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December 2002
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Stereovox's Remarkable SEI-600
Review by Todd Warnke
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Stereovox SEI-600 Interconnect  Way back in the dark days of digital - before SACD, before DVD, V or A, before upsampling - in fact, before everything but the Red Book standard, and at that time when enterprising young fools first thought of separating transport and DAC functions we used string, wet string and dry gophers to carry the signal between those ancient transports and the small, fledgling crop of DACs. Or at least it sounded like that was what we had been using after Chris Sommovigo showed us what a real digital link sounded like. His original Illuminati D-60 coax digital cable was and is one of those rare and truly genre-bending components. Prior to the D-60 digital cables had mostly been either afterthoughts, made from cast off video cable, or exercises in price gouging, again, usually made from video cable. Sommovigo changed all that, and at an affordable price as well, about $200 a meter if I remember right. Upon its release the D-60 was almost immediately ushered into the Stereophile Recommended Components listing and just about as quickly into Audiogeek history by about a gazillion grateful purchasers of the cable. To this day, it remains one of just a handful of state of the art digital cables. Of course this left the young Master Chris with a small problem - what to do next.

For those who follow designer's careers, Sommovigo's tale is an interesting one but not one we will go into in detail here, suffice it to say that it included several consulting positions and fitful attempts at follow-up companies, some a good idea, others not so. But in the end the D-60 did more than just supply Sommovigo with an enviable reputation, it also gave him the time and space to concentrate on another, related product; interconnects. So, when I heard tale of a fabulous new wire that carried his signature, I tore through CES until finally I found Mr. Sommovigo at the first place I should have looked, the insanely loud, insanely fun and insanely good-sounding Manley/Coincident room. There I threatened him with publication of pictures of his escapades of the previous night, involving raw fish and sake, pictures EveAnna Manley gladly supplied me. He relented and agreed to send me his new cables. Specifically, the SEI-600 single-ended interconnects. When they arrived, in separate, zippered, velvet cases no less, yet another story began, this one involving a small-brained reviewer and his preconceptions, the details of which follow.



Home of The Goddess

Stereovox SEI-600 RCA Parts Wire is, in spite of every ad that preaches otherwise, an entirely passive device. On the other hand, just because a thing is passive does not mean that you can safely ignore it, something any man who has argued with a stoically passive Significant Other can attest to. One fine but passive detail to which Mr. Sommovigo paid particular attention to in the design of the D-60 was impedance matching, the result of which was a measurably and audibly better cable. Of course all credible and noteworthy wire designers have always understood that cable design is about ultra-fine details, many of which God herself would tire of. The details that Mr. Sommovigo has spent the better part of an eon dwelling upon with the design of the SEI-600 deal with connectors, a thing which is obvious with the first look at the cable.  

The XHADOW Millennio RCA connector, currently unique to Stereovox, is machined from anodized aluminum and uses high purity copper and brass parts along with elastomeric compression rings to achieve a tight connection. In all there are thirteen parts in the Millennio, each attached using a proprietary soldering process, ISCoRS, or intimately stressed contact resistance soldering process. While I do not want to know how to intimately stress a piece of copper, Mr. Sommovigo maintains that the process, which is low temperature for a soldering operation, avoids subjecting the constituent parts to the dangers and shock of extreme heat. This concern led also Mr. Sommovigo to develop his own low-melt solder formula, which flows at 143 Centigrade, or about 290 degrees for those of us metrically challenged. When all the parts are assembled the end result, to my eye, is a very stylish connector, one that Stereovox claims to be the most precise connector "the world has ever known".

Stereovox SEI-600 RCA Of course a pair of connectors needs something between them to work and here Stereovox plays it both simple and hi-tech. Simple in that the choice of materials is basic, but hi-tech in that Stereovox assembles the pieces with amazing precision and control. The signal wire uses "elliptical solid-core" high purity silver conductors. Mr. Sommovigo feels that solid-core wire offers the best small-signal transmission, but that round solid-core presents issues with skin affect that are intractable. By forming an elliptical cross section Stereovox attempts to minimize the "dead zone" found at the center round solid-core cable while avoiding the concentrations of energy at the sharp edges presented by square, rectangular and ribbon solid-core designs.

The signal wire is protected from outside interference with a proprietary "Gossamer" insulation, which Stereovox defines as air articulated PTFE insulators (Teflon for those us acronymistically challenged), concentrically wound in multiple layers, as well as dual, discrete, helically-wound shields with layers of "Gossamer" between them. The resulting wire is then covered with a weave of pure Nomex. As for use, the SEI-600 is quite thin considering all that is going on inside, and extremely flexible making it remarkable easy to use. Considering all the care that Stereovox puts into building the SEI-600 it should not come as a surprise that the cables carry a transferable, lifetime warranty.



