Silver Cable Overview: Part One 
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Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Lately I have taken an interest in small artisan audiophile product manufacturers.  The internet has allowed highly skilled entrepreneurs without large established infrastructures to sell their wares directly to consumers, many with trial periods and money back guarantees. You can find tube amplifiers, speakers, and all sorts of components available from small operations, and even one man shops. This overview is part one of a two part survey of four audio cable companies.

As many audiophiles are probably aware of, most high end audio signal cables employ hyper pure copper conductors. Copper is believed by many to be the most "neutral" sounding metal for cables. But many audiophiles and cable designers disagree. Silver, as a conductor, has a strong following in the perfectionist audio community.  Silver aficionados believe it offers more detail, more delicate highs, fuller bass, and a deeper soundstage.  Detractors of silver say it can sound harsh, or "bright". I, for one, do not believe this to be the case. Silver being labeled as "hot" sounding is a case of a rumor gone wild. Silver has one major technical advantage; when copper oxidizes, the conductivity diminishes. That's not so with silver oxide.  

I happen to be a silver cable proponent from a sonic perspective. I specifically prefer it between source and preamp. After much experimentation, I believe silver is silkier, smoother, and more realistic sounding. Of course, this is my specific, subjective preference. I came to arrive at this preference through much experimentation, listening tests, and many cable auditions.

RS Cables:

RS Cables was founded in the early 2000's by Richard Sachek, an audiophile frustrated by the astronomical prices of silver cables available from other companies. You can read my colleague Todd Whitesel's great review of the RS silver based cables here: Link. At $99 for a half meter pair, Todd thought they were a superb value.  Since Todd beat me the punch on the silver wires, Richard was gracious enough to send me two pairs of his Duet ($299 per half meter pair) interconnects, and one pair of his Pure Palladium ($799 per half meter pair) interconnects. The Duet features a triple nine (.999) pure palladium signal conductor and triple nine silver ground plane conductors. The Pure Palladium is 100% triple nine palladium. RS says the wires are "dead soft" annealed for optimum sonic performance. I asked Sachek to elaborate on this process and offered the following.

“Annealing is when the wire is super heated for a time and then allowed to cool slowly which increases the softness or ductility of the wire. We believe that this process is key to eliminating the "bright" or overly forward sonic characteristic that some audiophiles associate or stereotype with silver cables. The annealing process (actually "dead soft"annealing) is performed at the mill where our raw wire is drawn out. We then apply the Teflon insulation in-house.”

I knew little about Palladium before communicating with Sachek.  Palladium is a rare, silvery white metal that was discovered in 1803. Palladium, along with platinum rhodium, ruthenium, iridium, and osmium form a group of elements referred to as the platinum group metals. Platinum group metals share similar chemical properties, but palladium has the lowest melting point and is less dense. Palladium is used in a number of industries including medical, dental, energy, chemical, electronics, transportation, and many more. Because of its rare occurrence, it is a very expensive raw material.

The cables also feature tri braid geometry, and virgin Teflon and air dielectrics. The cables are finished with the well reviewed Eichmann Silver Bullet connector as standard. They are light and are easy to work with. I started out by using a half meter length of the Duet between my CD player and preamplifier.

Sound:

Ok, so how do they sound? In a word, fantastic. Buttery smooth, detailed, clean, and wide open.  The midrange was beautifully fleshed out and organic. The higher frequencies were gorgeously rendered as well, with a natural vividness that was very addicting.  At the other extreme, bass was taught, tuneful and weighty. No complaints there. After using a half meter length between source and pre, I installed a meter pair between preamp and power amp. What I got was more of what I describe above.  Highs were a touch more detailed, and the mids were a hint more fleshed out with an all RS installation.  I also tried the half meter Pure Palladium IC between source and power amp.  Although they were very, very close in overall sonic signature, the Pure Palladium was a touch, and I mean a touch, more refined.

I had the opportunity to try the Duets and Pure Palladium on a superb solid state integrated amplifier as well. The same characteristics were there. I enjoyed a very natural sounding presentation with no deficiency that I could detect.  I believe these cables will sound excellent in the majority of systems out there. This was my first exposure to palladium conductors, and I am very impressed.  Certainly, due to the rarity of the metal, they command a premium over the RS Silver Interconnect, but the risk free trial would enable any prospective buyer to compare.  Very highly recommended.


