Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Cairn Fog v2.0 as transport; Zanden Audio Model 5000 MkIII DAC; Ortho Spectrum AR-2000 filter/buffer on the DAC's analog outputs; Eastern Electric MiniMax CDP [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe6 GenII; Eastern Electric MiniMax [on loan]; Acoustic Reality eAR Pre2 [on review]; Antique Sound Lab MGHead DT/OTL 32 [on review]
Amp: AUDIOPAX Model 88; Bel Canto eVo 4 GenII; Coda Technologies S5 [on review]; Acoustic Reality eAR Enigma Plus [on review]; Eastern Electric MiniMax amplifier [on review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic DUO; nOrh SM 6.9, Gallo Acoustic Reference III [on review]
Cables: HMS Grand Finale; Analysis Plus Solo Oval and Oval 8; i2digital X-60; Stereovox HDXV; Mapleshade Ebony active digital interconnect; Furutech Digi. Reference BNC-BNC digital cable; ma recordings BNC/BNC reference digital cable [on review]; Mapleshade Planar power cord with DC bias; Audio Magic Clairvoyant power cords; Crystal Cable Reference complete wire set of interconnects, speaker cables and power cords; Z-Cable Reference Cyclone power cords on either powerline conditioner
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature; Walker Audio Velocitor for source components
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs; Mapleshade 4" solid maple platform under BPT conditioner
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $5,750/pr/m.
|The sun rises in the East. Today, we're talking cables. Russia's in the East. So am I saying the sun now rises out of Russia? What about cables? Stay with me. Beyond Russia, there's India. In its pantheon of Hindu deities, there's powerful Indra with his Nordic resonances in mighty hammer-wielding Thor. Now let's assemble the pieces of this nonsensical puzzle into a cogent whole. We arrive at Serguei Timachev of Stealth Audio Cables. Moreover, we arrive at his latest, severely limited-edition Indra creation. And that, my friends, means super-esoteric amorphous metal conductors. Linked together, these disparate elements signify a most significant breakthrough - a new sun rise on the cable technology horizon. Puzzle solved.
Here's the longer version. As far as I'm aware, the only audio company presently working with amorphous conductors is Van den Hul. Alas, its Dutch conductors employ non-metallic carbon fiber technology. My Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary defines amorphous as 1 without shape without any clear shape, form or structure | 2 not classifiable not obviously belonging to any particular type or category | 3 without crystalline structure.
The Indra cable owns all of these definitions in its smart back pocket. Alas, the one that really explains the former two is the third - without crystalline structure. In quite the detective story that our own Jules Coleman will detail and expand upon in his upcoming interview/feature review, kulturnik Timachev somehow got his hands on a limited supply of Russian conductor with military or space research origins. In still molten form, this conductor's advanced metal alloy composition had undergone elaborate centrifugal spinning and subsequent exposure to cryogenic-type extreme subzero temperatures, to be shocked into shape so rapidly as to completely undermine the usual formation of crystal boundaries. We're talking no molecular boundaries, no so-called long-grain "zero crystal" commercial copper or silver variants. As Serguei explained, the process of fabricating amorphous metals (which requires special alloy formulations to even work - forget ordinary copper) is prohibitively expensive. It is usually the exclusive providence of aeronautics, arms manufacture and other well-funded governmental projects on and off the public radar screen.
Obtaining this unobtainium for audio use in an inspired fluke of providence and craftiness was one thing. Subsequently fashioning the ultra-thin alloy conductor into a reliable manufacturable commercial product meant more than a year's worth of research, beta-testing, gnarly assembly protocol and the development of a proprietary minimum-mass Carbon/Teflon/silver connector. What I currently have in my system is one of the first Indras with Serguei's new Stealth connectors that sport a thin-wall hollow silver pin with Teflon insert and a Carbon/Titanium body/barrel.
Being customarily wired with HMS Gran Finale, Crystal Cable Reference or Analysis Plus Solo Oval in the signal chain; and HMS, Crystal and ZCable Reference in the power delivery field of the BPT BP-3.5 Sig and Walker Audio Velocitor; I consider my system reasonably up to snuff in the cable arena. It's why I now dread cable review assignments. I mostly opt out of them. Whatever differences tend to occur these days are very minor tonal balance shifts. They often don't equate to better but simply different - as are, to be nonjudgmental about this, some of the price tags attached.
