Audience Studio ONE RCA + XLR Interconnect Cable Review

2021-11-24T09:06:36+00:00November 9th, 2021|Cables, Reviews|18 Comments

The sound quality (or lack thereof) of any recorded music reproduction system is entirely dependent on the quality of the electrical signal flowing through it. If the flow of electrons is polluted by A/C line hash, eddy currents, RFI, and/or EMI, then the sound quality of the music will be compromised.

Hooking up a high-end stereo system with low-quality cabling always results in flat, 2-dimensional, lifeless sound. When the opportunity to review pairs of Audience’s new Studio ONE single-ended RCA and balanced XLR interconnects came to fruition, I was happier than a financially destitute person living out of their car holding a winning Powerball lottery ticket.

Product Description:
Based out of San Marcos California, Audience AV has been crafting audiophile cables, loudspeakers, and A/C power conditioners since 1979. Their new loom of Studio ONE cables sits in the middle of their range of wires. According to Audience:

“At the best recording studios in the world, Studio ONE is the biggest and best sounding room in the building. Studio ONE is where musicians go to create magic, to dig deep[,] and bring forth their dreams.”

The new Studio ONE interconnects employ the same geometry as their discontinued Au24 SE wires. Changes to the Studio ONE ICs include: 1), an improved XLPE ultra high quality cross-linked polyethylene dielectric; and 2), Audience’s new proprietary Extreme High Voltage Process (EVHP) burn-in treatment.

The diameter of a garden hose and an adjustable nozzle can dramatically impact the flow of the water through said hose. Similarly, the diameter of an electrical conductor and the mass of its connecting plugs can significantly affect how electrons flow through it.

To lower impedance and strengthen the signal flow, Audience’s interconnects are thin in diameter. In theory, this lower mass and lower impedance reduces eddy currents. For a deeper technical dive, please visit Audience’s website for a white paper on eddy currents.

In cabling as in life, it’s not necessarily the size of the ship, but the motion of the ocean that creates the magic. Any audiophile who’s auditioned Eichmann’s bullet plugs knows that, when engineered correctly, less can be more. By audiophile standards, Audience’s interconnects are slender. If you want anaconda-sized girth and frozen fire hose weight in ICs, look elsewhere.

From an installation standpoint, I’ve always preferred thinner and more flexible cables. Cords that are thicker and stiffer than a Keanu Reeves monologue do nothing for me. Audience’s Studio ONE interconnects use high quality fine-stranded OFC copper (Cu) conductors that are wound in opposite directions.

1.0m pair of XLR ICs- MSRP $1,899 USD
1.5m pair of RCA ICs- MSRP $1,399 USD

At about ¼” in diameter, the Studio ONE RCA interconnect is svelte. The XLR IC is twice this girth at a ½” in diameter and features a differential balanced design. All of Audience’s ICs are directional and cryo-treated. Their EVHT process blasts every pair with 800,000 volts of electricity. Each interconnect is further subjected to 60 hours of electrical burn-in on an Audio Dharma cable cooker.

Far too many cable OEMs make moronic claims that their “miracle” wires are dipped in a magical elixir of reconstituted Himalayan albatross tears and liquefied cosmic unicorn farts. Claims like this are, of course, ludicrous and laughable.

Audience is a company that designs their cables on sound electrical principles; not nonsense. The exemplary fit and finish, advanced engineering, and precision geometry employed in their ICs evidences this. So… how do the Studio ONE interconnects sound?

Set-up and Initial Burn-in:
For perspective, I removed one pair of $12,000 USD Stealth Sákra v16 RCA interconnects from my headphone system and replaced it with 29¢ throw-away ICs. Doing so resulted in a catastrophic loss of sound quality. The disposable ICs smeared detail, smothered the PRaT, and suffocated my 2-channel headphone rig’s dynamics as if a morbidly obese positivity activist wearing snow-pants was sitting on top of my Audeze LCD-4 headphones.

With the ‘Costa Del Cheapo’ interconnects installed, the palpable warmth of female vocals evaporated. Lower mid-range sonics like male vocals were congested, 2-dimensional, and lifeless. Cymbal splashes were harsh and physically painful to listen to. Soundstaging collapsed faster than Joe Biden attempting to climb an airline staircase. Sounds in the high-frequency registers were noisier and more annoying than a busted chainsaw. Dynamics were weak and sluggish. Bass texture and density had a diffuse and homogenous ‘one note’ sound.

