Three HiFi cable solutions from three very different British manufacturers

Review
Three British hifi cables review website 1

This is a review written by Chris Baillie April 2024.

Cables, cables and more cables

I have spent quite a bit of my time recently reviewing all kinds of cables, from SFP digital cables to analogue speaker cables. It never ceases to amaze me just how different each cable can sound. Many audiophiles dismiss them as an afterthought when, in reality, they are a critical component, just like every other part of your HiFi system. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to write a piece about and compare some cables from three different British cable manufacturers, two very established in Townshend Audio and Tellurium Q.  Then a newcomer to the very competitive space are AF Audio, whose owner, Andrew Foster, I regularly bump into at shows and he had become friends with a very good friend of mine, Steven Crowe who used to write for this site, but sadly passed away just before Christmas. When Steven fell ill last autumn, he asked me to take over the review of these cables, which Terry collected from his family a few weeks ago and sent over to me for evaluation. Steven, who had an extremely critical ear, told me that these cables worked well in his system and looked forward to writing a piece about them, but sadly, his illness took hold very quickly, and it never happened.

Who are AF Audio?

Andrew Foster is an engineer by trade, but recently, he has devoted more time to his passion for making cables. Many of his clients are known to me and have become repeat customers. Andrew makes a range of digital and analogue cables based on silver-plated copper and solid-core silver. Andrew builds all the cables himself and sells them directly via his website and phone. Recently, his range has become popular overseas, particularly with US-based clients. Andrew is based in Staffordshire and manufactures the cables himself as a sole trader. Buying cables from someone like Andrew gives the advantage of the cables being easily customisable to the buyer’s requirements. More recently, Andrew offers the option of fitting additional ‘enhancers’ to his cables. AF Audio’s website does not give details of the Enhancers, presumably to protect the design’s intellectual property.

Each time I met Andrew or spoke with him over the phone, his passion for designing and producing the best cables possible was apparent.

Townshend Audio

This London-based company should need no introduction to the majority of audiophiles. It was set up by the late, great Max Townshend, whose legendary range of ‘Rock’ turntables are still amongst the finest record players ever built, despite having gone out of production some years back. Townshend Audio’s range of Seismic platforms for turntables, speakers and electronics has long been the reference that competitor products aspire to, and are used by countless reviewers across the world. Their Allegri range of passive preamps is largely considered to be the best of their kind and is again used by many reviewers due to their unrivalled transparency.

Townshend have been producing the Isolda cables for decades, and, you guessed it, these cables have become an industry reference. Both the Isolda and the more recently launched Fractal F1 cables are quite unlike most other cables in that they are of high capacitance and low inductance, therefore requiring boxes containing components designed to prevent them from causing damage to certain amplifiers, which would otherwise become unstable with these cables in circuit, such as older Naim amplifiers. Townshend believes cables should be neutral and not be used as tone controls, as many of their competitor’s cables are. Toni Natalucci, who is the late, great Max Townshend’s son-in-law, told me that their cables are intended to be used in systems that are already well-balanced rather than to attempt to correct an imbalance in the system. He went on to say he feels that when you install Townshend Audio cables into a system that you love, you will not need to worry about whether your cables are holding back the rest of that system. Townshend Audio cables are produced in the UK at their own factory in Surrey.

Tellurium Q
Somerset-based Tellurium Q was established at the beginning of last decade by Geoff Merrigan, whose background is in industrial chemistry. Whereas Townshend is happy to discuss what goes into their products, Tellurium Q’s policy is to protect the brand’s intellectual property. Tellurium Q’s website states that this ‘secrecy’ is to prevent competitors from copying the company’s unique design approach. Geoff told to me he wants to get away from all the BS that is often spouted by HiFi brands. Instead, potential customers are encouraged to listen to the cables and to purchase them if they like what they hear.

Tellurium Q produces a full range of analogue and digital cables; Geoff tells me he has decided not to diversify beyond making cables, as this is what they excel at. The business continues to expand, winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise twice in a row, being the only Hi-Fi brand to have done so. The export market is particularly strong for them, especially in Asia. Like Townshend Audio, Tellurium Q manufactures its cables in the UK with its team based in the South of England. Their products are distributed in the UK by Kog Audio and are available through a network of dealers. Tellurium Q offers three main ranges of cables. The Blue range is designed to sound slightly warmer than neutral, which makes them ideal for use in systems that might err on the bright side. The Black range is voiced to
be as neutral and transparent as possible, and the Silver range is slightly more detailed and brighter but not in a fatiguing way.

