Transparent Reference vs Reference XL interlinks
How does Transparent XL differ from non-XL in sound?
XL Technology – official statement from website FAQ
XL Technology was a computer model developed in 1996 by Jack Sumner and Transparent’s design team. For the first time in, XL Technology was able to specify the exact electrical parameters needed for an audio cable to achieve ideal musical performance, given its geometry, length and application. This technology was the culmination of many years of research, testing and critical listening. Reference XL was also the first product to incorporate our advances in the use of non-metallic materials to reduce electromagnetic interference and resonance.
The first products to benefit from XL Technology were Reference XL Interconnects and Reference XL Speaker Cables. Later, in 1997, Transparent applied XL Technology to its entire line of networked audio cables. Because of the high standards imposed by XL Technology, Transparent cables of any length were able to perform with uniform sonic characteristics.
Cable Length – official statement from website FAQ
Will it degrade the sound if I use a long speaker cable or interconnect in my system? Not at all! We compensate for cable length with our networks so a long cable will sound the same as a short cable and vice versa. We design a different network for every length of Transparent cable so you can set up your components where you want them and not have to worry about a loss in performance.
If you have a passive volume control for a preamplifier, or an extremely high output impedance preamplifier or amplifier, you should consult with Transparent for advice regarding cable length and type.
Above: left and upper: Reference XL, right and lower: Reference.
Above: Reference XL can be recognized by the XL addition after the serial number
Above: If you look closely you can see that the newer XL cables (left) have thinner network boxes.
Leaving the company blurb and going back to my own experiences, judging from the size difference of the network boxes (XL are smaller), it would seem to follow that this is possible because of tighter tolerances using smaller parts. Whether or not that’s true will remain a secret, but there’s no denying that there are differences in sound. Another matter is that Transparent claims that they can tune the cable to its actual length and that because of this, length has no influence on the sound. Well, I beg to differ. The XL cable on test is 7,5 meters long, and even if Transparent did tune the cable to this particular length, it sounds like it didn’t work out so well on the treble.
Reference versus Reference XL
I have been using a Reference XLR cable for years between preamp and power amps with huge success. No other cable sounds so voluptuous, so big, so lush and yet so well-balanced. Transparent cables, in general, can throw a huge soundstage but are never in your face, instead relaxed and natural. The MM range deviates from this but that’s for another story and you can read all about that here. The Reference is not a universally applicable cable: sometimes it doesn’t work, but in my setup, it works like a charm.
Substituting my own Reference for the Reference XL it is clear that this is still a Transparent cable: big presentation, a lush sound, big bass… wait a minute… the bass is even bigger now! Yup, after swapping back and forth a few more times it is evident. The Reference XL has more solid bass, with better transient speed. It is at once articulate and full of body. That’s 1-0 for the XL cable. In comparison, the Reference’ bass is less well defined, a little mellow.
Moving up the frequency scale, the same is true for the midrange: a little more articulate and a little bit more forward too. But in no way does it start to resemble the “in your face” MM sound. This is still classic Transparent sound, with all lushness and soundstage width present, just a little more “live”.
Arriving at the treble matters are more severe. Whether or not it is due to the cable’s long 7,5-meter length I cannot say, but there’s a serious treble roll-off and to be honest, I can only explain it as a side effect of the extra capacitance as an effect of the cable’s length. No other Transparent cable I have heard yet sounds this dark.
In spite of its darker signature, the Reference XL is still an excellent cable. What’s more: for its more upbeat and articulate bass and more lively midrange, I’d even choose it over my own Reference cables. Question is: will a shorter version of the Reference XL be the all-out winner?