Thursday, September 10, 2009
DIY Silver Interconnects (updated)
I view owning music playback systems at home more of a hobby and refrain from spending too excessively on a single piece of equipment or entire system at the expense of other needs. I am a firm believer in cables to extent that cables could make or break a system (although they could not restore what is missing along the chain) but am often reluctant to pay exorbitant high prices of new ones. Although not exactly a miser (and certainly not a cheapskate), I strive for middle path in audio, just like in life, the neither-here-nor-there type of boring guy. Worse, I might even be accused of being a 'sour-grape' ranting now!
A friend contacted me recently, wanting me to lend my ears to evaluate a short 2.5' pair of DIY silver interconnects without preliminaries. I obliged and collected the cables which had already seen some 30 hours of action. Further listening in my main system lent another 20 over hours to them. My past experience with Kimberkable Silver Streak interconnects had me believe that silver cables require more than 200 hours to fully bloom and sound good but the DIY silver interconnects sound pretty decent in my main system that I was reluctant to part with them after their evaluation. My friend has to spare me 10' of the silver wires, 10' Teflon jacket and 5 metre length of WBT 4% silver solder to enable me to DIY my own interconnects. A big thank you goes to Wong!
The silver wire is AWG-24 solidcore of 99.9% purity sourced from a jeweler in US at US$2.50 per ft and the Teflon jacket at US$8.00 per 100 ft. I made use of my 2 new pairs of Neutrik RCA plugs sourced from Farnell during the time when I was assembling my T-amps and my 2.5' (0.75m) pair of DIY interconnects cost me RM120.00 (US$33.00) in total. Highly affordable! See this webpage for the entire story and process which include the polishing of silver cables, inserting them into Teflon tubing and the number of twists recommended so as to rid RFI and minimise capacitance: http://www.laventure.net/tourist/cables.htm
The sound: The DIY silver interconnects replaced the resident vdH First Classic interconnects in my main system which connect Roksan Caspian m-series-1 cdp to Simaudio Moon i3 integrated amplifier. Let me first describe the characteristics of my vdH First full carbon interconnects: their high frequencies are slightly recessed (darker sounding) but extended, image of main vocalist/instrument laidback, thick-sounding with authoritative bass and excellent PRaT. One would usually perceive the cables to be very natural without anything amiss if no direct comparison is carried out. I am in a dilemma as there were times when I simply adore them but loathe them on other occasion; the very reason why they remained in my system until the DIY silver interconnects came along! Substituting them with the DIY silver interconnects revealed a subtle (pronounced when fully broken-in) but audible difference. The highs are slightly more prominent and leaner but I’d certainly not label them as bright sounding, a more forward image and inner details are brought to the fore. Instrument tones and cymbals sound airier, slightly richer and more apparent. Scale of soundstage is huge and deep. Excellent, I love such sonic traits! What about their weaknesses? I thought the proportion of bass to the overall sound and PRaT capability was just a tad lacking if compared to the vdH First full carbon. Cranking up the volume of the amplifier sort of rectified such inadequacies. These could also be attributed by the newness of the DIY silver interconnects which have yet to be properly broken-in as they diminish gradually with more hours being clocked.
As I remember things, my former Kimberkable Silver Streak interconnects fitted with WBT midline RCA connectors sound a lot brighter and took a long time to be tamed. The DIY interconnects which are only terminated with inexpensive Neutrik RCA connectors do not exhibit such unforgiving characteristic and they definitely better the sonics of many more expensive interconnects, some models of vdH interconnects also included. Wong later confided in me that his friend in US prefers these DIY silver interconnects to vdH MC Silver ones. Good things in life are meant to be shared, hence at their mere price of RM120.00, it is a no brainer not to try these interconnects out if you are also seeking for more zest from your system, just like me!
Addendum on 22.09.2009:The impression on the sonics of DIY silver interconnects above was on my friend's 2.5' pair terminated with Deltron nickel-plated RCA connectors. Mine with Neutrik gold-plated ones exhibit some subtle but discernable differences from the beginning (A-B comparison yet to be conducted at this stage) - slightly lesser highs and more prominence in the low frequency region, possibly sonic traits of my choice of RCA connectors. The slight lack of PRaT and proportion of bass to the overall sound reported earlier turned out to be a non-issue as my interconnects are being broken-in. They actually sound calmer, unhurried and are more relaxed. My DIY silver interconnects are not any brighter-sounding than the conventional copper interconnects, perhaps only a tad more revealing. Truth be told, I'd prefer a slightly brighter balance and am perplexed by this contrasting sound character from my former Kimberkable Silver Streak. It could be due to the single solidcore wire being used for the construction of interconnects instead of multi-strand wires of varying thickness (as less cable surfaces translate to less brightness). Or the very grade of the silver wire itself. I also do not discount the RCA connectors being culprit although I believe that no RCA plug could possibly attribute such a vast difference to the overall tonal character. See footnote below. My pair of interconnects have clocked 50 hours and still counting by Sunday through listening to my collection of CDs with volume level of my amplifier being cranked up higher than usual. It finally struck me that the cables actually sound rather flat and are not as dynamic as my vdH First Classic; the latter cables ideal for low-volume listening during the wee hours into the night or errr… morning. Il Divo's The Promise album when listened through my DIY silver interconnects sounded more resolved with the singers' distinct voices easily discernable and are more coherent but as for Andrea Bocelli's Amore album, my take is on vdH First full carbon, anytime. Conclusion: A pair of great-sounding interconnects for the price of a steal, almost. Their suitability of use in our system is dependant upon the type of music we listen to and how we like our system to sound. If we are seeking for absolute tonal balance and timbre over dynamism in music, getting a pair of silver interconnects is a way towards achieving the goal. Your take, really! Do also check out this webpage: http://www.venhaus1.com/diysilverinterconnects.html where importance on the use of high-purity silver wires and good RCA connectors is stressed.