Tellurium Q also have their Statement range of cables that recently was updated to a second generation, and its seen as an individual product line with its own website, separate to the blue, black, silver matrix.

Let’s listen to some cables

For this piece, I have been comparing cables looms from each brand. From Tellurium Q, these are my own set of Ultra Black II cables, purchased from one of their dealers for my own use back in 2019 before I began reviewing HiFi. I have a 2m pair of speaker cables and a 1m pair of XLR cables. From Townshend Audio, the cables were sent to me last year for a review piece in another publication. These cables consist of a 1m pair of F1 Fractal XLR interconnects and a 2m pair of Isolda DCT speaker cables. Finally, from AF Audio, we have a 1m pair of XLR interconnects and a 1.5m pair of speaker cables. All cables are terminated with 4mm banana plugs.

I have not gone into too much detail regarding the specifications of the cables reviewed here as the full details are available on the respective companies’ websites. The system used for this review is as follows: Melco N1 server and S100 switch, Moon 780D DAC, Moon 600i amplifier, Totem Forest Signature Speakers with mains cables from Titan Audio and digital cables from both Melco and CAD. Towards the end of this piece, the Moon 600i was swapped for an AVID Integra amplifier, which changed the direction of my conclusions considerably.

The Townshend Audio Cables
These cables arrived in a basic but strong protective plastic box. Although nothing flashy, the first impressions are that care has been taken and money has not been wasted on packaging that will later be thrown away. The interconnects tested here are terminated with Neutrik XLR plugs; the RCA version also uses Neutrik plugs. The interconnects are hand-made using a very thin polyester-coated enamelled copper wire spiralled around a thicker bare copper ground. The interconnects are flexible, so they are easy to install behind your system. The Isolda speaker cables are comparatively stiff but bend into shape. The current range of cables from Townshend Audio are Deep Cryogenically Treated, hence the DCT Monika. Some care needs to be taken with this cable as it is possible to damage them by repeatedly bending or crushing them.

As previously mentioned, there is a box at each end of the speaker cables, and these are labelled as to which end should be connected near the amplifier and speakers. Townshend’s website provides a full paper on the theory and manufacturing process of these cables. As Toni Natalucci told me, this is almost unheard of
in the industry. They have nothing to hide; because these cables are so hard to produce, it would be tough to produce cheap copies and even more challenging to improve. One thing I like about the 4mm plugs fitted to these cables is that they have a socket on the top, which allows you to connect a second pair of cables for bi-wiring. The close spacing of the  conductors means that they are almost immune to RFI, which helps if you need to place them near power cables.

Townshend Audio claims they can be used in unequal lengths without compromising performance. The 1m F1 Fractal Interconnects, fitted with XLR plugs, retail for £1093.00, and the 2m DCT Isolda Cables retail for £765.00

Playing Music
The first thing that strikes you about these cables is that they do not highlight any particular frequency, although I will say that they help produce the firmest, deepest, and weightiest bass I have experienced from any cable I have used. Across the frequency range, the music possesses a natural sense of timing, with no blurring or exaggeration of instruments or notes. I have heard some people suggest the top end of these cables is rolled off, which is totally incorrect; they lack the added glare that many cables suffer from, possibly due to their rejection of RFI. The soundstage is natural, broad, deep and holographic, although not quite as large as that of the Tellurium Q cables.

Being neutrally balanced, they do not sweeten up poor recordings, which to a certain extent the other cables used in this review do, but importantly, they reveal the timing clues accurately and do not emphasise unwanted harshness, which means those poor recordings still end up sounding like music through these cables.

Tellurium Q Ultra Black II Cables

Upon opening the ‘Pizza Boxes’ that all Tellurium Q cables are supplied in, these cables offer the same initial impression of quality as the rest of the brand’s products. Geoff Merrigan tells me that much work has gone into this side of things. Both the interconnects and speaker cables come in attractive woven jackets. The speaker cables are comparatively wide, and every time I put them into my system, I can’t help but smile at their quality feel and, in my eyes, stunning appearance.

