June 1, 2004
Siltech Classic Series SQ-110 G-5 Interconnects, PH-8 G5 Phono Cable, and LS-188 G-5 Speaker Cables
Some years ago, a colleague titled an article "Why Reviewers Hate Writing Cable Reviews." His point, as I recall it, was that (1) such reviews are a pain in the butt to write, and (2) cables are applicable only to the specific system in which they were used.
Well, as Francis McDormand says in the movie Fargo, "Im not one hundred percent sure I agree with that." While wires are very system-dependent, once you pin down their main attributes and establish how they react with tube as well as solid-state gear, the results can be broadly useful.
Nor does the rear-end pain apply to the more obsessive among us who love swapping interconnects, a task complicated by the brevity of short-term aural memory. By the time wires or components are swapped, the sound may no longer be firmly fixed in your head. Thats why salespeople save the component they really want to sell you for last -- it impresses because its fresh while the other stuff is fast fading from your brain cells.
These musings were occasioned by the receipt of a new set of Siltech interconnects and speaker cables, and the realization that I had long steered clear of doing wire reviews. They were also spurred by the unalloyed pleasure occasioned by listening to the new Classic line of interconnects and speaker cables, which arrived almost exactly ten years after my first experience with Siltech.
I was then engrossed in what now seems like folly -- a comparative survey of wires offered at different price points by several major manufacturers of the day. Too bad I hadnt read my colleagues article before taking on an assignment that, for all its interest and its educational aspects, led to more rooting around in the rear end of my equipment rack than so sedentary a creature as myself would prefer. It was time-consuming and patience-testing, as well. Initial enjoyment had become too much like work.
About the time I thought I had a good fix on the wires in the study and decided I could move from copious note-taking to writing, a visitor arrived: Edwin van der Kleij, the soft-spoken Dutchman whos president, designer, and majordomo of Holland-based Siltech.
Edwin listened to my system for a while. Then he quietly, almost diffidently, asked whether Id allow him to insert a short length of his FTM-4 Gold interconnect between my turntable and preamp. A good host, I readily agreed. As he reached into his briefcase for the wire he said what everybody says in a similar situation: "It really needs more break-in time, but this will give you an idea of how it sounds."
Did it ever! My first thought was that my whole system had suddenly come alive. Then came the grim realization that Id have to go back to the drawing board and work the Siltechs into the article.
The Siltech experience
Since those days Ive had other wires in my system; none better, a few as good, most worse. The Siltechs in their various upgraded models remained my reference wires, the ones that made my system strut, the ones I listened to for pure enjoyment of the music, as well as being excellent vehicles for reviewing speakers and electronics, whether solid state or tube.
So when Ethan Wood of Siltech America came by with a set of the new Classic Series cables, I was filled with anticipation and also with some doubt about whether these wires really would be an improvement over the FTM-4 G3 interconnects and LS-180 G3 speaker cables that were giving me continued listening pleasure. After all, todays "upgrade" is not necessarily an improvement; its often a marketing device to keep up with consumers endless desire for "the latest."
The Classic Series G5 went head to head against that earlier generation of Siltechs, and I also brought some wires to various friends houses to get a fix on their performance in different systems. My home listening was done in a fairly large, well-furnished room. Analog was sourced via the Forsell Air Reference turntable with a Koetsu Rosewood Mk II cartridge, which fed the Plinius M14 phono stage through the Siltech Classic Series PH-8 phono cable. Digital sources included the Metronome T-20 Signature transport and C-20 Signature DAC, the Reimyo CDP-777 and the Ensemble Dirondo. They were connected via SQ-110 interconnects to a Wyetech Opal preamplifier, a Conrad-Johnson MV60SE stereo amplifier, and Jadis JA-80 monoblocks modified with Siltech internal wiring. LS-188 speaker cables ran between the amps and Von Schweikert VR-4 Generation II speakers, and later Von Schweikert VR-4 Gen. III HSE speakers. Since a loaner G5 digital cable wasnt available to run between the Metronome transport and DAC, I used my older-model HF-9 G3 (the other digital sources were single-box players). Accessories included Vibrapod isolators under the speakers, Solid Tech footers, Shun Mook and Harmonix record clamps, and Harmonix footers.
Some flat-earth proponents continue to deny that "designer" wires are better than stock RadioShack products, but most audiophiles have reluctantly concluded that theyre difference-makers capable of transforming a system. I say "reluctantly" because the sticker shock for an insubstantial-looking run of wire is considerably more acute than it is for a speaker occupying half a room or an amplifier too heavy to lift.
For the curious -- and the brave -- heres the price info. A one-meter pair of the Classic Series SQ-110 G5 interconnect is $2100, a one-meter Classic Series PH-8 G5 phono cable is $1200, and a two-meter pair of the Classic Series LS-188 G5 speaker cables comes to $4000. The one-meter HF-9 G3 digital cable I used is $500, and its successor, the HF-10 G5 digital cable, which should be available by the time you read this, will be $600.
And the Classic Series isnt even the companys top line. That accolade goes to the Signature Series, whose prices I was afraid to ask about lest they induce cardiac arrest. Fortunately, Siltechs offerings are plentiful, and an earlier experience with a borrowed set from Siltech's lower end to link a modest office system transformed the sound from barely listenable to quite satisfying, suggesting a welcome consistency throughout the line.
That implies the rest of the Classic Series should deliver much of the results I got from the products under review, which represent the top of the Classic Series. The full Classic Series lineup includes three speaker cables: the entry-level LS-88 G5, the LS-110 G5, and the LS-188 G5. Interconnects include the SQ-28 G5, the SQ-88 G5, and the SQ-110 G5. There are also the phono and digital cables, and the SPX-30 power cord. They cover different price points, the variables being the amount of conductor included and the terminations.
