The Fifth Element #14 Page 3

In my last column, I mentioned Stereovox interconnect as a new contenduh. More time with it confirms that judgment. Stereovox is a partnership between digital cable guru Chris Sommovigo, whose Illuminati digital cables have long been Stereophile favorites, and recording producer and former opera singer Antonio de Almeida Santos. (Tony's late father conducted the atmospheric von Stade Canteloube Songs I recommend above, and Tony was at the sessions. Brat.)

Stereovox just doesn't fool around—no surprise, given Sommovigo's track record in the digital domain. They make one interconnect and one speaker cable. Buy it or don't buy it, they seem to be saying, but we aren't going to put you on a merry-go-round of incrementally priced products with catchy family-resemblance names. Stereovox's interconnect carries the gushingly effusive, romantic designation SEI-600.

The SEI-600 is terminated with the elegantly chunky, serially engraved Xhadow RCA connectors, the speaker cables with proprietary angled silver spades. Every technical aspect of this cable is distinctive, from the elliptical solid-core multistrand geometry (500 solid-core conductors in a helical array are claimed) through insulators, shields, terminations, and the outer covering, a nostalgic braid of black fabric.

I don't want to go into all the specifics, in part because I'm more interested in results than in recipes, and in part because I'm urging John Atkinson to assign someone else to write a full review. But as far as I can tell, Stereovox cables avoid the sense of sterility or coolness that often comes with extraordinary focus and detail. Indeed, there seem to be no tradeoffs in midrange liquidity and richness—Ella is still Ella, she's just more of a presence. If you're considering cables in the top price tier (Stereovox's 1m interconnects are $2500/pair, their 2.5m speaker cables $6950/pair), Stereovox should be on your audition list.

If you're not considering cables in the top tier but do want new cables, there's a worthy contender in a lighter bullion-weight class. DH Labs recently released its Revelation interconnect. Cables with names like that usually cost $750-$1000 per meter pair, but DH Labs gives you a big word (and nostalgic fabric braid, too) for only $350. The cables sound very good, too.

Once again, I'm not surprised. DH Labs' D-75 digital interconnect is something I've kept around here for years as a reasonably priced reference. (I used it for making the recordings with the Denecke A/D converter I profiled in the August issue.) DH Labs also pays particular attention to terminations. Perhaps that makes Darren Hovsepian (the "DH" in DH Labs) the workingman's Chris Sommovigo. Regardless, the Revelation interconnects and Q10 speaker cables excel at delineation and dynamics. Three dollar signs for value; put them on your audition list.

One of the more amusing mental disconnects I experienced at HE2002 was in the FPS planar-magnetic speaker room. I sat down to listen to their floorstanding hybrid speakers, and noticed on the table beside me what appeared to be a dollhouse-size miniature model of a handsome wood-cased flat-panel loudspeaker.

A veritable Abbott and Costello exchange ensued, as the representative kept telling me that what I was holding was the speaker, and I continued to ask, "Yes, but where is it?," meaning where was the full-size one. They finally got it through my head that what I had in my hand was a production sample of a planar-magnetic speaker designed to be used with computers, or as a countertop stereo. Shazam. The FPS Penguin computer speakers do actually look a bit like little penguins, at least in outline. They come complete with a powered subwoofer and all the cables you need to hook them up to a computer or portable CD player. One of the few exotic-technology computer speaker systems on the planet, all for $249.

Within the inevitable practical limitations of placement and volume, the FPS Penguins do a jolly good job. (My daughter quickly appropriated them for her room.) They won't immerse you in the full sound of an orchestra, but as long as you're careful about dialing in the powered subwoofer so it won't overwhelm the planar panels, the setup gives a pleasantly full sound with an attractive tonal spectrum, and even some soundstaging. The most impressive results, however, are found by using them at arm's length (close nearfield) on a desktop, and by resisting the temptation to put the woofer on the floor.

An even more remarkable value for money is Onkyo's CS-210 mini system, which for $200 combines a one-box single-CD player-receiver-clock with two separate shoebox-sized speakers (no subwoofer, but subwoofer pre-outs). With a headphone jack and remote control (how do they manage that at the price?), this is a well-thought-out and conscientiously executed product.

Despite having less bass, the Onkyo has a small advantage over the FPS in overall sound quality: Its woofer-mids handle the midrange better. The FPS system has to split the midrange between the bottom of what are essentially tweeters and the top of a powered subwoofer. But these products are intended for different purposes, and the Onkyo's conservative design lacks the FPS's "Wow" or "Hey, cute" factor. Cheers for both.

Pax et lux!