Choosing High-Value IC's for Stellar Gear

Ever since I received my Stellar Gain Cell DAC/Preamp and M700 monoblocks last month, I have been searching for a good pair of balanced interconnects to use with the Stellar gear. I view the GCD and M700s as “high value” components that offer excellent sound for moderate cost – at least by high-end audio standards. Although the Stellar gear can be used with either expensive or inexpensive IC’s, I’ve been looking for XLR cables that provide highly musical performance while costing less than $500 per pair. At the risk of boring some readers, I will describe my experience trying five different interconnects in my current system. (Please feel free to skip ahead to the final conclusions if the details are starting to put you to sleep.)

Baseline Cables and Components:

My current system sources consist of a Sony X55ES CD player used only as a transport, with the digital signal sent to the GCD via a Monoprice Toslink cable; a Thorens TD-160C turntable with Grado MCZ cartridge, which is rarely used and currently in need stylus replacement; and a Sonos Connect that sends digital audio (bypassing the Sonos DAC) via a BJC Belden 1694A coax cable to the GCD. My only analog IC is a 1m pair of Straight Wire Rhapsody II RCA cables that connects the GCD to the M700 amps. The amps feed Thiel CS 2.2 speakers using Straight Wire Encore speaker cables. Because Thiel speakers tend to be very revealing and can become too “bright” in some systems, I am looking for IC’s that are transparent but also have enough warmth to ensure that the Thiels do not become overly bright and fatiguing. All tested IC’s were in lengths of 3-5 feet.

The IC Contenders:

    1. Straight Wire Rhapsody II single-ended RCA
    1. Belden 1800F balanced XLR
    1. Cardas Parsec XLR (from Cable Co. lending library)
    1. Shunyata Research Venom XLR (from lending library)
    1. Synergistic Research Core Level 2 XLR (from lending library)

The Music:

Most of my listening is done via Sonos or CD, with an emphasis on rock, blues, and singer-songwriter music. For comparing audio components, I find it most useful to concentrate on recordings that focus on an interesting male or female voice accompanied by just a few instruments that have been well-recorded. I especially like to evaluate the sound of individual instruments and voices to assess their naturalness and tone. For this comparison of IC’s, I focused on the following seven recordings: “Alison” by Holly Cole, “A Case of You (Live)” by Diana Krall, “Six Blade Knife” by Dire Straits, “‘Round Midnight” by Kenny Rankin (on a great Chesky recording), “Death Letter” by Cassandra Wilson (theme song for 3rdseason of True Detective), “Easy Money” by Rickie Lee Jones, and “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Christy Baron. I also listened to a range of music by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Tracy Chapman, Neil Young, Counting Crows, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Jarrett, Leo Kottke, Ed Sheeran, and Shawn Colvin.

How Do They Sound?

Straight Wire Rhapsody II RCA: Lower output than the balanced XLR’s, but quiet background even with volume turned up to match the XLR’s. Smooth, pleasant, musical. Leans toward “warm” sound, but doesn’t seem rolled off too much. “Liquid” highs and mids. Good bass control and impact. Good imaging but not overdone or “etched.” Lacking the highest level of transparency and detail, but very smooth and natural. Overall, a solid IC that tends toward some warmth and is smooth and musically satisfying. No listener fatigue! (This cable has been my “go-to” IC for many years but is no longer being produced by Straight Wire.)

Belden 1800F Balanced XLR: The Belden IC is inexpensive and has solid Neutrik connectors at the ends of a thin and flexible cable. Tended to have a bright and lively sound. Seems pretty open, but can get harsh on “hot” recordings. Noticed some excess sibilance and glare. Bass is present, but seems somewhat loose and doesn’t sound super tight. Individual instruments don’t have a consistently natural fullness, and they blur together at times. Not especially refined or forgiving. Fatiguing and too often prompted the urge to turn down the volume or stop listening. Overall, had a loose and lively presentation that could seem initially engaging but often produced listener fatigue.

Cardas Parsec XLR: This IC turned out to be the outstanding performer of the group – at least for my ears and my system. The cable has a substantial feel, solid Neutrik connectors, and is reasonably flexible. Female voice is fuller and sweeter than with the other IC’s. Individual instruments retain appropriate tone and do not blur into other instruments. “Live” recordings seem more alive. This cable has greater transparency and more detail than I’m used to with the Straight Wire, but still seems smooth and liquid. Imaging is more 3-D and holographic than the other wires. Bass is solid and tight, and the highs don’t sound rounded or rolled off. Cardas says that the Parsec was designed to have a touch of warmth combined with some of the detail and transparency of their Clear series of IC’s. Based on my listening, I would agree with that description. Even though the Parsec had more detail than I’m used to, I did not experience listening fatigue. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get the other IC’s switched out of the system so I could go back to listening to the Parsec. It had enough warmth to keep me happy and enough transparency to keep me interested. Overall, the Parsec is a natural, musical IC in my system!

