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Reviewer: Mike Malinowski
Source: Walker Black Diamond turntable; Walker Reference phono preamp; Clearaudio Goldfinger
Preamp: VTL TL-7.5 Reference
Amp: darTZeel NHB-108; VTL S400; Tenor 350M
Speakers: Wilson Audio X-2 Alexandria
Cables: Silent Source The Music Reference [under review],Transparent Opus, OmegaMikro, Purist Silent Source, Transparent XL w/MM interconnect to amp; Silent Source and Xtreme between phono pre and preamp
Stands: Michael Green racks, VPI phono stand, Zoethecus, Walker Prologue Amp Stand
Powerline conditioning: Furman Balanced Power, Walker Audio Velocitor, PS Audio 300
Sundry accessories: Walker Audio Valid Points resonance control discs; ASC tube traps; Echo Buster absorbent and diffuser panels; Argent Room Lens; separate 90-amp sub panel feeding five dedicated cryo'd outlets; Loricraft Model 4 record cleaner; Walker Talisman
Room size: 22' x 17' x 8' (double sheetrock on 2"x 6" framing in basement)
Review component retail: 2.5 meter set $5,995 (additional length per 30.5 cm - $449)

Pop quiz: name the top ten cable contenders at the state-of-the-art sedge. I bet Silent Source didn't make your list. Probably many of you have never even heard of Silent Source, unless that is, you're under the sphere of influence of Walker Audio or a few other industry gurus. Silent Source is a small company founded by Frank Dickens which has been around for several years but mostly flown under the radar, essentially making handmade cables in short production runs with no real marketing or advertising and growing primarily through word-of-mouth recommendations. I think that is about to change. Frank has something special here and we're going to take a look at his top product - The Music Reference speaker cables.

Like others in our industry, Frank Dickens combined a strong technical background with a passion for music and developed both of these into the Silent Source Company. With a technical background honed in the military, Frank, a life-long audiophile and music lover, specialized in military communications equipment and DC telemetry signals. Due to the sophisticated and sometimes quirky nature of these advanced military circuits, he developed a deep interest and understanding of shields and grounds which has translated to his cable design. Also, having access to highly advanced research labs didn't hurt either. After years of research, the Silent Source brand is emerging. With a developing dealer network and refinement in manufacturing processes to allow increased production, Silent Source is ready to play on the sometimes slippery slopes of audiophile cabling.

Silent Source manufactures power cables, interconnects and speaker cables in three levels: the Signature line, Silver Signature and at the top, The Music Reference.The entry-level Signatures are built primarily of very pure copper with some silver-plated copper strands. Frank believes that his entry level cables are cost effective and high quality. "Our entry-level is a little bit different than the others and you might characterize them as slightly warmer and slightly less detailed versus moving up the line but nonetheless, they will stand against many good cables in the market."

Sidebar I: Interview - Frank Dickens
Let's start with a little history. What is your technical background?
Well I guess I'm similar to others, having loved and collected music since I was a teenager. Out of school, I went into the Air Force and worked with independent government contractors on the Air Force Flying Command Post. With this process, I was schooled in and worked with highly complex communications equipment. We flew and essentially played war games with the Russians. I was responsible for keeping certain equipment up and running. At Tenneco it was the installation, modification and telemetry for thousand horsepower jet turbine pumping engines... Finally, I came to Texas and went to work for Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Texas, doing research for the military, specializing in control circuits and power supplies. So I had a pretty good technical background. I had access to some very advanced labs especially in Texas. We did everything there from machine shop titanium housings to new control circuits, prototypes and circuit board design. I developed considerable skills and during the time on the weekends when we had the labs and computers for ourselves and used the opportunity for audio!... continue

The mid-range Silver Signatures contain a combination of silver and silver-plated copper strands. I had these in my system for approximately six months and believe me, they're really good. If I had never heard the References, these could possibly have been my cable of choice. But then, The Music Reference cables do exist and they are very clearly a step up.

Hearing the "all silver' description of The Music Reference cables induced that common knee-jerk reaction: yes, lot's of detail but silver equals cool and bright with lack of warmth and emotion. Frank strongly disputed this instinctive reaction and claims the opposite. "Everything in The Music Reference is 100% very pure silver, no copper at all. Interestingly, most people feel that silver is a little bright and harsh. Yet silver done properly is just the opposite; more relaxed, not bright and with no harshness. We find that with this silver cable, we can pull out music that was hard to listen to -- say Rickie Lee Jones -- and found it and other albums actually easier to listen to."

But no matter what the metal and level, Frank claims that all of his cables will allow you to develop and change your system and not be plagued with the problems associated with typical cable interactions. Since my system component list is stable, I can't address that claim but I can offer some insight into his top speaker cables. For those of you who skip to the last page in a novel, here is the bottom line: these are good; no, let me change that, these cables are really good.

Visually, one might consider Silent Source the Clark Kent of speaker cables. While attractive, there are no obvious indicators that these are State-of-the-Art contenders. Visually unassuming, with none of the glitz of Transparent, Nordost, Tara or even the Omega Mikros, you'll find no network boxes, no power supplies and no fluid-filled, garden hose-sized conductors.

