ONLINE - ISSUE 5
moon audio Silver Dragon interconnects
Plus an interview with the designer, Drew Baird
as reviewed by Mike Peshkin
There are so many schools of thought concerning cable that to list them would be a huge undertaking. I'm caught between two. On the one hand, I feel that cable should step out of the way and have no sonic signature of its own, but I don't think you can avoid the second way of thinking, the one that says that any cable will react (or more correctly, cause the system's components to react) differently in different systems. The only thing you can say for sure is that a given cable sounds like this in my room, and with my equipment, which, of course, leads to another school of thought. Are cables conduits for electrical signals to pass from one point to another, or are they components unto themselves? I think one has to treat them as components. The differences I hear, while not as earth shattering as a speaker change, are still rather large.
My first thought while listening to my system with the Silver Dragon interconnects installed was: articulation! I now had a firmer understanding of the separation of notes. This are lots of good cables out there, my MITs included, yet it has been a long time since I took notice of what was happening musically in my room. Listening to "Laura's Dream Suite" on Gary Burton's New Tango Quartet, I detected no smearing of sound when one instrument echoed anotherboth notes were presented with the same intensity, and with realistic weight. I found myself asking whether I was simply hearing what my amps are capable of, but I really didn't care, as I was mesmerized by the change. Highs were (to use a worn description) crystalline, and that clarity astounded me.
I'm afraid that some will read that I'm "dissing" the MITs, but, to use the window analogy once again, the MITs give a view of the world through lovingly hand-made antique glass, like the windows I look from in my 100-year-old home. The Dragons are high-quality modern glass, giving the ability to focus sharply on any object seen. Bass seems to have more weight, more bite. My wife and I attended the wedding of a friend's daughter a while back, at a church that has a wonderful organ. I pointed out that we could feel the pressure of the organ on our bodies, and that we rarely, if ever, feel that weight in our home. The Silver Dragons allow a bit of that magic to happen in my living room. Listening to Dave Grusin's Fender Rhodes on "Under a Star" from Gerry Mulligan's Little Big Horn, I felt some weight even on the high notes.
These cables make everything so clear! While listening to the Mozart Symphony in G Minor, on an RCA LP from the Vienna Philharmonic Festival Soria box set, Karajan's orchestra was reproduced with weight and majesty, though the soundstage was restricted to the space between the speakers. Since this was a first play (I had just picked up the set), I thought I'd better dig out something I'd listened to about as many times as any recording in my collection. The Brahms Double Concerto is one of my favorite pieces of music, and my Soria copy of Heifetz and Piatagorsky with Wallenstein conducting has about the widest soundstage of any recording I've heard. With the Dragons, it was portrayed as I have always heard itvery wide! Heifetz' violin and Piatagorsky's cello were portrayed in three-dimensional beauty. Once again, the clarity gave me the feeling I was listening to this wonderful music for the first time.
I expected to be put off by brighter sound playing CDs, but listening to them was a treat. The MITs always made listening to music a nice experience, but tended to homogenize. Digital sounded nice and warm, and while I could tell a great recording from a not-so-great one, the MITs tended to bloat the mid-bass just a bit. The Silver Dragons allowed the highs to be extended without ever getting steely or harsh. Music for a Glass Bead Game on John Marks Music is one of theif not THEmost impressive sounding discs in my collection. I listen to it quite often for the music, but as a diagnostic tool it may have no peers. With the Dragons, I heard the hollow bodies of the instruments as they were plucked. The sound was so good it was almost eerie. Again, I didn't hear the warmth of the MITs, but I really liked the difference.
