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XLO Reference Type 5, Part 18

Posted on January 3, 2021 at 22:18:18

Posts: 5075
Location: Bay Area
Joined: December 11, 2000
Due to the pandemic, an audiophile spent the last quarter of 2020 with relatives in Utah. Because of information found here on Cable Asylum, he picked up a used XLO Reference Type 5 speaker cable, for pennies on the dollar.

The first time I got to touch/handle the XLO Reference Type 5 was at the March 1993 Stereophile Show in San Francisco. But I didn't actually try any at home, until summer 1996. At the time, Robert Miles' Dreamland was a huge hit. When my girlfriend ACS heard "Fable," it cemented her idea that high-end audio was all about the fable, fantasy, and dreamscape. Initially, ACS could not quite put her finger on the Ref Type 5's sonic character. We were at Baker Beach, whose north end was clothing-optional. She remarked that some bathing suits made her look fatter, some made her look thinner. But without any bathing suit, "There's no hiding. You are what you are." Then she argued that the Ref Type 5, adept at keeping images small and focused, made the music appear slightly smaller.

Since XLO last produced the original Ref Type 5 in the late-90s, used samples are often in bad shape. The audiophile wrote, "You weren't kidding. There's gunk on the cable, the leads have some tears, the spades no longer look gold plated, and the bananas aren't straight. Oh well, I've got lots of time, so I cleaned it best I could."

He added, "Your girlfriend [ACS] wasn't kidding. Under the clear [Teflon] tape, it does have kind of pastel Easter colors. Or like packaging on feminine products. And she wasn't kidding, when she said it was as stiff as an underwire bra."

The audiophile finally returned home, and sought a friend, who had a Hagerman FryKleaner. "I don't know how much usage this [the Ref Type 5] got, but you weren't kidding. Just an overnight run on the FryKleaner extended the cable's performance. I put it back for a week total."

The audiophile wrote, "You weren't kidding. When I place the Type 5 on the [carpeted] floor, it's as if some evil static invaded the music. It especially masks or infects the treble."

Over the decades, my friends and I have used the Ref Type 5 on a wide variety of amplifiers. While we do not feel that the Ref Type 5 is biased towards one technology over another, keep in mind the quality of that amplification. If we use a trashy-sounding A/V receiver, that's what we are going to get. If we use soft and mushy tube amps, that's what we'll get. If we use soft and mushy solid state amps, that's what we'll get. If we use amps with a maddening mix of pros and cons, that's what we'll get. If we use amps which are just mediocre, that's what we'll get.

And of course, you cannot judge a speaker cable, which comes at the end of the audio chain, without high-quality sources. Here, we use the Simaudio 750D, powered by the outboard 820S power supply. Yes, the Ref Type 5 can reveal the sonic personalities of XLO's own Type 1 single-ended interconnect, Type 2 balanced interconnect, Type 4 S/PDIF digital coax. We don't have a Reference series AES/EBU digital link, but we do have the superior Signature 4.2. Changing nothing in the system, the Ref Type 5 shows that the Simaudio 750D's RCA analog output places more emphasis on midrange body, while the XLR is leaner, but with a deeper, more see-through soundstage. In addition, the Ref Type 5 easily shows the Signature 4.2 having more transparency, resolution, precision, speed, and top-end extension, than the Reference Type 4.

The Ref Type 5 is sufficiently focused and even-handed, that you should not feel restricted, to using XLO's own interconnects. Here, we use the balanced Pranawire Nataraja. The XLO Ref Type 5 preserves the Nataraja's accurately wide soundstaging, and click-clack-click quickness without banging you over the head. In fact, this is a nice pairing. The Ref Type 5 prevents the Nataraja from "melting," or turning the music too ethereal, misty, and droopy. This combination is like a bathing suit, which neither inflates nor shrinks one's actual body size/type. Only you can decide if that is good or bad, or what you need and like.

Going up to XLO's own Signature 3 series speaker cables reveals the Ref Type 5's shortcomings. The S3-5.2 is even more accurate, with better preservation of the images' true shape and outlines. The S3-5.2 also better maintains the spatial distancing, placement, and relationship of said images. The S3-5.2 does a better job of leaving intact the micro details on those images. Finally, the S3-5.2 better tracks the music's true punch, body, and power.

"You weren't kidding," wrote the audiophile, "You wouldn't know that this [the Ref Type 5] is from a quarter century ago. Sure could have fooled me, into thinking that it is a modern offering. It "straightens out" the music. My other speaker cables kind of crumples (sic) up the music, like a piece of paper. Or blows it way out of proportion."

-Lummy The Loch Monster


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