Thoughts and feedback from three new cables (VHAudio designs) I recently built and installed

toddrhodes

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Dec 17, 2018
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Crossposted this from another forum. Just to warn - it's long.

You will not find any ABX testing. You won't find any measurements or attempts to explain technical reasons why this, or that.

Cliff's notes at the end, if this is too long to actually read


To start this off, a primary goal for why I built a dedicated room and have curated the collection of hardware and software that I have is not only purely for love of music (I do), but also because I wanted to answer some questions for myself about the more esoteric audio products out there, at least those within my reach financially. To sum up my system before the change - dynamic, bold, not fatiguing on some pretty harsh metal and thrash, with believable imaging and depth of stage. Low bass is taut and quick, but needed refinement. Highs were a clear and smooth, but ultimately lacked some snap and extension. Midrange, to my ears, was fine, and is not an area I actually focus on as much as the other two.

Being very happy with all my gear, my setup, my room, and the breadth of my music collection at this point, I changed a few "tweaky" things in my room. Here's what I did, and in what order:

Furutech NCF duplex outlet. My Bedini 200/200 and my DAC are plugged into that. The amp power cord comes straight off the transformer, no switch, no IEC inlet. Just a cord with a plug on the end

VH Audio Cat5 speaker cables with furutech spades. Cabling used is Belden 1585A, with FEP insulation, not PVC. Solid core, 24 awg per strand.

VH Audio DIY Fine Silver interconnects between phono stage, DAC, and line stage, KLE silver RCA ends

VH Audio shielded, 3M pair of Pulsar Cu2 "coax" RCA from line stage out to amp, ETI Copper RCA ends

I did the NCF outlet first and being completely honest, it was not some massive transformation. I definitely do not feel it did any harm, but I've not heard anything in particular to which I would chalk up to its addition to my room. I did, however, put it in because I have an amp currently being upgraded at SMC Audio and it is an amp that I expect to be very highly resolving, when it's finished. And I figure plugging it into a very good outlet, which sits at the end of a dedicated 20A circuit, isn't the worst idea.

Next were the speaker cables. As I understand it, amps biased highly toward Class A, along with 4 ohm speakers, can tend to be a bit more revealing of the cabling between them. To me, this was an immediate, and obvious change. And I happened to like it, so I will call it an improvement. Specifically, no less quantity of bass was present, but to me what was there seemed to gain resolution and jump out from the background more apparently. Similar was midrange detail. Horns had a little more bite and male vocals felt a bit more "in the room." Cables replaced were Mogami 3104, 4 x 12 awg conductor, twisted together and terminated with Furutech spades for a net 9 awg wire. As it turns out, these make for great power cables, once you add a twisted ground wire outside the jacket of the 3104. Reduce, reuse, recycle - even in audio.

Now for the Interconnects, the source ones were added first. These replaced Mogami 2549/Neutrik Rean cables which were absolutely great to me. 2549 cabling is smooth, balanced, never offensive, but for all its highlights, the thing I felt I was missing was a bit of detail, some introspection into the music and the space it was recorded in. And having now lived with the DIY Fine Silvers for a little over a week, and quite a lot of listening and playing while I wasn't around, I can say that it does feel like that old cliche of wiping the glass off your audio system. Transparency and immersion noticeably improved here.

How can this be, and to what end do I have any proof? None, and I'm not selling anything here so I'm not going to even try to provide any. With that said, so profound has this change been, that this metalhead, this basshead writing this, is currently listening to Jazz and absolutely loving the purity of it, the "you're there" feeling. My system was really pretty OK at painting an illusion before. Now, it is almost downright difficult, at times and on certain recordings, to tell recorded from real. It's not frequency response or phase - it's the wholeness of the sound beyond the actual note of the instrument that seems to float, and hang there, and call attention to itself without overpowering anything else.

