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Reviewer: Ken Micallef
Digital Source: Denon Exemplar DVD-3910 [on loan], Teac Esoteric X-01 [on loan]
Analog Source: Rega P2/Grado Prestige Gold cartridge
Preamp: Shindo Monbrison
Amp: BAT VK-75 (equipped with Tungsol and Raytheon VT-231s, RCA 5692s)
Speakers: DeVore Fidelity 7.1 [in for review], DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8 [on loan]; Gallo Ref 3 [on follow-up review]
Cables: Stealth PGSX and 3D ICs, 3MLT Hybrid speaker cables [in for review]; Auditorium A23 speaker cables [on loan], Eichmann Express 6 Series 2 ICs [on loan]
Stands: Salamander 5.0 rack, 2" Mapleshade platforms (8" x 15" x 2"), Blue Circle custom amp stand (for BAT)
Powerline conditioning: BPT Model BP-3.5 Signature Ultra Isolator for digital components and turntable, JPS Kaptovator and JPS Power AC power cords, Shunyata Black Mamba and Anaconda Vx Powersnake
Sundry accessories: Mapleshade Surefoot and Heavyfoot brass points and IsoBlocks; (8) RPG ProFoam damping panels/ceiling treatment, Mapleshade Ionoclast for static cling, HALO-O Tube Dampers
Room size: 24' x 12' with 10-13' sloped ceiling, short-wall setup
Review component retail: ICs $499 for one meter; speaker cables $520 for six-foot pair, $680 for eight-foot pair

While sailing along on the unreal clouds that circle the audio reviewing planet, one has to occasionally descend into reality and evaluate equipment priced for mere mortals and hopefully learn something about listening and reviewing in the process. Coz for this guy, learning is a spectacular part of the reviewing game. The more I think I know, the less I really know. Ya know? Anyone who says this cable or that speaker is the ultimate -- the final word on the subject -- is obviously a novice in deep need of a good kick in the pants. I too have been guilty of praising a product to the hilt only to find out later that it wasn't Mona Lisa incarnate as I had initially claimed. It's all live & learn - or review'n'learn in the case. Another learning curve requirement is the principle of system synergy, the idea that you can't simply buy everything from some rag's yearly "best of" list and expect it to, voilà!, create instant magic. Sometimes placing a new product in your system will produce such a startlingly different sound that you will automatically equate different with better. That kind of surprise can occur even with inexpensive gear. Often only after weeks of having the gear in-house are you able to discern its true nature and the differences, subtle or otherwise, that it brings to your system. This is all to say that as audiophiles, we typically move up the food chain to ever more expensive hardware, tweaks and cables. Frankly, it can seem like so much madness after a while. After spending lots of cold hard cable cash through the years (on the likes of Harmonic Tech, Acoustic Zen, Omega Mikro, Shunyata, Cardas) I was in need of wires that performed well for a non bank-breaking price. I know you have heard that one before...

In my trek up Mount Compromise to find these illusive cables, I looked high and low. I hit pay dirt one day while rummaging through a box of supposed audio junk. Back in the early '00s, former moonie Jim Saxon sold me a pair Luminous Audio Synchestra Signature ICs. I was pleasantly surprised by their warm and forgiving sound, decent transparency and overall high degree of cost vs.quality. Selling for around $350, the Synchestra Signatures performed well against the Harmonic Technology Pro Silway IIs but not so well against the Cardas Golden Reference. With that experience in mind, I was curious to hear how the top-of-the-line models from Luminous Audio would perform in the here and now. As a side note, I have of late struggled with the incredibly open and liquid-sounding but mechanically inferior Omega Mikro ICs and speaker cables. I was determined to sell them off before yet another pair tore in half or simply came apart. (Omega Mikro's Ron Baumann makes wonderful sounding cables, perhaps the most transparent I have heard, but their incredibly fragile construction makes them fit only for those who can power up their gear and never touch it again). Tim Stinson at Luminous Audio was eager to send me a set of his already well-reviewed cables and quickly delivered two one-meter pairs of his Synchrestra Reference ICs and a six-foot pair of Synchestra Signature speaker cables, the latter terminated with gold-plated copper spades.

