Sunday, February 1, 2015

Unique Piano Keyboard Light Review

Many of you already know that listening to music in the dark changes your perception of a performance. If you have never listened to your system in the dark, now is the time to do so. I personally believe that dimming the lights turns off the visual stimulation part of your brain and allows you to listen more intently. Now apply this thought to a concert and you get the idea behind this new invention.

Without the glitz of an over-the-top pyrotechnics or laser addition to a concert, one can focus more on the music and the artist's interpretation rather than other visual distractions. Apparently a new breed of reputable pianists agree.

Mr. Gary Toth has invented a novel light for piano keyboards he calls the Luma Klavier (US patent pending number UA 286-14). First, from the performer's perspective, this light is seriously desirable. While some pianists prefer playing with their eyes closed memorizing not only key positions but also an entire musical score, others prefer to watch their hand movements and refer to sheet music. And if you know anything about conventional keyboard lighting, non-uniformity and glare can further complicate an otherwise already complex performance. This light relieves this level of complication by creating a uniform, shadow-free glow over all of the keys. So as not to overwhelm the artist in a low-light performance, the intensity of this light is infinitely adjustable. Too bright? Turn it down. Too dim? Turn it up. And when an artist is comfortable, the creative juices freely flow. Brilliant!

The Luma Klavier Dimable LED Piano Light

Second, this invention creates a new illumination statement in live performances and may find its way into other venues. Just like adding lasers to rock concerts or black-and-white photos in a color world, adding a visual thrill to the attendance of a concert changes your perception of that performance by engaging or disengaging more or less of your senses. In concerts such lighting techniques are desired by musicians and expected from a seasoned audience perspective. Yes, with such Spartan lighting you cannot observe the artist in a concert as you "normally" would, but I believe that's the point. Think of the lightning techniques used by someone like Blue Man Group, just the total opposite; a minimalist approach. The Zen of stage lighting if you will; a modern-day candelabra. I'm suspect Liberace would lust after one if he were still alive.

Options for sheet-music illumination and expandable lengths to fit various-sized keyboards are in the works, all running from self-contained battery power (think no cords).  Dim-ability is of course standard as are models for electronic keyboards with reach-through capabilities and stand mounts. RGB color versions and DMX lighting protocol compatibility are also in the mix.

Time will tell if Gary has an invention that pianists/musicians/concert halls will embrace. However, from the feedback he has already received on the concerts he produces at the University of Alaska, it appears that there are many artists who already prefer to employ his novel idea. I personally think this is a winner and from the plans he's shared with me, I also believe in the direction he is going.

His brief YouTube video demonstrates this invention. Although still on the drawing boards, this product will - as they say - be available soon. If you want one, please contact Adam Krynicki at telephone number 907-474-2626 or email Adam at

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 by purchasing one of my eBooks or through a PayPal donation, 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 (like that of the Discovery Channel), it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

My other titles include:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Vishay MKP 1837 Review and Modification

In Part 1 and Part 2 of the Esoteric Shunt Capacitor series, we saw that your idea of an ideal capacitor may be what high-end manufacturers already make, however, getting detailed specifications for these beauties are data kept private as trade secrets. But as mentioned using your ideals you may be able to find a similar capacitor designed for use in non-audio applications. Such it is with the radio-frequency Glass Capacitor, one designed for use in environmental extremes and ultra stability.

But other esoteric shunt capacitors already exist such as dielectrics made from Teflon, those pricey yet silky paper-in-oil types, and of course the famous Vishay MKP 1837. For the moment, I want to focus on the 1837 and its attributes. Later, I will share with you a simple upgrade to this already stellar little capacitor. Lastly, in a separate article, I will share with you how different choices in shunt capacitors; how these different styles change the sound based on what capacitor you shunt and what bandwidth it occupies. This is a pretty revealing tale so grab a hot cup of your favorite coffee and let’s get busy.

The Vishay MKP 1837 Review
Many folks already praise this tiny inexpensive capacitor. Most reviewers heap heralds upon it such as “can’t live without ‘em” or something of a similar note alerting you to the fact that this capacitor should not be casually overlooked despite its extremely low cost. In short, this capacitor packs a punch for its size and can give you hints about what is going on inside of the shunted capacitor as the frequency changes. But before I give too much away, let's begin with a physical description of this amazing device.

Believing the praises from reputable reviewers, I blindly purchased 60 of the 0.01uF/160V capacitors from Mouser Electronics. First, the metal leads on the capacitors I received were about 15mm long, slightly different from the packaging specification. Undaunted, I set out to see for myself how these capacitors performed by adding them as bypass capacitors in my loudspeaker's crossover network.

