May 15, 2010

Artisan Silver Cables Ultimate Silver Dream Interconnects

Asking audiophiles which cables they use in their stereos can elicit a touchy response. The subject is controversial because many believe that a decently built cable made of quality materials is as good as any cable with an astronomical price. I discovered this firsthand when visiting some audio shops in Chicago a few years ago. I was listening to a very expensive system, and politely asked which speaker cables they were using. This turned out to be the wrong question -- instead of an answer, I received a lecture about cables and snake oil.

I believe that cables can greatly affect the sound of an audio system. Good companies invest millions in the research and development of audio cables, and many of these firms have discovered materials and designs that have helped advance cable technology. Many high-quality cables cost exorbitant amounts, but at least as many are very affordable. The subject of my review is one of the latter.

Ultimate Silver Dream

The Ultimate Silver Dream ($465 USD per 1m pair) is the top-of-the-line interconnect from Artisan Silver Cables, a small company based on the Isle of Wight, off Englandís southern coast. Artisanís philosophy is to make high-quality silver audio cables at reasonable prices. They donít make overly complicated cables, nor do they advertise outlandish technology breakthroughs. Instead they take a minimalist approach to cable design, focusing on build and materials quality over exotic designs and materials.

My review sample was a 1m pair of Ultimate Silver Dream interconnects. The eight double-balanced conductors in each interconnect are made of slow-drawn, solid silver of high purity, braided in a Litz pattern, which is frequently used to help reject external contamination from such airborne grunge as RF and EMI. This is all encased in a Teflon insulator that fits loosely, to allow the conductor to be surrounded by air, one of the best dielectrics (nonconductors) around. The Ultimate Silver Dream is terminated at each end with a quality silver-plated RCA plug insulated in Teflon. (Fully balanced XLR connectors from Neutrik are available at no extra cost.) On Artisanís website is a more detailed explanation of how their cables are built and the thinking behind each design choice.

When I received the Ultimate Silver Dreams, what initially struck me was their simplicity of design. The materials comprising these interconnects seem to be exactly the amount needed to build a pair of interconnects -- no more, no less. Such simplicity shouldnít be confused with cheap or poor build quality. On the contrary, the Ultimates are made of quality materials, and the build is first rate. I could feel this by handling them. They were very flexible, and are easy to run. This was a nice change of pace for me; Iím used to handling more complex cables that are much stiffer.

System and setup

My reference system consisted of an Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray/SACD/DVD-A/V/CD player hooked up to a Peachtree Audio Nova integrated amplifier via Ultimate Silver Dream unbalanced interconnects. The Peachtree was linked to a pair of Paradigm Studio 10 v.5 minimonitors via Monster MCX-2S speaker cables. Power was run through a Lindy six-outlet power conditioner.


Artisan recommends a break-in of about 48 hours for the Ultimate Silver Dream before doing any critical listening, so I inserted them in my system and left them to burn in. After constant use for about a week, I sat down to do some listening.

What first caught my attention was how clear these interconnects sounded; they were very revealing, though I wasnít sure at first if I actually liked what I heard. I was a little put off, perhaps because Iím so used to the sound of my usual copper-core interconnects (see "Comparison," below). Initially, I thought their tonal character was a little on the cool side. The more I listened, though, the more I liked the Artisans; what Iíd at first thought was a cooler tonality actually seemed to be a lack of discernible tonal character. While every audio component has some sort of tonal character, the Ultimate Silver Dream seemed to have very little indeed.

The Rolling Stonesí "Sympathy for the Devil," from Forty Licks (CD, Virgin 13378), opens with fast drumming. What I heard immediately was how tight the drums sounded, with a weight and impact that added drama to the rhythm and really got my toes tapping. The tambourine chimed in with great realism; I could really hear the notes decay. Then, when Mick Jaggerís voice and the piano enter, the performance grabbed hold of me and drew me in with its smooth sound. Music seemed to flow through these interconnects unimpeded, as microlevel details in the recording were easily dug out. The fine nuances of this song were clearly evident. Thereís a lot going on in this song, and the Ultimate Silver Dreams sorted it all out with great precision. Instruments were presented in their own individual spaces, with air around each; they didnít blend together. When Keith Richardsí guitar solo begins, for example, I could really feel it; his guitar reaches into the higher frequencies, which were clean, clear, and very transparent -- I could easily discern the character of the instrument. As far as I could tell, the Ultimate Silver Dreams didnít hide or veil anything in this recording.

