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Reviewer: Michael Lavorgna
Source: Audio Aero Capitole MKII
Preamp: Déjà Vu Audio
Amp: Fi 45 Prototype (based on the Fi 2A3 Stereo amp, optimized for the 45 tube by Don Garber)
Speakers: Cain & Cain Abby (Normal) and Cain & Cain Bailey
Cables: Nirvana S-L interconnects, Auditorium 23 Speaker Cable, JPS Labs Digital AC Power Cable, Audience PowerChord, ESP Essence Power Cord and Z-Cable Heavy Thunder V2 on the Blue Circle MR
Stands: pARTicular Basis Rack
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle Music Ring MR800
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks Series II under AA Capitole, Yamamoto Sound Craft PB-10 Ebony Bases under Abbys, PS Audio Ultimate Outlet and AudioPrism Quiet Lines. Room damping provided by lots of books.
Room size: 13' w x 14' d x 9' h
Review component retail: $290 for 1.2-meter pair

Like all of us writers here at 6moons, many of our readers are hard-core involved enthusiasts. Some of them alert us to typos that escape the editor -- it happens -- and keep suggesting wild and wacky discoveries we may have overlooked (that happens routinely). And sometimes, an on-line dialogue will form between a reader and a writer whose commentary by the reader can take on review-like insights. This recently transpired between Michael Lavorgna and Jeff Day. Jeff was so taken with Michael's descriptions of the PHY-HP cable that he suggested they should get published. Without anticipating our reaction, Michael nonetheless followed Jeff's suggestion, formalized them and sent 'em to me. I agreed with Jeff. This was good stuff on the francophile/Japanese connection of back-to-the-roots audio thinking. Here you go then with a fruit of the creative community spirit in action. If Mike enjoys this aspect of the hobby, perhaps there'll be more from him in the future? Ed
All Natural 100% Cotton
I must admit to being initially intrigued by the PHY-HP cable in part because of its simple construction - silvered copper conductor and cotton jacket. I'd been duly impressed by the Auditorium 23 speaker cable and they sport a cotton jacket. Plus, Auditorium 23 uses a PHY driver in their Solovox speaker. It could follow that the PHY cable was worth a listen. Yes?

PHY-HP makes drivers
PHY-HP (Haut Parleurs) is recognized in Europe and on many specialty audio sites for their hand-made full-range drivers. Bernard Salabert, the man behind PHY, released his first driver in 1997. Today the company makes seven, all using classic materials including Alnico magnets, paper cones and bronze baskets and trim rings. Some models also incorporate a custom PHY piezo super tweeter. PHY drivers carry a lifetime guarantee to the original owner.

The company recommends an open-baffle design for some of its drivers, which naturally has particular appeal for the DIY communities. The buzz relating to the PHY drivers can be summed up by very high quality, a natural purity of sound and a very high price. PHY is located in Frangouille in southern France. Their facility includes an anechoic chamber utilizing over 144 tons of various materials to create an acoustically neutral environment for driver testing. A 2+ year development cycle is not uncommon for PHY products.

Ocellia of France, Auditorium 23 of Germany and Tonian Labs (also the US importer for PHY-HP) are a few companies that manufacture speakers based on the PHY
drivers. While these speakers have received some very positive press -- mostly in European journals -- there is scant information about the fact that PHY also makes a line of cables and connectors.

Salabert's Cables
From Bernard Salabert: "All our cables are manufactured according to the principles --and for the first time respect the conclusions of the work -- of Dr. Pierre Johannet, Head of Research at the EDF (Electricite de France) regarding interface micro discharges (MDI) and benefit further from two years of development at PHY-HP. Our R&D and Salabert's work explain a lot of things, most of which audiophiles have confirmed by listening already for many years. What's more, it also shows why all natural materials perform much better in audio than modern synthetic substitutes."

The cable under review is the PHY RCA unshielded interconnect. Construction details as listed on the PHY web site are:"3 conductors ø 0.6mm mono wire cable, silvered pure recooked cooper insulated by hydrophobic natural cotton."

The cables arrived in a handsome wooden box, a nice touch considering their relatively modest price. Sliding open the door reveals cables whose build quality is consistent with the PHY drivers' excellent reputation.

Connecting the cables presented no difficulties - they are as pliable as their construction would suggest. The PHY connectors have a nice wood housing and are of the screw-down locking RCA type. The interconnect cable ended up between the source and preamp where they made the most notable impact.

After a few hours of burn-in, my initial reaction was a failed attempt at reservation. The PHYs seemed to present things in a manner I find more consistent with the way I hear them in general - natural. Compared to my resident Nirvana S-Ls, the PHY formula was more tone, less etch. The PHYs have a purity that was immediately apparent as a certain tonal correctness.

