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WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 Interconnects & Speaker Cable, and

Starlight 5 Digital Cable

July, 2004

Jason Serinus

 

Specifications:

 

Gold Eclipse 5 Interconnects:

0.5 meter - $895
1.0 meter - $1495
1.5 meter - $2095
2.0 meter - $2695


Gold Eclipse 5 Speaker Cables:

2.0 meter $6450/$6675 bi-wired
2.5 meter $7950/$8175 bi-wired
3.0 meter $9450/$9675 bi-wired


Gold Starlight 5 Digital Audio Cables:

0.5 meter $320
1.0 meter $495
1.5 meter $670
2.0 meter $845


WireWorld, Inc.

www.wireworldaudio.com

Introduction

One of my first initiations into the world of high-end audio came over ten years ago when I was unexpectedly confronted with a choice of interconnects. As I was about to purchase a Rotel CD player, the dealer told me I would have to spend at least $78 for a pair of Audioquest Ruby interconnects in order to hear what the player had to offer.

I was incensed! $595 for the CD player, plus $78 for the interconnects, plus tax? No way!!! Why in the world wouldn’t the Radio Shack look-alike interconnects that came free with the player suffice?

As I was screaming bloody murder, the dealer continued to urge me to try the wires. After they hosed me down, toweled me off, and presented me with a box of chocolates, I reluctantly consented. Just to prove how crazy the whole thing was, I also took home a $110 pair of AudioQuest Quartz interconnects, positive that they would sound no different. I’ll show them, was the gist of my internal dialogue.

But just in case I was about to make a fool of myself, I felt a need to cover my bases. Before returning home, I headed to another high-end dealer and borrowed a $55 pair of MIT interconnects. I was certain that, even if Rotel’s stock interconnects weren’t quite as good as the others, MIT’s $55 interconnects would do the trick.

The comparison was a no-brainer. Rotel’s stock interconnects stank compared to the Ruby. The less expensive MIT conveyed less information than the Ruby, but was light years ahead of Rotel’s freebies. The worst news, however, was that there was no way getting around the fact that the $110 Quartz sounded the best of the lot. To paraphrase our dear departed Gertrude, there was so much more there, there. I bowed my head, shuffled my feet, shelled out $110 plus tax, and went home to enjoy.

As I handed over my money, I was given a pamphlet from AudioQuest that explained why their technology was superior to any else’s. But when I then read literature from other companies, they debunked AudioQuest’s technology and praised their own. Many claims ran directly counter to others. In short order, I learned the cardinal rule of audiophile shopping: No matter what a manufacturer has to say, it’s how it sounds with the equipment you mate it with that matters.

Skip ahead well over a decade to the present. For the past several years, my speaker cable and interconnects have mostly consisted of Nordost products. I initially listened to CDs via balanced Quattro Fil digital interconnects, single-ended Quattro Fil interconnects, and SPM speaker cable. Then I had the good fortune to upgrade to Nordost Valhalla interconnects, digital interconnects, and speaker cable. My rave review of these top-of-the-line Nordost products appeared in the July, 2002 edition of Secrets.

Since writing that review, a slew of major system upgrades has greatly increased my understanding of and appreciation for Nordost products. The only components and accessories remaining in my system from July, 2002 are the PS Audio Power Plant (significantly upgraded with MultiWave II), a Michael Green Ultra Rack, and assorted Shakti Stones. My power cables have been upgraded to Elrod EPS and EPS Signature, and the power source itself has been improved thanks to a dedicated 30-amp line and PS Audio Ultimate Outlet.

Equally important, I moved from Chez Serinus’ 14.5’ wide x 17’ deep x 8.5’ high listening space (complete with spongy floor) to Casa Bellecci-Serinus’ audiophile dream of a listening area. The room is 25.5’ deep and 9’2” high, opens to 37’ on either side of the speakers, and boasts a much more solid floor. As a result, the system sounds far more neutral, revealing, three-dimensional, and musically involving. Equally important, the bass is far more under control. This leaves me in a much better position to evaluate how a change of cabling can affect sound.

Well over a year ago, my colleague John Marks urged me to take a listen to WireWorld’s top-of-the-line cabling. Thanks to John’s intervention, David Salz of WireWorld suggested I review a complete complement of Gold Eclipse 5 interconnects and speaker cable.

David and I finally met at CES 2004, where we discussed at length what cabling I needed for my system. I made it a point to discuss my tight equipment and music reviewing schedule, and to request cables that had been broken-in beforehand. A few months later, a large box filled with Gold Eclipse 5 single-ended interconnects and bi-wired speaker cable, Gold Starlight 5 balanced digital audio cables, and Silver Electra 5 power cords, arrived for review.

