Review: Darwin Cable Silver IC Interconnect

Category: Cables

This is a review of The Darwin Cable Co. silver interconnect cable, both balanced and unbalanced.

Disclaimers first: I am good friends with Tony Bender, one of the owners of the company. He asked if I would listen to the Darwins and write my opinion of them. I said I would, but stipulated it would be without any pre-conditions other than I would tell the truth as I heard it. Also, I would not submit the review for his approval before I posted it on Audiogon. He quickly and happily agreed. At the time I thought he was seemed very confident. After listening to the Darwins, that confidence proved to be in no way misplaced.

The Darwin interconnects are the lightest and thinnest ic’s I have ever come across, though I would not characterize them as “flimsy” in any way. By exercising just a modicum of care when handling, I found I could move them where I wanted, as often as I wanted. They were surprisingly sturdy despite their outward appearance.

Apparently simple in design, the Darwins consist of a thin plastic tube inside which “floats” a single angel-hair thread of silver wire. The unbalanced RCA connectors have been pared down to a very low mass; the connections are tight and secure. The balanced connectors are lightweight Neutriks that locked into the balanced sockets with a satisfying click. The cables the company now sells are made from black tubing, though the ones I listened to were clear plastic (which I found very appealing in that the clear tubing enhanced my expectation of an ephemeral transparency). The Darwin’s basic –some might say “plain “ - cosmetics set the stage for an expectation of uncluttered, uncolored, musical reproduction.

In order to have a baseline reference, I first listened to my system’s digital end. The interconnects used were all Nordost: a Silver Shadow balanced digital cable ran from transport to dac, two pair of balanced SPM’s went from dac to preamp and preamp to amp, and a pair of unbalanced quattro fils connected the sub to the preamp. I had been listening to this configuration for 6 months and always found it to be detailed, musical, and tonally accurate.

After listening to the Nordosts, I replaced them with the Darwins (except for the digital cable as Darwin does yet offer a digital product). I had already allowed them to break in for 100 hours before listening to them. Though the manufacturer claims the Darwins need little, if any, break-in period, I did not find that to be true. After a hundred hours my ears heard a constant sweetening of the sound that ran well-passed 200 hours. Every day my system sounded slightly better, and as I had made no other changes I attributed those improvements to the cables. You can make of that what you will, but that is what I heard (and surmised).

As for the sound, I preferred the Darwins far more than the Nordosts. The Darwins were fuller, reached DEEEEPer into the lower frequencies, and had better detail than the Nordosts… better in the sense that the detail they revealed allowed me to see both the big and small musical landscape in a way that was effortless and smooth. Not once did the Darwins shout, “Here I am and listen to all THIS information!” Rather, they snuck up on me, their reproductive capabilties gently tapping me on the shoulder, nudging me with their subtlety. Only after repeated listening to some familiar tracks did I realize there was more – much more – detail present than what I had initially presumed. I had been so focused on the total sound that I had not turned my attention to the micro details as a way to reassure myself that I had received my audio money’s worth (as I typically do). It was like I was just listening to music.

Here's how I thought of it. If you took a slice of muscle tissue and put it under an electron microscope, you would see the construction of the fibers in minute relief... but you would see them in such a way that while you knew what the fibers were, you would not recognize them as muscle fiber. But if you took another snapshot of the same fiber, one that was not so unnecessarily magnified, one that showed the individual fibrous strands –striations and all – you would not only know at what you were looking but of what it was made. The big picture, you see.

In all cases, the Darwins never failed to deliver a rich, in-the-room sound. The soundstage was no wider than the Nordosts but it was deeper, the imaging more realistically precise. While the S+K monitors would occasionally disappear with the Nordosts, the same music heard through Darwins had the speakers completely disappear. And when I say completely, I do not invoke an ounce of hyperbole. I could put my ear right up to either monitor and hear no sound emanating from them...other than the sound that came from BEWTEEN the speakers. It was close to surreal.

