POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 40
as reviewed by Kent Johnson
I went to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in October with the intention of returning with something that would upgrade my main listening system. I had no idea what it would be, but with my budget set, off to RMAF I went.
Yes, I too have cursed reviewers who refer to $3000 speakers, CD players, and amps as "affordable" even "budget," as I wondered what sort of parallel universe they were living in. After you have been to your 123rd listening room at RMAF, however, and heard your 67th pair of $20,000+ speakers, you start to understand how a reviewer's perspective becomes so profoundly skewed. Anything under $3000 does look like a comparative trifle economically.
The short story is that I saw nothing that was even remotely in my price range until I got to the DH Labs' listening rooms. Once there, I heard a voice—I think it was Diana Krall's—say, "Have a seat, your search is over."
My Own Somewhat Embarrassing Revelation
For years now, I have been listening to DH Labs BL-1 interconnect cables. I made them up myself and have been very happy with them. A couple of years ago, I re-terminated them with either Eichmann Bullet Plugs or Vampire 800/CB RCA plugs*. These all copper RCA plugs improved the sound of the cables substantially. (I am a true believer that brass has no place in audio cables.) Since then, I have had no problems hearing even fairly subtle changes/upgrades to my system.
As happy as I was with these cables, there was a nagging voice—not Diana Krall's—suggesting that the time for replacing my interconnect cables was, like the library book under the couch, long overdue. The questions were, "With what should I replace them?" and "Could I even afford to do so?"
Both of these problems were solved by spending some time listening in the DH Labs' room. Even with an unfamiliar system playing, it was clear that the Revelation cables getting far more information to the speakers than I was used to hearing. Thanks to the show-special pricing, I was able to replace all five of the BL-1 cables in my system with their higher-end Revelation relations and would no longer have to worry about being embarrassed by having essentially entry level cables—however overachieving—in my system.
The Revelation cables come in nice bamboo boxes and use six strands of solid silver wire in their construction; they are fairly stiff but not unworkably so. The Revelations are terminated with DH Labs own Ultimate RCA plug; an all-copper, locking plug. Cosmetically, the Revelations are slim and attractively finished in a silver and blue cloth braiding.
As you well know, these are not new cables to the market. (Dave Clark reviewed them back in Issue 5) Personally, I find this reassuring. There are few things as depressing for an audiophile—especially one with limited financial means—as purchasing a piece of equipment only to have the Mark II version appear a month later, resulting in the desirability and value of his barely broken-in equipment being reduced to virtually nothing. This is not an issue with DH Labs products.
Installation and Break-in
Prior to installing the Revelations in my system, I did some careful note-taking using my old cables. I listened to several CDs that I thought would prove useful for hearing just how the old and new cables differed.
The Revelations fit all of the RCA jacks on all of my various components beautifully and tightly, except for my Dahlquist crossover, which I expected would be a problem. The pins of the RCA plugs would not fit far enough into the crossover's jacks due to the size of the locking barrel. Removing the locking barrels at the crossover solved this problem while still offering an excellent and tight fit. While the Revelation cables are not particularly heavy, their ability to lock to an RCA jack removes their weight from the point of the connection itself—to the far better supported jack—resulting in a worthwhile benefit.
At about twenty hours of break-in time, I did some brief listening. My conclusion was that the Revelations sounded about the same as my BL-1s had. At fifty hours, there was a clear improvement in the Revelation cables. There was definitely more detail and information now present. At one hundred hour, I started to do some critical listening.
A CD that has become useful for hearing changes in my system has been Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin', which features the songs of Dusty Springfield (Lost Highway B0009789-02). I have listened to this CD a lot and have also taken some pretty detailed notes as to how it sounds. Or at least as to how I thought it sounded.
Track three, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," has a substantial amount of reverberation, which is located primarily in the upper and center-right areas of the sound stage. Listening with the Revelations, this reverb was essentially unchanged in terms of volume and location from the BL-1 cables. What was different was that now the reverb had become an integral part/result of her singing, whereas with the BL-1 cables the reverb was a separate sonic event less clearly associated with her voice. In other words, it was the difference between one sonic event (consisting of a voice and resulting reverberation) as opposed to two almost separate events, a voice and then a reverberation. Is this important? I think it is as it demonstrates how the Revelation cables are much better at organizing everything that is happening musically into one coherent entity than heard with the BL-1 cables. Not that my BL-1 cables were by any means terrible, it is just that in this respect the Revelations are considerably better.
The subtle Hammond organ notes, the shimmering cymbals, and crisp wood block I had noted pre-Revelation on "Just a Little Lovin'" were also improved to a degree that I had not expected. There was clearly more information present at the speakers than there had been before.
Ms. Lynne also extends the word "you" as she sings, "Why won't you?" at the end of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" far longer—make that impressively longer—than I had previously realized. Its sheer length allows the questioning, heart-breaking pain that permeates the song an adequate time to translate from anger into an almost-silent despair.
After pulling myself together again emotionally, I spent time listening to Holly Cole's Temptation CD (Metro Blue D 102024). The song "Temptation" through the two different cables was like listening to two different versions. With the Revelation cables, I could clearly hear a very soft doubling of Holly's voice to the left of center stage that I had not heard previously with the BL-1. The flute that moves between the front and rear of the soundstage had never been so clearly defined either; everything the flautist was doing was easier to follow with the Revelations, even when the flute is played at a very low volume level at the rear of the soundstage. Yes, the dog is easier to hear as well.
Listening to "Train" through the Revelations I discovered that the crossing bell noises that move from the left to right channel and back a couple of times during the song are also present at very low levels at other locations in the soundstage. This was new. And it was easy to hear. The train whistle that is played about the middle of the track at the back of the soundstage now no longer required an effort to locate or follow.