They Even Have a Cable Comparator Disc to go With the Cables

Even before the cabling arrived, David sent me WireWorld’s Cable Comparator Disc. This disc features a live jazz vocal performance by Jackie Ryan, and procedes to play it first through a “direct connection,” then through six progressively more expensive models of WireWorld cabling. For comparison, it also plays the performance through cables from other manufacturers. One of these comparisons involves Nordost Valhalla, my reference cable. Perfect! The final track plays the music through WireWorld Atlantis 5 in reverse direction.

I must confess that the Cable Comparator Disc got temporarily misplaced when I moved from Chez Serinus to Casa Bellecci-Serinus. When I finally dug out the CD ROM and took a listen, I had already completed my initial sonic evaluations of the cabling.

I soon discovered that Gold Eclipse 5 is not included on the disc. When I asked David Salz about this, he provided the following explanation:

“It is unfortunate that the Gold Eclipse 5 was not finished in time for it to be included on the Cable Comparator Disc, because it would have produced a track that matched the direct track almost perfectly. The Super Eclipse 5 sounds closer to the Gold Eclipse 5 than other cables, but falls a bit short of the standards set by the Gold Eclipse 5 in the sonic parameters that most other cables do very poorly on. It is slightly less dynamic, has slightly more masking and coloration, and has slightly less spatial resolution than the Gold Eclipse 5.”

Be that as it may, my personal reactions to the disc’s comparison between Super Eclipse 5 and Nordost Valhalla will be discussed later in this review. They are augmented by comments from nine members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, who generously offered to devote time to carefully listening and sharing their reactions at the start of a BAAS Stillpoints demo recently held at Casa Bellecci-Serinus. I believe our collective reactions further validate my impressions of WireWorld’s Gold Eclipse 5.

Some WireWorld History

David Salz began experimenting with cabling almost 25 years ago. As he explained to me, “I was dissatisfied with the various colorations and masking effects I heard when I compared the leading brands of interconnects between my old Audio Research components. So I decided to experiment with a ‘direct connection.’”

Eliminating interconnects, David joined his two classic Audio Research units and eventually his other components together. This involved putting units back to back and connecting output to input, sometimes by removing input and output jacks and connecting the internal wiring of different components, other times by making a little extension jack of similar metal to the jacks on the units. What David heard as a consequence sounded so much closer to what he heard in live performance and during actual recording that he resolved to develop cables that would enable components to deliver a similar level of “truth.”

A quarter of a century later, WireWorld has become one of the most universally recognized and respected names in the cable industry. The company’s core design philosophy remains the same as at its inception: to develop cabling that conveys sound as close as possible to a “direct connection.” To achieve this goal, David has combined commonly accepted engineering principles with original research. The current product lines, which are certainly not “Let’s put this all together and see how it sounds” designs, move progressively closer to David’s ideal of the “Direct Connection” as price increases.

For those wondering why there is no Gold Eclipse 5 digital interconnect in the line, WireWorld has chosen to name its best digital cables Gold Starlight 5. The design technology is actually the same as that of the analog cables, except for being tuned to match the 75 Ohm (unbalanced) and 110 Ohm (XLR balanced) impedance standards required for digital audio connections. For technical information, please see the WireWorld website.

Preparation and Essential Caveats

I initially went whole hog and replaced all my Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cable with WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5. All connections were carefully cleaned with 99% isopropyl alcohol before installation. I made sure that no cables were touching each other, that a good 2” remained between cabling and power cables, and that no cables touched the floor. The entire system, including the amp, ran for 24 hours before I took a first listen, and remained on for days afterwards to allow further settling in. (I used the solid-state Soaring Audio amp for this purpose, preserving my Jadis’ tubes and saving money on electricity in the process). Ultimate fine-tuning was accomplished via the Ayre break-in and demagnetizing disc.

As I was in the midst of writing this review, I contacted David to clarify some of the historical and technical information cited above. (I of course did not share my findings with him; that would constitute a breach of reviewer integrity). I cite below an e-mail received from David and my reply:

“Dear Jason. I'm pleased to know that you included my comments. The cables were burned-in on our Cable Cooker for at least 24 hours, which helps them along, but they still improve significantly over the first few months of use. I agree with you regarding the adequacy of the break-in the cables received before your evaluation. However, I am a bit concerned that you cleaned the Pro Gold off of the plugs, because they sound better and perform more consistently with it on. I'm sending you a package of Pro Gold wipes today.”

I responded:

“Dear David. I have Pro Gold here. Whether I used it after cleaning the connections, I do not recall. Had you told me to use Pro Gold, sent me wipes, or included a note to use Pro Gold or another contact cleaner, I certainly would have done so.

