Audioquest Niagara XLR Interconnect Review

DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,603
edited December 2007 in 2 Channel Audio
Part 1. Introduction

I wanted to and tried to get off cheap [footnote 1], but I fooled around and ended up being seduced by the sound of carriage trade cables. After my good experiences with the Audioquest LeoPard DBS tonearm cable and Volcano DBS speaker cables, I decided to see how well the DBS (dielectric bias system) magic would work in the rest of my two channel system. The LeoPard and Volcano reviews are here for LeoPard and here for Volcano.

niag-cbl-dbspak-6x4.jpg
Figure 1. Audioquest Niagara DBS XLR cables.

niag-cbl-dbs-box-6x4.jpg
Figure 2. I appreciate audio gear packaging with nice
glossy pictures that send subliminal messages.:)


niag-box-case-6x4.jpg
Figure 3. Inside the glossy box is a black canvas case lined in velvet.
Such high class.


niag-case-open-6x4.jpg
Figure 4. The Niagara case is lined in velvet. Luxurious packaging
of this sort makes me feel...luxurious.


Part 2. DBS Economics

I wanted to go for AQ’s top of the line Sky XLR interconnects, but I knew I would have always been nagged by the thought of: “Was the extra cost over the Niagaras justified?” Sometimes with audio cables, there is less than a gnat hair's difference between a manufacturer’s top of the line and their second best. I decided to evaluate the Niagaras first in order to better judge whether the cost differential was justified in my system. Another important reason is that Sky interconnects, particularly the XLR versions, are difficult to resell on the used market (unless the seller is offering a spectacular deal). It is much easier to resell the Niagara cables. One has to be mindful of such realities when going round and round through cable evaluations. Lastly, the Niagaras come in a much more appealing box.:) The picture of the sun setting behind the Niagara river is suggestive of speed and power and music flowing effortlessly out of your speakers. The picture on the Sky box shows a bright sun above a layer of clouds. What is that supposed to be suggestive of?:confused: I hesitate to think that the lofty vantage point represented in the photo is supposed to inform that Sky cables are far above everything else available. Whatever the intended message, it is not very appealing to my testosterone. A sky scene depicting clouds and a lightning strike might have induced a desire to acquire a pair [footnote 2].;)

Skyboxpic-r.jpg
Figure 5. Nice picture, but lacking in impact.

The retail prices (MSRP) for Sky interconnects are 70% more than those of the Niagaras. On the used market, the cost differential is an average 21%. The best prices I have found for new AQ DBS cables was a 30% discount off MSRP when purchased alone and up to a 45% discount off MSRP when purchased as part of an audio system. Used Sky and Niagara cables sell in the range of 30% to 50% off their MSRP [footnote 3].

The physical differences between the Sky and Niagara cables are:

1. Sky contains 15% more silver. Sky consists of three 20 AWG solid silver conductors. Niagara consists of one 20 AWG solid silver conductor and two 21 AWG solid silver conductors.

2. Sky uses 50% larger Teflon air tubes around the silver conductors. The thought of paying a premium for a cable that contains 50% more air is somewhat unsettling.

3. The jacket and connector colors are different.

I called Audioquest and asked for a general, ballpark quantification of Sky’s performance improvement over Niagara. I was only told that the difference was “dramatic” and “must be heard to be believed”. I have not been able to find an audio press or consumer review comparing Sky and Niagara.

Part 3. The Sound

I started out by replacing the left 1.0m Transcendent cable between my Xono phono preamp and X0.2 preamp [footnote 4]. The sound shifted slightly to the left as the left side became apparently louder and measurably louder by 1 to 1.5 dB. Sounds on the left edge of the soundstage were a little bit clearer than sounds on the right edge. Installing the right side Niagara cable resulted in the front of the soundstage moving a foot forward. Soundstage width and height remained the same as with the Transcendents. The bass was more articulate and had more impact, but it was not the dramatic difference as when I went from the Signal Cable Silver Resolution tonearm cable to the Audioquest LeoPard. Images within the soundstage had a little more weight. Replacing the 2.0m Transcendent cable between the X0.2 preamp and the JC 1 power amps produced a further, but smaller, apparent increase in volume, but this was not reflected in sound level measurements. There was a small increase in detail, but I did not notice this until songs were fading out to the end and I could hear background sounds that I had missed before. Images at the rear of the sound stage also moved back a little bit for an increased sense of depth.

In replacing the 1.0m and 2.0m lengths of PS Audio xStream Resolution Transcendent XLR interconnects in my analog source chain, I got slammed hard by the law of diminishing returns with the Niagaras. The LeoPard tonearm cable made a dramatic improvement in all aspects of the sound. The Niagaras just provided further refinements.