My older Synchestra Signature ICs are enclosed in a rubbery silicone jacket but the Synchestra Reference ($449/pt) Stinson delivered is a totally different animal (first surprise). Light as air and extremely flexible, the Reference ICs are covered in a meshy cloth-like material that Luminous Audio claims is more "invisible sounding". In the hands, they sure feel comfortable, even homey. Terminated with the excellent and technically superior Eichmann Bullet Plugs and composed of "99.99998% pure continuous cast OFHC" conductors, the Reference is a handsome but not flashy-looking interconnect. More importantly, they seem to rely on sound design principles. The jacket is composed of what Luminous describes as a "highly inert fine mesh fiberglass cloth, a material extremely low in capacitance". Luminous claims that only a "cushion of air insulates the jacket from the conductors so they are close to no jacket at all". The Omega Mikros literally have no jacket save a copper mesh and they are extremely transparent sounding, so Luminous is on to something. Because of this thin jacket, Luminous warns prospective buyers to be very careful and not bend the ICs at a 90 degree angle and also avoid twisting the Eichmann plugs when removing the ICs from a component. Still, they feel well built and sturdy.

The Synchestra Signature speaker cables ($520/six-foot pair) are also constructed of 99.99998% pure continuous cast oxygen free single-crystal copper, configured into 18-gauge conductors for each cable. Five empty polyethylene tubes join the four isolated 18-gauge conductors per cable leg. The cables for review were terminated with gold-plated copper spades.

For comparison, I began using the Eichmann Express 6 Series 2 ICs (on loan from, one pair between CD player and preamp, another pair between preamp and power amp. Selling for around $300 a pair, the Eichmanns seemed like a fairer comparison to the Luminous than the five times more expensive Stealth Audio 3D ICs. The Synchestra Reference falls closer to the Eichmanns than the Stealths but provides more than a few glimpses into the megabuck ($1800) Russians. The Luminous cables don't approach the Stealth's utterly grain-free treble, forceful bass, naturally layered and coherent soundstage and amazing sense of aliveness but they presented a similar presentation in terms of macro and micro detail, imaging, bass projection and overall musicality. I also dropped in the $499 Audience AU24 ICs on loan from fellow moonicipalist Jules Coleman.

I took an opposite approach with the speaker cables, beginning with the Synchestra Signature cables in line with the Eichmanns, then trading off with Keith Aschenbrenner's $880/2.5m/pt Auditorium 23 speaker cables sold by Jonathan Halpern of NYC's Tone Imports.

What muzak for the savage audio beast?
CDs for evaluation came from my vast collection of goodies collected since the dark ages sometime in the late 80s: some purchased, some pilfered, still others received as promo freebies from the ethically challenged publicity hacks employed by major label record companies. I included Redbook CDs as well as the (in some cases) vastly superior SACDs I have been pushing on the public in my other writing venue at Downbeat magazine (how's that for a shameless plug?). Some folks love SACD and DVD/A, others think it all total hooey. Sane people know that there are, as with CD playback, great sounding high rez discs as well as crummy ones. But when everything is right, I have not heard a CD that gets everything as close to perfection as a good SACD or DVD/A does. Well mastered SACDs and DVD/As seems to get much closer to the live performance, with a greater sense of the heads, hands and feetz (feats?) of real musicians in space and time.

Anyway, I got busy with Morton Gould's recently reissued Living Stereo SACD, Brass & Percussion [BMG/RCA 82876-66371], a patriotic blowout of Souza marches joined by the military fireworks music of Goldman, Bagley, and Gould himself. Once you get past the triumphant mood of this stuff ("Wench! Where did you hide my stein of lager? In your red, white and blue cleavage?"), the sheer presence and attack of the recording is as good as watching Jimi burn his Strat. Also on board, Roxy Music's Avalon [Virgin 7143 5 8387124], Steve Swallow's steaming sax/bass and drums bop blowout, Damaged In Transit [ECM/Watt B00001304-02], and the soundtrack to The Jackal [MCA D-11688], which feature lots of unnatural synth sounds and enough stomach-churning low notes to make you feel that you are lost in some subterranean lair with 100 rats surrounding your skull. Good shit!

