AOM Logo November 1997


Silver Belles
D Lin Audio's Silver Bullets 4.0 Interconnects

Andrew Chasin

If you're not a regular reader of the Usenet newsgroups devoted to discussion of high-end audio (entirely understandable given the low signal-to-noise ratio these days), you may not have heard of D Lin Audio and their line of silver interconnects dubbed "Silver Bullets". Max Kreifeldt, D Lin Audio's president, designer and chief cook and bottle washer, has chosen to market his cables exclusively on the internet so as to avoid the skyrocketing cost of print-media advertising and its inevitable upward pressure on the cost of his products. Rest assured that the price of the Silver Bullets does not include the amortized cost of an expensive advertising campaign.

D Lin Audio's genesis parallels that of many successful high-end audio companies. The unexpected success of a small DIY cable project led initially to the creation of a small number of cables for audiophile friends, and ultimately to the formation of a company whose goal was to supply the audiophile community with state-of-the-art products at competitive prices. In the fiercely competitive world of high-end cables, however, the success of such a company is far from guaranteed. A virtually unknown cable company like D Lin Audio faces a tough uphill battle if it is to break into a market dominated by such well-known and respected companies as Kimber, Cardas, XLO and Transparent Audio. These companies boast considerable market presence and venture capital, and present formidable competition to a small, sole-proprietorship such as D Lin Audio. In order to succeed, D Lin Audio must provide a sonically competitive product which pushes the outside of the price:performance envelope. In this reviewer's opinion, D Lin Audio has done just that with the Silver Bullets 4.0.

Particulars
As anyone who has spoken to Max Kreifeldt or read his white paper on cable design knows, D Lin Audio's designs are firmly rooted in science rather than pseudo-science, voodoo, or black magic. You won't read about as yet undiscovered forces of nature or unfounded theories of electrical conductivity in D Lin Audio's white paper or marketing literature; just down to earth discussions of the effects of inductance, capacitance, the skin effect, cable geometry, and choice of conducting material (silver vs. copper) on a cable's ability to faithfully transmit an electrical signal.

The original design of the Silver Bullets was based on that of the very successful three-stranded, braided Kimber KCAG, the primary distinction being that D Lin Audio's design used solid-core conductors, silver-plated connectors and sharper angles in the braid. That design evolved into what is currently being marketed as the Silver Bullets 3.0, the less-expensive sibling of the 4.0 reviewed here (the numeric designation in the names of all of D Lin Audio's cables indicates the number of strands in the braid).

Silver Bullets 4.0 Picture The Silver Bullets 4.0 is the newest entry in D Lin Audio's line of silver interconnects (the more expensive, six-stranded 6.0 rounds out the line and a speaker cable is in the works). The 4.0 features four strands of small-diameter, high-purity solid-core silver per channel, each strand being subject to a pre-treatment which, according to Max Kreifeldt, "maximizes the efficiency of signal transfer across the crucial solder joint." Silver was chosen not only because of its superior conductivity, but because its oxide, which will inevitably form over time, is also highly conductive. In contrast, copper oxide is a poor conductor which explains the almost exclusive use of oxygen free copper (OFC) in copper-based high-end audio cables.

Why small-diameter conductors? As Max Kreifeldt explains it, the degree to which an AC signal is damped as it penetrates a conductor varies inversely with frequency; that is, a high-frequency signal will be subject to the ill effects of damping at a much shallower depth of penetration than one of low frequency. Such damping results in attenuation of the high frequencies and, therefore, an audible distortion in the frequency domain. The use of small-diameter conductors prevents a high-frequency signal from penetrating to the depths required to produce a significant damping-induced attenuation. This implies that cables which employ small-diameter conductors as in the Silver Bullets 4.0s should exhibit far less high-frequency rolloff than their larger-diameter counterparts.

