Owing perhaps to their extremely low distortion and amazing efficiency, my big ole horns and tube equipment are rumored to work particularly well with the supposedly superior sonics of silver interconnects. In a fit of ambition, I requested 5 pairs of one-meter patch cords for simultaneous audition:
Three were modestly priced, while two were staggering high in price. Was there an appreciable sonic difference? Is it worth the extra investment? The bad news is that the silver patch cords were very close in quality. The good news is that in initial tests, one particular patch cord stood out in almost every respect!
1. DH Labs Silver Sonic Air Matrix
Darren Hovsepian is the DH of the Labs. His business is located but a bicycle ride from where I used to live in east coast Florida a few years ago. I never had the chance to visit him, though his local reputation is excellent. Hovsepian is an Armenian name, pronounced "Hov-sep-ian," In English, "Hovsep" means "Joseph," and "ian" means "son." Therefore, his name translates into "Josephson." He began making his own microphone cables in the ‘80s and recognized the differences in the feeds. He has made interconnects since 1992 and now provides them for seven other companies. He plans to attend the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show.
A dielectric is an electrical insulator, highly resistant to the flow of electric current. The least lossy and most linear dielectric is air. A vacuum is an excellent dielectric. The Air Matrix uses PTFE Teflon foam that is actually 60 percent air. Unlike conventional foam dielectrics, the dielectric has a microscopic texture resembling a fine matrix. The uniformity of the dielectric gives it excellent transmission properties beyond 17GHz. Hovsepian said the 60 percent air to 40 percent Teflon ratio yields an optimum combination of rigidity and performance. Once you increase the air component to 70 percent or beyond, he says, the dielectric becomes too soft, and is too easily compressed. Compared to solid Teflon, this combination exhibits both lower capacitance and lower inductance. He says the Air Matrix is ideal for long cable runs.
The green Air Matrix interconnects are bi-metal, with silver and copper. The custom end locking plugs are the most solid in the test group, with a shiny gold inner center-pin and a pewter outer-locking barrel-shield. Hovsepian said to turn the outer barrel simply, until it is snug, no need to over-tighten. He claims their 99.3 percent copper conducts electricity three times better some other plugs. The Air Matrix interconnects are the most industrial in appearance, with solid RCA plugs and at 5/16", are slightly heavier, stiffer feel than the generic interconnect cords. One meter of Air Matrix with RCA connectors weighs 12 ounces, about three times more that the diminutive DACT threads.
The Air Matrix interconnects come in a commercial hanging display, with a green cardboard back and plastic cover. They also came with a large zip lock baggie, like the MAC interconnects, with 12 commercially prepared color glossy pages of graphics, reviews, sales and information – and a business card. Writing on the cable identifies them as Air Matrix. Arrows on the cables indicate direction. These are the pick-up trucks of the group.
2. Dynamic Design Lotus Whites
The search for "live sound" started Dynamic Design on their journey of discovery and realization. Although Dynamic Design was incorporated in 2000, its founder had been building products for local dealers since 1994. They are located within the city limits of Chicago. They are open to the public and plan to attend the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) show in Denver, October 2006. Retail outlets are listed on at their website.
Bill Artope says Dynamic Design thinks interconnects are only as good as the equipment allows. This means that the performance of a neutral interconnect is greatly affected by the signal fed into it to the extent of "garbage in, garbage out." Each component must be optimized to deliver the best signal possible for the interconnect to transmit to the receiving component.
The entry level Lotus Blue group is their biggest seller. Their Lotus White interconnects are terminated with low mass, direct plated gold over OFC metals. The Lotus Whites use high conductivity conductors coupled with ultra low loss dielectrics. The conductors are twisted at a precise number of times per inch in reverse orientation (+ and -) for low noise induction. He says Lotus Whites are equally adept with tube or solid-state equipment: "as long as the equipment is well designed, the Lotus Whites will transmit their signatures intact."
Because noise dominates at higher frequencies, the design of the Lotus Whites reduces the induction of noise onto the signal carrying wires. Lotus Whites are designed with low capacitance and inductance values that will not change the frequency response of connected equipment. Their low noise/wide-bandwidth design, he says, will reveal more information than the competition.
