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Reviewer: Edgar Kramer
Source Digital: Sony XA-5ES as transport; Bel Canto Design DAC 2
Source Analogue: Pro-ject 6.1 turntable with Pro-ject arm and Goldring cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Sauvignon with NOS RCA and Sylvania tubes
Amplifier: Gryphon Tabu 2/100 power amplifier, Pass Labs X250.5
Speakers: Wilson Watt Puppy System 6
Cables: Harmonic Technology Magic Digital; Harmonic Technology Magic, Truthlink Silver and Truthlink; DanA Digital Reference Silver; Eichmann eXpress 6 Series 2 interconnect cable; Harmonic Technology PRO-9+ loudspeaker cable; Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC; Shunyata Research Diamondback power cords, Eichmann eXpress AC power cable
Stands: Lush 4-tier, partly sand-filled
Powerline conditioning: PS Audio P-300 Power Plant (digital equipment only), dedicated 20 amp circuit
Sundry accessories: Bright Star Audio IsoRock Reference 3 [in for review], Bright Star Audio IsoRock 4 isolation platforms and BSA IsoNode feet; Black Diamond Racing cones; Stillpoints ERS paper in strategic positions around DAC, Shakti On Lines; Densen CD demagnetizer; Auric Illuminator CD Treatment; ASC Tube Traps
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 10'/11' h [stepped ceiling] in short wall setup, opens to adjoining office room
Review component retail: Luminous Audio Synchestra Silver Reference interconnect - US$599 1m/pair with Eichmann Silver Bullet plug | Synchestra Signature speaker cable - US$40 per linear foot, $40 for gold-plated spades, various termination options available
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler" - Einstein
More often than not, simplicity is best. Like the harmoniously balanced proportions of a well-spun crystal wine glass, the natural blunt perfection of a maple leaf, the sensual organic curves of a Ferrari Testarossa or a Marcel Breuer chair - archetypal, eternal and simple beauty.
But as I've said in the past, simple and beautiful design is borne out of complex, intelligent and fastidiously applied thinking. So it is with Tim Stinson's Luminous Audio Synchestra line of interconnect and speaker cables. All decisions concerning the Synchestra's makeup are purposeful, resulting in the direct enhancement of ultimate performance as it should be with a top-of-the-line flagship product. The Synchestra interconnect is as simple and unadorned a design as you will get.
In an audio world full of thick pythons and double and triple shielded stiff fire-hose cables, the Luminous Synchestra range begs to differ. The very flexible, hand-assembled Synchestra Silver Reference interconnect is made up of high quality/purity 22-gauge solid-core five 9s silver conductors coated with military specification virgin Teflon to prevent oxidization of the conductors. Defying the norm, the Silver References are entirely unshielded. All that separates the conductor's Teflon coating from your filthy little fingers is a fine looking, extremely low capacitance fiberglass mesh and a cushion of air. Beware ye in areas of high EMI or RFI contamination.
The geometry of the cable is also quite interesting. The configuration is a "proprietary twin-axial" design that comes about via a precision wire twist where the lay of the twist is held to a tolerance of +/-2%, with directionality maintained in both the hot and return legs. Termination is by XLR or the almost ubiquitous Eichmann Bullet plug (highly praised by Tim Stinson) in its Silver incarnation, again perpetuating the minimalist ideology behind the design.
The range-topping Synchestra Signature speaker cable in its royal blue and black-speckled Nylon sleeve is somewhat more sophisticated looking than the interconnect. It is a large diameter concoction of 4 x 18-gauge six 9s continuous-cast single-crystal ONO copper conductors separated by five empty polyethylene tubes that combine to create the designer's ideal balance of inductance, capacitance and resistance. Dielectrics are a combination of paper, premium virgin PVC, polyethylene and air. This final production version was arrived at after the usual numerous prototypes, hundreds of listening hours and discussions amongst an extensively experienced design team.
