Silversmith Audio Fidelium Loudspeaker Cables
I first met the engaging Jeffrey Smith, founder and design engineer of Silversmith Audio and recently retired Navy Commander, some nineteen years ago during his third CES, in January of 2002. To save space here, as there is quite a bit to cover, I'd refer you to his "About Us" link at the Silversmith Audio web page to see his remarkable story.
He was showing his then flagship silver ribbon interconnects and speaker cables at the Alexis Park paired with gear from Pass Labs including their X0.2 linestage and X600 amplifiers driving the EgglestonWorksAndra II speakers. The then-new speaker crossover design and final tonal voicing were the work by my friend the late Albert Von Schweikert. Sourced by a Marantz SA1251 SACD player, with all equipment isolated using Grand Prix Audio stands, the room was a clear sonic standout. You may see my original show report here, should you care to.
A First Look
As a longtime fan of ribbon designs, I had experimented with and used several different Nordost (side-by-side designs) and Goertz Alpha Core (sandwiched-over/under) silver and copper ribbon loudspeaker cables in the early and mid-1990s. By virtue of their physical construction, flat conductors present a rather low inductance, a near match of characteristic impedance and speaker impedance, and offer high rejection of EMI. Their ability to pass square waves with remarkable accuracy is indicative of their ability to handle transients with ease. Generally speaking, they sounded remarkably open, in large part because of their low inductive nature. But those models exhibited a slight lightness or leanness in the bass regions, starting to show strong roll-off from about 35 or 40 Hz, a result I would attribute to the higher capacitive nature of their design.
The new Fidelium loudspeaker cables are comprised of two separate foil conductors, each two inches wide and less than 1 mil (0.001") thick, providing a balance between lowering the overall resistance, and not being too wide and unwieldy. Each run is laminated with a 2 mil (0.002") polyimide (Kapton) layer of insulation, selected for its resistance to tearing and stretching, as well as its nominal dielectric absorption. As mentioned, each two-and-one-quarter-inch wide laminated ribbon is then terminated with just a notch, and uses an adhesive applied termination label, red for positive, black for negative, some 5 mil thick, and two-and-one-half inches square. The result is so low in mass, that it experiences extraordinarily little energy absorption.
One of the first things that stand out in conversation with Jeff about his cables is that he eschews the standard inductance/capacitance/resistance/impedance dance and talks about wave propagation; his designs are based solely upon the physics model of electricity as electromagnetic wave energy instead of electron flow.
While Jeff modestly suggests that he is one of only "a few" cable designers to base his designs upon the physics model of electricity as electromagnetic wave energy instead of the movement, or "flow," of electrons, I can tell you that he is the only one I've spoken with in my over four decades exploring audio cables and their design to even mention, let alone champion, this philosophy.
Cable manufacturers tend to focus on what Jeff sees as the more simplified engineering concepts of electron flow, impedance matching, and optimizing inductance and capacitance. By manipulating their physical geometry to control LCR (inductance, capacitance, and resistance) values, they try to achieve what they believe to be the most ideal relationship between those parameters and, therefore, deliver an optimized electron flow. Jeff goes as far as to state that, within the realm of normal cable design, the LRC characteristics of cables will not have any effect on the frequency response.
He points out that the waveguide physics model explains very nicely why interconnect, loudspeaker, digital, and power cables do affect sound quality. And further, it can also be used to describe and understand other sonic cable mysteries, like why cables can sound distinctly different after they have been cryogenically treated, or when they are raised off the floor and carpet.
As such, his design goal is to control the interaction between the electromagnetic wave and the conductor, effectively minimizing the phase errors caused by that interaction. Jeff states that physics says that the larger the conductor, the greater the phase error, and that error increases as both the number of conductors increase (assuming the same conductor size), and as the radial speed of the electromagnetic wave within the conductor decreases. Following this theory, the optimum cable would have the smallest or thinnest conductors possible, as a single, solid core conductor per polarity, and should be made of metal with the fastest waveform transmission speed possible. His original Silver loudspeaker cables met the first two criteria and his original Palladium, and now the new Fidelium, achieves all three.
