POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 14
Synchestra Signature speaker cables
as reviewed by Art Shapiro, with a few words by Dave Clark
Photographs and image processing by Dave Clark
In a recent issue of Positive Feedback Online, I reported my experiences with Luminous Audio's bottom-of-the-line speaker cable, the Prestige. It did a lot of things well, and is worthy of consideration by readers not preposterously far up the audio food chain. Luminous isn't one of those companies that bumps up the price of its products to bleed-the-audiophile levels, under the common opinion that if one charges enough for something, it has to be good. Even if the Prestige couldn't beat my Cardas speaker cable, at some ridiculous multiple of its price, only a heart far stonier than mine could have failed to declare that this was a dynamite speaker cable for the price.
After returning the Prestige cable, I spoke with Tim Stinson, Mr. Luminous, who offered PFO the opportunity to audition his brand new top-of-the-line speaker cable. The Synchestra Signatures are Stinson's assault on the pinnacles of the high end. Once I ascertained that they were copper, I eagerly volunteered to be one of the reviewers. My system has proven to be surprisingly silver-hostile, and it would be a disservice to a cable manufacturer to expect positive results with silver cables.
While arranging to receive the cables, I suggested that a bi-wired, shot-gunned 4-foot set would make the most sense. To my surprise, Tim told me "No can do." Since the cables are bulky, he simply could not fit two cable ends into the spade lugs that he uses. He would have to make two separate lengths of cable to accommodate my needs. He reacted well to my anguished groans, as I realized how much logistical grief this would cause. He also asked if a six-foot set would be acceptable, as that would be far more sellable than the shorter length I had requested. This was not a big deal to me. Eventually I found a good-sized box sitting on the doorstep, and eagerly unpacked the speaker cables.
Luminous states that these cables use the same wire that is in the Synchestra Signature interconnects a review pair of which was a fine performer in my system. It consists of six-nines, cast copper in a helical pattern, housed in a rather impressive royal blue housing with a black pattern. I don't know whether this cable is so bulky because of technical reasons or visual ones. The latter would be fine with me—I have as big an audiophile ego as the next guy! The dielectric is supposed to be PVC and polyethylene, which surprised me a little. I am not an electrical engineer, but I frequently hear that Teflon is de rigueur for top-flight cabling, and in fact, that is what is used on the non-Signature version of the Synchestra cable. This is not a complaint on my part, merely an observation.
Having to deal with eight separate lengths of the Synchestra cable meant that I could not do what I like to do when auditioning cables—swap them back and forth with the same piece of music before moving on to the next musical choice. Getting two lengths of this bulky cable securely under each binding post of my Manley monoblocks was not easy, and it would have taken fifteen or twenty minutes to swap to my reference cables. I couldn't help but think of the few amplifiers I've auditioned that have multiple output terminals—the Pass Labs monoblocks came to mind. Anyway, this meant that A/Bing was not feasible, and all I could do was play one cable for a day or a week before reinstalling the other. This is utterly irrelevant to most system owners, but it isn't ideal for a reviewer. I lived with the Synchestra Signatures for several months, parting with them only when Mr. Stinson started getting anxious for some prose. I've told you that they look attractive, employ high-quality spade lugs, and have a substantial, hose-like bulk that shouts "Audiophile!," but how ‘bout the sound?
Let me answer that question with a story. The Cardas Golden Hexlink V cable I've been using is a decidedly non-trivial product that has repeatedly proven itself to be the product of choice in my system. Like most audiophiles, I have lots of interconnects of various brands, but only a few speaker cables. The Cardas cable has beaten all the others I own, as well as any brought here by audiophile visitors. It clearly would take a great cable to beat it. I installed the Luminous cables and spent the first evening listening to the solo piano repertoire that constitutes well over 90% of my personal listening. They don't call me Mr. Piano for nothing! Right out of the box, the Synchestra Signature cables were better than my beloved Cardas. You might think that my expectations would color my assessment of the Synchestras, but I didn't expect this. The texturing of the grand piano, the nuances that are so difficult to reproduce, the sense of power of this mighty instrument—everything was there. My system's performance had been distinctly raised a notch.
As the cables began to break in, they improved. I called fellow reviewer Mark Katz, telling him, "These cables are unbelievable. You've got to get your body down here." As luck would have it, I didn't cross paths with Mark for two weekends due to scheduling conflicts, but I got more enthusiastic on the phone: "They're getting better and better. My system has never sounded this good. It's jaw-droppingly good. And nothing has changed but the speaker cables. You have to hear this system!"
When he finally came over, I plunked him down on the listening couch, fired up the system, and put on a recently purchased CD on the Ivory label, of virtuoso pianist Earl Wild performing an all-Liszt recital. I chose the Fourth Hungarian Rhapsody, as it encompasses most of the piano's capabilities in less than five minutes. I ordered Mark, not noted for being taciturn, to say nothing until the piece was finished. I didn't tape his response, or even write it down, but I think this is pretty close: "I've heard your system how many hundreds of times? I know your system almost as well as you do. I have never heard it sound this good. That is probably the most realistic portrayal of a grand piano that I have ever heard."
The subsequent weeks with the Luminous Synchestra Signatures did absolutely nothing to change my opinion. Whenever I returned to the Cardas cables, I realized that the difference wasn't night and day, but it was there, and it was consistent. My system simply performed at a higher level with the Luminous cables, and in all modesty, it was already a pretty decent system.
