Silver Cable Overview: Part Two 
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Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 03 March 2010

In the first installment of my silver cable survey (Link), I covered RS Cables and Element Cable products. In this second installment, I will be looking at silver cables by DH Labs, based in Alachua, Florida, and Decware, out of East Peoria, IL. I received samples of DH Labs Silver Revelation interconnects, and the Decware Silver Reference interconnects.

This survey has been extremely illuminating and an eye opener for me. It has reaffirmed for me that you can get performance approaching the very best for a small fraction of the price of the most expensive audio cables on the market.  Ultra pricey cables, in my opinion, have become somewhat of a status symbol. Cables have been called “audio jewelry” by some well known high performance audio reviewers, and I agree. However, I also believe they are a very important link in the chain, and can be considered a component in themselves.

Decware:

Decware is a direct to consumer out fit started by Steve Deckert about 14 years ago. They specialize in small, handmade SET tube amplifiers, preamplifiers, high efficiency loudspeakers, and cables. After initially introducing their Zen Triode amp, they have enjoyed a cult following.  Today they have a loyal, dedicated customer base. Selling direct has allowed Decware to sell at prices that are well below what audiophiles normally expect to pay for superbly engineered and hand crafted components. Under evaluation here is the Silver Reference interconnect, priced starting at $129 per half meter.

The Decware Silver Reference IC has a unique design. According to the Decware website, the conductors “are a rope lay grouping of flat silver ribbons wound around a bees wax impregnated cotton fiber core.” Deckert believes in low mass, low resonance, but robust cables. He says his designs will not put undue pressure on your components input jacks. According to Decware, the insulator is 94% air. My cables came with the Silver Xhadow Precision RCA connectors, and only silver solder was used to eliminate the interaction of unlike metals.

Sound:

I really enjoyed the sound of these cables from the start; a superbly balanced, full bodied presentation. The mids were especially sweet and liquid. These cables would be a perfect match with SET amps as the designer is a master SET amplifier maker. But they worked fabulously with my Audio Research and Naim equipment.

Overall I thought the Decware cables were very musical and ever so slightly mellow compared to other silver cables I have tested.  The other cables may highlight certain frequencies, which I don’t think the Decware cables do. They seem to be to be pretty neutral and deliver signals in high resolution. They performed at their very best between CD player and preamp. I recently received a copy of the new Legacy Edition of the recent Santana classic, Supernatural.  With the Silver Reference cables in place, the mix was huge, the bass was heavy (but nimble) and mids were oh so right.  On David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, a longtime favorite, I had never heard the mix so coherent, with the individual instruments easily followed in the sometimes dense mix.

I also really liked what I heard when I used the Decware cable between my preamp and power amplifier. Mids were luscious; and the overall presentation was full bodied.  The soundstage was focused and rock solid.  An all Decware wire up definitely has a beautiful synergy.  Yet again, mega priced cable makers should be worried. Decware cables were a superb value and absolutely recommended.



Q&A with Steve Deckert of DECWARE:

Q: Is there anything in your mind can justify an interconnect cable costing as much as a compact car?

No, in fact I find it irritating. It's not unlike wealthy women paying five figures for a designer hand bag. My irritation is however with the manufacturers, not the audiophiles buying it. The only reason we manufacture a cable is to offer a sure solution to our customers who feel their current cables may be holding the amp back. When they go on the Internet to research new cables they become overwhelmed with enough buzzwords, trademarks and nonsense that they have no hope of distinguishing good from bad.
 
Q: How did you arrive at the unique design of the Silver References Interconnects, and specifically the use of a bees wax core?

It's all about resonance control. The bee’s wax dampens the conductor and turns resonance into heat. Eliminating resonance from wire improves clarity, just as it does for tubes and components. Ever heard recordings where the image became artificially featured by jumping forward in the sound stage and taking on a strained sound? This is caused when a sudden transient of signal excites the conductors electrically and sound in the room cause physical vibration on the cable at the same time.
 
Q: What do you like about silver as a conductor? What do you think the appeal of silver is to a good portion of the audiophiles out there?

Silver is simply a better conductor than copper. It offers greater transparency. Something that is mistaken for brightness by a large portion of audiophiles out there because it simply lets them hear deeper into their gear than they are comfortable with.
 
Q: Can you tell us what your reference system is made up of? I’ll assume is mostly or all Decware!

Yes, I use our entire line of tube gear and loudspeakers as a reference. That combo can put together 25 different systems and sometimes that's what it takes to really find out how good a cable really is. Getting a cable to sound wonderful on a single system is fairly meaningless in the real world if you plan on selling them.

That said, my reference is my pair of Acoustat Monitors (full range electrostatics) with modified servo-charged 5000 volt tube amplifiers direct coupled to the panels. My source is a Teres Table with Fidelity Research silver wired arm and MC202 cartridge. I also have other arm/cartridge combinations I like to rotate. For digital I built myself a reference grade battery operated NOS dac I also have a multitude a consumer grade DACs (including our own) we keep around for comparison.

Q: Lastly, Vinyl or Digital?