The Darwins acquitted themselves equally as well in the analog domain. I used the Darwins throughout the entire analog chain, with the exception of the phono cables. For that I used the Quattro Fils because I found the Darwins slightly hissy. This is typical of my system as the Karat 17 is a low output cartridge -.3mv – and a bit of white noise seems to be the price of its not-insignificant capabilities for extracting all the music from the grooves... and as that noise is so slight and totally inaudible once the music plays, I ignore it.

My usual one-song vinyl touchstone is “Whole Lotta Love”. In particular, I like to see how well a cable makes the sound jump from the speakers...whether the sound swirls above and around my head like a swarm of angry bees or whether it swirls above, around, and behind my head...or whether it comes from those three directions as well as from in front of me, laid out across the entire width and breadth of the soundstage so that Zeppelin is Led-ing from everywhere, and all at the same time.

The Darwins recreated that illusion so accurately, and so naturally (which is saying something since Zeppelin could never be accused of having a “natural” sound), that I actually became slightly sick to my stomach, made vertiginous by the sturm und drang of the group’s powerful fury. I have heard that passage hundreds of times, but never have I unconsciously gripped the arms of my chair to keep from falling until I heard it through the Darwins.

As to the value for the price?

The Darwins’s are $195...with a 30-day return period. I would only be gilding the lily were I to say more.

I have heard much of the “moderately” priced wire that is sold on Audiogon. With only two exceptions, I found them all to be pleasing... some, of course, more than others. But nothing I have heard in that end of the price spectrum (below $500), nor higher really, has come remotely close to the sound of the Darwin Interconnects. In the right application, I believe you would find them to be most efficacious.

Associated gear
Amp: Pass XA30.5
Pre-Amp: Pass X1
Phono Amp and Step Up: Graham Slee Revelation and Graham Slee Elevator
Digital: Stello CDT 220 transport and DA 220 dac
TT: Pro-ject 9.1 with Dynavector Karat 17 D3 cartridge.
Speakers: Shelby + Kroll Custom Nano Monitors with S+K Subwoofer.
Speaker Cables: Burley Cable
Power Cords: BPT L9C

Similar products
I have three pairs in use in my system now. I replaced much more expensive cables with the Darwins (two shielded pairs, from turntable to phono and from phono to preamp; one unshielded pair, from CD to preamp). In short, they sound fantastic. The sound is full and beautiful. The bass is crisp and deep, the high end shimmers and the mids are rich and detailed.
I have excellent components, but I have never been more engaged with the sound of my system. I am finally hearing, with the help of the Darwins, how good those components actually are...
I've just listened for an hour and a half and can't believe the improvements I'm hearing with these silver ICs. Break in time is minimal and, I'm told, will continue to improve incrementally, here and there.

COHERENCE is the factor here. Not hyper detail at the expense of natural mids and lows but a focus, a fine tuning of the sound, that allows more info at the expense of nothing else.

Bass is wonderfully full, tuneful and taut. Mids are expressively natural and highs are limitlessly allowed to float and express themselves without etch. Intelligibility is top drawer as well: I've never had it so easy to follow singers as they come across so convincingly real, yet relaxed when called for or forceful when needed.

Micro dynamics, subtle interplay and nuance are the best I've heard. Textures from coarse to fine, shadings of tone, and ambience excel here. Macro dynamics can startle on old, well known recordings. You can't ask for more.

I'm already in the hole with the purchase of an SACD player and now these ICs but am seriously considering getting another pair for my OPPO before the introductory pricing is over. They're that good.

These cables let you concentrate on the rest of your system and music as they simply get out of the way as no other cable I've tried. Do yourselves a favor, buy a pair, and be done with the cable side of this hobby.

All the best,
Thanks for the reviews. I recieved a pair of 5" silver ICs in early June and after the Darwin-prescribed several hours of breakin was not a happy camper. Tonally they were among the best I'd heard, although on the dark side, but otherwise I found them lacking in what I call blossom or bloom - emotionally constipated (constrained), instruments and voices hardly more than two dimensional, and instruments back from the mike quite soft. Over the course of 300 hours on my desktop system (Cuinas Dac, Emotiva airmotiv 4 w/ HiFi Tuning fuses), and then another equal amount with my TV system, they gradually opened up but still weren't satisfying. Probably headed for the used market.

