New cables and companies making them are pretty much two a penny these days, but when user reviews on forums and blogs indicate something of special interest I take notice. The last time a popular groundswell of online opinion revolved around a cable (and still does) this led me to review the Mark Grant G1000HD interconnect (which interestingly retails for a similar amount to the subject of this review) which turned out to be an incredible cable, punching way above its price point. My findings caused a certain amount of consternation and incredulity at the time and I still stand by what I wrote back then about that cable.
My reasons for doing this review was to see if another cable, at an entry level price point, could also punch way above its price point in a similar way to how the Mark Grant’s had, and thus give the cash strapped audiophile another way into true high end performance for beer money.
Truth be told I had not heard of Epiphany Acoustics as their main products are headphone amplifiers (1) and while I use headphones, occasionally I might add, I don’t frequent any of the headphone related sites so I missed out on hearing about Epiphany Acoustics until I started to read comments on the forums, I do frequent, about them and some user reviews about the Atratus interconnect cable.
This is what Epiphany Acoustics say of themselves, on their website.
”Set up by Oliver Freeborn and based in the South of England, Epiphany Acoustics is a new manufacturer on the block which represents something of a fresh take on high end hi-fi products. We at Epiphany Acoustics firmly believe that first-class, beautifully-designed, hand-made audio equipment should not be the preserve of the very wealthy and ought to be available to those of more modest means. The key to achieving is simply by offering hi-fi for sale direct from the manufacturer, removing all the costs of a dealership.’
My curiosity suitably aroused by the positive comments on the Atratus interconnect cable I contacted Oliver Freeborn of Epiphany Acoustics in order to arrange a review of an Atratus. He send me two, which came in sealed poly bags with each cable strapped together and protective foam wrapped around the nicely made RCA connectors. The packaging was simple, and while some might prefer a nice box or fancy packaging, I am personally of the opinion that not having to pay anything extra for a product, which would be the case if fancy packaging was used, is a good thing as long as those savings don’t compromise performance and only the packaging. As long as it protects the product and is suitable for getting it to the customer in one piece that is all that is really required.
The retail price of this cable is a very modest £40 for a 1m stereo pair + £3.85 for postage.
The Atratus is a nicely made cable, reasonably flexible with solid RCA plugs, one of the pair of cable plugs being marked with a capital L to indicate the left channel. There is no direction label/indicator on these cables to indicate a preferred orientation, no instructions, just the cables and the poly bag they come in. Truth be told this is not a particularly special looking cable, in fact while not exactly a plain Jane, and in a similar way to the Mark Grant G1000′s, the Atratus does not exactly suggest incredible signal transfer is in its ability to offer instead it sort of suggest competent only.
I feel it would be a big mistake to judge the performance of any cable by how bling it looks, in fact the Mark Grant G1000HD looks cheaper than the Atratus, as does the Audience AU24 to a certain extent, and yet both of these cables offer stunning signal transfer. My own higher end reference, the Atlas Mavros cable are also while attractive enough not exactly a high bling design either. The thing all these cables offer is excellent choice of material, implementation of those material and construction which leads to high performance.
I asked Oliver Freeborn of Epiphany Acoustics a few questions about the cables and all he would say was that they were made to ‘their specifications’. I can respect his wanting to remain tight lipped about what is under the hood, so we will just have to go with what Epiphany Acoustics say on their website…..
‘The Epiphany Acoustics Atratus interconnects are audiophile grade analogue RCA cables designed in accordance with our key philosophies of good value whilst maintaining superlative performance. Only the highest quality conductors, shields and plugs are used in the Atratus interconnects, as well as a well engineered design, to maximise sound quality.
The design incorporates a dual shield construction – utilising both a copper braid and foil – to protect the internal heavy gauge signal conductor from extraneous noise pick up and interference. The Atratus is terminated with very solid RCA plugs to ensure no degradation of sound quality and finished with a stylish black and white jacket.’
These cables, as with all Epiphany Acoustics products are sold direct through their website and in the case of the Atratus cables, Epiphany Acoustics offer to refund your money if you are not happy with your purchase, within a 14 day trial period. You can’t say fairer than that….
‘We are absolutely confident that the Atratus interconnects will boost the sound quality of your hi-fi system. If you are not completely satisfied, you can return the interconnects within 14 days of receiving them for a full refund.’
Many new companies are opting to take this ‘selling direct’ route rather via the traditional dealer model and while I feel that selling via the dealer brings many benefits to both new and well established audio companies, it can’t really be argued against that it does also make products that much cheaper to the end user; if the dealer’s margin is removed from the final selling price.