Artope says the biggest audible difference in interconnects relates to capacitance values. Low capacitance designs will have a more linear performance across the frequency spectrum while high capacitance designs will reduce the information retrievable at high frequencies. Lotus Whites typically need three days of constant use to break-in. These models were broken-in and ready to go. Dynamic Design recommends that the Whites be kept as far away as is possible from other cables, especially high current ones (power cords and speaker cables). They should be played in the same direction as when broken-in for the best sound. There are tiny arrows on the plug covers.
These interconnects are textured white cable, with a shimmer of gold threaded throughout their rough hide. They glow yellow in some lights and pinkish in others. The Lotus Whites were not as fragile feeling as the DACTs, but they are thinner than generic cables. Their RCA plugs are the lightest in the group and the convoluted labeling on the plug covers is hard to read. They slide off and on easily. These silky luxury sedans are the prettiest in the group, especially when there is a light shining on them.
3. Dual Connect Precious Metal Audio Cables
Danish Audio ConnecT (DACT) is a Danish firm, located in the western part of the main peninsula in Denmark (Jutland). They are west of Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark and just 12 miles from the North Sea. Denmark is currently 6 hours ahead of Unites Staes East Cost time.
DACT has been in business since 1995 with their CT1 stepped attenuator. CT1 later developed into the CT2 attenuator, their best selling item. DACT got into the cable business because they had ideas about how to make better sounding (and measuring) cables, "and because we thought that many cable manufacturers design their cables the wrong way." They have been developing the cables over the past 2 to 3 years, but launched them gradually late last year. DACT does not have any showroom. They do business with manufacturers and distributors. For the US, contact Electrum Audio. DACT hopes to attend CES in January, 2007.
Allan Isaksen answered my questions. He says you pronounce his last name exactly as you’d expect; the vowel is the same as the I in Ice. DACT cables try to avoid any coloration at all. "Audiophiles," Isaksen says, "should normally clearly detect that more is coming through. Good systems are likely to benefit more from the difference." For those that really want to tweak, they offer DIY versions of their interconnects, meaning wires in different lengths without the connectors. These DIY wires are intended to upgrade internal wires in amplifiers, etc.
DACT supplied fragile DC-I100/RCA 1m models. DACT uses custom Eichmanns’ Bullet Plug RCA connectors with aluminum housing and solid silver contacts. The RCAs are customized by shipping the silver contacts to Denmark for gold plating and inspection. Then they return to Eichmann, Australia, where they complete the connectors and return them back to DACT in Denmark. For lifetime audio quality performance, they do not believe that anything but pure gold plating works.
Isaksen adds meat to the craft and science of interconnects. He says a lot of design and construction features make the difference in DACT interconnects. There are two conductors in parallel for each wire conductor in the cables. This dual conductor principle is used throughout the DACT cables. This design offers two main advantages:
The most damaging location of lossy dielectrics is close to the conductors because that’s where the electromagnetic fields are strongest. You can see this design at their web site. They say they are able to keep the Teflon dielectric quite far away from the conductors on large portions of the perimeter. Opposed to traditional round wire, this is a big improvement as normal designs have dielectric touching the conductors all the way around. So not only does DACT reduce the amount of dielectric close to the conductors, but they also use as little dielectric as possible in a thin tube. Moreover, the dielectric they use has low loss itself (Teflon). DACT thinks it is difficult to reduce dielectric losses/distortion further than that.
Since DACT believes gold is a better sounding conductor than both silver and copper, they looked for the real reason. Although copper is a better conductor than gold, gold has one free electron that is two orbits further out than copper. Isaksen says this means there is no direct relation between this and pure resistive conductivity.
As DACT interconnects have very low capacitance, Isaksen says the interconnects increase bandwidth, in many cases noticeably. DACT believes their interconnects are better for both solid state and tube amplifiers. The only other case might be if you use them in a system that is already too bright, in which case Isaksen says the larger bandwidth lets more high frequencies pass through. In principle that will also slightly affect the high frequency impedance, but they don’t think makes much of a difference. The larger bandwidth, he says, can be measured if you have measuring equipment that reaches sufficiently high in frequency. Purely by listening, most audiophiles will be able to tell the difference.
DACT generally recommends a break-in period of 100 hours before starting critical listening. However, Isaksen says the difference shows up from the first minute. The DACT models for review were not broken-in, so they were exercised for four days with the a Test CD of music, words and tones on continuous repeat. The DACTs were the last interconnects heard in the initial phase.
