Decade Series / Stereophile

Interview - Matthew Bond / Stereophile

Prism 11 & 22 / Hi-Fi Choice

Reference G2 / Audio Adventure

Prism 22 & Bi-Wire / Fi

RSC Master Gen 2 / The Audiophile Voice

Original RSC Master ('93)/ The Audiophile Voice

Vanishing Points / Audio Adventure

Klara Speaker Cable / Home Theater

Reprinted from



December, 1996 - Vol. 19, No. 12

by Jonathan Scull

"The Absolute Reference Audio Labs" Interview with TARA Labs founder Matthew Bond

Jonathan Scull: Matthew, how did you come up with the name TARA Labs?
Matthew Bond: It stands for The Absolute Reference Audio Labs.
Scull: Ah-hah! Tell me, what in the world encourages someone to go into the cable business?
Bond: Well, I started out rewiring loudspeakers and improving their crossover networks. I noticed that the wire itself made a big difference, and I wanted to discover why this was so. One thing led to another, and as they say...the rest is history! (laughs)

[Decade Interconnect] Scull: Would you tell us something about those connectors that hook the shields together in the Decade cable?
Bond: The star ground connector tends to "common" any electrical potential - or potential differences - between the shield in Master Gen 2 and Decade interconnect. Let's say you're using a single-box preamplifier where the left and right channels are somewhat separated from each other. Maybe the transformer on the inside of the preamp is closer to one side of the box than the other. The radiation will be perhaps more concentrated on one side of the preamp than the other, and so affect one side of the interconnect pair more than the other.
By commoning the electrical potential in the shields, whose job it is to absorb and ground RFI and EMI radiation, we're allowing the signal-carrying conductors to have an uncontaminated pathway for the music signal.
If there were no shield, RF would be modulated with the audio signal, perhaps making things sound bright or grainy. But definitely changing the sound. If the shields are there, you have less of that. And if they're commoned, then the channels are going to be... less different from each other in terms of frequency response and bandwidth. The result is better channel separation, better imaging, and slightly lower noise, with a quieter, blacker background.
Scull: How did you come up with that idea? I mean, did you sit bolt upright in bed one night and... hey, presto?
Bond: (laughs) No, it was simply a matter of experimentation more than anything.
Scull: What do you consider the most important characteristics of an audiophile cable?
Bond: I'm trying to provide a cable that's extremely neutral, that doesn't interfere with the interface between, say, an amplifier and a pair of loudspeakers, or a preamp and power amp.
Scull: And how do you manage that?
Bond: We do it by providing a cable with very low inductance and capacitance, coupled with a very wide bandwidth.
Scull: Speaking of bandwidth, I notice that you eschew black-box networks in any of your cables. Care to comment?
Bond: You want cables to be as extended in bandwidth as possible so they have little or no distortion artifacts rippling through the pass-band. There are designs that use filter networks to create a low-pass function by adding components in a box at either end of the cable. The rationale behind this is to provide a stable interface between the components.
But the signal is not going to have the integrity of its harmonic structure totally intact if you place a filter in its path. It's better to have a design with a very wide bandwidth that imparts less distortion on the interface. At TARA we accomplish this, as mentioned before, by making the cable's inherent inductance and capacitance values very, very low. This also means the length of cable doesn't become a factor. A 10-meter cable can sound as good as a 2-meter one if the inductance and capacitance are kept low.
Scull: How do you manage to control those parameters?
Bond: By using smaller conductors and grouping them in an open configuration. And it's done even better with a rectangular conductor, which has less inductive reactance than an equivalent round conductor.
Scull: Would you mind explaining...?
Bond: There's more crowding of electromagnetic flux at the center of a round conductor than in a rectangular conductor of the same mass. In a rectangular conductor, there literally is no center to speak of - it's spread out.
Scull: Your conductor lay has the Rectangular Solid Core conductors at different angles to each other, I see.
[Decade Speaker Cable] Bond: Right. In the case of the Gen 2 Master and Decade Speaker Cables, we've got a number of these individually insulated rectangular conductors which don't couple electromagnetically as conductors would do if they were lined up plate-to-plate or edge-to-edge. And that reduces the inductive reactance in the conductor even further.
Scull: I notice there's a lot of air in your speaker cable. (laughter)
