Clarus is described as the sister brand of Tributaries, the cable manufacturer best known for their extensive lines of A/V products. Founded just a few years ago, Clarus offers high-end cables based on the work of audio designer Jay Victor. Their products are made by hand in the US from proprietary materials, except for their power cords and USB links, which are made in China due to the machinery required to manufacture the molded plugs. Clarus’s Aqua line comprises balanced and single-ended interconnects, a subwoofer cable, a digital coaxial audio link, two power cords, and single and biwire speaker cables. Their costlier Crimson line has similar models, and adds AES/EBU digital and USB links. Clarus also makes two models of power conditioner.
The Aqua and Crimson lines are said by the company to be very similar, the primary difference being the Crimsons’ heavier-gauge conductors, and slightly different cable geometries and connectors. Recently, when Clarus upgraded their Aqua speaker cable and interconnect with new connectors and called the new version the Mark II, company president Joe Perfito contacted me to arrange a review. The Aqua Mark II interconnects cost $570 single-ended (1m, RCA) or $960 balanced (1m, XLR); the speaker cables go for $1820 (6’) or $2200 (6’, biwire). (All prices per pair, in USD.) Perfito sent me balanced interconnects and, per my request, speaker cables terminated with BFA banana plugs (spade lugs are available for the same price).
Clarity in design and purpose
Jay Victor, holder of many patents, designs for Clarus cables various conductor types and geometries, to achieve products that perform equally well for all frequencies within the audioband. I won’t go into all the specifics of his theories, but, like many, he believes that thin, flat conductors provide exceptional midrange performance, while heavier-gauge conductors are better for bass reproduction. For the highs he uses spiral ribbon conductors with a nonconductive core. Although it’s not possible to determine the causality of the audible effects of different types of conductors, electrical properties such as the Skin Effect, in which a conductor’s magnetic flux along its cross section varies with its gauge and shape, can actually be measured. Although in theory this should have little effect within the audioband, it is believed by many, including Victor, to be the reason that different shapes and sizes of conductors work better for different frequency ranges.
In addition to comprising different conductor shapes and geometries optimized for the bass, midrange, and high frequencies, all Clarus conductors are made of Pure Copper by Ohno Continuous Casting (PCOCC), which has extremely low crystalline or grain structure. This means that the signal has very few boundaries to cross. Copper with a high grain structure and thus many internal boundaries is believed to adversely affect the electrical signals traveling through them, resulting in audible degradation of the signal. The conductors are then insulated with the sheaths of precision-extruded polyethylene that cover all Clarus cable conductors, and are designed to result in a neutral sound throughout the audioband.
The all-new, CNC-machined connectors of the Aqua Mark II models are proprietary to Clarus and have some unique features. The speaker cables’ spade connectors are made of a tellurium-copper alloy claimed to have low resistance and superior sound, and feature Clarus’s Spring Tension (ST) design. The latter allows the spades to be slightly compressed and then spring back to apply pressure to both sides of the connector, to provide better contact with speaker binding posts, which are often difficult to tighten adequately by hand. The British Federation of Audio (BFA) connector is, essentially, a rolled banana-plug design similar to that used by Analysis Plus and Nordost, and said to provide excellent and uniform contact between the connector’s entire surface area and the interior of the binding-post jack.
The interconnects also have new connectors designed by Victor and made exclusively for Clarus. The male pins of the XLR and RCA plugs, made of tellurium copper, now have hollow instead of solid cores, to reduce the eddy currents that, Clarus claims, can slow signal transfer. The grounding ring in the female XLR is placed farther forward in the body of the connector than the signal pins, so that the ground connection is established first, to eliminate the speaker-damaging buzzes or thumps caused by an ungrounded connection to a powered-up component. The RCA connector’s grounding ring, BFA, and the female XLR and banana plugs, are made of military-grade beryllium copper, whose strong “springiness” makes it especially suitable for these types of connectors, Clarus claims.
While Clarus and Victor admit that it may be impossible to determine the causes of audible differences among cable designs, they say that their thorough experiments in the process of designing the Clarus cables, using various conductor types and cable geometries, has given them insight into why their cables sound like they do. I find it refreshing when an audio company doesn’t claim to have all the answers, especially in a field as controversial as cable design. In my experience, cables can make differences in the sound of an audio system. Whether or not those differences can be measured, or ascribed to a specific characteristic of a specific cable, are different issues. Granted, the differences I’ve heard have been subtle, and all of my listening has been sighted, but I can’t deny what I’ve heard: Different cables make different sounds.
Other things to take into account when considering buying luxury audio products such as the Clarus Aqua Mark IIs are their appearance and build quality. As editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz has often pointed out, you should expect a certain minimum quality of construction and finishing from such products. And while you can spend much more on cables than the Claruses would cost you, their prices are high enough to warrant a high quality of construction. Joe Perfito agrees -- he’s proud of the finish and look of the Clarus cables, whose connectors don’t require the shrink-wrap covering found on many cheaper cables, and sometimes even on cables costing thousands of dollars. With their attractive, polished, proprietary connectors and high-quality outer sheath, the Clarus Aqua Mark IIs at least look like high-end audio cables.
Clearing the way
When the Claruses arrived, I let them burn in for a few days with test-tone sweeps. I then used them for a week or so for casual listening and while watching movies. For the review, I placed the Aqua Mark II balanced interconnects between my Anthem STR Preamplifier and Anthem M1 monoblocks. The Aqua Mark II speaker cables connected the Anthem M1s to my MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 loudspeakers.
