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JOHN HOFFMAN'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Sachiko Double Horn speakers with Fostex 208 Sigma drivers.

ELECTRONICS
Electra Print Audio 300B Custom amplifier Electra Print Audio PVA preamplifier.

SOURCES
EAD T-1000 transport, Audio Magic Kukama DAC, Galibier Serac with graphite platter.

CABLES
Audio Magic Illusion 4D interconnects, speaker cable, and digital cable and Audio Magic Extreme series power cords. Zu Audio Mission speaker cables, Zu Audio Speaker wire, Zu Audio power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Audio Magic Mini Reference power conditioner.

Positive Feedback ISSUE 65
january/february 2013

 

 

vh audio

Spectrum Cu Interconnects

as reviewed by John Hoffman

 

vh audio copper interconnects

The point of no return is located just west of the point of diminishing returns, and overly enthusiastic audio hobbyists are often associated with either of these phrases in one context or another. The former may have been a hit song by the group Kansas; it is also a landmark that friends and family have accused many a rabid gear head of sailing past a long time ago. While the point of diminishing returns is a marker that every audiophile is aware of, and the frugal hobbyist searches for this tipping point with a zeal that is usually reserved for discussions of politics and religion. On the other hand, audio cables can create this kind of dissension and spirited banter within this hobby, so perhaps it is fitting to open this article about the VH Audio Spectrum Cu interconnects with these two pithy descriptors.

VH Audio is the creation of Chris VenHaus, and he is responsible for product development, marketing, sales, and any other task that falls under the umbrella of small business administration. Among the life experiences that Chris brings to the table is being a musician for over thirty years. Performing music figures prominently into his world view, and this brings a distinct perspective of what an audio system should do in terms of musical expression. A great deal of value is placed on the emotional conveyance of a cable, and takes precedence over the typical flashy sonic attributes that often catch an audiophile's attention. In other words, a VH Audio cable must be capable of portraying the essence of a creative work, along with the detail and subtleties that provide the listener with a unvarnished look inside the performance. Chris also has strong ties to the DIY community, and over the years has published several recipes for interconnects, speaker wire, digital cables, and power cords. Along with finished cables, VH Audio has a wide array of parts and materials, such as bulk wire, a wide array of wire terminations, and cable sleeve material. Chris not only manufactures and distributes the V-CAP, but was also instrumental in the development of this ground breaking high performance capacitor. VH Audio can meet the needs of both the traditional hobbyist, and those who are willing heat the iron up and build their own cables.

The Spectrum series of cables are essentially an unshielded version of the Symmetry, which is the top tier interconnect in the VH Audio product line. Chris uses a single strand of cryogenically-treated 28 gauge solid core wire for both the signal path and the ground /return leg in this cable. The Spectrum contains twisted pair geometry, and the individual conductors are insulated with Airlok™, which is a proprietary foamed/cellular Fluoropolymer material. A perfect vacuum is the theoretical ideal for a dielectric, and sets the bar at 1.0 permittivity. Airlok ™has a dielectric constant of less than 1.45, and in comparison, a Teflon® branded solid fluoropolymer dielectric typically measures from 2.0 to 2.2 permittivity. Teflon® is the material that is typically used in many upper tier interconnects, and for the Spectrum Cu to be able to incorporate a higher quality material at this price point is quite impressive. PTFE tape is wound around the cables at a precise tension in order to minimize the movement of conductors in the cable. Next, an unbleached natural cotton lines are located in close proximity to the conductors, and functions as a mechanical vibrational dampener which contributes to the stabilization of the thin conductors in this cable. A highly flexible elastomer jacket is extruded at high pressure around the core of the Spectrum cable, which protects the inner wire assembly and provides yet another layer of mechanical dampening for the conductors. When the cables are completed, it gets to spend time on an audiodharma Pro Cable Cooker™ in order to bypass the tedious stages of cable break in. Chris also allows for a 60 day in home trial, so this means that the cable conditioning allows the prospective owner the opportunity of experiencing the cable at its full potential during the auditioning period.

