Mad Scientist BLACK MAGIC Speaker Cable Review.
By Steve Huff
It’s been a while since I have written a full fledged speaker cable review but I normally do not review every set of cables I try out. If I can be frank, not many have been worthy of my time to sit down and spend countless hours and days writing about them. Also, let’s face it…cables are always controversial within the audio community although I feel they shouldn’t be. They do make a difference but wether that is a good or bad difference is something I never know until I plop in a new set of cables.
Since I do not make money from these HiFi reviews I will not spend my time writing negative reviews as it is a waste of my time. I enjoy telling those of you who read or watch my reviews about the gear I LOVE in hopes that maybe it will help you in your HiFi journey along the way. I used to wonder what this or that would sound like and I try my best to just tell you what I hear and feel.
To be clear…
I am not a dealer for products I talk about and I never try to sell anything here.
I do not have affiliation with any audio company nor do I feature audio ads here on this website.
Over the years I have heard so many cables from brands like (but not limited to) Transparent, Nordost. Cardas, Acoustic Zen, Blue Jeans, AntiCables, Audioquest and many many more that range from under $100 to over $10k. My faves have usually been with Nordost as their current series offer up more meat and body than the older Nordost sound. They are wide open and airy as well as champions in imaging but even Nordost cables can be too much of a good thing in certain systems.
Sometimes I hear that Nordost character a bit too much with some music. Sometimes they can sound just a touch dry depending on the system, and yes, speaker cables can and do alter the sound of the system if your system is revealing enough of changes.
Let me say this first. I believe there is no speaker cable that is 100% transparent. Every cable I have tried, even the $15 special at Wal Mart, colors the sound in some way. That cheap Wal Mart cable can make music, sure! It can also add grain, smearing, and sound quite flat in a system with revealing components. That wire is fine for most systems in the $1500 range or under but when you step up to the amps, dacs and speakers that set you back several thousand dollars you will want a better speaker cable as this is what carries the signal, is it not? The cables are what carries the musical signal that our pricey amps amplify!
I am not one that says you must spend a fortune on cables for your system, rather I suggest buying cables based on what you spent on your front end gear and speakers. If your system clocks in at $15k then I feel your cables should run you at least $1500 for your entire system. What? Yes, while that seems expensive for a $15k system it is right in line with my findings over the years. When I have nice cables in they mesh well with the system it can take it up several levels in refinement, air, soundstage and details.
Spending 10-15% on cables is a good rule and one I normally stick to when I want a system to be the best it can be. FINDING the right cable can be quite the adventure though as not all are the same. Some cables have added bass to my system, others taken it away. Some have sounded flat and harsh while others sounded grainy. Some balanced everything out perfectly. One set really surprised me. So much so I emailed the head honcho of the company and said “I think you have something very special here”. The cables I speak of are the subject of this review today.
I used to be a cable denier but over the last 10-15 years I have been converted, big time. I have heard major differences with cable swaps and yes, even have done blind tests and passed (with cables I know very well). While a speaker cable normally will not transform a system, when you get it right it will ensure your system is performing at 100% and being the best it can possibly be. Cables for me can really finish off a nice system.
Again, it’s that synergy thing.
Enter Mad Scientist Audio
A few months ago I received an Email from Bob over at Mad Scientist Audio.
I have heard of this company but never have tried any of their products. Mad Scientist always seemed to me like a small company with a guy behind it who is really passionate about what he is doing. I often find that small companies run by passionate people will almost always bring more interesting products out than some of the large corporate companies whose main interest is only the profit and bottom line.
Based in New Zealand Mad Scientist offers some pretty interesting tweaks and cables for your audio system. The email from the head honcho over there, Bob, asked me if I wanted to review…get ready for this…
“The Greatest Speaker Cables in the World”
Usually when I hear these kind of things I laugh, and say to myself “Yea, right”. I become skeptical as I have been here before. Alarms go off when I hear how great something is that I just have to hear. I do get many manufactures these days wanting to send me their offerings but I also know why. A positive review here seems to generate sales for them and in some cases, massive sales. In fact I have been told that my reviews here have boosted sales by 600% by an owner of one company. Another company was shocked at the he boost in his business after my review for his product.