Next, the effect of the Niagaras in the digital source chain was evaluated. I put the 2.0m Transcendents back in between the preamp and power amp and played a few reference CD’s and SACD’s to make baseline notes and image placement charts. I then replaced the 1.5m Transcendent between the SACD player and preamp with the 1.5m Niagara, sat down and braced for more diminishing returns.

I was startled by the improvement in volume, speed, harmonics, dynamics, and detail throughout, especially detail at low volume levels (55-60 dB). I had to turn the X0.2’s volume control from 32 to 29 for an average SPL of 90 dB. As with the analog source, there was an increase in depth and in the degree of image projection ahead of the speaker plane. I gained another foot forward. Soundstage width remained the same as with the Transcendents. The most dramatic difference was in image weight, which improved significantly. The difference between the image weight with the Transcendents and the image weight with the Niagaras was comparable to the difference in weight between Chris Rock and Ahhhnuld. This was particularly noticeable on plucked string instruments (e.g. acoustic bass, harp) and hammered instruments (e.g. drums, piano, xylophone). The Niagaras were much better than the Transcendents in preserving tonal balance as the volume was turned down. Usually bass level and definition diminishes more than other parts of the frequency spectrum when the volume is turned down. The Niagaras preserved the tonal balance of the music at very low volume levels. When I replaced the 2.0m Transcendent between the preamp and power amp with a 2.0m Niagara, the only differences I heard were a slight increase in overall volume and a slight increase in detail at the rear and sides of the soundstage.

I'll probably, maybe, might, eventually buy or borrow a pair of Skys just to see what all the rave and hoopla is about...but I am in no hurry. Based on the diminishing returns factor I experienced with the Niagaras, and more so on the abusive resale situation with Skys, I am not as enthusiastic about evaluating them as I once was. If I run across an attractive deal on the used market I'll go for it. Otherwise, I'll be content to enjoy them vicariously through the ears and words of those more fortunate.:)

Part 4. Conclusion-Life In The Valley Of Diminishing Returns...Ain't So Badsmiley-red-dancer.gif

The Niagaras made a significant improvement in my digital source chain but were not as effective in my analog source chain, which was already running a DBS cable from the tonearm assembly. In both cases, the performance improvement was not commensurate with the expense incurred to provide the improvement. However, sometimes a 25% performance improvement will bring about a 100% or more increase in listening pleasure...as it did in this case.;)

I gained a new level of respect for the PS Audio Transcendents. They are exceptional bargains for the high level of performance they provide.

In the digital source chain, the Niagaras were 3X the $$$ of the Transcendents and I received a subjective 2X improvement. Not a 1:1 correlation, but it was worthwhile...to me [footnote 5].

The Niagaras are 2.6X and 3X the price of the Transcendents (for 1.0m, and 2.0m lengths) but I only received a subjective 0.25X improvement over the Transcendents in the analog source chain...but I wanted that extra 25% because it was such good sound. :)

_____________________________________________

[1] A review of Home Depot 6 gauge speaker cable is here.

[2] A clouds and lightning theme was used on AQ's former packaging for their NRG series power cables.

[3] MSRP for Niagara-1.0m-$1500, 1.5m-$1875, 2.0m-$2250. MSRP for Sky-1.0m-$2500, 1.5m-$3200, 2.0m-$3900.

[4] A review of the PS Audio Transcendents is here.

[5] Transcendents are $500, $650, and $850 for 1m, 1.5m, and 2.0m.
"So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
"Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
"Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
"Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK

Comments

  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,603
    edited December 2007
    Part 5. Associated Equipment

    Pass Laboratories X.02 Preamp
    Pass Laboratories Xono Phono Preamp
    Parasound Halo JC1 Monoblock Amps (600 wpc into 6 ohms)
    Teres Audio Model 255 Turntable with Graham 2.2 Deluxe Tonearm
    Sonic Purity Concepts and Design Record Clamp ("The Clamp")
    Ortofon Jubilee Moving Coil Cartridge
    Cary Audio CD 306 SACD/HDCD/CD Player
    Polk Audio SDA SRS 1.2TL Speakers (Modified)
    Audioquest LeoPard 72V DBS Phono Cable
    Audioquest Volcano 72V DBS 9 AWG Speaker Cable
    Signal Cable 10AWG MagicPower Cords for Amps and SACD Player
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • Early B.Early B. Posts: 8,171
    edited December 2007
    Great review.
    HT/2-channel Rig: Sony 50” LCD TV; Toshiba HD-A2 DVD player; Emotiva LMC-1 pre/pro; Rogue Audio M-120 monoblocks (modded); Placette RVC; Emotiva LPA-1 amp; Bada HD-22 tube CDP (modded); VMPS Tower II SE (fronts); DIY Clearwave Dynamic 4CC (center); Wharfedale Opus Tri-Surrounds (rear); and VMPS 215 sub

    "God grooves with tubes."
  • GrantWilsonGrantWilson Posts: 1
    edited November 8
    I was not sure which one to choose: Audioquest Interconnect cables or Wireworld. TheAbsoluteSound reviews also share a couple of examples how to use those and schemes too.


