by Roy Harris
This is the second in a two part series of reviews of silver cables.
As previously mentioned in my review of the Neotech NEI-1002, I was given the names of three manufacturers of silver cable to consider for review — two relatively expensive, and one inexpensive.
This cable is relatively inexpensive. A one meter pair has a retail price of $150.
As I also mentioned in the Neotech review, there are three characteristics that are often attributable to silver cable, namely, frequency response imbalances–a peaky treble, a dip in the bass, and distortion as a consequence of impurity in the metal.
The challenge for the Silver Solids is to avoid the aforementioned problems, provide increased resolution, maintain a balanced frequency response and a full-bodied sound. The design of this cable is much simpler than that of the Neotech in that the only material surrounding the wires is Teflon.
Mark Stager, the designer suggested that I review both links, i.e., from CD player to preamp and from preamp to amp.
Thus, the subject of the review is the following two cables:
1 1 meter Silver Solids at $150 per pair
1 20 foot silver solids at $625 per pair
I would add three facts which are not on the website:
1) the geometry is a simple twist
2) the design criteria is the creation of a cable with no signal loss, I.e., “input-output”
3) manufacturer claims the cable is within .1 DB from 20HZ to 20 KHZ
I followed my usual cable break-in procedure. I initially connected them to the Fry Baby for five days, and then passed an analog signal from a DAC. I chose music which featured female voice, violin, harpsichord and other instruments, to provide a thorough test of the character of the cable. I used The Vincent CD player as the digital source for the following 7 selections:
First up was Holly Cole, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, Alert Z2 81020. This is a close miked recording. One would expect to hear some sibilance. In fact sibilance was audible, but all words beginning with the letter ’s’, were diminished in intensity, relative to other cables. The fingering of the bassist produced clarity of execution, but the wood body did not resonate with as much authority as I am accustomed to hearing.
My reference harpsichord CD is a recital by Sophie Yates playing the music of Scarlatti and Spanish Baroque composers. I selected track one from the Chandos disc, CHAN 0635. I noticed a difference in the timbre of the harpsichord, compared to its sound when other cables were in the system. The instrument sounded more percussive. There was greater emphasis upon string tone relative to the body of the instrument. While the instrument sounded more distant, there was some loss of weight, relative to the sound of the instrument listening with other cables, including the Neotech. Of course the attack and release was clear but the strings sounded less rounded.
I decided to pull out one of my CDs to assess the deep bass response. In this case I chose Bela Fleck, FlLIGHT OF THE COSMIC HIPPO, Warner Brothers 9 26562, the title track. On this disc, Victor Wooten has an electric bass solo. I focused on the quality and quantity of bass. I noticed a slight loss in extension in the lowest octave of the instrument, compared to the Neotech and some other copper cables. There was no loss of detail within its audible range. Thus the only issue was bass extension.
Cymbals are another instrument useful for assessing treble response. I selected a Chesky CD — a recording of ‘Capriccio Italien’, conducted by Alexander Gibson , with the New Symphony Orchestra of London, Chesky CD 12, track 1. As for the orchestra itself, I find this a mediocre recording, but not objectionable using the Silver Solids. I have heard this recording under other circumstances, e.g., with other cables and playing on other stereo systems, sound aggressive. The trumpets can sound a bit ragged and challenge some stereo systems, especially with amplifiers that are driven too hard or have a hot treble. In my system, the trumpets were well behaved, exhibiting natural timbre. There were several cymbal crashes. At the end of the final crash, I observed some decay and I could recognize that there were two cymbals striking each other. There was no veiling, smearing or slurring which can make two cymbals sound like one, or make it difficult to tell how many cymbals have been recorded.
I always include the CD AJA in every review. The CD was recorded in 1984, and has been remastered several times. Its identifying number is MCAD 37214. Donald Fagen’s voice was smooth, full and clear. However, the sound of trailing consonants in some words were a bit indistinct. Moreover, the striking of the wood drum stick against the cymbal was less clear than heard using other cables, especially the Neotech and Soundstring combination. The tenor sax sounded very full, partly because notes in the lower register sounded louder than those in the upper register, again, in comparison to the Neotech/Soundstring cable configuration, as well as other cables. Perhaps there was a reduction in treble harmonics.