I saved the acid tests for last. The Dragons had turned me on with their reproduction of jazz horns and cymbals (another tough instrument to get right). I'd played orchestral music and been impressed, and my beloved chamber music sounded every bit as good as I could hope, but those crystalline highs that sound great with instrumental music can turn to steely highs with female vocals. Would I be disheartened when I played Ella Fitzgerald's Let No Man Write my Epitaph? The best laid plans of mice, men, and reviewers often go awry. I was in the midst of moving my rather prodigious LP collection onto some shelf units instead of the dozens upon dozens of fruit crates that have housed them for years, and Ella had disappeared! Intent upon listening to her, I got out another LP I'd found recently. The sound of Ella and Previn on Nice Work if You Can Get It is not comparable to the Epitaph album, but it's not bad. You can (sadly) tell that this is not Ella in her prime. Nevertheless, Ella stopped by and sang for me, and one can't ask for anything more. I admit I was a bit worried, but the Dragons performed well. Ella's smile could be heard plainly. (Is there anyone else whose smile shows so well within their voice?) Enjoying a good torture test, I put on Rickie Lee Jones' Pop Pop. I've always been impressed by this recording, but have never heard her lips pressing together when forming aspirated bilabials (linguistic jargon for forming the letter "p"). Impressive! This recording will have you leaping for the volume knob when Rickie reaches for those incredible high notes, but only if things are not correct. I didn't leap.
I loved my MITs, but like all things of a boy's past, they must be left behind sometime. I bought the Dragons. Mike Peshkin
Retail: $170 1.5 meters
An Interview with Drew Baird of Moon Audio
I e-mailed Drew Baird, designer of the Dragons, with some questions, and he was gracious enough to give these answers:
PFO: I'd guess the first question I should ask is how you got into audio?
Drew Baird: In high school. Because I grew up in New York City, I got into DJing very heavily. I did school dances, parties, worked in clubs, etc. I truly fell in love with music. When I got to college, I decided I wanted to be an electrical engineer so I could design audio equipment, but the classes bored me to death, so I decided to become a structural engineer instead, and boy am I kicking myself in the butt now. After college, I started building my own speakers because I couldn't afford the top-dollar models. I thought of starting my own speaker line, but speaker design is no easy task. There are so many parameters that can change the sound of the speaker that I could spend years trying to get it right, so I just continued to build speakers for myself as a hobby. Then I started getting into modifying my audio equipmentreplacing resistors here, changing capacitors there. It was amazing what a difference could be made by good-quality resistors, caps, silver wiring, or even just changing all the solder joints to a high grade of silver solder. It then became apparent that my cables were the weakest link in the chain. Off to the audio store I went. It truly shocked me how expensive good cables were, and of course I didn't like anything under $500. I said to myself, "I know I can design something for myself for a lot less, with equal quality." Just for giggles I put a few on eBay and Audiogon to see if they would sell, and they were all gone in the first week. And so the madness began.
PFO: Your training in electronics?
Drew: Aside from the classes in college that I fell asleep in, I have done a lot of reading, hanging out on audio forums on line, and simply asking a lot of questions.
PFO: At your website, you explain your choices of wire and connectors. Many audio buffs wonder why the price of cable is so high, but they do not understand the research involved. How long was the development stage for your cables? Did you try other wire or were you determined to use silver?
Drew: I have tried just about every connector made in the world: WBT, Cardas, Vampire, Furutech, Eichmann, etc. They all make excellent connectors, but I settled on the Cardas GRMO connector as I felt it complemented this cable the best. I am thinking of using the Eichmann Silver Bullets as an upgrade option. This is the only connector that sounds better than the Cardas with my cable. As far as wire goes, there are so many geometries, material choices, and all kinds of "cable voodoo" that it came down to what sounded best to me. The sound of an audio system is SO SUBJECTIVE! A system that sounds good to me may sound bad to you. I personally love the sound of silver, and that is purely subjective. This cable may not be the one for some people and I respect that. Go out and try as many as you can.
PFO: Any thoughts as to why many of us hear differences in ICs while others don't?
Drew: If I knew the answer to that I would be a millionaire! Unfortunately, I have gotten to the point where I am so critical of what I listen to that I can't just sit back and enjoy it. I guess the people who don't hear a difference are just enjoying the music so much that they don't care. I can say that if my wife can hear the difference between a good and a bad cable, then everyone should be able to. If you compare two $500 cables to each other, it is hard to do, but with a $100 cable and a $500 cable, there should be a difference.
