Saturday, December 13, 2014

Home Brew Cables PS-1 Solid Silver Interconnect Review

Wire is wire, right? And the difference in materials used to conduct an electrical signal has measurable differences where copper is good, gold is better, and silver is best (at least when comparing the electrical property called "conductivity"). But gold is impractical (about $1,300 per ounce on this morning's market) and silver - although hugely less expensive - is finicky (easily oxidizes). So quality copper is widely used as an electrical conductor (OFC and PC-OCC being the two special-process favorites of high-end manufacturers).

The other obvious areas of difference are in the materials used in the connectors and the solder junctions. But variations in the materials (flat, round, silver-plated, diameters, winding configurations) all can be manipulated within an interconnect cable and the results can change the way a cable sounds. Some subjective observations can be confirmed with measurements and correlations revealed.

For example, using before-after RTA measurements may reveal minor differences in sound pressure levels across the audio spectrum. Capacitance, resistance, and inductance measurements could explain why high frequencies roll off or are over exaggerated. Using a more sophisticated approach to observing change involves a device that measures the "transfer function" of the signal. Here the signal that enters the preamplifier is compared to the signal that reaches your ear (everything in the audio chain is measured in this type of analysis). Combining these measurements could explain why a difference between cable A and cable B is perceived.

But no one does this primarily because there are no standards (what does this measured change mean?).  And when using the same cable but changing amplifiers, this change also changes the results of these measurements (and the resulting sound) not only because of the amplifier change and its internal transfer function but also because of the interaction of the new amplifier's input impedance driven by the preamp through this cable altering the end-to-end transfer function. Same preamp, same cable, new amplifier, new end-to-end transfer function. Same preamp, new cable, same amplifier, new end-to-end transfer function. In other words, changing any part of the chain will alter the sound in some way; it has to. Weather you can hear or measure this change is a different story.

So the best that reviewers can do is to explain their subjective impressions based on the equipment at hand at the time of the review knowing darned well that their results will undoubtedly change when connected to your system. In other words, the perceived changes they write about may or may not be the same changes you perceive in your system. However, some things can be gleaned if you understand what might be consistent across their/your systems.

In this review, I evaluate the performance of solid silver interconnect cables made by a local company, Home Brew Cables. This is a brand new manufacturer whose website may appear in its infancy but its products are not. The owner-audiophile, Roy Locke, had a simple idea: introduce audiophiles to the sound of silver at an affordable price. And so he did.



I used a pair of 1-meter PS-1 cables between my OPPO BDP-105 and my Onkyo P-3000R preamp, and a pair of 0.75 meter PS-1 cables between my preamp and my McIntosh MC-2100 power amp. These cables are unshileded and non-polarized meaning that their use is not recommended for phono-to-preamp connections. However, for higher-level signals from other peripherals to your preamp or receiver these unshileded cables will function adequately. A brief description of cable construction from the manufacturer follows:

Each cable is made from 0.999s 28AWG pure silver solid core conductors, one for hot and one for return, in a parallel configuration.

These are delicate cables and must not be treated rough. A good length of heat-shrink tubing is applied at each connector end providing reasonable strain relief at the connector however the connectors themselves can be unscrewed and care must be taken to not damage the internal solder joints by inadvertently twisting them.

When Doug Sax and Lincoln Mayorga of Sheffield Labs, owners of this premier direct-to-disk record company, heard the sound of a silver interconnect cable in the recording chain, they decided that all of the cables and connectors would be swapped for silver. I never forgot this and knew that what they heard must have been truly special in order for them to spring for such a sweeping investment. The consistent thing you can hear between any audio system is this same difference that Doug and Linc heard at that time in their recording studio.

The Challenges
These cables, while stellar in the bass, midrange, and high frequencies, suffer in a few areas compared to more costly esoteric cables. First, they lack speed (most likely because of the single-strand solid core). While they have good high frequency content, the quick tap of drumsticks on cymbals sounds smeared and soft compared to others and a similar characteristic is also heard in the abrupt dynamics of lower-register percussion. Next, they lack subsonic response and high-frequency extension. Because of this, they appear to emphasize the bandwidth that they can cover and even though your system may consist of a subwoofer and super tweeter, these will not capitalize on the signals that they pass.

