Positive Feedback ISSUE 55
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Making their stateside premier at RMAF 2010, the Phono Acustica: Armonico Cables from Spain made quite a splash with those fortunate enough to hear them on the Kaiser Speakers in the Silicon Arts suite. Made of a secret alloy blend of silver, palladium, and gold, these UBER cables perform right up there with the most UBER wires known to this humble reviewer. A bargain, no. A fortune, yes. But I would be the last man on earth to talk you out of owning these. Armonico is Spanish for "harmonious," my very favorite audiophile word. Spain now has bragging rights for both Columbus in 1492 and Fono Acustica: Armonico Cables in 2011.
I've never ever heard an alloy wire with gold [and without copper] that sounded musical and linear. Maybe it's the top of the line Oyaide connectors, which are true beauties. Maybe it's the silicon tubes or all handmade design that works so well. It could be the solid core wire design plus the alloy blend that sounds so delicious. Whether you buy the power cord or the digital cable, the solid core/alloy design is consistent. Anyway, it is the sound that matters, and these cables undoubtedly perform near the top of the heap.
With the Kubala-Sosna Elations!, Emotions and Jorma Origos, Prime in hand, I tried endlessly to identify the superior wire. I won't keep you in suspense like other reviewers that make you read every precious word they write. The superior wire is almost all of the above. Each offered a slightly different sonic perspective and some more definition than others. I'll go through this in much more detail.
At this very high price point, I am going to nit every pick. So here we go.
The Power Cord: 1.5 meters $7300
I thought I'd start with the most expensive power cord I have auditioned. Robust and flexible, the Armonico is extraordinary. Improved nearly every piece of gear I tried it on…some more, some less. You will hear a fleshier, more powerful presentation. It's a boon to anything solid state, and icing on the cake for tube gear. In a cocktail with Elation! Power Cables, I heard an increased sense of realism and warmth without losing nearly any of the Elation's drive and superb detailing. It's even closer to the Origo Power Cord, but still slightly warmer and delicious. The key with the Armonico power cord is it adds a bit of blood and guts to the mid-range performance while sacrificing very little definition.
Since I prefer a cocktail of power cords to achieve the most realistic musical presentation and maximize the various gear in the system, I cannot exactly identify one brand's best over another. What I hear is shifts in musicality…what is and is not contributing to the sense of realism. I will say that the Armonico is an extraordinary power cord as it reinforces mid-band definition where most of the music lives. I put it between my World Power Wing and the wall so every piece of equipment in my system would have some benefit from the Armonico Power Cord. That's exactly what happened regardless of the power cord on any single piece of gear. The entire system warmed up just a bit.
The Armonico power cord is a true sonic beauty. It may be the sweetheart of the Armonico suite of wires!
The Speaker Cables: 2 meters bi-wire "four runs" $18,500
The Armonico Speaker Cables were substituted for my reference Elation! Speaker Cables in the system that sells for about the same price. While retaining most of the definition of the superb Elation! cables, I experienced some added mid-range sweetness and warmth. I also heard a bit bigger bass with the Armonicos. The Elations do sound a tad more extended on the top end and a bit faster than the Armonicos. With Elation! interconnects in the system and Armonico Speaker Cables, the cable combo was very satisfying. Here we go again with the cable cocktails.
At this exalted level, it's tough to identify good, better, best. All I can do is report subtleties. The Armonicos are a top speaker cable and most wonderful even if you have ultra-fast diamond tweeters and ceramic drivers. Their linearity and dynamics are very good, though a bit skewed to the mid-band. Their musicality is undoubted. Their overall presentation of definition is outstanding. Their sense of real instruments in real space is excellent, though not the best. There is that added warmth and mid-range dynamics that will please most folks, though some will prefer strict sonic neutrality. The Origos and Elations are a bit less fulsome, but more purely neutral overall. The Armonicos are certainly another top choice for speaker cables.
My only real quibble with the Armonico speaker cables is there slight reduction in imaging focus. They are not as tightly defined as my references. This does not detract from the enjoyment of these cables. They sound very musical and entertaining. I did, however, miss the super-tight imaging of the Elations after a while.
Digital RCA 1 meter$3400
This is the most expensive S/PDIF cable known to me, it surely is good. Placed between my Alesis and E.A.R. Acute 3 CD/DAC Player, I was most satisfied. Fascinating how the digital cable retained the Armonico house sound. The mids filled out and warmed the lovely definition of my hi-res Alesis 24/96 discs. There just seems to be more there than my other digital cables could muster.
Though not as truly flat and linear as my Elation! or WyWires digital wires, the Armonico did add a gentle analog presence, even if it was a tad chubby. I thought at times it was closer to LP performance than I'd heard in many a moon from digital.
My only quibble really is that dynamic bursts seemed more exciting on initial impact, while a bit truncated on sustained echo or ambience. My Elation! digital wire was more even-handed in the way it handled dynamics and decay. If you prefer a slightly more emotional and chewy sound and damn the accuracy, you will adore the Armonico. Actually, the overall performance of the Armonico was closer in feel overall to the $350 WyWires, with just more definition with the Armonicos. I admit it: I am splitting hairs here. There is no perfect digital cable, but the Armonico is another top choice for any music lover [especially if you have a solid state DAC.] My question remains: how long will it be before a cable at a fraction of the cost will outperform such expensive digital wire?