After about 40+ hours, the PHYs opened up and revealed where they really shine. On Don Cherry's Art Deco [A&M 5258], the physical movements of Don Cherry and James Clay on tenor sax are really there to be experienced. Subtle changes in tone and volume are evident as the sound projects differently in the recording space. The distinct voice of each instrument is also clearly on display. While the Nirvanas compare favorably here and may in fact impart a bit more heft in the lower reaches of Charlie Haden's bass, what's most striking is the PHY's ability to at once impart a much clearer differentiation between instruments while at the same time providing a more cohesive sense of the ensemble at work. The overall impression isn't that Don Cherry & Co. are in your room, rather that you're able to get closer to theirs.

Another favorite recording is Engleskyts by Anne-Lise Bernsten and Nils Henrik Asheim [FXCD 136]. These are improvisations based on Norwegian religious folk songs for voice and church organ recorded in the chapel of Weissenau Convent near Ravensburg, Germany. Scale is an essential aspect of this particular recording with the sheer volume of the venue, the power and force of the organ and finally the relative fragility of the human voice. While I am not suggesting that Ms. Bersten's voice is fragile, within this context and taking the content of the lyrics into account, her place here is a very temporal one indeed. From track 11, "Hear, ye heavens above": "Sing out, my soul, that his death may be your true song, so that I can conquer death with your death on my lips."

The Nirvanas give you the power and glory but leave out the frailty by resizing the relative scale of things. To clarify, there are mechanical sounds on this recording made by the organist adjusting the stops and pulls on this 200+ year-old instrument. With the PHYs, they are represented accordingly - as relatively small compared to Ms. Bernsten's voice, the organ proper, and the immensity of the church. With the Nirvanas, they are presented as quieter, softer sounds, which leaves out an important key to this particular venue.

Another recording on the folk song theme is Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne [Erato 0927-44656], the Dawn Upshaw/Kent Nagano recording. A quote from Canteloube in defense of his orchestration for these "peasant songs" is interesting in its relevance: "If you suppress this atmosphere, you rob the song of a large part of its poetry..."

Atmosphere is what the PHYs deliver. The Nirvanas by comparison condense the air somewhat, close things in. There are a few tracks where Ms. Upshaw wanders off mid-song and while I've heard this portrayed as a blunt change in volume, you can now pretty well follow her as she goes, drawing you along. While the Nirvanas are a great cable -- I've used all Nirvana S-L wire for over a year -- the first chink in their polyurethane armor was delivered by the Auditorium 23s. They set the stage for the research that led to PHY. While I cannot specifically attest to the effect of the cotton jacket (which I prefer albeit on a non-audio level) or the validity of MDI (or lack thereof), I certainly won't argue with the results.

Your place or mine
The ability of a system to allow the recording to unfold is usually conveyed in ultimate terms as bringing the performance into your listening room. By contrast, the PHYs invite you into the performance. Maybe a subtle distinction but I'd like to suggest that listening in to the nuances of music as opposed to being wowed by the presence of the musicians may just let us enjoy something that's more about the music and less about the gear its playing through.

Considering their modest cost, I suggest it's a small price to pay for this kind of admission. As always, care should be taken in relation to system considerations. It seemed reasonable to assume that a single-driver SET-based rig would love the PHYs since that's part of their pedigree. That hunch paid off in my system. Are they the proverbial giant killers like the Auditorium 23s? I think not. I'm sure you can go farther at the frequency extremes and probably best them in timbral accuracy (though not easily). I also cannot attest to their behavior in different systems. However, in the right system, you could put some real mileage on your budget before you pass them by.

"The essence of an interpretation lies in working on the infinitely small -- be it an attack on a note held back for a fraction of a second (perceptible if the preceding note is reproduced neither too short nor too long), or be it a note that develops in itself; or, on a larger level, a crescendo or diminuendo encompassing several notes -- all of which gives music a sense of direction, its palpable dynamics, its quivering life, and all of which, in the end, lies in the nuances." [Jean-Marie Piel, Journalist and Joint Editor-in-Chief for Diapason. Mr. Piel is also a proponent of MDI and the theories of Dr. Pierre Johannet.]

PHY-HP also makes a shielded interconnect, balanced versions of each, a speaker cable, power cable and a triple-outlet power cord all based on the same principles (MDI) and construction. They also sell their connectors, which include RCA and 4mm plugs and sockets.

PS: Not really expecting a reply, I had fired off a query to Bernard Salabert. Lo and behold, he replied quickly and with a generous offer to explain MDI at greater length, something that would take him a few days to compile. He also suggested the importance to insert his speaker cables into the equation, not to sell me yet another cable but to experience the reduction of MDI in full. I'll thus make arrangements with Tonian Labs for such a loaner and shall report back in due time.
Manufacturer's website