The fine silver strands of the 4.0 are hand woven into a loose braid which serves to reduce the effects of capacitance (due to the relatively large physical separation of the conductors in the braid) and RF through cancellation. D Lin Audio is one of few manufacturers who publishes capacitance values for their cables and proudly claims a capacitance of 42 pF/m for the 4.0s - very low in absolute terms, although some manufacturers have managed to obtain slightly lower values (Nordost's Red Dawn is an ultra-low capacitance cable at about 21 pF/m). The deleterious effects of mutual inductance (the induction of a current in one conductor as a result of an alternating current flow in another) are minimized in the 4.0s by crossing the conductors at steep angles and the use of "scatter winding", which adds a degree of non-symmetry to the cable's geometry and helps break-up the conductors' natural tendency to magnetically couple. The Silver Bullets 4.0s are terminated with Cardas RCA connectors, which feature silver-plated contact points and a confidence-inspiring, vise-like grip. Lead-free silver solder is used for all connections and each conducting strand is insulated with thick-wall Teflon insulation.

A word of caution when connecting/disconnecting the Silver Bullets - the Cardas RCA connectors grip some female RCAs very tightly and may fail to make an adequate connection unless gently coerced (I experienced difficulty only when making the connection at the inputs of my power amplifier). In some cases, it may be necessary to rock the male connector back and forth gently while applying steady force along its axis. Never twist the male connector as this may weaken or break the solder joint connecting the female connector to its circuit board.

For the purposes of this review, I was supplied with two 2-meter pairs of the 4.0s. I used one pair between my transport and DAC and the other between my preamplifier and power amplifier. The manufacturer's recommended break-in time of 10 hours was well exceeded before any serious auditioning took place.

Associated Components

Digital: Theta Data Basic II transport, Theta DS Pro Progeny DAC
Preamplifier: Sonic Frontiers Line 1, Audible Illusions Modulus 3A
Power Amplifiers: Aragon 2004 Mk.II, MDG Audio Allegrio
Loudspeakers: ProAc Studio 150, Meadowlark Kestrel
Cables: D Lin Audio Silver Bullets 4.0 interconnects, Transparent Audio MusicWave Plus loudspeaker, Transparent Audio MusicLink Plus interconnects, XLO Type 4 Digital.
Accessories: Echo Busters room treatment products, Target equipment stands, Blue Circle BC-83 line conditioner, 15A dedicated AC outlets.

Listening
I'll be honest with you - given my recent experiences with several inexpensive silver cables, I didn't have high hopes for the Silver Bullets. The Stager Silver Solids that I reviewed recently, for example, were built beautifully and exhibited an intoxicatingly smooth, grain-free midrange, but were compromised at the frequency extremes, lacked incisiveness and definition, and ultimately proved disappointing in the context of my reference system. Our Associate Editor, Anthony Kershaw, also found the Silver Solids to lack synergism with his reference system, but instead of finding them soft and unfocussed, found them to be bright and edgy. With an open mind, I hooked up the Silver Bullets and sat down for a brief listen before leaving them to break-in. What I heard shocked me. My system exhibited a newfound sense of ease, naturalness, mid-band liquidity and high-frequency purity. While I readily hear the sonic differences between cables (where such differences exist), I have found them to be often subtle and rarely of this magnitude. Needless to say, my initial impressions of the Silver Bullets were highly favorable and never proved otherwise on extended listening. In fact, my usually poker-faced listening sessions were punctuated by toothy grins on more than one occasion while auditioning the Silver Bullets, indicating to me that I was in the presence of a very special musical conduit.

