World Premiere Review!
If you've clicked on this review you already know that cables make a difference. I'll spare you that lecture. You may also already know about Steven Huang and his Audio Sensibility cable company out of Toronto, Canada. I've been commenting on his presence at the Montreal and Toronto audio shows since 2010. His cables featured prominently in my $5000 Entry Level System project in 2014, allowing me to reach a sound quality level in a streamlined rig that came surprisingly close to my reference rig. That's what Ohno Continuous Cast silver and copper, cryogenic treatment, stainless steel shielding at the ends, and soundly engineered cable design can do for you.
Being a small, personal company has allowed Steven to remain nimble and creative. He can respond with innovation to changing trends and fill niche markets that would be unprofitable for larger corporations. While he started with modestly priced cables, he has moved upstream as his knowledge and marketing experience has grown. Not surprisingly, his Statement and Signature series are now his top sellers because of their exceptional value, relative to competition also using OCC silver wire. Yet he has continued offering very high value while improving even his entry-level Impact series. His Testament power cord (next series up from the Impact) has been hard-wired into my Sony ES FM tuner for almost a decade and continues to amaze me as I tweak and upgrade other parts of my rig.
Steven is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, which is known as the MIT of Canada and is located within Canada's technology triangle. He holds a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering and a Master's in Mechanical Engineering in robotics, but he seems to have audio, and cables in particular, in his genetic makeup. His father went to school with Dr. Atsumi Ohno (of Ohno Continuous Cast fame) in the early 1960s at the University of Toronto where they established what was to become a life-long friendship, partly due to Steven's father being fluent in Japanese. Dr. Ohno received his PhD in Metallurgical Engineering and Steven's father received his PhD in Chemical Engineering, eventually becoming a full professor at the University of Waterloo. Steven knew Dr. Ohno as well and as the saying goes, the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.
Audio Sensibility's business model includes selling direct, via the internet, across the table at audio shows, as well as a 30-day money-back guarantee on most items. His entire cable selection is comprised of OCC wire and features cryogenic treatment right at their own facility. Watching Steven mentor his customers at shows illustrates why he has been so successful at developing a loyal following. His customers are his primary advertising arm with most new customers coming from word-of-mouth referrals. An excellent interview with Steven Huang in 2014 can be found here.
Computer Audio & Streaming
My initial inquiry this time around was about his DC power cords, but I subsequently discovered the flimsy power cord on the external power supply of my Calyx DAC was captive. Our conversation turned to computer audio and his new Ethernet cable. Being rather Old School myself, I brought my good audio buddy, Tom Lathrop, into the conversation. While Tom is Old School also, being an electrical engineer by training, he is also New School and into computer audio and streaming. What transpired was Steven sent us his new Signature Ethernet cable ($399 CAD) and both his Statement SE SOtM (copper at $139 CAD) and Signature Silver SOtM ($289 CAD) DC cables for Tom's rig.
Audio Sensibility Statement SE SOtM DC Cables
Obviously, there is a special SOtM connector for the power supply end and a Switchcraft 2.1mm DC connector for the component being powered. And as with all Audio Sensibility cables, the wire and connectors are cryogenically treated and solder connections these days are made with Mundorf Silver-Gold Supreme Solder.
Audio Sensibility Signature Silver SOtM DC Cable
Audio Sensibility Signature Ethernet Cable
On To The DC Cables
First we went with the Silver Signature DC power cord. With an increase in transparency, focus, and dynamics, the music took on an even more prominent "you are there" presentation. As exciting as it was, it seemed to be too much for long-term listening. (We didn't actually do the long-term listening, but we are both experienced enough to see where this combo was headed.) We probably should have tried just the Silver Signature with the Wireworld Starlight 7, but we didn't. The Ethernet is the cable that carries the signal, and we didn't want to lose the clarity that the Audio Sensibility Signature Ethernet brought to the party. Besides, we still had the Statement SE DC to try. Remember, the Statement SE is a copper cable, not silver.
Sure enough, the old cliché about silver cable sounding brighter than copper held true once again. The Statement SE DC power cable, in combo with Signature Ethernet proved to be the magic combo for Tom's vintage Marten speaker. There was excellent resolution in the treble, but without the irritation we had been experiencing. There was also plenty of dynamics — remember the Audio Sensibility DC cable is 4x as thick as the standard SOtM. The ease of listening was just right and we had no doubt that we could go for very long listening sessions. Personally, I rarely go for more than a couple of hours at a time, but I could tell I could easily surpass that if I wanted.