Kathleen: Jon-a-ton... (Kathleen says warningly)
Scull: No... really! They're very light in comparison to some other high-end designs.
Bond: Right. We started off with a thin-wall Teflon inner tube. Like this, the dielectric involvement in the cable is less, so to speak. Instead of having a cable with lots of plastic material, which makes for dielectric absorption problems, we array the conductors around the outside of this inner Teflon tube and so once again have less inductive reactance in the conductors themselves. By doing away with the plastic in the cables, we also avoid having a secondary medium storing both high frequencies and high-order harmonic energy - which radiates around the conductor - then releasing it out of phase back into the conductor.
You know, Jonathan, I can look at a cross section of a cable and tell you how it's going to sound.
Scull: !!!
Bond: I'm not trying to brag! I can look at a design and tell you with about an 80% accuracy how things are going to be changed and affected by the construction. Cables will sound airy, open, and more extended, and especially more open in the midrange if it's made with less dielectric in its construction.
Scull: How's that?!
Bond: You know, the cable is its own audio system. The conductors themselves are like loudspeakers. The size of the conductor will determine the sound of the cable. A large loudspeaker, for example, will produce low frequencies very well but not high frequencies. It's just the same with a conductor. A large one will not reproduce high frequencies well, but will have good current-carrying capability for the bass.
Scull: An interesting idea. Speaking of conductors, let me ask you about the nature of Consonant Alloy that I read about in your ads?
Bond: It's a blend of copper and trace elements including silver. But importantly, it's chemically treated so that the crystal junctions in the conductor itself are more conductive than they would be in a pure copper or silver conductor.
Scull: And the dielectric around it?
Bond: That's a clear, chemically stabilized polyethylene with two stabilizing agents. One to prevent the breakdown of the polymer with regard to UV radiation, and the second so that it has less static.
Scull: The jacketing material?
Bond: It's a simple nylon weave, a little more tightly wound on the interconnect than on the speaker cable.
Scull: Matthew, tell me what you think about mixing and matching cables.
Bond: I understand it.
Scull: You understand it, but how do you feel about it?
Bond: I empathize but I don't sympathize, which means I understand but don't approve. We're after the most accurate reproduction of the musical signal possible. That's what everybody is looking for in their components. But too often I fear audiophiles seek to mix coloration, experimenting with different cables to get something that sounds perhaps a bit more euphonic and beguiling rather than accurate.
Scull: One would assume that you'd prefer a system wired up entirely with your cable?
Bond: Right. (laughs) That would be the best! There are, after all, a series of losses in the chain from the recording studio down to your high end system - every component is a low-pass filter. These accumulated losses diminish the harmonics. So it's possible you could find a component or a cable that would correct this by introducing a coloration to provide additional harmonic texture. Someone might say it makes it sound more like "real" music. Who am I to judge that? After all, we're all trying to reproduce the live musical event in our home. And when your ears say it's right; it's right! In the final analysis, we all use cables as tone controls.
Scull: Gaak!
Bond: Of course, when I design a cable to be open and transparent, I don't see it as a tone control. I see it rather as an open gate than will make the most neutral interface between two components. But that's never going to be the case. The customer is going to sit down with the system and play with cables and anything else at his disposal - like cones or other accessories - to get the sound they want. You know, ultimately, if a piece of coat-hanger wire sounds better than an interconnect, then that's what you should use in your system! The Decade cables are the most revealing, neutral cables that I have heard. Yet they will impart colorations to the system. And, of course, other cables will impart even more gross colorations into the system.
Scull: !!!
Bond: The fact is, most audiophiles deliberately introduce colorations by using cables and components that they say are synergistic, in order to create a facsimile of the live musical event. The better that facsimile is, the more they like it. And if you're using wire that you've mixed and matched from brand to brand and you get the result you want, and it sounds more like the live musical event, so be it.