Another test of treble frequency is the sound of a violin. I recently added the disk TWO WORLDS to my collection of reference CDs. I first sampled it for review purposes in my last review, the Neotech NEI-1002. It made sense to include it for this review. The instrumentalists feature Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Gil Shaham and Julian Llloyd Webber.
While the piano presented a realistic timbre, the sound of the violin favored the strings over the wood body. The balance between the two was slightly off. In addition, there seemed to be some attenuation in the treble range, as compared to what I have heard on other stereo systems, and with other cable on my system. The acoustic guitar played by Lee Ritenour was highly resolved. One could hear the fingers move up and down the guitar. However, the nylon strings had less weight, and sounded less dense than I experienced when the Neotech and Soundstring cables were in my stereo system.
The last selection, so I thought at the time, was a CD containing the Music of Offenbach, namely ‘Gaite Parisienne’, as conducted by Arthur Fiedler, from the JVC mastered CD, JVCXR 0224, track 1. The sound of the orchestra — its dynamics and balance of ensembles sounded very close to the Neotech/Soundstring pair. Differences between the Silver Solids and Neotech/Soundstring pair were manifested in the spacing between the woodblock and triangle, which was reduced, and in the sound of the triangle, which lost focus and sounded a bit diffuse, the consequence of which was the difficulty in hearing each strike of the wand upon the body of the triangle.
At this point I disconnected the 20 foot pair of Silver Solids, and put back the Soundstring cable. I was about to compose my concluding remarks, when I recalled a comment made by the designer, regarding a principle of cable evaluation.
Stager suggested that the best approach to evaluate a cable was to assess its merits using the best source, and note how well the cable contributed to realistic timbre and a recreation of the acoustics of the recording venue. When I reviewed the Neotech cable I commented that the sound of an orchestra was more life like than any I had previously experienced, given the limitations of 16 bit CDs. Therefore I selected my ‘best’ source, a track on a Hi Rez HRX Reference Recording sampler (24/176.2), which contained the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Symphonic Dances’. I also decided to compare two other reference cables to the Silver Solids, namely, the Neotech and the Fusion Audio Romance II — a gold cable.
In order to play a high resolution DVD, I needed to read the disc on the PS Audio Perfect Wave transport and send the signal to the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC.
The Stager Silver Solids provided a rear hall perspective, and was the most realistic of the three cables in retrieving the ambience of the hall from the aforementioned location. It excelled in presenting realistic micro dynamics. In addition there was a lot of space separating the percussion instruments in the rear of the hall, from other ensembles of the orchestra. The soundstage width
encompassed the full length of the rear wall. Consistent with a rear-hall location, one could sense the space extending from the orchestra to the listener. The mid bass (tympani) was quite authoritative, and in general, the timbre of all instruments was very natural.
The Neotech NEI-1002 silver cable presented a front hall perspective, probably around the fifth row. It provided the most resolution of the three cables, which is not surprising, given a front hall position. Yet a balanced frequency response was maintained. The contrast between soft and loud passages was not as great as what I heard with the Silver Solids. This phenomenon is obvious. As one approaches the source of a sound, loudness increases, and the differential between soft and loud, decreases.
The Fusion Audio cable presented a mid hall position. Instruments sounded most full bodied and rich of all the cables. While there was less resolution available to the listener than the other cables provided, bass was slightly less extended. Treble frequencies were somewhat attenuated as well. As to micro dynamics, its ability to present them was consistent with the distance between listener and orchestra. It provided a greater contrast between soft and louder passages than the Neotech, but less than that of the Silver Solids. Within its range, bass was fullest of all the cables, but was least detailed. Soundstage width was on a par with the other cables, but depth was foreshortened somewhat.
So there you have it — three perspectives of the sound of a recorded orchestra
The following is a brief summary of the characteristics of each cable:
The Neotech was most resolving, while maintaining a balanced frequency and presented the listener the closest location to the orchestra.
The Fusion Audio, while somewhat further back, gave the richest , perhaps somewhat colored presentation.
