What Are Mark's Reference Cables?

I've talked a bit recently about my reference surround speakers and receiver and signal sources. That may leave a few droolers (you know who you are) wondering what cables I use.

Lately I've been topping off my HDMI arsenal with new products from Tributaries. The ones I like best are from the Delta Series, Trib's entry-level product, mainly because they're relatively flexible. Phat stiff cables can get awkward in the crowded and limited space behind my rack. I favor half-meter lengths that jump up or down one rack space, using longer pieces only for longer jumps. I've also used the thicker bleeding-edge Silver Series, especially for the long HDMI and component video runs to my flat panel set (located next to the rack) and my front-projector (shelf-mounted on the other side of the room). I resort to Tributaries S-video and composite video cables when needed.

My favorite audio interconnects are the Silver Serpents from BetterCables. (Conflict-of-interest note: the company once sold a few copies of my book.) I use them for the 5.1-channel analog and coaxial digital connections from my SACD player. I like them because they're practically indestructible, standing up to frequent plugging, unplugging, and twisting. The plugs fit perfectly and they slip on and off easily. I hate wrestling with death-grip plugs, having once wrenched the jack right out of a high-end pre-pro. I live in dread of doing it again.

When I need still more analog interconnects--to connect, say, a power amp and pre-pro--I use a fine old six-piece set of XLO Type 100. Again, the fit of the plugs has earned my loyalty. I also make intermittent use of various MIT, Monster, Straight Wire, and generic cables for stereo. The CD player feeding my desktop 2.1-channel system is connected with vintage Esoteric Artus, arguably the coolest cable of all time. It cost something like $500 a pair when new. The plugs are classic, a thing of beauty, and very practical. You can loosen them, install them, then screw them down tight. These cables are two meters long, swooping down from the CD player atop my file cabinet to the amp on my desk. When I need a Toslink cable, I use a piece of Vampire Wire. Several compact two-channel systems strewn all over my apartment use mini-plug cables and RCA-to-mini adapters to patch in my iPod and SanDisk players. They're all generic and mostly flimsy--I really should upgrade them.

For speaker cable, I use MonsterCable M1.4s (biwired) and M1.2s (non-biwired). They meet my main requirements: they're 12-gauge, fireproof, well insulated, rugged, and sonically reliable, with good bass and no hyping of the top end. I can screw on whatever kind of termination I want (banana, spade, pin) but invariably use bananas. Spades are for two-channel users and for people who have a lot of time on their hands. For speakers that require something less bulky, and/or a bare-wire connection, I use either an old Monster ribbon cable (the company's first THX-certified cable) or generic 12-gauge zip cord purchased on Canal Street in Lower Manhattan. When the cable has to snake down a slender column, sometimes the generic type is the only one that fits. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Do I really need this a/v jewelry? Well, it does shield me from at least one source of criticism. No manufacturer can claim that lousy cable compromised a review. Would I buy all this high-priced stuff if I occupied a less privileged perch and couldn't get free samples? I suppose I could get along with cheaper substitutes--but I'm glad I don't have to.

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