“When we discussed the review, I made absolutely clear that as someone who is constantly reviewing equipment and music, I am not in a position to burn-in cables over extended lengths of time. Replacing my reference cables with others not broken in while reviewing music, preamps, DACs, or what have you would throw off my ability to clearly discern what is going on. It would compromise the integrity of my reviews.

“I am certainly not in a position to burn in speaker cables. The months you say are necessary for optimal sound would put significant wear on the 18 tubes in my Jadis Defy 7, some of which are NOS, and it would cost a bundle. Furthermore, the sound system is in my living room, and I do not live alone. Nor do I wish to live alone as a result of my audio endeavors.

“For all these reasons, I indicated that break-in on your end was essential for reviewing the cables.

“I shall include discussion of all this in the review.”

The lack of extended cable break-in raises some valid questions. Does what I heard represent an adequate assessment of WireWorld interconnects, or does it instead report how they sound after minimal break-in? If I didn’t use Pro Gold, how skewed is my listening experience? Does WireWorld make their recommendation of Pro Gold available to new owners? If so, why did they not share it with me?

The only other essential qualifier to mention about this review is that the impedance match or mismatch between cables and equipment determines how the cables sound in any given system. In my case, I took care to use two different amps when assessing the sound of Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5. But just in case there was a mismatch with the Theta Gen. VIII, the heavily modified Sony transport, or the Khorus X Mk II, readers should be all means borrow a fully broken-in set of WireWorld cabling from a dealer, apply Caig Pro Gold, and evaluate the results before accepting my conclusions as the final word on WireWorld.

Finally, please note that the prices of WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 and Nordost Valhalla are comparable. Gold Starlight 5 digital interconnects, however, cost considerably less than Nordost Valhalla digital interconnects.

Listening

Before beginning my evaluations, I decided to take notes in stream of consciousness fashion. I trust that quotes from my notes will provide insight into my listening process and conclusions.

I first listened with the Soaring Audio SLC-300 amp in place. [See review in archives]. I chose Chesky’s Entre Amigos with Rosa Passos and Ron Carter. What I missed what the “extra felicity” experienced with the Jadis Defy 7 and Nordost Valhalla. “This simply does not touch me in the same way.”

Then I listened to Reference Recordings’ Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances. I recently played this disc at the most impressive Stillpoints support systems demo conducted for the Bay Area Audiophile Society. Several attendees immediately resolved to buy the disc because it is such a good test for a system, and so beautiful to boot.

I heard plenty of body, “maybe some more information in the mid-bass than I have heard before. But where is the grace in the strings? Is the WireWorld cabling enabling me to better hear the Soaring Audio amp’s limits? I’m noting a recognizable sonic signature with everything I’m auditioning. Why isn’t the sound taking off for me?”

Listening to the opening track of Abyssinia Infinite’s gorgeous and rousing Zion Roots featuring the remarkable vocal soloist “Gigi” Shibabaw plus chorus, saxophone, and drumming, I admired the midrange, but lamented the absence of sparkle on highs. “Are those diamonds or is it zirconium?” I queried. “Isn’t the sound overly opaque and thick? There’s a certain subtlety, a certain sense of overtones and undertones that’s missing.”

But then I listened to the second track, complete with deep drums. The deep bass seemed very solid and the midrange very rich. It reminded me of complaints from others (not myself) that Nordost Valhalla sounds a bit thin and lacks bass. But then I began to wonder, “is the bass more in control here, or just more one-dimensional?”

Finally, I listened to the exquisite Karina Gauvin sing a few of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne. Oh how I love this music. It’s so beautiful. But the sound I’m hearing has the same strengths and weaknesses as with everything else I’ve auditioned.

I clearly needed to return my reference Jadis Defy 7 to its front and center position to figure out what was going on. After cleaning connections and installing, I waited an hour for warm-up, played break-in and demagnetizing tones, and made sure all cables were optimally positioned.

Once again, the liquid, transparent presentation of the Jadis won me over. Returning to the Songs of the Auvergne, whose second track includes big thwacks on a drum, I noted that the bass was excellent. The drums again seemed firmer and more of a piece than I was accustomed to hearing. The tonal balance also seemed very neutral, with the bass clearer and more defined than ever. But the highs did not seem to sing as I would have wished them to. There was a lack of air and mystery, a lack of the magic that I usually experience when listening to this performance.

Sensing things were sounding a bit flat, I decided to leave break-in tones running at very low volume all night.

