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March 2019
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Black Cat 3200 Series Interconnect, Speaker & Digital Cable
My system become a sonic time machine.
Review By Tom Lyle

 

Black Cat 3200 Series Interconnect, Speaker & Digital Cable Review

 

  Black Cat Chris Sommovigo has been designing and manufacturing cables for the high-end audio industry since 1992. In his words, he has been "running in the opposite direction of what most audiophile cable companies seem to be doing. When others offered to the audiophile community "big, fat interconnect and speaker cables loaded with unnecessary conductor density", he marketed "slimmer cables that had conductor density that was more appropriate, and addressed issues such as proximity effect, skin-effect, and velocity". When all the other cable companies began offering digital cables, he recalled that "these were actually what most would consider analog cables, but they simply repackaged them as digital. But I marketed impedance-critical, super wide-band cables that met the digital specifications precisely". And when others started selling what he calls "cable sausage", that was "squeezed out of huge industrial thermoplastic extruders", he countered with "high-tech insulators that had to be braided and knitted onto the conductors in order to achieve best performance".

He went on to say that since old habits dies hard, the demand for big, heavy cables with "shiny jewelry attached" remains attractive to many audiophiles. He had even been asked by some dealers and distributors if he would be able to manufacture "giant anaconda-like cables", because this would help them market his cables. He said no, because he wanted "to preserve my own integrity and the integrity of my design philosophy. From my perspective, there is a right way and a wrong way, and this is something that has been clear to me, if not to anyone else". After email exchanges and speaking over the phone with Chris Sommovigo a few times, it also struck me that he has more technical knowledge with regard not only to cables, but audio in general, than any cable manufacturer I've ever met. His cables might not look fancy, but it seems as if he has many good reasons to design them the way he does. And spoiler alert: his cables sound like it. I've had some very pricey cable in my system, and even though his cables cost much less, the Black Cat Series 3200 cables can compare favorably to many of them. And sound better than many of them, too.

 

Black Cat 3202 Interconnect
This cable began experimentally as an eight-element "matrix" style conductor (eight individually-enameled, 36 AWG conductors formed in a tubular braid) braided over an insulated copper micro-tube (which is a conductor that has been unique to Chris Sommovigo designs since the early 2000's). At first Chris thought that the arrangement seemed counterintuitive, because the braided outer conductor is the signal-layer, and the internal copper tube was the ground plane. And yet, the resulting sound took him by surprise, because he found that it had a new level of musicality. For the 3202 he increased the conductor mass in the outer braid by four times by creating a 32-element matrix of 36 AWG pure copper conductors, and at the same time he decreased the dielectric constant, and employed a new process called "Airwave", which ensured that a rather small center conductor would remain uniformly positioned in the air-dielectric of a thin-walled Teflon tube. This ensured that the magnetic fields generated by the signals traveling through the outer matrix would not be subjected to "braking", that might be induced in the ground plane if it were deployed in the traditional manner, as a densely-woven grounding shield in the outer valence of a coaxial cable geometry.

A benefit of this new geometry was an "extraordinarily low" capacitance, which is very desirable when it comes to interconnects. As a small company with his own methods and machines, Black Cat is able to explore these ideas without having to engage subcontractors. When he ran a small batch of these new cables with the 32-element matrix on the outside of a hollow, Teflon tube with a small twisted-pair of "Airwave" magnetic wires suspended inside the air tube, it was obvious that he was onto something. Replacing the cables in his system with this new design, he had a revelation, making him want to redefine the definition of "resolution". He said that "effortlessness" would be a better term for what he heard with this new cable. According to Chris, this effortlessness means that with the 3202 interconnect "there is no sense of strain, the music emerges whole, unsullied by artifact, and the system itself fades away".

 

3232 Speaker Cable
I lifted this description straight from Black Cat's website, where it says that this speaker cable is a multi-layered cable that begins with a 6mm core of pure cotton rope sourced from Japan. It goes on to say that "this is central to the cable as a means of creating a core that is mechanically damped. Around the core is a braid of 32 bare, pure copper strands at 30 AWG each (summing to 15 AWG), then an interstitial layer of braided multifilament nylon, a secondary layer of 32 braided copper wires - same as the interior layer of wire - and finally an overall braided jacket of nylon". The Black Cat 3232 speaker cable comes standard terminated with XOX gold-plated pure copper bananas, with XOX Gold-Plated Brass Spade-Adapters available as an option.