And finally, the long shielded copper cable. This was a very nice improvement, but it damn well oughta be for what I paid (and still had to "make it," technically, though that was literally just terminating it). I talked with Chris about how he would go given the length of cabling, as well as the fact that I'm traveling by power outlets, power cables, on the floor, off the floor, across speaker wires, and such. He and I agreed that a shielded design would work. Shielded cables have a reputation for being a bit closed-in, lacking that immersive depth and height of soundstage that unshielded cables can bring to bear. I am happy to report that this cable does not, to me, suffer from any of that. This cable is the "rug that tied the whole system together." I wasn't hearing everything the other cabling, and IMO, the hardware and music itself, had to offer, until this one basically eliminated any trace of noise or smear that I felt like I was getting before.
So, anecdote time. As I said, I'm sitting here listening to jazz, and it's not because I necessarily stopped liking the other music I have, but because now my system truly delineates "good recordings" and "bad recordings." Before it was pretty darn good on both. Now, it is honest about the bad, and really rewards the good. And that's what I want.

Case in point - Master of Puppets, original 45 RPM vinyl, versus say Tool - Fear Inoculum. In both cases I heard improvements to albums I have heard a LOT, in terms of detail. Specifically, some extra information came through on riffs during Battery (then I stopped analyzing and just rocked out for 45 minutes) until Orion came up. Orion is a reference track for me because I want to be able to follow Cliff's bass throughout the entire song. And I've had iterations of my system where that has been possible, but the music felt flat. And others where the sound just leapt from the speakers, but the specificity of that bass line was just lost in a sea of awesome chaos. Now I feel I have both. But, the biggest thing that jumped out - MoP is just a pretty OK recording. It's excellent for Thrash and Metal. But contrast that to something like Fear Inoculum and it's just ok, at best. FI is hot in a few parts but there are others where it has a purity and depth that rivals the best recordings in my collection. I also feel it's a better album when played on gear that can truly communicate everything it has to offer. And here again, I'm hearing new details, new nuances.

The biggest and easiest to try and explain would be on Danny's toms. I believe it was on Invincible, but now his tom hits aren't just a thwack with a papery sound to them (and I apologize if I'm using the wrong term for the drum head). Now you can clearly hear harmonics, fundamentals, and texture (for lack of a better term) to that drum head strike. It streaks off into corners of the room and really just opens up the space. I have listened to FI several dozen times in this room, and it has never sounded this convincing.

Also - volume. I'm not suggesting these new cables somehow added gain. But my preamp, a McCormack RLD-1 has a digital volume display for each channel and I know where the lines were for "fun, loud, and are you sure?" After these have been installed, I have found that "fun" is enough. Now some tracks, I just want to get after it and rock out. But overall, I'm not turning it up as I was before. And that's not to suggest that it's somehow fatiguing at high volume now, it's just that I feel like I'm getting all that I want to hear, but at a lower volume now. I know it doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's worth mentioning.

Best of all, like I said, is this sense of realism - without any loss in musicality or "fun factor" - on good recordings. Above all else, I want to have fun listening to music. This is why I do not focus on measurements and specs like SINAD or THD. I've personally measured my room to where it was as flat as I have ever gotten it and it sounded like complete, uninvolving crap. I've had plenty of gear that measured really well. And some of it was fun, some of it was not. This is a hobby with no perfect endpoint. No matter how we dress them up, our opinion of what and how we hear it is really all that matters. But the components of fun to me, in listening, are more important than accuracy, soundstage depth, mouse farts or holographic player presentation. But if I can get any of those AND keep it fun? Sign me up.

I had a lot of fun putting these cables together. Building them, dressing them up a bit, getting better with my solder technique, getting better at making these things actually look almost as good as they sound. That was a lot of fun and frankly, if that's all I got out of it, I'd say it would be worth it (outside of the long run cable, that guy wasn't cheap). Heck, I want to build more.

Reference Tracks:
Tool - Invincible (Fear Inoculum 24/96)
Eric Clapton - Old Love (Unplugged)
Bill Evans - Minority (Everyone Digs Bill Evans)
Distant Worlds 1 - Music from Final Fantasy - Swing De Chocobo
Metallica - Orion (Master of Puppets)
Tool - Ticks and Leeches (Lateralus 24/96 remaster)
Porcupine Tree - Trains (In Absentia, original LP)
Daft Punk - Giorgio Di Moroder (Random Access Memories)

Cliff's notes - I built new speaker and RCA interconnect cables. I am happier with the end result than I honestly thought I could be from such a change.
 