Seems I like to help others make money, lol. In all honesty, I love writing about products I really think are fantastic as it helps the company who made such a great product. More importantly, it helps others who may mot have known or been aware of said product. It’s something I enjoy doing even without financial reward. It’s not something I could do on a daily basis without a full time income though, which is why I do not do daily reviews. Only when I feel something is downright fantastic will I review it.
SO YES, OF COURSE… I could not pass up a chance to hear these cables as I could tell that Bob was very excited and passionate about what he created here.
I told him I would happily check them out and review them if they performed well in my system. A couple of weeks later I had a 3M pair of these “Black Magic” speaker cables delivered to me and my 1st impression upon taking them out of the box was “wow, these are some stiff cables”! I also thought that they had a unique look and design.
My Nordost Red Dawn LS are light, flowy and are easily moved but Nordost cables are flat and wide vs being hose like. These Black Magic cables felt like a snake that was coiled up when fresh out of the box. When I removed them from the bags they arrived in I stretched them out with the help of my better half, Debby. Took a few seconds and then we were in business.
While these are stiff, the good news is they are easily shaped and are light in weight. I asked for a set with banana connectors and that is what showed up. There were no issues placing them in and once in, they stayed put. I loved that they were light weight as I once had a really heavy set of cables and the weight of them caused the banana connecters to bend. These are just right when it comes to weight. Not too light, not too heavy.
The cables also looked rather unique with big “Kegs” on each end. I was not quite sure what these “Kegs” do so I emailed Bob and asked him about them. Here is his response:
They are basically RF filters. I use a similar arrangement on my power cables, but I had to reformulate the kegs for use on the speaker cable as they were too “strong” – after all power cables just have to pass 60Hz so anything above that is fair game. But of course speaker cables need to pass the whole audio band, so these kegs don’t start working until much higher frequencies.
The RF performance of the cables is a crucial part of the design; Normally speaker cables (and even speakers) act like antennas, feeding RF back into your amplifier, where it wreaks havoc. RF doesn’t stay in wires or PCBs, it leaks out everywhere..
In fact much of the design is towards the goal of controlling RFI; most speaker cables are not screened, but these have 4 different screens, interconnected in a particular way to make the whole cable a “bad antenna”. The kegs mop up the remainder. The cables still sound good without the kegs, maybe 90% as good. Just the kegs make them that little bit better..
btw I saw the cables plugged into those small speakers in your short Facebook clip yesterday. I’m reduced to some small (but great) speakers at the moment, as one of my Magnepans has a fault and if off for repair. But the small ones sound just delicious, with astonishing bass so life is not too bad 😉
I was reading some of your reviews, and I noticed you were saying about high end gear often sounding etched, lean, full of details but often fail to play ordinary recordings. (Just an aside, I think that’s often the RF noise at work..). I’m much more inclined toward musicality, but I don’t think there has to be a contradiction between “lots of detail” and “highly musical” – what I like to aim for is realism, so everything sounds as real as possible. Then the musicality and details flow naturally..
When the Black Magic cables arrived (four core) my system had the Buchardt S400 II SE’s installed along with the Billie MKII amp. I adore this little “not so crazy” setup and have spent many weeks listening to this combo each and every day. It’s turned in to one of my favorite combos ever, and I am talking 35 years of HiFi and system building. The sound and flow is addicting and proved to me big money is not needed to really enjoy high end sound.
I am quite sure it is my DAC that is making this setup sound so darn good though as it far outclasses the amp and speakers when it comes to price. I still use and LOVE my DCS Lina DAC and Clock with Shunyata Omega Cables. With Cables, the retail on this DAC and Streamer setup is $30k yet it is right at home with the $2k Billie MKII and $2800 Buchardt S400 MKII SE. This means the Billie and Buchardt can scale up with the best of them and get even better with a truly great source.
I also listened to these cables with higher end speakers. The Fleetwood Deville SQ ($20k with stands) and some Focal Diablo Colour EVO Speakers ($24k with stands)
Listening to some Black Magic!