Shunyata Research Venom XLR: The Venom is the thickest and stiffest of the IC’s tested, although it is flexible enough to make reasonable bends in the cable with a little effort. The grey cable cover is very attractive. The connectors are shiny and slippery to handle, and I much prefer the Neutrik connectors found on the other balanced IC’s in the group. The Venom is most similar to the Straight Wire in terms of sonic signature, but I think the Straight Wire is actually more neutral and provides a bit more high-frequency detail and bass impact than the Venom. The Venom’s greatest strength is its smoothness. This would be a great cable to use to balance out a system that is too bright and harsh on the high end. Venom is very forgiving, but it gives up some transparency to achieve that character. Voices sound a little recessed, and the music is not as alive or dynamic as it should be. Overall, the Venom is pleasant and listenable, and listening fatigue was not a problem. However, music is not quite as exciting as it should be when played through the Venom IC’s.

Synergistic Research Core Level 2 XLR: The SR Core 2 IC’s use relatively thin wire attached to solid Neutrik connectors. The overall sonic signature of this cable leans toward brightness, which makes it a poor match for my Thiel speakers. Voices on the Core 2 seemed light and thin, not rich or liquid. There was diminished bass impact, possibly due to the tilt toward brightness in the upper frequencies. I noticed more sibilance and a harder edge to transients with the Core 2, but these IC’s were very good at picking up room and background noise on live recordings, which could increase perceived transparency in some “muddy” systems. Like the Belden 1800F IC, the Core 2 produced listening fatigue for me, and I was happy to move on to listening to a more forgiving and musical IC.


In my system, the Cardas Parsec was the clear winner in these comparisons. It offered the best blend of transparency and warmth, which gave me access to natural sounding music using my electronics and speakers. Other IC’s may work better for other listeners using other audio systems, and it’s definitely worth giving several IC options a demo in your own system. I’m pretty sure that there are higher priced IC’s out there that would impress me if I tried them, but I’m not interested right now in devoting the serious investments in time and money needed to search out “possibly better” IC’s. For me, the Cardas Parsec appears to be a high-value IC choice for my Stellar-Thiel system, and I feel lucky to have found a compatible 1m balanced IC for under $400.

Best of luck to others who have embarked on a similar cable quest!


I’m in the same boat. I actually read where the Benchmark Brand Canare-Star quad balanced XLR’s are excellent I believe the owner of Atmosphere Amps has mentioned and used Mogami XLR cables as good cables.

@dclark2171, I haven’t tried the Benchmark star quad cables you mentioned, but Blue Jeans Cables carries the same Canare L-4E6S star quad used in the Benchmark XLR’s. The BJC folks note that the Canare L-4E6S has a high level of noise reduction but fairly high capacitance compared to the Belden 1800F they also carry. I commented on the limitations (in my system) of the 1800F XLR’s at the start of this thread, but maybe the Canare star quad sounds better.

If you haven’t already, you should read the Iconoclast thread on this forum to see what a creative engineer has done to refine the star quad design to control capacitance (among other things) for use in very high performance interconnects. Of course, the Iconoclast cables are considerably more expensive as well.

If you decide to try the Canare star quad XLR’s, please let me know how it works out for you.

I’m using the Benchmark XLR cables. I originally bought them when I had a Benchmark system (DAC2 HGC and AHB2 amp). I’ve hung onto them as my system has changed and I think they are a good sounding cable (and inexpensive!). I used between my previous integrated amp and my SGCD along with single ended cables (Teo GCII’s and some cheaper Analysis Plus). I didn’t notice a huge leap over the xlr’s so I sold the single ended. I’m demoing a Benchmark DAC 3 L now in place of the SGCD. I’m looking for speaker cables to upgrade the Canare 4S11 cable I’m using now.


I’m using the Canare 4S11 speaker cables in my HT system that is separate from my 2-channel set-up. I think they are decent cables, but I haven’t done direct comparisons with other cables since it would likely be an expensive undertaking to replace all the speaker wiring for my 5.1 system.

How does the new Benchmark DAC sound compared to the SGCD?

I’ll throw out some love for Anti-Cables in addition to what others have mentioned. I’m fond of their XLR interconnects in particular, though the speaker wire is pretty killer too.

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I used Mogami 2534 Neglex XLR for the last couple of years I had a component system, when it was fully balanced. Probably identical to the Canare and Belden. No worries.

@SDL I had the Benchmark DAC2 HGC paired with the Benchmark app and I always felt the sound was a bit too analytical. I had a couple issues with my SGCD (that PS audio support dealt with promptly) which caused me a bit of concern for long term reliability. I had a chance to get a DAC3 at a discount, so I thought I’d try it out. I really like it in this setup. I’ve got Salk Song3 Encores and power is a Mivera amp. Music sounds a lot more ‘organic’ than with the SGCD. Overall it seems like there’s more detail than with the SGCD, though some older recordings (60’s music especially) sound better with the SGCD. The volume control on the DAC3 isn’t the greatest, and I much prefer the volume control on the SGCD. I’ll probably end up hanging on to both for a while. This system is for 2 channel only so I only need to worry about 1 pair of speaker cables!