I'm partial to true analog.  Digital is making a lot of progress.  I listen to it more than my vinyl and it sounds damn good as long as I don't play an LP during the same listening session and ruin it.  ;)

 

DH Labs:

DH Labs has been around since 1992. They make just about every type of audio or video cable you can think of. They have built a stellar reputation over the last 18 years. They became known for solidly engineered and well built products offered at very reasonable prices. DH Labs has an international dealer network, and unlike the other cable manufacturers featured in Part 1 and Part 2, they do not sell direct; unless there is no local dealer or a special modification is required..

Under evaluation is the DH Labs Revelation. The Revelation is the most expensive cable featured in this two part feature, priced starting at $399 for a half meter. As a matter of fact, it is the most expensive interconnect in the DH Labs product line.  According to the DH Labs website, the Revelation features "six pure silver conductors in an interleaved helical array. Each conductor is individually insulated in an air-spaced, tape wrapped version of our exclusive Air Matrix dielectric." The cable is finished in an attractive aqua blue jacket and comes packaged in a wooden box; a nice touch.

One major distinction of the Revelation is that it is terminated with DH Labs custom machined RCA connectors.  They are made with their proprietary "High Copper Alloy", that DH Labs claims is 99% pure copper. DH Labs also claims these RCA plugs have more copper content than any other copper connector on the market. The closest competitor, WBT, has only 68% copper content (according to DH Labs). They say this is important, as pure copper is vastly more conductive than brass; a commonly used combination. The DH connectors are the locking type and are very robust. It would take a serious amount of abuse to put a dent in these, and if used properly, should never wear out. The cable itself is a bit on the stiff side; so sharp bends are a bit tricky.

Sound:

The first thing I noticed about the Revelation is how BIG everything sounded. Instruments and voices were very lifelike and full bodied. Vocals sounded so human. I could detect little things like pursed lips, the gasp of a singer’s breath in between phrases, and even microphone pops. I could more easily delineate vocal lines where there were multiple singers, harmonies, or overdubs.  

Another thing that stood out was how quick and powerful transient sounds were, like the crack of snare drum or a syncopated brass line.  There was not a hint of edginess or so called “brightness”, nor a scintilla of fatigue factor. As a matter of fact, the Revelation pulls off an amazing trick, the ability to offer of a tidal wave of information, excellent sound staging, and superb transient response while sounding perfectly natural.

 

The last major component that impressed me was how big, articulate, and full the bass reproduction was.  For an example, the bass drum line that opens up the track “Alloway Grove” from Paolo Nutini’s debut These Streets was room shaking, but totally in control. The thumping bass line from Duffy’s “Rockferry”, from her album of the same name was monstrous.  

The Revelation struck me as a very focused, high resolution, yet musical cable. It’s a physically robust product and the custom locking RCA connectors are first class. I cannot imagine this cable being unable to work well sonically in most systems.  An unequivocal recommendation for silver enthusiasts.  Frankly, after hearing something like the Revelation, I would find it hard to go back to an all copper cable.


Q & A with Darren Hovsepian of DH Labs:

Q: As a cable manufacturer, is there anything you can think of that could justify a pair of Interconnects being priced at $10,000, $15,000, or even $32,000?

We have dissected many of these products, and the short answer is..........no.  But if the price of silver keeps climbing, that may change!
 
Q:
Your company got started in 1992 and you are still here, so you must be doing something right. Can you tell us how DH Labs got started and the secret to your longevity?

I started out custom making microphone cables by hand, for myself and others.  This gradually led to the development of an entire product line.  Today many of our cables use proprietary materials, such as our Air-Teflon Matrix dielectric and our HC copper alloy, used in some of our connectors.  Our customers really appreciate the fact that we put more money into our products and less into expensive advertising or fancy packaging.  We still make most of our cables in the USA, because we fell the quality U.S. cable manufacturing is unmatched.
 
Q:
What can you tell us about your custom machined high copper content connectors?

The copper alloy is made for us by a mill in the USA.  We then ship the rods to a factory in Taiwan that makes our connectors for us.  
 
Many cable manufacturers like to brag about the purity of their copper or silver in their cables, but they terminate those cables with brass connectors that are full of zinc, lead, tin, etc.  Our copper alloy is 99.3% copper and has an electrical conductivity of close to 95%, which is nearly 4 times higher than that of brass.

Q: Can you tell us about your reference system?

We like to keep both tube and solid state equipment around, so that we can test products under a variety of conditions.  I won't get to specific about makes and models, because we tend to rotate equipment in and out fairly regularly.
 
Q: Lastly, Vinyl or Digital?

Both.  But my personal favorite is still reel-to-reel tape.  So I guess that makes me an analog guy :)

Conclusion:

This overview of affordable silver interconnect cables has been very enlightening for me. It has reminded me that there are excellent high performance audio products that offer superb value from legitimate designers who neither have the time or inclination for fancy marketing, or questionable technical / scientific claims. Both Decware and DH Labs make superb cables that are based on solid engineering and are certainly made with care.  The Decware Silver Reference interconnects start at $129 per half meter, and are fitted with silver Xhadow RCA connectors.  The DH Labs Revelation are $399 per half meter, and feature a custom locking connector made of ultra pure copper. The Decware cables are available direct from the web and DH Labs through a local dealer.  Both cables are highly recommended.

 

Decware: www.decware.com

DH Labs: www.silversonic.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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