This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above

Reviewer: Ryan Clarin
Sources: Meridian G07, Meridian G08, Naim CD3 and CD5i, Sony SCD-1
Headphone amps: Ray Samuels HR-2 and Emmeline Hornet, Headroom Maxed-out Desktop Amp [on review]), Headamp GS-1, Eddie Current HD-25, Meier Audio HA-2
Headphones: Joe Grado HP-1000 (HP-2/HP-3), Grado RS-1, Sennheiser HD600 with Cardas loom, HD650 with Equinox loom, Headphile-modified HP3000, Beyer DT770, and Grado 225s with C-Pads [all on review])
Cables: VH Audio Pulsars with Eichmann Gold Bullets, VH Audio Spectrum and Symmetry Silver Interconnects, Cardas Neutral Reference, Grover UR (various versions), BPT IC-SL [on review]
Review Component Retail after modifications: $399/1m/04

Before we begin, let me confess. Auditioning cables is a bitch yet such a necessary step in the audio journey. The best wire is no wire or at least a cable that does the least damage. Yet no matter how many cables come and go through our systems, they all seem to be about various degrees of coloration and frequency aberrations, some doing less damage than others, some providing colorations and aberrations that are sonically pleasing to our ear and synergize well with our music and systems. In the end, these various colorations and compromises lead the user to continue searching to find that simple piece of wire that will just let the music shine through.

I am also going to confess that the BPT IC-SL is one of the most transparent, neutral and linear interconnects to have graced my system thus far. This cable gets out of the way yet remains utterly musical and enjoyable. Throw out any stereotypes or classifications you may hold about silver cables. The BPT IC-SL defies many of them. No hyper-detail, no harmonic leanness, no lack of bass pitch or definition, mids that are right there. After about six months in my system, it has exceeded my expectations. Until it gets knocked off that high horse, the IC-SL will remain the perfect reminder of a definition on transparency and neutrality.

According to the website literature and emails from Chris Hoff, "the wire, which we have custom-made to our specifications since there was nothing available that met our criteria for resolution and speed, is a high-purity silver Litz design using multiple uniformly patterned 40-gauge (3.1 mils or .0031 inch diameter) strands for the conductor that are wrapped in pure unbleached cotton for minimal dielectric interference. It is wound in a spaced helical geometry around a cotton core yielding outstanding transient response." The cable utilizes WBT NextGen Signature Silver/Platinum connectors. Build quality is good, the cables are pretty flexible and even though they resist the occasional bend, they lay nice and curved. I removed one RCA shell and wasn't too impressed by the solder job, which appeared to use different amounts of solder from connector to connector. By comparison to the VH Audio Spectrum and Symmetry cables that also make use of the WBT NextGens, each of the 4 solder connections per pair is perfectly executed, minimal and with the same amount of solder to look utterly pristine, something I couldn't say for the first BPT IC-SLs I received.

I should also note that my first set was a bit different than the current production. My original sample from June 2005 used a tube of some sort, not the cotton core advertised now. Don't get me wrong, the first sample did little wrong and a lot right - great high-frequency extension with tight deep bass. Alas, the midrange seemed a bit hazy and unfocused, definitely nowhere near other models I'd heard in that price range. The cable also had a fullness that, while quite pleasing, was eventually identified as some type of upper bass/lower mid bloat. I was also given a shielded version which employs an external wire that can be hooked up to a ground or attached directly to the chassis. The shielded version actually gave up very little to the unshielded version yet still had the same weaknesses.

By October, Chris announced that he made a slight change to the design. "I have made some very minor changes/improvements to the ICs since you received the review pieces. I found that the shrink tubing around the RCAs could slip a bit when bent at a sharp angle so I have changed to an adhesive type that won't slip. The internal core on your IC-SL is a tube. I have since switched to an all cotton core with very minor sonic improvements. The internal core of the IC-SLS remains in tube form to maximize the distance between the internal wire and the shielding." Chris felt bad for the inevitable delay this prompted in the review process and sent me his latest version pre-burned in.

According to Chris, the sonic improvements would be subtle, offering a skoch more clarity with less coloration in the midrange but retaining the overall character, speed and extension. Well, I'll just have to professionally disagree with his assertion and state that everything was improved and quite noticeably. In fact, the change was so dramatic that it really sounded like a different cable from a different company.

