David Robson takes these relatively budget-minded cables from Scottish manufacturer Atlas out for a drive both individually and as a full loom set up.
Atlas EOS Modular 4 Way Power Distribution Block (unfiltered) £295rrp and Atlas EOS Power Cord. 13A 2sq mm (£160)
The Atlas EOS 4 Way out the box looks and feels like a good quality and well-made piece of equipment. It has no switches or unnecessary lights added to it, just a simple steel encased functional box. Although reading the specifications on the Atlas website this is no simple box. Each outlet has star wiring and the box is shielded from Rf / EMI via a welded steel chassis. It has a maximum 2.3kw capacity.
The EOS power cords likewise are well made with solid looking plugs and shrouded in black nylon style webbing. Slipping the 13A plug into its socket with so much ease it was virtually sucked into position, this brings to the fore how well this bit of kit has been made. All the components inside the sockets have been designed to give as great a contact area as possible and use materials that aid in the process to get the electricity as “quickly and as cleanly” as it can to your equipment.
I was unsure of what to expect from fitting the EOS to my main system as I was lucky enough to have a dedicated mains electric spur added to my listening room on a rebuild a couple of years ago. I have also always used a cheaper filter block on all the electronics in my home routinely also.
There is always a lot of “debate” with regards to power supplies and mains filters (among all the other debates) on social media groups with some people just discounting it as Hogwarts Snake Oil, others vehemently needing to vent their disagreement and then those who will sit back and smile knowing that their money has been well spent. My own take is that I’d always add some sort of filtering, as long as it doesn’t detract from the sound quality. If you hear sonic benefits then Boomshanka Baby! Enjoy.
Back to the Atlas EOS. Playing the much overused Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” CD there is a change to the music. It’s not a complete night and day, it isn’t even massively different in tonality. Then again, it doesn’t have to be, but different it is though! The change is more about a sonic perspective, maybe a little brighter. It feels like instruments have either grown or reduced slightly in size. Not in an unnatural way, just reorganised their relation to one another. This is only a very slight re-marshalling of priorities. Drums, guitars and vocals are as prominent as ever, but some of the associated percussion has moved a little in intensity, giving space to the music around it and offering up a bit more “realism” and believability to what I’m listening to. “Money For Nothing” bangs out with good timing and rhythm, Mr Knopffler’s vocals not getting congested in any way, drums and bass guitar striking the beat for the song and the growling lead guitar sits clearly behind the singer… but very clearly defined and in its own space. “Why Worry” has a similar presentation, the music feels quite airy and has taken on a delicate edge, the width and height of the soundstage seems to have grown too. Not with instruments but with space. During the track there is an echoing glockenspiel type sound from what seems to be the drum kit, towards the upper right of the sound picture. It arrives very much in a defined targeted position. Rock solid every time. Bass response throughout the album seems to dig a bit deeper, with a little added power and extension.
Throwing a bit of female lead vocal into the mix I pop in a bit of Joan Armatrading, from her “Love and Affection” album. The well-known “Drop The Pilot” trips out with nice timing and rhythm, although the music seems to have lost a little in excitement. Her voice has lost a little sparkle somehow, and yet the sound overall feels a little brighter. Onto “Show Some Emotion”, the bass boogies out funktastically and the acoustic guitar strings come across detailed and have a nice hard metallic edge and feeling, cymbals have a crispness that isn’t too hard either. Her vocals yet again just not hitting the spot for me. A change of artist and recording is required.
Eddi Reader’s Fairground Attraction has been with me from my teens, an amazing singer whose CD single of “Clare” has accompanied me to every audition. I’ve recently expanded my single CD and bought into several more Eddi and Fairground Attraction albums. I’m glad to say any reservations about the earlier Armatrading vocals with the Atlas EOS attached has been unfounded as Eddi’s musicality is rich and warm on tracks like “Walking After Midnight” and “Jock O’Hazeldean”. Details from the instruments in the Parisian-esque presentation of “Clare” are all clear and present. The track can get complicated and sibilant towards the end, but it never becomes a painful experience. Just a pleasant assemblage of sounds.
It’s in no doubt in my mind that the Atlas Eos and its associated power cables have an impact upon the sound by adding it to your system. I think if you have never used mains blocks/filters/conditioners before then bringing this to the table will bring pleasing results. It’s an open airy sound. It brightens up the sound a tad and adds a little hardening to the mids and treble, not in a clinical or acidic way but it takes a bit of the roundedness and a little warmth away from the sound.