The Virtues
For the bandwidth that they can handle, they are absolutely impressive. The soundstage width and height is huge and the position of instruments is rock solid. There is something about their ability to reveal nuances in performances that you just cannot hear in similar price-point cables. The more I listen to these cables, the more I like them even though they are not "perfect." I can overlook their shortcomings and enjoy the music rather than listen to other budget cables that color the sound.

For example, the Blue Coast DSD recording of Alex DeGrassi's The Water Garden contains very well recorded fingering of his solo guitar. finger slides on the wire-wound strings are better revealed as are the vibrato nuances excited by his fingers wiggling on the frets. Even minor string buzzes against the guitar body and neck are wonderfully conveyed in astounding detail. This is a pretty complicated achievement and one that I commend Roy in doing.

Next, the front-to-back depth is pretty decently exemplified in another DSD track of mine called When It's Sleepy Time (I cannot recall where I purchased this track and Shazam cannot help either). Here the sound of the saxophone is literally second to none. The roundness of the instrument without becoming blaring or glaring is a testimony to the wondrous properties of these sliver conductors. The timbre remains believable throughout its entire range and the echoes in the room reveal a spaciousness to the overall performance.

Summary
The PS-1 cables are in a word sweet! They show you how esoteric cables can improve the impression of your existing equipment without breaking the bank. They are smooth, revealing, and fluid, much like the sound of good tubes and planar speakers and can add that bit of class to your otherwise quality home system. Like any fine piece of art, sculpture, or delicate instrument, they must be handled with care and when doing so the results are superb.

Even though the PS-1 cables are not what one would consider "exotic" by any stretch of the imagination, they have a similar attraction and appeal. I personally prefer the Mark Tunis cables over the PS-1 in my system; as mentioned earlier your results may prove otherwise. However, with the PS-1 cables you should hear deeper into the music more so than with other cables costing considerably more than these. They appear to be more transparent and "get out of the way" of the entire signal path than any other cables in their price range - at least for the bandwidth they can cover.

  • Home Brew Cables PS-1 1.0 meter cable, Neutrik gold-plated connectors, $59.95. Free CONUS shipping
  • Custom lengths available at $10 additional per 0.5 meter.
  • Custom connectors available upon request at an additional expense,

See their website at http://home-brew-cables.webnode.com/products-1/ for all of their products.

Manufacturer's Comments

I would like to thank Philip for the honest and straightforward review.  While measurements are important in any review I feel that one should never rely solely on measurements but let their own ears decide.

Roy Locke
Home Brew Cables 

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

Skeptics are essential to keep us sane; skeptics do little to keep us inspired. Philip Rastocny, 7-16-2014

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QFIAC3G

My other titles include:






















Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mark Tunis Audio Cable Review



Last month at the Suncoast Audiophile Society meeting, several new members appeared and as luck would have it I had the great fortune to meet Mr. Marcus (Mark) Tunis. Mark is a new entry into the high-end mix presently constructing high-quality interconnect cables and speaker wires in his living room, but do not let this modes garage-style beginning fool you about what lurks (or lures you) behind the curtain.

After a brief but engaging chat regarding esoteric materials and interconnect technology, Mark loaned me two pair of unbalanced 1-meter interconnects that I agreed to review. But this is not the only style of cable Mark currently produces; in his repertoire are balanced (and unbalanced) interconnects terminated in your desired connectors, and an interesting-looking speaker wire.

Mark is a believer that – to a certain degree – history in the audio realm repeats itself. Engineers and enthusiasts have bantered back and forth different technologies and applications yielding to new materials and innovations basically taking a good idea and trying to make it better. However, the original idea is grounded on solid science and this is where he steps in. He uses proven technologies in cable design and upgrades the connectors.

Mark likes the sound of silver (as do I) and is also a huge fan of air as an insulator. Air is a proven and widely used technology – just look at the electric transmission lines or high-tension wires your power company used to bring electricity to your home as a classic example. His next favorite insulator is Teflon, and I must say that after adding small Teflon shunt capacitors on my signal-path crossover network capacitors, I must completely agree with him. Mark uses high-quality copper plated with silver for both the multi-stranded center conductor and braided shield of his interconnect cables and multi-stranded wire silver-plated copper wire for his speaker cable.