On the day UPS brought me the Black Magic cables I was writing and listening to this system with my Red Dawn LS speaker cables. When the Black Magic cables arrived I swiftly jumped up and left the music room, grabbed the Mad Scientist box and un-boxed them so we could get them installed and run in ASAP! I was excited to hear these so called “best cables in the world”.
Once installed… yes indeed, just as Bob told me (he said I would notice the difference INSTANTLY) I heard the difference between these and my Red Dawn’s when connected to the Buchardt S400II SE. I mean..it was night and day in this scenario and this is with the cables fresh out of the box after their journey from New Zealand to the USA.
Hard to believe but I almost couldn’t believe it. I let the cables run in for a week (almost 24/7) and then started to do some serious listening and comparisons.
One night Debby and I spent four hours doing side by side comparisons to Red Dawn LS and my $30 “Cheapo” cables that are quite amazing for the price and we both heard very similar things.
We both much preferred the Black Magic cables over the Nordost and the $30 cables. It wasn’t even close.
All I did was change speaker cables. That’s it.
VS the Red Dawn LS
With the Black Magic cables the sound was richer, bigger and it seemed that the volume increased as did resolution. It was if the sound now had “pulp” which is a word Bob used to describe these cables. He is right. The sound was fuller/denser still and just had a rhythmic flow that was free of any constraints. While the Red Dawn sounded big and wide open, they were also more dry and leaner in the mids. I still really enjoy the Red Dawn LS and feel they are a great buy if you like the Nordost sound.
The Black Magic cables were more on the WET side, meaning, the sound really popped with a richness and fullness that brought voices farther into the room as well. It sounded more liquid, yet still had a very wide open sound.
Treble was fuller and just as crisp with the Black Magic cables vs the Red Dawn LS. They sounded more dynamic and all instruments and vocals were clearer, more separated and there was zero smearing or confusion. Drums had more impact as well which really had me sit up and pay attention. It really awoke the treble in the Buchardt’s but never in a harsh way, and I mean, at all.
I couldn’t believe I heard this difference on this smaller system with $2k Billie Amp and the Buchardt speakers. I wondered what would happen if I swapped the Buchardt’s for my larger reference speakers, the Fleetwood Deville SQ’s.
THERE IT WAS AGAIN.
Wow. The Deville SQ’s are amazing speakers and offer everything I have ever looked for in my audio system. These are TRUE End Game speakers as they will never fatigue you, bore you or leave you wanting for much more, especially if using a sub with them.
With the Red Dawn the SQ’s were gorgeous. Soundstage was wide, there was nice depth, highs were just right but the low end was the only area lacking. It’s why I have a sub now : ) When I installed the BM cables the sound became larger with a real sense of power. They became fuller in the low end! So much so, I turned off my sub and was happy with what I was hearing. I have not heard other cables bring the bass to my Deville’s like the Black Magic cables. Vocal realism also took a step up with larger, fuller and a more 3 dimensional center image. Now you are not going to get a big load of bass all of the sudden as these changes are rather small in the big picture but very easily noticed and felt.
I was starting to wonder what kind of mojo was installed into these cables as they are….well…just speaker cables! It was as if they had a swagger and a confidence as they sent that music signal to my speakers. I looked at these oddball looking speaker cables (kegs) and asked how in the world these could be making such a change in sound, and for the better.
These are very clear sounding yet have some body and impact to them, making everything sound powerful and big if you jam out. If you prefer quiet nights, playing some Diana Krall can be as intimate as can be. Quiet, with all details and information present but with zero brightness, hardness or coldness. The spatial qualities of my gear seemed enhanced as well.
I installed the Pass Labs XP22 and X250.8 combo, replacing the ever so beautifully toned Billie MKII.
I heard more clarity, more transparency and some beautiful imaging within a deep and wide stage. More oomph again vs the Red Dawn LS, in the mids and bass. The Pass Labs stack is just such a beautiful setup.
It did not take long.
These are the finest cables I have ever heard as they really do make a difference that anyone can hear within my system, and luckily, the difference is for the better in this case.
Music is such a huge part of my life and always has been. It’s my getaway, my stress buster, my smile maker and if my system didn’t touch me emotionally I doubt I would listen as much as I do. Cables are a big part of a fully fleshed out system.
