This is Made in America
Cardas Audio epitomizes local manufacturing
This is Jeff Jenson's "second tour" at Cardas, totaling 13 years that he's been there. He can make any cable, but right now mainly works on high-end interconnects.
What have cranberries got to do with cables? Our content manager, Gautam Raja, reports from Bandon, OR.
"Aww, you're not staying for the weekend?" Angela Cardas had just picked us up from North Bend airport and seemed genuinely disappointed that we'd miss the 77th Annual Bandon Cranberry Festival.
Only a couple of hours later, we were so charmed by this little town on the Oregon coast we didn't want to miss Bandon's big weekend either. But Saturday phones at Upscale needed answering, and family weekend commitments had been already forged, so we reluctantly had to fly back on schedule. We were able to catch the very start of the festival, though, the Cranberry Court, during which we smiled to each other about how strange it was to be in a small-town city auditorium watching the crowning of the 2023 Cranberry Queen on a training trip to a high-end cable company.
Josh Meredith, marketing director of Cardas, was the master of ceremonies, with his deadpan delivery and perfect comedic timing filling in the inevitable gaps in this heart-warming student event. Angela Cardas, Cardas' chief operations officer, resplendent as ever in her signature fabulous dress and shoes, brandished a DSLR in her position as official court photographer.
Cardas Audio's home is such a small town, and Josh and Angela are so involved in the community that it would not be right (or even possible) to experience Cardas Audio without an immersion into life in Bandon, Oregon, population 3,321.
Shayla Woodburn was poached from the Cardas team's favorite bar in town, and is an expert on the fiddliest job: high-speed digital cables.
What Is Made in America?
Every so often, we'll have someone call Upscale Audio, determined, even militant, that the product they buy be 100% made in America. We usually have to disappoint them. With a complex component such as an amp or DAC with part counts in the hundreds, achieving total USA-made compliance in this global, connected market is nearly impossible.
Though a cable has far fewer parts than an amp, it's still a lot more than, say, a Lodge frying pan or Pendleton blanket (to choose two wholly made-in-America items), and this can be a challenge. The approach here needs to be inspired by the idea of "good enough parenting" rather than messing everyone up by aiming for perfection.
"We exhaust all options in the US before looking overseas," said Brian Von Bork, Cardas' tech advisor and sales director, during a tour of the facility. All reasonable options, that is. Brian reaches into a parts bin and picks out an overseas-sourced XLR connector that would cost over 100 times more were it made in the US. This is the point where even the most hard-line America-only customer would balk at the price difference.
But under the "good enough" approach, Cardas is quietly one of audio's few brands that are impressively true to the 'Made in America' badge. Brian is rightly proud to tell me how the copper comes from the East Coast; the braiding and jacketing facilities are in California, and, as I point to a random bin as a test: "Those spade connectors? Those come from Oregon." And Cardas's proprietary silver plate with rhodium flashing? Done at an Oregon facility not far away, but exactly which one is a trade secret.
Glenn Hamilton works on power and phono cables. He's been at Cardas just over a year and is loving the quiet outdoorsy small-town life.
"We require machines that are no longer built," says Brian. "We actually own some of the older machines in our partner facilities. We use old analog machines where you have to go in and swap out a gear to change the twist per foot." When you have complex, unusual windings and layer upon layer of dielectric materials, you need control over every step of the process in a way that only older, slower machines can provide.
Frosted Butts and Healthcare
"Frosted butts. Frosted butts. Frosted butts. Frosted butts. Frosted butts. Frosted butts. Frosted butts. Frosted butts."
The robotic announcement echoed out over the Cardas office PA, but nobody except the visitors from California even reacted.
The Cardas facility is filled with gag decor, jokey posters and signs, and random items such as the (non-working... we think) ATM Josh once spotted as trash on the side of the road. Funny AI-voice announcements mark the beginnings or ends of breaks and the end of the work day. Sometimes, Josh will take the mic for an impromptu performance to break the silence of a warm afternoon.
On our first morning, it was a staff member's birthday, and the kitchen was bustling like a family home during the holidays. Somebody had brought baked ham, one person was frying eggs, another was pulling biscuits from the oven, and someone else was bustling with the blueberry bowls and offering mimosas to everyone.
This, then, is what "Made in America" is all about. When you buy Cardas cable, your money supports the economy and community of a small American town. Cardas is generously involved in the social life of Bandon with both time and money, and pays fair wages and full benefits. (This is without even going into the lower environmental impact of USA-only shipping in a world where some products can have parts that have made two, three, or more ocean crossings.)
More than one Cardas employee joked about how this was their "second tour"—they'd started out in Bandon, perhaps even grown up there, and left for a big city (sometimes, this meant an inland Oregon town with a population of 20,000) and were able to come back to their little hometown and make a good, comfortable life.
