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Sources: Nottingham Analogue Mentor turntable with 10" Anna tone arm, Roksan Shiraz cartridge
Vecteur D-2 CD Transport, Audio Note DAC Kit 1.2 with upgrades (ps choke, tantalum resistors, Black Gate caps, copper grounding bars on digital chips wired to central ground)
Preamp: Hovland HP-100 MC tube preamplifier, fully updated
Amplifier: Red Rose Model 2A Silver Signature tube amplifier (Mullard xf1 EL34s, Tung Sol black plate 12AT7s and RCA black plate 12AT7WAs)
Speakers: Audio Physic Anniversary (SLE) Step, Audio Physic Luna active subwoofer
Analogue Interconnects: Harmony Audio; Stealth Audio CWS; WHG Silver Reference, WHG Preference Silver, WHG Ultimate [review loan]
Digital Interconnect: Music Metre Fidelis
Speaker Wire: homemade twisted pair of mil-spec silver cladded multi-strand copper, Analysis Plus Oval 9, WHG Grand Revelation [review loan]
Power Cords: Analysis Plus Power Oval (amp), PS Audio Mini Lab (preamp)
Power Conditioner: PS Audio P300
Equipment support: Michael Green equipment rack
Room dimensions: 29' long x 16' wide x 10' high (sunken living room with open floor plan, listening across width of room)
Sources: Thorens TD-125 Mk.II turntable with SME 3009 tone arm, Garrot P77 mm cartridge, Cotter Verion phono cable, Rek-O-Kut TR-12H turntable with Ortofon 309 tone arm, Ortofon Meister cartridge, Ortofon T1 step-up transformer, Vecteur L-4.2 CD player
Preamps: Slagle TVC, Vintage McIntosh C22 tube preamplifier, Vintage Marantz 7 tube preamplifier
Amplifier: 6B4G triode-modified Dynaco ST70 tube amp
Speakers: JBL Century L-100, original version; Bastanis Prometheus Mk. II
Interconnects: Cardas Golden Cross
Speaker Wire: Baton, WHG Grand Revelation [review loan]
Equipment support: Standesign 5, vintage wood equipment rack
Room dimensions: 22' long x 17' wide x 10' high, with eaves
Review equipment retails pricing: $350/pr Silver Radiance; $450/pr Preference Silver; $900/pr Silver Reference; $550/pr Ultimate; $450/8'/pr Grand Revelation
|I was made aware of William H. Greb's cable products of WHG Audio Designs through some of my Oregonian audio friends who have a penchant for discovering products from the audio underground. Bill began WHG Audio Design in 1993 but did not consider himself 'fully established' until 1996. His cables are true cottage industry products yet there is no sign of amateurism in the fit and finish of his cables, the packaging or supporting literature. Each pair of interconnects or speaker cables is handcrafted with the utmost care and pride. Bill is also a consummate gentleman and was more than patient with the long time I took to do this review. Frankly, I was a little burned out after the Bastanis Prometheus review.
A selection of three interconnect models (two pairs each) and one pair of speaker cables were supplied as listed above. All of the interconnects employ what Bill calls the Isolation Design Theorem II, which he explains on his website as follows: "WHG Audio Design is introducing the Isolation Design Theorem II, a theory which initiates the structure of a twin jacket design creating a much needed segregate atmosphere and consequently allowing less conductor interaction across the length of the product. This theory assures a lower noise floor and ultimately more of the music you want to hear!"
Bill's literature is certainly more marketing-directed than technically insightful. I referred him to the Tech Notes on the Stealth Audio Cables website and asked him for some text along those lines but had limited success. His explanation of the Isolation Design Theorem II in the product manual that he sent with his latest Ultimate interconnect is a bit more straightforward: "A dual component jacket... insures complete separation of the + (positive) and - (negative) conductors impeding any crosstalk or electrical interference within the confines of the design itself."
The other criteria that Bill deems of importance in his cable design are:
A. Solid core conductors - "Multi-strand conductors are just not acceptable for interconnects for reason of internal electromagnetic interference"
B. High purity conductors
C. Air and PTFE Teflon insulation
D. Shielding - "Too much can kill. Too little can be problematic."
Halfway through the review, Bill Greb informed me that he had discontinued the Silver Radiance interconnect and was adding the new Ultimate in its stead. All product was supplied broken-in. For buyers of new WHG cable, Bill recommends a minimum of fifty hours before critical listening. My first thought when beginning this review was something like "Who the heck wants to come out with another cable product in this cable-glutted market?" Let alone the new product market. AudiogoN is rife with ads for used cables. At the time of this writing, there were 565 classifieds for interconnects and 397 for speaker cables. I promptly chastised myself for my negative attitude, put on my best war paint and body armor and reported for reviewer duty.
|More so than reviewing most audio products, I find that auditioning cables from the same manufacturer can be like walking into a dark room. A period of adjustment for your auditory sense is necessary since you are trying to discern differences between models which are of overall similar design and sonic attributes. In less revealing systems and with some listeners, these differences may even be undetectable. I think this is what adds to the still-lingering controversy over the merits of expensive audiophile cables. Even to this day, you can easily get a flame war started on Audio Asylum by making brash claims about the superiority of your favorite expensive cable design.