Stated succinctly, the disposable 29¢ interconnects made my $150K+ 2-channel headphone system sound like a $20 clock radio from Waaly-Maart. I nearly herniated myself in the rush to install Audience’s Studio ONE ICs.

The Intrinsic Sound of the Studio ONE ICs:
Cable sonics result from a number of different variables. These include: 1), the type and purity of the metals used as conductors; 2), the di-electric materials and shielding used to insulate the conductors; 3), the quality of the RCA or XLR plugs; and 4), the quality of the assembly and termination work.

I replaced the throw-away 29¢ ICs with a 1.5m pair of Studio ONE RCA interconnects. Before doing any serious listening tests, I burned Audience’s ICs in for 5 straight days (aprx. 120 hours).

What I heard during my listening tests surprised me; in a good way. Even with tubes in my DAC, pre-amp, and headphone amp, the noise floor from my headphone rig dropped to Mariana’s Trench ocean floor depth levels. Using the Studio ONE RCA ICs, the low-level NOS valve noise that had been there with lesser interconnects was… gone.

Due entirely to this impressive LACK of noise, far more sonic details emerged within the soundstage. The 3-dimensional imaging of recordings I’ve been listening to for decades sounded fuller and more lifelike. There was considerable air and space between individual instruments. Across the frequency spectrum, soundstaging, imaging, and 3-dimensionality all concurrently improved. To borrow the well-worn descriptive audiophile chestnut: there was far more there… there.

After adding a second pair of 1.0m Studio ONE XLR ICs into my HP system, timbral accuracy became even more… ehm… accurate. The noise floor dropped even further and vocals buried underneath other instruments became easier to decipher. I could once again feel the emotional message of the songs.

In terms of sonics, the Studio ONE RCA and XLR ICs bat right down the middle. These are (arguably) the most neutral interconnects I’ve ever heard. They are neither bright and analytical nor overly warm and dense. They have pinpoint PRaT, lifelike dynamics, and exquisite transient speed.

Shortcomings…? The Studio ONE ICs will not get you to last 3% to 5% of what is currently available from state-of-the-art interconnects. Please remember that these ICs sit in the middle of Audience’s range of cables. They’re quieter than the surface of the moon and magnificently spacious. For their asking prices, they offer superb timbral accuracy and impressive dynamics. Sonic neutrality is their greatest forté.

Comparison Tests:
I conducted double-blind A-B comparison tests between the Studio ONE ICs and: a), a 1.0m XLR pair ($1,250 USD) and 1.5m RCA pair ($1,550 USD) of Cardas’ Clear Reflection interconnects; and b), a 1.0m XLR pair ($1,660 USD) and a 1.5m RCA ($1,580 USD) pair of Stealth’s PGS v16 ICs.

The conductor geometry of Cardas’ Clear Reflection interconnects is based upon Cardas’ original Golden Reference ICs. Of the three brands, the Clear Reflection was the warmest sounding and had the most weight in the bass registers. This low-end warmth, however, came at the price of diminished mid-range transparency and micro-detail retrieval. Compared to the Studio ONE ICs, the transient speed of Cardas’ CR ICs was slower and its dynamics were weaker.

Stealth’s PGS v16 interconnects created marginally faster transients than the Studio ONE ICs; especially in the bass registers. Audience’s interconnects, however, offered a lower noise floor, superior cohesiveness, and a more neutral sound. The positioning of images within the soundstage of Stealth’s wires was not as accurate nor as well fleshed-out as Audience’s ICs.

Overall, Audience’s interconnects had the best timbral accuracy and presented the most realistic instrumental PRaT. If you want quieter backgrounds, superior soundstaging, and better texturing, go with the Studio ONE ICs. Stated succinctly, the Studio ONE ICs sounded closest to real instruments being played in real acoustical spaces.

Did Audience’s Studio ONE RCA and XLR interconnects sound as good as space mission priced interconnects like Synergistic Research’s Galileo UEF-SX, Stealth’s Sákra v16, or Stage-III Concepts’ Gorgon?