How would I characterize the sound of the Silver Bullets 4.0s? Beautifully balanced from top to bottom with just a hint of burnished warmth thrown in for good measure. Even sans break-in, the Silver Bullets enticed me with their natural tonal balance and highly musical presentation. Put plainly, music played back through the Silver Bullets simply sounded less like hi-fi and more like the real thing. Not even the very revealing sound of the female voice exposed any significant chinks in the Silver Bullets' armor. Listening to my favorite female vocal recordings through the 4.0s was a highly pleasurable experience, one made even more so by the conspicuous absence of the annoying upper-midrange glare I hear with many other cables (several of which, I hasten to add, are considerably more expensive than the Silver Bullets). I was also pleasantly surprised to find that, unlike the Stager Silver Solids, the Silver Bullets exhibited performance at the frequency extremes which was commensurate with their excellent midrange performance. The low bass notes heard on Mary Black's Columbus from the superb No Frontiers (Gifthorse Records, G2-10002), for example, reached very deep and sounded taut and tuneful. Similarly, the famed Telarc bass drum as heard in the final movement of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (Telarc CD-80331) burst forth in convincing fashion. In comparison, the Transparent Audio MusicLink Plus had slightly better bottom-end extension than the Silver Bullets 4.0s, but lacked the same degree of tautness and articulation, a trade-off I'd be personally willing to make in the 4.0's favor.

Given the lengths to which Max Kreifeldt has gone in order to avoid high-frequency rolloff in the Silver Bullets, I was interested to hear how the cables fared on musical selections rich in high-frequency content. Debussy's Images pour orchestre (Sony SK 53284) and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances fit the bill nicely, as these scores make heavy use of a variety of cymbals, triangles, snare drum etc. In no way did the Silver Bullets audibly dull the presentation of these instruments - cymbals had the appropriate amount of sheen and sizzle, triangles attacked and decayed naturally, and you could almost picture the wires as they danced against the head of the snare drum in the finale of Symphonic Dances. The Silver Bullets' top-end was not only beautifully extended but very finely detailed. In particular, the sound of a hi-hat as heard on many well-recorded jazz recordings (Chick Corea's Akoustic Band [GRP 838 396-2], Christian McBride's Night Train [Verve 314 523 989-2], and The Lynne Arriale Trio's The Eyes Have It [DMP CD-502], to name but a few) was unmistakably that of two concave metal discs vibrating against one another rather than the synthetic semblance of same rendered by lesser cables.

Transient speed also proved to be a hallmark of the Silver Bullets' presentation. Cymbal crashes, and strummed guitars, for example, sounded fast but never etched or hyped, adding a natural sense of forward momentum to the Silver Bullets' already high-degree of music making. Other attributes of the Silver Bullets that proved to be very appealing were their faithfulness to instrumental timbres and their realistic portrayal of instrumental bloom. The Silver Bullets' truth of timbre was evident in the way they nicely contrasted the woody nature of the clarinets with the more buzzy signature of the oboes in Debussy's Images pour orchestre. I was in musical heaven as the expanding aura of the harp in the opening bars of the Debussy washed over me in much the same way it does in the concert hall.

The truth be known, I would give up the last drop of upper-octave extension, low-end articulation and transient speed if only to get the addictive sense of openness and air which the Silver Bullets were capable of delivering. A sense of see-through transparency was abundantly evident on good recordings as was a tangible three-dimensional space around musicians and instruments. Both proved very intoxicating and added immeasurably to my listening pleasure.

Conclusions
As an audio reviewer, there's nothing quite as satisfying as stumbling across a relatively unknown and affordable product whose performance is well beyond your expectations. D Lin Audio's Silver Bullets 4.0 is just such a product. Not having heard several of the more stratospherically priced interconnects currently available, I hesitate to brand the Silver Bullets 4.0s "best of breed." What I will state categorically is that the Silver Bullets 4.0s are the best cables I've had the pleasure of listening to in my reference system, and far from the most expensive.

In a hobby in which hype, rhetoric and hyperbole are the order of the day, Max Kreifeldt and D Lin Audio have quietly introduced an affordable, well-engineered, sonically excellent cable that has all the makings of an underground classic. I urge you to try the Silver Bullets for yourself and see if you don't agree.

