Last month, I wrote about Light Harmonic's use of Kickstarter to fund the final production and packaging of their Geek Out portable USB DACheadphone amplifier. The campaign raised $303,061 from 2146 backers. That success led Light Harmonic to create a new division dedicated to mass-market products: LH Labs. The Geek Out would be its first product. (Pre-orders are still being accepted.) LHL's second product would be the Geek Pulse, a "pure class-A" desktop integrated amplifierDAC capable of handling 32-bit/384kHz PCM files, as well as decoding native DSD64 and DSD128 files.
A reader once noted that I tend to stick with the same reference gear longer than most reviewers. In addition to Audience's Au24e interconnect, I've been using Nordost's Valhalla, Nirvana's S-X, and Stereovox's SEI-600II for many years. They're ancient in audiophile terms, and, other than the Audience cables, have long since been discontinued or replaced. However, they are still excellent, and conveniently define a continuum of qualities that I use to assess cables. At one end, the Nordost Valhalla is sharply focused and excels at reproducing transients. At the other end, the Nirvana S-X strips away electronic grunge, and beautifully conveys the continuity of the space and musical flow. The Au24e and Stereovox are near the middle and share manybut not allof the others' strengths.
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!"
"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).
As Mick Jagger has sagely observed, things are different today. Now I don't get complaints only when I give a bad or mixed review: I get complaints when I give a good review, said complaints coming not from the reviewee but from his competitors.
In a related story, America's park rangers and amateur videographers report a near-epidemic of wild animals getting their heads stuck in carelessly discarded food containers. In one such instance, a six-month-old black bear cub in Florida scarcely avoided death when a glass jar was removed from his head, after being stuck there for nearly two weeks. Employees of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who saved the cub, named him Jarhead, for all the obvious reasons.
Call me shallow, but what first attracted me to Audience's Au24 cables when I reviewed them in August 2002 was their looks. In contrast to superstiff cables as thick as garden hoses, the Au24s were slender and elegant. They were wonderfully flexible, too, and even their custom-made RCA plugs were slim and easy to handle. Instead of having to fiddle with a system of locking collet and barrel, merely slipping them on resulted in a tight, solid connection. Compared to the Au24s, a sizable number of audiophile cables seemed excessive, even a little foolish.
Everyone loves a bargain. Everyone loves finding an undiscovered gem. But for audiophiles on a budget, finding good, reasonably priced cables isn't a luxury but a necessity. In a $1000 or $2500 system, there simply isn't money for $500 interconnects or $1000 speaker cables. Even a $5000 systemwhich most of my well-educated, music-loving, affluent friends view as pretty extravagant, by the waycan't accommodate premium cables like the Nirvana, Synergistic Research, or Nordost models that we reviewers rave about as "critical to getting the most out of your system."
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.
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."
When Audio Advisor's Wayne Schuurman contacted me about reviewing the Vincent Audio KHV-1pre headphone amplifier, I felt confident that I had everything I needed to handle the task, owning, as I do, both the AKG K701 and Sennheiser HD-650 headphones, which have long been my references. That oughta get 'er done, I thought.
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.
I'm old enough to remember my family's first table radio that was made out of plastic. It was cream-colored, and it sat on the rearmost edge of our kitchen table: a less-than-timeless design in its own right, destined to be discarded at the end of one era and treasured again at the dawn of another, for more or less the same reason. But in 1958, a cream-colored plastic radio looked fresh, clean, and right, and its cheap wooden predecessor seemed dowdy and sad by comparison. That would all change in later years, of course. Then it would all change again.