Come On Baby, Let's Do The Twist!
I think that the biggest problem that my Martens have is a tendency toward sibilance and thinness, which you heard with the Audio Sensibility silver Ethernet cable and the [Audio Sensibility] silver DC cable. That's why I have evolved my system the way I have over the past 7 or 8 years. At first I was enamored with Nordost cables, which have great spatial resolution and a lot of detail, but they also emphasized the sibilance and thinned out the sound. Synergistic Research cables also have good spatial resolution, with less sibilance and more solidity to the midrange.
I know that silver cables have a reputation for enhancing the high end, but in some systems they may overdo it. I like the extra "air" that the Audio Sensibility silver Ethernet cable gives me on well-recorded acoustic music, especially jazz piano with percussion. If that means that I get a bit more sibilance on some vocal recordings, well, I'm OK with that. But I think that you're right that the combination of the silver DC cable and the silver Ethernet cable may be a bit too much in my system.
The sibilance he referred to was on Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes" on my compilation CD, which can be very revealing of a ragged tweeter. And there are lots of cuts on that CD with cymbals. So yes, we both came to the same conclusions for his system with the vintage Marten speakers. But that might not be the right combination for your rig. Had we taken his digital front end over to my house and tried it with my Kharma speakers, I might have preferred the Silver Signature DC cord. The Scan-Speak Revelator tweeters would likely benefit from the higher, smoother resolution and slightly brighter presentation. My room is not quite as bright as Tom's room, either. But we weren't about to rip out his gear. In any case, if you've made a wrong choice, Steven offers a 30-day money-back guarantee... or you can swap for the other DC cable — silver or copper, with a price adjustment, of course.
High-end folklore tells us that separate power supplies are desirable for removing electronic nasties from the chassis containing the signal circuitry. You see this frequently in phono stages, preamps, and DACs at the high end of a manufacturer's product chain. But external power supplies are increasingly showing up in moderately priced components. My Calyx DAC, for example, comes with a wall wart switching power supply, but a linear power supply is offered as an upgrade. Another company, Sbooster, which Audio Sensibility also sells, has an entire line of linear power supplies to use with components from other manufacturers. My experience with the DC cables for the SOtM gear in this review highlights the importance of quality DC power cords. They are as important as the main power cord coming from your wall or power conditioner. You don't want to leave half the quality you've paid for sitting inside the external power supply. As I've seen here, a proper high-quality DC power cord gets the job done.
The Statement SE DC cable is only half the price of the Signature Silver DC cable, but if your system really benefits more from the Signature Silver, don't sell your entire system short for $140 CAD. Likewise, if your system would benefit more from the less expensive copper cable, it would be foolish to spend more for the silver cable.
One of the things I've learned over the years is that your power delivery and front-end source(s) are incredibly important. You can't fix a lousy signal by buying better speakers, no matter how impressive they would look in your listening room. I've owned my Kharma speakers since 2003 and I am still amazed at how much greater they sound when I upgrade or tweak something else in my system. Maybe I should have spent more money faster?
Power cables have long been recognized as a very significant contributor to sound quality. But only recently has the need for small, high-quality DC power cords become a focal point. It is still a niche market, so if you've got a need, Steven Huang is the man you need to check out. Audio Sensibility has been delivering quality cables based on solid science and engineering principles since they began back in 2008, always at reasonable prices. Their DC cables are offered in both silver and copper versions, offering a chance for you to tweak the overall sound of your system at yet another point. Both are highly recommended with the caveat that you choose the one that best suits your goals for sound quality. They are both far above the stock SOtM standard DC cable.
I was so impressed that I popped the cover off the power supply of my DAC to examine how difficult it might be to hardwire one of Steven's DC cables. I will be giving him a call. As for the review samples, Tom had no hesitation about buying them for his rig. And finally, a hearty thanks to Tom Lathrop for hosting and contributing to this review. Outside of a few major metropolitan areas, good audio buddies can be hard to come by.
Audio Sensibility Statement SE SOtM DC Power Cable
Audio Sensibility Signature Silver SOtM DC Cable