 

Black Cat 3200 Series Interconnect, Speaker & Digital Cable Review

 

Digital And USB Cable
On their website Black Cat claims that their DIGIT-USB cable is designed differently than other manufacturer's cable. They call the architecture of others' "ordinary and mundane", since they don't design theirs with "twin 45-ohm highly precise micro-coaxial cables with real silver-plated copper-foil shielding" instead of "metallized plastic Mylar" for the data lines and run within a PTFE (Teflon) tube. Power and ground signals are run in a separate layer in counter-rotating helices around the outer-diameter of the Teflon tube using Black Cat's Matrix-32 InterPole system, and then the overall jacket of the cable is woven around the whole form. The digital cable Black Cat sent me for audition is their Digit 75 Mk. II, a 75 Ohm cable to connect my CD transport to the digital-to-analog converter's coax input. Black Cat considers this to be a "lite" trickle down from their more expensive TRØN, which uses some of their QuieTex materials and techniques to create an RF and EM insulative blanket in order to help defray the effects of RF/EM from without and within the cable. Black Cat considers it an electrically precise 75 Ohm coaxial cable with an outstanding bandwidth.

 

Black Cat 3200 Series Interconnect, Speaker & Digital Cable Review

 

Re-Wire
Is my job is to install this cable into my system, and see if I hear the same thing as Chris Sommovigo did? Of course! I also have many years' experience listening to different brands and models of interconnects in my system. So, I will hear how these stack up to them, and what I also imagine to be the ideal cable, which is no cable at all. Back in the day, when I first heard my system re-wired with "high-end" cable, transparency seemed to be the goal, and to be honest, that really never left. Of course, Chris Sommovigo of Black Cat isn't the first manufacturer to describe his cable as having these traits. To me, it all comes down to transparency, how easily the music signal passes through the interconnect without mucking things up. The only problem is that the only cables I've heard that can come close to this cost quite a bit. We'll see how the Black Cat measures up.

When offered to review the Black Cat cable, and again just before I was sent enough of their interconnect and speaker cable to rewire my entire system, I warned Chris Sommovigo. I let him know that I just finished a review of the very impressive Accusound's XD interconnect, Digital Link, and XD loudspeaker cables. These cables are on average seven to eight times the price of the Black Cat cables that I was being offered to review. I told Chris that I was willing to try his brand of cables, as long as he didn't get too upset if I said in my review that I wasn't blown away by the Black Cat cables when compared to the more expensive wires. He agreed. So, when the Black Cat cables arrived, out came the older cables, and in went the Black Cat. I ran a one meter balanced interconnect between my reference Pass Laboratories X350.5 power amplifier, and the preamplifier I was currently using, an extremely transparent, full-function Mark Levinson No 523 preamplifier.

Although, I wasn't using the fine phono preamplifier in this component, instead using my Pass Labs XP-15 phono preamp, snaking an unbalanced RCA interconnect between it and the Levinson. I didn't need to run a cable from my turntable set-up to the phono preamp because my Tri-Planar 6 tonearm is hard-wired with its own unbalanced RCA-terminated interconnect. It is now using an Urushi Etsuro Bordeaux phono cartridge (review forthcoming) that in turn is mounted on a Basis Debut V turntable. I ran a 1.5-meter balanced interconnect between an EMM Labs DA2 digital-to-analog converter to an input on the preamp. I installed between the power amp and a pair of Sound Lab Majestic 545 full-range electrostatic speakers a four-meter pair of 3202 speaker cables. The speaker's low-end was augmented with a pair of SVS SB16-Ultra 16" 1500-Watt subwoofers (review forthcoming) which have recently replaced my Velodyne 15" 1250-Watt subs. I didn't bother requesting a four-meter pair of cables for the subs. Maybe next time.

The Black Cat cables were not broken in prior to their arrival in my system, so I tried not to be too judgmental about their sound. Especially since Enjoy The Music,.com recently published a review of the much more expensive cables. But you know what? Even before the Black Cat cables were fully broken in, they sounded very good. More than very good! In fact, I was very impressed with their sound. I was proud of myself, because once I thought the cables were fully broken in, I took the time to replace the more expensive cables that were previously in my system, and after a while re-replaced the Black Cat cables one by one, to see how each contributed to the overall sound.

