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October 2003
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Loudspeaker Cable Shootout
At The Enjoy the Music.com Corral
Review by Karl Lozier
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  This new project with cables (for loudspeakers this time) got pushed ahead much more quickly than I had planned. Ken Pavey needed all of his cables, interconnect and loudspeaker, returned much sooner than I had expected. Frankly the interconnect cable shootout/review had pretty well worn me out. I was in no hurry to repeat the process with loudspeaker cables. All the companies, except Final, had also sent a moderately priced pair of loudspeaker cables in eight feet lengths. You should read or reread my rather lengthy interconnect article for background information.

Yes, much if not most of the same principles apply right down to metals used, geometry of design and the use of multiple gauges. I have had more than one manufacturer admit, I should say acknowledge, that his interconnect and loudspeaker cables are essentially identical. The fact that they look identical or not, or the color or covering is different is meaningless. The cable's job is similar, though not identical, in each case. Some manufacturers feel that since the loudspeaker cables are carrying a much higher voltage they are not as susceptible to the potential deleterious effects of picking up interference effects such as RF and EMF though direct physical effects such as vibration can be significant. As a result, many manufacturers do not include the metal shielding often used with interconnect cables and offer essentially the same cable in the loudspeaker variation at a less expensive price.

Even without the shielding which often determines the directionality of the cables, most manufacturers mark them for directionality anyway so that they will always be used in the same direction of signal flow, from a source to a destination. At times it can make a difference and using a non-directional cable in a different direction than usual may alter the resultant sound quality in a slight but definitely negative way. If that makes no sense to you, I agree, however it has happened to me a couple of times over the years accidentally and unknowingly switching ends and then wondering why the sound changed character or quality.

 

Silver Stealth

As with their interconnect cables, Silver Stealth's main promotion is selling their loudspeaker cables in kit form at a substantial saving, though they are very willing to sell them fully assembled of course. They have been hard at work with their esthetics, which will be more conventional in appearance. My review pair still had the loose fitting off-white woven cloth exterior covering. The internal cabling is actually a wide solid metal ribbon - not a series of closely spaced wires as used in computer wiring. Although any or almost any connector termination is available, my samples basically had none. In theory that is actually better than to have an added different metal connector. In my case a half round hole was cut into the side of each conductor which then would, in most situations, slip in sideways around any binding post and tightening would seemingly lock the cable in very securely.

First, second and later on the third listening sessions, yielded the same consistent result. There was a musically pleasing bass and lower midrange fullness and richness added - nothing boomy though, definitely not boomy. Let us just say it is done in a way to warm the cockles of a music lover's heart. When is the last time your cockles were warmed? Nothing significant is missing but a minute touch of the leading edge of potentially harsh reproduced sounds is reduced.

To call its sound a bit relaxed is not quite an exacting description. It can deliver almost all the dynamic excitement needed but seems to do it best in the lower half of the audio spectrum. Your favorite vocalist may be affected a bit in a musically pleasing manner as sibilants are pleasantly rounded a tad. These Stealth loudspeaker cables can possibly be a finishing touch to a music lover's system, particularly if it is a bit on either the light or bright side of neutral. It mates quite well the company's Silver/Gold interconnects. This is a fine sounding loudspeaker cable if not completely accurate. It would take a mean old grouch to find anything to gripe about here. As I only qualify on the old and grouch descriptions, I have no other significant negative comments.

 

DH Labs Silver Sonic

The DH Labs Silver Sonic model Q-10 loudspeaker cables are not quite as immediately appealing esthetically as their very attractive and smaller diameter interconnects cables. These cables contain a pair of 12 gauge plus a pair of 14 gauge wires in each conductor. That is the equivalent of 10 gauge conductors with all the copper wiring coated with high purity silver. Their excellently finished (as all their other products I have seen) loudspeaker cables are a typical or common size, finished in a dark bluish blah color. They feature a locking banana connector that seems to be unique to them but not working quite as smoothly and positively as the more expensive WBT type locking connectors. It may be that is because the tightening knob is so small that it seems harder to tighten. The bottom line is that they do the job and are undoubtedly worth the extra cost to many users ($50 for a pair of cables).

The entire bass range and the lower half of the mid-range can easily and briefly described as very solid and powerful, as well as detailed; the best in this group. Audibly in the upper mid-range and beyond there is a touch or two of emphasis. The overall result is the sensation of a very detailed overall sound quality. On some recordings, particularly less than the best ones, massed strings can sound just a bit too bright - or is it possible that quality is just being clearly reproduced? They are not as full or rich sounding as the previously mentioned Silver Sonic model, being more nearly neutral in that area. A safe recommendation to make would be to state that the DH Lab loudspeaker cable is slightly on the bright side of neutral and would best complement a music lover's sound system that is a bit on the dull or possibly the overly sweet or subdued side of neutral. By contrast, overall the Silver Stealth model is definitely a tad or possibly two on the other side of neutral. As I have mentioned in previous articles, know where your reference point or your idea of neutral is. Hopefully it is close to mine. As you will see on the specification page the Q-10 offers a great value.