Addendum on 03.10.2009:Wong and I finally performed a shoot-off between the 3 pairs of DIY silver interconnects terminated with different RCA plugs on Friday evening after work. They were also compared against vdH First Classic, again. The outcome? we heard no audible difference between the 3 pairs of silver interconnects apart from the shorter 2.5' pairs sounding slightly more immediate than the 5.0' pair terminated with Canare F10 gold-plated RCA plugs. So there is no difference with more expensive RCA plugs? Maybe there is, but Wong and I did not hear it, probably due to my system being not transparent enough to reveal them. Having said that, I am not prepared to spend RM700 worth of RCA plugs on wires costing only RM100!
The subtle differences between the DIY silver interconnects and vdH First Classic I reported earlier turned out not so subtle after the former cables have clocked more than 100 hours. The sonic differences were actually very apparent with biggest distinction between them being there is more energy to lower treble/upper mid region in the silver interconnects whereas vdH First Classic exhibit more energy in the lower mid/upper bass region. With silver interconnects, one would be transported to the front row, centre seat of a live performance (without use of microphone as observed by Wong) and acoustic/string instruments such as piano, violin, guzheng, pipa sound more real. There was also more air to the sound and the whole presentation was relaxed, unrushed but just a tad slower. I opine that my system sounded more natural and 'accurate'. Wong loves them a lot. So do I but as the characteristics of these interconnects are mutually exclusive from those of vdH First Classic, my personal preference is the latter interconnects as they are more dynamic, more incisive rhythmic drive and more coherrent – very Naim-like but minus the brightness and the upper frequencies' harshness. I also thought Diana Krall Trio sound more musical, rhythmic and less 'noisy' through the vdH First Classic than the silver interconnects. Music could be played very loud or softly without distortion (noisiness) or missing the inner micro dynamics respectively!
Footnote:Silver vs Copper from Dr Richard Bews (LFD)'s point of view which probably explains the sound I was hearing with the DIY silver interconnects:
"Pure silver is a better conductor than pure copper as it possesses greater purity and transparency but poor quality silver often sounds a lot worse than poor quality copper. Choose a very pure silver cable and make sure that the crystal structure is defined and not distorted by the mechanical processes used to form the strands. In general, continuous cast silver of at least 5 nines pure are preferred but I don't believe purity of the silver (or copper) beyond 6 nines pure has any benefit.
General experimentation, listening tests, shows that a given diameter of silver or copper has a subjective "frequency response". Unfortunately I’ve no technical explanation of why this appears to occur, except that the electromagnetic radial field structure that gives rise to skin effect within the conductor when a current flow, may be responsible. The subjective "frequency response" of a conductor is tilted towards the low frequencies as the diameter increases. This is why certain diameters are chosen for single strand cables; i.e. for interconnects around 0.6 mm diameter for copper and 0.9 mm diameter for silver. I must emphasis that the dielectric surrounding the conductors, the material used for the outer jacket and exact crystal structure of the conductor’s influence the sound as well.
Through subjective evaluation, I've established that when many single strand conductors of the SAME diameter are put together to form a multistrand cable, the subjective frequency response is widened relative to the frequency response of the single strand. This would suggest that multistrand cables are therefore more preferable to single strand cables, However, I've not talked about the subjective "time response" of single or a multistrand cable. Unfortunately it appears that a single strand cable seems to "ring" at a particular frequency (related to its diameter) and has a fast decay. Whereas multistrand cables on the other hand, again "rings" at a particular frequency (related to the diameter of the strands), but the ringing is much longer in duration.
I believe that neither cable solution is correct, since the fast decay of single strands tends to lead to subjective comments like: tight, fast sound, but not rich or warm. Whereas a multistrand cable can often sound: warm, slow with some smearing. I must point out that copper is much easier to work with, since its subjective "frequency response" is wider than that of silver for comparable single strand conductors. That is why many silver cables appear to sound not quite right, sometimes they might be a little bright or coloured. "