Wire is wire. Most audiophiles know by now - what? That the 'wire is wire' mantra is bad karma. One scientific reason for such belligerent defiance of textbook engineering religion? The absence of an impedance matching protocol that's inter-nationally standardized. Endless combinations of source/load Zs couple to sub-optimal consumer audio connectors -- the audiophile RCA is severely compromised, speaker terminations not far behind -- to become the chief rationale why cables make more of a difference than EEs would predict they should. After all, besides the output and input impedance of an interface being dissimilar, the cable bridging it introduces a third, yet different again Ω value to cause internal reflections and time-delayed signal smears. This sorry state of affairs has given rise to the wild, wonderful and often wacky assortment of audio cable choices facing both unsuspecting newbies and veteran audiophile shoppers. Worse?

Some of the more exotic designs that cost in excess of the electronics or speakers they're supposed to connect. While fits of ridicule -- over $10,000 interconnects or $30,000 speaker cables -- do have mostly solid grounding in parts cost and labor analysis on their side, one fact remains. Precisely because of the dense jungle of possible permutations between partnering equipment, an overtly voiced cable -- or one with extreme electrical parameters -- can, in the right circumstances, seem well worth the painful expense. It's really a self-inflicted disease. Audiophile insistence on separates equals capitalist freedom of choice. That equates unlimited potential to first screw things up (non-synergistic combinations) and then apply expensive band aids (cables to revoice, accessories to tame imbalances) to fix 'em.

In the cable realm, this whole bloody mess has given rise to a veritable circus of snake charmers, hucksters and well-meaning but ill-equipped amateurs doing the hi-wire dance. It's also prompted serious products like the impedance-adjustable HMS Gran Finale cables [upper right], Audience's CableDriver [middle right] and BVaudio's SR-10 SoundRefiner [lower right]. Those are intended to level the playing field. They're specifically engineered to minimize or adjust to impedance variables between components. This downplays the audible differences cables introduce to the sound, or, in HMS' case, avoids poor results during subsequent component changes.

In the digital domain, acceptance of cable differences has met with even more initial resistance than in the analogue field. What's transmitted aren't delicate and complex music signals. We're talking mere voltage pulses indicating binary 1s and 0s. Very basic stuff. Really? The discovery of jitter spelled a fundamental realization - how serious the insistence on time domain fidelity must be taken in digital transmissions. The avoidance of even subtle timing errors in the binary data stream became a new challenge that caused irreparable damage to the original simpleton notion. Digital signals are not the robust and relatively incorruptible dunces once believed. Far from it.

During the early 90s, Chris Sommovigo investigated the effects of signal reflections caused by impedance mismatches between the conductor proper and its terminations. This heralded the birth of the 75/110-ohm standard in RCA/XLR digital interfaces. It then gave rise to substantial fame, of his original and celebrated Illuminati D-60 premiered to universal acclaim in 1995 when 'true 75-ohm' impedance matching in the digital domain became the new catch word.

HMS top box
Audience CableDriver
BVaudio Sound Refiner
Duly impressed as were most reviewers of the day, Ray Kimber invited Chris to operate under his umbrella and subsequently become involved with the Kimber Select series of upscale efforts. Five years later, the Stereovox brand signaled Sommovigo's return to captain his own ship. It launched in 2000 with the SEI-600. Stereovox was structured to service traditional brick'n'mortar dealers and initially concentrated on cost-no-object SOTA efforts. Dealer, distributor and customer feedback alike soon clamored for trickle-down lower-priced entries. These pleas have since spawned the affordable Stereovox Studio Series. Today's S/PDIF digital/video HDXV is merely its first entry.

Two years after forming Stereovox, i2digital appeared as an Internet-direct single product partnership for which Chris contributed the X-60 cable design. Unlike this audio-only effort, the dual-application HDXV is suitable for the 3 to 5 meter cable runs common to Home Theater video projector installations. For lowered LCR, it sports a thicker version of the X-60's round, silver-plated copper conductor. It's encased in a dielectric sporting even lower capacitance and greater velocity than the microporous, varying-density PTFE tape layers of the 60. The HDXV uses a woven braided shield for active ground reference underneath the same clear outer FEP jacket as the X-60 which, in contrast to the 4-layer HDXV, features an additional 3-layer micro sub-assembly.