vh audio copper interconnects

Since these cables are hand built by Chris, there are several options that can be selected by the customer to meet their audio needs and stay within any fiscal constraints. The Spectrum cables can be built with either copper or sliver wire, which is denoted by either a Cu or Ag suffix. There are several types of RCA ends that can be selected, starting with the Eichmann Gold Bullet ends and going up to the WBT-0152 Nextgen Silver connectors. The price range of the Spectrum interconnects starts at $359.99 per meter with copper wire and Eichmann Gold Bullet terminations, and tops out at $619.99 per meter for silver wire and WBT Silver ends. For this review, I selected the copper version of this cable, and Chris sent out two pair, one having the Eichmann Gold Bullet ends, and the other pair fitted with the WBT Nextgen copper ends. The Eichmann terminated cables sell for $359.99 per meter, and the WBT fitted interconnects are $499.99 per meter pair.

After extended listening sessions with both versions of the Spectrum Cu cable I formed a definite preference for the WBT terminated cables. While there are pronounced differences in the manner either cables presents music, the overall capabilities of this design are readily apparent in both styles. Toward the end of this article I will discuss the differences that are brought on by these ends, but for now I want to hone in on the outstanding clarity and focus that the Spectrum Cu interconnects bring to the table. Over the years I have owned dozens of interconnects, and spent time listening to a wide array of other candidates. The Spectrum Cu ranks among the best I have heard in terms of transparency, focus, and lack of overt tonal colorations.

One dreary afternoon I was in the library getting in some casual reading and had Prince's Greatest Hits disc playing on the stereo. As the songs rolled through the system I could hear the differences in production values, with certain cuts being a bit harsh and compressed, and others standing out due to increased clarity and definition. "Sign of the Times" [Hits 1, Warner Bros 9 45431-2] was one of the highlights on this compilation, although all of the songs from later albums outpaced the selections from early in Prince's career. The opening kick drum notes were laid down on a Linn M-1 drum machine in Princes home recording studio. The drum line is tight, quick, and lively, while being placed within the front left hand side of the sound stage. The snare drum is also created on the Linn, and it is surprising how realistic the instrument sounds. A Fairlight CMI Synthesizer was used to generate other instruments and sounds in the song and is lively sounding and integrates well with the tracks laid down by the Linn. Finally, Prince's vocals are remarkably well defined, and are subtly nuanced in a way that brings to the fore front the vocals skills that he possesses. Yes this album is a studio creation, there are very few natural instruments in the recoding, and it certainly is not of the quality level that an audio connoisseur would approve of. Yet in spite of all these limitations, the VH Audio cable deftly brings to light the differences in recording quality, and presents the music in an involving and engaging manner. What is important is the Spectrum cable sounds wonderful with this type of music many of us listen to for enjoyment and does not depend on the finest of audiophile recordings to show its true value.

The Spectrum Cu cables have the ability to engage the listener and allow for a connection to the music on an emotional level, which is an attribute that Chris VenHaus strives for in his designs. Unless a song is a truly abysmal recording, there should be a degree of empathy between musician and listener, even if recording techniques and presentation are vastly different between pieces of music. These interconnects have the ability to present the myriad of differences between songs, yet still maintain that connection between the artist and audience. For instance Shannon Beck tells a tale of family history in "Ruby" [Window Open Wide; Self Released] and the emotions of hope, difficult times, sorrow, and the inevitable moving on of life is portrayed by her sweet and clear vocal style and introspective guitar composition. Contrast this piece to "Restless" by Allison Krauss and Union Gospel Station [Lonely Runs Both Ways; Rounder 11661-0525-2] and the abilities of the VH Audio cable are easy to recognize even though the two songs are significantly different in terms of recording technique and complexity. The second piece is far more layered and polished, and is basically a very well done commercial recording. In spite of this pedigree, the emotional context of this song remains intact, and the Spectrum Cu steadfastly presents this aspect of the performance. There is a deeper meaning given to the song due to the skill of Krauss's singing style, and the manner that the instrumental passages reinforce the story being told. As a final example, compare both of these pieces against "Same Old Blues Again" by John Lee Hooker [Boom Boom; Point Blank/Charisma v2-86553] and the expressive nature of this cable telegraphs the emotional content of this song once again. The rhythmic and driving bass line demands attention and Hooker's sparse guitar playing and timeless vocals communicate the essence of the blues on a primal level. In each case the Spectrum Cu has done a first rate job of relaying the emotional context of the music and preserved all the subtle nuances that make each style of recording distinct.

