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Product Review - Silver Audio Hyacinth Audio Interconnects - August, 2000


Michael James

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Silver Audio Hyacinth Audio Interconnects

Four Conductors of Solid Silver

Teflon® Extruded Dielectric

Dual Damping Layers

Available with RCA Single-Ended or XLR Balanced Connectors

Price: $275 1 Meter Pair Standard RCA, $365 with Topline Solderless RCA, $335 with Premium XLR Balanced Connectors.

Silver Audio; Web http://www.silveraudio.com 

Introduction

I have always wondered to myself, if I had Bill Gates' money (of course, this would be before the split court decision), what would I pay for audio cables? Having the newest top of the line audio equipment is one thing, but how more sound quality is evident through a pair of $5,000 audio interconnect cables as compared to a $500 dollar pair, or a $5 pair for that matter. In other areas, I have always held the belief that it does not make good sense to purchase, for example, low quality retread tires for a high performance automobile. Why would you pay for all the features and performance of a Ferrari and then choke it off with cheap tires? I think this same theory can be applied over to High End Audio Equipment. But then, there was always that lingering question, where does one draw the line from top performance quality to an inaudible overkill? If  you are like me, an audio and home theater enthusiast, but far from being an electrical engineer, that line becomes harder to draw. We all have to rely on the best testing instrument that we have at our disposal...our own ears! Because that is the true bottom line! I think I found a company that has helped me draw that line a bit clearer.

Today I am focusing on Silver Audio’s Hyacinth Audio Interconnects. Silver Audio, in its info documentation, claims “Hyacinth now stands as high-end audio’s most advanced and affordable true solid silver line-level cable, with performance second only to their reference Appassionata cable”. There are times when a company’s promo blurbs and how the audio performance that translates literally into your system are two very different animals. But, I feel in getting a better understanding of Silver Audio’s design theory and audio cable theory in general, we can gain a valuable point of reference in understanding what a company is attempting to accomplish with its end user products. Please be compassionate with me and understand, because as previously noted, I am a complete layman when it comes to electrical and cable theory. So even my rudimentary understanding is important in our purchase decision. Otherwise, I feel, we are just plunking down our hard earned cash for what we can only understand as smoke and mirrors.

Theory

It is widely known in the industry, that pure silver has always been one of the best performing conductor materials for audio reproduction. But at the same time, it also carries two age old obstacles. The first is that pure silver audio cables are expensive to manufacture. Secondly, and even more importantly, silver cables if not manufactured correctly can end up sounding worse than very inexpensive copper cables. With cables, a significant audio problem to overcome is called the “Skin Effect”. This problem is one of the more basic conductivity dilemmas facing audio cables in general, and, as I understand, a problem that can be even more prevalent when using pure silver in audio cables. (My basic knowledge comes from a book I highly recommend to all entitled, “The Complete Guide to High End Audio”, Second Edition by Robert Harley.)

Basically, there are three areas of build quality concerning audio cables. The conductors, or the metal strands that carry the audio signal, the dielectric, or the insulating material, and finally the terminations. The skin effect concerns the conductors. An audio signal is transferred as two equal parts of energy. One is the electric current from within the conductor, and the other is the magnetic field outside the conductor. One cannot exist without the other. The optimum area where both are functioning at one hundred percent capacity is the area near the surface of the conductor. The magnetic field will diminish as you move further away from the conductor, and the electrical current inside the conductor will also decrease when you move from the surface area to a more deeper position inside the conductor. With DC, the current flows evenly in the conductor, and as we go higher in AC frequency, the more the signal is likely to be conducted at the surface (the "skin"). The skin effect results in a degradation of the audio signal in the form of a loss of detail and soundstage depth, because the higher frequencies are being conducted differently than the lower frequencies. Detail and soundstage depth are the exact attributes that are the benefits of using pure silver as a conductor, so by not correcting this problem, you are in effect, completely defeating the purpose of utilizing pure silver as a conductor metal.