I started out by connecting one of these capacitors in parallel with the signal-path capacitors in my 8 ohm midrange bandpass (500Hz Bessel2 and 2.4KHz BW3) network. Now one would  suspect to hear little if any difference in sound when shunting a big 22uF Mundorf Supreme capacitor (already shunted with a 3.3uF Mundorf Supreme and a 0.1uF Russian Teflon) with this incredibly tiny Vishay 0.01uF capacitor but I can tell you that you must rethink your opinion. While the non-Vishay shunted network sounded smooth and silky to begin with, adding the Vishay shunt added more sparkle and speed to the midrange driver giving it more punch and definition. For example, drum-skins took on a snap and timbre that were only hinted at without the Vishays. There was also a slight sterility present but the vast improvement in transient response allowed me to easily overlook this drawback.

Next was to do the same thing to the tweeter signal-path capacitors, another bandpass (2.4KHz BW3 and 8.8KHz BW4). Similar results were observed in this band-pass where things just sounded tighter, crisper, and more succinct. Again there was a slight edge of sterility as in the midrange experiment and again I overlooked its shortcomings because of its contributions. What I noticed was the speed at which percussion instruments sounded and ambience details that came forward. What were once faint echoes were now louder and decays were gradual instead of sudden.

Finally, I did the same thing to the super tweeter signal-path capacitors. I used Obbligato Golds in the BW4 network and I noticed immediately that the top octave was LOUDER! What tiny tizzles and twinkles were hushed and overwhelmed by fundamentals were now clearly present providing a plethora of ambience information. Other information such as fingers sliding on guitar strings and rivets rattling on cymbals were just plain louder, not just more emphatic.

These capacitors seemed to live up to their praise by others and now mine joined the bandwagon. But after prolonged listening, I began to become irritated or rather annoyed by their tiny shortcomings and decided to see what could be done to help them out. So not comes the next level: te modification.

The Vishay MKP 1837 Modification
As mentioned, these are quite the saucy little capacitors and you should buy a few just to see if what they did for me they will also do for you. But there is a bit more to this tale and that is this: how can you make a good thing even better?

Decades ago, I bought a turntable (A Yamaha YP-D8) and upgraded the headshell. This headshell came with non-esoteric wires but it did improve the sound of the turntable. At this same time, there was some noise in the audio rags about a new wire called "oxygen-free, linear-crystal copper" and I bought four 2" (5cm) wires for this headshell. Frankly, I was just performing a test and really did not expect to hear any difference from such a short piece of wire. WRONG! The results were unimaginable.

Well, remembering my experience with short wire lengths, I decided to apply this experience to these little Vishay capacitors. As mentioned, the leads on my products had 15mm leads and I began to look suspiciously at their sonic contribution (or shall I say the coloration thereof). Using some available wire-wrap wire from a different project (#22 silver-plated OFHC copper, Kynar jacket) I decided to conduct another experiment. I soldered small lengths of wire to the base of the Vishay capacitors as close to the potting material as possible and snip off the remaining part of the lead. Below are pictures of the five steps I used to perform this process. Pictures are worth tousands of words so I'll let them do the talking.

1. Put the Capacitor in a Vise

2. Cut Off Excess Wire Length to 5mm

3. Solder the First Silver Wire as Close to the Base as Possible

4. Do the Same for the Second Silver Wire

5. Trim Off All Old Excess Wire Lead
TADA! And that is it. You have replaced as much of the metallic leads with better conducting wire. Soldering these modified capacitors in places already mentioned completely removed their drawbacks and annoyances and the sound is as pure as it can be (at least in this configuration). It's hard to explain the overall impact this minor modification made but my best words would be that the capacitors began to "get out of the way" of the music. Their sound now is best described as a complete lack-of-sound (this is a good thing); they contribute little in the way of coloration or sonic alteration. You have to give this a shot.

As a side note, this simple modification could be made to ANY capacitor whose existing leads are not made from gold or silver. I am in the process of rewiring my entire crossover network with silver stranded, Teflon insulated wire and every capacitor will meet this fate. Every inductor will also meet a similar fate where as much of the silver wire will be used and as little of the existing copper or metallic wire eliminated.