You say potato, I say potaito
Often and especially with something as supposedly simple as cables, everything sounds fine until we replace them with something better. Or at least vastly better. Out of the gate, the Eichmann/Luminous combo sounded pretty good. Playing Massive Attack's "Superpredators" from The Jackal, I was encouraged by a big soundstage with righteous bass notes and swirling synthetic and acoustic sounds that spun like flying ghouls (occasionally clapping their hands) throughout the mix. Hmm. Maybe a hint of transient bite and a one-dimensionally flat soundstage but overall, pretty musical. The Eichmanns didn't work as well with Steve Swallow's acoustic jazz, the sax sounding squaky and shrill, the cymbals a little restrained.

Retaining the Eichmanns from pre to power, I exchanged the CD-to-pre Aussies for the Luminous ICs. Automatically the music blossomed more with better definition from midrange to treble. Cymbals revealed more stick definition, drums were deeper and more alive and the overall sound was less murky and more revealing. Playing Roxy Music's Avalon, I heard the same walloping bass drum as with the more expensive Stealth cables plus a certain sense of crispness but that coulda been due to the basic nature of this 1982 recording. Putting the Eichmanns back in, the sound became more brittle and compressed and less like real music. The Luminous didn't highlight any one area of the spectrum but presented a decently coherent and palatable depiction of the music. It was only when I dropped in the Stealth 3D ICs that I heard vast differences and what I had been missing: a deeper musical stage, better dynamics, more macro and micro detail and greater decay on vocals and instruments. There was no real change in bass weight, however. The Stealths were clearly better but the Luminous still made mighty fine music.

Playing Ani DiFranco's track from The Jackal through the Stealths was a revelation of woofing jug bass and snapping guitar, with her voice woven seamlessly into the mix. The Luminous didn't create quite as deep a soundstage yet the notes were still all there. The Luminous just lacked the magic of the Stealths but got everything else right. And that could be more than enough for those looking to spend 500 smackers. That the Luminous held court at all with the Stealths is quite an achievement any way you want to bite yer apples and oranges.

Comparing the Luminous Synchestra Reference ICs to the Audience Au24 was another no-brainer. The Audience sounded drier and perhaps had a quieter, blacker background but it didn't matter. The Luminous easily bettered the Audience, sounding more tonally centered and with better imaging and bass. The Audience sounded more hifi-ish, the Luminous more natural.

Giant killers and heebie jeebies
Up until now, I'd had the Luminous Audio Synchestra Signature speaker cables in the rig so I replaced them with the Auditorium 23 speaker cables. I don't know much about those except that they are manufactured in Germany and sold by Tone Imports in NYC. For $880/2.5m/pr, they are true giant killers, producing a coherent, dynamic, ear-friendly transmission that is unobtrusive and musical. The Synchestra Signature cables held their own but it was a close call. The 23s were more revealing, with greater bloom and less etch. The Massive Attack track had a better sense of depth and dynamics, sounds popping out of blacker space. Bass drums had more resonance, vocals were more present and tactile. I don't know if these judgments are absolutes or if it is just how these German cables operated in my system with my listening preferences. All of my gear is very revealing and neutral save for the BAT amp, which tends toward the warm end of things. If a cable is tipped up or etched, I automatically hear it in my small room. That was my problem with the Omega Mikro cables: extremely musical and transparent but lacking true bass and warmth. When they shouted, my head started to hurt. If you can read between the lines of my personal jargon, you hopefully will understand my listening Jones and better comprehend my biases and interests - for better or worse.

In closing me brothers...
There are many $500 interconnects on the market but the Luminous Audio Synchestra Reference ICs are something special. They are very coherent, dynamic and musical, with a sleight tendency towards warmth that I found very easy to live with and easy to forget once they were hooked up. Their construction is sturdy and smart and they quickly bested other well-reviewed cables in their price range. They also possessed some of the qualities of cables costing three times as much. I was less impressed with the Synchestra Signature speaker cables but for their asking price -- incredibly low in my opinion -- they do deserve a serious listen. If you believe in the idea that true system synergy comes from having the same brand and model of cable running through your rig, then checking out the Synchestra Signature speaker cables will be imperative if you are auditioning the Synchestra Reference ICs. Talk about no-brainers!
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