Review: Concierto Grands and Violin Interconnects
I had the opportunity to compare completely new Nordost SPM Reference XLR one meter interconnects with completely new Concierto Grand XLR one meter interconnects between my Adcom GFP-750 Preamp and Classe CA-150 AMP. After experiencing the Grands, I upgraded with no hassle to the Concierto Violins. I also added XLR’s between my Sonic Frontiers SFD-II (with Telefunkin tubes) and the Adcom 750. Additionally, I compared a used .6 Meter Nordost Silver Shadow RCA versus the above SPM Reference XLR versus a new Grand .6 Digital RCA cable between my California Audio Labs Delta CD Transport and the DAC, then also upgraded to a Concierto Violin XLR. Read on to find out why.
These components are pushing Thiel 2.3 speakers with MIT T-2 speaker cables soon to be upgraded to Concierto Violins (along with Classe CAM 350 Monoblocks – ya!). I also took a shot at one set of the bargain wires available on Audiogon and while these were indeed impressive for the money, this is the last you’ll hear about them here. In terms of the power inputs, I have a dedicated 8 gauge, 20 Amp circuit with dedicated ground and hospital grade outlets, with surge protection at the power panel. Power cables include Paul Neumann Reference and a Cardas Gold for the Preamp. All gold contacts are copiously treated with CAIG Labs ProGold G5.
To be clear about my tastes and biases: I am irritated by harsh highs, hence my tube front end, Classe amplifier, and Thiels. Nonetheless, I want to maintain the forward sound of the music, and am not fooled by buzzing or bright high frequencies. As with everyone I dislike “layers of thick gauze” over my sound and find upgrading to be a process of successive removal of such layers, revealing more and more of the music. I also find some high-end sound systems to be artificially etched, over separating and localizing the sounds in an artificial way, that live music just doesn’t do. While any great system is going to provide excellent localization, there should also be appropriate spread throughout the sound field from each instrument. I could go on, but let me just say, it ain’t in any one component, it’s the synergy baby, and what might be good for my system/ears, may not be for yours. Finally, although obvious to some, I believe that for any high end system, cables are components, and have as much impact on the sound as any one component.
When I am seriously listening, I mostly listen to Jazz, such as Wynton Marsalis, Miles Davis (the new 20 bit digital remaster of Kind Of Blue must be had by all, unless you can get it on DVD or SACD – lucky you), Getz/Gilberto, and used these and the following CD’s to set-up and fine tune my system: David Chesky’s Club Del Sol, Jazz at the Pawn Shop 1, 2, and 3 (on the Proprius Label), Nora Jones Come Away With Me, as well as Grace Jone’s Nightclubbing, the title track. I also like Rock and international music and with only a little shame, some new age and electronic.
The test between the Nordost SPM and Concierto Grand XLR’s began from preamp to amp. Each cable, before break-in had a specific sound. The Nordosts sounded very harsh, but open, which I heard is typical for Nordost cables before break-in. In contrast, the Concierto Grands sounded relatively muffled, but warm. As break-in proceeded back and forth, each cable shedded it’s particular initial extreme negative character and moved toward a sonic ideal (which is a bit like infinity, you can almost comprehend it, but you’ll never get there). I found myself naturally leaving the Conciertos on my system, while burning in the Nordost’s at night. As burn-in proceeded, each maintained it’s original sound quality. The Concierto Grands opened, never became harsh, and provided a greater depth of sound-field with rounder-fuller qualities to the instruments and voices - providing and filling the harmonics in a way that the Nordosts didn’t. While the Nordost’s were impressive with “details” such as bells and wood clacks, I came to realize that the Concierto Grands were actually providing more detail that included information about harmonics, space, and fullness. As I said, I found myself leaving the Grands on my system, with that satisfied grin on my face, you know the one. Metaphorically speaking, the Nordost’s were sharply screaming “Listen to how great we sound” with a wall of rapid sound and less substance. While the Concierto Grands were being cool, confident, mellow, and sophisticated with complex depth.
An example of the difference is the symbol strike at about the 15th second on the first track of Chesky’s Club Del Sol. It really rolls with the Nordost’s and sounds believable. However, with the Grands, it takes on the woody harmonic fullness of an actual large symbol. What sealed my decision is listening to Nora Jones title cut, Come Away With Me. With the Nordosts it was as if only two thirds of the fullness was present, causing a lack of fullness, perhaps a loss of timbre and lower harmonics. How do I know this? The comparison is with the Grands, without which I would not have known what was missing with the Nordosts. I had to ask myself, could I live with the SPM’s knowing that this information would forever be lost to me? This sealed my decision, and is but one of many examples.
The Grands continued to open up, until I traded up and bought the Concierto Violins (all XLR), and compared them at all levels, digital (cd driver -> DAC), DAC -> Preamp, and Preamp -> Amp. First, lets get the digital level out of the way. I find the digital level of interconnects to make a smaller difference relative to the analogue. Nonetheless, there is absolutely no comparison and the Nordost Silver Shadow does not come close in any way to the quality of the Concierto Grand. The Silver Shadow is an inferior product. I have since upgraded to a Concierto Violin Digital XLR for even more of what the Grand RCA offered. The Grand has taken it’s place pumping Digital from a Monarchy MK-II DIP fed by a toslink (the only digital output) from a Dish receiver for satellite music. The Monarchy provides an RCA output to go into my DAC. Even here, with toslink Dish music, the Grand far excelled the Silver Shadow. As a final note regarding the Violin Digital XLR; it has this wavey sort of ¾ inch “hills and valley” casing which I presume helps with electrical interference/skin type effects or something. It is a very interesting cable.
While in possession of and trying to decide to upgrade to the Violins, I had both a pair of Nordost SPM Reference .6 meter RCA’s and Nordost SPM Reference 1 meter XLRs. In comparison at all levels, the above differences between the Nordost SPM’s and Concierto Grands were maintained and significantly enhanced with the Concierto Violins. There was more space, openness, fullness, and just plane wonderfulness and musicality present. Each day I listen with the Violins in place, I am pleased with the fullness and realness of the music. There are those amazing incidental noises, a sniffle, a drum stick being laid down, a groan, a rain stick bead falling, a trumpet mouthpiece being blown out, that I never had heard before. In many of my familiar CD’s I here these incidentals, rewind for a few seconds, and listen again to these sounds, to make sure it wasn’t my cat, or some other household noise, and sure enough it isn’t. Rather, it is something I had never heard before on the CD, and I grin with satisfaction, knowing that there are so many more sounds, the body of the music, that this wonderful detail is coming through on. I also know that I have to have some of the best cables out there. Finally, the Violin analogue XLR’s also have an interesting shape, a large oval, probably this helps it work like the Analysis Plus “hollow oval” design, reducing current bunching, skin effect, and other electrical nastys.
Obviously, I very strongly recommend the Concierto Interconnects, as well as the outstanding service provided by the company.
Doug Stone-Miller, Ph.D.