Stereovox LSP-600 Loudspeaker Cable And HDXV Digital/Video Cable
Review By Todd Warnke
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Value, regardless of what any dictionary says, is too ambiguous a word to have much - well, value, at least in conversations about audio and other high-end toys. The problem is not that it has no meaning, but rather that value has a large range of meaning, most of it subjective. Look at high-end watches for example.
Rolex, undoubtedly, makes an excellent watch. While pricey, across their line each watch is exceedingly well built, rugged and purposeful. In certain circles this bestows upon them great value. So, are they the best watches? In spite of the marketing, no, as there are many watches that cost more that could be called better
-- more significantly there are also many lesser-known and more affordable watches that are just as well-built, rugged and reliable. Take the IWC Mk XV, which is every bit as capable as a Rolex Explorer, even if the former was not on the top of Everest in 1953; or the Omega Seamaster Professional, for a third the price of the Rolex Submariner it will go as deep underwater and last as long up on the surface. This means that if you plan on buying, using and keeping a watch, the IWC and Omega offer qualities very similar to their Rolex counterparts and, arguably, better value. On the other hand, if you decide to sell your watch the Rolex Explorer and Submariner will go for just about what you paid for them while the IWC and Omega both take an immediate 40% hit as soon as you walk out of the jewelers, making the resale value of the Rolex pretty good. And, as long as you wear a Rolex, everyone you meet will instantly know what you have on your wrist - which is of some value to some people. Of course, a $100 solar, atomic-sync Casio will be far more accurate, offer more functions and be as rugged as any of the preceding. And that brings yet another dimension to value.
Back in Audioland, value is most often used as a codeword for "cheap but better than you'd think". This faint praise underscores the part of the audiogeek mindset that says that compromise to something as plebeian as price only demonstrates a lack of commitment to the cause - after all, the choice between tuition for Junior and a new turntable is obvious to the Patrician mind. Still, and in spite of all the preceding, there is the odd product that wears the value tag and yet is obviously and completely high-end. Something like the original ProAc Tablette loudspeakers, for example. For the money, those little buggers offered sound quality and involvement that no one, regardless of income bracket, could deny - or resist. Or, for another of the all-timers, the Illuminati D-60 digital co-ax interconnect. At
$290 for one meter length, the D-60 exceeded the performance of all other digital coax cables while undercutting nearly everyone on price.
Chris Sommovigo, the designer of the D-60 made his well-deserved reputation with that piece. By paying attention to the should-have-been-but-weren't-obvious-details like impedance matching and echo based jitter, Sommovigo almost single-handedly legitimized digital cables, however, since the mid '90s he has been silent on the category. When his new company, Stereovox, launched
in january 2000 it was with a statement level interconnect (the SEI-600) and a new single-ended connector. At
$2,500 per meter pair, the SEI-600 impressed me, first with its price tag and then with its sound. Still, I and many other audiogeeks were waiting for the real Chris to show up, the one with a budget-priced but statement-attempt digital cable. The wait is over.
Sommovigo, like the good student of economics that he is, took many of the ideas culled from his exploration of the 'edge of the possible' with Stereovox's intro products and trickled them down into a second line, the Studio products, the first of which is the HDXV, or High Definition Digital Video cable.
At a retail of $100 per meter the HDXV is a thin cable with a silver-plated woven shield. It looks very well made but is not a visual stunner like the SEI-600. The connectors - 75 Ohm, 4GHz
BNCs, with BNC to RCA interseries adapters - at least as compared to the exquisite Xhadow connectors on the Stereovox interconnects and loudspeaker cables, are functional looking, nothing more, but Mr Sommovigo points out that the secrets of the HDVX are internal. And since I'm not about the rip up a review sample to see what's inside, let's get to the important thing here, how the HDVX sounds.
To that end, the HDXV was placed in a variety of settings as it sat between three different transports - my aging but still excellent Pioneer DVL-91, a Cary CD-303/200 and a Sony SCD-C555ES - and two DACs - a Dodson DA-217 and a highly modified Assemblage DAC-2. With so many combinations, the HDXV was given every chance to both fail and to succeed. Further, it went up against my two long term references, an Acoustic Zen MC Squared=Zen and a custom Audio Magic silver cable, which, while different sounding, are the two best digital coax cables I've heard.
As for the HDXV, starting at the top it had the smooth, non-fatiguing sound of the Audio Magic coax coupled to the open, clear and extended treble of the Acoustic Zen cable. Plus it added a more defined, tactile harmonic touch then either of the other two cables. The shimmer of cymbals was tangible, physical and dynamic while the leading edges of guitar strings had the snap and bite of reality without the enhanced brittleness of hi-fi. Sibilants sounded 100% natural, without the spit or harshness which mars many extended frequency components.
Midrange was very evenhanded with no detectable weight added to any frequency. This allowed every sonic nuance through, unimpeded and unchanged, which resulted in midrange dynamics that were startling as even slight shifts in acoustic power were immediately evident. Bass, in comparison to the Acoustic Zen, was, by a just discernable amount, richer, faster, fuller and deeper - and when compared to the Audio Magic the HDXV was simply better in every way. The remainder of the sonic checklist - staging, dynamics and inner detail - were all on the Stereovox side of the ledger, albeit only slightly.
Taken individually the changes I heard with the HDXV were fairly small but in their totality, quite significant. To my ears the end result is the best digital coax around and while it's not quite the revolution that the D-60 was over a decade ago, that's because the industry has grown up, the design parameters have been thought out and worked on, raising the bar for everyone. With the HDXV Mr Sommovigo has raised it a bit more, but this time from a much higher starting point - which says good things both about the state of cable companies and even more of Sommovigos' skills.