All share Siltechs proprietary G5 metallurgy and X Balanced Micro Technology. The former refers to the unique blend of silver and gold as conductor materials. High-purity silver is preferred not just for its conductivity, but also because it creates silver oxide when it oxidizes over time. A fortuitous process, since silver oxide is an excellent conductor that doesnt degrade conductivity. In this it differs from high-purity copper, which creates copper oxide as it ages, an excellent insulator but a poor conductor. That gives high-purity silver the edge -- both materials always undergo oxidation, but only high-grade silver will retain its conductivity.
But why gold? Siltech says that the natural crystal structure of both copper and silver produces small distortions generated by boundary effects on the signals. So after purifying the silver, at a point between the melt and solidification processes, 24-karat gold is added. This gold alloy fills the empty spaces between the crystals, boosting signal transmission, improving the signal-to-noise ratio, and dramatically lowering distortion.
Explaining Siltechs X Balanced Micro Technology process is beyond my capabilities, but suffice it to say that it refers to the geometry that occurs when conductors are wound so tightly that "the angle of approach" is close to 90 degrees. The approach angle apparently determines the strength of a cables magnetic field, claimed by Siltech to be up to 2000 times less than that of "the typical audio cable."
In plain English, that means sound free from baddies like EMI, RFI, and other unwanted guests. While Im in no position to judge Siltechs quantified claims, as a cardholding member of the Cynics Circle, Im willing to say that the Classic Series wires Ive been listening to are indeed the quietest Ive ever had in my system, including the older Siltechs. In fact, my first impression was that backgrounds had become several degrees blacker, low-level listening more detailed, and big orchestral climaxes more impactful -- all expected results of a lower noise floor.
The improvements I heard after the arrival of the Classic Series wires held constant throughout changes in system hardware -- several CD players, an amplifier, and a new pair of speakers arrived for review while they were in the system. In friends systems, which included all-tube electronics to solid-state, floorstanding speakers to bookshelf models, the Siltechs had uniformly positive results.
Initially, I was concerned that whatever technical wizardry went into taming noise issues might also tame Siltechs traditional fast transients and extended frequency range. I neednt have worried. If anything, the dynamics on Don Byrons A Fine Line [Blue Note 26801] were even more stunning than before. Cassandra Wilsons voice on the fabulous rendition of Sondheims "Ladies Who Lunch" from this album had all the body and density one could ask for.
Soundstaging on the brilliant transfer of Benjamin Brittens Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra [JVC JVXR 0226] was wonderfully natural, and while percussion transients were lightning fast, I was even more entranced by the realism of the string sound. Another great JVC reissue, the Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony disc of Bartoks Concerto for Orchestra [JMCXR-0007], was rendered with a deeper, darker lower-string sound than Id remembered, along with impressive tonal density in flute and in the harps plucked bass notes.
I had a similar reaction to the new album by The Persuasions (A Capella Dreams [Chesky 251]), heartening because vocals are an important part of my daily musical diet. On the track "Peace in the Valley," the voices were compelling in their realism. The detail coming through the Siltechs allowed me to hear how well vibratos matched, as it also allowed the handclaps in "The Saints Go Marching In" to startle.
A final surprise came in the form of an unclassifiable trio of musicians whose mixture of jazz, rock, country, and more gave me reams of listening fun, along with an enhanced appreciation for the way the Siltechs make transients and difficult-to-record instruments shine through the audio chain. The album is Tin Hat Trios The Rodeo Eroded [Ropeadope 93134], and a typical track is "Fear of the South," where violin, guitar, and accordion rip over an oom-pah-pah-ing tuba bass line (I said its unclassifiable, didnt I?). These are difficult instruments to record and play back, even tougher to keep in balance, but the engineers succeeded. Ditto for another track, "Holiday Joel," where an array of percussion instruments were slid, swished, squeaked, scraped, and tickled. Here, even at low levels, the Siltech response to lightening-fast transients was along the lines of "Gimmee more. Ill show you how fast I can get."
Manufacturers know what works best with their products. The Classic Series wires came my way because an amplifier maker suggested using them in my review of his unit. Others, in arranging to ship review samples to me, asked about my system, and when I mentioned that the Classic Series as my reference wires, they expressed approval. One even said it was his reference, too.
Should it be yours? Youll never catch me telling anyone to buy a product on my say-so. What works in my system and with my ears may not work for you. I have friends with wonderful-sounding systems who use other brands of wires. But I wont hesitate to say that the Siltech Classic Series, specifically the interconnects and cables discussed in this review, should be on anyones short list of wires to audition. Nor will I shrink from saying that the G5 line is a step up from my previous G3s. It has all their virtues, with the added benefit of a lowered noise floor.
Ive heard too many wires whose balance is tipped up to yield a "hi-fi" sound that can make a system sound shrill, and too many others whose fattened roundness appeals at first, then annoys because their euphonic colorations falsify the music. Siltech cables have always struck me as a neutral passageway for recorded sound. Theyve always brought out the best in my hardware without hiding its defects, never more than the current Classic Series. Like all audiophiles, I know theres something even better around the corner -- Siltechs Signature Series is a tempting example -- but Ive lived with the Classic Series for months and the prospect of continuing to do so puts a very happy smile on my face.
Siltech Classic Series SQ-110 G-5 Interconnects,
PH-8 G5 Phono Cable, and LS-188 G-5 Speaker Cables
Siltech America, Inc.
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