ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article

April 1, 2003

RS Audio Solid Silver Interconnects and Solid Silver Speaker Cables

Primera la musica, lightly sautéed

We make our way to the listening room by way of the kitchen. Some guys crave trophy wives. For me, it’s a trophy stove. I like to cook. In remodeling the kitchen in this old Maine house, milady and I sprang for an indulgence -- an elegant six-burner with half-calf oven. Beautifully made, heavy as a boulder, and shockingly expensive: about $5000. The exhaust hood, another $1500.

Why begin a cable report with a bit about a stove and hood? As a slap upside the head. In terms of money, we audiophiles inhabit a realm much resembling a Monopoly board. I’ve reported here and elsewhere on wires -- for my needs, one pair each of balanced interconnects and speaker cables -- that retail more or less for what the stove and hood cost. In one case, well over twice as much. (One of that company’s principals actually advises potential customers on what, percentage-wise, they should be spending on cables.) In this corner, in the stainless-steel trunks, from the Real World, a gentry-friendly kitchen appliance it took several strong men to install. And in the other corner, in the golden tutu, from Audiophilia, a bundle of wires a small kid could carry to school. Does that make sense? (Long sigh here, look of resignation.) I guess the answer is yes if one hears differences that favor the crazy-expensive, and I do. Anyway, here I am reporting on cables that, relative to the toys I’ve been playing with, belong in Filene’s Basement.

When I say cheap, that would be $119 USD for a pair of 1.5-meter balanced (XLR terminated) interconnects, and $309 for a pair of eight-foot speaker cables. I anticipate your reaction, "Call yourselves Ultra Audio? Ha! I wanna hear about stuff in the Lamborghini range!" Hey, big spender, sit back and relax. I understand, I really do, but read on anyway. It may be worth your while.

Cheap cheap, cheep!

As to keeping costs under the Harry Winston line, one orders Richard J. Sachek’s RS cables direct, thus bypassing the dealer’s take, which, with cables especially, can be hefty. If you’re dissatisfied, you can return your purchase in good condition within 35 days for a full refund, "no questions asked." (I extracted the quote from www.rscables.com.) I don’t mean to denigrate the audio dealer’s role. A conscientious high-end purveyor will allow you to compare, perhaps even at home. Cables the manufacturer sends arrive without benefit of competition, obviously.

But something else is obvious. Most of us know our systems well enough, when making comparisons, to detect what may very well appear to unacclimated ears as subtle to vanishing. In any event, in replacing my reference Nordost Valhallas with another maker’s cables, I’ve yet to be convinced that I listened to a draw. Strict objectivists will be amused. "Of course, you’re hearing differences! You’re an audiophile! We wonder how they’d stand up to a double-blind test." To which I’d probably respond, "Can’t say and don’t care. I listen to recordings under something other than test conditions. Should I be satisfied with A if, in a familiar setting, it sounds less good than B -- consistently, I mean?" (Note that I chose to write "less good." "Different" is neither "less good" nor "better." However, I’ve never made a cable comparison where a difference existed independent of better or worse. With cables especially, the salient issues, at least for me, are grain, transparency and resolution, as in less of the first and more of the last.)

Down to the wire

Time to leave off flogging dead mules and get on with Mr. Sachek’s accomplishments. He states that his silver cables are made of 99.9%-pure solid-core silver wire. (He has recently added a Palladium line. For another report, perhaps.) In his website text, Sachek maintains that additional nines to the right of the decimal point and special crystalline configurations are sonically insignificant compared to the ease with which silver wires can be soft-annealed, i.e., worked under heat without becoming brittle or hard. "With silver, ‘softness’ is more sonically critical than purity…."

In response to an e-mail question, Sachek goes into further detail: "Annealing is a tempering process performed on cold-worked metal. Regular (or ‘light’) annealing subjects the metal to temperatures just slightly above the point of recrystalization. ‘Soft annealing’ is performed at temperatures of several hundred degrees higher than necessary for recrystalization. Metals treated in this fashion harden at a much slower rate than normal, resulting in less rigidity, or the ‘springy’ characteristic some wires exhibit."

The attractively wispy interconnect, whether RCA or XLR terminated, consists of three braided strands. The dielectric is clear Teflon. For single-ended terminations, Cardas Audio silver RCAs are standard; for an additional $60, you can opt for WBT-0144 Midline RCAs. For their balanced interconnects, RS Audio Cables provides Neutrik X-Series XLR plugs at no extra charge. That’s unusual. XLR terminations generally cost more.

Braided cables are scarcely a novelty. Indeed, novelty is often what audiophile cables appear to be about. For example, I’ve owned Transparent’s (then) top of the line. Both the IC and speaker cable pass through elegantly tooled boxes housing passive networks. (And I do mean elegant! Even Transparent’s solder connections could pass for jewelry.) According to Transparent’s designer-metaphysicians, these networks exist to do things right. I’ve reviewed Jeff Smith’s Palladium cable line for UA. Never mind apples and oranges. With Transparent and Silversmith, it’s a sprint between a Mercedes 18-wheeler and a Tour de France bike, yet both concepts bear revealing fruit. Silversmith’s gossamer Palladiums -- lugless alloy strips floating within a loose-fitting sleeve -- could not be more different from Transparent’s weighty, casketed equivalents, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what I’ve used over the years. It’s enough to make the head swim.

The review system consists of Wilson WATT/Puppy 6es, Mark Levinson No.33H amplifiers, and a Mark Levinson No.390S CD player (upgraded from a No.39). Silent Running Audio acoustic isolation platforms support the three ML pieces. Power cords are Acoustic Zen Gargantua.