Keep It Simple

If you are anything like me, while the proceeding details are interesting, informative even, the bottom line comes down to but two things. First, what do these things cost? And second, how do they sound? Simple enough so let us start with the first item. The cost is $2,500 a one meter pair and $1,000 more per additional half meter.

Wow!

Again, if you are anything like me you had no idea gossamer and intimately stressed metals were so precious. On the other hand, the second question closes its eye to price and simply asks how it sounds. So let's go there next.

When I first put the SEI-600 in the main system it, the system, was a bit disordered. The source was my Pioneer Elite DVD acting as a transport, sending digits through the Acoustic Zen MC-Squared digital cable (another one of those very few, all-time, state-of-the-art digital cables) to a highly tweaked Assemblage DAC-2 while power was courtesy of the Ayre AX-7 integrated amplifier that controlled a pair of Silverline SR-11 loudspeakers while the Powersnake Hydra cleansed the AC. This is quite a nice little setup, but since it is not the reference rig, I had only modest expectations for what I would hear from the SEI-600. For not the first time, I was astoundingly misguided. In fact, what I heard was so remarkably different, so completely improved that I had to mentally remind myself that what I had changed was a piece of wire and not a component.

What was so different? In a word, everything. Bass was tighter with greater impact and definition. Likewise, the mids were simultaneously more open and richer in harmonic density. Finally, the treble was more refined, exhibited less grain and yet retained the power to cut through dense, lower frequencies. Dynamically, the SEI-600 added a slight punch that I had not noticed was missing while also allowing the softest of breaths to pass though unimpeded. Timing was also a touch tidier. As I said, everything was better. So much so that I sat down to think what the difference sounded like, and then it hit me, the sound with the SEI-600 connecting the Assemblage DAC-2 to the Ayre integrated amplifier was very similar, and perhaps even a touch better than the same system when using my Dodson DA-217 DAC.

And that is when my little reviewer brain choked.

See, wire is passive, it simply cannot make that much of change. But my ears kept making the case to my brain that the SEI-600 with a 5 year old, $650 DAC was at least the equal of a $4,000 DAC with a quality, $1,000 interconnect. So my brain decided that a DAC switch was the next step. Out went the Assemblage and in went the Dodson. And the sound took another whole step upward.

This was too much, and so out went the Ayre, to be replaced with my reference First Sound Presence Statement pre-amplifier and Manley Neo-Classic 300B amplifiers. The Silverline speakers also went back into the green room while the Merlin VSM loudspeakers were trotted out. After a couple of days to re-adjust my ears to the standard system I replaced all the interconnects with Stereovox wire and sat down to listen.

Wow!



More Detail

Let us get the geek stuff out of the way right now. The SEI-600 interconnects have a very extended frequency range. They reach as deep as anything I've ever heard, and do so with complete and utter ease. Bass, whether electronic, acoustic or full-blown orchestral, was powerful and wonderfully distinctive. Mids were expressive, layered and natural. Vocal, in particular, took on a rounded, fully-developed presence that was especially nuanced and lifelike. Treble was extended, harmonically complete and quite natural. It was also completely free from grain and glare, so much so that at first I mistook the absence of the ordinary high-end anomalies to be a slight softness. While the SEI-600 did eventually reveal itself to have a character, this was not it as the top end is not soft at all.

Staging was quite natural without exaggeration while also allowing the unique studio or venue to show through. Since I am not a staging fiend, I enjoy this natural viewpoint over the hyped and expanded view so many components seem to bestow on recordings, and so was quite taken by this facet of the SEI-600. Dynamically the Stereovox cables also avoided a similar error. When an instrument increased in volume, it did not also increase in size. And the opposite applies, when a soft passage was played, neither did the stage collapse to Liliputtian levels. Again, the words here are natural and life-like.

As you can imagine, the tonal purity of the SEI-600 coupled with its natural stage and dynamics gave it a very present sense of details. Rather than render recordings as doctoral thesis, full of fact, but dissected and dry, the SEI-600 revived recordings, giving details the breath of life. This feel of re-birth, of real events happening in my listening room is what had captured me when using the SEI-600 with the Assemblage DAC, and was a feeling that stayed consistent, regardless of what I paired the interconnects with.

