Cable Comparison-Stage 1

Prelude to a review…

It was a super relaxing Sunday afternoon when Gunbei should knock on my door in person. He is an imposing figure--wouldn’t surprise me if he came from a lineage of samurais or sumo wrestlers.

Two weeks prior to this meeting, I had emailed him asking for his impression on Cardas cables, and he offered to mail me send some cables to try them out. To make the story short, it turns out he lives about 30 minutes BMW M3 driving distance away (I swear it would probably take me about an hour to drive to his house, so go figure).

Box of goodies…..

He took out a medium sized cardboard box, and inside were about a thousand dollars worth of high end cables:

(1) Harmonic Technology Silways Mk2 1 meter RCA
(1) Cardas Golden Cross .5 meter RCA
(1) Virtual Dynamics Audition 1 meter RCA
(1) Cardas Silver Lightning 1 meter digital RCA
(1) Illuminations (Kimber) D-60 1 meter digital RCA
(1) Virtual Dynamics Audition 1 meter digital RCA

And in this corner…

However, unlike Gunbei who is has secular as well as worldly wealth, Viggen only has financial aid wealth. Thus, Viggen’s collection of interconnects is a pittance in comparison:

(1) Audioquest Emerald .5 meter RCA
(1) Bear Labs Silver Lightning 1 meter RCA
(1) Mapleshade Ultrathin 1 meter RCA
(1) Illuminations D-60 .5 meter RCA

Well, the whole point of Gunbei’s trek, a kin to his samurai lineage (play along), is to seek enlightenment, and what better place to seek knowledge then at Viggen’s casa with this modest system installed:

California Audio Labs Delta Transport
California Audio Labs Alpha DAC
Meridian 518 Digital Processor
Audio Research CA50
KEF 103/4
Audioquest Argent 6 Feet Pair with Spades Single Wire
Stock Gold Plated Jumpers used on Black Speaker Binding Post
Alpha Core Silver Jumpers used on Red Speaker Binding Post
Living/Listening Room 14Wx20Dx10H (estimation)
Virtual Dynamics Power 2 from wall to PS Audio Juicebar
Virtual Dynamics Power 2 from Juicebar to DAC and 518
Virtual Dynamics Audition Power from Juicebar to transport
Amp is plugged into the Juicebar via non-removable stock cords

During our listening session that day, we auditioned just about every cable listed above in every possible application. For an example, I used the HT Silways for analog AND as digital applications. I did this with all the other cables as well. Furthermore, I also took the Meridian 518 in and out of the system just to see how the cables sounded with and without the 518’s dejittering effects on the front end.

The Review Procedure

It has been 6 days since Gunbei was over at my apartment where we had a 6 hour listening session and making tons of comments and observations in the process. Listening with a fellow audiophile is extremely more fun and enlightening; however, for the sake of accuracy, I will try to keep this review as accurate as possible and leaving out the comments and observations we concluded with because I didn’t write them down during the time the comments were made. Just for the record, we agreed on every observation we made that day, and we made like about 50 of them. Also, Gunbei took the Audition cables back home, so they will not be included in the review portion, but I might add in some commentaries in the end if I can faithfully remember how they compared to the other cables.

The testing procedure is this—I will start the test with a base configuration. The base configuration will be using the CAL Delta and Alpha fronts with a single 1 meter D-60 cable in between. Whatever interconnects being used will connect the DAC to the CA50 integrated amp, 45 wpc using 2 months old factory tubes and recalibrated/biased by Gary Garfield of Musical Fidelity in Santa Monica. Audioquest Argents will connect the amp to the speakers, KEF 103/4, a 3-way speaker with coaxial/concentric 1-inch tweeter and 6 inch mids with dual coupled 6-inch drivers within a ported enclosure.

I will put different interconnects into the system in place of the Emerald and comment on the difference in sound quality between the Emerald and the other cables. In the second stage, I will do the same as in the first testing stage, but I will add the Meridian 518 into the loop, thus the transport will send signal to 518 then the signal goes from 518 to DAC all via a pair of D-60 cables.

In the third stage of testing, and I will admit I already have a favorable bias towards this stage of testing, I will use the pair of D-60 as analog cables between the DAC and amp, and use all the other analog interconnects between the trans, DAC and the 518 in and out of the loop intermittently.

During each stage of testing, I will use 3 test tracks:
1) Ivy-Long Distance, I Think of You, track 10 for techno-synth/pop and drums.
2) Ryuichi Sakamoto-1996, Wurthering Heights, track 12 for piano and strings.
3) Everything But the Girl-I Don’t Want to Talk About It, track 8 for acoustic and vocals.

The left speaker is 4 feet from the left wall and the right speaker is 4.5 feet from the right wall. Both speakers are 4 feet from the rear wall, about 15 feet from the front wall and about 6 feet apart (measured visually). Each speaker is elevated by about 8 inches. I am using very sturdy apple crates that I got from a local grocery store, and a one-inch thick high school yearbook is placed beneath the base of the speakers, which are using spikes, to give the foundation more solidity. Also, the tweeters are about 4 inches below my ear level.

Finally, the frig’in Review

Track-1 (Volume at 12 o’clock)

Base system

Audioquest Emeralds

The Emeralds do a great job in “layering” the different elements such as the guitar, vocals, and drums when the pace/rhythm of the track is slow to moderate. These elements are distinct from another with “air” in between, yet they are musically blended together. However, there are certain things that irritate me. The bass slam creates a slight ringing effect in my ears: it is too sharp. The Emeralds show their age as the track gets more complex. The highs on the female vocals sound great when she’s doing a solo, but they get kind of scratchy when the rest of the instruments are blended in. The guitar displays a great stereo imaging effect before the complexity hits in (complex portion is when all the instruments and vocals are going on at the same time with fast pace and rhythm.)

Comment: The Emerald doesn’t seem to handle complex material well.