Many speaker cables can sound thin. Some sound sparkly. Others sound warm or just weird. Some sound great right out of the gate and even those $40 cables I speak of often are sometimes rotated in just to remind me that big money doesn’t need to be spent for great sound. If you want that last 10-15% of quality though, you do and will have to pay much more than $30.
These Black Magic cables are the kind of cables you install and then forget about cables altogether. They are that good, at least here with what I have tried them with. What about speakers that are known to be more extended in the upper end, the treble. Would these be too much of a good thing?
Well let’s find out with some of the most beautifully revealing speakers ever made.
Focal Diablo Utopia Colour EVO
I have yet to review these (I will soon) but the Diablo’s are a two way bookshelf speaker from French manufacturer Focal that will set you back $24k with stands. These are ultra high end I nay world (though I heard some bookshelf speakers that cost near $100k the other day) and Focal is known mostly for their treble extension and sweetness. I remember reviewing the Focal Sopra #2 and enjoyed them for that beautiful airy treble that helped make voices sound so real. The way the mids blend with the highs on higher end Focal speakers is really special. The Diablos are superior to those larger Sopra’s though (when it comes to sound) and can bring out detail with the best of them, even Wilson.
With that said, in the wrong setups Focal speakers can sound thin, bright and fatiguing. The Dibalo’s can do this if you run them with the wrong amp, DAC or even cables. The Diablo’s need some warming up and I do so with my REL S/510 Sub and I have to say it again...that Billie MKII amp really brings the beauty when it comes to sound but again, I do not use the built in DAC of the Billie.
With the Billie and Black Magic cables the Diablos were much more open and airy than the Deville’s and Buchardt’s. They were also more impactful in the bass than either and the Dibalo are pretty special speakers. No flaws I could find and when powered with the $2k Billie MKII the sound was a touch warm, full and yet that treble still had the full magic and sparkle that it is know for. It’s amazing what a super sophisticated tweeter can do for your audio and I feel Focal makes the best in the business. The Diablos are smooth, extended and extra sweet. No grain or flatness to speak of, just air for days.
With the Black Magic cables the clarity was all there, as was that “pulp”. Bass was extraordinary and musical, tight and expanded. Vocals sounded clean, clear yet with emotion. Wether I use Pass Labs seperates or the Billie MKII the Focal speakers with the BM cables were extraordinary and gave me an otherworldly sound that I sucked me in for hours.
When I put in the Red Dawn’s I wasn’t a huge fan of this pairing. The Red Dawn’s can be a little dry with some speakers and here they focused too much on the treble and not the mids. The Black Magic cables focused on ALL OF IT, top to bottom and the sound was addicting.
This is technically a “better” sound than even the Deville SQ’s but the Focal are geared towards Audiophiles with soundstage, detail and air being the focus. Magic indeed as they are not harsh or hard sounding. The Deville’s are made for those who are seeking the soul of the music above all else. I love both but have to admit, the Diablo’s are some of the best speakers I have heard in my life just as with the Deville SQ’s. Up there with my most memorable experiences. The Black Magic cables really worked well with the Diablo and Billie amp.
Bringing in the big Pass Labs setup the sound was pure magic. Ethereal. Gorgeous. Not as warm as the Billie but just smooth as silk with an al out refinement that only comes from the high end.
VS the $40 Cheapo cables.
I love these low cost cables because they are crazy light, easy to place in the system and sound nicer in my system than most lower end speaker cables at the same (or slightly higher) price. They are very smooth and offer up a good amount of detail without being harsh. These are the cables EVERYONE should own if your system is $5k and under.
But as good as these inexpensive cables are, this was no contest. The Mad Scientist cables bested the lower cost cables. There was more life, more resolution, more bass, more clarity, more density, more refinement and well, more “magic” with the Black Magic cables. Those cheap cables are awesome if your budget is under $100 and I highly recommend them but there are cables that will sound better if you are willing to pay.
You guys who read and watch my reviews know that my main priority with a HiFi system is that it has to be musical, rich, fluid, full and make me move. I just can not get into audio gear that sounds thin, lean, hard, or with overcooked frequencies in the treble or bass.