So, in all, and to this point, the SEI-600 merits my personal tag as "The Best I Know". Still, it does have a character. Where the standard audiogeek gear tends to highlight the upper mids in order to deliver a sense of enhanced detail, or to bump the upper bass to mask low frequencies deficiencies, the SEI-600, at least with all the various combinations of gear I had on hand, had a slight rise beginning about mid-bass and extending through the mid-midrange. Being of fairly low amplitude and broad range, this rise was difficult to pin down, and even more difficult to fault. Rather than imparting a sense of warmth, a la tubes, in my system the result of this rise was a tube-like slightly enhanced sense of life, bloom and color but without any of the opaqueness so often a part of tubes. This, in combination with the completely relaxed treble range, is what gave rise to false sensation, already alluded to, of a soft top end. I do ask though, that you remember that the SEI-600, in spite of and, in small part because of these slight deviations, is still the best interconnect I have heard. It is open, detailed, and except for this exceedingly small shift, neutral in the extreme.



Mind Games

So, after all this, what are the preconceptions that the SEI-600 messed with? First, by itself it was able to render component-level changes in my system. This is not supposed to happen with a piece of wire. But happen it did. And that led to the second issue I found myself grappling with. If I had, say, $6,000 to spend on a source, after listening to the Stereovox interconnect it would make sense to me to buy a Cary 303/200 and the SEI-600 instead of spending a grand on a decent transport, $4,000 on a Dodson or similar quality DAC and the final grand on any other interconnect. Or to purchase a $5,000 stand-alone player and a quality $1,000 interconnect. Even worse, it also makes sense to me to use the Assemblage DAC-2 and the SEI-600 over the Dodson as, dollar for dollar, the cheap DAC and the expensive wire delivered more of just about everything for the same price. Of course the Dodson and the Stereovox made an even better combo, but the essential point here is that the SEI-600 offers improvement enough to justify using it with lower priced gear while also remaining completely state-of-the-art with top-flight components. I guess that is a good thing... no, it is a good thing. But it also introduces a new wrinkle. Once the budget for a component upgrades exceeds $4,000 or so, a cheaper piece of gear coupled with this cable just may take out a far more expensive component coupled with lesser wire. 

So, there you have it. This new Stereovox cable is captivating and accomplishes an impressive task, that is delivers sound quality commensurate with components of the same price range. And like other components, the SEI-600 is not perfect, but then I imagine neither was Ingrid Bergman. Both, however, are so much better than anything else that their flaws fade to insignificance. And while I have not tried the SEI-600 with every combination of gear on the planet, nor in every room, I can confidently say that, as of this date, it is the best wire that has passed through my system. It is also the most expensive, but it delivers quality completely in step with its price. All I can add is try it yourself.

 

Tonality

99

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

98

Mid-bass (80 Hz - 200 Hz)

99

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

99

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

98

Attack

98

Decay

98

Inner Resolution

98

Soundscape width front

95

Soundscape width rear

95

Soundscape depth behind speakers

95

Soundscape extension into the room

95

Imaging

98

Fit and Finish

100

Self Noise

100

Value for the Money

100

 

Manufacturer's Reply

Hey Guys,

Thanks for listening to our products and running them through the hoops and loops. The original goal of the Stereovox project was to design and manufacture cable products that raised the bar on expectations and redefined "Reference." As such, we're glad to read that Todd has had such a positive and paradigm-shifting experience with our interconnects.

Todd's experiences and observations seem spot-on with what we experienced during the last phases of development: namely, that real precision cabling should be able to transform even a modestly-priced audio system and help to extract the most from its performance... and be able to perform the very same feat with the finest audio systems in the world.

Todd, as you know, audiophile cable can be a difficult subject to tackle, made more difficult by the ever-increasing population of cable-making-gurus in the world. I can just imagine how many requests for cable-reviews you must receive. Thanks for finding us amid the burgeoning cable-masses, thanks for listening... and thanks for lending your talented pen to this review.

Cheers!

Chris Sommovigo
Stereovox

 

Specifications

XHADOW millenio RCA connectors

ISCoRS process and SVX-4947 solder formula

"Gossamer" dielectrics 

Two Discrete, helically-wound shields

ESC high-purity silver conductor

Lifetime Limited Transferable Warranty

Price: $2,500 per meter pair (add $1,000 per additional half meter)

 

Company Information

Stereovox, Inc.
2710 Natoma Street
Coconut Grove, Florida 33133

Voice/Fax: (305) 858-7777
E-mail: chris@stereovox.com
Website: www.stereovox.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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