The Best Cables
[Editor’s note: Welcome to the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2021! This year we decided to mix it up a little by breaking up the Buyers Guide into sections, which makes it a far more manageable read. And oh, we know what you’re thinking–the best cables, power products and equipment racks? Boy, have we gone off the deep end. How about some blind-testing to confirm your expectation biases? Let’s clear this up: these are the best cables, power products and racks that we, the PTA team, have used.]
(Note: audio cables are very system-dependent, so instead of offering long descriptions on each of these products, we’ll simply say that we have experienced tremendous success with each one.)
Ansuz X ($740 USD/1m)
Some of the best bass performance in a power cord we’ve ever heard, honestly.
AudioQuest NRG ($49-249 USD)
The AQ NRG is our go-to entry power cable. Lost cost, huge impact. If you don’t want to make a big investment, start here, and you will still hear an obvious difference from stock power cords.
AudioQuest Storm Series ($625-$1,995 USD)
We’re currently using the Blizzard power cords for use with the AudioQuest Niagaras. While this line is square in the middle of AQ power cords options, you can hear many of benefits that we see in their top power cables at a much lower price.
Cardas Audio Clear (starting at $749 USD)
A longtime reference for many of us here at PTA.
Core Power Valiant (starting at $179 USD)
Initial testing reveals these power cords, which use Furutech connectors, to be unusually versatile and an excellent value.
Furutech Powerflux (starting at $1,850 USD)
Another longtime reference–fantastic performance, great looks for a cable and some of the most intriguing innovations in the industry.
MasterBuilt Audio (prices vary)
It’s what Von Schweikert Audio insists on using with their loudspeakers–’nuff said.
Raven Audio Soniquil (starting at $149 USD)
If you think the prices of the best cables in high-end audio are out of whack, check out these well-built, attractive and extremely affordable cables from this Texas-based company known previously for their outstanding tube amps.
Signal Projects Golden Sequence ($4,675 USD)
Triode Wire Labs ($399-$1,399 USD)
Again, if you’ve been in one of those amazing Volti Audio and BorderPatrol rooms at the high end audio shows, that magical combo is hooked up with Triode Wire Labs. Great cables and fabulously underpriced, too.
Analog Cables (interconnects and speaker cables)
(Note: audio cables are very system-dependent, so instead of offering long descriptions of these products, we’ll simply say that we have experienced tremendous success with each one. Prices vary according to model.)
These minimalist and affordable cables are part of that incredible $11K Spatial Audio/LTA/LampizatOr system we see at all the shows. That alone makes them worth investigating in our hunt for the best cables.
All of that magic we keep hearing in those Fern and Roby/Linear Tube Audio systems? Hooked up with Chris Sommovigo’s Black Cat Cable.
A run of Cardas Audio Clear Beyond XLR cables ($6500 pr) has been a secret weapon for us in evaluating amplifiers and CD players. Along with Furutech Speakerflux and Lineflux, the reference cables for the Vinyl Anachronist for the last decade. An indispensable tool.
Core Power Defiant Diamond (from $995 USD)
Most of the attention in the cable market is drawn to the hyper-expensive stuff or the stuff that is claimed to be just as good as the hyper-expensive stuff but at a tiny fraction of the price. Enter the Defiant Diamond, priced right in the middle of the market, but good enough to find its way into a few lofty systems.
Furutech Lineflux and Speakerflux (from $2,650 and $3,650 USD pr)
Along with Cardas Audio Clear, this has been the reference cable for the Vinyl Anachronist for the last decade. Sounds great, looks sexy. Yeah, we said it.
Luminous Audio Technology Prestige III ($188 USD for an 8 ft. terminated pair)
Yep, that’s the right price. For less than $200 you can buy cable with a nice fit and finish that uses a modified helix array inside a polyurethane jacket to improve performance. At this price, the Prestige III could be a game-changer–especially for second systems and those new to the hobby.
MasterBuilt Audio (prices vary)
It’s what Von Schweikert Audio insists on using with their loudspeakers–’nuff said.
Jim Aud is a kind and thoughtful designer in person, and his cables seem to possess the same relaxed characteristics. Open and airy, and magical with tubes.
Raven Audio Soniquil (starting at $99 USD)
If you think the prices of quality high-end cabling are out of whack, check out these well-built, attractive and extremely affordable cables from this Texas-based company known for their outstanding tube amps.
Transparent interconnects and speaker cables have a long history in some of our listening rooms at PTA. Each generation from Transparent has successfully improved on tonality, dynamics and reducing noise, and their passive networks filter noise and try to provide some level of impedance matching in their higher-level cables. Transparent Ultra Gen 5 seems to be the sweet spot for performance vs. price.
Inexpensive but well-designed cables that we’ve found in some of our favorite systems. Excellent matches for loudspeakers such as Living Voice and Volti Audio.
One of those cable companies who feel like they’ve been around forever, and probably because they still turn out a fantastic product. Wireworld is also one of those cable companies who strive to make their cables sound like nothing at all.
(Note: audio cables are very system-dependent, so instead of offering long descriptions of the best cables in the digital realm we’ll simply say that we have experienced tremendous success with each one.)
