by Roy Harris
Data from a transport is usually transferred to a DAC via one of the following cables: COAX, USB, Toslink, Balanced. Years ago, Wadia and other manufacturers offered another option — ATT glass. I am unaware of the availability of glass cable as an interface for DACs in production.
Audio Alchemy was an early proponent of I2S as an interface for its transport and DAC. Currently, I am aware of two companies which use this interface, namely PS Audio and Stello. HDMI is most frequently found in video applications. For example, it is used between a cable box and TV set, between a DVD or Blue Ray player and TV set, or between a video player and a receiver, usually in the context of a surround sound system.
I do not recall seeing or hearing of a review of an HDMI cable used exclusively for audio. It is therefore possible that this review is the first of its type. I intend to follow up with reviews of at least two other HDMI cables. HDMI cables are designed for bandwidth and speed. CDs have less data stored on them than DVDs and Blue Ray discs.
The HDMI cable will feed a signal from the PS Audio Perfect Wave transport to the Perfect Wave DAC. This method is recommended by PS Audio as optimizing the performance of its flagship digital hardware. The 72 volt battery charge eliminates the need for break-in. I will follow up the individual reviews with a brief comparison of the significant differences in the effect of each cable upon the performance of my stereo system.
Note, the Audioquest cable is directional, and the preferred direction is indicated by arrows etched upon each connector. Prior to serious listening, I observed differences in sound when reversing cable direction. I elected to review the cable in the obverse direction, i.e., I connected the cable between transport and DAC with the arrows reversed. I did this because as I compared the sound associated with each orientation, I selected the direction which seemed most spectrally balanced. I communicated my findings to Joe Harley of Audioquest. He was surprised and suggested that following the direction indicated by the arrows should reduce grain and glare. However, I did not notice grain or glare in either direction. Rather, I noticed changes in frequency response. Joe said he would listen to several Coffee cables to see if he noticed any changes in grain or glare.
Wire is silver plated copper with no nickel layer. Connectors are 10 percent silver plated LGC copper with no nickel layer. Insulation on conductors is foam polyethylene. Wires are attached to connectors using silver solder. Each conductor is 28 AWG–a total of 19 strands.
5 CDs were selected–3 classical, 1 pop and 1 jazz. These 5 CDs will be used in all reviews of HDMI cables. As a reminder, I will reiterate my decision to have connected the cable in the opposite direction as the one recommended by the manufacturer.
The first selection was a solo harpsichord recording. The source was a performance by Sophie Yates from the disc, SCARLATTI IN IBERIA, Chandos 0635, track 1. The sound of the plucking of the strings did not obscure the body of the instrument. There seemed to a balance between both elements. The strings sounded solid and dense. While all harpsichords do not sound the same, I did not notice in errors in timbre. The harpsichord was centrally positioned between the speakers having a slightly distant perspective. The articulation of the strings had a natural , but not an overbearing percussiveness–a result of the expertise of the performert as well as the facility of the cable to communicate to the listener, the skill of the player and her control of the harpsichord.
The second selection from the classical genre, was the “Concerti Armonici” by William Van Wassanaer, with the Aradia Ensemble, led by Kevin Mellon, Naxos 8.55384, track 5. This was an ensemble of period instruments, which evinced a smoothness that belied the bite one often expects to hear from violins. When a stereo system exhibits phase or frequency response errors the strings can obscure the sound of the harpsichord. Although the latter was in the background. Its presence was noticeable at times. The proportion of string sound to that of the harpsichord was typical of a composition in which the harpsichord was not the solo instrument but rather acted in a supporting role. Strings were never forward and the frequency response seemed balanced. The music emanated from behind the speaker, exhibiting a mid to rear hall projection, enabling a listener to sense distance from himself to the performer. The strings sounded a tad soft, not sufficient to note a loss in clarity, but enabling the listener to attend to the music for a long period of time without a sense of fatigue and yet recognize and perhaps appreciate the nature of the instruments and the style (Baroque) in which they played. In short, the cable was a catalyst in the conveyance of the musicians’ intentions in a manner not inimical to the listeners’ ears.
