Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 12.2), PureMusic 2.04, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, S.A. Lab Lilt [on loan]
Preamplifier: COS Engineering D1, Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, Vinnie Rossi Lio (Slageformer AVC)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8, FirstWatt S1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan], Vinnie Rossi Lio
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Sounddeco Sigma 2; Eversound Essence; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event MkI and MkII; KingRex uArt double-header USB; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s and subwoofer
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves and Krion or glass-based Exoteryc stand/s for amp/s
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2
nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail: $600/pr for either 1m/pr RCA interconnect (each add. 0.5m $175) or 1m/pr banana speaker cable (each add. metre $350)

Pizza or sushi? For those who know (of) him, Chris Sommovigo's name never before was associated with Japan. At best it was with Italy aka his ancestral roots. But really, for all of his audiophile career, Sommovigo has plied the cable design and import/distribution trade in the US of A. There his name was inextricably tied to the 75Ω S/PDIF cable standard. That wasn't always a standard but became one under his Illuminati brand. Illuminati was subsequently absorbed by Kimber. For a while, Chris dabbled in the ultra high-end cable sector backed by an adventurous investor. Then poor timing relative to the global economy soured their relationship. Chris was back in the single owner/operator saddle, focussed again on value product distributed either direct only; or through a hybrid model with much reduced retail margins. Audiophiles will remember his contributions to Kimber Cable; Stereovox; his XShadow connectors; the importation of Continuum Audio Labs, Peak Consult, Dawone, German Physiks and Vitus Audio through his Signals-Superfi venture; the subsequent Signal Collection distribution house for Davone, Absoluta, Klimo and Transmission Audio; his involvement in the review site (which merged with HPSoundings to become; his founding of the headfi review site Headphone.Guru with Joseph Weiss and Frank Iacone; his quasi experimental work of short custom runs under AfterHoursAudio; the blog Audiophile.Online and the Stereolab brand. As is clear, besides cable/connector design and manufacture plus importing posh hifi, Chris also tried his hands at reviewing. Keen observers will note that many of Chris' various endeavours over the years proved short-lived. What remained a constant underneath it all is his work on hifi cables. And that's our focus today.

This year Chris relocated his family and boutique atelier to Yugawara in Japan's Kanagawa prefecture. As he put it, that's a small "beach and onsen" town popular with surfers and retirees. In the downtime between his arrival and that of the far slower seagoing container with all of his heavy cable winding equipment, Chris rethought earlier designs under his Black Cat Cable brand. Coined redlevel, the new models under it fall into the Coeur, Tube, SuperMini, Lupo, Matrix, Triode and Ultranova tiers. "Ultranova has to wait because it will be crazy expensive to make. I’ll be playing with materials I’ve only fantasized about in the past. XLR I won’t be able to tackle until I can run the Matrix. This requires a stout investment in conductors which I can’t afford right now. I’ve run them before. Indeed, that’s how I made my stock of the Triode conductor but I’m presently out." The online storefront under which redlevel by Black Cat Cable sells is Stereomatic. "When I first launched that site, I thought I would perhaps also sell things from other brands. I may still do that."

redlevel leverages Chris' new Lovecraft RCA connector. He is in the process of formally launching it and related parts for OEM under his new Japanese company High Fidelity Partners Co. LTD. "Let me tell you, Japanese banks are like sadistic tortoises. We wanted to send money to a company in Taiwan. We had to apply for permission to send money overseas and then wait 3 to 5 days for approval. Just getting a business bank account in Japan was an affair of several months. Three banks turned us down because we were a new business working out of our home. They’re all worried sick about the mafia. Meanwhile the mafia thrives despite their best efforts. So they create an insane amount of inconvenience for non-criminals like us. It's all in the name of prevention yet they manage to prevent nothing but efficiency." Becoming an expat and encountering culture shock are pretty much synonymous. But at least the sushi is terrific; and yakuza tattoos tend to be very ambitious.