Termination is via gold-plated spades, optional silver-plated spades or locking banana plugs. The custom spades eschew nickel and are four 9s copper flash-plated with pure silver or gold. Needless to say, all welds are via silver solder. Luminous Audio also happens to supply raw materials and subsequent assembly for cable guru Bob Crump's TG Audio. The designs happen to be quite similar excepting some proprietary chicanery in both parts and conncector terminations. A reviewer's dream? Bob Crump pre-cooks all of his cables prior to shipping. Gotta luv that!
I started this exercise by first listening to my reference system in situ to reestablish my base line. After running all cables for over 100 hours, the first change was to the interconnects, with the Luminous replacing my reference Harmonic Technology Magic cables. I then conducted several listening tests in many sessions and subsequently repeated the exercise with the Luminous speaker cable taking the reigns from the Harmonic Technology PRO 9+. The final sessions presented a complete Luminous system solution barring AC cables.
To a certain extent, I embarked on a similar walkabout journey previously undertaken by 6moons mate Ken Micallef who recently reviewed the Synchestra Reference interconnects (the copper version) and as I'm about to, the Synchestra Signature speaker cable.
"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction." Einstein
I am compelled to report a minor phenomenon others and I have experienced with the Luminous interconnects. Some audiophile acquaintances have mentioned how extremely happy they are with the sonic quality of their Synchestra Silvers and how their system's performance has been lifted to a significantly higher level. However, some have noticed that after a period varying between 2 to 3 weeks, something suddenly happens to the sound. Bass virtually disappears or becomes bloated and mids and highs turn bright and etched. Ditto for what happened in mi casa. I can't say I had the faintest idea of what was going on so I invited Tim Stinson to shed some light on this matter.
"I have experienced the "3 week fallout" for sure but if you ride it out for another week, they are perfect. I guess it is like a horse that doesn't want to be broken. I have not tried the unplugging trick. I believe if everyone simply "suffers through" the down week of break-in, all will be fine. I am unaware of the problem coming back." Some have said that the non-shielded design builds up an RF charge. Others have suggested anything from magnetic interference to effects somehow related to the ultra-low capacitance. Whatever. Fortunately someone somewhere has discovered a simple fix that restores the sonics to their wonderful former glory. Simply unplugging the cables from their connections and detaching all AC leads for a few hours -- or preferably overnight -- mysteriously solves the problem. I've just given you the fix for this one-time phenomenon during the settling-in period.
Anecdotal reports and further investigations have revealed the strong likelihood that this phenomenon manifests itself to varying degrees in all systems no matter the cable brand used, although it may not be evident in all systems. My advice is that if you like what this cable does, live with and through the phenomenon. And believe me, there is a lot to like about this cable.
As far as live recordings go, Patricia Barber's Companion [Blue Note/Premonition 22963 23, 1999] is one of the better ones. Track 2 "Use Me" has numerous elements that provide for a good test of any component. The opening bass solo sounded full, tight and solid, with depth, speed and upper harmonics that extended far beyond the bass range. The Synchestras allowed the rhythm and transient snap of the instrument to telegraph unimpeded. Lesser cables in my system have in the past obscured this live recording's crowd noises and the tinkling of glasses by the more than tipsy punters. The Synchestra Silvers placed these spatial cues discernibly and clearly deep in the soundstage, enhancing the illusion of a live performance in a palpably ambient-rich environment.
That is one of the major strengths of this cable. The Silvers excel at conveying detail, not hyper-pronounced, unbalanced, stand-out-like-a-sore-thumb detail that turns bright or brash but detail that is well rounded, balanced and thus part of the musical whole. As Barber's vocal comes, in the Silver's rendition is naturally and recognizably Patricia's, center-stage, image locked in. Close-miked it may be but sibilants were presented unaccentuated yet not inaccurately muted or worse, missing in action. In fact, Patricia sounded spookily present and life-like. The venue -- the Green Mill in Chicago -- is visible and the soundstage, although not the deepest I've encountered in my system, certainly was as wide and airy as I've heard.