 

Black Cat 3200 Series Interconnect, Speaker & Digital Cable Review

At first, I thought the 3232 speaker cables were the most impressive of the bunch. I felt as if they were a bit more transparent than the Black Cat interconnects and the digital cables. I'm not saying that I think the others aren't transparent. They are, but I was struck by the amount of transparency that the Black Cat speaker cables presented with certain material. As time went on and I started to discover more positive traits of the cables, I thought that these interconnects sounded pretty darn good, too, especially considering the price discrepancy between the two brands of cables. And so, I started my evaluation over. I was starting to become accustomed to the sound of the new cables in my system. After hearing the more expensive cables again and re-installing the Black Cat cables, again, I became surer of my conclusions: there was a difference between the more expensive cables and the Black Cat cables, but there wasn't nearly as big of a difference in their sound as I would have expected. And certainly not as big a difference as their price would indicate.

During the Black Cat cable's review period I listened to many different types of music, sourced both digitally and from my analog front-end. The takeaway was that Chris Sommovigo's description of his cables having an "effortless" quality when it comes to sound reproduction is spot on. I hope I'm not accused of using this term instead of coining my own to describe what I heard. The term "effortless" has been used before, especially when describing a signal that remains undistorted during loud passages. But the Black Cat cable went further. This might be a bit of an over-simplification, but this trait resulted in not allowing any of the frequencies that they reproduced to draw attention to themselves, which can distract the listener from the other frequencies. This was especially true of the midrange frequencies, a characteristic which may not impress some as much as hearing a super-extended bass or treble, but this is where the majority of the music lives. And therefore, it became easier to focus on those frequencies, as well as the rest of the music.

Classical pieces were an excellent way to spend time luxuriating in this midrange, and just about every other sonic trait, so I played some of my favorite classical albums during this period. One of the standouts was an LP of a 1960 Decca recording of Dvorak's New World  Symphony re-issued by Speakers Corner in the early 1990s. Istvan Kertez was an expert at conducting Dvorak, and with the Vienna Philharmonic it pretty much guarantees this to be an ideal version of this work. On its cover Decca calls this Dvorak's 5th Symphony, but since then it has been re-named as the 9th (don't ask). Whatever one calls this work, it hardly matters, as it remains one of Dvorak's best-known works. It is a sonic blockbuster of a recording, made at Vienna's Musikverein, and was a totally immersive experience when I played it at "realistic" levels.  Admittedly, the reason it sounded so good through my system was because what I was hearing was not only the Black Cat cables. This is one of the tricky things about reviewing cables. Is one hearing the cable's contribution or something other than the cables? Removing and reinstalling the cables as I did a few times with the previously installed cables, and other brands of cable, too, helped isolate the contributions of the Black Cat cables, but a good amount of time elapsed between changes that I don't think I'd be totally honest if I said my memory of what came before was perfect. Yet, it was obvious that the Black Cat cables had many likable sonic traits.

It was also obvious that as usual, I was having a great time listening to vinyl, and also the reason everything sounded good was because of the analog front-end, the components and the speakers that the cables were connected to (not to mention all that also had gone into setting up my system in my dedicated listening room). There is no question that I was hearing the benefit of good interconnects and speaker cables in the system, because components are going to sound their best when they aren't hindered by cables that aren't letting every bit of signal pass through them. When playing this Dvorak LP, the Black Cat interconnects and speaker cables let me hear the majesty of the mighty Vienna strings and horns, the marvelous way that the orchestra members think as one, and how this piece was led by an expert conductor. The transparent midrange was a big part of this "effortlessness" that I was hearing and that was discussed before, sounding as if each component of my system was drawing very close to what I might imagine being connected to each other with no cable at all. Well, at least no cable that would draw attention to itself and lead me to believe that I wasn't hearing all that I could.

The soundstage of the Black Cat cables was also very impressive. One of the qualities of the more expensive cables that they replaced was the extremely deep and wide soundstage that was evident on just about every record I played. I think that hearing this fine soundstage was also due to allowing the signal pass through it unabated, that is, the signal that is responsible for allowing the wide and deep soundstage to develop in the first place. I admit that my sonic memory will not allow me to compare the details of the width and depth of soundstages-past that I've heard with different cables, but I will say that a fine soundstage existed with the Black Cat cables, and that alone impressed me. I will attest to hearing some lesser cables in my system that stunted the size and extension of the soundstage, and the Black Cat cable came nowhere doing that. I was taken aback by the drawn-to-scale soundstage that came through my speakers when playing the Dvorak LP, as if I was hearing a symphony orchestra in miniature, my system becoming a sonic time machine, bringing me back to Vienna in 1960 when the recording was made.