But it's true that neutrality, transparency, and accuracy are what one should strive for in order to make the system revealing and have it reproduce the music more accurately.
Scull: Whew... that's slippery ground!
Bond: Here's the thing... a cable should sound like no cable. It's a Zen kind of thing. But we're human beings; our hearing system is a physiologically dependent phenomenon of its own. And it's not linear in the first place. That's why we have loudness controls to compensate for the ears' lack of sensitivity at certain frequencies at certain amplitudes. Our physiological dependent hearing system can be changed even by the food we eat and drink. We may all have experienced that at one time or another. So the point is, what's accurate isn't necessarily going to sound pleasing.
Scull: You are articulating what a lot of cable people would never say, Matthew...
Bond: Yes, and I'm not even necessarily saying that adding colorations is a bad thing, because I appreciate that from the live musical event down the chain to the playback system, you've got those losses I mentioned all the way through. And they occur typically in higher-order harmonics. The end result is that a recording is never going to be as real as the real thing.
Scull: But you've said the Decades are the most neutral cables you've ever heard...
Bond: Well, there is an admission on our part regarding the lower-priced cables that we do introduce some colorations. It may sound a little smoother and more forgiving. The idea is that we understand the application vis-a-vis the price point of the cable.
Scull: So as the associated system gets more sophisticated - neutral and transparent - and as your customer climbs the ladder of your cables...
Bond: Right - they're going to be more revealing as you move up the range. And the most revealing I want a cable to be, ultimately, is going to be as if it isn't there at all.
Scull: You're such a Zen guy, Matthew! What kind of recording do you use to voice your cables?
Bond: I think the four-letter word I would like to use here is live... (laughter) I like live recordings. You know, the idea is that I want to make it sound as if I'm there, at that performance, listening to the feed through the mixing console down to two-channel stereo. That's the ideal for me. If it's a multitrack recording, I try to imagine some kind of simile to the actual performance - I'll be much more forgiving of the recording than a simply mixed live one.
Scull: Ultimately, what do you think the job of a high-end system is... reproduction of the master tape or re-creation of the real thing?
Bond: The ideal is that the system reproduces what the microphones "saw" - just exactly what was recorded on the master tape. I think that probably the tape and the live musical event are akin, but to make things sound a bit more live, a bit more emotionally satisfying, audiophiles seem to yearn for colorations.
Scull: And you're implying that we haven't resolved this duality yet...
Bond: It isn't resolvable.
Scull: You don't say...
Bond: No. And you might have heard me jump paradigms here from a few moments ago...
Scull: Hey! Watch those paradigms!
Bond: ... because at first it seemed I was saying that the live musical event is something to strive for. I'm not saying that either one is better than the other. At one time we may have a system that is more neutral and akin to the master tape. And then a week later we may put in a cable or change a component that makes the system sound more live in certain parts of the frequency spectrum. Weeks later, you might hear another cable, find it more revealing, and appreciate its neutrality. But maybe you'd lose something of the midbass fullness that you had with the other cable.
Scull: The great quandary...
Bond: Yeah. Like I said, neutrality and transparency are noble goals that one wants to pursue when creating an audio system. But I say, don't beat yourself up if you enjoy a smoother - or warmer - sounding product.
Scull: Uh-huh... tell me, what would you say to those who feel it's impossible for there to be differences in the way cables sound?
Bond: Well, I understand the skepticism because I myself am a skeptic. So back in 1988 we developed a test system called CCZT - Constant Current Impedance Testing. It measures the inductive reactance and rising impedance with frequency in various conductor sizes and shapes. Using this testing methodology, we've been able to correlate test results with the listening experience.
Scull: Do you need exotic equipment to set it up?
Bond: Not at all. We make available instructions for doing it. You need a frequency generator and an oscilloscope, which should run you on the order of $700 or $800 - not a real fortune. To underscore this, let me say that since we know what we're trying to measure, we're able to develop a test that measures it.
Scull: Matthew, thanks. This has been one interesting interview.
Bond: Thank you, Jonathan.

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