Silver Bullets 4.0 Interconnects
Manufactured by D Lin Audio
13616 North 43rd Street, Suite 148, Phoenix, Arizona, 85032
phone: (602) 996-8901
web: http://www.SilverAudio.com, e-mail: DLin@SilverAudio.com
Price: US$180/meter, US$140/half-meter, factory direct (includes shipping and handling)
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan


Manufacturer's Response
On behalf of myself and all those who have helped me launch D Lin Audio and our "Silver Bullets" fine Silver interconnects, I would like to thank you for such an insightful and eloquent review. I was further encouraged to find your impressions of them so consistent with virtually all of our customer feedback.

In my experience, the hallmark of even poor quality silver cables has been smoothness. It is quite curious therefore, that I am so often presented with the fear that they will be too bright in the system of a potential customer. With perhaps the exception of silver-plated copper conductors, I have come to regard silver cables' reputation for excessive brightness to be largely a myth. Moreover, I believe that myth originates in a the psycho-somatic effect produced by the sight of bright, shining wire gleaming through the see-through insulation we use to show them off. I have not personally listened to silver-plated copper conductors though I know them to be considered unnaturally bright and irritating in the high frequencies. If this were indeed true it would be a dramatic demonstration of the somewhat controversial "skin effect" which, as you mentioned, is a function of the diameter of the conductor and normally attenuates higher frequencies.

Regarding static LC measurements, The Silver Bullets do measure quite low for capacitance, the main enemy in high voltage to current ratio situations. However, simple LC measurements are unable to adequately explain the differences between cables we hear under proper listening conditions. Regardless, I have empirically found a strong correlation between increasing capacitance and dull, compressed sounding cables. I will be addressing this and other topics in a perhaps monthly editorial section I have planned for our newly Christened Website. Please note our Website is functional but not complete; photos and additional text are on the way soon!

D Lin Audio endorses a 90's style, bare bones, break all the rules business strategy during its initial start up phase. No high dollar advertising, no receptionists and especially no money draining, price inflating third party business deals. We do indeed have a solid uphill battle ahead to compete with the big boys in the mainstream audio arena. A trail of satisfied and hopefully vocal customers is by far our most cost-effective form of advertising. A $12,000 magazine ad for a product few have heard of would be nothing but a financial waste for D Lin Audio at this point. Regarding the high price of most audio equipment, I can offer nothing but sympathy. The market is very small, highly competitive and with probably the most shrewd of consumers as well. No matter how we have looked at it, a deal with a contract manufacturer to mass-produce the Silver Bullets would only mean more expensive cables. Nothing short of astronomical sales would compensate for the exponential increase in operating costs if we kept our prices the same.

I would like to bring this to a close with a few updates about the Silver Bullets. The Silver Bullets will be undergoing a cosmetic change by using colored Teflon instead of the clear with individual colored shrink tubing at the ends. This will be for two equal reasons: To distance our product from that of Kimber stylistically (the Silver Bullets are substantially different from the Kimber KCAG) and also to allow for more efficient assembly. We have had trouble with inconsistent shades of red shrink tubing and frankly feel the new cosmetics will be an improvement. Lastly, after numerous setbacks and problems to be solved, I have finally finished our first pair of speaker cables. I do not want to give away too much at this point except they too use our trademark multiple, very small gauge pure silver wire and are tightly hand woven for low inductance. For what it's worth, I have measured them to very respectable LC values. My initial report is that they have all the same qualities of balance and natural texture as the 4.0s and with a pronounced holographic imaging. They may not be appropriate for every system however as they offer incredibly high resolution and will reveal both the good and the bad. Price is projected to be $1100.00 per 8-foot pair and will require a several week wait.

That's all for now. Thank you again Mr. Chasin, and I wish you nothing but continued success with your most refreshing publication.

Sincerely,

Max J Kreifeldt
D Lin Audio

Copyright © 1998 Audiophilia Online Magazine Home