When Jules hipped me to the imminent release of warrior god Indra, I looked at the accompanying specifications and background data. Realizing that pricing would necessarily be high and relatively exclusive, I bugged brother Jules nonetheless. Provide virtual introductions to Serguei Timachev, now! Jules complied. We agreed to do a good cop/bad cop take on the product, with me rendering the second opinion. After talking to Jules on the phone today, there won't be a bad cop take. We'll have to change the equation to handsome and ugly cop. I told Jules which part would be his. As for Serguei? He's the precinct chief in and of this case. I hope to meet him in person at the NYC show together with Jules and 9 or 10 other moonies. We'll do Krispy Kreme donuts on the house.
|Inserting one lone 1m pair between my Zanden DAC and Orthospectrum buffer, the Indra differences were neither subtle, tonal balance-oriented or merely different-but-so-bloody-what. In one fell swoop, the Indra changed the entire gestalt of the presentation in such a way as to be patently audible even to my wife in the upstairs area. Forget bass, midrange, treble. The instant change was two-fold. For one, three-dimensional space exploded, particularly in the depth domain. With the Gallo Reference III space meisters sans pareil, this was so obvious as to be silly: Huge space, cubits of air. Far more importantly though, insertion of the cable also removed electronic tension and effort. When you make a fist and press hard, the musculature constricts. Though your hand doesn't look edgier, it feels that way even to an onlooker. I'm using the word 'edgy' not in the tonal domain of treble forwardness. I'm not using it in the domain of image outlines either. I'm using it to describe a very tangible feel in which the music now propagated unfettered, through the air and into the listening room. It no longer felt as though being pressed through electronic piping in little bits and pieces of data.|
You could say that the Indra caused a kind of profound whole-body relaxation of the music. Music now appeared to be free of effort, free of former reminders of electronic artifacts. It floated in expanded space as pure sounds rather than being mechanically processed and thus left with a certain tension, grit or texture as part of that processing. Let's be clear that I'm not talking about dynamics or timbre or any of the other usual audiophile suspects except for spaciousness. I'm talking about the absence of a specific artificiality that was crystal-clear and not at all minor once removed. We know about dielectric absorption and time-delayed re-release of energy. We know about signal reflections when encountering impedance barriers of dissimilar material junctions. We know about phase shifts that affect different portions of the audible spectrum to different degrees, causing discontinuity between fundamentals and their harmonics. We know about signal modulations from out-of-band ultrasonic energy. We know about current clumping. We know about Litz and solid core and air dielectrics. We can even appreciate that signal traveling down a very thin conductor only to encounter an RCA pin 125-times more massive will cause something undesirable.
Like every other reputable cable designer worth his or her saltine, we know that outside the hobbyist tone control camp, serious designers like Timachev hope to build a cable that doesn't do anything to the signal. Because these designers work with material substances that exhibit specific mechanical and electrical qualities, it's obvious that these very qualities influence the passage of the signal in certain ways. Signals don't propagate in an outer-space vacuum after all. Having said that, what insertion of a single Indra pair into my system sounded like suggested that this cable perhaps comes unreasonably close to operating in a figurative vacuum - as though other cables were a bit like the grimy walls of a narrow back alley. These walls stick sundry dirt and colors from faded adverts on the signal while it brushes past.
|I've already talked to two people who have experimented with the Indra sans Stealth connectors. Both of them knew three or four more - the audiophile grapevine works at close to light speed. They all observed exactly the same effects as I did: A powerful removal of artificiality or mechanical reminders, combined with a massive explosion of three-dimensional space and airiness. These folks also seem unanimous in their sentiments that one pair is all you need. Multiple pairs seem to not create strong additive effects. Therein hide audiophile good news of a humanitarian sort in a moment. The powerful stripping-away action of musically irrelevant stuff also suggests that Indra is exclusively for mature systems, those that don't suffer inherent weaknesses you don't want exposed. I'm reminded here of interviewing Matthew Bond of TARA Labs a while back on his ultimate vacuum dielectric cable, the Zero. He called it so revealing as to be appropriate only for finely balanced systems with no inherent flaws. How many of those do you know?
