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Review: Grover/Wolff Empress Interconnects

post #1 of 65
Thread Starter 
Introduction:

My journey to find a reasonably priced cable able to do all the little things right has been a long one. Each cable that has entered my system came with it’s own strengths and weaknesses, but not one seemed to do everything right. I would occasionally ponder what one of the mega-bucks cables could do for my system but reason always prevailed and I continued to swap cables within my budget hoping to find the right one. The list of cables I have had in my system in chronological order is:

-Virtual Dynamics Audition
-Belden 89259 with Cardas SLVR
-Cardas Neutral Reference
-Grover mkII
-W Enterprises NW Gold Alloy
-Aural Thrills Active Gold (used Topline WBT’s, gold tri-alloy wire)
-Grover Reference mkI
-Aural Thrills Active Gold (used Midline WBT’s, solid gold wire, silver return wire)
-Aural Thrills Beryllium Copper

Of course these are not the only cables I have listened to, but they are the ones that have stayed in my system for a reasonable amount of time. The first 3 cables all have the typical copper flavoring, which I do not like. They give warmth and body to the music but cloud the details and do not do anything particularly well. The Grover mkII cable I owned was a real bargain for the price. It easily best the copper cables for clarity, imaging, focus, speed, detail and tonal balance. The Grover Reference beats out its kid brother the mkII by bettering what the mkII does well. I ended up selling these cables because while not bright or thin sounding, they add an edge to the music that I find to be unnatural (this accentuated edge shows up in almost all silver cables I have listened to). The Aural Thrills Active Gold cables I owned were very pleasing to my ears. Each cable gives a rich inviting midrange, large open soundstage, black background and a very smooth full-bodied sound. The solid gold wire version is superior to the older version because it has superior imaging and crisper, albeit more laid back highs that have a touch of sweetness to them (kind of magical). While not as fast as the Grover cables, these cables are both detailed and creamy smooth. Next up was Aural Thrills Beryllium copper cable. This cable is more detailed, faster, has less soft edges while still remaining smooth and just as full. I ended up returning it though, because I did not like its tone in my system. It has that copper warmth that puts a sonic blanket the whole music spectrum. I still hadn’t found the right cable for my system. Next up was the Grover/Wolff Empress.

Build:

I can tell that this cable is solidly built and will be able to handle many connection swaps. It is fairly flexible and none too heavy. The connectors look like the NOS ones used for the Grover Reference cables. They make a snug connection and are malleable enough that you can adjust their grip if needed. The sheathing looks to be the same type used for the Wolff carbon power cords (of which I own and highly recommend the Wolff carbon source cord). My only gripe with the cable is that the colours used for the shrink-wrapping aren’t attractive as the rest of the cable. But overall the build quality of the Empress is very nice and the looks are a definite improvement over Grover’s older cables.

Sound:

The first thing that stuck me about the empress cable is how smooth it made my systems playback. Perhaps this was because in my past experience with silver cables I longed for this very trait. That typical silver edginess is in no way characteristic of this cable. Now I’ve heard this claim about other silver cables before, and I haven’t always agreed with such comments, but this is the real deal. Poor recordings are just as easy to listen to as good recordings but still do sound poorer. I believe there is nothing worse then a highly resolving system that renders bad recordings almost unlistenable (hmm unlistenable does not show up on my spell checker but its too good a word not to use). I’m not sure how the carbon ribbons in this cable work, but they must be doing a lot of good to rid the cable of the infamous silver sheen. Now I have heard smooth cables before, but have I heard ones that are as detailed, as tonally accurate or as fast? The answer is no, and now let me go into more detail.

In my system I exclusively use Grado headphones that are known mainly for two things, great mids and prat (pace rhythm and timing). The Grados let me know which cables can keep up with the music and which cannot. To determine if an interconnect can recreate these complex passages I like to use tracks with some intense cymbal usage. Cables that get left in the dust cause the cymbals to smear into each other and kill the prat. In my tests the empress’s were never caught with their guard down; they flowed through the music with a natural grace and never sounded compressed or slow.

The mids of Grado headphones is another reason I enjoy them. I have found that some silver cables tend to bleach the mids and other cables to substantially colour them. Either of these flavors lead to one thing, what I hear played back does not sound as realistic, nor does it sound as the headphone was intended to sound in my opinion. Thankfully, the empress cables allow the Grado mids to shine in all their glory. Vocals blossom out of a black background and never sound coloured or held back. I would go as far as to say the mids of the empress cable are holographic while not being euphonic (although I do like that). The all-important midrange is just a pleasure to listen to using the empress interconnects.

