Black Cat Graceline Level-2 Interconnect & Speaker Cable
In March of 2019, I reviewed Black Cat's 3200 interconnect, speaker, and digital cable in Enjoy The Music. I was very impressed by these relatively affordable cables. The Graceline (by Black Cat Cable) Level-2 interconnects and speaker cables reviewed here are a considerable step up from those cables in sound quality.
In case one might not have heard of Black Cat cables, and even if you have, I strongly suggest one read the "We Ask 10 Questions..." interview with Chris Sommovigo, which appeared in November 2020's issue as part of the celebration of Enjoy The Music's 25th Anniversary. In this interview, I learned that Mr. Sommovigo is a very knowledgeable, level-headed designer and inventor. Some of his cables were very sonically successful, such as his digital cable, of which he sold several of his designs to Kimber Kable. I'll skip the bulk of the history of Black Cat and what led to the development of the Graceline Level 2 interconnect and speaker cable because a good deal of it is covered in the "...10 Questions..." interview, which again, I suggest one read if one hasn't already done so.
In brief, Black Cat Graceline L2, or "Setsuna" speaker cables have a "delicate structure" combining a triaxial arrangement of open-braided, matrixed wire-tubes separated by layers of insulation. This arrangement keeps the inductance low and mechanical damping high. A significant contributor is Chris Sommovigo 's AERON insulation's ability to absorb outside vibration's deleterious effect on the cable.
What I also learned was that the asking price of the Black Cat Graceline L2 seems very reasonable when considering not only their construction but, more importantly, their sonic performance. Each cable is made by Chris Sommovigo , one at a time in his workshop. There are three levels of build to the Graceline series, which in Chris' words, allows him to use "different materials in a clear, qualitative progression." He goes on to say that "these are complex builds requiring many steps to complete, and also requiring delicate skills to execute correctly."
The Graceline L2 interconnect and speaker cable has a core of 3mm textile cord. It has a matrix made of half bare copper and half enameled copper, and an AERON insulator made nylon and PTFE (a polymer), a bare copper matrix, and a braided nylon jacket. Each speaker cable is terminated with XOX rhodium-plated pure copper bananas, and each interconnect is terminated with Chris’ own Lovecraft Reference RCA designs or Neutrik XLRs.
On paper, all of these materials seem quite nice but don't mean much to me when simply listed. When I read Chris Sommovigo 's personal history and the methods he used to reach what is one of the best sounding cables in their class, he has developed these cables not only as a high-end audio equipment designer and inventor but as an artisan. He has come up with a product that is at the service of the music.
One of the artists I never stopped listening to was Genesis, at least when Peter Gabriel was their lead singer and wrote the bulk of their lyrics. Other than their very early material, that is, their demos and first album, I love all the material they released during this period. As a fan of their music, it was important to me to regularly upgrade the pressing of the vinyl or the digital selections in my collection. For instance, I purchased the box set containing all their crucial albums of this period that were remixed and issued on CD and higher resolution on DVD.
The most significant upgrade was when early in the 21st Century, Classic Records released all these Peter Gabriel-era Genesis albums on very high-quality vinyl that they meticulously pressed from the best sources they could find. Luckily, the band still owned the original master tapes.
During the audition period of these Black Cat cables, I played mostly vinyl, but also a good helping of digital from the music server. One of my favorite albums by Genesis is Selling England By The Pound; my favorite way of listening to it is via the 200-gram Classic Records "Quiex" vinyl pressing; my copy bought new and is still in immaculate condition. The music is also immaculate sounding, despite some audiophiles feeling that the Charisma Records recordings aren't the best there is. By this period in their career, but I think the recording quality came a long way, plus, I love their music. So I often use this record when I'm testing equipment.
On the first track, the eight-minute "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight," it was as if Peter Gabriel's lead vocals were set back a few feet from the foreground. Yet, there was still a considerable amount of instrumentation located behind his voice. The soundstage layering was always top-notch in my system, but a small but significant amount of this trait was increased when the Graceline L2 cables were in this system.
Before these Black Cat cables were inserted into the audio chain, I used my reference Kimber from their most recent Carbon series. As the saying goes, these are certainly not chopped liver. Even though the difference between these two brands of cables was noticeable, the difference was not huge. As the review progressed, I was able to focus on the subtleties of sound I was getting from the Black Cat Graceline L2 cables.