Jules will send me his second review pair in short order. I will experiment with the reported lack of overt additive advantages when inserting a second Indra into my rig. The bad news is the limited edition nature of the Indra Project. Serguei only managed to obtain x-meters of this conductor from whatever secretive source he acquired it in the first place. This limits production capacity to somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 pairs. Orders for longer pairs necessarily cut down on that final tally. Prospective Indra owners might thus apply consideration for their fellow 'philes and order the shortest possible run they can get away with. Those are the audiophile/humanitarian good news of a moment ago: Save a bit of money; buy only one pair (it's massively obvious just with one!); buy short; and allow someone else the benefits of the Indraffect.
With Jules' feature review merely a week or two around the corner, 6moons will have far more to report on this unique cable. Having this advance opportunity of today, I wanted to alert 200-or-so truly dedicated music lovers around the globe to consider putting the Stealth Indra on their lists before they're all gone. Repeat after me: Amorphous 1 without shape without any clear shape, form or structure | 2 not classifiable not obviously belonging to any particular type or category | 3 without crystalline structure. Now you'll understand definitions 1 and 2. The amorphous one-piece conductor of Indra doesn't impose any discernible shape, form or structure on the signal that passes through it. And, the Indra as a product doesn't belong to any particular type or category because an amorphous metal cable has never before been offered to audiophiles - and unfortunately won't remain available for a long time either. Stay tuned for Jules' blow-by-blow report. For now, consider this: My HMS Gran Finale and Crystal Reference wire may not be the world's best but most would probably agree that they belong into the top 10% if not 5%. The improvements one pair of Stealth Indra cables caused went far beyond any remaining differences between the HMS or Crystal or Analysis Plus - but not in any of the usual ways we expect of superior cables, with a little nip here, a little tug there.
The amorphous effect -- plus whatever else Serguei did with the dielectric, the termination, the mechanical construction and the electromagnetic shielding to optimize it -- operates in a different dimension altogether. The only common denominator is the profound spatial expansion. The far more significant one is the elimination of, for a lack of a better word, gunk that ordinary cables even in the upper echelons still are guilty of introducing. The best but also most trite way of putting it? Indra does less to the signal than any other cable I've yet heard. In turn, it liberates the music from artificial constraints in a very obvious and powerful fashion. It's a new slant on the old less-is-more maxim. It probably couldn't be duplicated even with ultra-thin silver wire suspended nakedly in air - because said silver would still suffer granular boundaries. Why the removal of crystalline micro-structures would be so profoundly audible is completely beyond me. But talking to Steve McCormack who uses amorphous Van den Hul Carbon hookup wire in his peak modifications, I've met yet another true expert of the craft who is convinced that amorphous has very real audible benefits.
And while ultra-thin interconnect conductors have precedents in Serguei's own lineup as well as --and most famously perhaps -- in Mapleshade's Omega Mikro line, I did not hear any shifts or activities in the tonal domain whatsoever, something that certainly doesn't hold true for the Omega Mikros. Here's a parting hint: When I took Indra out of the rig, not only did space collapse and subliminal mechanicalness creep back but things got slower. They didn't sound faster putting Indra in. They sounded slower taking it out. This makes me wonder whether signal transmission speeds in the Indra happen to be measurably faster than usual. Perhaps Jules' interview with Serguei will shed some light on this. Regardless, the sun continues to rise in the East, from some secretive warehouse deep in the new Russia where further discarded inventories of this special amorphous alloy await discovery by one very resourceful and clever Monsignor Timachev. Perhaps - if we're all good rather than contrarious audiophiles and just bloody lucky?
|Postscriptum: No sooner has the sun risen another morning -- and still in the East as far as I can determine -- do I get an e-mail correcting one of my statements above, namely that VdH's amorphous technology is exclusively Carbon-based. This merely confirms the old saw that the more you think you know, the less you do. I love to be reminded of that - it's the only way to learn more. Gracias, Yao Sun!