Both Terry Rossen and Greg Hovsepian of DH Labs had predicted that I would hear improvements over the entire frequency range with the Revelation cables; especially in the bass. This proved to be the case on Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny's Missouri Sky CD (Verve 314 537 130-2). I have not heard this CD in a while so it was not a particularly useful CD for comparison purposes. What stood out though, in addition to a deeper-than-I-remember and very well defined acoustic bass, was how clearly both Haden and Metheny were playing off each other. The coherence of the performance was much more evident than I remembered it. It was no longer a guitarist playing and a bassist filling in, no, the communication between the two was now continually in evidence.
If there is anything that the Once soundtrack excels at, it is raw emotion (Sony 88697 10586 2). All the third-degree-burn emotional intensity was still there with the Revelation cables, but the raw and even abrasive sound quality I had heard on many of the tracks was reduced. On the tracks where both Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova sing, her voice was no longer just a backing vocal on their duets (although Hansard does dominate sonically) and the communication between both singers was far more evident than it had been before. I also felt that her solo singing was noticeably lovelier. The best songs on the CD, "All the Way Down," and "If You Want Me", both offer reference-quality sound through the Revelation cables.
Another CD that has reference-quality sound from start to finish is Jay Ungar and Molly Mason's Harvest Home (Angel 7243 5 56720 2 5). Here, the ability of the Revelation cables to improve the soundstage, extract low level details, and add realism to the presentation was even more stunningly evident—and it was extraordinarily good to start with. This beautiful music is based on traditional American songs and sources. These are from the same sources Aaron Copland turned to when writing "Rodeo" and "Appalachian Spring." Jay Ungar uses some of Copland's melodies to take the listener through an entire year of musically-expressed life in rural America. Absolutely wonderful music presented with noticeably improved sonics via the Revelation cables.
As would be expected, given the price differential, the Revelation cables improved virtually every aspect of my main system's sound over the BL-1 interconnects.
Soundstage width was the only thing that remained essentially the same as it had been with the BL-1 cables. Soundstage depth, by comparison, was more clearly defined and illuminated by the more expensive cable.
Treble, midrange, and especially bass performance were also improved upon in terms of better detail (at all volume levels); more air around voices and instruments; especially noticeable in the decay of struck instruments; and much better impact, dynamics, and clarity in the bass. I found that I could differentiate between reed instruments—such as clarinets, oboes, and saxophones - much more easily even in dense mixes thanks to the improved clarity of their overtones.
Both male and female vocals revealed more of the atmosphere surrounding them through the Revelation cables. Low-level vocal and breathing sounds were better defined and the end result was a much more realistic sense of having an actual person performing in my listening room.
More of the low-level, short-lived, reverberations that define the recording space were more clearly audible on just about every CD that I listened to. And I listened to many more than mentioned here. It was hard to stop and sit myself down to write.
As markedly as the Revelation cables improved the sound, it was the improvement in musical coherence that impressed me the most. On some CDs where I had previously only heard disparate musical lines, I could now hear how those lines related to and played off of each other. As a non-musician, I have to admit that it surprised me just how evident this improvement now was.
Putting the DH Labs Revelation cables in my system left me feeling that I had upgraded not only all my components, but the sonic quality of my entire CD collection as well.
Overall, the Revelation cables made more of an improvement to my main system than I had expected, especially when compared to any other single component in my recent experience. And this is regardless of how much money I might have spent. The Revelation cables are not inexpensive for an audiophile like me. Still, I have to view them as, yes, bargains for the sheer amount of improvement they brought to my system in light of their cost. With many brands of solid silver cables, I would still be saving up to buy that first pair of interconnects.
As happy as I am with these cables, I feel that there is one caveat that bears mentioning. These cables do not exist to fix problems with your system; they let you know precisely what everything in your system is actually doing. Not every listener or every component may appreciate their candor.
The second best thing about having invested in these cables—after the sound quality improvement, obviously—is that the nagging voice worrying me about my cabling has finally gone silent. I expect it to stay that way—at least until DH Labs comes up with something better. Kent Johnson
*I could not solder DH Labs Ultimate RCA plugs despite considerable advice and help via email from Darren Hovsepian.
DH Labs Silver Sonic
Thank you for the wonderful review on your listening impressions! We are glad you were able to get the cables at RMAF In time for your review!
We deliver the finest cables possible in the world. We do not have a large advertising budget because we our put those savings directly into our cables! The locking interconnect is manufactured from a solid billet of our proprietary High Copper Alloy, our HC alloy RCA plugs!
We are one of the only high end cable manufacturers that actually have electronic engineers, audio and acoustical engineers on staff. We employee the metallurgists that NASA Godard utilizes. All materials and metals are sourced from here in North America.
The foundation of sound reproduction is based upon using the finest materials in a way to capture their best performance. The secret of DH Labs 10 year success story is a deeper passion and understanding of how a perfect cable should perform (minus all of the promotional gimmicks).
Enter "The Revelation" you just reviewed.
There are Six Pure Silver conductors in an interleaved helical array. Each conductor is individually insulated in an air-spaced, tape wrapped version of our exclusive Air Matrix dielectric. The result is a revelation offering "stunning dynamics," and more involvement with your music.
The cable is covered with an attractive woven fiber jacket (Blue jacket for single ended, RCA and Red jacket for balanced, XLRs) and meticulously hand terminated with custom machined RCA Plugs. Many worthy manufacturers would classify such a combination of materials and construction as a "COST-NO-OBJECT statement product". We prefer to offer "The Revelation" beginning at only $399.00 per meter pair!
By the way, we offer the new Revelation Speaker (The Revelation SP) cable to enhance music signal delivery even further! Any time you would like to try these out in your system, let us know!