 

Black Cat 3200 Series Interconnect, Speaker & Digital Cable Review

 

I also had a good time, to say the least, listening to music on digital throughout the review period, both sourced from my music server and by spinning more than a few silver discs played on an OPPO UDP-203 used as a transport. My computer-based music server was connected to the EMM Labs DA2 DAC using a Black Cat DIGIT-USB and the OPPO transport used a Black Cat Digit 75 Mk. II connected to the DAC's coax input. Most memorable was the Miles Davis I spun during the review period. I listened to a DSD file of his album In A Silent Way, where the Black Cat DIGIT-USB cable replaced a Furutech USB cable I've been using for the last few years. Again, it was immediately apparent that this cable was more transparent than I was used to, and again, the term "effortless" came to mind. This surprised me, not only because it took me quite a while to be open to the fact that the USB cable one uses not only makes a difference but can make a big difference in the sound of one's system.

And so, when using the Black Cat USB cable, I heard an "opening up" of the sound, as if the music signal flowed easier though this cable. This is a digital signal, not an audio signal as in an interconnect or speaker cable, so perhaps that's why I had a tough time explaining to myself that a good USB cable is important to the overall sound quality. I was hearing the proof because I heard more. More of everything. This was also true of the Black Cat digital cable that ran between the OPPO transport and EMM Labs DAC. This digital cable replaced a more expensive cable that I was using, and so the Black Cat digital cable sounded more in line with what I heard with their interconnects and speaker cable. I spent hours listening to the discs from the three CD box set of Miles Davis' The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions and although there might have been a tad less extension than what I was previously accustomed to in the very, very lowest bass frequencies, there was still that "effortlessness" that I've been speaking about throughout this review. There was a sonic ease that was definitely audible... with a digital cable, no less!

 

Agree
I agree with the dealers and distributors who suggested to Black Cat owner and chief engineer Chris Sommovigo that he should somehow find a way to manufacture his products to look more like "giant anaconda-like cables" than the more svelte appearance of his current line of cables so he could charge more for them. I have enough experience with using different cables in my system to conclude that, no, the majority of the more expensive cables that are marketed today are not over-priced, but... the Black Cat cables are certainly underpriced. In fact, I think that Black Cat is selling themselves short. The only conclusion I can come to is that the only reason Black Cat cannot sell their cables for more is because of their appearance.

In the meantime, audiophiles should take advantage of this situation, and seriously consider sacrificing the ability to dazzle their audiophile friends with cables that are as thick as a garden hose with flashy external appendages, and instead suffer the humiliation of having to show them their thinner, more refined looking Black Cat cables. But they can say that the Black Cat cables have the approval of Enjoy the Music.com Senior Editor Tom Lyle and they will have the experience of hearing with the many sonic benefits these Black Cat interconnect, speaker, and digital cables will impart to their systems. Recommended to all.

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

 

Specifications
Type: High-end audio cables
3202 Interconnect: 32-element Matrix braid over Teflon/air tube, with internal "Airwave" formed ground conductor. Overall nylon jacket. Neutrik XLRs or Lovecraft RCAs.
Price: $699.95 for one meter pair, $150 each additional 0.50 meter

3232 Speaker Cables: Coincident 'lattice' conductors formed by 32 bare copper 30 AWG conductors braided around an 8mm cotton cord, nylon multifilament braided yarn interstitial insulator, and the same conductor lattice again. Overall nylon jacket. Terminated to XOX direct gold over pure copper banana plugs.
Price: $649.95 for 1.5 meter pair, $100 each additional 0.50 meter

DIGIT-USB: twin, precision 45-Ohm micro-coaxial cables in a Teflon/air tube. 32-element Matrix braid over the tube breaks out for two poles: one for power, one for ground. Overall nylon jacket. USB 2.0 A and B connectors.
Price: $750 for one meter, $200 each additional 0.50 meter

Digit 75 Mk. II : Precision 75 Ohm coaxial cable utilizing medium-density "QuieTex" RF/EM absorbent layers. Terminated with 75 Ohm BNCs, includes Black Cat-designed BNC to RCA adapters.
Price: $750 for one meter, $200 each additional meter.

 

Company Information
Black Cat Cable
4060 Nine McFarland Dr.
Suite A
Alpharetta, GA 30004

Voice: (404) 932 6337
E-mail: chris@stereolab.us 
Website: www.BlackCatCable.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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