Interconnect 1 meter $6850 [RCA] 1 meter $8100 [XLR]
If you assign the strict neutrality designation to Elation! interconnects, and then a very slightly warmer designation to Origo, you may continue a bit further out the warmth scale to Armonico. I tried the Armonico interconnects in three systems. I liked it wherever I placed it. Giving up a bit of high-band energy and definition to Kubala-Sosna and Jorma, it gave you a bit more mid-band lushness and power. Bass response was different sounding and a tad less tight. With the Armonics, you were aware of a truly musical performance with a bit less super-fine definition, overall.
I switched back and forth between the Origo and Armonico wires between my Acute 3 CD Player and and E.A.R. 912 Preamp, could have lived with either wire, but ultimately chose the Origo interconnect with the Armonico power cord. I loved the Armonico wires on vocals and violins. I was less entranced by the Armonicos on odd harmonics like cymbals or rubbing/scraping on guitar strings and the like. Tapping sounds and horns were a bit more golden than I prefer.
At this level, it's all about the little things, and the Armonicos never ever disturbed or disrupted the musical flow. I got lost in the performances more often than not.
One element of the Armonico's performance puzzles me. No matter what cable I compared it to, including the $11,000 per meter Jorma Prime, the Armonico produced dynamics by pushing them out into the room further than any other cable I am familiar with. The Armonicos pop! As a result of this not-subtle effect, rear stage definition is rendered less obvious. Right to left soundstaging is fine. Instruments and voices move forward. Instruments in the low-band move forward as well, but just a bit less than the mids. This was consistent in all three test systems, and with single ended and balanced Armonicos. As Spock would say, "fascinating." I can't tell you that this was right or wrong, but I did like it most of the time.
When playing massed choral works, like Grieg Choral Music, 2L45 Hybrid, the massed female chorus actually sounded like they gained weight when the Armonicos were in the circuit. When removed, the ladies sounded like svelte angels with delicacy abounding. Which is right? You want them rotund or reduced? I'll leave this choice up to the listener.
My other references retained more of a sense of evenness from top to bottom, and with slightly greater overall definition. I missed them when not in the system. I missed the Armoncos, too, when I took them away. Go figure: the grass is always greener at this supreme level of connectivity.
By the way, the Armonicos are truly rare beasts. They have only one dealer in America, Eastwind Import, and there is only one suite of wires in America right now as far as I know. Our hobby is continually expanding with new technologies, and now this new entry from Spain. What fun!
The Spanish-made Fono Acustica: Armonico's are musical to the max in any language. Made of silver, gold, and palladium, and terminated with top Oyaide connectors, they are valuable in more ways than one. The sweetheart of the line is the power cord! It is killer good. The speaker cables are nearly as detailed as my best references and unfailingly musical. The digital cable is superb and about as musical as digital gets right now. The interconnects are super harmonious and nicely detailed, only lacking a bit of the linearity, definition and focus of the best in the world. That said, the Armonico's are wonderful, and surely destined to be in some of the world's best systems. Robert H. Levi
USA Distributor Eastwind Import
Bob's New Cable Rankings
Here are my revised interconnect rankings, including the new Phono Acustica: Armonico Interconnects from the latest listening sessions, with cables ranked by my preference within price categories:
Over $4000 per meter
TIE: Jorma Origo (single-ended and balanced); Kubala-Sosna Elation! [balanced and single ended] in the State-of-the-Art Category.
Jorma Prime (balanced and single-ended)
Fono Acustica: Armonico [single ended and balanced];
Nordost Odin (balanced and single ended)
Tara Labs The Zero (single ended)
Acrolink 7N-DA6100 (single-ended)
$2000 - 4000 per meter
Kimber Select KS 1136 and KS 1036 [balanced and single-ended]
Kubala-Sosna Emotion (balanced and single-ended)
Jorma #1 (balanced and single-ended) Bybees on board.
Clarison Teresonic Gold (single-ended)
Nordost Valhalla (balanced and single-ended)
Wireworld Platinum Eclipse (balanced and single-ended)
Acrolink 7N-A2500 Mexcel (single-ended)
Silversmith Palladium (balanced and single-ended)
Harmonic Technology Photon Interconnects [fiber optic] with Power Pack 4 (balanced and single-ended)
$1000 - 2000 per meter
CRL Silver Interconnects (balanced and single-ended)
Stereovox 600-SEIii (balanced and single-ended)
Kimber Select KS 1126 and KS 1026 [balanced and single-ended]
Kubala-Sosna Expression (balanced and single-ended)
Jorma #2 (single-ended)
XLO Signature 3 Interconnect [balanced and single-ended]
Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II (balanced and single-ended)
$450 - 1000 per meter
Kimber Kable Select KS 1016 and 1116 [single ended and balanced]
WyWires Custom Designed Interconnects [single-ended and balanced]
Kubala-Sosna Fascination [single ended and balanced]
Audience AU24e [Balanced and single-ended]
Harmonic Technology Magic II (Balanced and single-ended)
Nordost Heimdall (Balanced and single-ended)
CRL Copper Series Interconnects (Single-ended tested)
Harmonic Technology Pro Sil-way III+ (balanced and single-ended)
$250 - 450 per meter
Mythos by Argentum Acoustics (balanced and single-ended
Soundstring Octaphase Alpha Series (Single Ended Unshielded Interconnect)
Soundstring Octaphase Omega Pro Line (Single Ended/Balanced Shielded Interconnect)
Under $250 per meter
Kimber Hero (balanced and single-ended)
Kimber Timbre (single-ended