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by David W. Robinson
Yowzah! Cables Again!
The world of cable/interconnect reviewing is a tough onesome would call it "no win." On the one hand, you have the chronic skeptics who assume that everything that can be known about fine audio cables can be described with "l/c/r." To these folks, anything much beyond decent Rat Shack zip cord is bogus, a manifest scam, and an unconscionable fleecing of the gullible and willing. Such as these occasionally threaten to bring the "matter" to the attention of the D.A./State Attorney General for investigation and other such over-the-toppery and never mind that the D.A. may be driving an automobile thats far more expensive than it really needs to be to "get the job done."
On the other hand you have the charter members of the "cable of the month club," who seem to change their interconnects more frequently than they change their socksthough perhaps not as often as they change their minds. Such people are the bane of audio dealers and national distributors with their "30 day money-back guarantees" or "try before you buy" plans. It can be truly amazing how often tire-kicking and window-shopping seem to happen when a person is wrestling with cable neurosis. (And yes, thats a real form of audiophilia nervosa my friends.) Such folks follow cable reviews with peculiar intensity, intensely partisan for fleeting moments then on to the next "best thing."
Given the dubious results of a passage between the audiophile Scylla and Charybdis above, I am reluctant to take on too many cable projects. But when my old friend Chris Sommovigo got in touch with me about a new design that he had come up with, I agreed to give it a listen.
A very brief history lesson
"Chris Sommovigo why is that name familiar?" you may be saying to yourself.
I can give you the answer in a word: Illuminati.
Now you may remember
Chris was the designer behind the well-regarded and revolutionary Illuminati Datastream Reference digital cables of the early 90s. As a matter of fact, if I recall correctly, Positive Feedback is where Chris got one of his very first reviews (and maybe the first) in his early days.
At the time, I was working with two box CD setups, trying to make CDs sound something more like my LPswhich, as it turned out, was a losing proposition. I recall trying to get Audio Alchemy chains together and anti-jitter devices galore. Remember all that? Chris Illuminati Datastream Reference were some of the bloody best digital cables that I heard from that period; I still have mine in PFOs cable reference library.
After doing very well with Illuminati, Sommovigo eventually ended up accepting a position with Kimber Kable. He worked for a while working with Kimber, then made the decision to head out on his own again. He set up shop in 1998 with a new partner and a new DBA: Stereovox. He and Tony de Almeida have been in a partnership to produce music, and now a new line of audio cables.
The Return of Sommovigo!
So why go at it again? From my conversations with Chris, it would appear that the creative urge has struck pretty hard. Hes convinced that he can build a digital cable thats "world reference" quality. Bandwidth to burn as in, say, 4 GHz. Silver conductor intriguing dual "discrete helically wound shields" unusual dielectrics there are some very interesting properties to these interconnects. Stereovox claims some very special engineering in their design profile for the cross-section of the conductor, as they sought the sweet spot in their "skin-to-core" ratio.
Sommovigo also claims to have come up with a special new soldering procedure thats superior to standard methods for the termination of interconnects: ISCoRS, an acronym for "Intimately Stressed Contact Resistance Soldering" process. Stereovox claims a better and more reliable contact in this procedure than standard methods, though Im not in a position to evaluate this.
The single most striking thing about these new interconnects is the unique connectors that Sommovigo has come up with to maximize proper contact with the RCA socket. The precisely machined connectors on this new cable are a work of industrial art all by themselves. The result is a cable that is flexible due to an innovative new sheath/jacket design, and has very positive in insertion. This makes this new product easy to work with and delightful to listen to.
Very impressive, Chris!
So what is this new wunderkable? The Stereovox SEI-600.
Stereovox was kind enough to send a meter pair for evaluation last winter, and I spent a number of months breaking them in, and listening. I used the pair between my reference SACD player, the Sony SCD-1, and also with the Sony XA-777ES SACD multichannel player (stereo mode only).
Break-in took almost 100 hours. At first the sound was lightly veiled, but as 100 hours approached, they bloomed nicely. (Note that at this time I was using the Linn Komris as reference speakers, with a pair of the Linn Klimax for amplification; the preamp was the Audio Research Reference Two, Mk. II. For other system details, see www.positive-feedback.com/staff.htm.)
My take? This is an intriguing interconnect. In the pantheon of fine cables I have auditioned, it fits somewhere between the Cardas Golden Cross (my preference when richer and warmer synergy is the target) and the JENA Labs Jazz or Symphony (highly detailed and very neutral in my experience, perhaps just a touch to the coolish side).
By categories, the report card for the Stereovox SEI-600s looks like this:
Soundstaging and imaging: very fine width and depth from SACDs. The width is co-equal with the JENA Labs Symphonys, though perhaps not quite as deep. Imaging was nicely definite, with clean and clear placement of instruments on SACDs like The Byrds Greatest Hits, one of my all-time reference pieces for classic Rock n Roll on SA. (If you own an SACD player and dont have this disc, youre really missing out!) Other well-known reference SAs included FIMs River of Sorrow and Audiophile Reference IV, and Opus 3s Showcase and Test CD 4. All of these allow me to hear deeply into the music with a broad variety of known world-class SACD discs.
The SEI-600s connected well with the Audio Research Reference Two, Mk. II on this one.
Tonal balance/presentation: As noted, to my ears the SEI-600 roughly splits the difference between the Cardas and the JENA Labsvery fine detail with a dash of Tabasco! Users who have systems that need a touch of warmth without sacrificing detail would find these cables to be a good place to start. Theres no roll-off here; highly detailed solid-state might not be quite as well served but that depends on your audio tastes, and system synergy, of course.
Please note that one of the real debates in fine audio is that between those who are looking for musicality vs. listeners who prefer articulation (sometimes misnamed "accuracy"an error since it implies a known reference in the source, a luxury not usually available to us in audio reproduction). The SEI-600 takes a middle stance in this one, and thus may be a very good place to start for those with a serious interest in taking their interconnects to the next level.
Dynamics: I would adjudge both micro- (nuanced piano/pianissimo) and macro- (forte to fff) dynamics to be excellent in the SEI-600. At no time did I sense congestion, confusion or overload in audio reproduction. The Stereovox cables provided dynamic swing and detail with great verve, being fully competitive with either the JENA Labs or Cardas cables in this regard. Swing they did!
Detail: Again I would place the Stereovox cable somewhere between the Cardas Golden Cross (a forgiving interconnect by design) and the JENA Labs Symphony (a supremely revealing cable) when it comes to detail. This is a realm of taste and careful system matching, of course. I tend to prefer highly detailed, articulate audio reproduction in my listening room, though Lord knows that Ive enjoyed numerous more forgiving, more mellow presentations over the years. This means that I spend a great deal of time dialing in that sort of combination, and then ameliorating the rough edges of such "revelation of detail."
Too much revelation kills revelry every recording engineer whos placed a microphone knows this so you have to take care not to overdo it.
And the SEI-600 does not overdo it.
Id have to say that Chris Sommovigos Stereovox SEI-600s are a real triumph of the cable making art. If youre looking for an exceptional design and a pleasant all-around combination of audio characteristicsinterconnects that should work extremely well in a significant number of systemsthen the SEI-600s are definitely worth a very serious audition.
Heads up! This is one of the four or five best interconnects that Ive ever heard in my system, and therefore rates a "Ye Olde Editors highest recommendation."
Stereovox SEI-600 Interconnects