Building A New AVRev.com Reference Theater:
Part Two - Prewire And Connectivity In A New Digital World
By Jerry Del Colliano
In an increasingly wireless world, the need for high-performance cables in your audio or home theater system has amazingly never been stronger. Movie studios and electronics companies have teamed up to try to both protect their content and potentially simply your life with one cable (HDMI) that can run high-resolution audio and video with the simplicity you might expect from connecting an iMac. But in todays real world systems, this kind of simplicity isnt anywhere close to reality. In building the Audio Video Revolution reference theater, we have dealt with issues on the cutting edge of HDTV, HD disc formats, high-performance audio and even wireless networking for home theaters. While it is possible that some day the top gear that we review and all covet will truly be plug and play, todays hard reality is that you have to know what you are doing to get the most (or any performance at all) from your system. Here are my lessons learned.
Audiophile Cables in a Custom Installation
I would argue with anyone who would diagnose me as an audiophile. At best, I am a recovering audiophile from the old days at Christopher Hansen Limited and Cello Los Angeles, but that is going on 15 years ago and I needed the money. Never do I get the urge to prop my Transparent Reference speaker cables onto those little sawhorse-looking things that isolate them from the Earths magnetic field, resulting in a 1/1000 of a percent improvement in the upper midrange transience (between 2 and 3 AM). At the same time, there is no way anyone is going to convince me to simply connect a top-performing system with generic cables, terminated by robots or child slave labor in some Third World country. As audio guru and acoustician Bob Hodas is famous for saying, It is hard to physically measure the effect of cables [and he has the best tools for doing so], but when you actually sit down and listen, you can clearly hear the difference. Top mastering engineers, musicians and scientists also tend to agree.
The equipment for the AVR reference theater includes Meridians 800 DVD player, Meridians 861 AV preamp and HD sources such as a Toshiba HD DVD player, a Samsung Blu-ray player, a JVC D-VHS deck and an HD TiVo for DirecTV. A ReQuest F Series music server pumps four zones of music to the theater and beyond. Amplification is covered by two Mark Levinson No. 436 power amps in conjunction with a trusty Proceed Amp 5 for center, side and rear channels. Speakers include Wilson WATT Puppy version 7 speakers for left and right. A Wilson WATCH is used for a center speaker and a Revel Sub 30 handles the deep bass. Modified Meyer Sound analog EQs reside between the Meridian 861 and the speakers.
The expensive cable companies are quick to remind you that your system is only as good as your weakest cable, which in theory is absolutely true, yet there is definitely a limit to what we all can invest in cables. Before you spend the big money in cables, look into your dealers return or trade-up policy. Transparent has a liberal trade-up program. The Cable Company (http://www.fatwyre.com) who sells damn near every brand of cable and accessory known to man also allows you to move up in the cable world without much monetary harm. Overall, I recommend you look to invest in an entire cable system that fits in your budget. For example, you might select the third highest-end line of cables for the audio chain (sources to speakers), but choose entry-level cables from the same brand for the less critical components. As much as the salesperson would like to sell you $3,100 interconnects for your VCR, it is probably overkill. Balancing your cable system is more important. Also get in writing the upgrade policy of the dealer. Just because a salesperson told you that you could get 100 percent of your cable investment back if you upgrade to more pricey cables doesnt mean when he is off selling Mercedes or expensive stone for your kitchen that anyone will still honor the deal, unless it is in writing. It is my experience that any good dealer will allow you an upgrade path for your cables if you are so inclined. They will find a rack for a custom install or an in-store demo system to use with your old cables.
In my system, the audio chain is all Transparent Reference cables; in my case, this is a lot of cables. While the promise of multi-channel audio from HDMI exists in the next version of the cables, today you still have to connect your HD DVD or Blu-ray player using six analog cables for high-resolution audio out. If you are looking to save money, you could cut back here to a lower-grade cable while you wait for the next HDMI standard, but if you are looking for the best of the best, you still will want very good analog interconnects from your high-resolution players going to your preamp.