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Reviewer: Joël Chevassus
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Apple iMac, modified Squeezebox Touch with Welborne Labs PSU, Jadis JD2 Drive, Yamamoto Sound Craft YDA-01, Audio GD Ref 5, Totaldac, Trends UD-10.1
Amp/Preamp: Wyred4Sound STP-SE, SPL Volume2, Orpheus Lab Three M, Trends TA-10.2, Hiraga Le Monstre power amp
Speakers: Triangle Magellan Duetto, Atohm GT1 [on loan], Rafale V38s [on loan]
Cables: Legato digital cable, Naturelle Audio interconnects Live 8 MK2, Audio Art SC-5 SE speaker cables, Legato Precision speaker cables, Legato Fluidita interconnects
Power cords: Audio Art Power 1 SE
Stands & room: DIY stuff, Triangle TS400 stands, Vicoustic panels.
Review components retail: $570/1m for digital cable; $945/1m for interconnects; $1.745/4m for speaker cable

Context: Still we see more and more newcomers enter the audio cable business. Phew. This ongoing trend undoubtedly reflects a very fragmented market and also marketing haven for small phantom companies which try to sell direct through their websites. In a sector where sell prices are generally utterly disconnected from the raw cost of the goods which are sold, how does one define the premium that simply must be paid for 'research and development' in the field of hifi cables? It seems that inside the high-end sphere, cables simply belong to the cost–no-object niche. Anything goes. Justification be damned. The most worrisome aspect about it all is the fact that the large majority of these manufacturers possess no specific technical backgrounds and only sell the results of empirical research at the price of gold accompanied by the argument that it reflects their designer’s listening skills and intense music passion. By itself this doesn’t mean that such a strategy cannot lead to satisfying results. I remember in the middle of 2010 having turned down the review solicitation of a high-priced cable maker whose products have since been exulted by our colleagues at Stereophile as a recommended component for outstanding levels of transparency. These costly cables certainly should have delivered stunning results but who with a straight face can still argue today that there exists an absolute or superlative reference for wires when production technology is mostly limited to alchemy or the hifi equivalent of haute cuisine - leather appliqué, wooden dampers and shiny connectors with carbon-fiber elements?

Having said that, I must balance my cynical perspective by taking into account those cable companies which do promote their wares not merely by way of a genuine musical experience but truly engineered products. Skywire Audio belongs to the latter. Is that a good or bad thing? I would personally avoid any definitive answer. What kind of truly advanced technology might hide inside a meter of silver or copper wire? Some of the most advanced electromagnetic theories invoked by wire specialists seem to me closer to fancy mathematical abstractions than any relevant applied research and technical development that actually makes a difference. Objective audiophiles may view such theories as alternative or ambiguous science that works only on the feeble-minded. I think that cables represent very limited scientific interest in the audio industry.

Whatever your opinion, Don Palmer, designer of Skywire Audio cables, has worked as an electromechanical design engineer for 34 years and on a wide variety of analog, digital and radio-frequency electronics including but not limited to: a digital pulse-dialing mobile telephone system for Bell Labs; electromechanical pulse decoders and relay control circuits; vacuum-tube regulated 5 to 16Kvolt traveling wave tube amps; high-voltage modulators with up to 4000 volt/microsecond rise time; low-noise 150MHz to 19GHz satellite receivers for Ford Aerospace.

To develop the last example, Don Palmer worked as lead engineer at Ford Aerospace for the mechanical design of the RF communications equipment for the Intelsat V satellites. In terms of education, Palmer’s resumé introduces him as a Bachelor of Science with an engineering degree from the University of California at Berkeley, 1956 where he kept working as a staff engineer. In the College of Engineering he was responsible for the non-academic staff of the research facilities for acoustics, analog computers, machining, welding, air bearings, dynamics, impact, servomechanisms and the design laboratories.

But the story doesn’t end there. Don Palmer has been developing and refining innovative hifi interconnects and speaker cables for more than 22 years. He has six associated US patents - N°. 4,885,555 for interconnection for hifi signals; N°. 4,939,315 for shielded audio cables for hifi signals; N°. 4,945,189 for asymmetrical audio cables for hifi signals; N°. 5,064,966 for multi-segment audio cables for hifi signals; N°. 5,222,149 for damping terminations for hifi signals; and No. 5,548,082 for a passive signal shielding structure for a short-wire cable.

His company Highwire Audio is in charge of designing the Skywire Audio catalogue which is owned by one Jimmy. Highwire Audio also markets specific coil power wraps for AC power lines to absorb RF noise and related distortion transmitted by power cords. Hence the cable designer under investigation is anything but another esoteric shaman to perhaps counterbalance our confidence in a sector that's so dominated by purely empirical experiments. Should his technical background cause stunning sonic benefits? That’s what I was about to find out.