and their spacious soundstage will complement most systems, producing more verve and transparency in the process. Even in my system, which wasnt the ideal match for the Vector 1s, their sound was not bright or peaky, just energetic and lively. In the many systems with a more polite, laid-back sound, the Vector 1s should be very open and detailed, and perhaps the perfect match. The stiffness of the Vector 1 cables could be a problem if your electronics or speakers require that your cables bend sharply, however.
The Vector 1 interconnects and speaker cables are easily the most enjoyable TARA Labs cables Ive heard, and they are far from the most expensive. Excellent sound at a reasonable price -- thats a concept I can live with.
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