AntiCable speaker wires are a high performance yet affordable alternative to boutique speaker cables. Created by Minnesota's Paul Speltz, the AntiCable design flies in the face of just about every high-end convention (hence the name). More about that in a moment. I don't tend to get drawn into audiophile products or reviews. As someone who knows how records are really made, I have a difficult time recognizing the value of $900 RCA cables, green markers for CDs, brilliant pebbles, and some of the other products out there. But I recently had an experience that made me rethink some of this.

In my mastering room are two main towers with stereo subwoofers. The mains had been wired to my amplifiers by a big-name audiophile brand (I prefer to withhold the name). But they are representative of audiophile cables: complex covering, the thickness of a baby's arm, secret black box in the middle of the run, and a price tag of $3800 for a 10 ft pair. The subs had been connected with entry-level AudioQuest cables. While cleaning for our holiday party, someone switched the AudioQuest and "Expensivo" cables on my left speakers. (Why? Who knows!) The next day, I started working on a project and thought something was strange. The mix seemed to have the snare drum panned mid-left. It was almost 2.5 dB louder than the right channel. The left channel seemed "dry," and all the reverb seemed to come from the right side. I checked the other songs, and found the same thing. I pulled out headphones and the snare was down the middle. I started to wonder if my gear had an issue. Eventually, I traced it back to the speaker cable swap. At that point, I started to question the accuracy of my coo- coo-priced cables.

Based on a suggestion from Thomas Eaton, I called Paul at AntiCables. Explaining my setup to the owner, I ordered two sets of their Level 3 Reference Series cable. (I bi-wire my mains, which is a topic for another day.) A few days later, the order arrived, and boy was I surprised. These are really different cables.

Instead of a flexible, multi-strand rope, AntiCables are made from solid-core, highly-annealed, super-long drawn, continuously-cast, high-purity, oxygen-free copper. Thus, they lack the flexibility of strand-based cables. In person, they look like coiled coat hanger wires with a deep red anodized surface. While each AntiCable wire run is obviously thinner than my baby's-arm cables, don't let that imply lack of quality. Each Level 3 vein is made up of four heavy, 12-gauge, solid-copper wires. The outer covering (called dielectric material in audiophile catalogues and science books), is only 0.001'' thick. The wires are flexible enough to be bent during installation, yet firm enough to retain a shape after you let go.

For testing, I tried five different cables: "Expensive," AudioQuest, 12-gauge Monster from the "Big Box" store, AntiCable, and some 12-gauge power cord from Home Depot. Prior to doing this activity, I operated under the assumption that any decent copper cable would be fine for my purposes. However, the tests disproved this convention. The 12-gauge power cord sounded absolutely dismal. Mixes were dark, distant, and unfocused. Maybe it was the connection to the binding posts, but I was surprised by how bad these were. The Monster cables sounded much better, and since they used the same raw- end connections as the power cable, I ruled out the binding post theory. Stay away from bulk copper wire. The AudioQuest cables were a big step up in many regards. Most notable was the added detail. I had a clearer picture of each instrument, its panning, and effects. I moved to my Expensive cables and was thrown.

The Expensive set sounded completely inside-out different. The sound stage was much deeper. The stereo width seemed wider and everything sounded, for lack of a better word, "prettier." I could see why someone would shell out money for this kind of cable with the reassurance that their system sounded "better." More pleasing? I can agree to that, but more accurate? No way! Not at all. In fact, they are misleading, if anything. Moving to the AntiCables was like the AudioQuests had been massively upgraded. Sure, I lost the hyped sound of the expensive cables, but I could locate each mix element with pinpoint accuracy while hearing a full range of frequencies. I felt like I could call out pan values used in the mix stage and be dead on. At this point, I had not used the cables for the suggested 100-hour break-in, but there was no going back. To use analogies, it's like watching a classic movie where the heroine is shown through a diffusion filter - all soft, smooth, and lovely; that was the Expensive cables. But the AntiCables are like watching a sports event in high-definition. You see the sparkles in each football helmet and every wrinkle on the announcer's face. To distill it down to one word: clarity. While that may or may not be the goal for some audiophile listeners, in audio engineering, we demand honesty from our playback systems.

Readers with self-powered monitors have figured out that this review focuses on wire that runs between a power amp and the speaker cabinet. (That connection is internally wired in powered monitors.) But there are other areas where AntiCables could work in the studio. I would love to try some AntiCables between a guitar amp head and cabinet. We'll have to see what the manufacturer thinks of that idea. My only complaint is that I got spades on both ends, but would choose their optional banana BFA plugs for the speaker side. That would make it much easier to connect. I chose the Level 3 because of the full range system I was running. But mid-field users (e.g., NS-10M fans) could be satisfied with the more affordable Level 2 speaker wires. I wish I had tried these years ago. No more putting on headphones to double-check clicks and reverb tails. I have to go - I need to list my Expensive cables on eBay before this review runs.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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