While I am writing a review about cables, I don't think that cables have a sound of their own but I believe they induce losses to the signal being transmitted that can be audible to various degrees depending on the transparency of the system. So my review is based is how they interacted with my system and with my ears
The reason I bought my cables from Artisan Cables without even listening to them is because I was very impressed by the 6 moons review of the "silver dream" interconnects. The reviewer compared them to the Kimber Select KS-1030 silver (which cost £2,000/m) in the context of a high end speaker system. That was an impulse decision I am glad I have made.
Technical aspects :
The artisan cables are as "simple" as they get. They all use a solid silver cable with teflon insulation and silver plated connectors (for the interconnects). The conductors are loosely fitted into their teflon sleeve which make them surrounded mainly by air. Air is a better dielectric than teflon and teflon is a better dielectric than pvc (for example).
However, there is no shielding on the Artisan cables so they might be susceptible to pick up noise. I was relieved to find out that in my system even with a computer,tv set, wifi router, ... and a lot of other electronic gear nearby, I didn't have any such issue (noise pick-up/hum) with either the unshielded interconnects or the headphone cable.
System Used :
Main Chain :
Foobar 0.8.3 --> Kernel Streaming --> M2Tech hiFace BNC --> Stereovox XV2 --> Audio-gd DAC-19mk3 (modes A & B) --> Artisan Cables "Ultimate Silver Dream"/Cables Hifi & Cie Khnoum --> Audio-GD C-2C (w/ upgraded pot) --> Artisan Cables "Silver Dream"/Moon Audio Blue Dragon V3 --> Sennheiser HD-650
Power related accessories :
Hi-Fi Cables & Cie PowertransPlus Power Cords (x2)
Bada LB-5600 Power Filter Plant
Olflex Power cord
Supra Mains Block
Essential Audio Tools Noise Eater Parallel Filter
Vibration Control :
E&T Spider Rack, Vibrapods, Vibracones, Sandboxes, Brass cones, Acrylic and Fiber carbon sheets,
Herbie's Audio Lab Tenderfoot, SuperSonic Component Stabilizer
Other gear :
Sources : Creative Audio 2ZS Notebook, EMU 0404 usb, Zero DAC, Audio-GD DAC-100
Headphone Amps : Little Dot MKIII, Audio-GD ST-3
Some of the music used for this review :
Sol Gabetta - Schostakowitsch Cellokonzert Nr. 2/Cello
The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five
Mahler - Symphony n 5 - Decca
Natalie Dessay - Italian Opera Arias - Emi Classics
Puccini - La Boheme - Decca
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator Soundtrack
Soundrama - "The Pulse" (Test CD)
Diana Krall - Live in Paris
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
The «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects :
During the last year, I tried many interconnects in my system, most of those interconnects were budget/entry level (Kimber PBJ, DH-Labs Silver Sonic BL1, Sharkwire, Monster Cable, ...) and I also own one high-end interconnect (The Hifi Cables & Cie khnoum). While I kept all of those cables, I mostly listened during the last year to the Hifi Cables & Cie Khnoum. It had the best resolution, the best imaging and was the most natural sounding. Overall, I tried that cable with several dacs and headphone amps and I couldn't find any fault with it at that time as it seemed to me it completely disappeared from the signal chain compared to the other cables.
Note on Burn-in :
When I first tried the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects, I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed, the sound was better than my budget interconnects (Kimber PBJ, DH-Labs, ...) but was far from the performance of my reference interconnect. While the soundstage was bigger and deeper than the khnoum interconnect it seemed however that there was haze to the sound and that there was a definite loss in resolution. Low level details seemed to be missing. The sound was also warmer than my reference interconnects which was surprising from silver interconnect
However, since it was recommended by Artisan Cables to let the cable burn-in for 50 hours, I felt that there might still be hope for improvement.
So, I let it burn-in for 24 hours without listening to it : I used a mix of music and pink noise for the burn-in session. After 24 hours the sound improved a lot and the haze was gone.
Overall, I felt it took 100 hours of continuous playback of music + pink noise before the sound of the interconnects settled. During that period, the sound of the interconnects "cleans up" and low-level details emerge from the background.
I know that many people don't believe in cable burn-in and, as a matter of fact, I didn't use to believe in it until a few months ago. However, I experienced many times that the sound of cables changes with burn-in. So whenever I get a new piece of equipment (dac, amp, cables) I let it "burn-in" for a few days before making my final decision. Also, since I have accumulated a few dacs, headamps and cables, I can burn-in equipment while keeping a base of reference.
The Sound :
After a few days of continuous playback, the sound of the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects was outstanding which makes it harder to describe than a faulty/colored cable.