The solution to the skin effect is to use a strand of metal conductor thin enough to push this distortion out of the human audible range (only very high inaudible frequencies would be carried at the surface). However, using one thin single strand of metal as a conductor is not feasible as an end product, because it would introduce too much resistance for the audio signal. Sort of like sipping a milkshake through a very thin straw . . . a lot of effort for very little payback. Speaker sensitivity specifications vary from one manufacturer to another, but in general, audio quality will suffer if the signal faces too much resistance in the path between the amplifier and the speakers.

So, the solution to the skin effect is two-fold. Resistance will be lowered if you use a bundle of thin strands rather than one single strand, thus providing a larger electrical pathway. As usual though, solving the one problem may lead manufacturers directly to a second problem. Now with that revelation, you have just understood the manufacturing conundrum facing Silver Audio and other cable companies: Not to cause more problems than they solve. By using bundles of thin un-insulated strands that touch each other, you will introduce a new skin effect, due to the bundle acting as a unit electronically, rather than individual strands. Silver Audio attempts to rectify this new problem by using a concept called  “Litz” construction. This means that each strand in a bundle is coated with an insulating material to prevent it from electronically interacting and contacting the strands around it. This stops the bundle of conductor strands from acting as a single unit.

Other manufacturers utilizing this solution feel it is easier to reduce the size of the individual strands if they use flat shaped conductors. This limits design flexibility, but enables the manufacturer to produce very thin strands. Silver Audio feels that giving up design flexibility means you might not be able to deal with other issues. They wanted to decrease the size of the conductor strands and eliminate the skin effect, without limiting design flexibility. They feel the benefits of using a symmetrical criss-cross design geometry does not have to be compromised in solving the skin effect problem. Of course, other companies will argue that they also have the best design, and that they have not limited themselves with their own approach. No really knows every effect that laws of physics have on the conduction of electrons. So, we deal with the bottom line. The proof is always in the listening.

Now, to the best of my knowledge Silver Audio is not the first company to address single problems alone. But they are one of the very few companies that, according to them, combine all the solutions in one cable. And, it's one cable not only utilizing these manufacturing techniques, but also using pure silver as conductors. Finally and most importantly, it's one cable utilizing all these components and manufacturing techniques in an affordable end product.

The product

In just removing these cables from their protective bag, you become immediately aware of their superior craftsmanship. The cables themselves have a seductive fishnet stocking covering that allows you to see inside the casing. In fact, the casing is even transparent enough to see the bundled strands in their criss-cross geometry, which looks like a DNA double helix model. So one of Silver Audio’s design goals of achieving a transparency in sound is also achieved in its physical product. It's one of the few audio cables where you are aware of what you're getting inside, and you can match that to their design theory, instead of just having to take the company's word in their white paper documentation for lack of seeing or x-raying through their black or covered cable.

The review cable included the Topline solder-less WBT RCA connectors. These connectors add an extra $90 dollars to the cable cost and are the most solid connectors I have come across in a very long time. I can highly recommend spending the extra dollars for these connectors, as they are worth every penny, even if just for the convenience of installing or removing cables. If you are like me, and don’t have fingers the thickness of toothpicks, it is a joy installing these cables. With today’s devices and all the increasing possible connections on back panels, and with these back panels staying relatively constant in area, the space between jacks seems to be shrinking all the time. Try removing one pair of cables in a field of ten bunched together. The WBT connectors almost make this task enjoyable. They also have the perfect amount of grip. Not too little where a summer breeze can dislodge a connection. And not too much like some cables, where at the worst, you can end up breaking the connection on the audio component, or at the least crack your knuckles into the back wall.

Performance

So how do these cables measure up to the most important audio testing device . .  your own ears? To give you a point of reference on this reviewer, I am coming from a perspective that leans toward home theater, but I tested these cables in as many different combinations as I could muster. This included the front left/right channels for both music and movies. I tested them as a center channel audio interconnect and even tried them as rear channel connections. I also tested them on the analog audio output from my DSS receiver. My music and movie tastes cover a wide range, so I gave these cables an intensive evaluation.