 

Harmonic Technology Fantasy

Jim Wang of Harmonic Technology had called me some weeks ago to let me know about his latest pet project, the Fantasy loudspeaker cables. It is an all copper design with locking banana plugs available as well as other options. The covering is a shiny black knit fabric that appears to be about the same covering as for their particularly attractive interconnects. The difference between nice and outstanding (appearance) in this case is the underlying bright silver metal shield layer of the interconnect sparkling through the black woven outer layer.

It would be unexpectedly unique if the Fantasy loudspeaker cables from Harmonic Technology, would wind up splitting the differences between the aforementioned Silver Stealth and DH Lab's Q-10 models. The Fantasy did not do exactly that, but it sure came close - really close. It was close to neutral with my usual references and my system and of course, in my listening room. Remember, that as I have said so often over the years, that typical measurements would almost assuredly reveal that all these loudspeaker cables would measure essentially identical (and flat) from at least 2Hz to 100kHz. I still wonder at times if some of the newest and most sophisticated measuring equipment might be able to detect some very, very slight differences even though those differences might be regarded as well beyond, or should I say below generally recognized levels of human audibility.

The lower half of the audio spectrum does not have the pleasing added extra fullness/richness of the Silver Sonic model. In the top two octaves (definitely not the entire top half of the spectrum) of the audio range it does almost share a bit of a uniquely refined quality but not identically so. Explanation attempt is following shortly. The bottom half of the audio spectrum sounds almost, but not quite, the same as the DH Lab's loudspeaker cable, which remains at the top of this short list of cables in regards to solidarity, power and detail.

The upper half of the audio spectrum is somewhere between neutral and a tad bright though slightly less so that DH Labs Q-10 model. In the upper two octaves or so, something unique was going on. At least unique for speaker cables selling for substantially less than a thousand dollars a pair. For quite awhile I was unable to figure out exactly what was going on. It was either rolling off those ultimate couple of high frequency octaves or somehow it was seemingly not smearing, fuzzing up or adding the usual high frequency distortion products that we kind of just get used to. Eventually it was decided that there is a bit of audible roll-off in those highest frequencies where fuzzy irritants lie in wait for unwary music lovers - particularly lovers of classical music recordings featuring massed strings playing anywhere near fortissimo or closely recorded percussion instruments. However, the conclusion was reached that something else was also going on that was resulting in a cleaner and clearer high frequency sound reproduction.

In other words, expected audible distortion products were noticeably and harmoniously reduced. This was simply unexpected in this price range. This is in the arena where the kilo bucks cables can shine with finesse attributes, though by no means do all of them do it, even at the most stratospheric price levels. That is why ad departments pull out glossy pictures, while questionable gimmicks and advertising slogans are invented. I called Jim Wang to discuss the unexpected glorious high-end response. He was relatively noncommittal while explaining this new Fantasy model loudspeaker cable used essentially the same technology as their most expensive model. They had a definite price goal in the design while attempting to emulate the more expensive sibling's sound qualities. Essentially this cable, which contains a pair of 13 gauge and a pair of 15 gauge wires in each conductor, the equivalent of an 11 gauge cable, is available as a separate bi-wire model for those who need that or believe that is somehow better. As usual Jim gives much of the credit to the use of their patented unique "long crystal" copper wiring used in their cables. That basically means there are fewer microscopic particles in a given piece of wire, or cross section, because said particles are longer or larger as a result of their unique manufacturing process.

Overall, where does the new Fantasy loudspeaker cable get categorized in this general price range? For starters, it is the most neutral of this group of four - number four coming up below. In case your woofers are truly excellent (that translates to relatively expensive) and few really are, there is some softness or lack of slam, punch or power that may be obvious at times. In the upper midrange or treble there is a hint of that added brightness similar to the DH (and many others) but just a tad less of it. However, the DH Lab's Q-10 loudspeaker cables have to be declared the winner in the bottom half of the audible range - from deep bass through the lower mid-range at least. When the highest frequency range is considered, the Fantasy becomes subtly outstanding! It is the sort of difference that simply may not be apparent in any typical showroom demonstration - but it is there and obvious if your CD player or phono cartridge is not adding high frequency anomalies such as the fuzz and buzz cohorts. If the front end components are not adding those high frequency annoyances, then you will not hear them with the Fantasy loudspeaker cables, as they neither add or exaggerate those qualities that are at times inherent in the recording.