Harmonic Technology Silway Mk2
Blacker, the Silways have blacker background. These cables are slightly less euphoric than the Emeralds—there is slightly less rounding off on the highs, and there is slightly more realistic details. The highs are a bit more irritating at first because they are sharper than the Emerald. However, after about a minute, I prefer the more detailed and sharper highs of the Silways. The bass is much more managed with the Silways—I do not experience the ear ringing bass slam as I did with the Emerald. When the complex portion of this CD comes in, there is lesser black in the background, and the highs become a little shrilled.

Comment: The Silway’s improvements over the Emerald by offering blacker background, more controlled bass and more realistic details in the highs. Also, the Silways offer slightly more “image” in the 8 and 5 O’clock portion of the soundstage. The highs can be a bit “graspy” with the complex portion. I surmise this cable would definitely be better than the Emerald with acoustic material and only slightly better with synth/bass and drums.

Cardas Golden Cross
Less black, less sharpness, less glare compared to the Silways, but it has more black and details than the Emerald. But what stands this cable apart is its ability to render more detail without being sharp or edgy. But, it also has its own pitfalls. The lower midbass is a bit bloated, which the bloating weren’t present with the other two cables tested thus far. After the material starts to get more complex, I am experiencing slight loss in detail and increase in echo particularly in the highs of synthesizer and the female vocal. Also, the soundstage shrinks a little particularly in the 10 and 3 o’clock portions when the material gets complex.

Comment: This cable does great things to the small details of this track—the small details are not so small, not in the way that it is amplified but it has its own distinct personality. The highs are more rolled off than the Emerald and Silways. The Emeralds are still a bit brighter in comparison yet with less detail in the highs. I think this cable is the most “liquid” of the 3 cables tested so far.

Bear Labs Silver Lightning

True to Bear Labs’ website, this cable does seem to have “natural timbre and tonal balance.” The instant I plugged in the SL and turned on the CD player, I felt a sense of “purity” that wasn’t their with the previous cables. Here is a list of attributes that were present in the other cables that the SLs do not have:
1) Emerald’s rolled highs and layering effect
2) HT’s black background, managed bass and more detailed highs
3) Cardas’ peculiar micro-detail rendering
Even though the SL cables don’t have these attributes, it does sound better for exactly the same reason.

Comment: the greatest strength this cable has over others is its ability to make the female vocal sound/feel more palatable, and it remained so even during the complex portion of the track. There is still some glare on the highs, but less irritatingly so compared to the Emerald and HT. Also, there is a better sense of prat with this cable than with the other 3 cables.

The Bear Labs won the first round by having less of everything except musicality (by the way, I hate using words like natural and musicality because of its inherent lack of meaning, but since I am living with it, so should you.)

Track-2 (for the sake of fairness, I will test each of the same cords in reverse order)

Bear Labs
As I am trying to find things to say about this cable, I am also trying to find faults. I am questioning myself whether the pianos and strings sound lifelike, whether the spatial-ness of the soundstage is realistic, whether the bass and highs are managed correctly, whether the details are rendered accurately, but I fail to find anything to comment. Maybe I will find more faults with this cable after I listen to the other cables. I can only say, this cable is not spectacular if you are trying to hear the “cable;” in fact, it almost has a sense of “average-ness” to it if you try to listen to the “cable.” One thing I do notice is some instruments are farther away from me, and some are closer to me; whereas, I previously thought all the instruments were equidistant from me when using other cables.

Comments: There is nothing irritating that I notice with this cable, but part of this can be relevant to the CD. So, I shall further comment on this cable. But, one thing people might not like about this cable is, the reproduction of music is flat compared to the other cables, not in a clinical way but just lack energy or “hyperness.” But, I think this is because this cable got the prat and timbre down pat better than the other cables so far.

This cable sounds more luxurious than the Bear. Ok, get this, I think the most of this cable’s presence are in the mid-highs, yet the highs are rolled off a bit. This seems to be a very hard to achieve feat to me. Also, cable doesn’t have the “average-ness” that is inherent in the Bear Labs, and I can sense this right away when I hit the play, and this is a good thing. The highs are a bit rolled off compared to the Bear, thus giving me the impression that the headroom is smaller, but the stings, particularly when the violins hits their high notes, are more extended yet silkier sounding than the Bear.

Comments: Both cables have distinct attributes, even though the Bear’s attribute is its lack of attribute. I can’t make up my mind which cable I like better between these two with Ryuichi’s material.

The HT seems to have attributes found in the Cardas along some attributes of its own. The violins are 90% as silky as the Cardas; however, there is more presence in the mids rather than in the high-mids as with the Cardas. This is peculiar since with the Ivy CD, the Cardas seemed to be more rolled in the highs, yet with Ryuichi, the HT seems more rolled. Also, the lower mids with the HT is more vibrant. I feel more air rushing out of the ported mids enclosure of the speakers with HT than the Cardas and Bear. This cable also has the blackest background of the three. But, and here is the deal breaker, the HT has a better decaying effect than the other 2 cables with the Ryuichi track. This gives the piano and, particularly, the strings, more life.

Comments: I think I like the HT the most so far. But, it can be a bit dark.


The Emeralds sound like an antique compared to the other cables with the Ryuichi track. I mean, just by hitting play, you can tell it is “yesterday’s” technology right away. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing all the time. First of all, the presentation with this cable is a bit pushed back compared to the other 3 cables. There is also less detail in the lower mids and more irritating sharpness in the upper mids. However, the music is very enjoyable until certain complexities in the music hits in, then the highs starts to shrill.

Comments: I believe this cable is not suited for this CD. I neglected to use any CDs with brass instruments, which is where I think this cable is very good at. Not that I advocate using certain cables for certain instruments.

Verdict: Ryuichi sounds the best with Harmonic Tech.

Track-3 (I will further jumble the order of cables)

This cable seems to match this CD very well in terms of mood and background, but it doesn’t match the vocal range very well. Both the cable and this CD’s track has a bit of a dark sound to it, and they compliment each other by giving the background a smoother, dark and “sad emotion” texture instead of adding to each other and making the background too cold. The vocals doesn’t seem to like this cable as much especially when the material gets to be a bit complex. Her sound is smooth and deep, but it gets thin and sharp when the material is complex and when she hits the higher notes.

Comment: As usual, the HT is vibrant in the lows, and it doesn’t scare away this track’s melancholy. Good sound, but I think there is room for improvement.

More air, but the strings are slightly mushier than the HT. But, not so much so that the guitars loses its “snap.” The guitars have a bit better texture with the Cardas--you can feel the individual fingers strumming the strings. Maybe this is because the Cardas has more emphasis in the mid-highs with this EBTG as well as with the Ryuichi track. Also, the Cardas has a slight “swaying melody” presentation of this track compared to the more straightforward presentation of the HT.

Comment: The Cardas extracts more detail and emotion from this track than the HT.

Realism and sense of timing is instantly improved with the Bear after replacing the Cardas. The Bear seems to be better than the Cardas and HT in combining the vocal with the instruments. They seem more seamless in its presentation with the Bear; whereas, they are more distinct with the Cardas and, particularly, the HT. With this CD, being seamless is better than being distinct. However, something is missing in terms of musicality and emotion. Also, the strumming of the guitar is not as detailed as with the Bear. The Bear also has less texture in the background.

Comment: The Bear seems to do all the technical things right with the EBTG track, but it lacks a bit compared to the Cardas.

There is more hiss in the background, that is the first thing I noticed. OK, the Emeralds do one thing that is better than the other megabuck cables. The guitars are liquidly smooth yet full bodied and detailed. However, the vocals can be just a tinge sluggish compared to the other cables.

Comment: It does one thing great, and average with all the other things. It comes in last technically, but, to me intrinsically, it is on pace with the HT and Bear with the EBTG track.

Verdict: EBTG sounds the best with Cardas.

Conlusion: TO BE CONTINUED. It is too soon to have a conclusion, for there are two more stages left in this cable comparison test.
Very interesting comparison, guys. My initial impression is that we should all have a box full of cables, and listen to our records with each and make notes. Then when we play a particular album, we can rig up the cables that sounds best with it. Sort of like re-setting VTA for each record. Does anyone do this? Could it be practical? Maybe the elusive cable solution is to have more than one set of cables.
Setting up new cables for different disks? Are you crazy? It's that level of audiophile nerd-ism that makes others shy away from this hobby. Here's a time frame:

Choosing music: 5 min
Setting VTA: 15 min
Changing cables: 5-15 (depending on how careful you are)
Listening: 15 min
Putting everything back after you are done: 15 min

Here you go. An hours worth of that level of dorkish listening. We're in this for the music, the cool toys are only secondary. Enjoy!

I thought all audiophiles have a cable drawer, basket, box etc with several extra sets of cables to tweak sound. It would be much cheaper of course to find the "perfect" cable that made us perfectly content with no desire to hear any other........anyone found this?

Constantly switching cables however is a real drag, so I will gladly let Viggen/Gunbei have all the fun, heh heh.
Sometimes people just take me too darn serious. :^)
I think TWL might have touched on a touchy issues for audiophiles/music lovers. Yah, you try to convince your friends and loved ones that you are not gear heads after spending a few grand on a pair of low WAF speakers and unmanageable 8 awg speaker cables, but, fact of the matter is, being a techie comes with the audiophile territory unless you have the money, trust and patience to let someone else do all the system matching for you.

As for all the cable swapping, trust me, I do not do this on a regular basis. I do, however, am not lazy about trying to find a system configuration that works for me. And, also, I am not shy about sharing what I find to our dear Audiogon members. I do try to establish an erudite atmosphere within my threads to promote a consumer only viral information sharing platform. So please leave the non-constructive remarks to yourselves.

Yes, it has been very fun doing cable comparisons, but it is also very time consuming, and, as Gunbei can attest, I have very little free time.
>> I do try to establish an erudite atmosphere within my threads to promote a consumer only viral information sharing platform....<<

I couldn't have said it better meself - this is *truly* a disease we have been infected with...
I never thought of it as a disease. Interesting... but, I say make the most of it.
Hey guys,

I can't wait for Stage II. Great review. Great reporting. Many thanks for sharing the joy of our hobby.

We ain't crazy, we just insane!!!
Could someone please bottom line this thread for those of us with less than an ideal amount of free time?


Thank you,

Brad Day
Atlanta, GA
Thanks you guys for undertaking to perform and report your work here. My main take on this sort of thing:

It is, in reality, perfectly true what Twl suggests - that certain cables will do a better job with certain disks, because all recordings have their own colorations and idiosyncracies, as do all cables, and some will just be a superior mix'n'match to others (presumably due to complementary tendencies).

However, as others duly noted (and as Twl retorted that he was only slightly serious), no one wants to re-cable for every disk. Given the wide differences that will exist in the rest of the system and room (not to mention listening preferences) between the reviewer and the readers - even if they were to try the same cables - caution is the operative word when trying to draw definitive conclusions, especially as they relate to tonal response characteristics.

As Viggen only has reported so far on results obtained from auditioning three disks, the fact that he seems to have reached a different cable preference for each recording is not surprising, although it may be a little daunting/dismaying. My own limited experience would lead me to predict that, after more extensive listening with a wider array of recordings, he will come to a more general opinion of which cable sounds more accurate and resolving in his system/room more of the time with more of his disks.

I believe that the number one job of a cable is to let the information through to the highest degree possible. Sure, small frequency response deviations can be important in a given set-up, but more universally applicable findings can be extrapolated from observing which cable best "gets out of the signal's way", concerning things like widest bandwidth, cleanest transients and decays, least congestion in the face of complexity, best-preserved spatial information, freedom from imposed textures, widest dynamic range (both in terms of contrast, and the range of frequencies over which that is accomplished), and highest signal/noise ratio.

With speaker cables, all bets are off due to specific interactions of differing amplifier output networks and speaker loads, leading to different cables doing better jobs under various circumstances. But with interconnects, at least given non-idiosyncratic source components, I tend to believe that better is simply better, and that the cable which adds fewer distortions and subracts less information while remaining most impervious to its environment is the best. (With digital IC's, however, I find the situation is somewhat more analogous to speaker cables).

When auditioning IC's, though, it can be very difficult to distinguish any other characteristics from one's perception of the frequency balance of a particular disk played through a given system. Incompatabilities on this front can be defining, even if the fault lies in the system or source. It would be interesting to get Gunbei's assessment as well in his system, with his recordings, to see if they reach any of the same conclusions.

P.S. - Brad, some bottom line picks, just for you:

1) The most expensive

2) The hottest internet buzz

3) Lamp cord

Take your choice, save your time. Happy listening! :-)
It's really quite interesting. I am kind of perturbed that people think I swap cable to suit each individual's cd sonic characteristics. Yet, my listening sessions, which usually coincides with my studying sessions or when I just buy a new cd, often end up into a cable swapping session that turns out to be longer than my studying session. I guess you can say I have plenty of experience when it comes to cable swapping/system configuring. However, the cable swapping sessions only espoused from my displeasure with my system's audio reproduction of most domestic redbook CDs.

To give you all a bigger picture, certain CDs do sound better than others, and this REALLY perturbs me. But, I do not want to spend a kazillion dollars on upgrading my CD player, instead, I rather go with a band-aid approach and try to improve the sound of my redbook CDs by upgrading a pair of interconnects. And, this is when I emailed Gunbei for his advise on interconnects.

For the sake of integrity, I must state for the record that Gunbei is not a cable swapping maniac. He is a cable swapping maniac 3 months removed. He's got the Audition package from Virtual Dynamics 3 months ago, and he totally swears by that stuff. So, the cables I am testing are really cables that Gunbei doesn't use anymore and, I believe, are up for sale. He is even upgrading to the Nite series gradually. That is if he doesn't spend all his dineros over the weekend at Cabos on them Latina Chicas.

Brad-each cable comparison has a comment and verdict section. That is designed for busy people like yourselves who prefer decisive/qualitative synopsis.

Zaikes-I completely concur with you that the ideal cable ought to be no cable at all, metaphorically speaking. I do, however, limit the number of CDs I use in this cable comparison for informational reasons. At least for some of you who have the same CDs, you'd know what I am speaking of when I speak of "this and that." And, ofcourse, to help cover a wide array of genres, I purposely picked tracks that has different musical instruments and styles.

OK, friends, stay tuned....
Viggen - you are Da Man!

And you too Gunbei.

I am currently looking to upgrade cables and ic's. I have VD Power 2's cryo on 3 components and PS Audio Lab Cable on my amp.

I have seriously thought about VD cables all around. Might give Mapleshade a look simply because several guys have said they are giant killers.

Can't wait for the rest of the review. Hey, hurry up would so I can save some time and money chasing my tail.



Just doing everything I did in Stage-1 except a Meridian 518 is added into the signal loop. The transport now sends signal to the 518 and then to the DAC via one pair of D-60s. The 518 do a lot of things to digital signals such as augmenting the sample rate, word length and some signal equalization in the digital domain as well as dejittering and volume control. However, the 518 needs at least an 18 bit DAC to do everything listed except dejittering and volume control. So, the 518 is in involuntary bypass mode. Also, in general, the dejittering results in a fuller presentation, the edginess in the highs are rounded off a bit, and it adds a bit of bloom in the lows. Anyhow, here is the review.

Cardas Golden Cross

I don’t know whether it is my mood, or is it too hot in Southern California today, or I just listen to this track too many damn times, but this sounds just doesn’t interest me. The sound is much warmer with the 518 added to the signal chain. But, at the same time, it is more closed in. And, one thing that is very peculiar, the highs are generally more rounded off, yet my ears still ring when the synthesizers hits their high notes. There are lots of positive attributes such as just about everything from the female vocals to the drums are very real, yet they sound less lively compared to before.

Comment: The Cardas with the Meridian does give a fuller and more “expensive” sound. But, I think it doesn’t sound quite right. It might be my room though. I think it might be too small to accommodate the fuller lower frequencies that the 518 adds to the Cardas.

Harmonic Technology Silway mk2

Ok, it’s not the weather or my mood nor the room’s fault. The Cardas simply didn’t jive with the Meridian in the chain. Maybe because the Cardas is already a full sounding cable, and the Meridian is adding too much of the same to the equation. The HT sounds much better than the Cardas with the 518 in the loop. The overall presentation of the HT is fuller with the Meridian, and it also has even blacker background texture and slightly mellower on the top end. There is an added sense of euphoric sound in the background as well, but none of the details are lost; although, the highs may sound a bit more confused.

Comment: The combination of the Meridian and HT cables are a better match than with the Cardas, and it is very arbitrary whether the HT sounds better with or without the Meridian in the chain according to personal taste. The euphoric people would go with the Meridian in the chain.

Bear Labs Silver Lightning

Very enjoyable. Without the Meridian, the Bear did everything right but sounded just a bit flat. The Meridian adds a bit of personality to the Bear. It still is a very clean cable in that it still doesn’t add anything to the signal, but it does the same thing now with a bit more detail and fullness. The vocals absolutely shine.

Comment: The Meridian and Bear combination is highly recommended. There is very little glare and the bass is very well managed. Everything is very palatable.

Audioquest Emeralds

I am very surprised. I was going to forgo listening to the Emerald because I didn’t think it would even hold a candle to the other 3 cables in the comparison. I am very wrong. The luxurious glow that the Emerald lacks when compared to the Cardas and HT during Stage-1 is filled in nicely by the Meridian. Also, there is more seamless-ness in the overall presentation, the vocals and all the instruments mix in very well now. Soundstage is also more “natural” than before. The only area that this cable doesn’t do better than the HT and Bear is a lack of energy in the music being rendered. Perhaps there is a bit less prat.

Comment: The Emerald does just about everything right after the Meridian is added into the chain. The highs are tamed, but most importantly, the over all presentation is much more musical with less irritants.

Verdict: It is very close between the Emerald and Bear. If price weren’t an issue, I’d go with the Bear. And, since they are only about a hundred apart on the used market, I’d give the Bear the nod. I am very surprised that the Cardas and HT didn't fair better in this stage.


The piano lead in with the Emerald is cool and clear. The violin is silky smooth. The only thing I find a bit lacking is the decaying of the piano isn’t as ideal but is about 80% there. Btw, in case you are not familiar with this CD, the Ryuichi Sakamoto 1996 is a 3-piece concerto with piano in middle, violin on left and bass on right. The Emeralds give a very distinct separation of the three instruments when they are all being played together, and I don’t like this as much. I prefer all 3 instruments to blend in more. But, I have to say the over all presentation is very high end—the background texture is very black and the instruments are all very real sounding, deep and lively with emotion.

Comment: I can definitely live with the Emerald and Meridian combination with concertos.

Cardas Golden Cross

The instruments blend in VERY well. The pianos and violin has this mingling effect during the beginning lead in that wasn’t there with the Emerald. Each three instruments has much more of a presence of their own at the same time, yet each are not distinct from each other. Now, this sounds more like a live concert. There is absolutely no harshness in any part of the frequency spectrum. The Cardas gives a much more melodic presentation with more body and detail. Knowing this, I am less likely to be able to live with the Emerald as I thought I would be able to before listening to the Cardas.

Comment: The Cardas renders Ryuichi very well. Curious to hear how HT would do in comparison.

Harmonic Technology Silway mk2

This is getting very scary. There is a dramatic improvement with each cable swap I make when testing them with the Ryuichi track. One thing I immediately notice with the Silways is there is tons or prat when being used with the Meridian. The level of fullness that the Meridian added to the HT is just right. I can better render the bow gliding across the bass’ strings better with HT than with the Cardas, and it was not possible to hear it at all with the Emerald. This cable is also tremendously more musical in that each instrument has full detail and body, yet they really play TOGETHER as one with a waving melodic effect.

Comment: I am blown away. Ryuichi with HT and Meridian is awesome.

Bear Labs Silver Lightning

With the Bear, I can sense a bit more micro-details in the background. However, the music is not as melodic as either the HT or Cardas or as lively as the HT with the Ryuichi track. Some positives are, it has none of the harshness or bloating that were present in the other cables, however, and those amounts were very minute.

Comment: Great cable. It comes in second behind the HT, and it is about equal with the Cardas; although, each cable are distinct from each other in terms of cable persona.

Verdict: Ryuichi sounds the best with HT either with or without the Meridian in the loop.


HT Silways mk2

The guitars lead in the beginning with body, snap and a slight sweetness that wasn’t there with the Bear. I am very impressed with the rendering with the strings, but the vocals are even more real. I can’t really explain fully how the vocals aren’t just right, it is as if the blacker background is suitable to give instruments a livelier presentation, but it sort of veils the vocal, but only minutely so, yet it gives the vocals more realism

Comment: It does an awesome job with the guitars, and the vocals are even better!.

Cardas Golden Cross

Weight. The first thing I notice with the guitars that lead in is that each guitar has actual weight. This gives much more realism than all the other cables did with this track. Again, the strumming of the fingers across the guitar strings are extremely real with the Cardas, and it wasn’t even perceivable with the other cables.

Comment: Where the Cardas seemed sort of bloated and overly warm on the Ivy track and a bit closed in on the Ryuichi track, it absolutely shines with EBTG track.

Bear Labs Silver Lightning

The guitars that lead in have the similar body and snap as the HT but without the sweetness. It doesn’t quite have the clarity and emotion being produced by the Cardas. So, the Bear is slightly behind both of these cables. But, EBTG is still very enjoyable on the Bear. And, it is better now with the Meridian in the loop.

Comment: It is still a bit behind the other two cables, but it does have more life when rendering the EBTG track, where as, before it merely did the technical things right with no emotions being transmitted.

AQ Emerald

Plenty of emotions coming through the speakers with the Emerald; although, the vocals are not as accurate and the instruments are a bit more edgy. However, all this edginess and slight echo in the vocals gives me a sense of decaying effect instead of irritating effect. It’s sort of like picking up an old dusty guitar… (oh I don’t play an instrument so what the hell am I talking about.)

Comment: With the Meridian in the loop, the AQ has improved tremendously with all three tracks. It wasn’t as bad as the Cardas with the Ivy track, but it wasn’t as good with the other two tracks. It is a contender with the Meridian’s help.

Verdict: It seems the running is between HT and Cardas for the EBTG track. But the Cardas really pulls away in terms of rendering emotion with this track. It’s the Cardas.

This precludes Stage-2
Thank you very much for taking the time to write this all up. You have done an excellent job. Time is such a valuable commodity these days and the donation of yours is much appreciated.
I am glad to see the Bear Lab SL in your shootout as I don't think enough people have heard about them. Their price/performance ratio is excellent.

This is one of the more interesting reviews on Audiogon in recent memory. Admittedly, that is probably because I own several of the products used, including some of those being reviewed.

Viggen, if you have time to make the comparison it would be interesting (at least to me) to know if there is a noticeable difference between using the different length D-60s to connect the transport to the DAC (sans the Meridian). It would be even better if the DAC were connected to the pre-amp with the Pro-Silways.

No fair guessing which of these products I own...
Wow, I finally found my way here. I was in Cabo for the Labor Day Weekend so I missed all the posting over the weekend and I guess I was still in fish head mode so I was swimming around a hook [and not biting] that a troller left in a couple of other threads.

Viggen's review is pretty amazing, I could never articulate what we heard and talked about that Sunday as well as Viggen has. I still find it interesting that we seemed to hear pretty much the same thing from each cable combo on each music track and also liked the same things in each sample.

What really shocked me was how my favorite cables actually weren't as good in Viggen's system. I really liked the sound of his ARC CA50, but I must say that pverall our systems sound very different. Mine has a much wider and more forward presentation, and after listening to many other systems this summer I'm beginning to think that this forwardness may be unnatural as no other system seems to be THIS up close and personal.

I also admire Viggen's unrestricted attitude of using digital cables as analogue interconnects and vice-versa. We actually got better results in some cases using cables in their UNintended positions in the audio chain.

And now to throw more monkeys into their respective wrenches, the delivery services were doing their jobs while I was relaxing in Mexico. When I arrived home a box was awaiting me containing an Acoustic Zen MC2 digital cable and today my apartment manager handed me a box from Canada containing a Virtual Dynamics Nite digital cable, Nite extension cord and cryo'd three-way splitter. So it seems I'll need to hop back on the 91 to Viggen's for another showdown with some new gunslingers in my box.
Fpeel, we did compare the two lengths of D60 without the Meridien in the chain, and found the longer [one meter] length to be smoother, more relaxed and fuller. These differences were slight, but definitely noticeable. I can't comment on the imaging because for this comparo I wasn't in the captains chair, I was sitting a little off to the side.

I'd like to say that the Acoustic Zen MC2 with only two days of limited play are doing an outstanding job in my system. The D60, L15 and Mapleshade in my past and present systems sounded closed in and lacked life, but the Virtual Dynamics cryo'd Audition throws a big, expansive and well placed soundstage. Interesting, because the D60 sounds great in Viggen's system. It may have something to do with system synergy and the fact that I'm using the entire Virtual Dynamics Audition Package, but the previously mentioned digital ICs didn't blend well. However, the stone cold AZ MC2 sounds fantastic, almost as good as the Audition. What will it sound like in a month?

Just for the fun of it I'm gonna throw the Virtual Dynamics Nite into the fray right now. More to follow, and it'll be interesting to hear how these cables do in Viggen's setup..
Rockhead, thank you for your kind comments. And, even though the Bear isn't the best cable in my system, it is certainly capable of being the best in someone else's system. They might just not be as compatible with my Argents.

Fpeel, I think I know what your system is. I first read your review in AudioReview before I purchased my CAL stuff for research. So, if I hate my CAL, it's all your fault. And, as Gunbei answered, the 1 meter sounds better. I read somewhere that the 1.5m is the best length for digital cable. However, I don't feel the .5 m is that much behind the 1 m. The differences are very subtle. It's almost like an effect you get when you give a patient some sugar pills, and they think they feel better afterwards. I forgot that that pill phenomenon is called. Can someone tell me?

Gunbei, bring me the NITE!!
Placebo effect. AKA the audiophile's best friend. What could we talk about around here without it?! Hey, don't knock it - perception is reality!
Thanks for responding, guys. Am looking forward to your review of the new digital cables. Oh, and sorry for any inconvenience my "reviews" might have caused, Viggen. ;-)

We’re finally at the last stage of this long review. Just a few disclaimers before I begin:
1) I did each stage of comparisons on different days. So, the comparisons between each stage are based on the memory of how they sound and the notes I’ve taken during the previous review stages.
2) Although I try to be as ethical as possible during this review process, I am, after all, a marketing major. So take everything with a grain of salt.

The stage-3 is sort of my pet project within a pet project review. I’ve always enjoyed fooling around with cables, and I found that some cables sound better when they are used in ways that they are not intended to be. In this case, I am using digital cables in analog application and vice versa for the analog cables. In other words, stage-3 is a digital cable comparison, but the cables being tested are all designed for analog application.

First off, I want to note the sonic signature of the D-60 when used as analog cables. They are slightly less extended than other analog cables. The headroom is not as high, and the lows don’t hit as deep. Also, the mids are more saturated with “information”, fullness, detail and depth. In other words, my speakers sound more like studio monitors with the D60 in there as analog cables. To my ears, the D-60 is what analog cables ought to sound like. The rest of the analog cables now sound kind of artificial to me with its extended highs and lows.

Track 1

Bear Labs Silver Lightning

The Bear has consistently been the cleanest sounding cable when reproducing all three CD’s sound in each of the first two stages. Now, I have the Bear connecting the transport to the meridian and the Meridian to the DAC. And the D60 connects the DAC to the CA50 amp. The sound of this cable combination is highly clinical. I am digressing a bit, but it seems every component in my system is on the analytical side except for the CAL front end. And, this s the first time my system sounds truly analytical. The mids are filled with information, and the speed of their rendering is fastest thus far. The vocals still sound real, although it has nearly zilch emotion. The paces/prat seems to lost somewhere as well.

Comment: Great laboratory set up I have. I’d say I have set up the perfect empirical system for comparison purposes. Not as enjoyable to listen to though.

Cardas Golden Cross

Here is a little honesty about my dishonesty. As hinted in stage-1, I’ve already had a preference for the sound coming from the stage-3. And this is the reason why—the Cardas and Illuminations cable combination in the stage-3 configuration.

The Cardas are generalized as the mellow cable of the group. However, in this current configuration, the Cardas has 90% of the Bear’s speed and accuracy with 20% more details being rendered across the frequency spectrum except in the extreme highs and lows that my system is capable of producing.

Comment: During the stage-1 of this cable comparison, there seemed to be lots of difficulty for each cable to accurately render the complex portion of this track. However, with the D60 in its current place, the complex portion is no longer even an issue. Adding the D60 is like upgrading your PC’s processor from P2 to P4. And, using the Cardas as digital gives D60 more life to boot. But it can still use a bit more life.

Harmonic Technology Silway mk2

If anything was missing with the Cardas and D60 combination, it was a slight lacking with the prat. Perhaps it is because there is still a bit of that clinical-ness to the sound that is making me not feel the prat. On the plus side, compared to the Cardas, this cable has a bit more life. However, there is also a bit more glares in the highs compared to the Cardas. I feel I have some other tweaks I should do to minimize the glare, so it might not have anything to do with the glare itself. For example, I don’t have any isolation devices in my system so far.

Comment: Particularly in the drums, the HT has more prat compared to the Cardas, but the highs are a bit sharper.

Audioquest Emeralds

There is less analytical-ness with the Emeralds. In fact, there is a bit more breathy elements during the introduction of this track where the lead singer sort of whispers the words. Also, other positives, there is less glare up top. This makes the vocals a bit more enjoyable even compared to the Silways and Golden Cross. However, this cable is still behind the other two in terms of speed and accuracy. The bass guitar and drums doesn’t have the same snap and the tone doesn’t have as much life. It’s like I’ve got the better processor but downgraded the video card (sorry for the computer analogy, but I am sorta shopping for a new laptop since my “q” is falling out. Why the q? It’s like the least used letter of all.)

Comment: A good compromise if you don’t want the glare up top and is willing to sacrifice a bit in terms of speed, accuracy and prat. It has a bit more breathy details too.

Verdict: I’d go with the Cardas. However, I feel the HT might come ahead with some help from isolation devices. But, isolation devices tend to rob a bit of life from my system. So, Cardas it is.

Track 2

Audio Quest Emeralds

The intro to this CD is a violin slowly gliding some highs with piano sort of filling in the mids. The violins sound super airy and melodic with the Emeralds. I am very impressed. However, after the meat of the track starts, I sense where this cable lacks. The sound is kind of thin. The instruments lacked realism after they started playing the low notes and playing them fast. It is only in the highs did the instruments exude the sort of airy realism that makes this cable great.

Comment: If I am bi-amping, maybe I’d use this cable on the highs. Or, better yet, I’ve contacted a seller on Audio on regarding a pair of Lapis. I’d use that for the highs if it improves on the Emeralds like it ought to.

HT Silways

In the first two stages, the Silways cleaned up with the Ryuichi track. It was no contest that the HT renders this concerto piece the best. So far, the HT isn’t as breathy in the highs. In fact, compared to the Emerald, it has more emphasis in the mids. For an example, in the intro., the piano seemed to be the center piece with the HT’s, but the violins were the center piece with the Emeralds. The pianos sounds better with the HT, and the strings sound better with the Emeralds? Maybe the HT has a bit slower sounding than the Emeralds. Thus the piano has an added decaying effect with the HT, but the strings sounds sluggish. Besides the violin, the HT does everything better. The piano as accurate and crisp, and the bass is simple incredible.

Comment: Very much more enjoyable to listen to Ryuichi with the HT. There is still a bit of glare when Ryuichi is slamming on the chops though.

Bear Labs

There are micro details in the intro that I can hear with the Bear that I couldn’t with the previous 2 cables. It is eerie, but the Bear is not analytical sounding at all with the Ryuichi track. It is much more balanced. There is no emphasis in either the violin or the piano in the introduction. The bass is not as emphasized as with the HT, and it is more natural sounding this way. There is more prat with this cable and less of everything else in a good way.

Comment: Usually during each of these cable comparisons, I’d listen to the first 30 seconds or the first minute over and over again. The Bear while playing the Ryuichi piece forbade me from touching my remote. It is THAT good.


This is the cable combination that I thought would blow away the others. And it certainly did come out ahead when testing with the Ivy track. It is very balanced sounding if not just a bit subdued on top with the Cardas. But, there is slightly less prat and there is a bit more bloating in the lower mids compared to the Bear. The over all sound is less exciting.

Comment: After listening to this track with the Bear, it is less exciting to listen to Ryuichi with the Cardas. It certainly does a great job, but it’s a jar of tap water compared to Bear’s sparking spring water.

Verdict: Bear takes it with the HT chasing someone else’s tail for the first time.

Track 3


Previously, the Everything But the Girl track was rendered the best by Cardas. Now, listening to the Cardas as digital cables, the Cardas does even a better job than before. It is simply AMAZING. This mid-fi CD now has transparency, detail and extension rivaling the SACDs I’ve listened to. I don’t want to pick out any single element in this track that the Cardas does super well because I can’t stop swaying my head and tapping my toes. Good thing I can type without looking at the screen.

Comment: Simply AMAZIG (ok I need to look when I type.)


Oh, dear LORD. My first impression is that the Cardas sounded better. The first few snaps of the guitar strings were in my face with the Bear. But, the guitar went back to where the speakers are after a few moments, and it came back into my face again, and kept moving backwards and forwards. The guitar imaging is superb. There is a bit less melody in the music compared to the Cardas. But, there is more micro details, and the vocals are almost as good as with the Cardas. But, ultimately, it is not as enjoyable to listen to with the Bear compared to the Cardas.

Comment: It does just about everything perfectly. But it lacks behind the Cardas in terms of musicality and vocal rendering.

Harmonic Tech

Each of these three cables does wonderful things with this track. There are no losers here not that there ever was one. I enjoy listening to ETBG on HT not as much as with the Cardas but a bit more than with the Bear. It is a bit laid back compared to the Bear, but not noticeably different compared to the Cardas in this area. But, it is still not as enthralling to listen to compared to the Cardas. Maybe EBTG uses Cardas cables in their studio. This CD and Cardas definitely has some synergy going.


