This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Round N°.1: This saw the iMac leashed to the Weiss DAC2 via FireWire to serve as the D/D format converter to S/PDIF.

The Wyred4Sound DAC2 hooked up to the Weiss DAC2 via Black Cat Veloce to perform actual D/A conversion. Both Weiss and W4S were set to 24/192 signal transmission. The latter was programmed for fixed output. This would bypass its digital 32-bit Sabre attenuator. Comparison S/PDIF cables were Serguei Timachev's Stealth Audio Cables Varidig and a generic AlphaWire I'd forgotten to return with Red Wine Audio's review loaner DAC. The Veloce with the blue ends is shown below. I clearly don't stock this type of cable in any variety. That—cough— reflects the overall trend to now relying on PC sources and PC cables to handle digital data transmission. Sommovigo of course is adamant that S/PDIF cables for home hifi have a rosy future. We'll leave that discussion to the oracle.

How much can one say about a digital cable? It's about improved timing from more accurate impedance matching, lesser signal reflections, minimized dielectric absorption/release cycles; mechanical resonance control and such. As it does with speakers, improved timing reduces fuzz/blur and associated 'warmth'; improves focus; enhances our ability to hear micro detail particularly with ambient retrieval of recorded space; and, very noticeable, removes the razor blade from zingy transients. If a digital cable induces shifts in tonal balance—more bass, less treble etc.—it should be a flawed design. If the upper midrange/treble bands betray hash or dirtiness, we'd likely blame ineffective shielding from EMI/RF disturbances. And so forth. Against this theoretical background, what actually transpired?

Titi Robin's "Nouvelle suite pour 'oud, Part II" from Ces Vagues Que l'Amour Soulève [Naïve] ended up the perfect track to demonstrate the essence. This gorgeous cut combines virile plucked string attacks, mellower frame drum rolls, a distanced Flamenco singer and string pedals all placed in a reverberant acoustic. With the Stealth Varidig—seriously more expensive than the Veloce—transients were softer, billowy resonances of recorded echo effects more damped. The Veloce had sharper attacks (more zing on the string) while the subsequent blurring of hanging decays and the overall resonant ambiance was more pronounced. On the '3rd-order' FirstWatt F5 amplifier with its higher separation power, the Varidig created the more natural presentation. On the softer input transformer-coupled FirstWatt M2 and ModWright KWA-100 amplifiers, the Veloce had the literal edge by being crisper and more strongly focused.

While these small differences were real, audible and appropriate for different hardware associations, they did not suggest a qualitative superiority. The Veloce wasn't inferior on principle, the Varidig not categorically superior. Having graduated—or regressed—from a fuzzier more romantic valve sound to a more factual transistor rendition compliments of Nelson Pass' ongoing experiments with reducing low-power class A circuits to their barest essentials, I fancied the Veloce's greater sharpness on the softer amps in my collection. With the Varidig, those amps mellowed too far into the abandoned valve turf to suit my present tastes. That's individual of course. Relevant is simply that the Veloce's low price didn't rate it second on principle. Relevant too I found that in theory, the Varidig probably was superior—mellower attacks, more clarity during echo-laden interludes—but that in actuality, the Veloce sounded righter with or better complemented specific amps and their voicing.

The more generic AlphaWire meanwhile relaxed grip 'n' focus even more. It also injected a small amount of grain or hashiness from the upper midrange on up. This did seem clearly inferior to the two cables starting with 'V'. On a grander scale, you can envision these effects as paralleling an empty bathroom and how its resonant enhancements to your voice diminish by degrees as you begin to add furnishing, curtains, towels and floor mats. Better timing equated to more furniture, less resonance.

Round N°.2
: Would the above hold with legacy sources? Ancient Audio's Lektor Prime stood in for those and things repeated themselves. Another simile which suggested itself for the small Veloce/Varidig offset was analog/digital. Good analog sounds fatter and mellower as though it were focused more on the sustain/decay elements. Good digital sounds energetic and taut, more focused on the leading edge. Something about this shift in emphasis applied here too. The Varidig was more analog, the Veloce more digital. The extent of difference was identical to round 1. That's probably as it should have been but in audio matters, personal experiments and experience often outweigh theory and predictions.

Ditto DAC swaps. My Yamamoto YDA-01 converter—the version without valves—reacted to these cables the same way. Being voiced by a diehard Japanese valve fancier, I preferred the Veloce over the Varidig for its snappier spunkier character. The tube-powered Raysonic CD-228 is deliberately rich on tone and given my current tastes, it too mated well with the Sommovigo wire's greater sense of urgency over the Varidig's more relaxed laid-back vibe.

On a loosely related note, the S/PDIF feed into the Wyred4Sound DAC—through the Weiss from the iMac—sounded better than the direct USB connection. Inquiring with Daniel Weiss, he explained that "with the coaxial input the other DAC no longer acts as master clock but has to lock to our coaxial input feed. This is different to being master clock in USB mode. I have heard many comments from pro audio people on A/D converters which perform better when synced externally than when running from their own internal clocks." Minus possible differences in cables—USB vs. coax—I was thus hearing different reclocking schemes, that in the Weiss (S/PDIF) versus that in the Wyred (USB). This isn't the place to delve deeper save to suggest that there's still life left in the coaxial Sony/Philips digital interface format.

You'll have noticed that my comments didn't touch upon tone, tonal balance, soundstaging and other usual subjects. That's because none of those changed. They did not apply and merited no mention. With properly executed digital cables, one does seem to solely deal with time/jitter performance. Higher timing accuracy locks down the lens to proper depth of field and focus. This removes fuzz and indistinction, increases clarity and ease of recognition. It also removes highlighted or—as Wojciech Pacuła called it in his recent Avalon Ascendant review—embossed transients and image outlines. According to that view, the Black Cat Veloce is a very accurate properly engineered digital cable. It's perhaps not quite as accurate as the wildly more expensive Stealth Audio Varidig but clearly more so than a generic leash. At $123 for the privilege, that makes the Veloce a sure thing for all but the excessively monied. Sure things in as uncertain a sector as high-end audio are always welcome. When sure things cost only a little, they become sure things for sure.

Black Cat Cable website