This week we tested the Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA cable. This is one of Atlas’ midrange models, and it is made with 20% more copper than the brand’s entry-level models. Given its very reasonable price, we found ourselves wondering what this pure-copper, silver-free cable had to offer. Here are a few of our findings.
What can a pair of RCA cables be used for?
A pair of RCA cables may be used to transfer analog stereo audio signals. Typically, the Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA cables might be used to connect a CD player, a network player or a DAC to an integrated amplifier, or a preamp to a power amp, etc. The only exception is transferring video or digital signals (only one RCA cable is required), in which case the RCA cables used must be of a certain impedance (75 Ohms).
Is there really a difference between one cable and the next?
Analog audio signals may not have a very high voltage (about 2 V), but they are nonetheless very rich. Like all electrical signals, they are weakened and even deteriorated the further they travel. Highs are the most subject to distortion. Electrical signals are also affected by electromagnetic interference caused by nearby electronic devices. As such, certain cables are shielded in order to preserve the integrity of the audio signal.
Hardly audible or excessively bright highs, as well as trailing lows and a lack of depth, are often signs of a less-than-perfect audio cable. Even though it’s not what we’re focused on here, digital cables are also affected by the quality of their conductors and connectors.
Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA: 6N OCC copper
As an audio cable specialist, Atlas is well-versed in the importance of high-quality copper. The copper used in the Atlas Integra Superior–namely, OCC copper (Ohno Continuous Casting Copper)–is usually found in much more expensive cables. OCC technology, patented in Japan in 1985, allows the shape of the copper crystals to be controlled as heat is applied to form copper strands. Optimizing the structure of the copper reduces the number of bonds, thus preserving the integrity of the audio signal. The less bonds there are between the copper crystals, the purer the copper is. The OCC copper used in the Atlas Integra Superior cable is 99.9999% pure (6N).
Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA: polyethylene insulation
The type of insulation which protects the copper strands inside a cable is a key parameter for two reasons. First of all, as we previously mentioned, it protects the copper from any interference that might be caused by neighboring electronic devices. Instead of PVC, the Atlas Integra Superior uses a polyethylene (PEF) dielectric. The benefit this material offers lies in the minimal skin effect it generates. To understand what skin effect is, it is necessary to first understand that lows, mids and highs do not all pass through the same area of the copper cable. Lows travel in the middle of the strands while highs pass through their periphery. This is exactly where the cable is in contact with the sleeve (or skin) of its insulation. Interactions between the insulation and the copper along the periphery are frequent and can negatively affect the restitution of highs.
Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA: solderless connectors
This is the other main advantage offered by these RCA cables: they feature solderless connectors. This is a very important point, as there would be no purpose in using high-quality, correctly insulated copper if the electric signals pass through tin solder–even if it is silver-plated–and come out the other end modified. What’s more, tin solder loses its conductivity as it ages. With this in mind, Atlas has chosen to use only snap and block systems to hold the copper in place. The Cinch connectors are themselves gold-plated to optimize their conductivity, and their core is hollow to minimize resistance.
Atlas Element Superior Integra RAC: no silver-plating?
Let’s clear up a popular misconception: silver-plating copper is no miracle solution, and it is often overused. As we’ve explained, highs circulate through the periphery of the copper strands. Meanwhile, this is exactly where the silver plating is. This isn’t a problem in itself, but if the quality of the copper used isn’t excellent, highs will be less audible than the rest of the spectrum. A 100% copper cable is preferable, as long as the copper is high-quality.
Test conditions and listening impressions
We tested the Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA cables with a Teac NR-CD7 amplifier and Elipson Prestige Facet 8B speakers. This hi-fi amplifier offers a very thorough restitution of the entire audio spectrum, and the Elipson Facet 8B speakers feature an excellent soft dome tweeter which is capable of offering a deep and expressive soundstage.
While listening to sound restitution offered by the Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA cable, we discovered its rich sound, which remained very well-balanced throughout the entire audio spectrum without putting emphasis on any of the three registers. Smoothness was the order of the day, and there was nothing to complain about in terms of rhythm. The energy was well-distributed, and there was plenty of micro-information to be heard. The restitution was organized and the soundstage was surprisingly wide for a cable in this price range. The highs produced by the Elipson Prestige Facet 8N were even more precise than we are used to hearing from these speakers. The notes were well defined and never exaggerated. The same result was obtained with the Focal Aria 906 and their metallic dome tweeter. Testifying to the excellent restitution quality, voices were clearly distinguishable from the musical background.
For a sound this melodious and well-spatialized, the price is very reasonable. The Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA cables offer a relaxing and well-rounded restitution. Highly recommended.This post is also available in: French