Both the XLR and 4mm plugs are gold-plated and, again, exude quality. These cables are directional, and the speaker cables have direction markings at one end, so you know which end to plug into the amplifier. Obviously, the XLR interconnects can only be used in one direction, but I remember a pair of ‘Black’ RCA cables I once owned had direction arrows. The 4mm speaker plugs are hollow, which helpfully means they can be used with amplifiers from companies such as Cyrus, which require converters to BFA for the solid-centred plugs of the Townshend cables to work. A 1m Ultra Black II interconnect, fitted with XLR plugs, retails for £627.00, and the 2m speaker cables retail for £697.00

Enjoy The Music
These cables are indeed all about enjoying the music. The Black range sounds almost ‘chocolatey’ and luscious, especially the vocals, which, whilst natural-sounding, are slightly forward and sound more intimate than I have experienced with other cables. The Ultra Black II cables are slightly leaner sounding than the Townshend Audio loom and a little lighter in balance. The bass, whilst ultimately not as full and powerful as that of the Townshend cables, is still deep and in keeping with the rest of the music. The top-end is open and detailed yet smooth and unfatiguing. For me, one of the USPs of the Ultra Black II is the huge holographic soundstage, which, with suitable recordings and equipment, expands well beyond the room’s boundaries and into it. You get this huge, lush, delicious sonic picture with these cables that make listening to music addictive and involving.

The Ultra Black II reproduce the timing of the music well and can sound fast and rhythmic when the music requires it. There is no smearing of the notes here, and the leading edges of the notes are perhaps slightly highlighted. Vocals sound intimate, and you find it easier to make an emotional connection with the performers with the Ultra Black II in your system. These cables have no flaws, offer excellent value for money, and will be an ‘end-game’ purchase for many.

Sweet Music
My great, late friend Stephen Crowe told me that he loved these cables from AF Audio. He described their sound as having less bass but more detail and speed than his usual cable loom, which, incidentally, was a full set of Townshend Audio F1 Fractal cables. Of the cables tested here, these caused the most head-scratching. My initial impression was similar to that of Stephen; my notes added that they sounded sweeter and more airy than the Townshend cables that immediately proceeded with them. I knew Stephen had run them in, so after around 48 hours, I made back-to-back comparisons between the Bhodi and Townshend Audio and then the Tellurium Q looms.

With the Moon amp, I found the Bhodi cables produced a narrower soundstage, which had less depth than the other cables here. Whilst the Bhodi cables had a nice, sweet balance and enhanced the detail across the frequency range, both the soundstage issues and the lightweight balance proved less musically satisfying than the other cables here when used in this system. Thankfully, things took a turn for the better once the AVID Integra amplifier arrived. Although extremely dynamic and fast sounding, the AVID amp was proving a little dry and unrelenting in my system via the other cables.

Substituting the AF Audio cables proved a good match for this amplifier, with their lighter, sweeter balance proving to be just what the doctor ordered. The AVID Integra does not produce an especially strong depth of image, but the image expands well beyond the width of the speakers in a well-defined manner. The AF Audio Bhodi cables did not diminish the AVID amplifier’s soundstage as they had with the Moon’s. Here, the lighter low-frequency balance worked a treat, balancing the bass with the rest of the music, which was now extremely dynamic across the whole frequency range. The Bhodi’s sweet and airy nature worked with this amp in this system, reminding me of the importance of system synergy.

Stephen’s system included a very large and powerful Bryston power amp and Vienna Acoustic Speakers, which could sometimes prove a little forward. I suspect that may be why he found these cables worked so well in his setup and helped balance its forward nature, as they did with the AVID amplifier in my system.

Final Thoughts

All three cable looms I have looked at for this piece can produce musically satisfying results in the right system. I feel the Townshend Audio and Tellurium Q cables will work in more systems more of the time than the AF Audio Bhodi cables. That is not to take anything away from how the Bhodi’s performed once the AVID Integra amplifier arrived. As a reviewer, I can rely on Townshend Audio cables to tell me what a product is doing, and I find them extremely satisfying from a musical and audiophile perspective.

Whilst this loom from Townshend is far from budget, your money is well spent. The Tellurium Q Ultra Black II cables perhaps sound a little larger than life than is strictly neutral but they can make the music sound glorious and full of life and passion. They are temporally accurate and well-balanced across the frequency range. The AF Audio Bhodi cable loom, which includes the Enhancers, does cost more than the other looms tested, and I found them to be the most system-dependent cables here. Whilst I can heartily recommend the Tellurium Q Ultra black II or the Townshend Audio cables for use in any well-balanced system, I feel that the AF Audio Bhodi cables will need to be auditioned in your system before committing to purchase.

However, in the right system, they could be just what you have been looking for.

For the full specification of the Townshend Audio cables see their website linked here

For the full specification of the Tellurium Q cables see their website linked here

For the full specification of the AF Audio cables see their website linked here