Atlas Equator III interconnects
Take a second or two to think about the humble RCA phono plug. Not about why such a dumb connector ever became a virtual industry standard… but what makes one sound better then another?
If you are prepared to accept that some RCAs do indeed sound superior to others it might surprise you to know that the answer does not lie with any metallic parts, although these naturally make a substantial contribution. In fact, one cable specialist, the Chord company found that the best sound came from using light metallic parts inside a shroud of ABS rather than any metal.It called this new connector the Vibration Eliminating Enclosure.
Scottish manufacturer Atlas discovered the same when it switched to ABS covers on its non-magnetic, solder-free plugs, noting that the transparent ABS non conductive shell offers a deletion-free return signal. It bravely supplied me with a pair of the ‘before’ Equator analogue interconnect cables, fitted with metallic plug covers, and a pair of ‘after’ cables, identical to the ‘before’s but using what Atlas calls the Integra plug. Any differences in the performance, therefore, could only be attributable to the plugs as everything else was the same.
So, what differences are audible between the before and after versions? I plugged the cables in in turn between a Squeezebox Touch streamer and a Naim SUPERNAIT amplifier – this was the only phono-equipped gear to hand in my DIN & BNC ruled environment.
Atlas says “The Integra plug uses a non magnetic ABS cover which may avoid a saturation in the return leg at an RCA plug’s metal sheath if it’s in the signal path. The Integra sheath facilitates a direct barrier free return signal path with less interference.” This suggests that the cover plays an active part in producing the sound of the cable, which probably explains why one cannot simply jetison the covers on one’s existing cables and attain similar improvements.
Tested afterwards running between my Well Tempered Amadeus turntable and Naim SuperLine phonostage, the newest version of the cables certainly sounded markedly more informative, cleaner and faster than its predecessor. Even at low replay levels it scavenged greater subtle detail from the John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, and Paco de Lucia album Friday Night in San Francisco. The cables distinctly revealed the off-mic count-in during the opening of Mediterranean Sunrise, which the previous generation had not. They were far better at revealing low-level information and overall they excelled with dynamics. In presentational terms they also excelled, easily discriminating between the texture and harmonic character of each of the trio of guitars.
Notes and flurries had greater individuality, sounding comparatively blurred and smeared on the original cables. The new cables gave more clearly defined leading edges and better space between notes.
The new cables made the music more exciting and the trio’s playing more characterful and invigorating. The music exhibited greater bounce and vitality than before. So, all round, it seemed to be a convincing win for the Integra-fitted Equator cables. By way of explanation Atlas says that the Integra plug uses a non-magnetic ABS cover which may avoid a saturation in the return leg at an RCA plug’s metal sheath if it’s in the signal path. The Integra sheath facilitates a direct barrier free return signal path with less interference, the company claims.
That sounds entirely plausible given my experience of the crisp, open detailing and musicality provided by this cable alongside an earlier generation of the same. And in the great scheme of interconnect(ed) things, the Equator III is very fine indeed – you’ll not find much at the price that comes close in terms of musicality.