As it is with anyone promoting their own goods or services, Mark started out (as anticipated) stating that his cables had been reviewed by others claiming they were better than those costing 10s and 100s of times more (…and do I have a deal for you on a bridge in Brooklyn…). Needless to say, I was initially skeptical but intrigued by his sincerity. So the cables sat on the shelf at home for another day or so until I connected them to my system. When someone claims to have a better cable than the mainstream sells for a tiny fraction of their cost, it is a lot to believe as I am certain that most of you would agree. But although skeptical, I was hopeful and gave them a chance.

Putting it mildly, I expect a lot from interconnect or speaker cables. My current hand-made interconnect cables possess a phenomenal soundstage in all three dimensions and unmatched smoothness from all but the best I have ever auditioned. But two of my quad-wired (think of them as bi-wired times two) hand-made speaker cables use Teflon-insulated silver-plated OFHC copper each wound in a star-quad configuration. Each segment of my crossover network (sub, bass, mid, and tweet) is isolated from the other (no shared signal or ground paths) and each requires its own speaker cable (no shunt straps). Yup, you read this right: four discrete speaker wires run from the amp to each speaker.

The 1-meter unbalanced cables I auditioned used the WBT gold RCA plugs, very high quality plugs without a doubt. And the attention to assembly detail was equally as impressive since Mark uses 5% silver solder at the termination points. The cable itself is VERY thin; with an external diameter on the order of 3/32” (2.4mm) it is the smallest diameter cable I have ever tried. But tiny is anything but the way I would describe their sound. These are some amazing interconnects and what they do, they do very well.
 

First, the top two octaves just open up and become dynamic, detailed, accurate, and seamless. Most cables favor one band or another and as a result the sound is unbalanced from top-to-bottom. These are the exact opposite. What I realized after just a few minutes of listening is what my other reference cables had left out.

I use a ribbon tweeter (super tweeter) that crosses over at about 9,500Hz. After a long series of experiments with the selection of crossover network capacitors, I assumed that the sound from this driver was as good as it was going to get – until, that is, I auditioned Mark’s cables. They allowed more sound to come through unaltered; just un-emphasized, un-compressed, and un-damped neutral music from source to speakers. Everything I suspected as an issue in the crossover network was instead an issue with my old interconnect cables. I was relieved, excited, and really started listening to their uncanny ability to reveal nuances.

Spinning my favorite reference disks found new life, new information, and new clarity in almost every measure. Performances with which I was intimately familiar now resounded with life-like realism unachieved before. Saxophones sounded like saxophones, not sort of like saxophones. Pianos had that inner detail of the felt on the hammer striking the string prior to its resonance; then the resonances of the sound board can be heard as it blooms; I listen in total awe. My mouth literally dropped then and it still does today regardless of what I play.

My worst critic, my wife, even admitted that these cables were thrilling and incredibly realistic sounding providing– so to speak – a seat at the mixing console. These cables eliminate one more layer of grunge between you and the performance, something I find exhilarating. To me, sitting down to a sound system and having that “being there” experience come to life is the Holy Grail of audiophiles. Like having a concert in your listening room, these cables do the job.

What music sounds best? All of it! Even those tracks you thought were so-so you may again find to your liking. Classic rock has never sounded so good and the music I relegated to the “boring” category is now at least revealed to its fullest. The ability to notice differences between MP3, SACD, DSD, and higher-resolution recordings is easily brought to bear as the size and depth of the soundstage, the detail improves as do the dynamics. No matter what I listen to it now sounds good and those esoteric discs are to die for. One person – a newbie into the high-end realm – dropped by a few days ago and after hearing these cables said “Thanks for ruining my CD collection.” What he meant was that he now had to invest into higher-quality recordings since the Red-Book 44-16 standard of CDs was now in his own words “grossly inadequate.” I agree but I still listen to them because sometimes there is no other format choice available and I like the artist.