Karina Gauvin certainly sounded better the next morning. The Jadis’ prized warm, smooth midrange was present in spades, and the bass was very solid. But the sound remained drier than I was accustomed to hearing. Even with volume turned up, the studio seemed somewhat dry and overly damped. That is certainly not the case. I also began to question once again whether I was hearing all the overtones and undertones of voice and instruments, or mainly the leading tone.

Back to Rosa Passos and Ron Carter, strums on the two guitars seemed dry, and the maracas or whatever they were shaking didn’t resound that sharply. I felt the same about the brushes on the drums. Ron Carter’s bass, on the other hand, was very clean and clear, with pitches very well defined.

After some additional listening, I replaced the Gold Stardust 5 digital interconnect with Nordost Valhalla, gave them a day to settle in, and noted the differences. I wanted to see to what extent the digital interconnect might be responsible for what I was hearing.

Now I heard more of the expected, natural edge on Passos’ voice, and more life to the sound. But the music still seemed less involving that I was accustomed to. When I played the Songs of the Auvergne, I wanted the violins to have more of a leading edge, the piccolo to ring out more.

I found myself writing, “It’s like the whole chamber orchestra isn’t there. Are the instruments present in all their complexity? I feel I’m lacking colors. This is a bit like listening to solid-state amplifiers. I hear the leading edge and the attack of the tone, but the decay is truncated. That’s the beauty of tubes. They may not provide all the slam, but the overtones and undertones, the decay of sound in the hall can be appreciated in spades.”

When I switched to Rosa Passos and Ron Carter, I realized that her voice was not located out front, with the instruments behind her. The midrange and bass of the accompaniment were predominating over the higher sounds of her voice.

When I next replaced the Gold Eclipse 5 interconnect with Nordost Valhalla, the breathiness I’m accustomed to hearing around Passos’ voice returned. Space between instruments seemed quieter, and the brushes on the drums had a recognizably wetter and more natural sound. The magic of this recording was coming back.

Returning to the Songs of the Auvergne, I noted that the instruments seemed more naturally positioned in a live acoustic space. The music was drawing me in, inviting me to listen more.

My final step, of course, was to remove the Gold Eclipse 5 speaker cables. With all Valhalla in place, I experienced a greater sense of boundlessness on the Rachmaninoff. This was due in large part to the extra glow and space I was hearing around the orchestra. I found myself not needing to play music as loud as before to experience lift-off.

The Cable Comparator Disc

As mentioned above, twelve members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society carefully took time to compare the “Direct Connection” track on WireWorld’s disc with the Super Eclipse 5 and Nordost Valhalla tracks. All our listening was done through my reference system using Nordost Valhalla, which of course affects the quality of the listening experience to begin with. Note that since the disc was issued, Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight have eclipsed Super Eclipse 5 as the top-of-WireWorld’s cable line. One would thus expect it to sound better than Super Eclipse 5, with less of its perceived faults.

My big question to WireWorld is why in the world did they choose this particular recording? Jackie Ryan’s voice sounds very plush in the lower tones, with an extra midrange emphasis that may in part be due to the choice of microphone and/or recording equipment. Maybe her voice really does have all that low resonance, but I’d need to hear her live and unamplified to be sure.

What’s most curious is that when Ryan sings out strong and rises high in her register, the voice not only gets thinner and a bit edgy, but the perceived volume actually seems to decrease. My hit is that she either moves the mike away from her mouth when she sings louder (as do many vocalists in live situations to avoid overloading or blasting the people closest to the speakers), or the recording involves compression. This is NOT something I otherwise experience with well-recorded jazz performances played back on my system.

A recording with such limitations hardly seems the best choice for a Cable Comparator Disc designed to, among other things, underscore a cable’s ability to convey macro- and micro-dynamics. I know a lot of us listen to and enjoy jazz, but a demonstration-quality recording is essential.

I also believe that you cannot full assess a system’s strengths and weaknesses by listening solely to a small jazz combo. You can tell far more about the strengths and limitations of cables and components by playing a well-recorded orchestral disc that moves between soft and triple forte, as well as between a single solo instruments and full ensemble. The value of WireWorld’s Cable Comparator Disc is noticeably diminished by their choice of recording.

Nonetheless, one must make do with what one is given. I thought the WireWorld Super Eclipse 5 gave more midrange emphasis to the voice than the Nordost Valhalla, and rendered the overall vocal presentation a little thin. The wire brushes on the drums weren’t as sharp, the edge around the voice was a little fuzzy, and the high portion of the vocal range didn’t seem as strong. The Nordost’s high level of detail, as well as the brilliance and delicacy of its highs set it apart.

Here is other feedback I received. Reading it gives you a wonderful sense of what different people listen for, and what they perceive as a result. In all cases, people are comparing both cables to the sound of the “Direct Connection.”