Jeff stresses that it is not important to understand the math so much as it is to understand the concept of electrical energy flow that the math describes. The energy flow in cables is not electrons through the wire, regardless of the more common analogy of water coursing through a pipe. Instead, the energy is transmitted in the dielectric material (air, Teflon, etc.) between the positive and negative conductors as electromagnetic energy, with the wires acting as waveguides. The math shows that it is the dielectric material that determines the speed of that transmission, so the better the dielectric, the closer the transmission speed is to the speed of light.
This is a shot of the early prototype adapters to fit tightly restricted binding posts. The actual production adapters resemble the clamping system used on the Fidelium "Jumpers."
Though electromagnetic energy also penetrates into and through the metal conductor material, the radial penetration speed is not a high percentage of the speed of light. Rather, it only ranges from about 3 to 60 meters per second over the frequency range of human hearing. That is exceptionally slow!
Jeff adds, "That secondary energy wave is now an error, or memory, wave. The thicker the conductor, the higher the error, as it takes longer for the energy to penetrate. We interpret (hear) the contribution of this error wave (now combined with the original signal) as more bloated and boomy bass, bright and harsh treble, with the loss of dynamics, poor imaging and soundstage, and a lack of transparency and detail.
Perhaps a useful analogy is a listening room with hard, reflective walls, ceilings, and floors and no acoustic treatment. While we hear the primary sound directly from the speakers, we also hear the reflected sound that bounces off all the hard room surfaces before it arrives at our ears. That second soundwave confuses our brains and degrades the overall sound quality, yielding harsh treble and boomy bass, especially if you're near a wall.
That secondary or error signal produced by the cable (basically) has the same effect. Any thick metal in the chain, including transformers, most binding posts, RCA / XLR connectors, sockets, wire wound inductors, etc., will magnify these errors. However, as a conductor gets smaller, the penetration time decreases, as does the degree of phase error.
The logic behind a ribbon or foil conductor is that it is so thin that the penetration time is greatly reduced, yet it also maintains a large enough overall gauge to keep resistance low. The magic of the Fidelium is that not only does the extreme thinness of the foil reduce penetration time, but the speed of penetration of energy in the Fidelium is over five-and-a-half times FASTER than copper! So, the penetration time, and therefore the accompanying phase error, is less than one-fifth that of an equivalent copper ribbon! This is all the result of Fidelium's skin effect properties being up to thirty-three times better than copper or silver!"
Last Note About Cable Technology
Finally, Jeff stresses that Fidelium is not a radically new concept or discovery. It is instead an improvement of the metallic alloy over that used in his previous flagship Palladium cables. Given the importance and uniqueness of this alloy, he remains understandably secretive about its patent-pending composition.
Digital is rendered by either my own Windows 10 based PC, using J. River 27 (64-bit), Audirvana 3.5.40, or Roon 1.6, all optimized with Fidelizer v8.6, or my extensively modified McCormack UDP-1, both handing off to my Mola Mola Tabaqui DAC. Electronics include the Audionet PRE G2 linestage, and a pair of Audionet MAX monoblocks, driving my Von Schweikert Audio ULTRA 9 loudspeakers. Everything rests on the Gran Prix Audio Monaco rack and amp stands, and Critical Mass Systems CenterStage2 Footers. Power conditioning is managed by the superb Audience aR12, and a pair of Quantum Symphony Pro's, with the total system investment just eclipsing the $600,000 mark.
Now, let me give you the rundown on the in-house cable line up used to compare and contrast the performance of this new Fidelium 8-foot single wire set. First, my long-time reference speaker cables use a highly specialized combination of ultra-thin and ultra-pure copper, silver, and carbon fiber conductors in combination with a flat, spiraled solid silver conductor, has both Teflon and a lighter-than-air Nobel gas as the dielectric, is assembled in a proprietary non-resonant distributed LITZ configuration construction geometry, using solid silver terminations, and is hand-made in the USA. At some $18,000 for its 2.5-meter length, they have never been bested by any contender over their six-year reign.
I also have on hand the following, all properly run in, and – re-conditioned regularly – on an Audiodharma Cable Cooker. A flagship Japanese single-wire set employing a large aggregate gauge populated by a unique Single-Crystal Copper alloy, and exotic insulation and dielectric materials. That two-meter set sells for $11,000 and change. Then there are the latest flagship bi-wires from a USA manufacturer that feature a mix of Ohno Continuous Cast Copper and silver-plated copper conductors using a completely different geometry strategy, and that 2.5-meter set retails for $10,500. Then too, I have that same company's previous flagship bi-wires, employing only the OCC conductors in a differing geometry, with that 2.5-meter set selling at about $6000 a set. Finally, I have a second-of-four tier set of bi-wires from a very well-reviewed USA manufacture that sold for about $6000 a set as well. There are others...I have a rather full cable stable here. I know, but as a reviewer, I feel I can justify it.