Do not assume it is almost perfect in those last couple of octaves, as something relatively minor is lost. The best example was probably with the opening minute of the absolutely superb Reference Recording's Copland recording of the Fanfare for the Common Man (RR 93-CD). It is, as usual, HDCD encoded and will only sound its very best with a player that is designated to have that decoding chip - otherwise it will simply sound very good and it is better than that, I guarantee you. You will have pretty much tested your system's deep and mid-bass response plus its high frequency response and power handling ability of the superbly recorded cymbals. Every last minute shimmer of those opening cymbal clashes can be discerned cleanly and clearly. The reference or benchmark loudspeaker cable I have used for years now (yes the same brand as in the interconnect review and mentioned often enough in the past) lets every thing come through very clearly and seemingly with no audible edgy distortion, and it is "only" eight times as expensive as the Fantasy. With the Fantasy cables the finest of detail is not revealed clearly but is not audibly irritating or distorted - a first in my experience for loudspeaker cables selling for less than seven or eight hundred dollars an eight feet pair.

 

Ecosse ES 2.3

Frank Stuppel, the U.S. distributor of the Ecosse line of cables from Scotland has a winner on his hands with this well built model ES 2.3. This attractively finished (very light gray covering) is right at home in this group of twice (or more) as expensive loudspeaker cables! Yes, you read me right. Follow my reasoning closely please. It is not the best of any of the other models in any one performance parameter. On the other hand, it is not the worst one in any subjective evaluation of a performance category. That has to put it squarely in the middle of all those other more expensive models, right? Yes, that is right! The Ecosse ES 2.3 loudspeaker cables are a down right bargain, period, even cheaper than the DH Lab's model. That is all you need to know really, though you probably have to contact Frank of FS Audio Web to find out how to get this new immigrant to our shores. Unlike the other models mentioned above, its conductors consist of a great many fine gauge wires in each run and all are silver plated copper. It is typically available as two or three meter lengths or others on special order. The former is approximately a foot and a half shorter than a typical U.S. eight feet long cable and the latter is about a foot and a half longer than a U.S. eight feet pair. The price difference is only forty dollars for the extra meter.

 

 

A few comments thrown in for you bargain seekers: Its overall sound quality is rich and full sounding and definitely a bit forward sounding through the mid-range; it is not reticent. It is a bit exciting, or a tad bright and sometimes just a bit brash - but somehow not as noticeably so as its interconnect stable mate reviewed in the interconnect shootout. At one hundred and fifty dollars a pair, for the shorter two meter length, there is nothing to fuss greatly about - no major negatives, at least one of which tend to stand out in most cables - not here. The leading edge of that mentioned Copland recording was a bit dulled or rounded off and the soundscape depth of field was shallow. Most listeners will not be bothered by those added minor failings. It is truly nice to run across a genuine bargain once in awhile. Though a bit more expensive than this Ecosse model, the same can be said of the DH Lab's Q-10 model. The Harmonic Technology Fantasy remains an honest value product, though even a bit more costly. Do not forget about the unique niche product, the Silver Stealth kitset. In the meantime you have some clear cut distinctions and hints as how to match them to many systems as long as you know or can figure out exactly where you are starting from - your reference point. Remember, these cable companies were willing to be evaluated in direct comparison with many others with no punches pulled. Many of the other companies will simply use a bit of enticing or irrelevant fluff. As usual, we probably uniquely in the audio reviewing world, are telling it like we hear it.

 

Company Information and Specifications

Silver Stealth cables
Melbourne, Australia

Voice: +61 3-5279-5849
Fax: +61 3-52-79-8928
Website: www.rarefaction.com.au/stealth.html
E-mail: silverstealth@optusnet.com.au
Kitset: 2 meter pair Silver Stealth $419

 

DH Labs
612 N. Orange Ave. A-2
Jupiter, FL 33458

Voice: (561) 745-6406
Website: www.silversonic.com
E-mail: dhlabs@silversonic.com
Silver Sonic Q-10: 8 feet pair $225

 

Harmonic Technology
13200 Kirkham Way
Unit 100
Poway, CA 92064

Voice: (858) 486-8386
Fax: (858) 486-6633
Website: www.harmonictech.com
E-mail: harmonic@san.rr.com
Fantasy: 8 feet pair $399

 

Ecosse Reference Cable Ltd

Website: www.ecossecables.co.uk
E-mail: Info@ecossecables.co.uk

United States of America Agent
FS Audio Web
3882 Ruette San Raphael
San Diego, CA 92130

Voice: (866) 372-8346
Website: www.fsaudioweb.com
E-mail: Frank@fsaudioweb.com
Ecosse ES 2.3 2 meter pair $150
3 meter pair $190

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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