1. The WireWorld seemed veiled, The Nordost seemed a little bright, a little weaker in the bass, and a bit etched.

2. The WireWorld was very veiled and unnatural, far more two-dimensional than the Nordost. The Nordost was better at conveying three-dimensional space, although a little harsh and a bit pressed in upper frequencies.

3. Both wires lacked midbass, but the Nordost had more.

4. WireWorld had a great degree of veiling and dynamic compression. It diminished color, and was not as interesting to listen to as the Nordost.

5. The WireWorld made me relax on the brushes, the Nordost was more vivid.

6. The “direct connection” seemed very nice and live. The WireWorld diminished musical impact and lacked low volume harmonics. The Valhalla also committed these sins, but to a lesser degree.

7. The self-described contrarian in the group found the “direct connection” very compressed, the bass boomy, and the cymbals smeared. The Nordost came closest to reproducing these deficiencies, and was a bit more refined on highs. I later commented to him that I thought he was reacting more to the limitations of the source material than anything else.

8. The “direct connection” had the best soundstage. The overtones on the piano were closest to what I hear at Yoshi’s during jazz performances. The Nordost had a little less bass but was very natural on the vocals.

Note from Editor: I did not bench test these cables, as the review was completed before I acquired the test equipment. At some point in the future, I will obtain some more WireWorld cables, bench test them, and add the data to our cumulative table.

Conclusions

Until David Salz lowered the boom on me, as it were, by telling me that cabling I had expected to be fully broken-in had actually received precious little break-in time, I dreaded writing this review. If the differences reported above when comparing the Cable Comparator Disc’s tracks seem marked, the actual experience of comparing the supposedly superior Gold Eclipse 5 to Valhalla in my reference system revealed much greater differences. That’s not fun to write about.

How much of the differences I heard are due to how the Cable Comparator Disc is recorded, how much to possible impedance mismatches, how much to insufficient break-in, and how much to actual differences between the sounds of the cabling when fully broken-in, I cannot tell with certainty. There are simply too many variables at play here.

What cannot be questioned by anyone either comparing cabling or listening to the Cable Comparator Disc is that cables absolutely make a difference. The same differences you can hear between interconnects and speaker cable on the disc you will also hear between power cables. Anyone who listens to the disc and denies there are differences between the sound of different cables may be suffering from serious hearing loss. Of course, the best situation would be double-blind actual tests of the cables in a controlled situation, but that was not feasible. And, we don't know exactly how the comparator disc was made. Lastly, we did not have bench tests for these cables, which is unfortunate.

What is also certain is that, to the extent my perceptions reflect the reality of fully broken-in Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5, the cable’s excellent midrange and strong bass response make it a natural for solid-state amplification and/or digital equipment that tends to reproduce highs in an overly etched, brittle, harsh, or classically “digital” manner. In such cases, I would greatly prefer it to the even more neutral, transparent, and truthful Nordost Valhalla.

WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 has received many glowing endorsements. The only way to know for sure if it is right for you is to take home a fully broken-in sample, apply that Caig Pro Gold, allow it to settle in, and listen for yourself. If your local dealer cannot supply WireWorld , an invaluable organization such as The Cable Company allows you to sample an assortment of cabling for a small percentage of the actual purchase price. The money you shell out is credited toward your final purchase.

- Jason Serinus -

Reference System:

Digital Front End:
Sony 707ES transport modified by Alexander Peychev of APL Hi-Fi
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Perpetual Technologies P-1A with Modwright modified Monolithic Power Supply and Revelation Audio umbilical power cable (not currently in use)

Amplification:
Jadis Defy 7 Mk III or IV modified with a Siltech silver harness

Loudspeakers:
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. II (with latest modifications and Bybee filters)

Cabling:
Nordost Valhalla single-ended interconnects and balanced digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced interconnects for analog
Harmonic Tech Magic One interconnects for DVD-V
Powercables: Nordost Valhalla; Elrod EPS Signature 2 and 3 plus EPS 1, 2, and 3; with Harmonic Tech and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 on other components.

Accessories:
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and room treatment,
Ganymede supports in main digital chain, Michael Green Audiopoints, and Black Diamond Racing Cones elsewhere
Shakti stones for Amp and Theta
Bedini Dual Beam Ultraclarifier
Audioprism Stoplight and Marigo as yet unreleased Signature Mat for CDs
Sheffield/XLO degmagnetiser and break-in disc and Ayre demagnetizing disc

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

What we Hear

Nature of Equipment Reviews

High Fidelity

Accuracy, Distortion, and the Audiophile

© Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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