    AudioQuest interconnects any good on Steve Hoffman's hire essay writers
  • F1nutF1nut Posts: 42,966
    ^ More spam ^
    Political Correctness'.........defined

    "A doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a t-u-r-d by the clean end."


    President of Club Polk

  • joecoulsonjoecoulson Posts: 3,603
    When I got the AW Colorado XLR’s, the changes were almost identical to what you have noted here. The exception being I went from AQ Red River to the Colorado. Thank You for the review.
    Auralic Vega G1/Rega TT/Denon SACD - Parasound P6 - PS Audio M700x2 - Elac Adante AF-61 - AQ Niagara 5000 - SVS SB16u
  • verbverb Posts: 8,009
    Always love your reviews @DarqueKnight ! :smile: Very detailed and well written. Even the comments about the packaging and messaging of the Sky vs. Niagara boxes! Great job sir! :smile:
    Basement: Polk SDA SRS, Cary SLP-05 Pre, Enlightened Audio Designs CD Transport, Northstar Designs Excelsio DAC, Silnote Morpheus Ref2 Digital Cable, Marantz SA-14 SACD, McIntosh MC300 Amp, Furman 15PFi Power Conditioner, Pangea Power Cables, Wireworld Oasis 8 RCA IC's, MIT Shotgun S3 IC's, MIT Shotgun S1 Bi-Wire speaker cables
    Office: PC, EAR Acute CD Player, EAR 834L Pre, PASS ACA Monoblocks, Denon UDR-F10 Cassette, Acoustic Technologies Classic FR Speakers, SVS SB12 Plus sub, MIT AVt2 speaker cables, IFI Purifier2, AQ Cinnamon USB cable, Groneberg Quatro Reference IC's
    Spare Room: , Antique Sound Labs Wave AV-8 Monoblocks, Tisbury Mini Passive Pre, Tjoeb 99 tube CD player (modified Marantz CD-38), Analysis Plus Oval 9's, Zu Jumpers, AudioEngine B1 Streamer, Klipsch RB-61 v2, SVS PB1000 sub, Blue Jeans RCA IC's
    Living Room: Peachtree Nova Integrated, Cambridge CXN v2 Streamer, Furman 15PFi Power Conditioner, Polk RT265 In Wall Speakers, Polk DSW Pro 660wi sub
  • kharp1kharp1 Posts: 3,392
    I see the problem....it's all the cheap, low end gear you're using :) seriously though, another well done review. I always appreciate your reviews. Good balance of technical information and real world listening. Also, really appreciate your describing steps taken when making changes. Having gone through the same processes when switching out gear, I'm often left wondering, when reading other reviews, what their process was when reviewing, especially if there was something they didn't like about the product.
    Main System:
    Joule-Electra LA 100 MKIII Upgraded by Rich Brkich Pre
    Butler Audio TBD 2250 Amp
    PS Audio DirectStream DAC and MemoryPlayer Transport
    LSA-1 Statement
    SVS SB4000 & SB2000
    Wireworld Equinox 7 bi-wire, Wireworld Silver Eclipse 7 IC

    Secondary Rig:
    Parasound P5, Audio Electronics by Cary Constellation
    Marsh a200s, Audio Elecrtonics by Cary Hercules
    Pioneer Elite DV-45a, Denon DVD-2910
    Klipsch Epic CF-1, Vandersteen 3CE sig
    Analysus Plus Oval

    Backup Gear:
    Pass Labs Aleph 30, McCormack DNA-125, Parasound A21
    Marantz SA-14S1
    Usher CP-6311/Tyler Acoustics Taylo Reference Monitor, LSA-1
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 31,642
    You feeling under the weather Ray ? Why such a short review ?? :)

    Ha....thorough as always my good man. Though I must say, I'm a bit shocked you spent that much on cables.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1430
    Tad 803 speakers
  • motorhead43026motorhead43026 Posts: 3,319
    LoL, 12 years ago.
    2 channel: Anthem 225 Integrated amp; Parasound Ztuner; TechnicsTT SL1350; Vincent PHO-8 phono pre; Marantz CD6005 spinner; Polk SDA2BTL's; Cables ZU Mission IC's, SC and power cords, all into a PS Audio Dectet Power center.