Why all that elaboration; why not just name the company and model? It's simple really. As a responsible and conscientious journalist, I have no interest in impugning or in any way belittling or minimizing well-regarded products from other manufacturers. My role is not to damage anyone, but rather, to spread the word about the best available in our industry.
Those of you who may be new to my work should know that I've become somewhat of a recognized and acknowledged expert on cables and their sound. I established myself early on as a reviewer in the late 1980s with my magazine, wherein I first published a rather complete treatment on "Loudspeaker Cables: Simple Passive Connection or Complex Dynamic Component." Now seen as an early milestone work regarding cables, one recognized by many industry leaders as a reference on cable designs.
My Von Schweikert Audio ULTRA 9's are meant to be bi-wired, so when I dropped the single set of Fidelium's Jeff had given me into play, cold, right from the box, replacing my $18,000 long-time-reference cables, I continued to use the most accurate set of binding-post jumpers in house.
When I talked to Jeff about this, he suggested that I use a set of Fidelium Jumpers. While this would turn out to be a monumentally effective move, I also decided to take the time to burn the Fidelium's in on my Audiodharma Cable Cooker, just to be fair. All my other cables are "retreated" on a regular basis, so...I felt I had nothing to lose. I have no idea how it might work on ribbons, as I'd never had any in house since I started using the burner back in the early 2000s, so I connected them and set my countdown timer to give them the proper time to season.
As soon as the Fidelium jumpers arrived, I pounced on their installation. I was intrigued; these jumpers are unique in that they are a pair of single ribbons, about a foot each in length, with a notch and the applied termination labels on each end. But they have another "termination" at the midpoint of their short running length. This one faces off to the side of the ribbon and includes a nylon threaded clamping adapter. You mount the separate polarity ribbons, in the shape of a C, between upper and lower binding post, with the bare termination connection side of the notched ribbon section against the speaker side of the post. So, you connect it extending upward from the top set of binding posts, then let it curl downward past the bottom set of binding posts, where you turn that other termination back up and connect it from below the lower binding posts. From the side, it looks like a C. Once that C connection is made, you attach the respective positive or negative ribbon coming from the amplifier speaker outputs to that central termination and clamp it down with the nylon adaptor. See the included photos.
So, not only is this utter simplistic genius, the result is monumentally effective. Such a connection actually terminates the single ribbons at both sets of speaker dual binding posts at once rather than connecting to one set, and then "jumping" to the other, eliminating the involvement of the first set of binding posts. Did I mention Jeff was a clever cat?
So, once these ingenious connectors (I'm loath to call them jumpers, after all) were installed, and the now fully conditioned Fidelium cables were reattached, I fired up the system and - my jaw dropped! At this point, there simply was no doubt that my $18,000 flagship set of cables, cables that had reigned unbeaten by any and all challengers within my current system for the past six years, were for the first time seemingly being bested.
I say seemingly because it was difficult for me to admit. Part of me, a specific slice of my persona, the prideful owner of these flagship loudspeaker cables, took over. That dogmatic voice was saying to me, "This has to be a mistake, switch them back and you'll see." And so, over the next two-and-a-half weeks, with something like fifty more swaps back and forth between my reference cables and the Fidelium's, the music lover in me finally took control and sent the prideful persona packing. It was about the tenth time that the music lover persona's voice said, "How many more times are you going to swap these cables, only to hear the same results, before you just admit that you have a new reference cable on your hands? What will it take to get you past that stigma and admit to yourself, and your readers, that this is a game-changing product?" that it sunk in.