Soundstage and imaging :
The easiest thing to describe is the soundstage. The «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects have a huge soundstage which isn't much wider than my old reference Hifi Cables khnoum interconnect but which is much deeper than anything I have listened to in my system. It makes all my other interconnect seem rather flat and 2 dimensional. (I have to note that I have never tried before a pure silver interconnect in my system).
At the same time, the imaging is pinpoint precise. In fact, there are some cable that try to fake a big soundstage at the expense of the image precision but the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects can do both very well.
Also, the imaging of the bass is amazing. With other cables, the bass seem to be diffuse while with "Ultimate Silver Dream" the bass is clearly localized in the soundstage, which increases incidentally the bass impact and slam.
The imaging can be described as holographic. When listening to Take Five - The Dave Brubeck Quartet with the Khnoum cable, I could already hear the localization of each instrument and the "relative" depth of the recording.
However, when I listen at he same track with the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects, there is much more going on. The space between the instruments seem bigger and there is also more depth in the recording. When focusing on the drum for example, you not only hear the hit and thereverb but you also feel the size of the drum and feel that there is a real wall at the back of the recording place. Also, besides the sense of localization that other interconnects can give (to different degrees), the "Ultimate Silver Dream" added something I didn't have before, which is a sense of "body" to the performers and instruments while keeping plenty of "air" in between them.
This air between instruments also benefit the rendition of live performances. On "A case for you" (Diana Krall - Live in Paris), I was not only impressed by the depth in front of me but also "behind me". The ambiance of the scene is more easily perceived. When you hear the multiple coughs at the beginning of the track and the whispering/exchange before DianaKrall starts singing using the Khnoum interconnects, it is more of a distraction than part of the recording. When switching to the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects, those details are better integrated to the whole experience and thanks to a better depth, all those details don't seem to be coming from the same line. Also, at the clapping of the public at the end of the track, there is a greater sense of the presence of the public because, once again, the details are integrated in a real space that has enough depth (vs. artificial sounds).
Overall, the soundstage is very faithful to the source, it changes a lot from one recording to another in width, depth and height. While you get a sense of tremendous depth on a classical music recordings and live music, you get, in comparison, a more foreword and flatter presentation when the music is recorded/over processed in studio. On some classical recordings such as Mahler - Symphony n 5 - Decca, you get a spooky feeling that the sound of some instruments (horns for example) come a few meters away while retaining their true resolution (not by mean of dulling the sound). Frankly, before trying the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects, I didn't think my system and particularly the Sennheiser hd-650 were able to portray such a well defined soundstage.
Timbre and Tonal Balance :
The "voicing" of this cable is as close to neutral as I have tried in my system. There was no discernible sonic character to the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects. The frequency extension at the extremes of this cable is amazing, it has very low deep bass and the highs are extended. It is also very neutral sounding. Some recordings sound bright, other warm, ... Each time I thought I discerned a sonic signature, I would change the recording and change the sonic signature of the system (though this was especially true when paired with the "Silver dream" for thesennheiser instead of the blue dragon).
Playing Sol Gabetta - Schostakowitsch Cellokonzert Nr. 2/Cello is a real treat. On the track number 2 (my favorite), each stroke of the cello is clearly differentiated and is beautiful sounding. This is unlike listening with a tube amp where all the music is sugar coated. This is high definition beauty, and you feel like there is a real artist playing a cello just a few meters from you. Then when other instruments start playing, each one of them have a distinct character, and blossoms through the soundstage. It is a truly excellent track where all instruments played sound realistic and playing just in front of you.
On good piano recordings (such as Glenn Gould, The Goldberg variations, 1981), the specific timbre and accoustic power of the Steinway piano are totally preserved. The Piano is not floating around but is firmly grounded (more weight to the sound). The harmonic structure of each stroke of the piano is superb and while each note has more inner resolution than theKimber PBJ or DH-Labs BL1, it is less dry than the Khnoum interconnects.
I also played the test CD "Soundrama - The Pulse" which contains many tracks of sounds of nature : rain, sea shore, ... And that CD sounded very natural and realistic when using the "Ultimate Silver Dream".
While the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects don't have a sound of their own, they highlight any fault or sonic signature of your source. Switching back and forth between the digital filters of mydac (PMD100 and DF1704), the gap between those two filters was even more apparent than with my other cables.
The Dynamics are really explosive with the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects. Whether it is micro-dynamics or macro-dynamics it doesn't seem to suffer any compression whether played at low or high volume. Large scale volume transitions in classical music are as good as anything I have heard, and curiously, even modern music (which is usually heavily compressed to sound louder) seem to be more dynamic than what I was used to.