Any issue I had with the midrange before was completely remedied with the current version. Good-bye to bloat and that hazy soft focus. In fact, the proverbial veil had been lifted and I was leaning really deep into my system and recordings. On Iron and Wine's Our Endless Numbered Days [Sub Pop, 630], the singer is pretty close mic'd while he strums along on his acoustic guitar. His voice whispered right into my headphone-cradled ears with striking intensity. I could feel the presence of his breath creating a lovely melody, something I had not experienced before with other cables to quite this tangible extent. Jane Monheit's Come Dream with Me [N-Coded/Warlock, 4219] sounded heavenly as well. Her voice was so real and intimate that I imagined her right there on my lap singing just for me. I threw on a recording of the Choral Vespers from Rachmaninoff [Telarc, 80172] and the IC-SL showed off its ability to remain transparent, with the voices more distant now yet still realistically present such as this professional choir director recognizes from countless rehearsals and performances.

The IC-SL remained strong over a wide range of sonic traits and music samples and refused to compromise by favoring one over another. Chet Baker in Tokyo [Evidence, 22158] startled me by how easily and effortlessly the ambient details of the venue were captured. When you can really perceive its air and space, you're transported. I have always loved Jazz and must have listened to Davis' Kind of Blue [Columbia, 64935] more often than I can remember. For the first time in my experience, the IC-SL let me hear the recording studio. The notes reverberated off the walls and the sense of soundscape was remarkable. Most of the cables I had for comparison simply did not let that ambient micro detail through and as a result, I'd missed out on the air and space between the notes that convey body and presence. Imaging was as focused and precise as a surgeon operating with a laser. Micro detail galore.

I use my Grado HP-1000s as my reference and can honestly say that no other headphone comes close to being this neutral, transparent and true to the recording as well as everything upstream. Being a classically trained violinist, I am of course a stickler for strings especially from a timbre point of view. Here again, the IC-SL did not disappoint. Violins were textured with real flavor and body without losing edge and bite. Some cables hype the edge; others smooth it over to darken the body and lower harmonics. The IC-SL simply got it right, easily apparent on the Carmen Habanera Fantasia recorded by FIM Super Sound [FIM, 66]. The current version of the cable even revealed some recorded grain and overt edge I hadn't heard before on the oldere version, leading me to believe that Litz wire designs seem to be even more sensitive to design parameters than traditional cables.

The midrange qualities and sense of soundscape palpability of the BPT cable were the two aspects that really caught my attention as being a step above anything I'd heard before. The highs were smooth with no grain and extended as far as my system would allow. Cymbals and hi-hats are critical there but reached the sky while never drawing attention, one of the things I love about vinyl. Bass went as low as I ever heard, with certain pipe organ tracks eliciting infrasonic rumbling not noticed before. Most importantly, I could listen for longer and more extended period of times, which is tough with regular headphone usage.

Litz wire designs seem rather sensitive to mechanical dampening to avoid resonance distortions. The production version did not suffer from this but the first one I received clearly did, with the only difference the cotton core on the revision. That little adjustment was a vast improvement and though I'm not a cable designer and can only speculate of course, the cotton core must be doing a much better job of damping. Of the cables for comparison, only the Cardas Neutral Reference was close. However, the overall nod goes to the BPT IC-SL for balance and musicality where the Cardas sounds slightly tipped up and hyper-detailed by comparison, being harmonically much leaner where the BPT maintains the harmonic envelope without bloat. Taking into account how the Cardas is copper and the IC-SL silver, that really does a number on the whole copper/silver stereotype of warmth/brightness. Taking into account value, the IC-SL is priced at $399 for one meter whereas the Cardas Neutral Reference gets $500. Another copper Litz cable is by Dennis Boyle at Chimera Labs. He lays the whole design right there on the kitchen table and even offers to sell the materials separately if you choose to go DIY. I heard it briefly a long time ago and it sounded quite nice. At $285 for a 1-meter pair, it appears to be a good implementation of a Litz design that might be worth checking out to audition against the IC-SL.

The biggest compliment I can bestow on the IC-SL is that it got out of the way to approach the ideal of "the best interconnect is no interconnect" while remaining a pleasure and joy to have in my system. You owe it to yourself to at least take up Chris Hoff on his 30-day money back guarantee and audition the IC-SL in your system. See for yourself whether it brings you as closely to the core of pure, unadulterated musical enjoyment as it did for me.
Manufacturer's website