The system I used for the review comprised of a Moon Andromeda CD player, Marantz SA7 SACD player, AMR CD77 CD player, Balanced Audio Technology VK31SE pre-amplifier (latter replaced by a BAT VK300SE also used as a pre-amplifier) Music Reference RM200 mk1 power-amplifier, Anthony Gallo Acoustics SA amplifier, Anthony Gallo Acoustics 3.5 (used at beginning of review) and 3.1 speakers for rest of the review. All equipment was housed on Clearlight Audio Aspekt Racks, with SSC and BASE Isolation platforms, Sound Mechanics M8 Cones were used as well. Signal cabling was Atlas Mavros XLR to XLR, RCA to RCA and speaker cable. Other signal cables used included QED Silver Spiral and Mark Grant G1000HD interconnects. Mains cabling was Audience AU24 and Analysis Plus Silver Power Oval. No mains conditioners were used during the review.
I decided to use the Mark Grant G1000HD interconnect as a direct comparison cable (no surprise there really) as this cable is my budget reference. I perhaps also unfairly used the dearer Atlas Mavros and anything else I had to hand, which also included the excellent QED Qunex Silver Spiral which would act as a slightly dearer reference to the Mark Grant G1000HD’s.
While running the cables in I used a broad range of recordings from Thomas Dolby’s new album Map of a Floating City, to Sheriff’s one and only AOR masterpiece and many, many more as well. However for the review proper I stuck to my usual selection of reference recording…
The Dali Demo CD
Nitin Sawhney – Beyond Skin
Thomas Dolby – Aliens Ate My Buick
Early experiences with this cable, taken directly from its poly bag were promising but I wanted to put as many hours on it as I could before sitting down to listen seriously. For ease of use and quick swaps much of my listening was done with my Marantz SA7 SACD player initially and then latter on my AMR CD77 CD player.
It became clear to me fairly quickly during initial listening that this particular cable needs a lot of run in, as an annoying disconnect between the frequencies, creating a kind of Venetian blind effect persisted well into 40+ hours use. The bass was also somewhat bloated, heavy, lacking definition and somewhat detached from the mid and treble. After 100+ hours many of the problems I noted early on had sorted themselves out with the bass, mid and treble lining up and becoming coherent with each other.
Once again this proves (to me at least) that cable run in is no myth or delusion and anyone auditioning this cable would be foolish in the extreme not to pay at least lip service to this, as not to do so, means you won’t have heard this cable properly.
Despite all these initial issues I still felt I could hear enough interesting things with this cable to proceed with the review, so I persisted with run in and I am glad that I did.
One other problem that occurred midway through the review, is that I had to retire my BAT VK31se as the thumping problem I have had with it for awhile, was diagnosed as being a potential capacitor pack failure. So in the interests of not wanting to damage my amplifier or speakers with a sudden total failure I pulled the pre-amplifier out of my system and replaced it with the slightly less transparent and lighter, brighter sounding VK300se integrated which I used as a pre-amplifier thus keeping a BAT in the system.
Despite the slight change in tonality and transparency by introducing the BAT V300Se the overall results during listening didn’t change significantly.
Once I had passed the 100+ hours (using a mixture of music and an old PAD burn in CD) I sat down to seriously listen to this cable and while I had mostly used my Marantz SA7 initially, the return of my AMR CD77 to my system saw me using this CD player for the rest of the test period.
The Atratus interconnect sits just to the ever so slightly leaner and slightly more forward side of things and listening to music via it, it gave a somewhat larger presentation than music had via the Mark Grant G1000; with the soundstage sitting further out into the room, well in front of the speakers but good depth of image, height and width was also present. Instrument separation was also very good with nice clarity and detail.
Listening to the track Pulp from Thomas Dolby’s album Aliens Ate My Buick the Atratus allowed me to hear fairly deep into the mix of the album with ease but also to just sit back and enjoy the overall performance and enjoy it. I found myself listening to a few more tracks than I had intended before switching to the Mark Grant G1000 interconnect. It was interesting to hear the way this track sounded via this cable, as it presented a slightly less forward sound, with a generally similar tonal balance to the Atratus (just a tad warmer) and overall music was presented in a more controlled way. Via the Atratus there was a degree more energy (loudness) and get up and go to the track Pulp and after swapping back and forwards a few times this slightly more exciting presentation of music never felt wrong as such just different to the Mark Grant;through which music didn’t sound restricted just more orderly and perhaps natural.