I think the benefits need to be weighed up by the listener, as changes to a warm rounded sound if that’s your bag may not be to everyone’s taste. A home demo is recommended. If I was starting out again on my Hi-Fi journey I would definitely add a Mains block from the begining, then build with confidence knowing you have a good launchpad from the off.
Atlas Element Digital Optical Cable 1m (£30)
The Atlas Element cable is a bright white flexible cable using a PVC outer and incorporates a single strand of Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA) at its core, this is sometimes known as Acrylic Glass. This inner light conducting fibre is coated with a thermal protective shielding reducing warping risk and then the white outer protective PVC covering giving a final protection layer from impact or other damage.
On examination of the metal die cast plugs there are 2 recessed rubber bands on each connector to aid to gripping the plugs, these are easily dislodged and can come off. Either they need to be replaced with a tougher band or done away with altogether. Apart from that the Digital Optical cable is fitted with quality moulded ABS Toslink connectors. Using a good quality Toslink is essential as unfortunately I have inadvertently damaged and broken off the optical doors with inferior connectors on cheap cables.
Using my last used CD for the previous EOS review (Fairground Attraction “The Very Best Of”) for comparison purposes, it’s immediately obvious that this cable loses nothing much in the way of anything from the original sound within the CD player itself. Eddi Readers voice has its beautiful liquid quality left securely in place on “The Moon Is Mine” and “The Wind Knows My Name”. The deep bass notes reaching down low, not getting flabby or loose, her voice sailing from low to shimmering high without losing any composure. The brush on the snare drum, sweeping and detailed so you can feel the pressure of the bristles on the skin. I’m finding it difficult to find a negative to say really. If really pushed there may be a slight rise within the bass of vocals giving an ever so slight wooden feeling to some deeper vocal moments, this on only some tracks and has to be hunted out as its on very few.
A track this is sometimes apparent on is my copy of The Eagles “Hotel California” (remastered) title track. Nay nonny nay, it’s not there, there is a slight rise in bass though, a slight warmth to it. It’s not an unlikable sound at all! It remains tuneful and allows you to follow the bass guitar closely. Guitars range out well at the commencement of “Life In The Fast Lane” followed soon after by the well defined kick of the bass drum. Vocals are accurately placed and hold enough detail to feel its gravelly nature. The dynamics of the track are all held in place too. There is plenty of weight in the lower registers, although possibly a softening to it. Soundstage on “Wasted Time” is wide and well spread, that warmth keeping the vocals a little back in the musical picture, but it’s perfectly acceptable given the price of the Atlas Element Cable and the performance as a whole is very good.
Just to round things off with a bit of head-banging rock (before my other half gets home!) Guns and Roses get to go for a spin. Appetite For Destruction can sound a little harsh on my system at times. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” comes across with true outdoor concert like credentials. Axle Rose’s voice hanging correctly out front of the speakers and electric guitars sitting in the background giving a good depth to the performance. “It’s So Easys” guitar intro is rock solid in its composure, the accompanying cacophony of drums and cymbals come crashing out, but still being able to follow the vocals is a good sign that the detail isn’t being lost within the music.
This is a good budget Optical interconnect from Atlas. The Element portrays a faithful way to transport your digital signal from the player to the DAC. It loses very little if anything from the original recording. My own thoughts are that optical cable can add a little warmth or rounded sounds to music per-se. That is more about the equipment involved rather than the cable itself.
Atlas Equator Integra Mk3 RCA 1M (£75)
First look at the Equator cable brings about a definite quality look and feel. The pearlescent off white outer is terminated with clear plastic type RCA connections. The cable feels weighty in its construction, and is nicely finished. The Equator Integra cable doesn’t seem to be marked as directional. If a cable isn’t marked as directional my rule of thumb is that I match the writing on the cable to the same orientation and let the signal flow to the direction of the writing. This may seem a little picky, but it gives every unit tested and reviewed the same equal treatment. This Equator cable is fitted with Atlas’s Integra RCA plugs. A non-magnetic two piece internal that is solder free and cold welded. Further details are found on the Atlas website. Just to add, Atlas has supplied a Burn-In style CD with the cables. This is a really nice touch from the Scottish company. It’s also accompanied with an information booklet too that has a lot of information about this and other products. A welcome addition to your purchase.
