Roy Harris -- I was recently contacted by Miranda Billing, a representative of Harmonic Technology. She was previously associated with another company, Legenburg, whose cables I had reviewed, years ago. She asked me if I was interested in reviewing the latest version of the Melody Link interconnect, the Mark III version. After briefly perusing the company’s website, reading a description of the Melody Link MK III, I noticed that at the time, that there was no review of the cable linked to the website.
The Melody Link MK III, contains both continuous cast silver and copper wire. The combination, according to the company’s design engineers, is to provide a balanced frequency response and avoid an emphasis upon bass frequencies, given the particular cable design, which I will discuss shortly.
I own and have reviewed a Neotech single crystal silver cable and have owned a continuous cast copper cable. My experience with such cables is that its sound properties include a balanced frequency response and high resolution.
The geometry is balanced symmetric. There are 8 PE tubes arranged in a circle, and an additional hollow PE tube passing through the center of the cable. Continuous cast silver conductors are placed in the middle of two PE tubes on one side of the cable, and two continuous cast copper conductors are placed in the middle of two PE tubes on the other side of the cable. Thus, the conductors are parallel to each other and do not touch each other at any time. One conductor is solid core, the second is multi-gauge, multi-stranded. The 4 conductors combine to a thickness of 19 gauge.
Surrounding the PE tubes is PTFE tape. I would conjecture the tape is a damping material. A copper mylar foil covers the PTFE tape and a braided copper shield is the outer conductor, while the outer covering is a PVC jacket. The shield is connected to ground at the source end only. The copper wires are also connected to ground, while the silver wires are connected to hot. Thus, the cable is directional.
The connectors are Neotech gold plated over copper, and the connection uses silver solder.
I was provided with one meter to interface a CD player and preamp and 6 meters to connect from preamp to amp. Price is $600 for one metre; each additional meter costs $360.
While the manufacturer suggests about 50 to 100 hours, I provided a continuous signal of two weeks in duration by placing a CD into a Pioneer universal player in my second system and placing it in repeat mode.
I noticed a very significant change after 50 hours. Initially, the cable was grainy and thin. After 50 hours, the cable became full sounding, and grain free, the cable’s sound opened-up and provided greater resolution without any obvious peaks. My second system consists of a Fisher 400 receiver, a pioneer CD player and a pair of small (mini-monitor) AR speakers.
After breaking in the cable in my second system, I placed it in my main system, listening to a number of discs for about three days to ensure that there were no further changes to the sound of my stereo system during that period.
Among the recordings I listened to, included, Ravel’s “Alborado del Gracioso”, conducted by Ernest Ansermet, and Offenbach’s “Gaite Parisienne”, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. In both discs, I noticed a very slight reduction in depth, compared to what I have heard, using other cables.
In the Ravel selection, there is a brief clarinet solo at the beginning of the piece and an extended bassoon solo, later on. In both instances, these instruments were not positioned as deep into the orchestra as I have heard in the past. The foreshortening between the background instrument and foreground instruments was very slight and did not affect the enjoyment or thematic elements of the music
Regarding the “Gaite Parisienne”, a woodblock was positioned slightly closer to the triangle. Again, the foreshortening between these instruments was slight and insignificant.
I will be making many statements of a comparative nature. Please keep in mind that such statements regarding an attribute of the cable refer to “other cables I have auditioned in my stereo system”. I will avoid repeating the aforementioned phrase to keep my remarks pithy and keep this review as terse as possible.
I began my musical odyssey with my favorite Steely Dan recording, AJA, MCAD 37214, Track 3, Deacon Blues”. Donald Fagan’s voice was fuller sounding, cleaner and clearer. There was greater impact from a kick drum, probably a consequence of more energy in the mid-bass region. The chorus was clearer and more articulate, enunciating the “x” in “saxophone”, rather than “ks”, which I have heard many times using other cables. The saxophone solo sounded different. Although poorly recorded and somewhat grainy-sounding, the timbre was more natural, and the sound of the reed was more evident. Its presentation was unmistakably that of a tenor rather than an alto.