My source component was a Lenovo IdeaPad laptop computer running Windows 10, Roon with Qobuz, and foobar2000, sending music to the system via an AudioQuest Carbon USB link and an AudioQuest Jitterbug. All audio components were plugged into power-conditioning products from Blue Circle Audio and ZeroSurge.
Joe Perfito asked if I’d like him to burn in the review samples before sending them to me. As Clarus doesn’t offer this option to customers, I declined.
Music flowing like Aqua
The first thing I noticed was how similar to my reference Analysis Plus Silver Apex cables the Clarus Aqua Mark IIs sounded. This shouldn’t have surprised me -- AP also designs their cables to minimize such things as the Skin Effect, but by using a hollow-oval conductor rather than multiple conductor sizes and geometries. Sure, I heard differences, but the sounds had the same general signature: low noise floors that resulted in very “black” backgrounds, and a fast, detailed sound that was extremely neutral and revealing but never fatiguing. The APs retrieved a bit more microdetail, but the Claruses had a slightly richer sound overall. This worked well with my MartinLogan hybrid electrostatic speakers, which are ultra-revealing but can sound a bit dry with some recordings.
Listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, accompanied by André Previn leading the Vienna Philharmonic (24-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon/Qobuz), I was struck by how alive the music sounded. This is a live recording, but I particularly noted the speed and agility of the sound, and especially Mutter’s spirited playing. The solo passage at the beginning of the Finale (Allegro vivacissimo) will test the mettle not only of any soloist playing it, but of any system reproducing a recording of the performance. Through the Claruses, I was able to fully enjoy this recording. The brilliantly discordant notes at the beginning of the movement vigorously burst forth from Mutter’s violin, each bowstroke producing a note placed squarely between my speakers and surrounded by that inky-“black” background I’m used to. As other instruments entered, they appeared around Mutter in a way that precisely captured the size and spread of the orchestra. In the closing moments of the first movement, Allegro moderato, my system was also able to perfectly balance the powerful sound of the massed strings and timpani with the integrity and delineation of the solo violin.
In Sting’s latest effort, My Songs (24/44.1 FLAC, A&M-Interscope/Qobuz), he subtly reimagines 15 of his solo and Police compositions. It sounded excellent through the Clarus cables. “Desert Rose” had a deep, rich sound, the haunting voices of the backing singers placed on the soundstage at various depths and heights around Sting’s voice at dead center, anchoring the mix. The precise images of this often-swirling arrangement, combined with the echoing backing voices, added up to a big, thrilling, inviting sound. With the more sparely arranged “Every Breath You Take” and “Fields of Gold” I could concentrate on the intelligence of the lyrics and Sting’s more mature and measured, yet still earnest, delivery of them. The Claruses imbued it all with a very slight but pleasing warmth compared to the sound I’m accustomed to with the AP cables, while retaining a comparable clarity for Sting’s lead vocal and the entire midrange.
One of my favorite tracks for assessing a system’s midrange clarity is the acoustic version of “Take On Me,” from A-ha’s MTV Unplugged: Summer Solstice, especially Morten Harket’s mournful lead vocal (16/44.1 FLAC, Universal). It was arresting through the Clarus cables. The unprocessed sound of his closely miked voice can be a little edgy, especially on high notes, but the Claruses did an excellent job of conveying all the emotion contained in the delicate vibrato of his falsetto. While I was very satisfied with the sound of the Clarus cables, restoring to my system the considerably more expensive Analysis Plus Silver Apex speaker cables ($2975/6’ pair with WBT 0610 bananas, $2575 with AP bananas) and balanced interconnects ($1106/1m pair with Abbatron XLRs) did increase my system’s retrieval of microdetail from this recording. Harket’s voice didn’t change in character, but the recording venue now seemed bigger and his voice was slightly more forward in it, its sound decaying farther back into aural darkness. The instruments were spread farther apart on this bigger stage, there was a better sense of room ambience during the applause, and a very faint but lifelike echo as the bandmembers thanked the audience.
When I agreed to review the Aqua Mark IIs, I didn’t know what to expect. Clarus’s more expensive Crimson cables have been favorably reviewed by others, including our own Aron Garrecht, but I was extremely impressed by the clean, neutral, very natural, and musical sound of the Aqua Mark IIs. These Jay Victor designs are based on careful experimentation rooted in established design principles, and have a quality of construction that is admirable. For those looking for reference-quality cables that look as good as they sound, I highly recommend the Clarus Aqua Mark II speaker cables and interconnects.
. . . Roger Kanno
- Speakers -- MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9
- Preamplifier -- Anthem STR Preamplifier
- Amplifier -- Anthem M1 (monoblocks)
- Sources -- Lenovo IdeaPad computer running Windows 10, foobar2000, Roon with Qobuz; AudioQuest JitterBug
- USB link -- AudioQuest Carbon
- Speaker cables -- Analysis Plus Silver Apex
- Interconnects -- Analysis Plus Silver Apex
- Power cords -- Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES
- Power conditioners -- Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 with X0e low-frequency filter module, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI
Clarus Aqua Mark II Speaker Cables
Price: $1820 USD per 6’ pair; $2200, 6’ biwire pair.
Clarus Aqua Mark II Interconnects
Price: $960 USD per 1m pair, balanced (XLR); $570 USD per 1m pair, single-ended (RCA).
Gordon J. Gow Technologies, Inc.
6448 Pinecastle Boulevard, Suite 101
Orlando, FL 32809
Phone: (888) 554-2494
Fax: (800) 553-1366