Author: Karsten Hein
Category: Gear & Review
When I started on my explorations in interconnects, I only had a faint idea of the effects of different materials on cables and plugs. Most of what I knew was based on what I had read from other users, from manufacturers of audio products, and from magazine tests. This left me wondering, how reliable these sources were. Manufacturers and magazines obviously have an interest in promoting certain products, and ‘users’ may be anything from absolute novices to experienced audiophiles. When it comes to discussing the merits of cables, it is useful to speak to an expert, otherwise one will all too often be discussing the flaws of a specific HiFi-setup rather than general cable attributes.
It is no secret that, ever since coming across Holger Becker’s silver solid-core cables, I have been hooked on the sonic abilities of silver. The cable itself is made of a 4N solid-silver strand that is shielded with a pure copper mesh, a combination that has meanwhile proven itself to work rather well. Mr. Becker sells this cable with two different plug terminations: HBS1, utilising a RAMM Audio gold-plated copper plug; and HBS2, with a silver-plated brass plug by WM Audio. The choice of plugs was shown to make a marked difference in cable’s sonic performance over all frequencies, and it was concluded that audiophiles looking for a darker and richer sound might prefer the copper and gold combination, whereas those seeking a more agile and revealing sound would be better served with the brass and silver version.
In the context of our own system setup, I enjoy having both cables available, in order to counterbalance darker or brighter sounding HiFi components. However, considering the merits of silver as a conductor, I could not help but wonder about the choice of plug materials. Gold and brass seemingly worked against optimal connectivity, which a quick check on Wikipedia confirmed:
International Annealed Copper Standard
I decided to write to Holger Becker about my concerns regarding the combination of gold and brass with silver and suggested that he built an interconnect using the silver version of the RAMM Audio plugs. However, he was not too pleased with this idea and rightly pointed out that these were rhodium-plated and would again introduce impurity. He suggested that we should rather use a pure-silver plug made by Keith Louis Eichmann Innovations (KLEI) called ‘KLEI Absolute Harmony’, which uses a special amalgamate of silver with a conductivity rating of >106% on the IACS scale. I liked the idea, and I suggested that we name this new ‘made-for-eiaudio’ interconnect “HBPS” for Pure Silver. He liked the name, and I placed my order.
The Australian couple Keith and Patricia Eichmann made a name for themselves, when they premiered the famous ‘Bullet Plug’ connector to the world. The Bullet Plug was a radical rethinking of the classic cinch connector, which had originally been developed by the Radio Corporation of America some 60 years earlier. The KLEI design improved conductivity, enhanced signal integrity, brought about higher resolution, and improved the mechanical connection. In fact, Eichmann’s patented Bullet Plugs were used with great commercial success by many HighEnd brands. The cable manufacturer WSS used them on their “Gold” and “Platinum” lines, for instance.
The KLEI Absolute Harmony Plug is an enhanced version of the original Bullet Plug design that features improvements in terms of geometry, mass ratios, durability, and metallurgy. It is also the highest contender of the Harmony range, about which KLE states the following: “Compared to a typical gold plated brass connector used in the vast majority of deluxe Phono/RCA plugs, the Harmony RCA plug range, utilising our proprietary alloys, achieve improvements in conductivity exceeding 320%.” — Now, that is quite a statement, indeed, and perhaps explains, why our silver cables generally play louder and with superior dynamics than our copper versions. The manufacturer goes on to describe that lots of care went into minimising turbulences in the electron flow (Eddy Currents) and improvements to capacitive reactance and micro-arcing. And, while all this is theory, of course, with potentially no practical use to us listeners, I enjoyed the concept of now having a single silver-solid core strand running from end to end. Finally, no more material transitions.
When the new cable arrived, I set everything up to allow for a speedy switch between interconnects and decided not to run the first test alone. The signal source was our Rega Planet 2000 and the preamp was our DB Systems DB1. I decided that I would use our HBS2 cable as benchmark. At the time, this had been running in for about one month and had sufficiently matured in sonic balance. While the low-end was not yet fully present, listeners unfamiliar with our system or with silver cable in general would have had nothing to object to. When my wife walked into the room after putting our kids to bed, I asked her if she had a moment to try out a cable with me. Sabina was unaware that I had bought a new cable and did not know about the differences in materials, etc. She did know, however, that most of the cables we were now running were made of silver. Not that I think this made any difference. I played approximately 1 minute of Vocal Jazz on the HBS2 and then played the same passage on the HBPS. — “Holy! This is much better.” — was her immediate response. Having just returned to my seat, I was pretty much thinking the same.
Although Holger Becker had reported to me that he had played the HBPS for 1-2 hours to get an impression in his own system, I think it is still safe to say that this interconnect had the best out-of-the-box performance of the three variations. Compared to the HBS2 it was already fuller in bass, even if slightly less agile sounding. However, there was a whole new dimension of order and detail. The stage was dimensionally more concrete with lots of space between individual sounds in comparison to HBS2. On the all-too-familiar Diana Krall album 'All For You' the recording studio‘s background now was electrically and physically present at all times, for the first time in our listening history. From tiny shifts on the piano stool, the tapping of a foot, clicks, pops, and static from cables and the microphone, it was all there, even when played at relatively low volume.
The HBPS custom made for eiaudio is both the most elaborate and lightest interconnect in our range of cables, simply because the Eichmann Absolute Harmony Plugs are of extremely low mass. From its touch and feel alone, it would be difficult to guess the sonic or material value of this interconnect. Only those familiar with the industry will understand that this is a special cable in many ways. But listening to it is an exceptional experience. The interconnect is highly revealing and made for those who enjoy listening very deeply into a recording. For casual listening, this might be a little too much at times, and I do know even experienced listeners who will shy away from such a detailed experience, simply because they find this to be unrealistic. It therefore makes sense to have a choice of cables at hand and to change between them from time to time. But, is the HBPS hands down the best interconnect we currently have? Yes. It certainly is.