This is a difficult review for me to write and I don’t mind admitting it. First of all let me say that I am very much a cable sceptic and as such my experience with high-end and esoteric loudspeaker cables and interconnects is somewhat limited and the expensive audio cables I have listened to have left me decidedly underwhelmed. Having been involved in studios, radio, sound-systems and bands throughout my formative years, my thoughts are very much “buy something that is fit for purpose and stop worrying about it”. And that’s what I’ve done over the years: Of course I’ve played with pricier cables like pretty much all of us will have, but I have always sold anything I have bought on afterwards and resorted to “thickish” copper audio cables. Finally, I decided to stop messing about and settled on Van Damme Blue 4mm – it does the job perfectly well to my ears and has been in place for a couple of years or so. My ‘scientific’ background, as far as it goes, also suggest that two loudspeaker cables will carry the electrons to the speakers in exactly the same way… so long as they are fit for purpose. I’m also not prone to wild and exotic beliefs: I don’t believe in fairies or hobgoblins and I refuse to accept that there are angels looking over and protecting me.
Other members of the review team fall squarely in the believers camp when it comes to audio cables and all I do is post up their “findings”… when they’ve reviewed a bit of kit, particularly cables, their conclusions have sometimes astonished me. So, when I got a call from Tellurium Q suggesting I should try their Black Ultra speaker cables, I felt duty bound to inform them that I was a sceptic, with limited experience of expensive loudspeaker cables and they were probably wasting theirs and more importantly my time. Despite this they sent out a pair of the cables for me to have a play with.
In the intervening period “She Who Must Be Obeyed” and I were having a bit of a giggle about all this nonsense and discussed at some length how deluded people must be to believe that a bit of wire can make any difference at all. We also scoffed at how anyone could splurge two grand on something that cannot sound, in any way, different from what we have already in the system costing less than fifty quid.
Now, when they eventually arrived (…thanks La Poste) I plumbed them into the system, fired up the hifi and plonked on the CD (always the same – Fleetwood Mac “Rumours”) and sat down and waited to be under-whelmed. It was just before lunch time and Mrs Hifi Pig was in the kitchen preparing our repas, but I thought I’d give these a quick five minutes then stick them back in the box from whence they came and get them back off to Tellurium Q with a “Told you so!” note. Thing is, it didn’t happen like that and I have to say I was a little taken aback. I looked around from my seat and behind me was stood SWMBO who had come in from the kitchen because “It sounded different”. The main thing we both expressed was how “odd” it was as we really expected nothing to change at all!
There’s a lot talked about expectation bias on the various hi-fi forums and I am a firm believer in the power of suggestion and believing that if you expect something to sound better/different then it will. I (we) expected to hear absolutely no difference in the sound coming from the speakers at all – nothing better and nothing worse, just exactly the same electrons being moved down the wire in exactly the same way and making what it was fed with from the source come out of the loudspeakers in exactly the same way as it can only do so. Now, I’m well aware that I’m likely as susceptible as the next man to being seduced by marketing hype and what not. Thing is there wasn’t any: cables arrived in a cardboard box and that’s about it, other than an e mail from Tellurium Q asking how I was getting on with them.
Tellurium Q is a UK based company and they say that they are primarily a “Research and Development company that also manufactures products”. Their technical director is one Colin Wonfor who readers may well be aware of as he was the designer of the Claymore amplifier, as well as producing the highly acclaimed TOCA SECA amplifier range. The company currently have five loudspeaker cables in their portfolio and the Ultra Blacks fall second to the top of the pile retailing at a not insignificant £255 per metre. The Ultra Black loudspeaker cable is made up of two cables encased in black ‘plastic’ separated from each other by around 3cm of what appears to be the same black plastic material – the cable is broad and flat and looks quite industrial – it is pretty inflexible as you may expect. The cables were terminated with Z Plugs.
The kit currently in my system has been there for a couple of years now and I’d like to think that I know the sound it makes pretty well. Amplifier is a TAC 300B in PSE, CD player is a Unison Research CD Primo and the vinyl front end consists of a Wilson Benesch Circle, modded Rega RB250 and an Audio Technica EV33AT. The only relatively new bit of kit in the mix is the Mummy loudspeakers which have been installed a good few months now. Interconnects are modestly priced, but well made affairs. My musical tastes vary from rock, to reggae and with a little jazz thrown in for good measure.
Very first impressions were as I’ve outlined in the opening spiel – something is definitely going on here with the top end being the element of the “changed sound” that was immediately apparent. The effect is like moving from a loudspeaker with a somewhat rolled off top end, to one that goes higher. If truth be known I didn’t like this “increase” in top end immediately, but after a handful of records being played it soon becomes evident that it is more “right” than with my standard cables – why this should be I have absolutely no idea. After an initial ‘acclimatisation’ period of a few more albums I started to listen more critically to the music. On went Rumours again and the go to track Songbird. What was evident on a closer listen was that there was more of the strummed guitar to be heard (which is often easy to miss unless you are specifically listening for it) and I put this down to a perceptible increase in definition at higher frequencies.
Bass notes also seem to be more resolute and there is no flabbiness to them at all. Dub Syndicate’s “Strike the Balance” is a serious slab of dub reggae and needless to say has some hefty bass-lines on show. With the Ultra Blacks in place there is definitely a feeling of tautness to the lower frequencies. Bass notes start and stop with an immediacy that makes listening to music a real toe-tapping, head nodding experience and the sound as a whole seems somehow more coherent. Reverb on drum hits is in some way more “defined” and less “splashy” – again things seem to start and stop when they ought to and this adds to what I can only describe as a sharper aural image.
