ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article

September 1, 2003

RS Audio Cables Pure Palladium Interconnects

There’s a very fine line between hobby and mental illness.
-- Dave Barry

They’re how much?!

My first encounter with Richard Sachek’s wares elicited a rave review. RS Audio’s modestly priced silver interconnects and speaker cables come close in performance to my reference Nordost Valhallas. Emboldened perhaps by a signal success (sorry, couldn’t resist), Sachek now brings us the last word in luxe connectivity: palladium. Operas begin with overtures, and you’ve heard this one before: The more extravagant the ticket, the more extravagant the praise. Am I programmed to go bananas because a new audio toy costs an arm and a leg? Nothing gets the blood up like a provocative question.

And variables can affect a price tag’s heft. It’s difficult for a small-scale designer-manufacturer to compete in price with larger, more cost-efficient operations. Cables, however, blunt the point. With respect to parts and assembly, there isn’t that much to them, and Sachek sells direct -- no interim markups. I’d think twice about acquiring an electronic piece or speaker system from a small company, which in audio can mean a proprietor and two hired hands. Will he and crew be there for service or a mod? With respect to cables, the question’s close to irrelevant. I’ve never had a speaker cable or interconnect go bad. Further, if the e-mails I’ve received about RS’s Solid Silver cables are any indication, Sachek’s in it for the long haul.

Be that as it may, at $1950 USD for a 1.5-meter balanced pair, RS’s Pure Palladium interconnects are up there with royals. I remind the reader that Sachek’s spectacularly good silver interconnects cost $119 for the same length and termination. As semi-good news, RS’s 30-day trial period continues to apply, if clouded by a $75 restocking fee should the Pure Palladiums disappoint. More about that at the end of this report.

Great expectations

Picture these old bones in the sweet spot. I’m looking at a Mark Levinson No.390S CD player on an SRA VR platform alongside a Reimyo ALS-777 AC line stabilizer on an SRA Tremor/Less platform (the one I recently reviewed and am keeping). Flanking the low Chinese cabinet on which sit player and stabilizer, Mark Levinson No.33H monoblock amps rest on their SRA VR platforms; just to the side and forward of these, Wilson WATT/Puppy 6 speakers. There’s no preamp. The CD player has its own good analog volume control, and this is, so far, a single-format rig.

Very well, then -- the No.390S conveys its data to the amps, which in turn do their thing. Not exactly the kind of news that earns one advanced degrees in electrical engineering, yet we sometimes fail to appreciate the quality of work one’s electronics are capable of if the connection (in my case) of player to amps in some way corrupts, curtails, colors, or compromises the goods. I’m a listener. A civilian. A layman. An electronics know-nil. Were I to begin flapping my gums about capacitance, resistance, and impedance, I’d be bluffing. (Incontinence, yes -- of that I can tell you a thing or two.) I’d swear in court that interconnects carry a signal. I’m also sure -- where a touch of controversy persists -- that interconnects can make a mess of one’s system. Having lived with a great many interconnects, I extolled RS’s Silvers for their near-perfect invisibility. High-end cables are a little like blackmail: you pay good money to not get what you don’t want.

A friend turned me on to violinist Reinhard Goebel’s performance of Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (Rosenkranz-Sonaten), with members of Musica Antiqua Köln, [Archiv 431 656-2, two CDs]. These virtuosic and magically moving pieces stand out as exemplars of scordatura -- unorthodox tunings for unusual harmonic effects. I play the sonatas often, and most recently via RS’s Pure Palladiums, which was when I noticed something I’d missed before: neither a hiss nor a buzz, more like a breeze in the trees. Probably a noisy mike or some such problem the producer and his techies missed or chose to ignore. (But Archiv is a German label! What’s the world coming to?) While not a disagreeable sound, it was mighty hard to miss. It may well have been audible when I had other cables in place, but never this unambiguously.