While the dynamics are much better than what I get with the Kimber PBJ, DH-Labs BL1 and sharkwire interconnects, it is about the same level of the Hifi Cables interconnects.
The "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnect can be described as having a "relaxed" high resolution sound. The low level resolution is exceptional but the details are never thrown at you.
Comparing the low level defintion with the Khnoum cable (my former reference cable) was a rather difficult task because of the differences between the soundstage of the two cables. I first thought that the Khnoum cable had more definition but it was due to the fact that it has a "flatter" soundstage and it had a slight bump in the mid treble frequencies.
So to be sure, I played a test CD "Soundrama - The Pulse" which is recorded at a very low level. I have to set the volume at the maximum in my headamp (the audio-gd c2c) to get a reasonable volume level. So this recording should show any deficiencies with the DAC and the interconnects. On the fifth track, at about 10 seconds, there is a big bell that is rung. With the Khnoum interconnects, the ringing of the bell would mask the sound of the chain to which the bell is attached but I was able to easily hear it through the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects.
Throughout that test CD, I was able to hear new details but most importantly, those details were not thrown at me but they were put in context and everything sounded natural.
While I had a hard time comparing the resolution between my former reference cable and the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects, I have to note that both of them are excellent and miles ahead from what you would get from cables such as the Kimber PBJ, the DH-Labs Silver Sonic BL1, or the Sharkwire which are considered to be very good cables for the money. When reverting back to a lesser cable, it is like when you move from a 1080p (high def) to a 480p (dvd). Some people think the difference is huge (I do), and other people don't seem to care about the difference.
However, there is an area where the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects fell short of the Khnoum cable is the blackness of the background. Thanks to its many layers of shielding (Teflon PTFE, mu-metal, Silver plated screen, ...) the Khnoum cable seems to have a lower noise floor of any cable I have tested, which makes the silence feel "more silent". This is hard todescribre since none of the cables I have tested exhibit noise (even with the volume of my amp set at the maximum). But there is a definte difference in the perception of the blackness of the background where the khnoum cable is ahead of my other cables. The «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects are still better in that aspect than the shielded DH-Labs BL1 interconnects for instance.
The amazing thing about the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects is how much the sound changes from one recording to another. On my current equipment, I cannot find any sonic signature/fault with this cable. If it is warm or bright or slow, it is always coming from elsewhere in the system or in the recording. These are very revealing cables but not in a bad way. It doesn't emphasize the mid treble such as some cables that tend do it to increase the perceived definition, but it is rather unforgiving as it highlights shortcomings the dac/cd player.
To sum up, the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects throw a huge and believable soundstage (when it is present on the recording), they are also neutral sounding and most of all, the music seem to flow easier. Also, while the sound is great with audiophile grade recordings, it is very good sounding with a broad range of not so greatly recorded material simply by not adding any distortion or brightness to the recording.
Finally, while it is hard to grade audio components by numbers, here is how I think the cables I mentioned in my review compare to each other (with my ears and in my system) :
Kimber PBJ : 55
DH-Labs Silver Sonic BL-1 : 60
Cables Hifi & Cie Khnoum : 100
Ultimate Silver Dream : 120
The "Silver Dream" Sennheiser Headphone Upgrade Cable :
(Edit: The "Silver Dream" cable reviewed below has been discontinued and replaced with the Mark2 cable. See my review of the new model here ).
A quick note on the Moon Audio Blue Dragon v3 :
I have used the Blue Dragon cable for more than a year and I found that it provided a tremendous improvement in sound quality over the stock cable of the Sennheiser hd-650.
The sound is much more cleaner with the Blue Dragon compared to te stock cable, it also has more extension on the top and much deeper bass. When adding the Blue Dragon to the sennheiser, it is like adding a (quality) sub-woofer to your system. I started hearing new bass details I wasn't suspecting the sennheiser were able to transmit. The perceived sound is also a little bit louder than the stock cable (at the same volume). However, it seems that the Blue Dragon (as it is discribed by Moon Audio) was voiced to boost the bass a little more than the highs.
Overall, the Moon Audio is a big jump over the Stock cable with a big increase in resolution/definition. The sound is cleaner and the tonal balance is pretty close to the stock cable. The sound can be described as smooth and warm.
The Sound :
The reason I bought the "silver dream" cable for the sennheisers is that I felt that whatever change I made to my front end and head-amp, the sound of my system remained rather smooth sounding, which is not surprising from the sennheiser hd-650 but I was suspecting that the blue dragon cable played a big role in that smooth sound. So I looked for cables that would open the sound of my sennheisers : I was hesitating between the silver dragon and the apuresound. But when I read the very impressive 6 moons review of the "silver dream" interconnects, and when I found out the sennheiser upgrade cable from artisan uses the same silver cable as the interconnects, I decided to try the plunge and go all silver. I ordered the Artisan cable upgradesennheiser cable along with the interconnects.