After a few days burn in time I start my listening session with a bit of Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” album. And WOW! I’m immediately impressed with what I hear. A Beautifully succulent smooth sound, “Glamour Profession” bounces along with great verve and rhythm. There is a great deal of detail being pulled out of the recording, a very natural presentation. Bass guitar easily followed along with the vocals which can sound a little distorted with some cables, but with the detail brought out by the Equator this is not the case here. “Time Out Of Mind” starts with the Bass drum kicking away and a weighty piano intro. It’s deep and it’s taut and musically correct to my ears. The same can be said about the piano, it has a good presence and is not too forward or hard. The width and depth of the soundstage is just perfect. I have heard few set-ups, never mind cables alone, that can match what I’m hearing here. “My Rival” the slow melodic drum arrives with great timing and pace. The sound effects coming from far and wide within my listening room, the different cymbal strikes are easily differentiated between. If I have to be pushed to say a negative, it would be that the cymbals could sound a tiny bit crisper and the timbre could do with just decaying a millisecond longer. That is being super picky though.
From the funkiness of Steely Dan, to the chilled out tunes of Ben Howard’s “Every Kingdom” CD. A great album, not only for its content but its presentation too. The Detail in the track “Everything” gets brought to your ears. There is a bit of background shuffling and guitar string tuning and touching all heard clearly. The plucking of guitar strings and the touch of flesh on the metallic wires is all apparent, even the faked crackles and pops of vinyl (pet hate) is all there. Ben’s vocal is honed into the very middle of the soundstage. The inflections in his voice give an “in the room” presence and hangs a foot or more forward of the rest of the music. “The Fear” Guitar and vocal in isolated space, together and yet separate, the beat arrives and in great stereo “magicality” I have lost my speakers. They have ceased to exist in the room. Completely gone, just music left. With the lights off and my eyes shut there is just black void and sounds.
In honour of the recently sadly departed Thin White Duke I play “Best of Bowie”. “Ashes to Ashes” rips out, taking me back to my youth, Bowie’s vocals clear and individualistic, even in the multi-layered presentation, never getting lost within the track. “Lets dance”, “China Girl” and “Modern Love”. Probably not the best loved songs for the Bowie aficionados, but all have me foot tapping and wanting me to find my sharpest tailored suits and shirts, and to find a local 80’s discotheque to handbag dance in (none of which now fit or even exist)!! The varying qualities and sound of recordings across this “Best Of” CD show that the Atlas Equator Integra is unfussy of what it’s presented with. It seems to take everything in its stride.
I have to commend Atlas for this great cable. It stands up to cables costing five times or more the price. It wipes the floor with any budget cables. It’s neutral, rhythmical, detailed and balanced. The soundstage has to be heard to be believed. The only downsides I can hear is that it could do with a bit more top end sparkle. My system is quite a warm sounding affair anyhow and this may not be the case with other set-ups. As is always the case you should audition your intended purchases at home where possible. This will be my recommended cable to all who enquire.
Atlas Equator Mk2 Bi-Wire (2 into 4) Speaker Cable 2m (£120 terminated)
Having just reviewed the Equator Integra RCA cables I was looking forward to the Equator speaker cable. Both sets of wires have a very similar look of a pearlescent off white outer PVC style casing. The banana plugs fitted to my sample are my preferred gold plated Z style. I find these fit well into the 4mm holes and offer good contact. The banana plugs have grey shrouds which are not shrink-wrapped onto the cable leaving a gap from the shroud to the cable. I’m quite sure that all is very secure and well put together, but I’d like to see it fit a bit better with a more secure feel. Apart from that little niggle the rest of the cable is nice and flexible. My set for review is 2 banana plugs at the amp end to 4 at the speaker end allowing for Bi-Wiring. Where the cable splits to form the 4 wires there is an extra shrink-wrapped cover and it’s very secure and well finished.
After letting these cables burn in for a few days (Atlas offer a burn in service too) I load in the much used Eagles “Hotel California” into the CD. Rather apt after the sad departing of Glen Frey. We all know how this one starts with a nicely picked guitar. Strings come across well defined and frosty crisp, the percussion, cymbals and shakers all come through audibly clean, and appear out wide of the soundstage. The first thump thump of the bass drum kicks out with good power, but it’s a little less defined as the other instruments. This is the same for the other drum sounds, there is a slight softening to the stick strikes, making the drums sound a little soft. It’s not massively obvious and neither does it upset the song as a whole. Other details though are good. Nice smooth vocals, guitars are sweet sounding without becoming hair raising and the bass although a little softened goes deep.