I pulled out the Ultra-Blacks the Sunday of the first weekend of auditioning them and put in standard, studio-grade loudspeaker cable with 4mm conductors (in this case Sommer) and the effect was immediately noticeable to my ears. When SWMBO came in she asked what was wrong and what had I changed – “Just the loudspeaker cables” say I – “Well put the others back in” came her response.
After finishing the listening tests, carried out over a good few weeks and swapping in and out the original Van Damme Blue and the Sommer 4mm, I looked at the Tellurium Q website to find out how these speaker cables are put together. Sadly there is no information at all on the site and a call to Geoff Merrigan at the company’s head office was equally fruitless. What I did find on the site was that Tellurium Q claim that their speaker cables are designed to minimise phase distortion (Wiki quote “phase distortion or phase-frequency distortion is distortion that occurs when a filter’s phase response is not linear over the frequency range of interest). Tellurium Q says that phase distortion “smears” the sound you get coming out of your loudspeakers. I don’t claim to have the first idea of what phase distortion is, or a clue about what the graphs on the company’s website do or do not prove and so I’ll leave the science bit well alone and concentrate on using my ears – in fact I have to say the graphs were completely lost/wasted on me as I tend to skip over this kind of nonsense without a second glance, but the point about reducing “Smears” stuck out as being the thing I pulled from the auditioning process.
Ok, “so you like the sound the cables make and you prefer them over the standard studio grade offerings you’re used to, so why no recommended gong from you, Stuart?” I hear you ask. As outlined at the start of this review I was/am deeply sceptical of any cable that claims to make an audible difference to the sound coming out of the loudspeakers, but I did hear differences in my set up and I do trust my ears…so where does this leave me?
All I can suggest is that if you are in the market for a loudspeaker cable and you have the sort of money required, then go out and get an audition of the Ultra Blacks for yourself alongside your usual cable – if you like what you hear then buy them and if not then you have wasted nothing but a little of your time.
Author – Stuart
As an experiment in matrimonial bliss and to make sure I wasn’t going a bit “special” I asked Mrs Hifi Pig to write a few words about her thoughts on the Tellurium Q Black Ultras soon after they arrived. Neither of us have seen the others comments/review until a few minutes before publication.
Here’s what she wrote in full and unedited:
I’m actually quite accustomed to the constant parade of hifi that passes through the sty these days and if truth be told, I get quite excited by a lot of it and am more than willing to give it a fair hearing.
Now, I know a lot of the kit that arrives costs a lot of money, but I can see the value in most things.
A beautiful looking, hand crafted pair of speakers has got to be worth the money if they sound good, right? That amp with a startling array of valves on the top looks like it took a lot of work to put together, you can see what you are paying for, but cables, cables?
Aren’t they just bits of wire to string it all together?
There’s no point spending silly money on cables, is there?
Last week another parcel arrived (despite the best efforts of the French postal service) for Mr. Pig.
‘What’s in there, husband?’
‘Cables’ says he,
‘Yawn, what do they cost then?’
‘About 2 grand’
‘?%#£$ off!!! Who in their right mind spends 2 grand on a pair of cables?’
Well there they were, coiled like rather sinister black eels in their box, looking decidedly unexciting. I made some comment about ‘more money then sense’ and, kicking myself for sounding like my mother, went down to the kitchen to make some lunch.
After a few minutes the familiar strains of our most favoured test album, ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac, filtered through to the kitchen.
It sounded, well, different…this warranted a closer inspection.
Mr Pig was sat in his listening spot looking bemused, even troubled.
‘This sounds different’ says I
‘I know’ says he, ‘I don’t believe it!’
Now, when I say ‘different’ I was not immediately sure I meant ‘better’ but after listening to a few tracks I began to be able to put my finger on what ‘different’ meant.
It sounded much clearer, especially in the top end, there seemed to be more definition to the high notes, things were a little sharper.
This would all be very good, but while I was paying attention to the high notes, was the bass suffering?
Now, I like music with bass, years of clubbing and spending weekends in fields at raves has left me with a life long love of bass heavy music.
Much like Greg Wallace of Masterchef fame, I like a ‘buttery biscuit bass’ except he likes his on a cheesecake.
In the name of research I commandeered the CD player and sat back to listen to a few old favourites, a bit of Hardfloor, some Primal Scream for the sake of chillout and then most of the old school Prodigy stuff.
Happily, the bass wasn’t suffering at all, if anything it sounded more defined and there was non of that residual ‘fartyness’ that you sometimes get with the real deep stuff.
The full range of sounds sounded, well clearer. Clarity is the only word I can really find to describe the effect of these cables, and I must admit, as a cable sceptic, (OK, as a sceptic full stop) it shocked me.
If you are going to go out and spend a big chunk of you hard earned on speakers, amp, CD player and a deck then I reckon you should budget for a decent set of cables too. It sort of seems to ‘fine tune’ the sound.
I don’t know why it works, I don’t even know if it should work, but work it does.
In fact, if you are starting to think about your next speaker or amp purchase in that everlasting quest for ‘the perfect sound’ maybe you should try a pair of rather boring looking, expensive black eels first.
Author – Lin (Mrs Hifi Pig)