Tellurium Q Ultra Black II RCA Review
David Price auditions an enigmatic mid-price RCA phono lead…
Ultra Black II RCA Interconnect Cable
£430 RRP (1 Meter)
“It seemed like a good idea at the time”, said Geoff Merrigan, when I asked him why he started Tellurium Q back in 2009. A chemistry graduate with an abiding interest in materials science, launching a cable company into a crowded market was a highly audacious thing to do. He now admits that he didn't really grasp the challenge ahead though, telling me, “I was completely naive as to the nature of the higher-end hi-fi industry…”
Eleven years later, and he has built the brand into a successful and respected purveyor of affordable audiophile interconnects, power cords and speaker cables. Fascinated by the interaction between materials and signals, Tellurium Q's guiding philosophy is derived from a model of relative transient phase distortion. “We consider where the phase of various frequencies are shifted relative to one another, depending on the material they are travelling through, and what else is acting on them”, he explains.
Transients – the leading and trailing edges of notes – are everything. “This was first looked at by Bell Labs back in the nineteen-thirties when researching telephony. So it's not new but does seem to have been neglected. Their concern then was the spoken word, and this phase shift (distortion) led to the conclusion that naturalness was considerably less definite and had more artefacts. They believed the audible effects of phase distortion arise in the periods between the approximate steady state of one speech sound and the succeeding one.”
Geoff won't talk design specifics, preferring to focus on his well-honed research and development process. “Our focus has narrowed to signal and materials. Limiting our scope of study has really opened up developments.” So when assessing this latest incarnation of Ultra Black RCA, it was useful for me to have its predecessor beside for comparison purposes. This new model – which retails for £430 for a 1m stereo RCA pair – has a shiny black braided outer sheath, in contrast to the matt black rubbery affair fitted to the original. High-quality WBT-style plugs are fitted, and the new cable is nice to handle with a pliable feel that makes routing easy.
The original Ultra Black sounded warm, expansive and engaging, while this new version is altogether tighter, cleaner and more detailed – making its highly capable predecessor sound rather opaque by comparison. For example, The Who's Who Are You became less about enjoying the smoothness of this classic late seventies recording, and more about experiencing the visceral power of the musicians. I could really sense the menace in Roger Daltrey's vocals, finding myself on the edge of my seat rather than leaning back and relaxing.
With more energy, urgency and direction to the music, the new cable is certainly a serious step-up, but there's a slight sense of the recording sounding tonally thinner. Randy Crawford's Rio de Janeiro Blue wasn't quite as plump in the bass for example, and her voice had more grit to it. In truth though, the new cable simply gives a less coloured and more natural rendition of the track, better describing what's going on in the recording. The result sounds less like cocktail jazz and more like crooning soul music.
Ultra Black II offers a seriously high-resolution sound for its price, then. Cue up Kraftwerk's Techno Pop for example, and it digs really deep into the recording to tell the listener all about what's going on. There appears to be an ever-so-slight lightening of the upper bass compared to the older cable, but this is down to it being faster, and with less overhang. Certainly, the kick drum is more dynamic and less flabby. Further up into the midband, and you get an almost glass-clear sound; I loved the chiming, bell-like timbre of the Yamaha FM digital synth and the gnarly vocal samples. The metallic percussion was rich with sparkling harmonics that are generally only heard in far pricier cables. The overall sense is of a more expressive and musical sound.
Tellurium Q's new Ultra Black II is something special at the price. It has insight, grip and focus that you usually have to pay a lot more for – allied to an impressive lack of colouration and dramatic dynamics. There's little to criticise sonically then, aside from the fact that it's not as euphonic sounding as its predecessor – some might like the older cable's more sepia-tinged sound. If you're looking for a great all-round mid-price interconnect, this is an essential audition.
For more information, visit Tellurium Q.
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.
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