With every improvement in your system, you begin to notice other issues. Like peeling back an onion, there are layers upon layers of issues that until you achieve a certain level of refinement you may have been totally unaware of their presence. This was my case for my line filter. I use a Hospital Grade differential toroidal line filter (a PowerVAR ABC-1200). I have already changed grounding to a true single-point scheme but the introduction of these fine cables caused me to rethink something about this grounding scheme. While the internal wiring reflected a single-point ground, the metal outlet frame is connected to the ground wire terminal. Attaching standard mounting screws to the frame therefore introduced more ground loops (Oops! Overlooked that one.). Adding electrical tape to the front and back of the outlet frames, enlarging the mounting holes on the frames, and adding insulating sleeves to the mounting screws created a true single-point grounding scheme on the unit.

The results were absolutely astounding. The sound stage expanded exponentially allowing live recordings in large rooms to reveal the ambience nuances associated with long reverberation times. For example, on the SACD album “Missa In Nativitate Domini” by Kåre Nordstoga, track 19 Orgelimprovisata (Deilig er Jorden ) clearly revealed the position of the organ ranks along the walls and enhanced the low-level information in the performance literally thrusting you into the balcony (one wonders how far off the floor the microphones are placed). Outcome: one more layer of the onion peeled back and one step closer to the audio Grail. Other well-recorded music yields identical results: you just hear more detail and realism than you did before.

Apparently made from a MIL-Spec stranded coax cable (RG-178, RG-179, RG-316, etc.), these cables are a delight and at their modest cost well worth the investment. Although there is a little sibilance introduced in some productions (mostly discerned when viewing live video), this minor downside is easily overlooked considering all of the other benefits achieved. Below is a description of the RCA interconnect provided by Mark:

Silver plated Coaxial Cable
Constructed with stranded silver plated copper conductors insulated with an extruded PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) dielectric. The outstanding electrical and mechanical properties of silver and PTFE over a broad range of frequencies makes this coaxial cable outstanding for audio applications.
Extremely transparent, clean and clear with solid soundstaging, pleanty of bass, and does cymbals better than I’ve ever heard. Silver wire gives realistic, natural and organic sound with both solid state and tube gear, and takes the edge off of digital that wears me out. Teflon insulation and silver braided shielding for the best EMI/RFI rejection,

A summary of product offerings from Mark Tunis Audio is provided next:

Style
Type
Plug Style
Length
Price
Additional length
Interconnect
XLR
Neutrik, silver tip
1 Meter
$130
$20/meter

RCA
WBT
1 Meter
$130
$15/meter

RCA
Switchcraft
1 Meter
$90
$15/meter

RCA
Wood
1 Meter
$90
$15/meter
Power Cord
10 AWG
Cryo Rhodium
6 foot
$200
$10/foot
Speaker
10 AWG
Banana/Spade
6 foot
$250
$10/foot

Custom configurations available for most models upon request. For ordering, Mark Tunis Audio products are available from any of the following methods. Paypal is the only payment method currently offered:
Telephone: 770-212-0865

Yours for higher fidelity,

Philip Rastocny

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QFIAC3G

My other titles include:




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Star of Bethlehem



Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go?

My pen has been focused on my audio blog for quite a while and recently I have been re-inspired for a new work (hence the high-end hiatus). As some of you know, I have been an astronomer since my youth and obtained my first serious telescope while living in Conifer, CO. I have always been intrigued by one particular astronomical object: the Star of Bethlehem. So, for the past 10 years, I've been doing some digging and I believe I know what it was and where it went (still is). Just in time for the Holidays, my new book is now available in both eBook and paperback formats and here is a quick description:



In the Christian Bible, the Book of Matthew contains a story where strangers came to Jerusalem from the distant East. They claimed to have seen a special Star and were searching for answers. The origin and disposition of this Star has been hotly debated by clergy, scientists, and astronomers ever since.

Little is explained in the Book of Matthew about these strangers, and even less about this Star, but it does record several revealing hints about human nature. Putting on your detective hat, you can follow this tale from a different point of view and look for the means, motive, and opportunity in a list of the astronomical suspects. Examining this Biblical account from a forensic approach you will study the evidence, follow leads, researches clues, and develop a hypothesis.

In the end, you will see good arguments as to: why these strangers had to travel, what remains, where this Star is today, and understand compelling reasons about what could have transpired. Grab your magnifying glass and roll up your sleeves. Let's see what you can deduce!