Sound as a dollar

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you can easily afford and are perhaps even eager to acquire our peculiar little world’s most expensive cabling. I’d still urge you to look into RS Audio Cables. Plain Jane? Absolutely. Sachek has little interest in amending the laws of the known universe or sheathing his goods in couturier threads. Merely looking at the speaker cables could induce drowsiness. But several days of comparisons have convinced me that Sachek’s ICs and speaker cables fall short of Valhalla -- the finest cables I’ve ever used -- by a remarkably small degree, and only then in transparency and resolution. Without the benefit of comparison, which is how most of us enjoy our sound systems, you’d likely notice nothing other than spectacularly successful neutrality, particularly in the midrange, where music mostly occurs.

Having played a wide and revealing range of CDs: all-acoustic, instruments and voice, soloists, chamber ensembles, jazz ensembles through to full orchestra, with and without chorus and soloists, I hear the RS Audio IC-SC combination as spatially open, timbrally true, and dynamically subtle and swift. Succinctly put, I know things are right when I hear clearly defined differences in soundfield dimension and recording style. For example, some American recordings, classical and jazz, tend toward warmth in the midrange and bass relative to certain European styles, which, while emphatic in the low end where it is needed, seem to accentuate the upper midrange and treble. The largely Middle-European palette is on the cool side and exquisitely detailed. I want my system to reveal these differences precisely as they are, adding little or nothing of its own in the way of coloration or character. These wires accomplished that, as others I’ve used have not. If strict neutrality’s your thing, you owe RS Audio Cables a listen. At these prices, you’d be crazy not to. However, if you're still feeling tentative despite my best efforts to ease your mind, begin with the interconnectss, which in my room mirror the speaker cables' laudatory characteristics to a T.

Play, gypsy, play!

On then to a few of the recordings that helped me toward these happy impressions. An ideal piece for determining a soundfield’s quality, or rather one’s system’s ability to convey what’s on the disc, is Toru Takemitsu’s hauntingly beautiful In an Autumn Garden [Varèse-Sarabande VCD47213], which the late composer wrote for a traditional Gagaku, a courtly ensemble consisting of gong, drums, zithers, lutes, flutes, and mouth organs, the latter a fascinating instrument that much intrigued John Cage. A 1980 digital recording engineered by one of the greats, Hiroshi Yuasa, and long out of print, convinced me early in the game of the potential of the compact disc with respect to vinyl. No groove-scribing stylus can convey transients like these. The air in which the sounds occur breathes. Listening with the RS cables in place likewise convinced me of their quality. A recent re-release of a shorter version of the same work [Deutsche Grammophon Echo 20/21 Series 471 590-2], originally recorded in 1977, delineates the difference between good and superb on a system with no weak links, least of all these cables.

A cable report provides me with a fresh opportunity to play a Bach church cantata. My favorites among recent productions are on Erato, Ton Koopman conducting the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, with vocal soloists (Complete Cantatas Volume 11 [Erato 8573-80215-2]). For this evaluative session, I went to volume eleven, not that it matters. Sound-wise, engineer Adriaan Verstijnen’s work, which I’ve long admired, is remarkably consistent. The RS interconnects and speaker cables conveyed the sound I fully expected: exquisite localization of solo instruments and voices, beautifully lifelike instrumental ensembles, and a chorus in which, rather than a homogenous blend, individual strands emerge. In the recording of classical over, say, jazz, Verstijnen’s is that above-mentioned and peculiarly "European" sound: shading toward the cool side of the spectrum and exceptionally transparent, and that’s what I’m hearing again.

Telarc brings us sprightly performances by Martin Pearlman’s Boston Baroque of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks and Water Music [Telarc CD-80594]. Again, I hear excellent definition and dynamic stretch within an appropriately dimensioned soundfield. (Altogether too often in classical recording, seemingly cavernous venues, even for chamber music, would appear to scream, "Pay attention! Important stuff!") Telarc’s Jack Renner keeps matters in check and provides us with a sound very much approaching "live." For this session, I replaced RS Audio with Nordost’s Valhalla, thence back to RS Audio. No sea changes, no jaw-dropping differences. While Valhalla remains my reference, I could easily co-exist with RS for life. The pomp and splash are there. I seriously doubt that anyone who acquires these cables on the strength of this report will feel shortchanged in any of those departments that inspire us to search beyond the mundane.

Now and again I get a no-label promotional CD the players themselves produce. This one is a pip. Engineer Mark S. Willsher, assisted by Judy Kirchner, brings the Cypress String Quartet right into the room. Here the spectrum favors warmth, and the punch is close to visceral. We tend to forget how loud acoustic instruments can sound in modestly dimensioned spaces. As I say, in the room -- via, of course, RS. There’s nothing like strings to reveal harmonic complexities, and these cables do just that. What more can one ask? The program consists of Haydn’s Opus 76 No.5, Ravel’s String Quartet in F, and Ervin Schulhoff’s 5 Pieces for String Quartet. (Schulhoff died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942.)

That month-plus trial period isn’t as mindlessly generous as you might imagine. Most cables require a break-in period, RS Audio’s among them. If I were you, I’d live with them for a while before I made up my mind -- unless, like me, you’re instantly smitten.

…Mike Silverton

RS Audio Cables Solid Silver Interconnects and Solid Silver Loudspeaker Cables
Prices: Solid Silver Interconnects, $119 USD per 1.5-meter pair; Solid Silver Loudspeaker Cables, $309 per eight-foot 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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