I moved on to something a little quieter. "You Canít Always Get What You Want," also from Forty Licks, conveyed the clarity in the midrange that these interconnects are capable of. The guitar notes decayed convincingly, and the reverberation of notes was top notch. It sounded like the instrumentís natural vibration was taking place right in my room. There was a natural sense of realism to the midrange. Jaggerís bluesy voice sounded sweet and sultry, and everything was vividly lifelike.

Listening to "All of Me," from Michael Bublťís Crazy Love (CD, Reprise/WEA 9362497077), gave a good indication of the Ultimate Silver Dreamís abilities with the human voice. Bublťís voice had good presence, and he was front and center in the soundstage, as he should be in any reproduction of this recording. His singing was devoid of any harshness. In my notes, I kept writing the words clean, clear, and transparent, and they were especially applicable to recordings of voices, male or female. I heard every aspect of the voices on recordings that I know quite well. In the past, Iíve noticed that sound described by audiophiles as "very transparent" can sometimes sound a bit clinical -- but not here, because I wasnít being bombarded with only the detail and nothing artificial.

However, the Ultimate Silver Dreams were a little lacking in body and fullness; they didnít sound as warm as comparably priced copper-core cables. While Bublťís voice did sound clear on "All of Me," I donít think it was quite as warm as it would sound in person. The same applies to when the trumpets and trombones kick in on this track -- they came close to sounding edgy in the upper register. Paring the Artisans with the wrong speakers -- ones with an aggressive treble -- could lead to a bright, fatiguing sound. Shoppers should be careful when matching the Ultimate Silver Dreams to speakers; audition them first in your own system, if possible.

The Ultimate Silver Dreams let me hear very deep into recordings. The bass was tight, the midrange sounded natural, and the highs were crisp. Low-level nuances of recordings were there in abundance. The acoustic space of each recording was evident, and decays of notes were first-rate. The sounds of stringed instruments and cymbal crashes decayed naturally. All of these attributes were served up on a wide, deep soundstage on which images of the performers were cleanly carved out. My only complaint about the Ultimate Silver Dreams was that they could pick up noise when placed too close to power cables.


I use in my reference system a 4í pair of good copper-core budget interconnects, the Monster Cable M1000 ($100), which transcend the price/performance ratio. I thought theyíd be a good comparison against a pair of budget silver wires.

The M1000 is a more complex design than the Artisan Silver Cables: itís a heavily shielded, multistrand, copper-core interconnect, while the Ultimate Silver Dream is an unshielded wire with a core of solid silver. They were also sonic opposites: The Ultimate Silver Dream sounded very transparent and clear, but had a touch of a cooler personality in comparison; the M1000, though similarly clear, sounds much more warm and full. These differences were easy to hear in A/B comparisons, but there were similarities, too: Each interconnect had great imaging, detail across the frequency spectrum, bass definition, and a natural midrange.

When I originally compared the two interconnects, I was more drawn to the Monster for its warmth -- it sounded much more inviting. Voices and instruments sounded very natural, and the treble was smoother and less fatiguing than that produced by the Artisan. But the longer I listened to the Ultimate Silver Dream, the more I realized how much more I was connecting with the music. The degrees of detail and transparency these cables conveyed ultimately won me over. They sounded more open and dynamic than any other cable I have heard at their price.


Silver cables are considered by many to be the best possible link between components. But silver is expensive; to move up to silver interconnects, you usually have to spend a lot of money. Artisan Silver Cables offers a viable option for many. I believe the Ultimate Silver Dream is superb for the price, and a real bargain for anyone looking to get into silver cables..

. . . Kevin Gallucci

Artisan Silver Cables Ultimate Silver Dream Interconnects
Price: $465 USD per 1m pair.
Warranty: 30-day money-back guarantee.

Artisan Silver Cables
98 Cowes Road
Isle of Wight PO30 5TP
England, UK