I thought I would bring another player to this XLR discussion. You might consider Belden 2468. A search of this part number discloses very little but gives a little background from Steve Lampen. It is now a Blue Jeans product and referred to as our BAV cable. It is available online in both XLR and RCA through the website. We are the exclusive supplier for this product at present and have stock available for custom assemblies. Ted Smith picked up a 20’ pair for use in his studio in the last week. His comments are on the Iconoclast thread on this forum. Galen Gareis designed this product for the studio, production facility, road shows and commercial venues where ultra high-performance is needed along with the unique qualities of flexibility and off-the-charts-durability. You will not find a better cable for the money. There is no risk in trying these cables since they carry the same no questions asked return policy as all other BJC products. Best to all!

Can you please direct us to where on the site it is located.

Also, in terms of your Blue Jeans site, you really could benefit from some UX research to improve the usability commensurate with the quality of your products.

It’s not intuitive to search for RCA interconnects under Stereo Audio Cables:

In addition, the Iconoclast site is not mobile optimized. I love what you guys are about: value for the dollar. You are leaving good money on the table because you are not up to speed with digital technology/e-commerce. You are asking us, your customers, to shop with you out of loyalty rather than making it easy for us. Mobile sites are not new, it’s no longer 2012. Your business will grow if you make these changes.

BTW, I just found the BAV cables under the XLR page. But, I want the RCA variant. I don’t see an option to change the termination. When I looked under RCA it wasn’t there.

SDL, you’ve got some great choices here from some very knowledgeable sound and cable guys, fwiw, after doing a similar demo of balanced cables for my DSD>BHK Pre>M700s, MIT, SR, WireWorld and AnalysisPlus Solo Cystal Oval Xlr’s, I found the AnalysisPlus very natural, open, articulate, smooth and transparent. Female vocals are particularly rendered well. They were the most synergistic with PSA among the group, to my ears, with my B&W’s which may not be as efficient as your Thiels. SoloCrystals are all copper. Enjoy your search.

Thank you for reaching out and trying your very best to see. We are in process of a complete overhaul and our information and marketing presence will improve significantly. I am sharing every word of your comments with the boss.

In the interim, you may email me directly at for a price sheet that includes the BAV RCA products. I also can send you design information on the cables. Or, you are certainly encouraged to call me at 850-860-0940 cell. I am happy to place an audition order and let you try the cables. I do have bulk cable available and ready to make assemblies.

Thanks for the candid comments more than you know.


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Thanks, Bob! I would love to audition a sample of the BAV cables. I sent you an email. Cheers.

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Lots of great high-value options being offered that emphasize excellent sound without spending too much money. However, the diversity of opinions emphasizes how important it is to be sure that a particular interconnect is a good match for the rest of the system. Although some cable makers have developed a “house sound” that shows up in many of their cables, this doesn’t mean that you can assume that you’ll like every cable in the catalog.

Although I ordered a 1m XLR of the Parsec interconnect, the Parsec was initially out of stock so I had the opportunity to try the Clear Sky XLR, which is the next step up in the Cardas line - at least in terms of cost. Clear Sky is also the least expensive cable in Cardas’ Clear series. Although the Clear Sky provided some nice detail and transparency, it didn’t have much of the warmth that Cardas is known for. That’s because the Clear series is focused more on transparency and being “clear.” In some systems, that sonic signature would be great, but my system seems to sound better with a cable that is more forgiving and natural - at least to my ears.

At the same time I was listening to the Clear Sky, I also took a tentative trip down the “rabbit hole” of power cords. I tried a few of the Audience Forte F3 cords, and was surprised to hear a quieter background, tighter bass, and a smoother more natural sound than with the stock Stellar power cords. Adding the Forte cords also made the Clear Sky more listenable, which created another complication in evaluating interconnects. I can tell that this power cable trip is going to cost me some money.

At present, I am breaking in my new Parsec IC’s and Audience power cords. When the new cables get broken in, I may venture into the Iconoclast world to see what I’ve been missing. But first, I need to give my ears and my wallet a well-deserved rest!

I have to agree. I have spent much money at BLC. Their website interface, however, is stuck back in the mid 90’s.

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ZU Audio sells new first generation Event and Mission Cables on eBay.

Good Morning, here is a short link to an early introduction on Belden 2468 by Steve Lampen. Sorry guys, no one else makes cable like Belden. Why, the designer is Galen Gareis. He built 2468 now affectionately known as BAV on the Iconoclast 1st Generation IC design. In my opinion, you can pretty much put the issue to rest on what is currently the best choice for a value priced high-performance IC’s. Happy to send design briefs to those who would like to explore. These assemblies are only available through BJC and can be found on the iconoclast cable website.

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Thanks for the link to the Belden 2468 video. I have a lot of respect for how Galen approached the design of the Iconoclast cables, and I will definitely give them a try at some point.

I do have one question, though. Your comments suggest that the BAV is the “best choice for a value priced high-performance IC.” I’m not questioning whether the BAV is a good cable, which I’m sure it is, but are you saying that there is no need to consider system-matching in selecting an IC?