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Product Review - Home Grown Silver Lace Audio Interconnects and Speaker Cables - July, 2001

John Kotches


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Specifications:

Interconnects

Geometry: Braided 8 Strand
Composition: Silver (4 9's (99.99%) purity)
Termination: RCA or XLR
MSRP (Assembled): US$189.95/1m RCA or XLR termination
Subtract US$50 for kit.

 

Speaker cables

Geometry: Braided 8 Strand per Conductor Leg, 16 per Cable
CompositionV Silver (4 9's (99.99%) purity)
TerminationV Spade Lugs or Banana Plugs
MSRP (Assembled)V US$635 for an 8 Foot Pair
Not currently available in kit form.

Sold Factory Direct Over the Internet

 


Homegrown Audio Co., 1354 Eighth St, SW, Roanoke, Virginia 24015; Phone: 540-767-2600; E-Mail sales@homegrownaudio.com; Web http://www.homegrownaudio.com
 

Introduction

Your cabling quest begins innocently enough . . . . You start off wanting to replace those cheesy, wimpy cables that came with your new piece of gear. You wander into your local Radio Shack and spring for their Gold Series of interconnects. You've taken your first step. Next thing you know, you've progressed to "Le Audio Emporium", where you purchase your first set of Monsters. Your evolving tastes and expanding budget means that, before you know it, you're buying cables larger than the garden hose you use to water your lawn with. Now your new cables are too large to fit into the jacks of your preamplifier within your constantly expanding system. Congratulations, you've made it. You're an audiophile, and you've got a cable fetish. The good news is you only had to max out two of your credit cards to get there.

I first heard about Homegrown Audio at the end of last year on the Audio Asylum, http://www.audioasylum.com. There was a lot of talk about these amazing cables, which were ridiculously inexpensive, less than US$70 for 1 meter pure silver cables. So I did what any self respecting audiophile would do. I plunked down the money and ordered myself a set of the Interconnects (Super Silver, not reviewed in this article). I liked most of what I heard, but e-mailed Kevin Walsh, owner of Homegrown Audio, with my thoughts and critiques. Kevin was nice, didn't laugh at any of my comments, and told me he was brewing up some even better cables at a still very reasonable price as audiophile cables go. Homegrown Audio is another small operation, and it took a few months for us to get around to getting some cables together for review - during this time he was refining the cosmetics of the cables and shipping out orders as fast as he could manufacture them!

Homegrown Options and Construction

Unlike the majority of cables out there, Homegrown gives you the option of Do It Yourself assembly and saving about US$50 on the cost of the interconnects versus preassembled cabling. Only the preassembled cables are available with a money back guarantee - so if you've got a bunch of cables to replace, and you have the skills, this is a worthwhile option to pursue. Likewise, you can opt for RCAs or XLRs (by Neutrik no less) for the same price - this is unusual, as most cable manufacturers charge a premium for their XLR termination.

Rather than a truly exotic recipe, Homegrown works with solid fundamentals. The Silver Lace are based on an 8 strand braided cable. The braiding pattern resembles, to my eye, Category - 5 networking cables (what you use to connect your computer to a DSL service). It's impossible for me to tell, since all the strands are the same color. Each strand has a Teflon dielectric, which is one of the best dielectrics around. In fact, only air has a better dielectric constant (air is defined as having a constant of 1). The reason for braiding the cables is the same reason that Cat-5 cabling is twisted: it helps cut down on Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) and Electro-Magnetic Inductance within the length of cables. The wire itself is pure silver (minimum delivered content is 4 9s, or 99.99%), with each strand being 26 gauge.

According to Kevin, it takes roughly 60 feet of raw wiring to make each 1 meter pair of interconnects. Without accounting for the extra length of cabling required for braiding, the raw length of cabling is about 53 feet, so an additional 7+ feet is tied up in braiding. In other words, he's not exaggerating about the amount of wire involved.