Let me elaborate upon some of the differences. Piano, critical to my own listening, was slightly more dynamic on the Luminous. What I'll call texturing—meaning the sense that I was hearing more of the subtlety of the notes' waveforms—was magnificent. Both cables gave a terrific sense of power, but piano simply sounded more realistic with the Luminous cables. Their better bass definition made the Cardas cables sound slightly indistinct and flabby by comparison, and up top, the Synchestras made the piano sound just a touch less brittle.
Large-scale orchestral works present a different kind of cable test, so I pulled out a favorite Chandos CD of Sir Alexander Gibson conducting the Scottish National Orchestra in the music of Sir Edward Elgar, selecting the fourth Pomp and Circumstance march—not the familiar first march that is traditionally used in graduation ceremonies. Both cables did an admirable job, but again the Luminous edged out the Cardas. There was better bass definition in the massed brass, lower strings, and percussion. The tympani was a smidge more melodic and distinct through the Luminous, making the Cardas' portrayal seem somewhat blurry. There was one section of the piece in which, with the Luminous cable, I was suddenly aware of image depth, and of the fact that the percussion section was positioned well to the back of the stage. Normally I am barely cognizant of side-to-side imaging issues, but now I was sensing image depth??? These cables are something special! It was one of those moments when I was almost tempted to fly the Union Jack!
I then turned to a CD of the music of contemporary Argentine composer Maximo Diego Pujol, selecting the Suite Buenos Aires. This is a fascinating piece, only about fifteen minutes long, that I suspect would appeal to many listeners who wouldn't be caught dead listening to classical music. Although I believe the piece was written for flute and guitar, I chose the guitar/violin version on the British label ASV with guitarist Maria Siewers and violinist Amiram Ganz, which is better recorded and performed than my flute/guitar discs of the piece. It features an exceptionally well-recorded guitar and a slightly strident violin, making it a very good audio test.
As I listened to the piece, I kept noting that the music was more interesting through the Luminous speaker cables. Once again, it was a matter of texture—more of the subtlety of the music was being reproduced through the Synchestra Signatures. The guitar was absolutely gorgeous, and the superiority carried through to the violin. It was slightly less aggressive through the Cardas, but the Luminous gave the instrument more "bite." Having played portions of this disk on forty or fifty different systems at the recent High End 2004 show in New York, I had a pretty good idea of exactly how aggressive the violin should be. The Luminous did it better. There is an approximately fifteen-second stretch in the third movement in which the body of the guitar is hit rhythmically with the hand, making it into a percussion instrument. I savored how well the loud and soft hits were reproduced through the Luminous cables.
I think you get the picture. I threw lots of music at these cables—primarily piano, of course, but ample voice, orchestra, chamber, and harp, even Bela Fleck, and I kept marveling, "This is my system?!" I kept saying "What texture!" but the killer is that the Synchestra Signatures consistently portrayed the music so well, without being sterile or analytical. The dynamics were superb, the tonality was gorgeous, and the bass definition was a treat.
Okay, they ain't cheap, but by high-end standards, the Synchestra Signatures are almost ludicrously reasonable. I'll reiterate what I said earlier: Here is a company that doesn't seem to believe in the what-the-market-will-bear policy that too often typifies the high end. Given the expenditures a small firm like Luminous has to make for materials, fabrication, and all the realities of running a business, the pricing of these cables is beyond fair.
Have you been waiting for the "I bought the product" finale? Well, here it is, with a twist. Because I own monoblock amps that sit on the floor next to my speakers, I don't need the usual six feet of speaker cable, so I'm returning the review set to Luminous, but in the box will be a check for a shorter set, with the hope that Tim Stinson has found a source for a big enough high-quality spade to make me a shot-gunned pair. Art Shapiro
It was my intent to write a complete review of these cables, but with Art pretty much stating what I was going to write—well do we really need to write it all twice and then expect you to read it all twice as well?
Suffice it to say, that at the price Luminous is asking for these (actually quite ridiculously insanely inexpensive compared to what they sonically and musically compete against) one would be hard pressed to claim that they are not of a reference caliber. I mean these cables really kick serious butt—they simply rock! Voices are also well rendered, though there is a bit more color to the tone then heard from my reference cables. This gives a bit more meat or heft to voices as well as instruments than may be real—but they sound oh so musical and fun!
I loved them so much that I ordered a pair to be an alternative to the 10-times-the-price Audio Magic Clairvoyant 4Ds. Yes, the Clairvoyant 4D, being silver with no dielectric, offer a a touch or two more in terms of sweetness, transparency, openness, and dimensionality, but much of this is more a matter degrees and differences being different—than, "Oh my …. What a difference!" sort of thing. Yes, I do really, really like the Clairvoyant 4D and do find them to be better overall for me at least—but at that price one had better hope so! The 4Ds are truly state of the art and sometimes getting the last of whatever is not something that comes cheaply! What I like so much about having the Synchestra Signatures in the house, is that they offer a fabulous sound—big, bold, and powerful that offers me an alternative to the Clairvoyant 4D without having to step down a bit—the step is more to the side and a bit back to the right (the Synchestra Signatures are a bit more conservative in what they do—not quite as liberal as the AM stuff!).
What it all boils down to is having the option of adding a bit of that copper hue to the system when called for, as opposed to the Clairvoyant 4D simply getting out of the way. The Clairvoyant 4D is more neutral and transparent and brings less color to the music than the Synchestra Signatures do, but this is more an issue of the best of silver versus the best (heard by me) of copper. One metal type of conductor versus another. Talk about getting down to just preferences—in the end, either is a winner. Dave Clark
Synchestra Signature speaker cables