In a fit of ambition, I tested five pairs of silver one-meter long interconnecting patch cords. This is part two. Part one covered their science and craft. See part one here. This part has the tests and conclusions. The initial test of the silver patch cords not only revealed mind-boggling close qualities, but also one particular patch cord stood out in almost every respect! In a casual blind test, the girlfriend and I spotted this cable each time. It has a slight edge in quickness and immediacy making it noticeably enjoyable. Three of the test subjects are modestly priced, while two are staggering high in price. At a thousand dollars a pair, the most expensive interconnects are ten times the cost of the least expensive ones! Is there an appreciable sonic difference? Is it worth the extra investment? Your intrepid explorer finds out....
The Patch Cords
Darren Hovsepian of DH Labs says his connecting plugs are copper ("not brass like everyone else uses"). His most popular model interconnect is the BL-1. Many of his products use proprietary materials - developed sometimes in cooperation with outside engineering firms, specifically for his products – such as the Air-Teflon Matrix dielectric and his HC (High Copper) connector alloy. About 50 retail stores sell the DH Lab product, which explains their ready-to-sell, off-the-hook commercial packaging. Hovsepian says measurements with digital cables, correlate well with listening tests, but for "analog cables, the correlations are much less obvious."
Steve Hallick of My Audio Cables says his name is pronounced as it is looks, "Hal-lick." He does not have any graphs or measurements on his cables: "MAC's are built purely on what they sound like," he says. Hallick says his tops of the line Palladiums are his best sounding patch cords. He added an upgraded MAC UltraSilver+ Sound Pipe model to his line of patch cords.
DACT filed a patent application for their Dual Connect design. The expensive DACT interconnects fall somewhat outside a strictly silver shoot-out because their conductors are solid gold. All of their patch cords use solid gold as conducting material (that's the wires themselves). The connectors use gold plated, solid silver for the conducting parts. More about this later...
I asked for measurements or graphs showing the resistance, capacitance and inductance values for the center pin, outer sleeve and between conductors, but only DACT supplies this information with their literature. Here is what the other manufacturers sent:
From the table above, it looks like silver interconnecting cords have lower values than inexpensive freebie cords. Silver wire has lower resistance compared to the same gauge of copper wire. On long runs, this should make an audible difference.
For convenience, the initial run-through tests swapped the silver patch cords between a basic Onkyo R1 CD player and Red Wine Audio's Clari class "T" digital amplifier, using a vintage Altec-Lansing Model One loudspeakers in my home office. Most listening was conducted at mid 70s SPL, as measured on the slow C rated scale, in a typical size office. Directional or not, the same end of the patch cord was always connected to the amplifier. In the pictures, one of the patch cords is my own basic Monster copper cables. For comparison, the tests include them as a reference. The two white patch cords stand out amongst the dark jungle behind the A/V rack, making them appear to be of higher quality.
I used the reference and music discs in my bio, Test CD and music articles. Most of the time, I alternated quickly after each song. In one session, I played 15 seconds of the same song, swapping cords in random order. In another test, I quickly swapped random patch cords for the "could care less about stereos" girlfriend until it was obvious that she was picking the same pair over and over again (the ones I came to love too). Even after the initiation run, swaps between specific models confirmed differences. At first, prices were ignored — until some surprising results began to bubble to the top....
On discs like those in my reference stack, found myself listening for qualities, such as: depth to the male voice, articulation of female voice details, cymbals in the background, bite or blare in the saxophone, and if the piano appeared in the foreground or not.
Although the best use for quality patch cords might be between the pre-amplifier and the amplifiers, where quality could make the most difference. The shortness of these 5 test subjects prevented that comparison. Because these silver interconnects were tested only between the CD player and the integrated amplifier or pre-amplifier, I can not comment on the urban legend that silver patch cords roll-off the bass. They might when used between power and pre-amplifiers, but I heard no such thing. Thinking of the many urban legends that mystify the audio hobby, I did not find that "bass was better with copper," so that part of the legend was not true. Indeed, as is the case with urban legends, some part of the myth is grounded in fact. I did find the "highs better with silver," and the sound quality overall, was better with gold.
Are the sonic differences in the interconnecting cords merely "different differences?" A slight change that sounds better simply because it is different? Indeed perhaps they are. I can't see any one of the patch cords here making a significant difference to a typical home movie and music reproduction system. Yet I can see a tweaking audiophile, whose system is already the best it can be in all other respects, adding the best interconnect cords for that added subtle, "different difference."
I did not conduct a double-blind test. IIn most of the cords, I am guessing that there is not enough of a difference to identify them in a double blind test, with the possible exception of the fragile DACT Dual Connects. Using some components encourages even more use. Reviewing them is actually tough because of the subtle differences. (Thank goodness, there weren't more patch cords!) Quickly swapping such evenly matched patch cords was fatiguing — unless the one with the sweet sound was up next. On a scale of 1 to 10, where the very best loudspeakers rank above 8, the differences the silver patch cords made was subtle. Even the standout "best of the bunch" pair scored only 2 points at best. My first impressions were that the DH Air Matrix sounded as solid as they felt, while the DACTs leapt to the fore as being quite different from the others. This was a lead they were never to give up. For tweaking audiophiles, whose home movie and music reproduction system costs quite a bit, the DACTs made an audible and enjoyable difference. Sitting in the sweet spot seemed to make a difference in the enjoyment of the better cords, the Lotus Whites and the DACTs, but not so much with the others. The attack on notes was also better with the upscale pair.
These are my
long-suffering standard patch cords. They are classic audio shop staples. Just
as I include them in the photographs, I add the Copper cords to the testing to
compare a base level sound, known for decides, with the new interpretations.
