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New Generation Lotus digital interconnect
as reviewed by Art Shapiro
Forgive my ending the very first sentence with a preposition, but Dynamic Design may be the best company you've never heard of.
I've had the utter pleasure of using that company's THB Nebula cable for several years, and it was love at first sight …err hearing. My friend and fellow reviewer Mark Katz had brought over a box of what was supposed to be modestly-priced cables from this unfamiliar firm, so as to audition a number of them in my system as part of his reviewing process. We had tried the speaker cable and interconnect before putting in the Nebula. Within a couple of minutes, I knew I wanted it; it was utterly trouncing my decidedly nontrivial Nordost Silver Shadow! We were soon on the horn to Dynamic Design's honcho Bill Artope to find out what in the world we had in our hands. It turned out that the cable was a bit of a ringer. Not having the commensurate digital cable to include with the other cables shipped out for review, Bill had thrown in the Nebula, a far pricier product. Well, it showed—talk about a blind test! I purchased it and have been using it ever since.
So when Bill told us that his latest generation product, the current incarnation of the company's Lotus series, would probably whomp my far-pricier THB Nebula, my skeptical eyebrows were raised. Obviously I was anxious to get that cable into my system.
Soon the Lotus arrived, and I found it to be physically somewhat thinner—perhaps like a typical high-end interconnect—and thus considerably more flexible than the existing Nebula. You can perhaps judge that from the photograph. That was an ergonomic benefit in my particular configuration, although not a huge one. Mark and I were fairly rapidly able to settle on the characteristics of this cable, recognizing some strengths and some areas where the more expensive product bettered the Lotus. But a couple weeks later we were told to hold on—a "new and improved" cable would be heading my way. And once again, a Lotus digital cable showed up at the door. Looking identical to the first cable, it was immediately apparent that Dynamic Designs had further honed the sonics of the Lotus product, and it was that final version that was used as the review sample. I found it to be physically attractive with substantially massive gold jacks that, while easy to plug and unplug, gave a solid, secure connection. When I was told how much these jacks cost the company, even in quantity, I could appreciate why the price of the Lotus was finalized at a somewhat higher price point than originally envisioned.
OK, aesthetics and mechanicals aside, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Could the latest generation Lotus really better the big-bucks THB Nebula?
My system is set up with the primary goal of reproducing the "classical" grand piano, and piano constitutes about 85 or 90 percent of my personal listening. I enjoy almost anything from the late classical era onward, be they impossibly virtuosic fingertwisters, suavely elegant French masterpieces, piano transcriptions of orchestral pieces, or thundering Russian works. If a given component improves the sound of an orchestral piece such as a symphony, or a string quartet, or a soprano, that's all well and good, but only if piano comes out superior to what it was before.
And the Dynamic Design Lotus did not disappoint. One of the first pieces I played is one of my auditioning staples: the Russian virtuoso Sergei Tarasov performing the somewhat obscure Fantasy in f# minor by Alexander Scriabin on a Melodia CD. This is an extremely tough piece to play well, and most concert pianists seem to miss the point of the piece, turning it into a sprawling, wallowing behemoth of a work. Tarasov nails it better than anyone else I've heard. And even after weeks of living with the Lotus, this one piece seemed to point out its characteristics better than anything else I tried, perhaps due to the huge range of pianistic effects in the Fantasy. I found that the overall presentation was slightly less warm than that to which I'd become accustomed with the older Nebula cable. No, I didn't say the Lotus was dry, I said it was slightly less warm. This was a consistent observation over the scores of piano CDs that I played in my tenure with the Lotus. The grandeur and power of the piano was still there, and Tarasov's curiously-clattery grand piano was still a magnificent grand piano; it was just that a little bit of the deep, shimmering resonance of the instrument was a bit more controlled. I ultimately decided that the Lotus was more accurate than the older cable in this respect, although I have to confess an appreciation of the perhaps-a-smidgeon-euphonic warmth of the original Nebula.
So this first observation wasn't a deal-maker or a deal-breaker for me; it was a differentiator between the two cables, and to be honest I could appreciate both presentations.
On the other hand, when it came to delineation of individual notes in jawdropping virtuosic piano music, the Lotus absolutely excelled and clearly bested the Nebula. The Scriabin Fantasy being discussed has such moments where impossible profusions of notes are almost overwhelming. I look at the score, wishing I could play it and think they could save money by purchasing black paper and printing the white around the notes! I could easily discern more of the notes in the complex machine-gun passages through the Lotus, without sacrificing the power of the piano. That's a neat trick and a real feather in the cap for the Lotus. Everything I played gave me the same impression in my continuing weeks with the Lotus. I played the piano sonatas of Erich Korngold (often improperly dismissed as a film composer) on a Chandos CD. This is a curiously flawed recording in that the closely-mic'ed piano is so brittle and noisy as to actually be intrusive; in the past, severely soft interconnects have proven a blessing with this work. I selected the fourth movement of the Third Sonata, a Rondo labeled Allegro giocoso. Yes, the piano was as brittle as ever, but I was able to hear a little more of the underlying music due to the superior manner in which the Lotus could delineate individual notes.