An audiophile favorite and one of two tests of treble response, was my next selection, namely Holly Cole, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, Alert Z2 81020, track 1. I was very surprised that there was no sibilance from Holly Cole’s voice. I have auditioned this track many times, at shows and on my own stereo system, and have always noticed some degree of emphasis on the letter “s”. Instead, all consonants sounded natural, as if Holly Cole was singing without a microphone. Her voice was very full bodied aided by an extension in her lower register. I could now discern the extent of her vocal range. I detected an absence of emotion associated with her singing, especially when she sings “all of my bad feelings have gone away”. There is a slight emphasis on the word “bad”, but no sign of happiness that one would expect when one’s bad feelings have disappeared. Thus, her words and the lack of emotional expression are not congruent, and indicative of a monotonic delivery of the lyrics.
The acoustic bass was perceived to be larger than usual, having greater extension in the bass range, and exhibiting greater impact in the vibration of the wood body. In addition, there was greater differentiation between the sound of the wood body and the plucked strings. One could sense a greater separation of the strings from the body of the instrument
With the absence of sibilance, I conjectured that a possible explanation could be an attenuation in the upper mid range/ and or treble region. I intended to listen carefully to other recordings to try to confirm my speculation.
I next evaluated bass response, selecting my reference disk, Bela Fleck, FLIGHT OF THE COSMIC HIPPO, Warner Brothers 9 26562, track 4, which features an extended electric bass solo. I first noticed a change in the sound of an electric bass and greater decay time of a cymbal, during the bass solo. The vibration of the wood body was more controlled, and there was greater resolution of the plucked strings. The vibrating wood body did not obscure the sound of the strings.
The next recording gave me an opportunity to evaluate treble response, as it features several violin solos. I selected Dave Grusin, TWO WORLDS, Decca 012 157 960, track 8. The transcription of a composition by Bartok commences with a short piano introduction. The piano had greater bass extension, sounded more full-bodied, larger in size, and more natural in timbre. The violin exhibited a more realistic balance between the sound of the wood body and string tone—closer to what you might experience in the presence of a live violin. While the treble sounded smoother, it occurred without a loss in resolution or attenuation. Thus there was greater emphasis in the lower midrange and/or upper bass. The violin seemed further behind my right speaker than usual and the strings, as a whole were perceived as thicker. Lee Ritenour’s acoustic guitar was also perceived as larger in size and also associated with a thicker guitar string. It too sounded more natural in timbre.
I continued my investigation into the sonic attributes of the cable, with a focus on dynamics. I selected Shostakovich’s, Polka from “The Bolt”, sourced from a disc on the Opus 3 label, TEST RECORD 1, CD 7900, track 5. At the beginning of the selection, I set my Radio Shack meter at 80 DB. There were passages that registered below 70 DB and the maximum SPL was about 85 DB. Instruments of a symphonic band were arrayed across the rear wall behind my speakers. Three solo instruments were featured—a piccolo, bassoon and trombone.The piccolo was in front of the other two, midway between the center and the right speaker, the trombone was located behind and to the right of the piccolo and the bassoon was located to the left of the left speaker and behind the piccolo. The piccolo sounded smooth in the treble, more so than usual, without any hint of a dip in the treble. The bassoon had slightly deeper bass response than usual, and all instruments were rendered more realistic in timbre.
It is useful to test a component’s mettle with complex material. I selected an orchestral recording of a familiar work, namely Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italian”, conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson leading the New London Symphony Orchestra, from a Chesky CD, CD 12, track 1. In my opinion this CD has poor sound quality and loses much of the realism of the sound of the cymbal. In fact, I have yet to find an Orchestral CD that retains timbral integrity of a cymbal crash. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. [Russian Easter Festival Overture/LPO/Serebrier on Reference – Ed]
In spite of the dubious recording quality, there were some improvements in sound. I perceived a somewhat smoother string tone, the orchestra as a whole was more full bodied and the brass section, especially the trumpets, had no edge. There was a series of cymbal crashes, about 2 minutes into the track. The last of them was characterized by audibly greater decay time. The leading and trailing edge of the transients were clearer, and the cymbal crash exhibited a longer decay time. In addition, the sound of the cymbal crash more closely represented the sound of brass. I own an orchestral cymbal, and it serves as a reference when listening to recordings of cymbals.