What did we tell you about Josh and his gags? This is what we got when we asked for a photo of him as master of ceremonies at the Cranberry Court. (Yes, the dinosaur was not present.)
Why Visit Our Brands?
When we write about our brands and their people, there's no doubt this is not independent journalism. As a retailer, we, by definition, have a vested interest in everything we write about. We're hardly likely to give one of our products a bad review, whether or not we've visited their factories and enjoyed the company’s hospitality.
The point is that when you call Upscale Audio, it's not about finding out which brands are "good" and which are "bad" but about finding out which of our constellation of hand-picked excellent brands is right for you.
I hope, by sharing these experiences, you get a sense of where your money is going: that we have seen and verified the level of care and happiness in this workplace. I was humbled, for example, to see how long it takes just to strip one of these cables and ready them for termination. This knowledge, in turn, gives us the advantage that we are not merely—in the words of a sales rep from another cable company—"slinging heavy metal." We have absorbed the culture of the company and its design ethos. We have worked the factory floor; we've pulled and measured raw cable off reels, stripped and clipped the many, many layers of dielectric, shielding, and tubing, we've soldered connectors. We strive to acquire the body of knowledge and experience that contributes to our ‘Blink’ level (à la Malcolm Gladwell) of "thinking without thinking" to help understand which of our audio products would work best with your audio products.
At its simplest, the goal is to develop great relationships with our brand partners, and in the unlikely event you have a serious problem with your purchase, we can call or text a key member of the company and have their attention in minutes. Also, because they're made "right here in town," Cardas cables are fully customizable. Need an interconnect cable that's exactly 1.73 m for some reason? Or a phono cable with a very specific DIN-RCA termination? Or perhaps you need a crocodile clip to XLR cable with a "bellybutton" BNC in the middle? Let's try running that one past Josh to get him back for all the tricks he's played!
Are You a Cardas Customer?
"Few customers start with Cardas, but many end their audio journeys with it," says Josh Meredith, marketing director Cardas Audio.
After a lifetime of—as Josh eloquently put it—"chasing sizzle," referring to the audiophile’s hunt for ever more detail and top-end extension, it's time, he says, to come home to warm musicality. There's a point, the Cardas crew believes, that "you can't fool yourself anymore."
If you visit Cardas, one of their party favors (I don’t mean to diminish the experience by calling it a party; it’s all that and more) is a phat car jumper cable made from an early speaker cable that met all the on-paper criteria for great audio design, but just didn’t sound good.
The cable seems to embody what Angela Cardas, COO, says. "You can measure whatever you want.” She shrugs. “Don't care."
She’s talking, of course, about the “audio scientists” who believe that an oscilloscope can tell you how a product will behave in the audio system/room/ear/brain complex. But she's also talking about the combination of imagination, art, engineering, and listening that her father, George Cardas, puts into every cable he designs. Sometimes, everything can be right on paper and the oscilloscope screens, but your ears just say, Nope.
The personalized label on this souvenir pair of high-end jumper cables says, "Cardas Audio, Car Jumper Cable, Custom Made by Gautam Raja."
It’s somehow fitting that Cardas Audio hands you a truly high-end cable with expensive directionally drawn copper and layer after layer of braiding, dielectric, and air tubes that you strip away and separate into two groups merely to solder to giant crocodile clips and use to fire up a dead car battery. This jumper cable (which we determined would cost $1,500 to $2,500 or more if sold at retail) seems to perfectly sum up the ethos of Cardas.
First of all, a "high-end" jumper cable is just the kind of gag product we’d expect to see a deadpan Josh pull out of his trunk where it’s been waiting for years to be able to make the joke. Second, it tells us so much about the precision and passion of the people in an industry that’s often completely misunderstood. You can pour your heart and mind into a cable design, but if it doesn’t sound good, it’s a mere electrical conductor in a sleeve, worth nothing more than the conveyance of a rush of 12 V DC. It’s a reminder that these things truly matter to anyone who, you know, listens with their ears and not just their APx555B Series High-Performance Modular Two-Channel Audio Analyzer.
Remember, some people may need to "chase sizzle," either because it makes them happy or because they have an especially damped, dark-sounding system. That's why we're here. Leave aside the worrying about cable brands and models. Just call us and talk to us about your system and the way you listen. We'll figure out the right cables for you.
Kevin Breaks Into the Musical Fidelity A1
Leave the DeLorean in the garage. This iconic 1985 class-A amp is back to the present.
Musical Fidelity created a true hit with their decision to revisit the original but give it all new components and power supply. As Kevin says, "You cannot power your way to better sound. You get there using better parts."