In general, every configuration I tried with the Hyacinth resulted in an audio improvement. This was reflected by an increase in soundstage depth, fine detail, and sonic transparency . . . all nice buzz words for the industry that became defined to my ears in the use of this cable. The listener is  immediately more aware of all the different instruments in a recording and their harmonic balance. When listening to an orchestral performance you can focus in on one instrument and almost isolate its contribution to the total musical piece and then focus back on the piece as a whole. This ability, achieved only in my experience at live performances, can now be achieved when listening through Silver Audio Hyacinth cable.

Specifically, listening to Gaetano Donizetti’s opera “L’Elisir D’Amore” - and having the experience to be in attendance at this particular live Metropolitan Opera performance when this recording was being taped - has given me a special insight between being there live and listening to the recording. It had been apparent that there was a sonic difference between the laserdisc, DVD, and CD recordings and my actual live experience (trying not to sound like an old Memorex® commercial, “Is it live or is it Memorex?”) After connecting the Hyacinth Audio Interconnects, Luciano Pavorotti and Kathleen Battle’s voices came alive again, as if I were at the concert hall. When you have heard Pavorotti’s voice at a live performance, you are not likely to ever forget the experience. When closing my eyes, my ears were fooled. I thought the differences, previously heard, were due to older recording technologies, being that this performance was taped during the eighties. Boy, was I wrong! I cannot begin to tell you the joy this brought back from an unforgettable live performance. The Silver Audio Hyacinth audio interconnect cable let me hear the detail and dimension of being there in person.

In watching the new THX DVD release of the movie "Independence Day" and using the Hyacinth as a center audio interconnect, the dialogue amidst all the explosions became more detailed, without having to raise the volume on the center channel. It brought a new clarity to Judd Hirsch’s voice, who has a number of very funny one-liners in the movie (my favorite being when the President of the U.S. asks how one gets funding for such a secretive project like Area 51, and Judd Hirsch replies, "You don’t think they really paid $20,000 dollars for a hammer.”) These lines can be lost a bit because they are said as an aside to the main action. With a second viewing, I found myself enjoying all the dialog without straining or artificially throwing off the balance of the 5.1 system by raising the center channel volume. A good deal of information is channeled through the center speaker, and by raising the volume you do not always make the dialog clearer, because you are also raising the volume on some of the other effects channeled through the center speaker. By using an audio connect like the Silver Audio Hyacinth, you are increasing the performance level of your center channel, and are getting the performance you paid for when you bought your center channel speaker. I noticed these improvements across the board in recent DVD titles as “The Green Mile”, “The Bone Collector”, and especially dialog-heavy movies like “JFK”. The difference between Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS became more apparent with these cables. In my opinion, all movies should be DTS. “Saving Private Ryan” DTS was breathtaking and felt viscerally.

Conclusion

The Silver Audio’s logo is the Chinese character for the word "listen". The character contains symbols for both the ears and the heart. It can be loosely translated as “Listen with our Hearts”. For the goals Silver Audio is trying to achieve with their Hyacinth Audio Interconnects and for the performance they have achieved, I do not think they could have picked a better symbol. Or for that matter, make a better cable for the money. These cables put the passion into your audio system. These cables are not inexpensive, when just focusing on the numbers, especially in a home theater separate component audio configuration. But when you factor in what these dollar numbers add into your total system’s performance, they become rather practical. If you have put in all the time, research, and money to purchase high quality audio equipment, I feel it would be foolish to choke off that performance with ineffective or deficient audio cables.

I could not recommend these cables any higher. You paid for a specific performance level out of your audio equipment, and you most definitely want to hear that level in your home. When you compare them to other manufacturers' silver cables that run from $575-$950 per pair, which also do not have all the attributes of the Hyacinth Audio Interconnects, they can be very cost efficient.  These are probably the cables I would buy even if I had Bill Gates money!

Test System

Sunfire Theater Grand Preamp/Processor

Sherborn 5/1500 Five Channel Amp

B&W Nautilus 805 Speakers

- Michael James -

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© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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