These are the first interconnects and speaker cables I have reviewed for Stereophile. Each of us has his little niche, and editor John Atkinson likes us to play in the sandboxes we most enjoy. For me, that has usually meant inexpensive speakers and expensive tube electronics. But there's another reason I've tended to shy away from cables.
In the last year I've written about several components of a truly engaging system: the VPI TNT Mk.IV turntable and JMW Memorial 12" tonearm (February '99), Grado Reference cartridge; the Wadia 830 CD player (October 1999); and Thiel's CS7.2 loudspeakers (February 2000). I've recounted the evolution of my listening-room setup as well, and described its optimization using ASC Tube Traps and Art Noxon's MATT test in the February issue. The final piece of the puzzle, and the one I'll tackle here, was the cable package from MIT: the MI-330 Shotgun Proline interconnects and the MH-750 shotgun speaker cables.
I've been in a nostalgic funk of late. What started it was visiting Golden, Colorado, where I spent my graduate-school days, and seeing all of the changes, not to mention the lecture halls full of kids who couldn't be a day over 12. When I commented on how young the freshmen looked, our host—a colleague of mine from grad school, now a professor—responded, "Those are seniors, Brian." I felt a little old.
Nirvana Audio's cables have long been fixtures in my audio system: first the SL interconnects and speaker cables, and, after their debut in 1998, the S-X Ltd. interconnect. In 2002, after a long development process, designer Stephen Creamer introduced the companion S-X Ltd. speaker cable ($2780/2.5m pair, add $50/pair for biwire configuration). He explored a wide range of options, including dramatically different structures and materials, but always returned to the elements he'd used before—and ended up with a design that combined elements of his two existing speaker cables, the SL and the entry-level Royale. At its core, the S-X Ltd. has the Royale's two conductors, each a symmetrical Litz element consisting of 285 isolated strands of high-purity copper of several different gauges. In the S-X Ltd., the conductors are spaced slightly apart to minimize capacitance, wound into a twisted pair, and wrapped in FEP insulation.
Recently, I caught myself smiling at a tiny ad for Nirvana cables that proclaimed them to be "the quiet cable." My smile wasn't because the claim was outlandish, which it wasn't, but because it was so typical of Nirvana Audio Productssmall, understated, and all too easy to miss. The ad could just have easily and just as accurately have read "Nirvana...the quiet company."
The good news: Domestic audio has survived its first half century and continues to live above ground. The bad news: At an age when most hobbies can enjoy the luxury of splintering into smaller factions that hate each other with impunity, ours isn't big enough. There are too few audiophiles on Earth to indulge that kind of specialization, let alone support the very different magazines that would ensue—so we'll never get to enjoy such promising titles as Liberal Tube Lover (not that I didn't try), The Elderly Skeptic, or, of particular interest, Cable Hating for People Who are Barely Audiophiles in the First Place.
One of the highlights of any Consumer Electronics Show, I have found, is Nordost Corporation's demonstration of their cables. Using a relatively modest system and non-audiophile source material, they run through a simple, straightforward sequence, climbing up through their product line, culminating with their new, just-introduced model. At each step, the system sounds distinctly better—clearer, cleaner, with more body and tonal purity—than with the previous model. There's no hype, artifice, or magic, just a clear demonstration of the progress that Nordost is making as they refine their designs.
Introduced in 2003, Siltech's G5 Classic series of cables evolved from their highly regarded Generation 3. The G3 series introduced a new metallurgy in which small amounts of gold were incorporated into the silver used as conductors. The G5 Classics use a proprietary geometry called X-balanced Micro Technology, which, according to Siltech, makes the G5s the quietest cables, with the lowest distortion, to be found. Kapton, Peek, and Teflon insulation is used, and the cables are designed to minimize the pickup of RF and EM interference, with low inductance, low capacitance, and low resistance as design goals.
The possible approaches to any technical problem range from trial and error to first-principles physics. Then there's the "purist" approach—the simplest, most direct way to meet the challenge. Often, the purist approach doesn't pan out because of such phrases as "we need 60 tons of molten gold" or "can we cool the entire building to absolute zero?" But in the world of high-end cables, the purist approach is viable, and is exactly where you find Jeffrey Smith.
Stereophile editor John Atkinson said one evening in 1995, "What I find fascinating is that, in an industry as mature as audio cables, a new company can appear out of the blue and upset everything." He was gently poking fun at my admission that I found cable design fascinating, in particular the practice of combining different conductor materials.
Ted Denney at Synergistic Research has come a very long way in a very short time. In the past I've enjoyed and commented on his Resolution Reference interconnect and speaker cable. Great stuff, but I'm picky. Then, not too long ago, boxes of his new, top-of-the-line Designers' Reference interconnect began raining down upon us (liveried, I might add, in an extremely vivid shade of green!).
"Marvins Room," the second track on side two of Drake's platinum-selling Take Care (LP, Cash Money/Universal Republic B0016280-01), is a veiled but nonetheless intriguing confession from a sensitive young man whose addictions to alcohol, sex, and fame have prevented him from developing any sort of healthy relationship. I've come to this conclusion after several happy hours of listening to the song from beginning to end, over and over again, while swapping between two very different interconnects: AudioQuest's Sidewinder ($65/1m pair, now discontinued) and Kimber Kable's time-honored PBJ ($110/1m pair).
It was unusually warm for early spring, without a cloud in the big, blue sky to tame the sun's dazzling lightfar too beautiful a day to be indoors, but Uncle Omar and I had already planned a little listening session, and I was determined to show him that high-end cables would make a difference in his system. I wasn't necessarily feeling bullish about the task, though. It had taken me a couple of years to convince Omar that he should replace his old boom-box speakers with something better, and it was only dumb luck that finally made it happen: I was with him when he found a gently used pair of B&W DM602 speakers at a junk shop in Jersey City. When they were new, the DM602s sold for around $600/pair, but on this happy day they were tagged at $50. "Do it," I begged him. "Doooooo it!"