I once heard a set of $15k speaker cables that sounded awful to me. Thin and bleached but with some pretty crazy holographic and intensely sparkly highs. I disliked them greatly and preferred the Audioquest $300 cables I had at the time. There was no body or meat, which is the part of the music that is responsible for making us move, sway or feel it with our heart.
These Black Magic cables offer up the WOW but with a musical nature and ultra realism, so I did not have that issue with these cables even though they are so revealing. The meat of the music was still there.
VS the Nordost Valhalla (V1)
Going to the flip side some of my favorite speaker cables of all time have always been my old Nordost Valhalla (Version 1) but silly me sold them when I found I could make $800 on my used set. I missed them ever since and it is not easy to find these cables used in the length and termination I need, so I never was able to acquire them again.
What do I think of the Black Magic vs Valhala V1?
I loved the Valhalla for their all out transparency and open sound and they were one product that never wore me down as the bass was amazingly tuneful and tight as well. I place the Black Magic up there with that experience and they may even bet a bit better in the mids vs the Valhallas.
Yes sir, the Black Magic do have something special about them and I can not quite figure out what is happening, but it is happening.
I dig into my cable box and as I switched to a set of Cardas cables I instantly heard the change with more of the Cardas warmth but with less sparkle and treble energy. The Cardas could be great for brighter speakers as they would warm them out and add beauty, shine and a smooth signature. The Cardas are fantastic as well but very different, for those wanting a more subdued experience.
The Black Magic’s are superb and quite simply one of the nicest sounding cables I have had the pleasure to EVER hear in my system, and I mean in 35 years. It’s in my top two of all time. I prefer them greatly to some big name cables I once tested. While speaker cables seem like some sort of scam to so many out there who think “wire is wire” I can assure you that these cables are no scam if you have a system good enough for them to be installed within it.
They are offered in a dual core and four core configuration. I have the four core here and tried to find something lacking that I would want to change. I found nothing at all lacking with these cables other than the connectors (banana) do not have the most professional looking termination I have ever seen. They are excellent but do not look like a cable from Audioquest, Nordost, etc. That could be a good thing though as everything is not always what it seems. I have had quite a few speaker cables from Audioquest and two of them had issues with the connectors coming loose or falling off after some time.
I would recommend these BM cables if you have a system that you have invested money, time and even some good old fashioned sweat and tears in. If you spent thousands or tens of thousands for your system and you are using those $30 cables you might really enjoy stepping up. Trying better speaker cables can be eye opening but so can interconnects! Cables matter if you are building a system for serous listening in a sweet spot. They will not really matter for just jamming with some party speakers or being used for background music.
If you run a bar, party house or club just use cheap cables : ) If you value imaging, soundstage and sitting in that sweet spot when you listen then great cables should absolutely be on your radar.
Cables can put the finishing touch on your system with that extra refinement and magic. There are many fantastic cables to look into in all price ranges and not one cable will fit all tastes. For me, these were cables that lived up to the hype from the manufacture.
All I can tell you is that the Mad Scientist Black Magic cables are the real deal. Oh, and they do offer a 30 day return policy but not for return policy abusers. See here for their policy.
So yes, my 4 month old set of Red Dawn LS speaker cables, in a 3M Pair with Banana termination are for sale at more than half off, first come first serve. : )
If you want to find out more information on the Black Magic cables, you can see their website HERE.
And What about Mad Scientist Black Magic cables vs the Fidelium, rated better than Nordost pre Gold, very top cable. Heck Gold is 54K vs 1K for Fidelium!!
I would never ever buy Nordost Gold. Its ridiculous IMO and made because Nordost knows they will sell quite a few to the wealthy individuals who just want it, just because it is $54k. I do have limits on what I would spend on cables but it really is system dependent, all cables. No cable can beat all cables in all systems. In one system a Nordost Try 2 may be the holy grail yet in another it may sound off. Everything works together in these systems from power to interconnect to dac to amp to speakers. So there will never be one speaker or IC cable to rule them all as they will sound different in different systems and rooms. That’s why I do cables last, after the system is sodding fantastic. The right cables take it up a few notches and “finish” it off. Thanks.