Up to this point I stayed away from reviewing audio cables. On one side, active electronic components, including Walker's turntable system, VTL, Tenor, DarTZeel and others, all brought new additive delicacies to the audio table. Although their sonic presentation might differ, I assure you that the vast majority of audiophiles in the world would be happy with a Walker, DarTZeel, VTL, or Tenor component in their system. The problem for me with all cabling is that although it might be the best in its respective line, each brought only partial pieces of the sonic pie to the table. None of them were truly close to the Holy Grail – coherence, neutrality, resolution, dynamics and that wonderfully wide holographic 3-D soundstage. Combine this with the wonderful editorial philosophy at 6moons, which allows individual writers to pursue and review products of personal interest, I just never found that unique "wow" cable product that truly deserved a reference position. That is, up to my introduction to the Silent Source Music Reference. First a disclaimer: there are a lot of cables out there, more than any one reviewer could dissect. Also, I have not compared the Silent Source to the newest ultra-insane Tara Zero and/or Nordost Odin Cables. Also let's be honest here: no single reviewer can listen to everything in a reference quality system under controlled conditions and cables tend to be system dependent, interacting for good or bad with the source and target components. As with all component reviewing, a little grain of salt caution is in order. Comparisons with different components and different systems might yield different conclusions.

How I got here...
A quick background. When it comes to cables, I've traveled the many paths from zip cord to the exotic fluid-filled Purist Audio Design and finally to the lunatic fringe insanity of the Transparent Opus cables. At times I've had the cables positioned in mid-air, on ceramic stands, twisted counter-clockwise and now six inches off the ground on acrylic triangles. Short of mystic incantations I've tried it all. No, let me correct that, in 2003 I did try some incantations but nothing happened. It's really been an effort to essentially get them to disappear from the sonic fabric and just let the music flow. Frankly the journey has been a moderate pain in the ass. Since the ideal cable would theoretically do absolutely nothing to the signal, one would hope that across the many brands, the best of the best would have a similar sonic flavor with only minor subtle differences and in the end, hopefully they would be more similar than different. But alas, in my experience every cable unfortunately had a very unique sonic signature readily apparent to even those diehard believers who insist that all cables sound the same.

In the beginning, I dabbled in the flavor of the month club, borrowing and sometimes buying the newest and best cable as defined by the latest super review. When my system went through some later transitions, I found myself in the Wilson-Levinson mode with my dealer pushing the Transparent line. With an aggressive dealer and Transparent's ever-increasing product line and upgrade policy, I slowly inched up their line, ultimately landing at Opus. Yes, there is a Levinson/Wilson/Transparent synergy with the trio doing much of what I was looking for in terms of wide soundstage, forceful deep bass and more apparent resolution and delineation than I heard from previous contenders. My Opus cables were not a review sample, they were bought by a crazed audiophile (me) who scrimped and saved for two years. They were mine and I assumed them to be impenetrable. I went through the well defined, psychological stage that when you have the most expensive you assume it to be, and want it to be, the best. You're not looking for a low-priced contender to come in and be a giant killer after spending what amounted to a year's worth of my son's college tuition for just a pair of wires. So there they remained for years when along came Lloyd Walker, the eclectic crazed audio genius, who quite honestly assumes nothing and questions everything. His reaction was that the system "sounds good, but I know that with the right cables it will sound better." Bummer.

Over the years, Lloyd's tweaks have taken my system several steps forward. The first was with ultra-delicate, ultra-tweaky OmegaMikro cables; frankly a somewhat ugly system both for the flat ribbon speaker cables and even more so for the ultra-thin interconnects with hair-thin wires enclosed in silver tubes. Just as I had moved up and around the Transparent line, I also moved up and through the OmegaMikro product line. While the Transparent products produced a deep, full, rich, robust, almost tube-like sound, the Omega's claim to fame was pacing, detail and resolution, the polar opposite of Transparent with a totally different view of the sonic palate. Yet even as good as they were, their delicate physical nature was wearing, especially in a review system with component changes. Walker, who has apparently infinite patience with the smallest details and seemingly tolerates any type of audio pain in the pursuit of sonic perfection, also grew weary of the fragility of the OmegaMikro line. A phone call one day from Lloyd with an almost child-like glee announced that he had finally found a replacement for the maddeningly delicate Omegas: "It's well-built, robust, musical and even as cables go, somewhat attractive." The
cables at the time were the Silver Signature. Shortly thereafter when Lloyd was applying some such update or modification to my turntable, he suggested an upgrade by swapping out the Omegas for the Silver Signatures, and by gosh, he was right. In fact, he somewhat understated the virtues of the Silent Source in my system which came pretty darn close to bringing the soundstage and weight of the Transparent line, yet with a finer resolution and a quieter background. So I settled in once again, happy, for about a year or so.

One evening Lloyd, with a prospective dealer from Singapore, descended for a short demo. The system was well-tuned and humming along quite nicely but within an hour Lloyd said that he had a pretty special cable with him and asked if I wanted to try it. Ten minutes later it was in. A drop of the needle and a few minutes into the next cut, I was begging to have the cables remain for a longer audition. No such luck – denied. I had to wait for a review pair. So here we are and it appears that at first blush, the Silent Source Music Reference has finally brought it all together.

In general, when Lloyd Walker claims a dramatic improvement, smart audiophiles listen. He claimed the Silent Source to be special – sturdy construction, reasonable pricing and great sound. Shortly after his initial visit, I secured a review pair. To be honest though, I still had no real enthusiasm to play the cable game. The first night I pulled out Stravinsky's Firebird [Dorati, London Symphony orchestra, Mercury] and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet [Leinsdorf, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Sheffield lab Direct to Disk]. My original intrigue turned to a pleasant surprise. I was extraordinarily skeptical and to be honest with you, didn't really want to hear any major improvement. That changed after a short listening session followed by an involuntary expletive of "holy something or other". They had the bass and soundstage of the Transparents, more detail resolution and texture than the Omegas, with an improvement to the natural realistic soundstage and emotional impact of the Silver Signatures. But hold on, we'll get to the comparisons later.