Q & A with Richard Sachek of RS Cables:

Q: In your mind, is there anything you can think of, materials, design, exotic metals, etc, that could justify a pair of interconnects or speaker cable costing $5000, $10,000, or even $32,000?

"No. I know what the raw materials cost and there is no way to justify such lofty prices. One of the things about the cable industry is that barriers to entry are relatively low compared with, say, power amplifiers. So you have a lot of cottage businesses offering some very good buys. Ours are the best, though!"

Q: What do you like personally about silver and palladium conductors as compared to copper?

"The resolution. It is very satisfying when a customer switches from copper to silver or palladium, then plays a favorite recording that they have listened to a million times and tells us that they are hearing new things." 

Q: What can you tell us about palladium? I'd bet most audiophiles know little about it.

"The excellent performance of palladium in audio cables can only be partially explained from a scientific standpoint because palladium is not one of the most conductive metals. However, palladium wire is virtually impervious to corrosion so cable performance will never ever deteriorate over time. Also, because the palladium wire does not corrode, we can use a very loose fitting insulation, which only makes partial contact with the wire, reducing potential coloration from the insulation. My interest in palladium within the audio realm springs from a glowing review that I read several years ago and we began experimenting with palladium wire shortly thereafter. Although tough to quantify, the synergy is impossible to dispute upon listening."

Q: Can you give us an idea of what your reference system consists of?

"I am in a temporary living situation right now while my home is being renovated, so I have a pretty modest system going. My most oft used source is a Rega P3 turntable with a RB600 tonearm and Dynavector 10X5 cart but I also have a Sony SCD-777 CDP and power is a Musical Fidelity A300 integrated. Speakers are an M-T-M design which I built myself, including the crossovers. And of course, the internal wiring is silver."


Q:
Lastly, vinyl or digital?

"Vinyl all the way."

Element Cable:

Element Cable was founded in 2003 by Anthony Wynn and Chris Wynn to offer audiophile grade cables at prices that were very fair, and affordable.  Element produces a full line of signal, speaker, video, and digital cables, as well as power cords.  I received two sets of their Silver Serenade interconnects (starting at $129) and a sample of their Red Storm power cords (starting at $69). Yes, those are the actual prices.

The Silver Serenade is made with 99.99% pure solid silver conductors and thin virgin Teflon dielectric cross-spiral geometry suspended in a flexible PE air tube. The cable is terminated with high grade Cardas SLVR silver RCA connectors, using WBT silver solder. As an upgrade option, Eichmann Silver Bullet connectors are also available. But I assure you; the standard Cardas connectors are very nice indeed. The outer jacket is an attractive light gray and the cable has a classy look. One would not have to shove these out of sight for fear of being ridiculed for buying "cheap" cables. As I will describe below, there is absolutely nothing about the performance of this cable that even hints at a modest price.  If I was a mega buck cable manufacturer, and I got a hold of a pair of Silver Serenade IC’s, I would be worried.

Sound:

I started as I did as before, installing a half meter pair of the Serenades between my CD player and preamp. My first impression was one of amazement. I heard all of the things I have come to expect from expensive interconnects with silver conductors, with not a nit to pick. The sound was just beautiful. All the delicacy, detail, imaging, and silky smooth high frequencies I could ask for. Bass was huge, articulate, and all my room could handle. Now I am wondering what the Signature line, Element’s more “upscale” offerings can deliver.

I then took a look at the Red Storm power cord. It is a three conductor 12 AWG tinned copper cable with Teflon insulation and double shielding. The Red Storm cord is matched with a high quality hospital grade Marinco plug and Schurter IEC. The connectors are commonly found on much more expensive power cables costing way more than the Red Storm.

I used the Red Storm mainly on my Naim Flatcap 2x, as Wynn suggested that digital sources commonly benefit the most. The Flatcap 2x is the external power supply for my Naim CD5x cd player. I was nothing less than knocked out by the results. Dynamics were immediately improved, along with bass extension and soundstage depth. The Red Storm , to these ears, bettered, or at the very least, equaled one of my own power cords costing five times as much. Very impressive, and also very highly recommended.