DACT has no special instruction for placement. The cost of DACT cables is heavily burdened by the exploding raw material prices of gold and silver (for the first time in decades). Prices of course are subject to changes. These are the most expensive cables in the bunch, costing 10 times more than the least expensive ones. The DACTs arrive double-boxed, in a lined, collectible cigar box. The box is made MDF with gleaming real wood veneer and layers of polished coating like a Rolls Royce. A white spec sheet comes with the sumptuous case; DACT e-mailed a pack of dense information.
The white DC-I100/RCA 1m interconnects are feather-light, flexible, with three braided plastic threads, glimmering with gold. They are the most unique interconnects. The DACTs are impossibly delicate compared to the industrial quality of the DH Lab Air Matrix. The pair of 1m RCA interconnects weigh a total of 102 grams. This is less than 4 ounces, about the same as an iPod Mini and a third of the DH Air Matrix. When there is not a light to shining on them, these are the prettiest in the pack from a distance. It is a shame to hide these intriguing wonders behind an equipment stack.
These are the small racecars of the group. Their light plugs are obviously not metal. The plugs are snug, wiggling them off and on - ad infinitum, for multiple tests - with such delicate cabling was scary. Normal use of course, should be no problem. DACT warns that under no circumstance should the interconnects be pulled off the equipment by their thin wires - only by the connectors. In addition to any factory warranties, Electrum Audio adds an unconditional money back guarantee (30 days, in original condition).
4 & 5: MyAudioCables Silver & UltraSilver Sound Pipes
MyAudioCables (MAC) is Steve Hallick’s Internet speaker and interconnect cable business. Hallick has been an audiophile for over 30 years, and providing cables for 4 years. He is located 20 miles from New York City. No any retail stores sell his products. These are introductory prices. His site promises "high end sound without high end dollars." MAC cables are the result of testing hundreds of types of wire and configurations. The connecting ends are made of silver plated brass or pure silver. Hallick says his most popular model is the MAC Palladium Sound Pipe, but he sent two silver interconnects:
4. MAC Silver Sound Pipes are 30 American Wire Gauge (AWG) and we must note that American wire gauging doubles the wire diameter for every 6-gauge decrease, and every 3-gauge decrease doubles the wire cross sectional area.. These cables use pure silver conductors that are silver soldered into Cardas SLVR RCA connectors. MAC Silver Sound Pipes are designed for an affordable entry into silver audio cable paradise. These are the least expensive cables in the bunch, costing 10 times less than the delicate DACTs.
5. MAC UltraSilver Sound Pipes are also pure silver, soft annealed, multiple conductors, silver soldered into covered Cardas SLVR RCA connectors. Cardas SLVR RCA's are standard on all MAC interconnects.
Hallick has a 30-day, no-questions asked, purchase/trial program; but he says the interconnects need a 100+ hours to break-in. Meaning it could take a month of movie and music evenings before the interconnects sound their best. Thankfully, these test models were broken-in. Hallick burns all his interconnects for 48 hours on a Hagerman Frykleaner Pro machine. The FryKleaner creates a broadband noise source, modulated by low sweep frequency sine wave, to exercise all possible frequencies with music-like transients.
Hallick’s web site says he makes "NO claims to engineering (or photography), impedance, capacitance, skin effects or any other technical explanations of why 'X' cable is technically better than 'Y' cable, "but he does recommend crossing other cables at 90 degrees and placing speaker cables off the floor. These are the family sedans of the group. The black MAC cables have barely any features to distinguish between them, except for the black labels on each cable. The Ultras feel lighter and the plug covers are slightly different. The same installation sheet accompanied both interconnects. The Silver pipe connectors are larger than generic and slide smoothly off and on. The UltraSilver connectors also slide easily, but they covered. Installing them on RCA connectors set closely together might be a snug fit.
Oh No, He Didn’t!
I hate this when it happens to me, but yes, I am afraid I did it. This article concludes in a second part. Darn! The initial test of the silver patch cords not only revealed confoundingly close proximities in quality, but also that one particular patch cord stood out in almost every respect! Clearly, this called for a lot more testing - and a second part to the review. Sorry. The good news is that part two is almost ready for the August issue. I learned a lot about cable construction, value and sound in this comparison. I will be sure to share it with you. Thanks for waiting...
D.H. Labs, Inc.
$750 per meter
Danish Audio ConnecT A/S
Price: DC-I100/RCA 1 meter RCA interconnect pair are $1090 (with free shipping worldwide). Price excludes local taxes.