The soundstage on these cables is large and well defined. It is open and never compressed. The empress does depth well and imaging is very precise. Great imaging is a characteristic of all Grover’s cables in my opinion. The sound produced by the empress shows no signs of thinness and is very well balanced. This is as neutral a cable as I have heard. The wonderful tone keeps the Grado’s notoriously forward highs in check (I didn’t try them with bowl pads mind you). Bass is detailed and full; everything is in its right place.

The detail of this cable is what I would call ‘natural detail’. Unnatural detail would be when a cable derives its detail from an emphasized high end (magnifying hiss and the like). The empress simply gives you what’s there, without emphasizing any part of the sound spectrum. This is detail without fatigue, while not rounding off the edges as some cables may do. There is no veil over the music, everything is there for you to touch and feel. The timbre of the music is what I would call accurate and believable, certainly much care was put into voicing this cables just right. Simply put, the empress makes digital played through my system sound like real music, and that’s all I could ever ask for in a cable.

Conclusion:

As I see it there are two types of audiophiles, those that just want what is on the recording played back as accurately as possible with as much detail as possible, and those who want to recreate the live event with a very musical and involving sound. Can a cable really combine both of these worlds into one? Well now I know that yes a cable can, but only the really good ones. Which leads me to my final point; the empress really does impress.

Notes:

I mainly listen to rock music, so all my impressions were based on good and bad rock recordings. If you are interested in seeing what my system consists of, here is a link:
http://www6.head-fi.org/forums/member.php?userid=2093
I hope to be able to update this review with a direct A/B comparison with another cable once my rig is all settled in later this fall. I recently switched from Grado rs-1’s to Grado ps-1 pros.

Biggie.
post #2 of 65
Very nice review! Once again you beat me to the punch.

Good work, Biggie.
post #3 of 65
great review Biggie. I liked how you really kept things centered on how the Empress performed in your system, vis-a-vis the other cables you've tried. I, for one, don't know much (firsthand, or otherwise) about copper vs silver vs gold, so I learned a bit here.

How long have you had the Empress, and any idea/thoughts about their burn-in process? E.g. were there dramatic changes, did it take a long while for them to really settle in, or did they just plain sound amazing right away?

Of course, I would welcome gratuitous pics of the Empress in your rig

thanks for the thoughts and for taking the time to write such a clear review. Reviews/posts like those have moved the Empress to the top of my list of ICs to try/buy.
post #4 of 65
Excellent review Biggie! Great reading material at 4:30 A.M. while feeding Trinity. I can't wait to hear your thoughts when you get the PS-1's back and get some more time in with the system as a whole.
post #5 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nanahachi
How long have you had the Empress, and any idea/thoughts about their burn-in process? E.g. were there dramatic changes, did it take a long while for them to really settle in, or did they just plain sound amazing right away?
The cable did not need much burn-in. Most cables I have found to take 50 hours before smoothing out. The empress took a lot less time. I find that cables totally settle in after about 300 hours, though usually between 50 and 300 its not something I hear but something my ears physically tell me.

I'd also like to note that the empress is the most I have spent on a cable, even though the msrp's of a lot of the other cables is higher.

edit: I won't have a digital camera until christmas so no pics :P

Biggie.
post #6 of 65
Nice review Biggie! Thanks for your time and effort!

You've finally told me what type of audiophile I am. Fortunately, my Grover SR II's provide me with some musical and involving sound, as well as, the accuracy I apparently crave. Unfortunately, they will have to do me for some time as the Empresses are outside my budget ... regardless of how good a buy they are.

Let me know how everything synergizes once you get some time with your new interconnects, PS-1's, etc ... Gord SW Ont.

P.S. fyi ... right now the Shanling S-100 Mk II e/w OPA627 -> Grover SR II's -> Gilmore V1 e/w higher gauge power cable and my Sony 3000's is my favourite setup. To upgrade I continually change my existing components around.
post #7 of 65
I guess this is the new Empress cable thread.....thanks for your impressions NB.

I have a few days break-in on my IC pair and this is not just a small "tweak" over already excellent Grover SR II, it is a real noticeable change which I didn't think was possible without spending small fortune. I want to have several more listening sessions to fully guage what I am hearing, but it's pretty amazing what's going on. I have never experienced this velvet smoothness in my system before, treble grain/glare reduction is the best I have heard in any cable......something very good is going on here.

I may have to get another pair of Empress IC so I can hear full system CDP->Preamp->Amp with Empress. I do all my listening on speaker based systems so things like soundstage size can be a real factor.

I am "starting" to think what can I sell to make room for another pair of Empress.

Gopher.......how are things going? Any new Empress cables for you?
post #8 of 65
Thread Starter 
DA maybe you should consider auditioning a carbon source cord as well.