One of these subtleties was that I was able to hear the slight improvement in the background blackness in my system, which was made even more silent, and so, the black background that was "under" the music was made even blacker. Could it be that I was simply noticing more of the sonic character of the excellent equipment that I was listening to during this review? I'm not sure. But I was not willing to switch back and forth between the two brands of cables, especially system-wide. Although, at one point, when I switched out the speaker cables for the Kimber, I'm not sure if I could hear much difference between the two.Which is a good thing, as I think that the Kimber is top-flight cable. These are two brands of similarly priced, excellent cables. But by the time I changed the speaker cables, it wasn't easy to hone in on many nuances that separated the two.
My intention was not to perform a shoot-out between these two brands of cables. But if forced to do so, I would not bet the farm on me correctly identifying either speaker cable in a blind test. But with my eyes open, the Kimber speaker cables would easily win the battle (that I feel obligated to mention, was not being waged) if looks were the only consideration because they are thick as a garden hose. The Graceline L2 speaker cables are much smaller in diameter.
Those interested more in their systems looking good than sounding good would likely go with the Kimber. I feel bad for those audiophiles, not only because of this personality flaw but because they'll be missing out on a speaker cable that not only performs so well and is very easy to use but is also very reasonably priced considering what one gets for their money.
I played my files on a very powerful computer loaded that has several hard-drives physically connected to it. Foobar 2000 and J River Media audio playback software sent the musical signal to the computer's USB outputs. Attached to one of the USB outputs was a run of Wireworld Starlight Platinum USB 2.0 cable, which was connected to the USB input of either my reference EMM Labs DA2 converter. Lately, I've been using a Nagra Tube DAC / Classic PSU combination supported by a Classic VFS base because I recently reviewed it. The digital-to-analog-converter was connected to the Nagra Classic Preamp via a 1.5-meter Black Cat Graceline L2 interconnect.
The Mahler's physical release I listened to was a multi-channel SACD, but on my system, this version of the symphony was stored on a multi-channel DSD file, but it was folded down to stereo once it at my DAC. Regardless, I recommend this version of Symphony No. 5 to anyone who might be even a casual fan of Mahler's music. To those who aren't fans, your loss, but I understand - Mahler has a steep learning curve. But many feel the rewards are worth the climb.
The orchestra's power in these signals was rendered scary-real sounding with the Black Cat Graceline L2 interconnects and speaker cable in my system. As expected, this sense of realism is not absolute, regardless of which cables one uses, since even a multi-channel system cannot replicate the sound of a 100+ member symphony orchestra recorded in a 2700 seat concert hall, let alone a 2-channel system. But that was easy to forgive once I was deep into my listening session with this marvelous symphony played through this admittedly very good high-end audio system. I concluded that it took this realism one step closer to that unattainable goal with these Black Cat cables.
Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 starts with a solo trumpet's fanfare, after which the full orchestra detonates, as they begin the epic journey of this 70-minute opus. I've been listening to this symphony all my adult life — but again, it is helpful to remind myself that many view Mahler's symphonies as daunting, that is, even to those willing to listen to only a single movement of one of his symphonies.
But I'm not here to convince anyone of Mahler's genius, only to demonstrate in words how and why this version of the Fifth helped me evaluate the traits of these cables.
After the Big Bang, that is, after the orchestra vehemently enters, the rest of the movement takes place among the wreckage. This starts with music that can sound quite depressing, most likely because it is meant to be depressing. It is a funeral march. Mahler was obsessed with death, and that comes across in many of his works. But he was also in love, which occasionally evens things out. Mahler's use of many ingenious orchestration techniques is used in this symphony, which is only one of many of the reasons why I love his music. As a bonus, his complex orchestration, with moods that change suddenly and often, combined with the power of a huge orchestra, in my opinion, makes his music perfect for analyzing the sound of a system's components. If one loves what they are doing, it isn't called work.
I would have listed all of Black Cat Graceline L2 interconnect and speaker cable's other sonic gifts, including increased levels of micro-and macrodynamics and treble extension without that never sounding etched or sibilant, mega-transparent midrange, extended and pitch specific bass, etc... However, there's not enough room on Enjoy the Music.com's server to list all of them!
Black Cat Graceline Speaker Cable
Price: One-meter Graceline L2: $1995 per pair, 2.5m Graceline L2 Speaker cable terminated with bananas: $3195 per pair