Told in an investigative-report style and from a present-day astronomer’s perspective, it traces this age-old story of the visit of the Wise Men (aka Magi) from their point of origin to the Jesus child and every choice and decision in between. As you eliminate the impossible and narrow down likely suspects, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the truth!

And soon to return, more goodies on my newest high-end discoveries plus more interviews with people who love and restore vintage gear.


Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

Skeptics are essential to keep us sane; skeptics do little to keep us inspired. Philip Rastocny, 7-16-2014

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, tell your friends and please remember to reciprocate by purchasing some of my highly affordable works at Amazon.com. My titles include:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Preserving High-end History - Part 3

Passion in the restoration field is a common theme among the member elite; some get hooked early in life while others eventually migrate into the field. The first person of interest in this series is "Sonny" Clutter, someone possessed with early radio restorations. Note that in the high-end, I believe that being possessed is a positive trait although my wife may kindheartedly disagree.

C. E. "Sonny" Clutter
Sonny became interested in radios at the impressionable age of 10. His stepfather was what you would call a "picker", he would buy and sell anything and everything he could get cheap, and the two started traveling together at about age 12. They frequented local appliance dealers (who took trade-ins back then) and would often buy a whole truck load of stuff. Sonny can remember seeing 7”, 10”, and 12" TVs stacked high in the back rooms of these dealers all ripe for the taking. These trade-in TVs fetched about $5 each in those days, even less if you bought them by the truck load. Depending upon condition, I either removed what was of value and scrapped the rest, or re-sold the better stuff at auction houses or local buyers.

Sonny Clutter

Sonny’s first restoration project was a 1949 10" Meck television way back in 1953. One unsuspecting day Sonny’s stepfather gave it to him to tinker with, what a thrill that was for a young and innocent child. With a little loving guidance, Sonny was able to make it work and that became their family’s first television.

Sonny remembers the old console radios they would get, especially the large Majestics. He marveled at the intricacy of the various parts, circuitry, and the sealed containers. His curiosity overcoming him, Sonny would remove and open the beautiful constructed aluminum and sometimes copper cans containing the meticulously-wound coils on these old pieces of engineering and marveled at how these made sounds and music. What a thrill that was for him to bring one of these old relics back to life by his own hands.
Not satisfied with a casual understanding of electronics, Sonny found an old NRI (National Radio Institute) home study course in 1954 and taught himself the basics of radios and electronics.

In 1956 Sonny took an after school and week-end job at a local Radio & TV repair shop in Ashland (Supreme Radio & TV). Owner Jake Rodman couldn't afford to pay Sonny a salary, so he started working for nothing (a "gopher at first) just for the opportunity to learn more about the technology he loved. Jake, a first-class service technician in his own right, taught Sonny many of the things that he still practices to this day. Sonny started by working in Jake’s shop doing odd jobs, sweeping the floor, and later was trusted to test tubes for customers at the counter. He also spent time on the work-bench asking Jake numerous questions and learning specific trouble-shooting techniques. It wasn’t long before Sonny joined Jake on service calls and antenna installations, and after only a few short weeks Sonny started earning a modest salary. Getting paid to do what he loved seemed like the best job he could ever have.

In 1959, Sonny joined the Air Force where he again studied electronics focusing on radio communications. After the USAF he worked as a consumer electronics service technician but could not shake his fascination with old technology. In 1962 his love for old radios was rekindled when he accidentally crossed paths with an old 1927 "Kolster" AC radio. He meticulously cleaned and re-finishing the cabinet and found that restoration was still in his blood. In 1996 he devoted himself to his “hobby” and has since turned this passion into a thriving Internet business.

Sonny’s Immaculate Workbench


Since 1966, Sonny dedicates his time to restoring all sorts of old radios and televisions and has many of these for sale on his website. Sonny is not interested in upgrades or modifications but rather in restoring a piece of equipment to its original design, just as you would have purchased it brand new way back when.

In the next interview, I will again add a name to the "possessed" list with a local Tampa person with an unusual story. Until then, remember to listen with your ears and not your eyes.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

Skeptics are essential to keep us sane; skeptics do little to keep us inspired. Philip Rastocny, 7-16-2014

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QFIAC3G

My other titles include: