IC Shootout: Wywires, Shindo, DanaCables & Ziro
I'm headlining this as a "shootout," but really it's a comparison of what I believe are four outstanding interconnects in their respective price ranges. I'm not looking to name a winner or loser here, just describe what I'm hearing for those of you who may be interested in these brands. I think it would be hard to go wrong with any of them - I've tried numerous other excellent, good-value brands in my system (Morrow, Audio Magic, KCI, Purist, Ocellia), but happened to have these four on hand for direct comparison so figured I'd take advantage of the situation.
Of course, system synergies always apply, so FYI I'm running in my smallish room a Coincident phono stage that's feeding a pair of Coincident Frankenstein 300B amps. Those, in turn are feeding a pair of Rethm Trishna speakers - full-range drivers with powered bass modules. A pretty revealing setup. Sources are a Lumin A1 network player for digital and a Townshend Rock 7 turntable for vinyl, sitting on a Star Sound isolation platform (good lord what an improvement!) and equipped with a Helius Omega tonearm and a Miyajima Kansui.
The Wywires Silver ICs ($999) have been a go-to cable for several years. When I first plugged in my pair, I was instantly struck by the sense of openness, the effortlessness of the presentation, the thrilling speed and resolution, and the superb dynamics, both micro and macro. The second thing I noticed was their extraordinary ability to deliver detail without sounding artificial. Indeed, hearing these ICs was a revelation at the time, alerting me to how plodding many lesser cables were when it came to timbral accuracy. You do begin to experience the wood of the guitar body as wood, versus some abstracted notion of wood that lesser cables had implied. Voices likewise are conveyed more convincingly -- there is nothing more gratifying than putting on some Joni MItchell after you've done a major cable upgrade like this. In my experience, the better the cable is, the better Joni is. It's a little hard to quantify something like timbral accuracy. The analogy that comes to mind is that, if Wywires are like watching "Star Wars" in HD on a 55-inch screen, a lot of the lower-priced cables I had previously been using were like watching a game of "Space Invaders" on a 13-inch set as a kid. And did I mention the dynamics? Jazz drums are always a thrilling experience with Wywires - you can hear not just the style, but the unique personality of a Jimmy Cobb, or Philly Joe Jones coming through.
Plugging in a pair of Shindo cables ($1950) is yet another smack on the head. Suddenly, you realize that the Wywires, as great as they are, are missing a few things. What struck me for starters is that the Shindo cables carry a signature not unlike that of the deliciously good Masseto preamp I owned a couple of years ago. First off, the Shindo wires noticeably bring down the noise floor, resulting in a blacker background and a bigger soundstage with a greater sense of foundation. I think this is likely a much bigger factor in my situation than in most, as my NYC apartment building is swimming in RFI, especially from neighboring Wi-Fi devices. At any rate, the result is that with the Shindo there's instantly a sense of richer tonal colors. What the Wywires had introduced you to - that high-end experience of lifelike tonality - gets amped up by a noticeable factor. Mind you, the richness is partly a function of greater bass output -- while I don't think it's fair to say the Wywires sound thin, they do sound thin by comparison to the Shindos. On my system, the Shindos strike me as perfectly balanced from top to bottom, although the top may lack that last iota of sparkle and air that the Wywires have. Are the Shindos supremely transparent? I would say no, but only in the sense that supreme transparency can be associated with a lack of warmth and life. Don't get me wrong - you can see into every last corner of the concert hall. But the whole presentation is suffused with an element of light and magic that takes your attention away from the pages turning on the music stands and keeps it fixed on the music that's in the air. And lastly, the Shindos introduce a depth to the soundstage, and a 3-D quality to the images. What does it all add up to? A richer, more full-bodied sound. Less like HDTV and more like watching a film on a projector - maybe a classic from the 60s or 70s?
I was introduced to the DanaCable Diamond Reference ICs ($1500) by a friend who trafficks pretty much exclusively in super-high-end gear that's out of reach of most of us mortals. (He traded his Danas to me, for example, and replaced them with some Ansuz Ds, which retail for something like $17k a pair, I believe). What's immediately striking is that, after playing the Shindos the DanaCables seem to have all of the Shindo characteristics I highlighted above -- only they take a lot of these characteristics to the next level. That means: an even lower noise floor that begins to give an impression of an inky-black background. In describing the tonality, the word "density" comes to mind. A guitar, an upright bass, a horn all seem to pop out of this black envelope with extraordinarily rich harmonic development, then they disappear again until the next phrase. Going back to the word "density," I think it comes to mind as there's more a sense of reality with the Danas than with the Shindos. Maybe it's not quite as "beautiful," but it is beautiful and the timbral richness has more the flavor of "real." However, in my system, while the inky-black background does deliver a very magical effect to the presentation, it does somewhat undercut the absolute sense of uncanny realness -- the "musicians are in my room," effect. To some ears, the supremely black background of the Danas, which seems to free up extraordinary reserves of latent harmonic information, will be an improvement on so-called "reality." I might fall into that camp, for example. But I will also admit there's part of me that misses some of that air on top. Indeed, I would say the Danas have a bit less of that than the Shindos. Where the Shindos impart a certain lifelike glow to the presentation, the DanaCables allow it to glow brilliantly from within. Bottom line - if you want tipped-up, lit-up, the Danas may not be for you. If you're looking for warmth and soul in your glowing hunks of fat, delicious notes, these are for you.
Indeed, I hadn't realized what I was missing on top with the Danas until I plugged in a newfangled pair of ICs called the Ziro Audio Disclosures ($2450). Made in England, these rather unusual cables resemble thin, little snakes that have swallowed hamster-size boxes. I'm not entirely sure how these boxes work, or what exactly they're doing, but one thing I can tell you - these cables are seriously effective in what they do! Indeed, the gap between these cables and the Shindos and DanaCables strikes me, in many ways, as being as large as it was between the Shindo and the Wywires. The first thing that hits you is the massive soundstage. With the Wywires, the images hang holographically between my speakers. With the Shindo and Danas, That image widens out to occupy the space around the speakers. But with the Ziros, there's almost the sense of an infinite soundstage, with the room being filled by pure music. Often, this does have the effect of a big, bold presentation as tall as it is wide - rising well above and beyond the height of the speakers. This, I should clarify, is a wonderful thing. The second thing that's noticeable are the dynamics - the extraordinary ability with microdynamics, in particular, is thrilling, and is one of my favorite things about the Ziros -- drums, guitars, horns, everything is thrown into sharper relief, becoming at once more realistic and lifelike, alerting the listener to what a crucial factor microdynamics are to deliver a presentation that's truly convincing. And of course, this also means it's more toe-tapping. It just sucks you right into the music, rather than letting the music pass you by. What's really remarkable is that the Ziros pull this off without resorting to the old trick of tipping up the upper midrange. And yet they deliver resolution in spades. The extraordinary focus and detail of these cables - nothing gets finessed. Want to hear the limitations of a high-end digital player like the Lumin A1 when pitted against vinyl? Want to hear the limits of vinyl pitted against the Lumin? With the Ziros, this is possible in a way that it isn't with the Shindo and Danas, which nicely finesse those differences with a little bit of gauze. So do I miss the gauze when I hear the Ziros? No way! Yes, they are more revealing and transparent, and if you listen closely you will certainly hear any imperfections in your system. But despite that, the overall character of the Ziros is extremely organic, supple, coherent and "big picture" -- one's attention is always being drawn to the music. I think this is partly a function of the Ziros' own extraordinary ability to eliminate noise. I do hate to trot out what has become a cliche in these discussions, but when I plugged in these cables, the phrase "master tapes" immediately came to mind .
ZIRO PHONO CABLE
In the meantime, I have taken it upon myself to grab the one pair of Ziros that I can afford - their phono cable, which retails for $1000. Folks, this may be the most important thing I have to say here: I have pitted this cable against a couple of other much ballyhooed phono cables costing $1500 and $2100, respectively, and the Ziro comes out on top - way out on top! I think this has to be one of the biggest bargains in audio going right now. If you're looking for a true high-end performer at a sane price, look no further. I really don't know where you'd easily find this kind of value, even at used prices. Grab one now before the folks at Ziro come to their senses on pricing, and thank me later.
Now, the punchline here is that, after basking in the Ziros for a few hours, I forced myself to go back and check out the Wywires for perspective's sake. Well, it was a fascinating moment. On one hand, I was almost shocked by how much smaller the soundstage was. the images seemed feeble by comparison. Everything was on a significantly diminished scale. And yet... my second thought was, "This still sounds pretty darn good... Really good, in fact... I think I could totally live with this!"