|Having regained my composure, I installed the Grand Revelation|
|Speaker cable in my downstairs system, replacing my homemade multi-stranded copper, silver cladded, twisted pair of Teflon-insulated mil-spec cable. In contrast to the interconnects auditioned later, the main characteristics of the speaker cable were not nearly as difficult to distinguish. Rather than delve into minutiae at this point, I will simply say that I found the cable to sound very detailed and open but thin in the midrange and lacking in dynamics in comparison to my reference cables. I decided to give it a go in the upstairs system with the Bastanis Prometheus Mk. II speakers that I was reviewing and got the same results. Since I was still in Bastanis review mode, I put the speaker cable aside and took up the interconnects after completing the Bastanis review.
The dog days of summer conspired against my turning on the tube amps but the heat finally broke and I was back in action. Rather than start at the bottom or top of the product line, I began with a pair of the mid-priced Preference Silver from my Audio Note DAC 1.2 to the Hovland HP100, replacing my Harmony Audio interconnect, and one pair from the Hovland to the Red Rose 2A Silver Signature amplifier replacing my Stealth Cross-Wrapped Silver (CWS). The Harmony interconnect uses conductor similar to my own mil-spec speaker wire and is $150 for a 1.5 meter pair. The Stealth CWS is discontinued but was $400 per meter.
I often gravitate to playing Michelle Willson's Tryin' To Make A Little Love [Bullseye Blues & Jazz 11661-9610-2] first since it is a very good recording overall but somewhat raw on the vocal. This CD can quickly reveal any forwardness in a product under review, a quality I find among the most difficult to forgive. On the cut "Ay La Bas", the Preference Silver passed this test handily, with less edge to her voice than over my reference cables. Also on the positive side, Dave Limina's stellar piano backup had a more rounded tone that seemed to emphasize the fundamental of each note more than the harmonics.
|A possible pitfall when reviewing cables is pointed out on the Stealth cable website. Serguei Timachev advises that when you swap cables, you need to let the newly installed cable settle into the system before it reaches its best performance. If this is true, it makes quick-swapping cable comparisons less than ideal for reviewing purposes. To take this into account, I made sure to make notes immediately after swapping but also to come back to the same music selections later to confirm my observations.
One that was consistent to all three of the WHG interconnects was a rounding of the leading edge (i.e. less crisp transients) and a softening of instrument image boundaries. There also seemed to be less blackness between notes and images, with more of a continuum of gray filling the voids.
Since the Audio Physic Anniversary Step speakers are very expressive of transients and have laser-like imaging, this sonic attribute was more easily noticed than it might be on many other speakers. Of course, the whole subject of imaging is a thorny issue, with detractors insisting that sharp image boundaries are not heard in live performances. I'll leave this to the listener's personal preference.
I left the WHG Preference Silver in the system for the next couple of weeks and periodically played selections of both CD and vinyl. One Saturday evening, I had a group of friends over for margaritas before one of the wonderful summer concerts (Johnny Lang that night) on the New Haven Green. One of my friends, Toshio, plays acoustic guitar and asked to hear Steve Forbert's 1978 debut album Alive on Arrival [Nemperor 35538] since he had heard him in concert before. This is an excellent sounding late 1970's recording mastered at Sterling Sound Studios in New York City.
It sounded good but it started to dawn on me that something was missing. The next day, I played "What Kinda Guy" with the Preference Silver, then switched back to my Stealth CWS. (This cut is about as rocking as Steve Forbert gets.) Back came the bloom and life I remembered. The soundstage had more layering behind and substantially more projection in front of the speakers. Overall information and nuance were much improved, too. Bottom line, the music was just more involving with the Stealth CWS - and I have yet to try Serguei's more exotic offerings.
|I repeated the Preference Silver vs. Stealth CWS comparison on several more selections. Miles Davis' ingenious and classic Jazz interpretation of "Concerto de Aranjuez" on Sketches of Spain was more dramatic with the Stealth CWS. The flute was simply more expressive, with a more nuanced tremolo and an overall richer tonal palette. Finally, listening to "Boss City" on Lee Ritenour's WesBound [GRP Records GRD-9697], it occurred to me that listening with the Stealth CWS was like turning up the contrast knob in both dynamics and imaging.
|It was time to bring out WHG Audio Design's big-gun interconnect, the $900/pr Silver Reference. Bill had conveyed to me in an email that some of his local listeners actually preferred the Preference Silver (sorry about the pun) to the twice-as-expensive Silver Reference, finding it to be more open sounding. Bill opined that it might be due to less shielding in the Preference Silver. Please note that Bill is not saying he agrees with his local listeners, just providing a possible explanation for their findings.
|Fresh from a concert at Wesleyan University's Crowell Concert Hall where I heard Jane Bunnett's Latin jazz group, I played the first cut "Changui Para Alfredo" from her newest release, Radio Guantanamo [EMI 09463-46808-2-0]. No, she has not formed a band from alleged Al-Queda prisoners there but she has|
|recruited a bounty of Cuban musicians on this album. Jane has up to ten musicians onstage at any time and there are complex undercurrents of rhythm and percussion as is often the case with Latin jazz. To my ears, I preferred the more expensive Silver Reference to the Preference Silver. Jane's soprano sax sounded smoother as did the entire treble range in comparison to either the Stealth/Harmony or the Preference Silver. It conveyed a more relaxed sound. I also found the soundstaging to be more open than the Preference Silver despite what Bill's friends reported.
