AQ vs Siltech vs Tara vs Van den hul shootout

For the last 24 hours, a friend and I have been comparing the following single-ended IC's: AQ Python ($500); Siltech FTM-4 G3 ($1500); Tara Air 2 ($700); Van den hul The Second ($200). Prices are per pair, as well as I can remember them. The system is comprised of: Sony 9000ES SACD; Bryston BP-25 preamp; Wire World Eclipse III balanced IC's to BAT VK-200 power amp; B&W 802's with outboard Xovers from North Creek. I was testing the IC's between the SACD player and preamp.

The AQ Python is the most musical, giving all instruments at every frequency a natural tone. Overall response is very flat, with no accents. Bass instruments have body and weight, with detail (!) and firmness. Mids are very smooth, with plenty of air between instruments and excellent images. Voices and strings are totally natural sounding. Highs are smooth and extended. Directional information is very good, with realistic soundstage width. I was completely drawn into the music, and forgot about the wire.

The Siltech FTM-4 G3 is slightly more open, with better extension on highs. Bass is not as deep or as well defined as AQ. Strings and voices take on a bit of glare, with leading edges accented. Excellent transients, but maybe too sharply defined. Spatial information is slightly better than AQ, but at the price of sacrificing natural tones. A bit brighter than AQ. Detail freaks will love it, but I couldn't forget that I was listening to electronics.

The Tara and Van den hul were tied. Very different tonally, but equally unacceptable. Tara Air 2 has extended frequency extremes, with excellent, airy treble, and tight bass going as deeply as AQ. Mids lost some of the magic, though, with a hint of brightness. Everything sounded a little edgey, and I tired of listening after 15 minutes. I kept putting them back in and trying again, but I did not enjoy the music; I endured it.

Van den hul The Second is superb tonally, with very flat frequency response. Highs are slightly subdued, but in a pleasant way. Bass is very solid and tuneful. Mids have some of the magic, with realistic strings and voices. Spatial information is a bit lacking, with flattening of the 3D information SACD presents so well. For CD, this IC would be an excellent candidate. For SACD, it was a little too laid back, but thoroughly listenable.

I have 16 SACD's, ranging from jazz to pop to classical. All types of music, new and old recordings, yielded the same results. If anyone is interested, I'll rate them in the digital area.
How long did you break the cables in?

I have auditioned the Air 2's before and while I would generally agree with your assessment in my system the brightness was recording dependent. It was only a problem on 2 tracks out of a couple hundred CD's I listened to.
Hey Madison,

Eventhough I can't afford any of the cables you auditioned, I like how you compared each one and presented each of their attributes coherently. However, you didn't include a conclusion, but I guess it's a no brainer that you like the AQ.

Please write more reviews!
Please mention what these cables look like. I am trying to get new cables due to my old Tara Temporal Continuum cables being over 1.5 inches thick and so ugly no one can stand to look at them. Aesthetics play a significant role in my decision here and any mention of "coolness" of looks helps - thanks! Many maufacturers go to great lengths to package their cables to stand apart from the others, but may not budget enough advertising to get the pics of their products out to us to help us decide in our buying decision. After all... as some of us in the lower price point buying ranges decide - aesthetics matter a great deal in our listening/living rooms. Even though my electronics/speakers are some of the most revealing and best sounding stuff out there, I still will not pay 4-5k for speaker wire at this point in my 20+ years of audio experience.
Appearance did not enter our evaluation, but if it's important: the AQ looked the best and was the most flexible. Van den Hul is also flexible, but a very drab brown. Tara is stiff and thick, and Siltech is pretty sky blue but also rather stiff. Connectors on AQ do not lock, but fit snugly onto jacks. Tara and Siltech have locking WPT connectors. Van den Hul connectors were a little loose, but contact was made securely.
I own Python, but the best I ever heard, and someting that an old crusty dealer once mentioned to me was a combination of AQ Diamond x3 and Cardas Golden Reference. THese cables are both excellent, but together (if possible) are the best thing I have heard re: cables.
I didn't like any TARA cable that I tried (Master g1, g2, Air 1, Air 1, The 2). The Diamondx3 (if you can find it) is really good, but probably better with tubes, or in a warmer system. The Cardas GR is exactly the opposite, and would probably work well in a SS system, being ever so slightly on the warm side. Both are detailed, even top to bottom, but just opposite of neutral.