Though I reluctantly admit to not wanting the Fidelium to win out and usurp the throne from my long-time, $18,000 reference cables, when I ultimately came to my senses and just admitted it to myself, finally, it was as if some previously unseen weight had been lifted. I reached out to another reviewer and close friend to share the whole story with him. My experiences were especially relevant to this colleague, as he had also had a moment of revelation with my previous reference loudspeaker cables here at the audio analyst central during a past visit. It was as if the two of us having had that dialog took away some of the bile and sting of having to admit that an exotic, beautifully crafted, and remarkable sounding flagship cable from a manufacturer that I have raved about and championed for over a decade and a half, one that I had found to have the most neutral, fast, and textural voice I had previously heard, was no longer able to wear its crown. I've no idea why this was so difficult, everything changes; in fact, change is the only constant in life. But we are creatures of habit and cling obstinately to our established and time-tested belief systems.
The big difference, and the decided advantage leveraged by the Fidelium, seems to come down to how it handles broadband arrival times and phase coherence, attributes which I had found to be some of my previous reference cables strongest suits, which the Fidelium reveals even more precisely and accurately. It seems that the speed of transmission through this new upstart is more coherent, uniform, and precise. With the Fidelium in place, it was as if a formerly undetected level of time and phase smearing had been – well, alleviated. And it was not subtle after I gave in to my existing preference bias.
Not only did extension improve at both frequency extremes, and my ULTRA 9s play down to 16Hz and up to 60 kHz, but pitch definition at the lower end, and effortlessness, air, and ease of the topmost registers, were being handled more accurately than they had been with my muy bueno reference cables.
None of the previously mentioned low-frequency roll-off I'd heard with the earlier Nordost or Goertz cables here...in fact, just the opposite. With the Fidelium, bass not only seemed to extend deeper, but the precision of pitch definition. Its' attack and decay were as realistic as I've ever noted from any loudspeaker cables. In particular, the leading edge of bass transients is rendered in an especially lifelike way — one that delivers an inescapably authentic weight, texture, and power to the music.
Another simply seductive attribute shortly rose to the fore once I got over the stigma of the dethroning of the previous reigning cables. With the Fidelium in play, there was an overall enhanced richness to the tonal color palette, and the sense of instrumental texture, of the sense of an instrument's reality or presence, its inhabited space, size, and voice, was notably more apparent and genuine. No previous loudspeaker cables in my experience demonstrate anywhere near the control, transient speed, and weight that these cables dish out routinely, and without effort. Their ability to recreate completeness of textural character, rife with dense and authentic tone color, is simply the most extraordinarily realistic I've yet come across.
All this results in the most authentic expression of the recorded information I've ever experienced, and gang, I've been doing this for over four decades. They deliver a host of tangible and captivating performance advantages, including their seemingly uninhibited speed of transmission, broadband, and their alluringly undeniable accuracy of pitch, their authentic sense of timbre and rightness of tone, combined with coherence, a dimensionality, a presence, a texture, and an immediacy that is so evocative of the live event. They are the paradigm of proper voicing, with an unswervingly musical accord, no band accentuated or minimized. Their integration is so seamless, so coherent that it left me shaking my head.
So, you have likely noticed I've avoided mentioning their price to this point, for good reason. But before you just shrug your shoulders and walk away assuming that they are going to set you back as much as a new car, let me share the most refreshing news about this game-changing cable set. An eight-foot set retails for just $1195! No, that's not a typo, they sell for less than twelve hundred bucks! If I had led with that price, I doubt anyone would have taken what I have related here half as seriously.
Affordability And Conclusion
Now you know why I was so reluctant to believe what I was hearing. When Jeff put them in my hands, he told me that they were three-and-a-third times better than his previous flagship Palladium cables, at one-tenth the cost! I had trouble accepting that; I struggled with this reality, as you have read. But the truth is in the sonic result, and once you hear them, I think you'll understand my enthusiasm. And with their 30-day risk-free trial period, what have you got to lose if you give them a try? There are going to be a lot of very expensive cables available on eBay and AudiogoN very soon!
As this decade (2011-2020) winds to a close, this new Silversmith Audio Fidelium loudspeaker cable at $1195 for an 8' pair will receive my "Product of the Decade" award. What it accomplishes, regardless of price, is a staggering step forward in musical authenticity, allowing your aural illusion engine to transport you that much closer to the original performance. And the fact that it does so for less than about five percent of the next best sounding products I've heard, borders on the miraculous! And Jeff says not only are the matching interconnects coming soon, but he has another speaker cable offering in development that will offer three times better performance than that of the Fidelium! Stay tuned, music lovers!
Greg's Video With More Details