Then recently (and very belatedly) I heard about the Isotek System Enhancer and Rejuvenation CD and decided put the Darwins through about 20 hours with its large system file. What came out the other end was a different cable. Wider and taller soundstage, greater clarity and sense of depth, dynamics improved and speedier, tighter bass, instruments and voices now have more air and body, and tonal darkness gone. The main thing that seems a touch limited (compared to the Grover Huffman IC) is top end shimmer and air. But then I suppose the good side of that is bright recordings are more palatable.
Just finished breaking in the Darwin Ascension, the premium version of the Darwin Silver, and I'd like to discuss the results of the break in process itself.
Normally, most of us just break in a cable for as long as the manufacturer suggests - usually 50 or 100 hours. A proper break in almost always results
in better sound. But, what few of us do is follow the break in process, by
cutting in at certain stages to see what kind of changes are occurring at
that specific point. That's what this review is about.

First of all, my experience with silver cables tells me that they almost always
take much longer to fully break in than copper cables. About twice as long.
Turns out that the silver conductor Ascension was no different. A full break
in took about 200 hours to achieve. But, there were ups and downs along
the way that made for a very interesting "ride".

Initial A/B testing against my current reference showed the Ascension to be
rather "closed in", with veiled dynamics and a kind of soft overall effect. But,
knowing how long silver takes to reach maximum potential, I knew that break
in would show major gains along the way ... which it most certainly did.

After the initial sense of underperformance, the Ascension showed gains
at the 15 hour mark, but with some harshness noted. Gains in sound quality
continued at the 30 hour mark, but still with edginess and harshness. Gains
were substantial at this point. In fact, they were so great that it sounded like
a completely different cable - after only 30 hours of break in.

Major roughness encountered at 50 hours. Began to smooth out at 60 hours.
By 75 hours, all roughness is gone with sound becoming smooth and refined,
inner detail coming out. New sounds emerging. By 100 hours, refinements
heard at 75 hours had increased, but were becoming gradual at this stage of
break in.

At 125 hours, something unexpected. The sound began to regress, with
harshness returning, along with limited bass response. But with this, I also
noted that the sound stage was deepening and details continued to emerge.
All of this changed at 140 hours. Even though the bass was still a bit on
the light side, it was very well defined - approaching exceptional. Everything
was back on track again, with continuing improvements and no backsliding.

Gains in sound quality continued until about 200 hours was reached. At
that point, careful listening showed no further improvements. So, the results
of my systematic break in with the Darwin Ascension shows that this cable,
like all silver cables I have used in the past, requires sufficient break in time
to reach their full potential. And "full potential" for the Darwin Ascension
is something to behold.

I've been in audio nearly 20 years, and I have never used an interconnect
this good in all that time. Many IC's have come and gone. Most were
over promoted, disappointing, and forgettable. Not the Darwin Ascension.
It is really something very, very special in cable design. It easily stands out.
Few others can even begin to compare. It is that good.

If you are like me, and tired of searching for the perfect interconnect, why
not just give up the search and go with the best -- the Darwin Ascension. But, to really know why it's the best, be sure to give it the break in time it needs, to give you the truly exceptional performance it's capable of.

As for me, my search is over. It ended with the Darwin Ascension. I now
hear my music in ways I didn't think were possible. My level of enjoyment
is at a whole new level. I have never known such "realism" in music before.

Give Darwin Cables a try - and don't forget to give them the break in they
need to give you the best sound quality you've ever heard.
Highstream, thanks for sharing your happy ending. The Darwin Balanced Cables do take longer than our Unbalanced cables to reach peak performance. While our cables (unbalanced) usually perform to a very high level very quickly, we have found that the break-In discs do accelerate the process. One recent and very meticulous study exceed our own testing and suggested that the Ascension Unbalanced cable peaked at 200 hours. This is consistent with what some other owners have discovered. So, in short, the Unbalanced are fast out of the gate but take a while to really stretch out. With the heavier ends and construction of our Unbalanced Darwins, it stands to reason that it will take as long or longer to hit peak performance. We appreciate this kind of feedback. Tony Bender, Darwin Cable Co.