toddrhodes

Well-Known Member
Dec 17, 2018
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Since I don't think I have an equipment profile here, other associated gear:

Schiit Sol turntable with Nagaoka MP-200 cart; McCormack PhonoDrive phono stage
Sonic Frontiers CD Transport, upgraded by Parts Connexion
Dangerous Music Convert 2 DAC
McCormack RLD-1 preamp
Bedini 200/200 amp
Dynaudio Focus 260 speakers
SVS 12" sealed sub
Dedicated, treated room, but on the small side at 10.5 x 13, drop ceiling.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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Todd, I've been where you are. After hit and miss w cables purchase, and a perfectly serviceable sound, to then strike on audio alchemy with a new loom. So, congrats.

Great choice of music, btw. So many reviews of especially digital are done w hi rez, dsd, or pristinely mastered superior sonics recordings.

Ok, Tool and Porcupine Tree are not chopped liver re superior audio Lol. But they wouldn't be the first choice for a forensic demo.

I'm a drummer and am obsessed w often poor sound of recorded drums in the last two decades, so concur fully w yr observations.

So, Kudos for getting the loom that's taken you to next level of immersion in yr sound.
 
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toddrhodes

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Dec 17, 2018
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Todd, I've been where you are. After hit and miss w cables purchase, and a perfectly serviceable sound, to then strike on audio alchemy with a new loom. So, congrats.

Great choice of music, btw. So many reviews of especially digital are done w hi rez, dsd, or pristinely mastered superior sonics recordings.

Ok, Tool and Porcupine Tree are not chopped liver re superior audio Lol. But they wouldn't be the first choice for a forensic demo.

I'm a drummer and am obsessed w often poor sound of recorded drums in the last two decades, so concur fully w yr observations.

So, Kudos for getting the loom that's taken you to next level of immersion in yr sound.

Many thanks. A couple of my other drum recording references are Elton John - Honky Chateau (Amy, title track) from the original UK pressing, and Supertramp - Brother Where you Bound (title track, original vinyl, also featuring David Gilmour on guitar I believe). Both have this big, open, powerful drum sound and being all analog, it's very dynamic and "in the room" to me. Music is fantastic as well, at least in my opinion.

I do throw on plenty of by the numbers, high DR, high res stuff - especially now with what seems like more information being painted about in the room, but I try to keep my references that I truly use for analysis, to be stuff that isn't perfect.

Thanks again for the kind words, and enjoy the music and new year in good health!
 

spiritofmusic

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Todd, if you want in the room big on drums, you have to go back to those 60s albums that had no compression, gentle rather than cliff edge mastering, and a couple of mikes to cover the drumset incl overhead ambient ones. And no crazy multitracking to squeeze the space around them.

Coltrane quintet in early/mid 60s w Elvin Jones, and Miles Davis mid/late 60s w Tony Williams, anything w Art Blakey and Max Roach. The epitome of taste, texture, power, space and character.

Even the killer guys from the 70s lost their signature sound later in their careers in the 00s onwards. Roger Taylor, Neil Peart, Bill Bruford etc.

Of the current drum sounds, Danny Carey sounds pretty cool on the new album. You can tell he argued and argued and argued w the engineer to get his space.
 
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toddrhodes

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Dec 17, 2018
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Much appreciated on those suggestions. I do have some recordings from that time on vinyl with access to more in High Rez. I'll grab what I can and have a listen. I will say that undeniably, music "like that" has become far more compelling since I made these changes. That's not new for me, the idea that improving the experience makes certain styles of music more interesting to me. That, alone, is worth the investment.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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The trick then Todd, is for these changes to make distant, hazy and congealed mixes sound more open and welcoming. I don't mean imposing a layer of sugar or euphonic homogeneity, more the holistic balance of opening up mixes but keeping the sound balance.

To have your socks knocked off when deserved, still be engaged where you might have been disinterested, all the while having an overview and insight into the musical message, is surely the goal.

I've visited a few systems in the last few yrs where the best is crazy emotional, but anything just below this level is rendered unemotional and impenetrable. When one power cord after another well into four figures is so fussy on presentation, the joy is stripped from the hobby.
 
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