    All TV's sound enhanced by Polk Magnfi Mini's.

    Other; S60'S, M10 series II, M7C's, Hafler XL600 amp, RB-980BX, Parasound HCA-1500 amp , P5 preamp, all in storage. All speakers have had crossover rebuilds, resulting in a small fortune invested in Sonicaps, and tweeter upgrades.

    Political memes posted as fact and accepted as fact, are sign language of the ignorant, for the ignorant

    tonyb said " but even socialists can do a good thing here and there

    Social media makes dumb people dumber and smart people dumb then dumber.
  • kharp1kharp1 Posts: 3,392
    Didn't even notice that. Might be able to get a deal on that equipment now. :)
    Main System:
    Joule-Electra LA 100 MKIII Upgraded by Rich Brkich Pre
    Butler Audio TBD 2250 Amp
    PS Audio DirectStream DAC and MemoryPlayer Transport
    LSA-1 Statement
    SVS SB4000 & SB2000
    Wireworld Equinox 7 bi-wire, Wireworld Silver Eclipse 7 IC

    Secondary Rig:
    Parasound P5, Audio Electronics by Cary Constellation
    Marsh a200s, Audio Elecrtonics by Cary Hercules
    Pioneer Elite DV-45a, Denon DVD-2910
    Klipsch Epic CF-1, Vandersteen 3CE sig
    Analysus Plus Oval

    Backup Gear:
    Pass Labs Aleph 30, McCormack DNA-125, Parasound A21
    Marantz SA-14S1
    Usher CP-6311/Tyler Acoustics Taylo Reference Monitor, LSA-1
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 31,642
    LoL, 12 years ago.

    Good catch, glad someone around here is paying attention. Sure isn't me... :)
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1430
    Tad 803 speakers
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,603
    tonyb wrote: »
    Though I must say, I'm a bit shocked you spent that much on cables.

    Yeah, my wallet was a lot shocked that I spent that much on cables..and so was I. :'(

    Total cable costs as a percent of prices paid for two channel gear:

    35.62% Amps
    19.25% Source Components
    12.58% Speakers
    13.62% Accessories
    17.00% Cables
    01.93% Furniture

    The 17.00% for cables breaks down to:

    5.39% Analog and Digital Interconnects
    4.09% Speaker Cables
    7.52% Power Cables

    My cable expenditures are far outside of Audioholics recommendations, but are rather modest by audiophile standards.

    "As a rule of thumb, we recommend spending as little as you can to get the job done right, but no more than 5-7% of your total system cost into cables and interconnects..."

    https://www.audioholics.com/how-to-shop/cable-budget-guidelines

    On the basis of MSRP, the percentage of cable expenditures is 29.07%. I track my audio/video expenditures on various Excel spreadsheets.
    kharp1 wrote: »
    Didn't even notice that. Might be able to get a deal on that equipment now. :)

    The only things remaining from the 2007 equipment list are:

    1. SDA SRS 1.2TL speakers.
    2. Teres Audio Model 255 Turntable with Sonic Purity Concepts and Design Record Clamp ("The Clamp") and Audioquest LeoPard 72V DBS Phono Cable.
    3. Signal Cable 10AWG MagicPower Cords

    My gorgeous Teres turntable has been sitting in a closet since I completed transferring my vinyl records to DSD digital file format. I only keep it in case I need to rip or re-rip some vinyl in the future.

    https://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/174885/the-turntable-retirement-project/p1

    https://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/183308/the-disc-less-life-no-cds-sacds-dvds-blu-rays-or-vinyl-records

    I still have the Signal Cable power cords, but they have been moved to the two linear power supplies for the Ethernet switch and the NAS.
    2007 Two Channel System

    Pass Laboratories X.02 Preamp
    Pass Laboratories Xono Phono Preamp
    Parasound Halo JC1 Monoblock Amps (600 wpc into 6 ohms)

    Teres Audio Model 255 Turntable with Graham 2.2 Deluxe Tonearm
    Sonic Purity Concepts and Design Record Clamp ("The Clamp")
    Audioquest LeoPard 72V DBS Phono Cable
    Ortofon Jubilee Moving Coil Cartridge
    Cary Audio CD 306 SACD/HDCD/CD Player

    Polk Audio SDA SRS 1.2TL Speakers (Modified)
    Audioquest Volcano 72V DBS 9 AWG Speaker Cable
    Signal Cable 10AWG MagicPower Cords for Amps and SACD Player
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
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