Pioneered in the X-60, the HDXV too employs custom 75-ohm BNC connectors, which are said to offer better than 4GHz of bandwidth when terminated. Special and included inter-series RCA adaptors slip atop the BNCs to accommodate the ubiquitous cinch format on either cable end. 4GHz? For crimminy's sake, who has hearing out into wireless telephone territory?

Such bandwidth becomes important in high-resolution formats because material properties act as de facto filters. Such filters become effective far sooner than their rated frequency values. After all, none work like a brickwall with 120dB/octave attenuation rates. That's why amplifier and cable designers go after exploded bandwidths - to minimize or eliminate filter effects in the audible range and accelerate transmission velocities. How about financial bandwidth in the tangible range where it hurts - the pocket book? Here too the HDXV rules. Until year's end, it retails for the promotional price of $75 for lengths up to 1 meter. Additional lengths are regular retail (i.e. $100 + $35/additional ½m). By comparison, the X-60 retails direct for the still very attractive price of $199.99 + $85/additional ½m.

Let's put this into perspective. Next-generation Illuminati designs for $75/m? In this age of excessive pricing, what a return to sanity. You can appreciate that Sommovigo here is making us rich-in-the-next-life audiophiles a very interesting proposition. Do better digital cables exist? I sure hope so - for the other guys' sake who charge the long green. Not having any high-priced contenders in-house for the occasion, nobody will get embarrassed today. If my prior excursion into audible differences between Toslink vs. single-ended S/PDIF may serve as context, you-know-who should feel lucky. This skinny, flexible, no-fuss-no-muss cable might well be the giant slayer the big dogs should stay away from like the plague. Woof woof.

Just one day ago, I had the opportunity to commit to a $1,700 specialty digital interconnect review. Having heard this full-line cable maker produce fabulous sound at the recent HE2003, I still warned him. He would be well advised to compare his digital statement effort against the HDXV, himself - and before sending me his. Telling one and all that $1,700 was only marginally better than $75 would likely not be in his best interest. If, on the other hand, he were confident that his wire played in an entirely different league? I'd be thrilled to report on it. If things turned out that way (either by way of his self-confidence or my subsequent confirmation of significant audible advances) you might hear about it in these pages sooner than later. For now, let's talk bargain basement pricing wedded to silly-good sonics.

But first - how much better could it really get? While I can't tell you that with any truly exciting A/Bs today -- the Siltech and NBS cables of the Toslink investigation had long since been returned -- I can tell you just how good the monstrously affordable HDXV was at driving my $10,000 tube DAC into $55,000 worth of electronics, speakers and associated accessories and cables. (Incidentally, affixing dollar values here isn't in the service of bragging. Looking at the remainder of my non-audiophile setup, it would instantly backfire. Certifiable notions of advanced audiophiliac value distortion, ya know? No, it's simply indicative of the kind of company this cable mixed it up in.)

Talking digital cables is primarily a function of resolution. Whatever information isn't resolved cannot be retrieved further downstream in the system regardless of money thrown at it. Resolution is easiest spotted in three areas: Ambient recovery (how pronounced is the illusion of listening in the recording venue rather than your own room); decays (how long can you follow the fade of a note before it equals silence); separation (how distinctive do placement and intelligibility of musical lines remain when music gets profoundly complex). For the first and second qualifiers, in a superlative mix of recording quality and performance, I selected Será una Noche's La Segunda [M.A Recordings 062A] and Zoltán Lantos' Mirrorworld [Fono 047-2].