Q & A with Anthony Wynn of Element Cable:

Q: Is there anything in your mind that could justify a pair of interconnects or a set of speaker cables costing $5000, $10,000, or even more?

"If you consider the overhead expenses, R&D, labor, advertising, markups by the manufacturer and dealer, and if the cable uses exotic materials such as Palladium, Gold, etc., it's easy to see how a pair of cable can be priced at a few thousand dollars. But no ,not $10,000 and more."

Q:
Understood. But if we isolate just R&D, materials, and labor, would you say that high six figure cables seem to have no basis in reality in their pricing?

"If there is a cable worthy of a high six figure price tag, I have not encountered it."

Q:
Why do you think many audiophiles prefer silver conductors over copper?

"Silver is the best electrical conductor. With silver, you get a more direct, detailed, and transparent sound. But, copper remains the most popular conductor choice with audiophiles. It's tough to say which makes a better cable. There are things copper does better than silver such as tonal colors, richness, and body. It really all depends on system synergy and the listener's preference. For this reason, Element Cable designs our Signature line with different "flavors" to meet the preferences of all audiophiles."


Q:
Very interesting, can you elaborate a bit on how you can fine tune cables from your Signature line to meet a customers specific needs?

"Every conductor has its own characteristics, with experience, one can alter these characteristics to a certain degree. We don't fine tune each pair of cable to each customer. What Element Cable Signature does is to recommend which of our product has the tonal characteristics the individual is looking for. For instance, if a client is looking specifically for a warm, soft, and laid-back sound, we have a recommendation that meets his needs."

Q: Your cables are light and easy to work with. Do you believe that low mass cables are better?

"I've heard excellent designs with low mass and high mass. I've experimented with high mass damping compound in the past with great results. So no, I don't believe a low mass cable is better, it all depends on the whole make up of the cable."

Q: Can you give us an idea of what your reference system consists of and what you generally use as a source..vinyl, digital, etc?

"My system consists of Avalon Ascendant speakers,  Audio Valve (Germany) Tube amps and preamps, Michell Engineering turntable, Morch arm, and ZYX cartridge combo. Phono is Tom Evans "The Groove". For digital I use Sony XA9000es. I also have a solid state system. We use both systems in our cable testing as well as systems belonging to our audiophile friends."    

Q: Lastly, Do you believe the economic environment we are hopefully emerging from has given small firms like yours an advantage in that price to  performance ratio has never been more important to audiophiles?

"No, I believe the current state of our economy has hurt us all, companies large and small.  I recently read somewhere a list of prominent audio companies that have been a part of our hobby for a long time going under. A number of small companies has gone under as well. I do believe our clients appreciate our price to performance ratio and will continue to invest in quality cables, especially as the economy improves."

Conclusion of Part I:


Ten or fifteen years ago, it would not have been possible for small and direct to consumer audio cable companies to offer the type of quality that both RS Cables and Element Cable are offering at their low prices. Obscenely low that is, compared to some of their competitors who distribute through a traditional dealer only network, and spend loads on expensive full page ads in audio magazines.  If you believe spending a ton on cables will guarantee better results, then there is no need to read on. But if you are open minded, I assure you will be shocked at the level of performances from designers like Richard Sachek and Anthony Wynn. Both are extremely well versed in cable theory, and have somehow figured out how to bring to market superb cables that do not compromise on materials or construction. Both offer money back guarantees, but I'd bet they get very few cables back.


RS Cables: http://rscables.com
Contact Information: info@rscables.com

Element Cable:  www.elementcable.com
Contact Information: sales@elementcable.com


Reviewers Associated Equipment System 1:

  • CD Player: Naim CD5x with Flatcap 2X
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Perreaux Eloquence 150i.
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands.

 
Reviewers Associated Equipment 2:

  • CD Player: Marantz 5003
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3
  • DAC:CIA VDA-2 with XPS
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Revox A722
  • Speaker: Spendor S5e, Spendor S5R
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio
  • Accessories: Atacama Stands





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