Townshend DCT Isolda and DCT 300 cables
Townshend has been producing the DCT Isolda speaker and interconnect cable since the ’90s. Over that time, changes to the product have been incremental, which suggests they got the basics right in the first place.
This review followed a chat between the editor and I regarding cable characteristics. Jason suggested I should try the Townshend DCT Isolda as it had been almost ten years since The Ear originally reviewed them, and he felt it would be beneficial for me to experience cables that possessed less of their own character than most. I know Townshend as a company reasonably well, having a mutual friend who introduced me to Max Townshend and his family at the last Bristol Hi-fi Show. Despite this, I had never tried a Townshend product in my system prior to this review. As most readers will be aware, sadly, Max passed away last year after a short illness, but his products live on and are as popular as ever.
About DCT Isolda cables
The DCT Isolda speaker cable has an exceptionally low inductance yet high capacitance, with an impedance of a constant 8 ohms, which mirrors the average speaker load. Two 20mm wide strips of high-purity copper ribbon are spaced apart with a polyester dielectric to achieve a gap of just 0.07mm between the conductors, Townshend claim that this unusual topology makes the cables virtually immune to RFI (radio frequency interference). A benefit of this is it dramatically reduces the need to place the Isolda cables away from mains plugs and cables, which can degrade the performance of other speaker cables and interconnects. Townshend also claim that due to the cable’s design, it is possible to use different lengths of cable for each speaker without causing any imbalance in the sound. As I requested and was hence supplied with a matched 2m pair of Isolda DCT speaker cables, I could not verify this. DCT stands for Deep Cryogenetically Treated, which for those unfamiliar with the term, means it goes through a precisely timed process of freezing and thawing. The latest incarnation is known as EDCT, the ‘E’ is for Enhanced. As you can read in Jason’s review, the nature of this is a closely guarded secret.
My cables were terminated with high-quality banana plugs, but spades are an alternative option. As I intended to use the cables with my usual Totem Forest Signature speakers, which have bi-wire terminals, Townshend kindly supplied matching Isolda bi-wire links, which had spade connectors on one end and banana on the other. At each end of the speaker cable is an aluminium box. The slightly longer box contains inductors, which prevent issues with amplifiers that become unstable when used with low-inductance cables. The shorter box, for use at the speaker end, contains what is described as Zobel network components. These boxes did initially cause some confusion as they were covered in protective webbing, which prevented me from reading the very clear instructions as to which end should be placed where. Thankfully I found a guidance sheet online, which ideally would have been supplied in the box with the cables.
I also requested a 1m set of balanced DCT 300 interconnects for use between my Moon 780D DAC and Moon 600i amp These were terminated with of Neutrik XLR plugs. The cables arrived in two plastic cable boxes, which, although not particularly extravagant, are a nice touch. First impressions are important, and the packaging, the look and feel of the cables themselves gave me the impression that I was handling a quality product.
Listening with Isolda
All comments are based upon the performance of the cable loom, which consists of the DCT Isolda speaker cables, DCT 300 balanced interconnects and the supplied bi-wire links. I have been using the same cable brand in my reference system for over ten years, so the change in sonic balance was initially a bit of a shock. Townshend says the Isolda cables do not need burning in like other cables and the improvements I noted after a few days in my system, which were significant, are said to be due to the cables settling into their position. It is recommended that one should avoid disturbing them unnecessarily. My initial impression was that the balance was overly vivid and forward, but such characteristics did not last.
Once settled in, I noted the sound was cleaner, more solid and possessed a greater sense of weight than my reference cables. Subjectively the music appeared a little louder, allowing me to listen with the volume dial a little lower. I note from Jason’s original review that he was particularly impressed by how they made the most of the bass response of the speaker they were connected to, and I certainly agree. I had to move my Totems further away from the wall to compensate. He also talked about their incredible soundstaging capability. My reference cables already allowed my speakers to produce a great soundstage, but here it was a little more solid, the instruments being fleshed out and seeming to possess a greater sense of dimension. Perhaps the soundstage was a little more forward and projecting a little less behind the speakers, but it was just as deep, merely the image began and ended a bit further forward than with my reference cables. What impressed me the most was that the music was just as fast as before but had more weight and solidity behind that speed.
I felt I could follow each instrument a little better when the music was busy, which provided far greater musical involvement from recordings I had previously struggled to enjoy. I would assume this is down to a lowering of the noise floor and better separation. I have read elsewhere that some initially find the presentation somewhat darker than with other cables. That was not particularly the case for me, but there was less glare and hardness on recordings that I would consider overly bright. Presumably, the latter characteristic is attributable to the cable’s rejection of RFI.There was more sense of natural crash and sizzle to percussion instruments, which tells me there was no rolling off of the high frequencies.
Chatting to a friend in the industry about the cables, he mentioned Babes Never Die by the Scottish band Honeyblood being an album he loved but was unable to enjoy on his home system, so I searched and found it on Qobuz, in 24/48. Via my system, it sounded compressed to death but still enjoyable, producing good weight to the drums and clear vocals. There was plenty of attack in the upper registers but no unnatural hardness or unpleasant edge. Suspecting the Townshend cables may positively affect what I was hearing, I tried a couple of Fontaines D.C. albums that I had previously found to be a tough listen for similar reasons. The Isolda cables revealed the limitations of the production, yet allowed me to enjoy the music to the extent I played both albums in full, which I enjoyed so much I dug out their debut album and played that through as well. The lower noise floor allowed me to appreciate the timing qualities of the band’s rhythm section, particularly apparent in the upper frequencies.
Via my Totem Forest Signature speakers, there were some areas where my reference cables were preferable to the Isolda DCT. For example, they are a little more focused and I do enjoy how they allow soundstage to appear behind my living room wall, although they project a little less forward. My resident cables also produce a sound that is a little more beguiling, which is pleasant but perhaps less accurate than the DCTs. My reference cables are also somewhat more expensive than the DCTs, yet less engaging and less musically satisfying overall. Towards the end of the review period a set of Totem Element Fire V2 speakers arrived for assessment. Being stand-mounted they have a leaner balance than the Forest Signature. The additional weight, bass texture and detail provided by the Townshend cables proved ideal. I am intrigued as to how far Townshend’s more expensive F1 Fractal cables build on what the Isolda DCT offers.
The time I have spent with the Townshend DCT Isolda cable loom has shown me more of what my system is capable of. Highlights include reduced noise floor, incredible neutrality, an insightful view into musical timing, increased three dimensionality and a tremendous sense of bass depth and weight. That a cable can have such an effect on the lower frequencies was an eye opener for me. If I understand things correctly, the suggestion is the Isolda’s low inductance allows my amplifier to exert more control over the speaker’s drivers. Although the cables are far from cheap, they offer exceptional value for the performance they deliver. If these cables are within your budget, I strongly recommend that the Townshend DCT range is at the top of your must hear list.
Isolda in the long term
Three months later I have been unable to return to my previous cables and have made arrangements with Townshend to hang onto the DCT Isolda speaker cable and interconnects and use them as my new reference, against which other cables are to be judged. Having attempted to return to my previous cables, I found the music both lightweight and unengaging, not to mention a little fizzy in the higher frequencies. Whilst I feel my comments in the main body of this review are wholly positive, I would like to emphasise that this cable has since become an essential part of my system. Those with a serious audio system should hear what it can do with these Townshend cables.