The HDXV parlayed the Argentinean Monasterio Gandara's spaciousness with mean alacrity, hanging like an aura of perfume around the sharp bite of Moguilevsky's recorder and harmonica, hovering as a pale aftermath still for subsequent notes' vigorous freshness. The same reverb bestowed warmth and richness to his bass clarinet; elegance to Lidia Borda's vocals; acted like a strobe light on Vazquez' percussion whose various drums clearly communicated with the physical boundaries of the floor; and enabled Iannaccone to stretch out the length of a bowed note by exciting the string just enough to trigger reinforcement from the space itself.

In short, it became obvious how each musician played not just the tune but the room as well, with the gradual in-rush of silence at the end of each track clearly delineated between layers of first lower, then higher harmonics dying on the air - extreme subtlety and finesse aided by the horn-loaded drivers of my Avantgardes which excel at holding on to withering sounds longer than most other speakers, and the unique avoidance of premature clipping that's a hallmark of Yamada-San's Zanden DAC.

More magic occurred during Hungarian violinist Lanto's mysterious "Impromptu" duet with Mihály Dresch on wooden flutes and bass clarinet. The pizzicati of Zoltán's uniquely tuned sarangini, the ghost-like appearances of the rim-circled Tibetan singing bowls, the sonorous vibrations of Dresch's elongated blackwood, the overlay of echoes and fades dancing like fire in the darkness - it was yet another example of how expansive the HDXV rendered that twilight half-life zone between sound and silence, allowing a listener to slip "between the cracks" and marvel at the beauty of this dimension filled with extremely short-lived, low key phenomena. Resolution was acute enough to "see" whether Zoltán plucked his strings from above or below, to hear how Dresch's vibrato-laden flute acquired higher harmonic content during crescendos carried on accelerated air speeds.

For complexity and soundstaging precision, nothing is as challenging as classical music, few recordings as thrilling as Pope Music's, with Farewell (Mark Gorenstein conducting the Russian Symphony Orchestra with Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" and the symphonic fantasy "Francesco da Rimini" in the Great Hall of Moscow's Conservatory) a perfect choice - especially when you have played both works in your youth.

The HDXV never once wavered, be it the intricate, high-speed filigree and group staccatos surrounding the theme of the "Allegro Molto Vivace" or the slashing brass versus woodwind versus strings register in its climactic conclusion; the sea of elegiac strings in the famous "Adagio Lamentoso"; the accurate and stable mapping of right-left, front-back coordinates for the huge orchestra; the violent overall dynamics compliments of Gene Pope's top-notch Cello and Nagra mastering equipment and his Dynamic Fidelity process. No, this was a riveting performance both large- and small-scale, suffering neither image drift, confusion and partial obscuration nor unrealistic sizing, compressed depth or curtailed scaling.

In my book, all that makes the Stereovox HDXV into a clear winner without apologies. The cable remained steadfast in the face of truly challenging material and showed itself to excel in the realm of retrieving minutiae. If you agree with my prior assumption that a digital interconnect's job isn't voicing but raw deliverance of the utmost resolution -- with no discernable coloration, thickening, slowing, warming or softening -- then this $75 cable ($100 after December 31, 2003) is a no-brainer whose price also makes it the perfect high-performance solution for paralleled component video bundles.

Put differently, it's easy to get excited about the latest cost-no-object anything. It's also far easier to design a cost-no-object anything than make every single penny count when your budget's restricted. It's relatively rare then to come across something that makes no excuses while charging very little indeed. Chris Sommovigo's HDVX clearly belongs into this elite while open-to-all club and thus deserves our Blue Moon Award with a standing ovation. While better will exist -- doesn't it always -- it's highly questionable whether percentile improvements will be accompanied by price increases that seem even remotely sane by comparison. Or as I hinted at earlier - the HDXV cable inserted into a >$65K system didn't once telegraph that it should be considered the weak link. Now that's something to write home about. Which doesn't mean our doors won't remain open to $2,000/m competitors. But they better smoke the HDXV into clear oblivion to stand any chance of generating fat excitement over here. The HDXV sets a darn high standard. Thus, without further ado, our little royal blue award emblem:
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