AudioQuest Cinnamon USB (starting at $89.95 USD)
Affordable and one of the best cables for casual USB connections–we use a 20′ run from DAC to laptop to stream from the listening position.
AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet ($379 USD)
An easy and relatively affordable way to prove to yourself that an audiophile network cable can improve the overall quality of your streaming.
Nordost Heimdall Ethernet (starting at $699 USD)
One of the best network cables you can use when striving for excellent sound quality from music streaming services.
The USB cable the boss retrieves when he’s got some of that crazy state-of-the-art digital to enjoy. Expensive, but you’ll change your mind once you listen.
Shunyata Venom ($395 USD)
The Venom line has always been one of the most practical in the cable industry–solid construction, more than fair prices.
Skogrand Beethoven USB ($11,000 USD)
Crazy expensive, but a beautiful work of art. It seems strange to say that about a USB cable, but Knut Skogrand makes some of the best cables in the world.
Snake River Audio Boomslang ($595-$695 USD)
A whole line of digital cables with vibrant colors and serious cred among enthusiasts. Handmade cables, made in Idaho about “a three hour drive from the nearest McDonald’s or Walmart.
(Note: power management products such as powerline conditioners, filters and surge protectors are both system-dependent and house-dependent, so instead of offering long descriptions of these products we’ll simply say that we have experienced tremendous success with each one, especially when you use the best cables.)
Furutech’s NCF (Nano Crystal² Formula) might seem a little on the tweaky side, but this material has science on its side–“it generates negative ions that eliminate static, and it converts thermal energy into far infrared. This results in ‘piezoelectric effect damping’ properties.” Simply plug the Clear Line into the nearest AC outlet to your system–a spare outlet on a power conditioner is ideal–and you’ll hear a very audible reduction in noise.
Audioquest Niagara 1200 power conditioner ($999 USD)
The official replacement for the wildly popular Niagara 1000, the seven-outlet 1200 has a more substantial wedge shape that makes it to wedge into tight places. “Everything is designed for improved linearity, superior noise dissipation and minimized distortion.”
Gigawatt PF-2 w/LC-2 power cord ($1,500 USD)
Audioquest Niagara 3000 ($3,000 USD)
The latest Niagara features new technology you can’t even find in the flagship Niagara 7000, but the 3000 is impressive in its ability to be used with power amps. (This, of course, will fuel more debates about plugging amps directly into walls.) “The Niagara 3000 is designed to suppress noise across the frequency band consistently. More importantly, the 3000 has a current reservoir of 55 amps, which makes it suitable for high-current power amplifiers.”
Isotek Sigma power conditioner ($3,995 USD)
Another power conditioner that we see all the time at high-end audio shows, the Sigma excels at isolating noise in busy environments.
Purist Audio Design ($2,000 USD)
You may not expect a power conditioner to be aesthetically beautiful, but here’s one that will probably be more attractive than your power amp. Plus Jim Aud pays extra attention to damping materials in this gorgeous box, making it truly functional.
[Prices vary greatly according to size, features, options and finishes.]
Christopher Hildebrand and his crew are a mixture of precision machinists and master carpenters, so these custom audio furniture products offer an exceptional degree of fit and finish.
These massive, extraordinarily heavy equipment stands are designed to lower the noise floor of any system.
Our go to platform for our components. HRS M3X platforms come in various sizes and allow you to swap the feet based on load applied to the platform.
These Polish-made racks have been hand-tuned by blending alloy steel and another type of steel with high carbon content, and the anti-vibration spikes are among the most effective in the industry.
Box makes tasteful wooden equipment racks using high quality materials and mortise and tenon construction. Each model has been subjected to extensive listening tests.
These Australian-made equipment racks combine performance with beauty. Modular construction allows you to customize your rack to any system.
A top choice in audio isolation products that eliminate noise and vibrations. Each product is engineered to tight tolerances and calibrated for use with specific models of electronics accordingly with the electrical, mechanical and acoustical characteristics.
Despite the simple design—looks can be deceiving—this is yet another truly well engineered rack. Under some gorgeous multi-layer lacquer finish and solid wood shelves lies a cast aluminum chassis which eliminates resonances and dissipates vibrations. Excellent fit and superb finish.
Despite the company being better known for their all-aluminum state of the art speakers, they do produce a rack that is among the best engineered products in the category. A true tool designed for vibration control. Expensive, but precision engineering costs real money.
The Buyers Guides of 2021
- The Best Bookshelf Speakers
- The Best Floorstanding Speakers
- The Best Turntables
- The Best Phono Preamplifiers
- The Best Tonearms and Phono Cartridges
- The Best Reel-to-Reel and Cassette
- The Best DACs, Servers, Streamers, and Disc Spinners
- The Best Preamplifiers
- The Best Amplifiers
- The Best Integrated Amplifiers
- The Best Headphones, IEMs, and Headphone Amplifiers
- The Best Cable, Power, and Racks
- The Best Audio Accessories, Tweaks, and Voodoo
Looking for even more? Check out our “Best Of” awards in our year-end roundup on The Occasional Podcast. Now streaming on iTunes and all podcast platforms. We also offer educational and informative breakdowns for digital audio, getting into turntables and mastering in this year’s episodes.