I put on one of my favorite CDs, Earl Wild, the Romantic Master on Sony. This is a CD that even those of you who don't relish "classical" music couldn't help but enjoy. American virtuoso Earl Wild has adapted various orchestral works to the piano, as well as including similar existing transcriptions, and they require almost superhuman technique to perform. I was particularly taken by the Lotus on the Paul Papst Paraphrase on (Tchaikovsky's) Sleeping Beauty, the first minute and a half of which is some of the most savage, overpowering music in the piano repertoire. I don't know how many thousands of notes might be played in those seconds, but I could hear more into the torrents of sound coming from my ESP Concert Grands than I'd ever heard before. It was a joy to behold. And the subsequent delicate, silvery portions of this diverse transcription were similarly a pleasure; the Lotus could deal with delicacy every bit as well as it could deal with the ultra-rapid runs earlier in the piece. At the same time, I thought the Lotus had superior bass slam and impact than my existing cable, giving a greater sense of the power that can be produced by a grand piano.
It was becoming more and more obvious that Dynamic Design's assertions about this cable bettering the far-more-expensive earlier product weren't just marketing hype.
I don't think it will be illustrative to cite additional piano auditions; let's just say there was plenty and the Lotus proved itself the product of choice over the substantial diversity of the repertoire that it was asked to handle. The clarity it imparted to the piano music was consistently a pleasure, and I can't recall any particular instance in which I preferred the somewhat blurrier sonics of the THB Nebula.
Other solo instruments are no stranger to my system, even if they get far less air time than does the piano. One of my favorite auditioning CDs is a Harp Recital by Isabelle Moretti on the Harmonia Mundi label. I invariably gravitate to the final track on the CD, the third movement, Perpetuum mobile, of the Harp Sonata by Germaine Tailleferre, the only woman member of the early 20th Century French avant-garde group known as "Les Six". This is an impossibly rapid piece that would exceed the abilities of all but the most virtuosic harpists. Once again, the Lotus proved to be beneficial to the reproduction of this piece in that one could hear more of the profusion of notes than with my previous cable, again without any obvious sacrifice in other areas. The clarity of the Lotus continued to be a virtue, and it never even remotely crossed the line into being sterile or dry. I then tried a disk with the quite descriptive title, Virtuoso Guitar Transcriptions on the London label, with guitarist Niccola Hall. I concentrated on Ms. Hall's transcription of the Rachmaninoff Prelude in g minor for piano, and found that the clarity I had observed with the piano and with the harp seemed to carry forward to the guitar. Here it was perhaps more subtle than with the other instruments, perhaps because one simply cannot pluck a guitar at the same rate that a piano can be manhandled. But I still could appreciate the clear reproduction of the Rachmaninoff provided by the Dynamic Designs Lotus.
I made sure that some orchestral pieces were performed, and here the situation wasn't as clear cut. Perhaps I'm a less-critical listener to a symphony orchestra than I am to the piano, but there were CDs in which I didn't particularly hear any differences between the two digital cables. On the other hand, Mark, who listens to far more orchestral music than I, heard the cable in my system numerous times and shared the same observation, so perhaps this lends some credence to my opinion. When you consider that the Lotus is less than half the cost of my Nebula, that's still high praise indeed. A favorite CD is a Chandos release containing works of Sir Edward Elgar, including the five Pomp & Circumstance Marches. I rarely play the famous (graduation march) one, #1, but tend to play the far-rarer #4. This work just cries out "I am British", and the Lotus presented the sweeping magnificence of the piece every bit as well as my existing cable. There were some orchestral pieces in which I could articulate an improvement in clarity through the Lotus, leading me to feel that I was hearing more into the music, and none in which I assessed the Lotus as taking a back seat to the more expensive Nebula.
The auditioning continued with a deliberate attempt to work in a variety of musical forms. I played the Bach Coffee Cantata on Dorian, both to gauge vocal performance with both mail and female voices with a small baroque orchestra. The Lotus continued to perform admirably, with the various flute soli particularly well-reproduced and with the superior clarity of the Lotus not detracting from the richness of the vocalists. I played a jazz CD (won in a drawing—I'd never purchase that genre!) of the Bruce Katz Crescent Crawl on an audiophile Audioquest CD. The blattiness of the sax, the crispness of the piano, and the percussive impact of the piano were every bit as good as with the Nebula interconnect, and I felt I was hearing a little clearer and more powerful low end on the electric bass, a very nice characteristic.
I think you've gotten the point by now. I'm not sure of the exact price point where the Lotus will be marketed; early scuttlebutt indicates somewhere around $500. That's not cheap, but on the other hand there are digital cables out there costing many multiples of that sum. I've gone through quite a few digital cables over the years, and thought that the Dynamic Designs THB Nebula was a remarkable achievement. I now can agree with the original allegation that the new Lotus would better the Nebula at a fraction of the price. If you're able to consider a digital cable in the mid three-figure area, I personally don't know of anything that can touch the Dynamic Designs Lotus. It would be a Very Good Thing for you to try and give it an audition. Art Shapiro
New Generation Lotus