For my last selection, I have chosen a torture-test for many stereo systems. It is a recording of the Buddy Rich Big Band, recorded live at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, during the year 1997. I have been in attendance at many big band concerts, including those of Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Gil Evans. If you sit too close the sound is often brash and aggressive. I have listened to this recording several times on my own stereo system, and along with some older big band recordings on the RCA label, are hard to listen to for more than a half an hour. If one’s stereo system is not “well-behaved”, such a recording can highlight its flaws. The recording in question is taken from a Pacific Jazz release, titled MERCY, MERCY. Its numerical designation is 7243 8 54331. I selected the title track, track 1.
The track begins with a drum solo. Immediately, I heard a smoother sounding cymbal, with less of an edge. The leading edge of the transient was a bit rounder, but I did not sense a loss of resolution. There was greater impact in the mid bass, i.e., the kick drum sounded more forceful. The brass instruments still sounded aggressive, but smoother, with less of a bite. The result was a more listenable experience, while still recognizing the “raw”, unpolished sound of a jazz band, not unlike my experiences at jazz concerts. However, in the past the sound was overwhelming after a time. The Melody Link MK III removed the harshness, so I had no problem listening to the entire CD.
Having extracted what I believe are the attributes of the cable under review, I now offer a hypothesis as to the reason for the absence of sibilance on the Holly Cole CD.
I conjecture that some of the intensity of sibilance heard on stereo systems is the result of non-musical “information” combined with musical “information”. As the Melody Link MK III is, to my ears, an extremely low noise product, the SPL of the sibilance has been attenuated. In addition, the presence of additional energy in the bass region shifts attention away from the treble and changes the frequency response balance. Combine the two aforementioned factors, and, possibly, sibilance goes away.
The Melody Link MK III is a very quiet cable, capable of transmitting a very pure signal. I became aware of this when listening to the first movement of Cesar Franck’s “Symphony in D”, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, directing the Orchestre National de France, from a Deutsche Grammophon release, 400 070-2.
The marking of the first movement is Lento—Allegro non troppo. Having listened to many recordings of this composition, I can say that his timing (19 minutes, 20 seconds) is slower than many other conductors, and about one minute slower that the version conducted by Andrew Litton. What makes Bernstein’s performance unusual is several rests he takes at the beginning of the movement. This creates a feeling of graveness, seriousness, and almost a sense that one is attending a funeral. It is the cables ability to create total silence and a pure signal, which enables the listener to concentrate fully and hear exactly what the effect of Bernstein’s interpretation is.
As a result of possible questions regarding the treble response and resolution of the Melody Link Mk III, a consequence of the absence of sibilance on the recording DON’T SMOKE IN BED, I am presenting three examples of its resolution and treble response capabilities, below:
First I noticed greater cymbal decay and clarity in a cymbal crash from the CD on Chesky of “Capriccio Italian”. Second, I noticed greater cymbal decay from AJA and Bela Fleck FLIGHT OF THE COSMIC HIPPO. The third example is taken from a performance of “La Mer”, conducted by Leopold Stokowski leading the London Symphony Orchestra, London 417 799. On this recording, percussion instruments exhibiting fundamentals in the upper region, e.g., bells, located behind the orchestra, recorded at low SPLs, are audible, even in the presence of other instruments in the foreground recorded at higher SPLs.
The cable has an uncanny facility of enhancing instrumental timbre on all recordings. Other attributes include a smooth treble response, greater extension in the bass and greater impact in the mid bass, a differential of at least 18 DB between soft and loud musical passages, and a very slight foreshortening of sound stage depth from two recordings. In both cases, the extent of the loss in depth was insignificant and had no bearing on the ability to enjoy the music.
As I write this section, I am listening to Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, conducted by Claudio Abbado, leading the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, From a Deutsche Grammophon disc, DGG 445238. It is an outstanding performance, emphasizing tonal color over bombast. The sound is luscious and tactile, replete with dynamic contrasts, and tympani with lots of impact. Without a doubt, this recording represents one of the most realistic sounds of a recorded orchestra in my collection—especially the brass section, which is extraordinary full-bodied.
Further information: Harmonic Technology