Atlas Element Achromatic RCA Interconnect Review
Element Achromatic RCA Interconnect
AUD $210 RRP / 1 Meter
There are many who believe that audio cables make no difference whatsoever, others who say they're a rip-off, and some who swing to the other extreme, arguing that you should spend more on your cables than on the rest of your system. I suspect the latter are probably cable manufacturers! Me, I'm in the middle…
I've long since known that they affect the sound of a hi-fi system, but I think they have to be balanced in terms of the overall cost. We need to get things in proportion, so spending vast sums on a cable loom for a budget system is madness. Don't ask me to support my subjective findings with empirical evidence, though, because that's a logical fallacy – just because we could not scientifically measure oxygen in the air back in the thirteen century doesn't mean there wasn't any.
Atlas's new entry-level Element Achromatic RCA has a tough job on its hands. This company designs and builds its cables in the UK, where labour costs are high, so it does not buy-in cheap Chinese cable in bulk, use fancy plugs and a British-sounding name. This immediately removes the company's ability to make big profits on cheap cables and/or fit lavish-looking plugs and packaging. For me, this is no bad thing.
Any cable at this price is going to use copper conductors. Although silver sounds better, it's way more expensive and thus impossible for a budget design. Copper can still turn in a decent performance, though, especially when done right. This cable uses high-quality Ohno Continuous Casting conductors in a coaxial configuration. They're said to be fully shielded from RFI, which is mission-critical – if the cable is picking up lots of high-frequency noise, it doesn't matter how good the conductor is. The Element Achromatic RCA uses a PEF (Polyethylene) dielectric; Atlas's variant is gas-foamed, which is claimed to be more inert and consistent. The company's non-magnetic RCA plug is fitted with a solder-free, cold-weld connection.
None of these materials are especially fancy, yet the finished product feels like a quality item that belies the interconnect's price. There's no sense of cheapness whatsoever, despite the Element Achromatic RCA using entry-level materials, as you'd expect in this market point. The plugs are very nice to the touch and have a positive action; the cable doesn't seem microphonic and is pretty sturdy. Outside diameter is 7mm, so it's usefully supple too. As an overall package, I've seen way worse at this price.
At this price point, most interconnects do more harm than good. We're talking about smeared timing, a wooden bass, opaque midband and splashy, gritty treble – all classic signs of poor conductors and dielectric choices. Not so here, though; the Element Achromatic RCA presents in a positive way. It's clean and crisp, with an enjoyable 'get up and go' that never fails to make music fun. Of course, it can't match significantly more expensive cables, but you never feel like you're sitting in the cheap seats.
Jamiroquai's Return of the Space Cowboy was an interesting listen; this mid-nineties slice of acid jazz is tonally smooth and sweet, and the Atlas cable largely retained this. There was a subtle brightening of the upper midband and treble compared to my reference Missing Link Cryo (at five times the price), but if anything, it pepped the sound up slightly. The lower midband was surprisingly detailed, with lots going on and impressive low-level resolution. Bass was solid and resolute, with plenty of grip and a generally sinewy and muscular sound.
Most interesting was its obvious ability with rhythms. The Element Achromatic RCA is very much a go-getter in terms of carrying the music's emotion and really romped along. This was confirmed with Joe Jackson's Stepping Out, which this cable steamrollered out. It really did manage to capture the drama of this great song and its nuances, too; bass was strong, the drum machine impactful and dynamic, and the hi-hat cymbal sounds came over with metronomic precision.
The fact that I didn't run quickly in the opposite direction is a testament to this fine budget RCA interconnect's quality. It's a little shiny, opaque and two dimensional sounding in absolute terms, but most cables I've heard at twice the price still don't usefully improve on it. Atlas won't thank me for saying this, but because it's such cracking value for money, you can spend more on your source, amplification and speakers!
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.