Unlike what I experienced with the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects, I didn't notice the burn-in effect as much with the headphone cable probably because it outperformed the Blue Dragon straight out of the box and I didn't have any other point of reference at that performance level.
Soundstage and imaging :
Straight out of the box, the "Silver Dream" Sennheiser Cable opened up the sound of the hd-650 (i.e. no burn-in). As it was the case with the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnect, the soundstage was large and deep. The depth was particularly phenomenal compared to the Blue Dragon. The imaging more also focused and holographic than the blue dragon which is already a big step up over the stock sennheiser cable.
However, the amazing thing about the "Silver Dream" Sennheiser Cable is that they also increase the height over the blue dragon. If I were to make a speaker analogy, it is like when you switch from a small monitor speaker to a big full range tower speaker when playing at the same volume. The "Silver Dream" Sennheiser Cable just seem to push the soundstage deeper in all directions and feels it with more authority and coherence than the blue dragon (or worse, the stock cable).
With my current system, I don't feel that the soundstage of my headphone set-up suffers in comparison to normal system speakers. It feels natural and watching movies/series with the set-up just makes it moreimmersive than many conventional speaker systems (I am not speaking about $10,000+ speaker systems).
The "silver dream" cable for sennheiser shares the same "natural" tonal qualities as the «Ultimate Silver Dream» interconnects but compared to the Blue Dragon, the "Silver Dream" Sennheiser Cable has a lot more frequency content while having a deeper, tighter and more articulate bass.
The Blue Dragon have a distinct sonic signature which is smooth at the top end and warm at the mid-bass but remains pretty close to the sonic signature of thehd-650 with their stock cable. On the other hand, the "Silver Dream" did change the sonic signature of the hd-650 making them more open and much more revealing, the sound was probably more neutral but I wasn't sure I liked what I was hearing. There was just too much high frequency content between theDF-1704 module in my dac and the all silver interconnect. I tried many tweaks such as switching my m2tech converter with the warmer sounding teralink-x, switching digital cables, trying back the PMD 100 module, ... but all of those involved trade-offs in definition/resolution I wasn't willing to settle for. It was until I received theBADA LB-5600 Power filter and used it instead of my Supra Mains multiplier that I finally hit the "perfect" tonal balance in my system. The sound became vivid yet natural.
This digression might seem insignificant but I just wanted to point out that the "Silver dream" sennheiser cable might upset the balance of a system contrary to the Moon Audio Blue Dragon which is closer to the sonic signature of the stock HD-650 cable. This shouldn't be problematic however with a tube amp as I didn't notice any treble "hotness" when I paired it with the Little Dot mk-3.
The "Silver Dream" Sennheiser Cable has great dynamics especially in the bass. In comparison, the Blue Dragon seem to "saturate" and hit "compression" in the bass much earlier than the "Silver Dream".
This added dynamics is especially interesting again when watching movies/series. The dynamics are so close to the real thing that it becomes spooky sometimes.
The "Silver Dream" Sennheiser Cable share the same quality of "relaxed" definition as do the "Ultimate Silver Dream" interconnects. Compared to the Blue Dragon, there is a noticeable increase in resolution that is apparent on the Audio-gd C2C headphone amp but not so much with the Little Dot MK3.
However, even when using the Little Dot MK3, there is a noticeable increase in definition on both upgrade cables over the stock one which seems to suck all the low level details.
For those who are seeking to upgrade their headphone cable for the Sennheiser hd-650, both upgrade cables provide a big improvement over the stock cable. They both sound much cleaner and "de-veil" the sennheisers. However, while I found that the "Silver Dream" cable clearly outperformed the Blue Dragon in my system (mainly in definition and soundstage), it is easier to recommend the Blue Dragon than the Silver Dream. Indeed it is easier to live with a loss of definition and smooth sound than a high definition sound which tend to be aggressive.
Again, below is how I would grade the cables relative to each other (with my ears and my system) :
Stock HD-650 cable : 40
Blue Dragon V3 : 100
Silver Dream : 140
To sum up, I would say that the Artisan Silver Cables brought to my system more transparency, a bigger and bolder soundstage, and holographic imaging. These are absolutely great cables (for the money and to the extent of my knowledge) that pushed my system a little bit further towards neutrality. Also, while they ruthlessly reveal weaknesses about the equipment being used, there is a greater range than usual of recordings/music that sound good through the system.
Pictures of my system :
Edited by slim.a - 5/22/10 at 12:31am