The one area where the Mark Grant interconnect was better was in the area of bass where the G1000HD had better definition, control and clarity. The Atratus still had a lack of definition and a slightly bloated quality, which to my mind indicated that the interconnect perhaps still needed more run in. This issue had at the very start of the review been very obvious when I had just started using the cable and despite the long run in it still persisted just less so than at the beginning of use. Whether more run in cures this I can’t say; at this time. I feel that a revisit feature may be in order after a lot more hours are put on the cable (2). One area of frustration, and I always feel this way before beginning a review, is just how much use is required to reach a base line level of performance for any product I write about. Pre run in items are always welcomed as I know where I am at with them, but sadly, while that aids the certainty of a products performance, thus to an extent guaranteeing the consistency of review results it does preclude me finding out how a products sound changes as its used.
Listening to the track Stimela by Hugh Masekela, after many swaps I felt the Mark Grant interconnect just sounded a tad more natural, open and detailed but not by much.
One thing I must comment on here, is that I did not personally find the performance of this cable music dependent. Whether it was acoustic jazz, rock, pop, electronica or dance the cable performed consistently across all genres.
Up next was a comparison with a QED Silver Spiral interconnect from a few years ago (about 6) which sounded very similar to the Atratus except that it lacked a little of the body of the Atratus and was ever so slightly leaner, though both cables had a similar forwardness to them. I can’t say how a modern up to date Silver Spiral would compare but on this showing the Atratus was the better interconnect and for half the price that the Silver Spiral sold for in its day.
Listening to tracks from Nitin Sawhney’s wonderful album Beyond Skin was useful, as the slightly over modulated deep bass on some tracks once again highlighted the still persisting slight lack of definition that the Atratus cable still exhibited in the bass. Once again doing comparisons between the Mark Grant G1000 and the Atratus while listening to this album had me favouring the G1000 over the Atratus’s, ever so slightly louder, forward and what I would have to call marginally hyped sound. In the context of my system the Mark Grant G1000 HD sounded more natural and even handed but I can think of many types of systems where the Epiphany Acoustics Atratus might be more at home.
Context as they say is everything and so too is system synergy and in my review system, while the Mark Grant G1000 sounded overall better that the Epiphany Acoustics interconnect, the Atratus still offered excellent value for money. In fact I am really quite amazed at the level of performance that can be obtained from the likes of the Mark Grant and the Epiphany Acoustics interconnects compared to some (please note I said some, not all) more mainstream cable companies; who charge considerably more for subjectively less sound per pound; in my opinion.
I can’t help but wonder if more hours of run in on the cable might open the bass up a tad more and reduce the slight heaviness I also heard from time to time. I also wonder if more run in might also remove the slight feeling of music being bigger and louder through this cable (3) than the other interconnects I compared it to, or is this just in the nature/characteristic of this particular cable? At this point of time I have no answer for that particular question.
However the Epiphany Acoustics Atratus interconnect cable is well made, has a very good level of sound quality per its very reasonable price, in fact it does punch above its price point re performance. It has very good levels of clarity, its open and detailed, with a nice wide, deep, high soundstage and despite the few quirks I found while listening to it (which further run in may solve or further ameliorate) I do still feel this interconnect should be on a short list for anyone looking to buy one either for a start up system (where I feel it might possibly be better suited) or a mid priced system. The only caveat is give it plenty of run in (100 hours +) and it will reward you with a very enjoyable sound; though one that is not entirely without some character of its own.
(1) Epiphany Acoustics first two products were headphone amplifiers (both of which look very interesting ) and you can read more here about the EHP-1
(2) One area of frustration, and I always feel this way before beginning a review, is just how much use is required to reach a base line level of performance for any product I write about. Pre run in items are always welcomed as I know where I am at with them, but sadly, while that aids the certainty of a products performance, thus to an extent guaranteeing the consistency of review results, it does preclude me finding out how a products sound changes as its used.
Reviewing is always a balancing act and I always want to give the items I write about a fair crack of the whip, this can take time and sometimes more than is ideal re editorial content but I feel the quality of reviews and their accuracy must outweigh quantity of editorial.
(3) The only way I can really put this into a descriptive context was that the Mark Grant G1000 sounded the way CDs from 10 + years sound compared to how modern CDs sound, in that music through the Atratus interconnect sounded louder and more energetic. Neither cable curtailed dynamics or compressed them so I am left puzzled by this as I have never come across this before. At the end of the day as in all things system synergy is everything and in many systems the Atratus will work well but in my system the Mark Grant cable was consistently preferred.
Product Reviewed: The Epiphany Acoustics Atratus Audiophile Interconnect
Retail Price: £40.00 per 1 pair of 1m cables + Postage at £3.85
Source of Loan Product: Epiphany Acoustics
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