Biggie.
post #9 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by NotoriousBIG_PJ
DA maybe you should consider auditioning a carbon source cord as well.
Biggie.
How much would that set me back.............I think I have already overspent
on AC cords/conditioners with VD Nites and Audio Magic Stealth/Digital Stealth.

Perhaps they are working on new Empress AC cord now???????
post #10 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkAngel
Gopher.......how are things going? Any new Empress cables for you?
DA,

I'm still waiting on a pair of Empress phono interconnects. Once they arrive and burn in, I'll start a write up on the ICs in general. I've also been doing a bit of thinking and starting to be able to rationalize a pair of the speaker cable to myself. We'll see what happens in the weeks to come, as I'm also wanting to upgrade to seperates and this would make for a significant re-allocation of funds.

Fred

P.S. I have a question for you directly DA. I know you have the Von Schweikert VR-1s and was hoping you could comment on them a bit in comparisson to some of the other monitors you have in your posession. I think I tend to agree with your assessments of sound, and am getting a little curious about other pairs of monitors (I already own a larger pair of Von Schweikert design speakers that aren't going anywhere).
post #11 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gopher
DA,
P.S. I have a question for you directly DA. I know you have the Von Schweikert VR-1s and was hoping you could comment on them a bit in comparisson to some of the other monitors you have in your posession. I think I tend to agree with your assessments of sound, and am getting a little curious about other pairs of monitors (I already own a larger pair of Von Schweikert design speakers that aren't going anywhere).
The VR1 Monitor has very vivid detailed treble compared to other monitior speakers, I have to make some cable changes when using them otherwise my system would be bright sounding.......in headphone parlance they are like Sony 3000. This makes them very fast and detailed sounding almost like planar speaker, a good match for system that is on the warm rich side, not best choice if you listen mainly to average/poor recorded rock music.

The "stock" Tyler Taylo Reference is on the lush warm side of neutral for me. Initially I found them too laid back for my tastes, yet I knew the parts used are found in $5,000+ speakers and wood finishes are beautiful! Turns out they just need some tweaking, Tyler changed resistor to tweeter from 8 to 6 ohm and this noticeably opened up treble and increased soundstage.......they now sound fabulous and compete with very high end speakers. They now have a refinement the VR1 and GMA monitors cannot quite match, these are my main reference speakers.

The Green Mountain Audio Europas are slightly over hyped, but still are almost impossible to beat for under $1,000. Very neutral, relaxed and refined sound good with all types of music including less than perfect recordings, unique cast resin cabinent allows wonderful imaging. Downside is industrial appearance........very low WAF

(WAF = wife acceptance factor)
post #12 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkAngel
How much would that set me back.............I think I have already overspent
on AC cords/conditioners with VD Nites and Audio Magic Stealth/Digital Stealth.

Perhaps they are working on new Empress AC cord now???????
I don't think Grover has power cord experience so I don't see them colarberating on that. Wolff teamed up with grover because he doesn't have experience building ic's, he is a power cord maker. The carbon source is silver and carbon ribbon just like the empress cable. Here are reviews from audiogon: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr...9974&read&3&4&

I never wrote a review because its joined at the hip with my cd player. :P

Biggie.
post #13 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by NotoriousBIG_PJ
I like to use tracks with some intense cymbal usage. Cables that get left in the dust cause the cymbals to smear into each other and kill the prat.

the empress makes digital played through my system sound like real music,

As I see it there are two types of audiophiles, those that just want what was is on the recording played back as accurately as possible with as much detail as possible, and those who want to recreate the live event with a very musical and involving sound.

I mainly listen to rock music, so all my impressions were based on good and bad rock recordings.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkAngel
several more listening sessions to fully guage what I am hearing, but it's pretty amazing what's going on. I have never experienced this velvet smoothness in my system before, treble grain/glare reduction is the best I have heard in any cable
Just when I thought I had finally gotten off the cable merry-go-round for good they drag me back in!
Bastards.
J/K

The qualities selected from the above posts are greatly sought after by myself and I guess everyone.

But seriously I've lost track of the number of glowing, superlative cable reviews I've read that cover all price ranges.

Probably the biggest incentive for me to keep an interest in these Empress cables is that recording remastering guru/god Steve Hoffman has wired his equip with the stuff. That is indeed significant.

Great write up NotoriousBIG_PJ/Biggie
post #14 of 65
My understanding is that Steve Hoffman has his system wired with the
Grover SR II's not the Empress cables.
post #15 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by in2monk
My understanding is that Steve Hoffman has his system wired with the
Grover SR II's not the Empress cables.
Well either way, he's one dude who has proven, bona fide, genuine 'Golden Ears' and with a practically unlimited budget to boot. And if he's got those cables that's gotta be good enough for anyone.
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