PFO: You supplied me with a set of interconnects and a separate ground wire cable for my tonearm. Other manufacturers make a tonearm wire and, at least in the literature, claim there's a difference between an interconnect for line level devices and phono: capacitance, resistance, etc. Why don't you make a dedicated wire?
Drew: Actually, I am working on a dedicated phono cable with a DIN connector as we speak. As for RCA-to-RCA phono cables, like the one I provided to you, the design will be the same as the standard interconnect. In my opinion, the need for certain values of capacitance, resistance, etc. for specific uses (like a phono cable) is one of those "cable voodoo" topics. There are top-notch cables out there in the world at both ends of the spectrum when it comes to low vs. high capacitance and inductance. And guess what? Some sound good and some don't. It's a matter of getting the right combination to get a great-sounding cable.
PFO: Most phono wires have an internal ground wire attached. Is an internal grounding scheme detrimental to the sound?
Drew: I have tried both ways with my cable and honestly I could not hear the difference. This may not be true for other designs.
PFO: I really like the simplicity of your logo. I'm tired of logo designers that make the logo seem more important than the product itself, even though I do buy a Polo shirt from time to time. Who designed the logo?
Drew: I did. Being an engineer gives me access to wonderful CAD packages that I can do all my design work in. It's funny that there are people who truly believe that the bigger, heavier, and flashier the cable, the better it must sound. It really has become audio jewelry. Whoever has the best hood ornament will win. Those people are going to hate my cable because it is light and simple. A friend joked with me, "This can't be an audiophile cableit's too light!"
PFO: I really like that you chose to make your wires stand out instead of being a neutral color like white or gray. They are very nice looking. Comments?
Drew: Exactly. I win.
PFO: Manufacturers such as Spectral specify a wire to be used. In fact, some of them go so far as to void warranties with the use of other wire. Comments?
Drew: That's pretty funny. I guess I won't be buying any equipment from any of them. It's a travesty, I tell you. I can see recommending a cable, but voiding a warranty?
PFO: Some questions on application. Most hi-fi nuts feel keeping cables as short as possible is very important. The controversy is about which should be longer under different placement conditions, interconnects or speaker cables? Do you have any preferences?
Drew: Shorter is cheaper. I believe in this to a certain degree. Three feet is better than fifteen feet. I use all four-foot cables, except a two-foot between my active crossover and the two amps it feeds. Honestly, I can't hear the difference between a two and three-foot cable. It's a convenience issue to me. I want to be able to switch out components and not have to worry about whether that cable will reach. I change setups all the time. It may make a difference if you own a $10,000 preamp and a $15,000 amp, but for most setups I wouldn't worry about it. I think you run into more trouble with long runs of speaker cable. I have found that speaker cables are better left short and let your interconnects do the long distances. If you have monoblocks, put them right next to the speakers and keep the speaker cable short.
PFO: That leads to the final question. I asked about speaker cables. Your site shows speaker cables, and you said that you were developing some new ones. Anything you want to let us in on, and when do I get a pair to review?
Drew: I am currently selling speaker cables other than my own, since I am an OEM and retail shop. I wanted to provide all cabling needs while I established my own cables. Since my overhead is so small, I can afford to custom-build to client needs at a very good price. I do all kinds of custom termination and retermination. I also have my own power cable, which is in the process of being redesigned. I will have two power cables in the near future, one for front-end components and one for amps. I'm working on a design for a speaker cable as well. The problem with an all-silver speaker cable is price. It ain't cheap! My goal is to make and sell reasonably priced cables with expensive sound. My Silver Dragon Interconnect is half what it would cost if it was sold at a retail shop, and it is comparable to $500 interconnects. I'm going to sell only direct, rather than through retail chains, to pass the savings on to the public. It shouldn't cost a fortune to acquire good sound. The Silver Dragon Speaker cable may not be as good a deal, as it will probably be in the $550-$600 range, but it will sound like a $1000 cable at the least. I am also working on a cheaper version of both cables for more budget-conscience customers. As soon as it is ready, you will be the second one to hear it. I, of course, will be the first.