Harmonic Technology Magic Audio HDMI Rev. 1.4A High Speed Cable
Cable companies seem to me to come in multiple flavors. There’s the heavily marketed full service companies with a cable for every price point, who lure you with the hope that their entry level products will give you a taste of their best and the promise that their best (and most expensive) will give you more of everything. There’s the breakthrough companies who claim to have discovered special materials, weaves or constructions that produce unique benefits. There’s also, of course, the basic, no-nonsense companies who pooh-pooh the advertising of others while pushing their own “sensible” interpretations of basic engineering designed to make you feel that you are an insightful, savvy consumer. And so it goes. It’s nearly 2012, and from the one-man-in-a-back-room operation to large corporations with their own research labs, there are more types of cable company, never mind cable designs to chose from than any sane person might think necessary just to connect your audio gear.
Harmonic Technology is a cable company that’s built up a reputation for itself slowly since its founding in 1998 by Jim Wang in San Diego. It does claim to have made specific metallurgical discoveries (and more) which you can read about on the company’s website – so I won’t go into them here as I am ill-equipped to treat the subject with any real insight. Further, since I see reviewing as an empirical art, I am less concerned with the claims and more with the sonic experience that results in my own rig. Harmonic Technology offers a full range of cable products and hits price points that most people can live with in their search for musical synergy, though their upper tier products (the fiber-optic based Photon series) are in the several-thousand dollar range, the level which tends to give many audiophiles heartburn.
The company came to my attention when I was trying to learn as much as I could about HDMI interfaces on audio gear when I purchased a PS Audio PWT/PWD combo. PS Audio itself claims that their implementation of the HDMI interface between transport and DAC (which they term the I2S interface) optimizes the integrity of the sonic signal, and they sell a range of expensive cables to serve that purpose. Having bought their upper end version, the IS2-12 with its silver wire construction and not been overwhelmed with the sonic improvements it offered over a basic $40 Pangea HDMI cable, I was curious to discover what else was out there. I began to read comments online that the Harmonic Tech HDMI cable was a particularly good sonic match with the PS Audio, so I decided to learn more.
Chatting with Jim Wang proved interesting. He explained that his HDMI audio cable met the 1.4 standard and was optimised for sonics, arguing that this might not be the case with all HDMI cables marketed to audiophiles. Using OFC 99.9% pure copper, the cable is solid feeling though wrapped in a mesh outer cover which was rather loose at both ends but gave the cable a pleasing, flexible look and feel. To explore the issue of length, which some have argued really makes a difference in sonics, Jim provided me with a short 0.7m and a 5m version, which I can tell you now made no difference sonically in my rig, so I after convincing myself of this over extended break-ins for both, I left the shorter one in place, sent the longer cable back, and proceeded with the full review.
I can put this review to bed quite quickly for many of you by reporting here and now that once I put the Harmonic Technology in place, I knew the PS Audio I2S-12 HDMI cable would not be going back in by choice. Now to put this in perspective, I had bought PS Audio’s top of the range IS2-12 silver cable after investing in the PWT/PWD combo to be confident I was not short-changing the digital front-end with the Pangea HDMI I had on hand when the units arrived. Since I’d purchased the PS Audio cable on clearance, I did not feel too bad that I experienced little improvement with this wire (oh, the folly of audio perfectionism). That was true until I heard the Harmonic Technology cable. Immediately on it replacing PS Audio’s wire, I could hear more of everything. On almost every sonic parameter that matters to me: timbre, clarity, resolution, and sense of space, the Harmonic Technology seemed better. Using my reference music that forms the basis of every review I conduct (from Metheny/Haden’s Beyond to Missouri Sky to Starker’s early and later recordings of the Bach Cello Suites) the Harmonic Technology cable just left the music through in a more natural manner that made listening more pleasurable.
I am less inclined here to go into the specifics of any recording as the devil was not so much in the details as in the overall clarity and smoothness of the musical picture. It was as if someone had opened the faucet a little wider to let everything flow through more easily. Both the Pangea and the PS Audio cables sounded flatter and duller than the Harmonic Technology cable, presenting a darker and less resolved sound to my ears. Glenn Hughes Fender bass on the Black Country Communion self-titled debut album comes across as more palpable; Kenny Burrell’s smooth runs over the neck of his guitar are revealed in greater relief from the background on Midnight Blue; and the brass section feeding support lines behind Nikki Yanofsky as she gallops confidently on ‘Take the A-train’ from her 2010 Nikki release were always more vivid with this cable in the rig.
It is less the case that I could hear more details with the Harmonic Technology wire but that I gained a greater sense of ease, a more resolved sense of transient attack and decay, and a livelier presence of instruments in my room. All cables did bass, all gave me upper registers, but the Harmonic Technology cable just sounded more pleasing and natural, more like it was getting the best out of the excellent PWT/PWD combo it linked, and consequently, more like real music. Need one say more? If pushed to split hairs, I’d say the Harmonic Technology offered better bass resolution and perhaps a warmer overall sonic presentation than the others. If so, it did this without losing upper air extension which I think it excels at, but this characterization seems to reduce the sonic differences to frequency resolution which just does not provide the full story here.
Over three months of back and forth I always put the PS Audio and Pangea wires back in without much enthusiasm, just to make sure I was hearing the same things consistently. Once in place, I just wanted to leave the Harmonic Technology cable there and enjoy the music. At the end of this period, my initial thoughts have been confirmed. While PS Audio are correct to push the HDMI interface as the best way to exploit the talents of their reference digital front-end, not all HDMI cables seem to do the pair justice. For me, the Harmonic Technology 1.4a Magic cable is a highly synergistic match, and at $199, a relative bargain to boot. Maybe there is something in their metallurgical breakthroughs after all. Highly recommended.
I experienced an accident with the cable late in my review that makes me wonder if there might be some construction weakness in the HDMI connector style. Leaning blindly around my rig to fit a power cord in the back of the PWT for another review, I obviously put a bit of my arm’s weight on the HDMI wire as I struggled to orient the power cord’s connector. In so doing, I bent the HDMI connector as it sat in the transport. Taking the cable out to check it, it was clear I’d bent the pins to the point that I could not get it to fit easily back in. Not wanting to force it, that became the sad end of one cable. I can’t say enough about my own carelessness here but I do think that the contact I made with the cable end was slight enough to suggest the standard HDMI cable structure is less than robust, and certainly not as resistant as an RCA or XLR style plug. In no way does this detract from my enthusiasm for the Harmonic Tech cable’s sonics nor am I suggesting their cables in particular have this vulnerability, I think it’s just the way HDMI connections work. Unless you are changing cables all the time or in a hurry and working stupidly, like I was, you’ll hardly experience the same problem but a moment’s carelessness cost me a good cable, so perhaps some of you can learn from my mistake. Never fit cables in a hurry or without giving yourself clear access to the necessary connection points.
- Source: PS Audio PWT/PWD combo
- Preamp: SMcAudio VRE-1
- Amps: Spectron Musician III Mk2 bridged monos with Bybee upgrade
- Speakers: Von Schweikert VR5SE
- Wire: Elrod custom made speaker cables, WyWires interconnects and power cords..