One aspect of my listening sessions I found fascinating is the distinct differences that I experienced with the WBT Nextgen Copper RCA ends and the Eichmann Gold Bullet plugs. The Eichmann terminated cables have more warmth and body than the WTB terminated cables. This romantic presentation is not without a cost however as the subtle intricacies of the music are slightly overshadowed by all that warm goodness. On the other hand, the WBT Nextgen Copper ends returns the tonal structure of the music back to an even balance and allows for all the subtleties of a fine recording to come forward. These two versions of cable present "She's No Lady" by Lyle Lovett [Pontiac; MCA MCAD-42028] in distinctly different ways, and to the casual listener it would appear that they are two different products. The Eichmann terminated cable has a more robust bass line, and the horn section has a burnished warmth that is very pleasant. Lovett's voice is slightly deeper, and the piano notes are ever so distant and subdued. With the WBT versions in the system this song loses that burnished warmth, but the dynamic contrasts of instruments and performers have increased range and scale. The drum kit is now neatly defined and moved forward in the recoding. Cymbals gain a realistic metallic shimmer, and drum notes are clearly defined. The horns lose that overly robust character, but it is easier to hear the individual instruments versus a massed section. The piano now has a lighter feel and a natural tonal balance with the WBT ends. I can find positive traits for both versions of the Spectrum Cu cable; however my personal preference is for the WBT terminated interconnects. However, there is a $140 difference between the two versions, so prospective owners would be well advised to consider both their budget and system needs before making a selection. The bottom-line is either version of the Spectrum Cu is an excellent cable.

These days anyone who can solder a set of RCA connectors to a three foot section of wire, encase it in some nylon mesh, start a website and call themselves a cable manufacturer. There is the potential for some pretty hefty profits in this area, and many a skeptical audiophile has called foul over these kinds of shenanigans. But not every small cable manufacturer falls under this kind of heading, and for the dedicated ones it is more of a labor of love than a way to get rich quick. When you look closely at the build process that is undertaken for the VH Audio cables, you will quickly see that they are labor intensive designs that are not configured to maximize profit. Each design uses high quality raw materials, contains several types of internal dampening methods, and does not stray into the realm of gimmickry, but follows the principals of established electrical theory. In other words, Chris's designs are defined by the known laws of physics and he takes great care to leverage the advantages of quality materials, and minimize the effects of resonances through control of internal and external vibrations. The first level of Spectrum series wire is not cheap, yet they are a great value when used in a high performance audio system. The following iterations offer incremental improvements in sound quality and the up-charge for these products is still very reasonable. From my listening experiences I find that the Spectrum Cu cable with WBT Nextgen copper RCA ends is a wonderful balance between sound quality and price. These interconnects are going to be my long term reference cable, and I look forward to spending some time with a few other of Chris's designs this coming year. If you are looking to get off the cable merry go round, I would strongly suggest you make the effort to listen to the VH Audio products for this is one of the hidden gems in our hobby. John Hoffman

Spectrum Cu Interconnects
Retail: Eichmann terminated cables sell for $359.99 per meter and the WBT fitted interconnects are $499.99 per meter pair.

VH Audio
http://www.vhaudio.com

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