These patch cords are my experiment controls. Although my copper Monster cords
acquitted themselves better than expected – they were not harsh or
muddy sounding — any of these patch cords are better than these classic audio
Though possibly due to age, the Monster Copper has the loosest fit. On the audiophile jazz standard, Stan Getz/ Joao Gilberto "The Girl From Ipanema, 1997"), there are no surprises. The male voice has less air, but no bite to the saxophone, and no sparkle to the piano riff. These are overall gentle performers. They are full, even somewhat delicately defined, but piano notes are not as striking. Measured in real-world working-dollars, the basic Monster Copper cords did surprisingly OK. I thought they would sound loaded with grunge, but no, all of the music was there, competently performed if not wonderfully so. During purchase of these and other cables, I compared these cords back-to-back with offerings from Radio Shack with similar qualities. Sometimes I choose the Monster cables, sometimes not. In either case, the difference in sound quality was slight, less so than the difference in price. Now however, I don't think I would choose them again, except of course for their convenience and price.
MAC Silver Sound Pipes
On the Getz/Gilberto CD, the DH Air Matrix's high-end was less sparkling, merely competent. The saxophone doesn't have that magical edge. There is less piano sparkle. The difference was amazing. On Norah Jones' Feels Like Home, the Sound Pipes have less bass thump, though a little sharper in the mid and highs, These were my least favorite patch cords, although not significantly better or worse than the copper Monster cords.
MAC UltraSilver Sound Pipes
On Getz/Gilberto, the UltraSilvers' sound quality approached the expensive DACTS. They brought out the magic of horns, much better than the Silvers did. On Jones, the Ultras were sharper, yet more delicate, with more solid bass. Although I thought the Ultras did as well as the DH Air Matrix, the girlfriend did not like them, possibly because they sounded "louder," which some tweaking audiophiles translate to mean harsh (too sharp for her?).
DH Labs Silver Sonic Air Matrix
These patch cords to need to be loosened to slide off and on, so they certainly make the strongest connection. On Getz/Gilberto, the sax not as sharp, but more mellow, with room for cymbals. Yet instruments seem to have the room they need, On Jones, they are full, but there is still an edge. They are a better value than the copper Monster cords. They don't sound as good as the DACTs, but they are not missing anything significant either.
#2 Dynamic Design Lotus Whites
On Getz/Gilberto, the Lotus Whites were softer, with deeper male voices. They are smoother, with sharper sax, and an easy on-off slide. On Jones, there is not so much edge. Percussion stands out on the Whites, but are these patch seven times more valuable than the MAC Silver ones?
#1 DACT Dual Connect Precious Metal Audio
Perhaps this silver shoot-out compared apples to oranges. The DACTs use solid gold wires and the silver connectors are gold plated. The DACTs are prettiest patch cords from a distance in this review. More so than any of the others, they stood out from the crowd, both in appearance and sound; when the gun went off and when the race was finished. On Getz/Gilberto, the DACTs had more detail and less chest in the male vocals. They are the most lifelike, with better imaging, and a delicacy to the voices. They have greater extension of the bass. Their initial impression was startling, almost breath-taking. They are the gold standard to beat in this review. I loved the texture of the sax. The cymbals stand out in the background. Drums imaged in space alongside the piano, As usual, on Jones, these were the best sounding, with almost no edge to Jones' opening words. They project image into the room excellently. I came to love hearing what they could do. Does this make them the best value? You do get what you pay for, except the cost is through the roof.
Therefore, the DACTs rank only four Blue Notes for value, but 5 marks for my own enjoyment category, because they sound so good. These delicate and expensive patch cords made me realize what I love and what is important about my big ole horns – and this is the highest possible compliment - they are both musical. They make you want to listen to music. Although because of their noticeable difference, it seems the DACTs interpret the sound the most. Yet no damage is done. Although my informal test spotted the DACTs, a proper double blind test should make them stand out. Bias definitely set-in as the swapping continued: it became no fun to swap to the other cords.
Using the EnjoyTheMusic.com reviewing parameters and reference quality DMP discs made this a painless, but time-consuming, exploration. In the table below I substitute numbers for a field of Blue Notes, so differences are easier to spot. Ratings are from zero (0) Blue Notes being the worst possible, to five (5) being the best. With a table of numbers, a sum begs to be calculated. Not that it should mean anything. Yet I was surprised by the results. The final two-digit tally accurately reflects the close proximity of their sound, and my feelings about the patch cords. It shows how little difference there is between the patch cords, and how such little differences add up to big differences between the top and the bottom of the group.
15 Reviewing Parameters, Plus One
In this review, the teacher with the low grades is back. Practically of course, most students in any class must be three Blue Notes — average. Nothing wrong with that. They perform as expected. Still, I feel like a villain assigning so many average Blue Notes for what is perfectly acceptable performance. Once again, I grant 4 Blue Notes on those categories for which the patch cord is above average, compared to the others here. Only the best it could ever be, regardless of cost, wins 5 coveted Blue Notes.
In my own Enjoyment category, the winner was the DACT Dual Connects because their improved definition of sound really makes you enjoy the music, although their high cost doesn't make them the best value there could ever be. They have a slight edge in most categories. Are they worth ten times the cost of the MAC Silvers? Maybe. Is there an appreciable sonic difference? Certainly. Is it worth the extra investment? Maybe not. If you can spend $1,090 as easily as $200, definitely get the DACTs. Any of the others are good, solid performers, with no serious anomalies or deficiencies, but the musical qualities of the DACT Dual Connects make them the audiophile's choice in this bunch.
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