Related Articles
The Vishay 1837 Review and Modification
Bypass Capacitors
Mundorf Supreme Capacitor Review - Part 1
Mundorf Supreme Capacitor Review - Part 2
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 0
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 1
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 2
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 3

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 by purchasing one of my eBooks or through a PayPal donation, 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 (like that of the Discovery Channel), it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

My other titles include:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Preserving High-end History - Part 4

In previous editions of this series, I talked about locals who focused on the high end audio. But there are others out there who focus on restorations and maintaining pieces of history as they were originally created. Such folks give a nod to these classic designers of this early gear since they are the shoulders on which high-end designers of today stand. One individual who is fascinated by old gear and chooses not to alter but rather preserve these pieces of history is 28-year old Victor Rucinski.

Victor is - by the literal meaning of the word - an enthusiastic entry into the field of historic preservation. One of his most recent efforts involved the restoration of an AR-XA turntable, a piece of gear near and dear to my heart since I owned one of these while going to college. Along with a Shure V-15 Type III, it provided many, many hours sonic of delight through my Sansui tube integrated amp and Acoustic Research AR-5 loudspeakers.

Victor's vintage 1973 AR-XA Turntable Restoration

In a phone interview with him, I discovered that he is a musician, a drummer turned technician. From necessity, Victor dabbled in equipment repair being a classic starving artist at the time (his day job was in construction). Tired of paying a local shop $100 for telling him his gear was broken (duh!), Victor decided to start fiddling with solid state gear. At the time he was working in a recording studio producing demo tracks for local musicians when something happened that literally changed his life: he heard a tube guitar amplifier.

You see musicians ears are a mixed bag. Some are so focused on their art they are oblivious to the instruments or the technology and focused completely on the interpretation and art (ever heard a good recording played with a guitar string out-of-tune?). Some are technical perfectionists striving to capture not only the artform but also the perfection of an instrument (why concert violinists prefer old violins). Victor is a musician that hears everything. Much like Eddy Van Halen strives to bring new sounds to old instruments (remember the electric drill used in the song "Poundcake?") Victor leans more to technical and artistic perfection. But his lack of formal training did not impede his passion.

Undaunted by the challenge of learning something new, Victor cruised old book stores and flea markets for manuals, guides, and information from the 1930s and 1940s on the art of designing tube gear and was rewarded handsomely for his efforts. After over a year of studying these classic publications he moved from the Providence, RI area to Boston, MA and started repairing tube gear, mainly for other musicians. Not satisfied with what he knew, Victor sought out a mentor from a local hi-fi shop who took him under his wing and passed on techniques and knowledge as only an original "old school" technician could. Now Victor could not only learn about the technology he loved but get paid for it at the same time!

With his eyes on audio gear, Victor focused primarily on making broken things work again. his personal reward was seeing how delighted the eyes of his customers grew as the tubes glowed and the music flowed. He was hooked and his insatiable curiosity fueled his drive! Victor wanted to understand more than how to revive something, he wanted to know why a design worked and why it sounded as it did - a true passion combined with a level of detail that even some of the best electrical engineers fail to embrace (he is a real fan of John Milton Miller, originator of the "Miller Effect" theory that describes the impact of capacitance on bandwidth limitations).

Armed now with this knowledge, his skills were honed to a level that few technicians achieve. His Polish roots caused him to develop a variant to his name and developed a small business known as Wiktor Amps. His company specializes in all things audio, from tube amps to turntables and everything in between, and can repair or modify your audio equipment to make it perform like new again.

Victor's Facebook Page is, he can be reached by phone at  508-333-2603, and his email address is If you live in the Boston area, make sure you give Victor a shout.

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.

My other titles include:

Monday, December 29, 2014

Esoteric Shunt Capacitors - Part 2

If you were to develop a list of desired characteristics for high-end audio capacitors, what would that be? One example would be to look at the design parameters of well-known high-end capacitor manufacturers (Duelund, Mundorf, Hovland, etc.) and use them to model the theoretically best possible capacitor. However, such manufacturers hold this information close to their chests and are next to impossible to obtain. Mundorf uses the philosophy of two capacitors in series to lower the characteristic inductive reactance of a single capacitor. Teflon insulation is superior to Mylar and paper-in-oil is always a good option. All esoteric manufacturers offer some variation or combination of these designs without providing detailed electrical specifications so much is left up to your ear.

But there is another approach to creating such a theoretical capacitor and that is to see what other applications may fit your list of desired parameters. For example, looking outside of the audio realm and into the RF, Microwave, or higher frequency bands one may find an "off-the-shelf" capacitor that is designed precisely to your wish list, just at the wrong value or size or voltage. As the frequency increases upward from the audio band, the values of capacitors used in these higher-frequency bands decrease. So even though you may find a design that is theoretically perfect, it may just be too small to be of any use.

