It might help to think of music as being made up of two elements: information and energy. The information bit tells you which instrument is being played, at what pitch, and for how long. The energy bit isn’t just how loud, but also the dynamic shifts, the subtle but deliberate manipulation of timing, the inflections and mannerisms which tell you this is being performed by a person, not some sort of musical automaton. The Oracle MA-X cable seems to manage both information and energy better than anything else I’ve heard in a system up to now; it simply makes it easier to perceive the amount of effort the musicians put into their playing.
A recent, and valued, addition to my collection is Joanna Macgregor and the Britten Sinfonia’s ‘Live in Buenos Aires’ (Warner Classics & Jazz 2564 68475-9). The first three tracks are the Bach Concerto for keyboard and strings in D minor. She plays the piano with a rare physicality, reminiscent of performances by John Ogdon. The interesting thing that came out of this particular Bach performance was not just that the Oracle MA-X cable portrayed the assertiveness of the playing so well, but that when the orchestra played quietly, it was possible to appreciate the ‘held-back’ qualities of their playing, there was a sense of restraint, a pent-up potency which was being deliberately and skilfully kept in check, not merely a bit of quiet playing. If it just sounds quiet, you’ve missed the point. And it is that point which the Oracles are so good at getting across.
The other side of the same coin is shown by the last track on the same album. A keyboard transcription of Astor Piazolla’s Libertango, played at full-throttle by Ms Macgregor. Except that, through the Oracles, it isn’t. The Magnum MA cable gives a hugely impressive rendition, tight, fast and dynamic. Played through the Oracle MA-X cables, it is suddenly much more apparent that this is no hell-bent, pedal to the metal, rendition, but a considered and measured interpretation. There is light and shade, even within the rollicking ride she takes us on, sections which are scarcely less loud, but the energy has nevertheless diminished. This ability to discern subtlety where you least expected it - more than that, to have it shown to you when you weren’t looking for it - is something I’d not heard in the system before.
There are hi-fi benefits, most assuredly. Soundstaging is extraordinarily accomplished and convincing: images are wide, deep, stable and consistent; instruments gain solidity and substance, there is an overall sense of ‘presence’ which eludes many systems, regardless of price. Take the opening track, Prelude, on the second part of ‘Aerial’ from Kate Bush, its birdsong suddenly gains a sense of place, a feeling that this is truly open-air, real-life birdsong. There is a palpable sense of open space. Most systems create their sense of space from the subtle reverberant cues from the surroundings. Open air spaces are devoid of such cues, so it is all the more remarkable that the Oracle MA-X manages to convey a more perceptible sense of landscape, than the Magnum MA.
To describe these attributes in such hi-fi terms, however, risks missing the point. Instead, it is as though, once that part of my brain which is responsible for reconstructing the illusion of music is allowed to relax, it becomes able to discriminate those elements of a performance which it was too busy to appreciate when it was having to sustain the impression of music-making. You might think of it as a reduced requirement for error-correction within the brain. Whatever it is, and however it is achieved, I am in no doubt that the addition of the Oracle MA-X loudspeaker cables takes a system forward to an extent which is entirely consistent with the asking price.
The Oracle MA-X has another trick, and that is its adjustable articulation. The output end of each box carries a pair of rotary switches with five different positions. One is labelled ‘Bass’ the other ‘Treble’ and they permit the user to adjust the level of articulation in the lower or upper frequency ranges. The effect is like a subtle and well-executed tone control. Increased articulation in the treble brings high frequency information a little to the fore, decreased articulation in the bass makes the lower registers recede.
I haven’t compared the MIT Oracle MA-X against any other џber-cable; this isn’t that sort of review. But I am convinced that this is one extremely important element of a high-end system, and one which pulls its weight, financially. The cost difference between Oracle and a lesser cable is comparable to the cost difference between a top-of-the-range high-end CD source and a mid-range high-end model. Both bring significant benefits to the system, but both do different things. If you can afford either, you can probably afford both, and you almost certainly should. One, without the other, is not complete. Which you give the higher priority to is something you can only answer for yourself, but I freely admit, I was surprised at the extra level of vital, musical communication brought about by the introduction of the Oracle MA-X into a system I’d previously thought of as, pretty much, as good as it gets.