Popping in “Crime Of The Century” a Supertramp staple for my listening tests and reviews, the story is the same. There’s bags of detail on offer from recordings. Playing “School” which has a lot of different sounding parts to the record, there is a good depth to the sound, punchy and rounded. With just that slight softening to the basslines – this softening takes a little excitement out of the male vocals, luckily the Atlas Equator show good timing and rhythm helped no doubt by their weighty kick. “Hide In Your Shell”, the introductory Male vocals lose a little feeling and emotion to them as the bass tones within the low registers in the voice makes the words a little indistinct. It is by no means a muddy or distorted sound, as when the rest of the music picks up tempo it’s all good in your face fun. As much as I may seem to be picking holes in the Equator its positives far, far outweigh any negatives. To prove a point to myself I go for some modern pop. Jess Glynne’s “I Cry When I Laugh”. Now I’m not about to get my old disco dancing attire out of retirement and tell you I’m up with the young guns. This is about as modern as I get. “Hold My Hand” is initiated by single piano key strikes and Jess’s smooth, sweet vocals hanging out to the front of the speakers. (After having to turn the volume down 2 notches from my standard listening level, lordy!). This is followed by the big bass sounds of the club scene, it just bounces along with good head nodding, foot swinging tunefulness. “Take Me Home” shows how beautiful Miss Glynne vocal ability is. It’s just a pity the music makers don’t see how her voice should be accompanied by a full spectrum of sound from the piano ( like on Songbird, McVie/Fleetwood Mac ) not the compressed variant on this track. This is the recording and nothing to do with our review cables, as the Atlas Equator do everything in their power to make this song an emotional cracker. The deep bass banging out, the artists vocals not affected by the ka-thump of the rhythms. Putting the pop/disco driven “Don’t Be Hard On Yourself” up to silly levels to see how the Atlas Equator coped, I can truly say there is something that takes me back to my youth with this pop music! Turning on the disco lights to add to the ambiance, the cable didn’t distort this electronically assembled music; neither did it harden up the female vocals, keeping everything quite separate and distinctly apart. Towards the end of the track there are some very deep sound effects which were all handled without any fuss, and the drivers where held within a tight grip and not getting into a flap (unlike my disco trousers!).
The Atlas Equator Bi-Wire is the real deal, it has its qualities evenly spread across its abilities. It doesn’t fail on any level. It gives a good amount of detail in the upper registers and it excels in timing, rhythm and its powerful presentation. The upper mids and treble are all well produced, nothing gets harsh or sibilant. The slight loss and fuzz of fine detail within the mid to low bass isn’t glaring and is only bettered by cables several times its cost.
Atlas Loom. 5. EOS Modular/Equator Integra RCA/Element Digital Optical/Equator Bi-Wire.
Having tested and reviewed the supplied Atlas cable Loom as individual items, I have now assembled them all together for a bit of a listening session. I personally wouldn’t have gone for a single manufacturer of cables to use in my system at one time (read 1980’s-90’s), as I don’t think back then that any one manufacturer had a full set worthy of using. Today though, the choices seem to be greater than in the past and quality seems to be higher than ever. I would say though, that once you venture beyond the budget end of cabling, that trying to have an audition or borrowing cables from your dealer is the way to go. Some will give you cables to try at home, some will let you buy cables with the understanding that if they are unsuitable you can return them and swap them for another. Be cheeky and ask. If your dealer won’t do this then I’d suggest going elsewhere, as profit not service or your musical pleasure is first and foremost in his ethics.
Anyhow, onto a bit of listening. I’m not going to go to specific albums etc, just a general overview on the Atlas loom. Across the board all these cables The Element Digital, Equator RCA and Bi-Wire Speaker cable and EOS Modular block/cable have given a good account of themselves. To my ears there is nothing that stands out in a negative way. Together these cables form a great combination. They win big time on drive and rhythm, I get a slightly warm presentation when I use the Optical cable in the system, but I’m convinced that is the way with optical in every cable. There is an abundance of detail and information producing a good presentation of the music in every genre.
The Equator speaker / Integra RCA are great soul mates, they seem to be cut from the same audio block and suit each other. There is a slight loss of detail from the lower end of the musical spectrum from the speaker cables, but add this to the soundstage and clarity of the Integra RCA it’s only a very minor gripe. The Equator Integra is my outstanding product in this group test. I’m blown away by the way it paints the sonic picture. It just makes me smile listening to it. It also makes me want to go out and buy one just to listen to every CD I own again with it in place! You may better it with other cables but you will pay a very heavy premium in cost to do that. I would also like to give a big Hurrah for Atlas supplying a Test CD with some of its products. It’s a nice gesture and quite invaluable when breaking in new RCA/Speaker/Coax cables. That little attention to detail goes a long way.
The EOS modular electrical block and its associated cables are well made and offer a slightly different presentation to the music. This quality product would, in my opinion need to be tried and auditioned with a current system. Although if I was building from scratch I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate it from the start. Knowing that you’re getting the best electrical feed and using it as trusted piece of lifetime kit.