Another outstanding live recording is Nils Lofgren's Acoustic Live [Right Stuff 72434 95736 2 8, 1998]. "Keith Don't Go" is my favorite track. It starts with an incredibly dynamic guitar intro, which the Silver presented with faithful transients, explosive dynamics and cubits of detail. A glow enveloped the soundstage and the instrument's decay seemed to bounce off the venue's walls now miraculously contained within my listening room.
Towards the end of the track, Nils lets loose with a great solo that begins with his plectrum -- or hardened fingernails -- plucking the strings close to the guitar's lower bridge. If you know the guitar, you're aware that this style of playing can produce an abundance of harmonic content and transient attack. With the Silvers, all this was there accurate and fast. Lofgren builds up to a climactic strumming crescendo, a manic guitar avalanche at full force and speed. I have heard this segment sound horribly confused like a convoluted hodge-podge. The Silvers passed on the complex and contrasting musical flow unraveled, cohesive and in full scale to convey the impression that what was contained on the software was transmitted intact to the amplifying hardware and onward thence to the listener's realm of cognitive consciousness screaming "there's a mad guitarist in my room!" Wicked, that.
Inserting the Synchestra Signature speaker cable showed up subtle differences when comparing them to my in-house cables. The first thing that hit me was the quality of the bass. The Signatures' bass is slightly leaner than via my reference HT PRO 9+ but also tighter and slightly punchier. There's also the impression of a marginally more detailed lower register. How about a clichéd HiFi generalization? If you own a generously warm valve amplifier or a similarly warm no-feedback transistor amp and would like some firming up down there -- in the lower registers, gutter minds -- the Synchestras would be stupendous. Conversely, if your amplifier or system be a little lean, the HT PRO 9+ will warm it up and bestow some added heft in the lower regions. Who said cables shouldn't act as tone controls?
Upwards in the frequency range, the Signature speaker cables' clear, detailed and resolved presentation made it a pleasure to listen to. Vocals, male or female, sounded very present and life-like, the midrange being smooth and resolving of musical textures. The same applied to the high frequencies, which sounded extended and satiny. Stringed instruments, violins especially, were given the royal treatment to sound sweet and detailed without a hint of brashness or strident annoyance.
The same qualities shone through no matter what music I played. As with any good neutral link in the audio system chain -- here I refer to both the interconnects and speaker cables -- the Luminous don't favor a particular style of music. I have heard cables with a tipped-up midrange that sounded exciting and powerful with Rock and Blues yet fell apart when reproducing complex orchestral music. Similarly, polite and warm-sounding cables bring an element of grandeur to orchestral pieces yet sound slow and dull when asked to reproduce more raucous material. The Luminous wires aren't partial or discriminative. All genres and styles are transmitted similarly faithful and unscathed.
Audio System Cataract Crusaders
I hereby proclaim the Luminous Audio Synchestra Silver Reference interconnect and Synchestra Signature speaker cable Senior Knights of the Grand ASCC Order. Their holy ordainment is to rid audio systems of their music-flowing impediments to allow components to see the purity of the signal, like light passing through a crystalline high-definition lens. Mission accomplished.
The Luminous cables are detailed, spacious, powerfully dynamic and accurate in timbre. Combine that with their life-like presence, crystalline clarity, neutrality and their ability to transmit the natural flow of the music and you've got a cable system that would be at home mated even with über superlative equipment within the highest echelons of the hierarchy.
|Luminous Audio comments:
Dear Edgar, I am truly delighted with your impressions and synopsis of our Synchestra Signature cables. I love your writing style as I find it eloquent yet quite fun to read. I am flattered and very proud of our accomplishments. You have certainly expressed in writing what I hear everyday in my personal system and have been painstakingly striving to create over the last 16 years. We will continue to bring affordable high-end solutions to the audiophile market for many years to come!