No… of course not. At 1/5th to 1/12th the retail price, the Studio ONE ICs are aimed at an entirely different market. Having said that, the Studio ONE ICs are a lot closer in sound quality to those sonic beasts than I expected them to be.

Other possible issues…? The Studio ONE RCA and XLR ICs are uber-neutral and brutally revealing. If your gear lacks lifelike PRaT, timbral accuracy, texturing, and/or realistic 3-dimensionality, Audience’s ICs won’t magically create any of it. These ICs are more neutral than Switzerland during WW2. As such, don’t expect them to make mediocre components sound like state-of-the-art gear.

Listening Tests:
I started with Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay Sessions (Volt Records R2-566247). This album offers a number of classic R&B songs like “Love Man”, “The Happy Song (Dum Dum)”, and “Champagne and Wine”. Overall, Sessions has stellar sonics.

With Audience’s Studio ONE interconnects, I could clearly hear subtle inflections in Redding’s expressive voice. Likewise, the punctuation of Steve Cropper’s brilliantly economical guitar lines came echoing forth with a palpable timbral accuracy. In the song “Direct Me”, for example, it’s the curious back and forth flirtation between Redding’s soulful singing offset against Copper’s subtle guitar chords that makes this track so musically memorable.

Recorded in 1995 at Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton Ontario, Holly Cole’s Temptation (Alert Music Z2-81026) is a phenomenal modern jazz album. Showcasing moody and atmospheric songs like “Take Me Home”, “Train Song”, and “Invitation to the Blues”, the stripped-down jazz club sonics on this album are excellent.

Madame Cole seductively whispers, coos, and milks every vocal line as if her very life depended on it. Her smoldering voice is a shivering physical pleasure to listen to. When the stereo imaging and generous echoes on this recording are reproduced accurately, a listener can practically taste her sweet, smoky, and salivating voice as she breathes into the microphone.

With the two pairs of Studio ONE interconnects, hearing Miss Holly’s husky vocals offset against the bass sent my mind cart-wheeling back to the late 1990s when indulging in this disc was a daily habit. Digging deep into a dark mineshaft of distant memories from that era, the purity of the sound—especially in the bass registers—gave me shivers. THIS is how Temptation is supposed to sound!

It always amazes me how effortlessly music can open the vaults to treasured memories that are locked away deep inside my memory banks. This quivering immediacy of an emotional connection with one’s own past is a huge part of what makes high-end audio such a hopeless addiction.

To test dynamics and low-end slam, I needed something faster and heavier. Released in February 1978, Van Halen 1 (Warner Bros CD-3075) showcases ferociously technical guitar solos. The heart-shaking energy level and blitzkrieg pacing of these songs are akin to a natural endocrine surge of raw undiluted adrenaline.

Listening to tracks like “Runnin’ with the Devil”, “I’m the One”, “Atomic Punk”, and “On Fire”, the Studio ONE interconnects vividly reminded me of just how talented a guitar player Edward Van Halen truly was. Eddie was the last of the great guitar gunslingers. The way he could bend strings, arpeggiate, tap, and tastefully unleash a monstrous F5 tornado of guitar notes was unmatched.

More than 40 years since it was recorded, Eddie’s frenetic guitar wizardry still rips like a Hellfire missile slamming into the side of an aircraft carrier. The low-end dynamic slam of this record is a serious challenge for any stereo system to properly reproduce. The Studio ONE ICs did a hero’s job of recreating this energy accurately. The thundering dynamics and addictive grooves of VH1 sounded articulate and abundant.

From Bartok to Bathory, Marillion to Motörhead, Kyuss to Chris Stapleton, and everything in between, regardless of the type of music I challenged the Studio ONE interconnects to recreate, they always brought me a profoundly deep emotional connection with the music.

During the past 9+ years as a professional audio reviewer, I’ve only honored two (count ‘em… two) other audiophile products by stating that they were under-priced. I’m delighted to announce that Audience’s Studio ONE RCA and XLR interconnects offer exceptional value for the money and can be considered under-priced. This is an exceedingly rare honor for me to award to any product.

These ICs offer so much sound for, by audiophile standards, such a low cost that Audience has forced me to reconsider what is sonically possible at this price point. ‘Nuff said.

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