The third disc was the last of the Classical selections. It consisted of a section, track 1, from Offenbach’s “Gaite Parisienne”, conducted by Arthur Fiedler with the Boston Pops, JVCXRC 0224-2. Dynamics were not over or under emphasized. The strings had no bite and seemed natural in timbre. The woodblock was positioned deep into the soundstage having both weight and clarity. The triangle was positioned somewhat further back into the orchestra than I am accustomed to hear, yet space between the two instruments was maintained, but less so than usual. The sound of the triangle did not ever emphasize the upper harmonics. Hence, it had a solidity with slightly less sparkle and articulation, yet one could still distinguish the wand from the instrument itself.
The fourth selection, I believe, is considered an audiophile favorite, namely Holly Cole, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, Alert Z2 81020, track 1. I noticed a bit more emphasis upon “s” consonants when the words “see”, and “obstacles” were sung. With respect to the acoustic bass, both body and strings were in proper proportion. The piano was in the background and the voice was centered between the speakers. However, there was a slight emphasis, upon the keys, relative to the wood body of the instrument. Not knowing how the recording was engineered, it is impossible to assign an explanation for my observations as either the recording or the cable, or both. I have heard this disc many times both at home and on other stereo systems. In each instance I noticed a subtle difference to the sound. What ever possible exaggeration I heard was slight in magnitude and in no way interfered with the enjoyment of the music.
The last of the 5 sources was Steely Dan, AJA, MCAD, track 3, “Deacon Blues”. Donald Fagen’s voice was, clear, smooth and at the same time, slightly distant. Cymbals were not obtrusive sounding, while laid back, and the chorus did not exhibit any smearing, or congestion, sounding clear, full and not etched. Instruments filled most of the space behind the speakers and presented a mid to rear hall perspective. While this recording has been criticized for its subpar sound quality, I find it an effective way of highlighting flaws in a stereo system. In spite of the dubious sound quality, I found the timbre of the saxophone, while not totally accurate, reveal its tenor-like characteristics, and in no way sounded like an alto.
The terms natural, balance, mid to rear hall, smooth, and somewhat distant have been noted as the salient affects of the cable upon the sound of my stereo system.
One of the challenges of any reviewer is facing the fact that the sound of a recording is unknown. Those present at the recording session may be more familiar with the sound of a recording than a reviewer or listener, regardless of the opportunity to audition the disc on a variety of stereo systems. While the experience of a reviewer may reveal some consistent sonic attributes, variations in sound will be heard at different venues. The personnel at the recording studio can hear the musicians live, but, as they analyze the recording it will be auditioned through electronic equipment which will produce some distortions and therefore present a particular perspective of the sound of the music, and thus the definitive sound of the recording will never be known. Reviewers and non-reviewers who own a copy of the performance , i.e., a recording, can develop some level of confidence regarding its sound which is probably true.
I refer to the above paradigm for two reasons. First, as an observation which should be considered when evaluating equipment for various reasons, e.g., reviewers and potential purchasers of equipment, to realize the risk of making judgments in absence of complete information, while alleging familiarity. There is a risk in making an error when relying on that which is probably true. Second, in the context of my experience listening to the Holly Cole CD, with its audible sibilance.
I cannot be sure to what extent both the recording and the HDMI cable contributed to the slight exaggeration of sibilance. It is possible that the cable was partly responsible in reducing what sibilance was on the recording, accurately provided a conduit of what was on the recording or added some SPL to the upper midrange.
What was heard on the first selection was in contrast to the absence of any peak in the upper midrange observed on the other four recordings. Thus, I would opine, albeit based upon a small sample, that the cable favors truth over beauty, but not exaggerations in any frequency range.
At no time was their a perception of unpleasantness, and as I remarked, one could listen to a variety of recordings for long periods of time without experiencing any fatigue. At no time did the music sound analytical, but maintained that rare combination of resolution without any negatives associated with the term.
Digital Hardware: PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport and DAC
Preamp: Bent TVC passive preamp
Amplifier: VTL Deluxe 120
Speakers: Quads Unlimited Quad 57 and Magnepan 1.6
Interconnects: Ear to Ear and Soundstring
Speaker Cable: Ear to Ear
Power Cords: Ear to Ear and MAC Burley
Accessories: PS Audio Juice Bar and Balanced Power Technology power strip,
Sound Fusion Sound Busters, furniture foam, Egg Crate Mattresses,
Circuit Breaker Filters, Millenium Weight, Ennacom Filters,
Room Tunes and maple bases, and the Z Systems Z Sleeve
Source: Manufacturer Loan