But therein is the rub. If you use these small capacitors in conjunction with a well-made large value capacitor (i.e., use it as a shunt capacitor), you may get the best of both worlds. What I considered to be an excellent design is the lowly glass dielectric RF capacitor, a design that has pretty much fallen from favor in conventional applications because of high manufacturing costs. Let's see what benefits using such capacitors could offer:

  • Low temperature coefficient: Glass capacitors have a very low temperature coefficient. Figures of just over 100ppm/C are often obtained for these capacitors.
  • No hysteresis: Some forms of capacitor exhibit hysteresis in their temperature characteristic. This is not the case for glass capacitors which follow the same temperature/capacitance when the temperature rises or falls.
  • Zero ageing rate: Many electronics components change their value with age as chemical reactions take place within the component. Glass capacitors do not exhibit this effect and retain their original value over long periods of time.
  • No piezo-electric noise: Some capacitors exhibit the piezo-electric effect to a small degree. This can result in effects such as microphonics on oscillations.
  • Extremely low loss / High Q: Glass capacitors are very low loss as there is virtually no dielectric loss. This enables very high Q circuits to be built using them provided the other components (e.g. inductors) are also extremely low-loss.
  • Large RF current capability: Some capacitors are not able to withstand large values of current. This is not the case for glass capacitors which are suitable for use in RF high power amplifiers, etc.
  • High operating temperature capability: Glass dielectric capacitors are able to operate at very high temperatures, some up to 200C without fear of damage or performance shortfall.
  • Manufactured to Military Specifications: Tighter tolerances, gold-plated leads, wider operating temperatures, and in general overall higher quality are available for military applications.

Does this list of design parameters sound like the same list you may have theoretically considered? I presume that many of the characteristics are indeed. The bad thing about such capacitors are that they are only available in the pico-farad range (10e-9 farads - or - 0.x, 0.0x, or 0.00x micro-farads); the good thing about capacitors is that you can place them in parallel to obtain larger values. So despite their tiny individual values, larger paralleled values are possible, just at a higher final cost.

I ordered a few of the largest value glass dielectric capacitors off of eBay I could find just to see how they would sound as tiny shunts across the tweeter and super tweeter signal-path crossover network capacitors. The results were pretty amazing but it also revealed other "hidden" issues I had built-into my design. (As mentioned in many other articles, your audio system is a chain whose strength is defined by the weakest link - here an assumption in crossover network design).

First, the sound is wondrous when shunting Mundorf Supreme capacitors. Although these capacitors sound marvelous by themselves, shunting them with these nano-Farad capacitors brought out a clarity that was otherwise veiled. Tiny brush whisks on snare drums came to life as did inner detailing of double-bass string plucking. 

One of my favorite albums for identifying acoustic assets or shortcomings is the superb 24/192 version of the "Wake Up Your Ears" sampler by Audiogon. Track 10 - You Haven't Done Nothin' - is a delightful jazz offering featuring double-bass, saxophone, drums, and vocals by Jen Chapin where this recording captures a significant amount of hall ambiance along with a very wide dynamic range. This allows you to listen deep into the music and appreciate the timbre and tonality of each instrument. The sax "pops" as the lower registers are artfully massaged into musicality blending with the hushed background grunts and whispers of the percussionist. Where these intonations were always there, they were thrust into the forefront with the aid of these tiny ultra-high quality capacitors.

Another thing I noticed was that not all capacitors responded in the same manner. For example, the Obbligato Gold series I use on the super tweeter sounded softer and less pronounced as if the ESR was high compared to the Vishay MKP it replaced. So these tiny capacitors are not the "magic bullet" to solve all of your audio dreams but I would give them a shot. Buy the largest values you can find and then parallel them to create at least 0.001uF in total capacitance. Voltages are typically 300V, far more than adequate for most crossover networks but your ears must be the final judge in tuning your network to your drivers and wires.

So there you have it. Glass Capacitors. Who'd a thought? Grab 'em while you can.

Related articles:
The Vishay 1837 Review and Modification

Bypass Capacitors
Mundorf Supreme Capacitor Review - Part 1
Mundorf Supreme Capacitor Review - Part 2
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 0
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 1
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 2
Capacitors: All Things are NOT Created Equal - Part 3

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.