My immediate awareness of this peculiarity nicely characterized the manner -- or, more properly, the absence of any manner whatever -- in which the Pure Palladium interconnects permitted the software’s merest motes to negotiate the gap betwixt player and amps. The word is immediacy. As with the Silvers, Sachek proposes around 25 hours for the Pure Palladiums to climb to the top of their game. I was smitten in 25 seconds.

Happy and rocky trails

If anything matures in the burn-in period, it’s the Pure Palladiums’ midrange. Their top-end extension you’ll hear straightaway, and it’s quite an experience. These extraordinary cables may prove a mixed blessing in all that they reveal: harsh or otherwise disappointing productions, clumsy studio laminates, hardware with "character," and so on down that dreary path. I’m happy with my rig, and I’ve a large collection of good-sounding discs. The Pure Palladium interconnects add to my contentment. If, having acquired these cables, you hear more than you want to -- a hypothetical I offer without being in the least convinced of its usefulness -- the penalty would be that $75 bite. I think it’s worth the risk.

As for listening with all curtains raised, a recent promo illustrates unblinking honesty’s downside: the grandiose gestures of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Ein Heldenleben [Avie AV 0017] occur in good part in the orchestra’s strings. Since hi-fi’s inception, strident violins have stood as a poor orchestral production’s salient feature. The Avie label is new to me, but I’ve heard a great many West German Radio productions, and some have been superb. Not this one, in which Semyon Bychkov’s fine direction of Köln’s WDR Symphony Orchestra is ill served by an edgy presentation. The fortes make one wince. I went to my shelves for, as it happened, a similar if somewhat less precipitous letdown. Mélodies [Bridge BCD 9058] features baritone Patrick Mason with pianist Robert Spillman in a program of art songs by Ravel, Fauré, Poulenc, and Dutilleux. Again, the Pure Palladiums’ honesty displayed itself as a mildly annoying edge to the voice.

On the other hand, a between-the-lines CD, Andreas Willers’s In the North [btl 026] (Willers, acoustic, electric, classical guitars; Yves Robert, trombone; Paul Bley, piano; Horst Nonnenmacher, acoustic bass) made it all worthwhile. On hearing Willers’s acoustic-guitar solo, "Variations on Yggdrasill by Jimmy Giuffre," I felt as if I could snatch the very molecules out of the ether -- sound to die for, and why I treasure a hi-rez system. Not everyone does, and I can almost sympathize -- sound engineering is a technical thing. Great sound engineering remains an art. When I encounter a beautifully recorded disc, I look for the production team and give it credit if I can (and pat myself on the shoulder if I recognize anyone’s name).

No need to seek out mediocrity -- it’s everywhere. A new release by guitarist Sharon Isbin is always an event. Sharon Isbin Plays Baroque Favorites for Guitar [Warner Classics 0927 45312-2] features two Vivaldi concertos, Albinoni’s Adagio, and two Bach keyboard concertos in transcription, with Howard Griffiths conducting the Züricher Kammerorchester. I described the Strauss CD as shrill. This I’d characterize as DOA. In the recording of classical music, a sense of life and space is achieved by the meticulous setting up of one’s microphones in an acoustically blessed venue, or by faking it. Not even the latter’s in evidence here -- there’s no sense whatever of being there. One wonders -- say it ain’t so! -- whether the producer didn’t fall back on that good old, one-size-fits-all pop usage of the laying down of tracks: one for the band, one for Isbin. They don’t sound to be in the same acoustic space. With the Pure Palladiums, I didn’t need to struggle to arrive at these suspicions. They were in my face.

Is that a good thing? If you’re a seeker after sonic truth, yes, absolutely, no question. If you want most everything you play to sound "nice," these are not the cables for you.

Round-one knockout

My having remarked that I was smitten in 25 seconds implies a comparison. In my first RS report, I evaluated Richard Sachek’s Silver cables against my Nordost Valhallas and judged the Silvers remarkably close. Time again to trot out the Valhallas. Andreas Willers’s In the North is, to say it again, a marvelous recording. The venue is Köln’s Loft, the site for a number of fine jazz recordings. Engineer Christian Heck has done a spectacular job of placing toothsome sounds in a most convincing space. The sonorities -- piano, trombone, several kinds of guitar, double bass -- provide, if well-recorded, the perfect test. In replacing Sachek’s Pure Palladiums with the Valhallas, I lost just enough enchanting air to convince me of the Palladiums’ worth. When the sound becomes enclosed, a little magic disappears.

It has been suggested that a comparison of palladium wire with silver-plated copper is unfair. I cannot agree. Sachek’s Palladiums and Nordost’s Valhallas are among the more expensive interconnects on the market. One swaps money for results. How designers achieve these results should be a matter of indifference relative to how the stuff sounds. The Valhallas are remarkable cables. Up here in audiophilia, where remarkable is good, we ever seek for better yet. Sachek provides another key link.

But the how is of interest. Sachek is the third cable designer whose products I’ve used who recognizes the need to isolate wire from its dielectric. Sachek takes over:

"Conductors are 0.999-pure palladium, 24-gauge, dead-soft round wire. Because palladium never corrodes or tarnishes, we’re able to use virgin Teflon insulation several sizes larger than the wire itself, resulting in a dielectric primarily of air. Only a small percentage of the wire makes contact with the Teflon at any one time.

"The Palladium Interconnect is also ‘shielded.’ I’m not too fond of traditional copper or foil shielding. These can be microphonic and can introduce ground noise. We use a new technology, carbon-infused nylon. Since it’s nonmetallic, the shield is left floating at both ends. This carbon-infused shield is black. The purple outside cover is purely decorative."

How folks get into the design-and-manufacturing side of high-end audio has always fascinated me. Sachek again:

"Ever since my younger car-audio days, I’ve been into DIY. For the last few years, in addition to my nine-to-five job, I operated a side business fabricating custom cables by purchasing popular designs in bulk -- Kimber PBJ, 4PR, 4TC, DH Labs, et cetera -- and hand-terminating per customer specification. For example, someone might ask for a 5.0-meter PBJ interconnect with XLR plugs on one end and RCAs on the other. I also made high-quality jumpers for speakers and integrated amps, installing systems now and again, and selling carbon-fiber tonearm spacers and ceramic platter bearings for Rega turntables. I’m still doing some of this.

"Anyway, it dawned on me that I could make superior cables from scratch and offer them at much more affordable prices, particularly the newfangled silver offerings. At one point, I had about 900 feet of silver wire on hand, different gauges and tempers, from a couple of suppliers. I did extensive auditioning to find the most satisfying conductor, along with plugs to match.

"I have an MBA and did a fair amount of market research to determine the best way to sell cables, which turned out to be direct-to-consumer over the Internet. Our low overhead allows us to keep prices down. There are no third-party markups. Of course, the obvious problem with such a plan -- that some folks would actually like to hear the cables prior to purchase -- is easily addressed. Since we don’t have a network of dealers, we hit upon on an in-home trial period. If a customer is unhappy, he or she gets a full refund, less postage, within 30 days of shipment from us. Business has been brisk, allowing me to pursue the cable biz as a full-time venture."

And, as promised, the rationale behind that restocking fee: "Our $75 restocking fee is intended to discourage every audiophile on the planet from ‘borrowing’ the Palladiums merely to hear the new conductor. Hopefully, it will not deter sincerely interested parties."

Given what it must cost Richard Sachek to fabricate a pair -- palladium is one of the planet’s costlier metals -- a deterrent makes sense. The Pure Palladiums are a revelation. You won’t be returning them.

Mike Silverton

RS Audio Cables Pure Palladium Interconnects
Price: $1950 USD per 1.5-meter pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

RS Audio Cables
37 North Passaic Avenue, Suite No.1
Chatham, NJ 07928
Phone: (201) 615-4426

E-mail: sales@rscables.com
Website: www.rscables.com


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