The speaker cable is no less impressive, using double runs of 8-strand 22 gauge wire, with 16 strands making up a single cable. This results in an aggregate of 13AWG for the speaker cable. To keep the cables looking neater, a white sleeve encloses them, given a nicely finished look to the product (photo below, right)

Frankly, some of the experience of buying audiophile cables has to be the "out of the box experience" - I've seen some audiophile cables packed in better boxes than an engagement ring! Homegrown doesn't go that far, but the presentation is very nicely done. Each interconnect pair is packaged in a clear plastic carton, and is put into a nice green felt bag, with the Homegrown Audio logo, done in silver of course! The terminations are custom made locking RCA connectors. The "Silver Lace" heatshrink tubing includes a RED directional arrow on one cable, and a BLUE directional arrow on the other cable of the set.

The speaker cables I received didn't get the same presentation as the interconnects did, but taking a closer look at the cables comes below. As described, each cable has a white outer jacket to keep the dual 8 strand cable runs bundled together. Here, I'd like to see one improvement - there's no directional arrows on the speaker cables, so I put a small S on the back side of the label to keep things sorted. Each leg is separated out at the end of the sleeve, and is terminated with red and black heat shrink tubing.

Why Silver Cabling is a Hot Item

If you haven't noticed, silver and silver-clad cabling is very popular these days amongst audiophiles. There's a valid scientific reason for this. Silver is a better conductor than copper, in part because it holds a very slight lead in terms of lower resistance per unit length versus copper. The oxide of silver (yes, rusted silver) is also reported to be an excellent conductor as compared to the oxide of copper, which is a semi-conductor. This is one of the arguments for using silver-plating (a.k.a. silver clad) cabling, that any oxidation will itself remain highly conductive. The other argument concerns the skin effect, and it refers to the fact that higher frequencies travel in the outermost portion of the wire. This is controversial though, because it is mainly frequencies out of the audible band. If you've ever looked at some of your copper cabling, you can see it turn a greenish black, which indicates the outer layer of the cabling is now copper oxide, reducing the cable's effectiveness in delivering the signal to your component or speakers (assuming you are a proponent of the skin effect concept).

Given that, then why aren't all cables made from silver? The obvious reason . . . cost. Silver cables are usually very pricey, and Home Grown delivers them at a down home price by selling them direct, on the Internet. I suspect if these were available at your local Audio retailer, they would be somewhere in the $350 - $500 price range, depending on the margin structure. The speaker cables do get expensive more quickly, as you request longer versions, but when you consider that you start with more than double the wiring, with each strand larger than those of the interconnects, this is understandable - you have to buy more silver.

There are some silver cable "facts" that are often bandied about amongst audiophiles. Silver cabling is often labeled bright or harsh or strident, all of which denote some HF anomalies. Below are my listening conclusions, otherwise known as subjective impressions, which address these issues.

Smooth Operator

Yes, I did just quote the title of a Sade` song! Kevin was a great sport during the review cycle and sent me enough cabling to replace nearly my entire system with Silver Lace. The only exception was the rear surround speaker cables (these are 25 foot runs), and the RCA cable to the subwoofer amplifier.

I didn't endure a month long "oh these sound terrible" phase. Out of the bag, everything sounded quite good, although I did notice some incremental improvements. Most of the improvements were along the lines of details. The longer these were in my system, the more subtle details I was able to hear. I'm not going to fall back on the cliche` of I heard details I never knew were present, because in fact I know they're there. My usual reference cables excel at reproducing hyper-detail. This is the one area I think is slightly weak with the Home Grown cables. There is a small loss of that last bit of detail, but its a very subtle effect indeed. But, it may come after much break-in.

In fact, these cables made me consider this question? Do I prefer the hyper-detail of my normal reference cables or the smoother presentation of the Silver Lace? I still haven't figured this out, but I have to one of these days soon because I'll either have to pay Kevin for these cables or send them back to him. And he might get these back when he pries them out of my cold, dead hand!

But, what about the music? Let's throw on Joni Mitchell's DVD-A version of Both Sides Now and listen to track 5, "Answer Me, My Love". The first 30 seconds or so of this are a bit of ear candy to me, with a truly gorgeous brass choir floating across the front soundstage. You want the smoothness of these instruments blending together sweetly, almost as though it's one player playing all the instruments? You've got it. You want Joni's voice, sounding like she's got a 10 pack a day habit? That's there too. Nice detail and subtlety, with French Horns on this track reproduced especially well.

More discs, more discs, more discs? Well my collection was willing, so who was I to argue? Maybe we should try something diametrically opposed to our previous selection. Out comes yet another DVD-A disc, in response to the question "Can these cables rock?" I posed this question to the spirit of the late Jim Morrisson, via the disc LA Woman, and listened to the title track, curiously enough also track 5. I have audiophile friends who scorn me these days, because I enjoy "immersive" style surround, where you have instruments and voices all over the room. My only caveat here is that I like consistent placement of instruments within a track. I think the Silver Lace truly highlighted the details still preserved in this recording, which goes back 30 or so years. Most interesting is how well the timbral differences of the two acoustic pianos in the front left and right rear channels are reproduced. There's also some guitar work split between the front right and left rear, and the different characters of their sound is not compromised between these two speakers. Finally, there's Jim's voice, and all of its idiosyncrasies, like the very slurred words, and for lack of a better word, screams at some points on this track. So, yeah, these cables can rock!

Sure, but how about swing and groove? Fair enough, maybe I can dig up a track or two that has it. Some jazz royalty, about which a jazz band instructor once said, "There are two big bands in the world, Count Basie and all the rest". April in Paris is one of my all-time favorite recordings, and for swing and groove, my reference standard is the Frank Foster composition "Shiny Stockings". Swing and groove? You betcha, from the introduction with the swishing of the brushes on the snare through the seemingly perfect Thad Jones trumpet solo, to the shout choruses and out. Even the Count's wonderful fills are all there in toe tapping groove-a-liciousness. Tight and crisp - everyone on the same page, a jazz standard on Take1. My appetite for Big Band Jazz wasn't whetted though, and I stuck on another, completely different, favorite of mine . . . The Bob Mintzer Big Band's Camouflage. "Techopop" is the opening tune, and it's a punchy uptempo piece. I use this one because of Randy Brecker's trumpet solo and listen for two important details to my ears: is it harsh? It can be from time to time, and is when something's amiss with my system, or whatever it is I'm listening to. Second, does the solo have the appropriate punch? During Brecker's solo, the bell is pointed directly to the microphone, and you should get all the punch a real trumpet produces directed at your listening position. The answers to both these questions were no - there wasn't any harshness to his tone, but, yes, it still had that pointed right at you quality that a trumpet does in the real world.

Coda

Many compositions wrap up with a coda, and so will this review. You want to get started with audiophile cables? You don't want to spend your entire life savings to do it? Give these cables a spin in your system, and be pleasantly surprised how much performance can be delivered for less than US$200 per interconnect these days. The speaker cables are a bit priceier, but compete nicely with the other options at and above their price point. Well worth the audition, and with Homegrown's 30 day guarantee, if they don't live up to your expectations, you can return them for a refund, less shipping charges, making any risk a nominal one.

The cables don't meet the preconceptions that silver is edgy, bright, and harsh. Just the opposite, in fact. They won't resolve hyper-detail, but very few cables do. The whole frequency range is smooth, and I don't recall hearing an interconnect in this price range that I've liked more, and as with most audiophiles I've tried several!

Associated Equipment:
Manley Labs Purist Preamp
B&K Reference 30 Preamp/Processor
Manley Labs Neo-Classic 250 Amplifiers
Aragon 8008x3B Amplifier
Bryston 4B Amplifier
Onkyo DV-S939 DVD-V/DVD-A Player
Camelot Roundtable DVD-V Player
JVC XV-D723GD DVD-V/DVD-A Player
Acoustat Spectra 22 Loudspeakers
Audiostatic ES100+SW100 Loudspeakers
Soundline Audio SL6-6 Loudspeaker
Magnepan SS-1 Loudspeakers

 

- John Kotches - 

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Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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