My other titles include:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Esoteric Shunt Capacitors - Part 1

Most everyone who tweaks understands that small shunt capacitors can improve the sound of a larger capacitor. When put in parallel with a value of 0.1x or 0.01x or 0.001x that of the larger capacitor (i.e., a 0.1uF capacitor in parallel with a 10uF capacitor), the signal path is "shared" through both in a similar manner that a crossover network in a loudspeaker divides the signal to the woofer and tweeter. To make one capacitor to properly cover the entire audio spectrum (20Hz to 20KHz) is costly and to use shunts is a cost-effective solution.

However, the quality of the shunt is equally as important if not more so than the quality of the capacitor being shunted; the old adage "garbage in, garbage out" applies to capacitors as well as programming logic. Let me share with you a story of evolution, one that some of you may appreciate and others may personally relate to.

As the quality of capacitors improved in my own crossover network (original parts to Mylar to shunted Mylar to shunted Film to shunted series-Film), the same shunt capacitor was used although the quality of the capacitor being shunted changed. Taking the recommendation from Humble Homeade HI-Fi (, I started using the Vishay MKP 1837, a superb 0.01uF/200V shunt capacitor. However, as you note in its review, it is rated with a sound quality verdict of about 8,5. Remember this verdict number.

My crossover evolution began with simple Mylar upgrades while finalizing the design to keep the costs under control (I did not want to spend hundreds of dollars on one PIO to realize that I had made a mistake). So each time the network was revised, I bumped up the quality to the next level knowing that the solution was pretty close. As mentioned, I started using the Vishay shunt in the second round of re-design (the first round used the stock capacitor from the factory). And finding their improvement appealing, I retained them without question.

However, as the quality of capacitors improved (Verdict is now 10+ for large value capacitors), the little Vishay creates more problems than it solves. While still using them satisfactorily in parallel with the fourth-order BW network of the super tweeter using Obbligato Gold capacitors, using them with Mundorf Supreme capacitors created some unsatisfactory results: sibilance was pronounced in the tweeter. I originally suspected that the source of this sibilance was the interconnect cables or other signal-path capacitors in the electronics, but I was wrong.

Disconnecting the Vishay shunts from the Mundorfs was a highly rewarding effort eliminating the annoying sibilance and opening up the lower tweeter, midrange, and midbass regions at the expense of compromising the speed. So while the Mundorfs are really good capacitors, they still need the help of a better quality shunt to regain speed. What can be done?

One solution is to use small 0.1uF/1600V Mundorf Supremes at a cost of about $10 each, or the 0.01uF/1200V Mundorf Silver-Gold-Oils at a cost of about $46.50 each. But I am experimenting with a far more frugal solution, one that reaches way back into SOTA vintage tube radio designs and the parts are on the way.

Without giving away the solution, I will tell you that the cost is extremely reasonable compared to the exotic shunts mentioned but the values are a fraction of these exotic values (0.1x to 0.001x the value of the Vishay shunt). So instead of using a 0.1uF shunt, I will try a 0.0078uF shunt of this new exotic capacitor and see what benefits can be gleaned. The parts will arrive at the end of this year (2014) and I will report back on their sonic virtues or the lack thereof at that time. Until then, you can ponder what these capacitors may be and wage bets with your friends as to their composition and construction.

Until then, here is a recent RTA graph taken of my system. It has come a long way from its original design and the sound is getting quite realistic (banjos sound like banjos, trumpets etc. the same). Remember, this RTA app uses my less-than-optimally calibrated cell phone microphone but it also has a built-in HP filter with a corner frequency of about 150Hz (pretty obvious from the graphs). And this built-in microphone has a HF limit also pretty obvious that rolls off at about 11KHz.

12-15-14 Pink Noise, from the 3-meter Reference Measurement Position

Just for comparison, here is where I started with the original Bozak crossover network about three years ago. It consisted of the Tobin modified network with three B-200Y tweeters:

12-28-11 Pink Noise, from the 3-meter Reference Measurement Position

No comparison between the two. Instead of swinging wildly +/- 10dB above 1KHz and rolling off at about 7KHz, the swings are a far more tolerable +/- 4dB (the tweeter range being VERY flat) and rolling off above the limit of the micrphone.

Attached are also images of the two crossover networks.

12-28-11 Crossover Network

12-21-14 Crossover Network

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.

My other titles include:

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.

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 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.

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:

Plug Style
Additional length
Neutrik, silver tip
1 Meter

1 Meter

1 Meter

1 Meter
Power Cord
10 AWG
Cryo Rhodium
6 foot
10 AWG
6 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.

My other titles include: