A fabulous interconnect turns out to be shockingly affordable by Richard Weiner
I. Conventional wisdom
We all know what great interconnects look like. Here’s a perfect example: link. I choose this MIT product because it admits what audiophiles have muttered for decades: cables are tone controls. The armored lunch box at one end has a dial for middle and high frequencies, and another for bass. You can adjust the impedance. It’s a single-input preamplifier! And it costs exactly as much as a small Honda sedan loaded with accessories: link.
Great interconnects utilize exotic materials. Echole link brings gold/silver/palladium alloy into your system. Some companies use copper more pure (99.999999%) than I knew existed. Many companies soak their products in liquid nitrogen for a few days. And almost all terminate their wires, no matter how constituted, with either Eichmann or WBT plugs. At the time of this writing, the WBT 0102 costs $109 per unit.
You get the idea: high fidelity cable companies can charge a fortune because they are offering unique, proprietary designs. If you can’t afford $19,000 for three feet of Echole’s new Limited Edition interconnect, you simply fail to realize the potential of your system. You’re doomed to second-rate sound.
II. The revolution arrived by post
My one-meter pair of Stager Silver Solid interconnects arrived in a small, lightly padded envelope. There was no velvet or leather sack, no engineering treatise on the breakthroughs in design or execution that permitted this product to sound better than all others. The wires were light, since there was no garden hose-like jacket.
I had asked the manufacturer, Marc Stager, how long it would take to get these things to sound their best. From my experience with other companies, I expected him to say something above two hundred hours. Stager said they should sound good immediately.
I uncoiled the wires. At each end was a Canare F-10 RCA plug. These cost about four dollars a piece.
Okay, I thought. Here’s unshielded solid core silver wire in a twisted array terminated with nickel and gold plated brass plugs. Everything we know about how interconnect should look, some of which I listed in the first section, tells me that this stuff should sound rather bad. But I’m a hard-working audio journalist, and I report honestly on what I hear.
(By the way, those pathetically cheap Canare plugs make a very firm contact with female RCAs, and they aren’t a hassle to tighten. Take that, WBT!)
As I was plugging the Stager wires into my smaller system (Wadia CD player, Sophia 300B integrated, Edgar Slimlines), I realized that they cost less than two WBT silver RCA plugs. The price list is here: http://stagersound.com/silver/.
My first listening impression was of well-controlled speed. Stager’s wires are at least as quick to attack as Nordost Valhalla 2, without the sometimes edgy leading transients. The Stagers didn’t upset the Edgar’s Fostex tweeters, which will drive you out of the room if the presentation is too bright.
The next feature was height. I am not aware of any interconnect which produces a better sense of vertical space than these wires. The Edgars are about four feet tall, and the sound floated upward about two feet from there. There are recordings I’ve had since music school, such as Klemperer’s “Eroica” (Warner Classics 66793).
The performance venue’s height has never been rendered more faithfully than these simple, cheap wires allowed.
My listening session notes repeat themselves: “life” shows up fairly often, as does “spontaneous.” Stager wires carry you along as quickly as the program material demands, and this sense of easy velocity gives music a sense of liveliness. You don’t say, “the wire has a sluggish sound,” but you get bored when the music doesn’t move quickly. Just for reference, I keep a pair of 8 gauge (3.2 mm) solid core copper speaker wires. I stuck those in the system. The sound slowed appreciably, and I ended the experiment in less than an hour.
The last significant finding was sound pressure: the Stager wires are louder than some other cables. This is a subjective rather a measurement out of a real time analyzer, but it was reproducible and was heard by several people who listen with me often.
I put the review samples into my main system, which uses stacked Quad 57s, MartinLogan Depth i subwoofers and Enigma tweeters, and the results were the same. The sound was quick and clear but never called attention to itself. I didn’t have to adjust tweeter or woofer levels, which means it maintained sonic balance.
I enjoyed those hours immensely.
Are the Stagers perfect? They’re very, very good. If I could find fault – and it took some searching – I’d suggest that they are better at the attack portion of the sound envelope than the decay. Think of the Solid Silver as extremely good solid state, emphasizing the virtues of vivid detailing and focus. If your system is already strong in those areas, you might want an interconnect with more warmth and harmonic bloom. On the other hand, if you’ve built a system that’s too mellow, these will pick up the pace.
On Youra Guller’s reading of Beethoven’s last piano sonata (Apex 698998)
I think the pedaling was caught a little better by Acoustic Zen Absolute Copper. The soundstage was wider, too, but not as high. Other companies’ products had slight advantages in a few areas. All of them cost at least ten times what the Stagers did, and some a lot more than that. None was so much better that I would have felt the Stagers were out of place. If you are judged by the company you keep, I’d say Marc Stager lives in an excellent, refined and exclusive community. This raises some serious problems for the neighbors.
III. Very troubling questions
I have some background in physics and chemistry, but I freely admit that I am not any kind of engineer, and certainly not an electrical engineer. When people start claiming that ‘skin effect’ matters a great deal, or the opposite, I walk back to my music room. So also for discussions about the speed with which metals conduct signal, or the effects of cryogenic treatment, or the virtues of active shielding. Reading technical papers distracts me from listening to music. If the product doesn’t enhance my enjoyment, I’m not interested.
Here’s a question. Almost every cable manufacturer has a lengthy and sometimes confusing technical rationale for why their product has to sound better than the competition. In most cases, these companies’ products don’t sound as good as Marc Stager’s cables. Why don’t they? Shouldn’t all of these extraordinary measures result in remarkable, even transcendent sonic performance? The MIT cables mentioned at the start of this report are one hundred forty-six times more expensive than Stager Solid Silver. For that price, I should be flown to Vienna, installed in a comfortable hotel, and given tickets to the entire Philharmonic season.
I’ll ask again: what are you paying for when you buy very expensive interconnects?
And this leads me to the most troubling question of all.
IV. What are we listening to?
If you’ve ever attended an audio show, you’ve heard some amazing exhibits. Speakers that cost a quarter million dollars, turntables that cost half of that, digital players approaching one hundred thousand dollars are on display. They may sound better than your system in some regards, but I’ve yet to hear any reproduction as convincing as live music.
When you consider the MBL Extreme or the Rockport Arrakis, both of them extraordinary loudspeaker systems, you pay attention to the details: so much bass, so much dynamic range, perfect sound staging, so much articulation and delicacy – and you neglect the portion of music which cannot be reproduced. Try sitting in the cheap upper balcony of your local symphony, and then tell me that your astonishingly expensive system compares with the authenticity of a live performance.
What you’re experiencing in those lofty home audio settings, I would suggest, is conspicuous consumption, the joy of knowing that you can afford to spend nearly a million dollars on equipment and a dedicated listening room. I put it to you that there aren’t any interconnects worth twenty-two thousand dollars, only rich audiophiles who convince themselves that money can buy musical life.
From his web site, I gather that Marc Stager has a sound reinforcement business. Over the years, he has become accustomed to the sound of live and amplified music, and he has applied his experience and his skills to producing an interconnect that competes with the best at a price I would not have thought possible.
So my last question, dear reader, is this: can you tolerate listening to Stager Sold Silver wire when you know how little they cost?
Cost per stereo pair, two conductor unshielded Canare F-10 RCA connectors.
0.5 meter / 20 inches – $ 100.00
0.75 meter / 30 inches – $ 125.00
1.0 meter / 40 inches – $ 150.00
1.5 meter / 59 inches – $ 205.00
2.0 meter / 79 inches – $ 245.00
Design: Unshielded symmetrical pair – Ultra low 11 pF/ft. capacitance. Outstanding performance as an analog or digital link.
Wire: .999 pure soft temper solid core silver wire, 24 ga. (.020″ diameter) which eliminates skin effect losses.
Meticulously hand polished to a flawless, grainless surface and far superior to stranded wire in accurately conveying the depth, dynamics, and details of music.
Insulator: Translucent Teflon. Teflon is the very best insulator available at any price – and silver is the best conductor.
Connectors: Canare F-10 RCA connectors. Machined solid brass center, Teflon insulator, 24K gold plated contacts, spring strain relief.
Stager Silver Solids are also available in a three wire balanced configuration using Neutrik XLR connectors with silver contacts.
Construction: Cardas Eutectic solder is used for all contacts. Color coded Polyolefin heat shrink tubing protects and ID’s the ends. Caig DeOxit Gold applied to silver for lasting anti-tarnish protection and to connectors for optimal electrical contact.
Stager Sound Systems
159 West 85th St. Ste. 2A
New York, NY &10024-4471