During the intro. portion of this CD, I thought the Emeralds are very promising. It almost has the same listen-able quality that the Cardas has. The Emeralds is laid back and melodic which suits this track very well. I don’t sense any weakness in the Emeralds when playing this track. It just isn’t as amazing as the Cardas are with this track.

Comment and Verdict: I got to leave the house. I am returning the Bear back to the original owner via UPS because the condition isn’t as described in his ad. So to make it short, the Cardas rules with this track.

I will conclude this review shortly.

Unhappy with the way my cds sound on my system, I searched for the magic interconnect to cure my audio woes. Have I found the magic interconnect? No. But, I am buying the Harmonic Technology Silway Mk2 RCA from Gunbei. It was very close between HT and Cardas, but I am happier with HT with more software, and they are cheaper. I will use those as digital interconnects between the trans, dejitter and dac.

I am most happy with the D60 as analog interconnects, but my Mapleshade Ultrathin is almost just as good. So, I am returning the D60 back to Gunbei and keeping the Ultrathin in my system.

Since I haven't found the magic interconnect, I am in the search for better digital front end and amp solutions. My current options are getting the Meridian 500/56x to match my 518. And, I've contacted Steve Shuntely regarding modifications for my ARC CA50. I am also casually looking at speakers and eyeing either Proac Response 1SC and Tannoy studio monitors.
As the guy who makes the BEAR Labs stuff, and also someone who has no idea who Viggen is, I'd like to thank him for the effort and reporting he's done here.

IMHO, if you sum up his reports regarding my product, the Silver Lightning, it merely shows that the changes to this system came through unaltered. Which is exactly what the cables try to achieve. So, the limit and signature of what you hear is a function of what comes before and after the Silver Lighning, not the interconnects. That's the whole idea.

This can be a problem, as Viggen noted, *if* you are looking to *hear a cable.*

In making his purchase, Viggen seemed to opt for something that altered the sound of his system in a euphonic way. Which is odd to me after reading his own reviews! But, anyhow, I feel that ultimately if you want to get your system to sound good or great across the board you can not apply selective colorations to make corrections or "filter" things to sound better - the reason being that these selective colorations will only work for a certain percentage of the things that you play! The rest of the time it will be to some extent unsatisfactory.

Silver Lightning is a pure silver cable, not a silver plated wire, btw... it's a bit different than the usual pure silver due to some simple but effective construction details which is what accounts for a very balanced tone and timbre.


Bear, you've convinced me...
Bear? Psychicanimal? Must be a wild kingdom conspiracy!
It's no conspiracy--but it's Dan Wright! He has been modding my Swans M1 speakers and I sent him some cables to do a comparison too:

1) Absolute Power Cord
2) Tice PC3 Power Cord
3) Tice IC

He would compare them to the Audience line he carries in a setup similar to mine. The results came yesterday and I posted them in the speakers forum under "Modwright Swans M1". Also, we discussed some other things on the phone. He will send those cables for cryo treament, as George Tice agreed to do TPT again on his products for a nominal fee.

I'm looking for a phono IC and what I read here about the Bear cable (and then in his website) is what makes most sense to me. I would like for that signal coming out of the tonearm to be transmitted as neutral as possible. It's delicate enough to start with--and I wanted silver...

I will do some more research (looking at Van Den Hul and Kharma), but Bear's ICs are definitely on my short list. I'm taking very seriously my modded 1200.
I love conspiracy theories. Especially wild kingdom of omaha conspiracies where people talk about me instead of directly at me on my own thread.

Oh, it is an honor to have the designer of the cable I reviewed to visit, btw.
Thanks for the kind words Viggen, but I'm also the shipping clerk and janitor... :- )

But seriously, if anyone has any questions or thoughts for me, I'd be happy to try and answer them. I'm on Audiogon quite a bit, btw.

Also, I'm wondering which vintage cables you had there - I can tell by the description of the cable and type of label... they're all sonically identical, but I've improved the physical construction over the years...

Man, I can't believe you guys think the bear cable is good!
I purchased a 1 meter single ended pair and I could not stand the sound !!
They were so dark and un-dynamic I could not wait to get my money back. (which took quite a while)
It must be a system compatabilty problem.
Note:I compared these to Kimber Select, Synergistic Resolution Ref MK2,Acoustic Zen Silver,HMS, and many more .
Yes, Ozzy - but you used *one* cable. Did your system have more than one cable in the signal path? I don't recall.

If you use more than one, you were likely hearing the *other* cable(s). I think I offered to send you other cables to complete the system... iirc.

Your result is extremely *atypical*, so much so that I can not account for the results you got other than to say again the Silver Lightning doesn't *do* anything much at all.

I'm sorry that you did not have a better experience.

Good point, Bear.
Bear, you never offered to let me try another cable ,you expected me to BUY another cable.

The other cable I would have needed for my Krell Amp would have needed to be a balanced cable and 2 meters long.
That additional cable would have cost 3 times as much as the 1 meter single ended cable that I bought and hated .

It did not make sense that if one cable sounds like crap two would make things better.
Prepaying for that chance was not considered.
You cannot to mix cables and tell which one is talking.
Ozzy, I am sorry that your experience was not the same as a vast majority of those who have tried my Silver Lightning cables...

You wrote:
The other cable I would have needed for my Krell Amp would have
needed to be a balanced cable and 2 meters long.
That additional cable would have cost 3 times as much as the 1 meter
single ended cable that I bought and hated .

I somewhat recall this - but you have to keep in mind that the Balanced cable is both expensive and has to be made up to your order... it's not just another 1m length, and although i sell and make quite a few cables, I'm a small operation and can not keep in stock many things.

I often suggest that first time buyers buy enough to make a complete signal path - but kinda stopped doing this for everyone all the time, since some people took it as my trying to push a bigger sale on them. A no win situation for me. The right thing to do, but hard for some folks to believe it is a sincere recommendation.

Without being able to hear your system, I can not speculate on what you were hearing or why.

Again, I am sorry that your experience was not better.