One more advantage I found with the Silver Reference over the Preference Silver was that bass notes seemed to go deeper and were more distinct. However, I do not feel the increase in cost is fully justifiable sonically. Bill says the greater cost is due to much more work to make the Silver Reference.
Still, the Silver Reference is not as transparent, detailed and dynamic as my Stealth/Harmony combination. Inserting the Silver Reference is like turning down the audio contrast knob. The individual musicians' locations on the soundstage are also more diffuse. In another system, perhaps someone would prefer the Silver Reference for its smooth, non-fatiguing qualities. It is very easy on the ears in the upper midrange and treble. Value-wise, keep in mind that it is much more expensive than either the Stealth or Harmony interconnect.
Over the next several days, I swapped back and forth between the Stealth CWS and Silver Reference connecting the Hovland preamp and Red Rose amp, playing only vinyl. Some of my selections were John Lee Hooker Black Snake [Fantasy F-24722]; The Thelonious Monk Quartet Monk's Dream [Columbia CS8765]; Duke Ellington Ellington Jazz Party [Columbia CL1323, Demo copy]; and Clifford Brown's All-Stars Jazz Messages [Jazztone J128]. My earlier impressions were reinforced and I felt comfortable with my conclusions.
I would surmise that my system wasn't the kindest to the WHG cables because the Audio Physic Anniversary Steps are unusually revealing of transients, probably due to their lack of phase-smearing crossover components on the mid/bass driver. The resulting purity of sound is something I have come to value highly. Given these system conditions, I prefer my existing cable combination.
At about this time, I received the aforementioned email from Bill Greb informing me that he was dropping the Silver Radiance from the line. He asked to send me his latest effort, the Ultimate, at $550 per meter pair. Rather than silver conductors, these cables are made from high purity copper of the continuous cast variety. Continuous cast is claimed to be superior by manufacturers because it contains fewer copper crystal junctions (no more than one per meter in the WHG Ultimate). The crystal junctions are said to behave like a diode to degrade the signal.
Continuing to spin the Clifford Brown LP listed above, I'd have to say that the Ultimate was my least favorite of the three models. Substituting the Ultimate for my Stealth CWS, the soundstage shrank noticeably in all directions. Information, refinement and dynamics all suffered as well.
To give the cables every chance to shine in my system, I inserted them in the last combination left - between my DAC and preamp only, leaving my existing Stealth CWS in place from the preamp to amp. While I listened to a number of CDs, the results were consistent with each selection. Roseanne Cash's 1993 release The Wheel [Columbia CK52729] serves to illustrate. On the title track, the first stanza builds slowly with Roseanne's hauntingly beautiful entreaty to her lover layered over a rhythmic interplay between guitar and percussion. This is the kind of passionate songwriting that seems increasingly rare today. The bass guitar comes in with a thwack that you can feel resonating in your flesh and traveling right to your brain stem. With any of the WHG cables, this impact softened and grew more diffuse. The same could be heard on the cut "You Won't Let Me In" where the bass drum forms an essential bedrock for the feeling in this song. The Stealth CWS and Harmony Audio combination just let more of the drive and passion through.
While this review was not meant to be a shootout against my Harmony Audio and Stealth Audio cables, they are, after all, my reference standards and should rightly be used for comparison. From what my friends in Portland tell me, folks out there are really fond of Bill's cables and he has a good local following. I am certainly loath to rain on that parade and would not be shocked to find the WHG cables more at home in their systems. Perhaps Bill will submit his cables for review elsewhere for another opinion as cables can be highly idiosyncratic to the user's system. For my system, I cannot say they were a good match.
I will publish a new website tomorrow. Posted at the beginning, if you should be interested, will be a “manufacturer’s comment” to your review. As for your dissatisfaction and unpleasant experience with my products, I elect to reserve thought regarding their usage or reason for failure.
I admit, willingly, that I am not big on specifications or elaborate technical information regarding electrical properties. For me it’s more about what’s happening between our two ears. Moreover my designs are typically unconventional for if I were to follow in the footsteps of the usual I would most certainly fall into the category of “just another cable” and I assure you that my products are far more than just that!
To my credit, as a high-end cable manufacturer, I stand toe-to-toe with or have clearly bested many of the most recognized names in the industry. To top if off, my product prices are considerably undervalued.
WHG Audio Design