The Stager Sound Silver Solids gave the listener the most distant position, sounding most dimensional, and excelling at micro dynamics and ambient retrieval.
Earlier in the review, I stated that the reader could expect a surprise. In fact there were two surprises. One of which I was aware, the other which was unanticipated. The first surprise was the inclusion of a high resolution recording. I am confident that very few reviews incorporate the Hi Rez format in a review.
The second surprise was a rear hall orchestral perspective. I doubt many engineers would opt to create such an effect. It was a surprise for me, as I had not heard this disc while the Blair Chapman preamp was a component in my stereo system.
As for the Stager Silver Solid cable(s), the attributes that may predispose audiophiles — unbalanced frequency response, a hot treble and lots of distortion, not to purchase silver cables were not observed.
Thus, no sonic character was exhibited which would distinguish the cable from a typical copper-based cable.
Some flaws were revealed, specifically, minor losses at the frequency extremes. Such imperfections are not unique to silver cables. In addition, some recordings exhibited a distance from the listener , which might be considered a coloration. Since this factor occurred sporadically, it may also be attributable to the cable’s ability to reveal the ambience of the recording venue, as it did when the Reference Recording HRX selection was introduced.
With respect to the differences in frequency response between the two silver cables, It is possible that connector and wire gauge differences may explain variations in performances..
Specifically, the composition of the Canare F-10 may be partly responsible for differences in frequency response. I own several pairs of cable terminated with Canare F-10s. It is an inexpensive connector and may be deficient at the frequency extremes. I realize that the counter argument of the manufacture is that the cables measures very well from 20 HZ to 20 kHZ. This issue can only be resolved by comparing two identical cables, one terminated with an F-10, the other with the Neotech Rhodium-plated connector.
The other variable is conductor gauge. Twenty Four gauge conductors are .02 inches, while 22 gauge conductors are .025 inches. The difference between the two gauges in percentage terms is 25 %. Such a difference may be audible.
While deviations from neutrality were audible, they were not of a magnitude to disguise the timbre of an instrument. For example, although a tenor saxophone lacked treble extension, it did not sound like an alto, or a baritone. The instrument retained sufficient cues to correctly identify it. An acoustic bass, whose lowest notes were slightly reduced in volume still would not be mistaken for another instrument.
It took a high resolution disc to reveal the cable’s strength — ambient retrieval. I listened to other tracks on the disc. The other tracks revealed differences in the acoustics of each recording venue.
In spite of the minor flaws displayed by the Silver Solids, I noted their ability to reveal differences in the sound of recordings. When I realized that the Blair Chapman preamp required a minor repair, after the end of the review, I decided to listen to some of the same selections on another tubed-preamp. I immediately noted differences in the effect of the preamp upon the change in the sound of the recordings. Thus, I feel confident that the cable is suitable for revealing differences in components as well as differences in recordings.
The Silver Solids are suitable for most stereo systems, except those that emphasize the treble or may be significantly lacking in bass extension. I think the Silver Solids contribution to the recreation of the acoustics of the recording venue is its most salient feature for potential cable buyers. Considering its price and the fact that all components are imperfect, in my opinion the price to performance ratio makes the Stager Sound Systems Silver Solids an excellent value.
Speakers: Quad 57s and Magnepan 1.6s
Amplifier: VTL Deluxe 120s
Preamp: Bent TVC passive and Blair Chapman
CD Player: Vincent CD S6
Transport: PS Audio Power Wave
DAC: PS Audio Power Wave
Interconnects: Neotech and Soundstring
Speaker Cable: Ear to Ear
Power Cords: PS Audio Lab I, MAC Burley and Emotiva
Room Treatment: Room Tunes and Eggcrate mattresses
Passive Line Conditioners: PS Audio Noise Harvesters, Alan Maher Filters and Quantum Filters
Power Strips: PS Audio Juice Bar and Balanced Power Technology
Anti Resonant Devices: Sound Fusion Sound Boosters placed over 1½ inch solid maple
The Stager Sound Systems Silver Solids Interconnect Cables
Price: US$150 for a 1 meter pair
Source: Manufacturer loan