Of course, if you really want to check out the reach of a designer's vision give them a huge budget - and that brings us to the Stereovox LSP-600 loudspeaker cables, which list for $6,950
per 2.5 meter pair. The review pair was 3 meters long and list at $8,150.
Wow, for this kind of scratch these cables need to be something special to justify their existence. Seven grand plus, is more than many audiophiles complete systems. Heck, the sales tax alone on these cables could pay for two or more of the HDXV cables. What am I saying? The sale tax would cover the price I paid for my first true audiophile loudspeakers, yours too I bet.
So what justifies said cost? Ultimately only sound quality can, but being of relatively sound mind, we'd also like the materials involved to back it up as well, and quality materials are a part of the LSP-600. Quoting from Stereovox, the cables are composed of, "high-purity silver and Mil-Spec Surveillance-Grade SPCu, in our DCA (Dense Conductor Array) of over 500 microfilar bare conductors, optimizing total density (resistance management) with individual strand density and helical geometry (skin-effect management)". Insulators are Stereovox proprietary Gossamer, "wrapped in a multifilar concentric spiral for geometric precision and additional vibration-damping". According to Stereovox, Gossamer is a cold technology that is it is not extruded onto the wires but allows for, "extreme velocity of propagation, low capacitance, and low resonance quality for the entire length of the signal wire".
The LSP-600 is offered in single wire only, and, again according to Stereovox, "the two conductors (positive and negative) of the LSP-600 are arranged together under a single jacket with additional vibration damping elements (a combination of various materials and trapped air), further insulating the signal wires from the audio-band vibrations generated by the sound system. These two conductors are elegantly revealed from the uniform jacket through our BreakOut Box (BOB) to be terminated for their
respective polarities. The LSP-600 is terminated with the XHADOW Millenio Modular Spade system using Stereovox's ISCoRS process and SVX-4947 solder formula". Alright, so the materials back up some of the cost, what of the sound?
Let's start with the bass. Richly textured, harmonically full, dramatically deep and yet quick and dynamic, the bass of the LSP-600 was absolutely without peer in my system. The single perfect example of what the LSP-600 could do was "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" by Colleen Sexton on the
Preachin' the Blues tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell [Telarc CD-83536]. Dan Corbett plays bass while Darren Thiboutot plays drums. The recording is Telarc clean, acoustic and live. With the Stereovox cables the bass, though played at a low level, filled the room with throbs of rich, warm sound. Likewise the drums pressurized the room even at moderate SPLs. Best of all, it did this while keeping, in fact while accentuating the music's natural propulsion. And just to clarify, bass was universally excellent; it was not just on spare acoustic music that the LSP-600 excelled. Vaughan Williams, James Brown, Bill Laswell each became more alive, more vibrant and more real through the Stereovox cables.
Moving up the frequency range, mids were as detailed as the bass but just the tiniest bit clean. That is, notes had gorgeous separation, almost infinite variety of tone and pitch resolution but at times they stood a bit apart from each other as if each instrument had been recorded in an individual sound booth. This is a subtle criticism, and one that I'm not sure is not an artifact of certain recordings as the effect came and went and even when present was at a low level. But what was consistent about it was that it seemed to affect only the mids and lower treble which is why I am willing to call it an artifact of the cables. Still, the overall effect was quite minor and was the only issue I had with the mids.
Treble was the equal of the bass. Tonally rich, delightfully vibrant and explosive, the highs of the LSP-600 were, again, the best I've heard. And, as you can gather from the preceding, dynamics were everything you could ever ask for. From micro to macro, the LSP-600 cables added immensely to the jump factor of the system. Inner detail was also the best I've heard. Microtonal shifts were vivid, forcing me to haul out many of my ambient recordings - much to Robin's regret. I was also able to hear far deeper into recording such Gil Evans'
Out of the Cool [Impulse IMPD-186]. La Nevada, were the piano, bass, drum, guitar and maraca opening was simply real. Staging on this track, as well as every other, was deep, stable and wide.
In the end, only one thing is stopping me from adding the LSP-600 cables to the system, price. Not reservations about price, not reservations about quality, not questions about value but merely the fundamentals of cash flow. These loudspeaker cables are, simply, the best I've auditioned in my home. With these in the system I found myself listening to music much more than normal. And when it was playing I also found myself almost incapable of concentrating on anything but the music. Both of which are the highest compliments I can bestow on a piece of gear.
The HDXV offers value like few audio products - ever. It outperforms digital cables many multiples of its price. Truly, it is Rolex quality for the price of a Casio and if that ain't value by every definition I know of, I don't know what is. If you use an external DAC, you owe to yourself to try this cable.
The LSP-600, at 35 times the price of the HDXV, is the more difficult side of value. It absolutely rewards, richer even than its price tag, but oh what a price tag! This is territory that few folks can even contemplate, and I so envy them. In watch terms, think of the LSP-600 as a Patek Philippe Perpetual or Breguet Repeater for the price of a Rolex two-tone Presidential. Rich territory indeed, but for the quality and the attention to detail, also a stunning value. Yes, I can easily recommend the LSP-600 for the Donald Trump crowd. For the rest of us? Well, let's hope that the forthcoming Stereovox Studio Line speakers cables are cut from a similar cloth, otherwise it's time for Miles for start contemplating Community College as I cannot afford both the LSP-600s and Harvard.