At nearly three decades old, Stage III Concepts is one of the older manufacturers of high-end audio cables, and while they don’t have the same share of the limelight as others, they more than deserve it, as you read in the review. The A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR Reference cables are their current flagship interconnect cable and have more than a few fascinating features that make them highly interesting.
Luis de la Fuente – Stage III Concepts
Luis de la Fuente was born in New York City in 1966. He displayed a strong interest in art and music at a very young age, likely due to being raised by his parents who were both professional ballet dancers. Most of his childhood was spent traveling throughout Europe and the U.S. with his parents
during which he was heavily exposed to dance and music, particularly live orchestra and piano.
At 13 he was admitted into the High School of Art and Design in New York City. Majoring in film and industrial design, he received an intensive art-based education which included a full term internship in a prestigious East Coast special effects and film opticals company.
This was followed by a two year stay at New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he majored again in film, with particular focus on special effects and sound engineering. During this time, his first professional film jobs came as an assortment of special effects work in low-budget productions and
Impressed with his abilities, he was hired by Academy Award winning special effects make-up artist Ed French, and worked as a sculptor and prop designer/fabricator for various independent films.
Deciding to refine his artistic skills and knowledge further, he spent two years in Spain as an apprentice in one of Europe’s largest and most prominent artistic bronze foundries. This unique experience led to the creation of numerous bronze pieces and showings in art galleries in the Spanish cities of Madrid and Alicante.
Returning to the U.S., Luis became involved with a group of artists interested in creating new “look and feel” for a nightclub. This project sparked several years of designing and creating sculptures and installations for various New York nightclubs that were on par with complex movie sets. He was hired by MTV to replicate this ambiance by constructing sets for their show “120 Minutes”.
It was around this time in the early 1990s where his interest in high-end audio began to develop.
A lifelong fascination with music and a strong technical curiosity led to intensive research into all aspects of high-fidelity music reproduction. His past experience with sculpture, mold-making and casting polymers helped in creating speaker enclosures and audio accessories such as isolation
devices. His research and experimentation with audio eventually led to unexpected revelation that wire and cable could significantly alter the sound of stereo components.
With the help and support of some engineer friends as well as acquaintances from the local stereo shops, he began to build interconnect and speaker cable prototypes based on some of the ultra-high- current superconductor technology which predominantly used flat, ribbon-type conductors.
Constant experimentation was a main focus over the years. Luis began to work almost exclusively on audio cable design and in 1996 Stage III Concepts was founded.
Since 1996 Stage III Concepts has been an innovator in audio cable design, being the first company to offer “floating” silver ribbon, air dielectric interconnect, speaker and power cables.
Every item Stage III Concepts offer has been meticulously hand made in-house, almost exclusively using U.S. made parts and materials of the highest quality. You will notice many of these components are unique to Stage III Concepts; not to be found on any other cables in the market.
Stage III Concepts cables cannot be made by machines, and despite the intricate and labor-intensive construction of most of designs, attention to detail and build quality are second to none. In addition, Stage III Concepts offer a limited lifetime warranty on every one of their products.
- Exclusive AeroStrandTM conductor technology.
- “Floating” solid core pure silver ribbons.
- Flat wire with very low cross-sectional conductor mass.
- Unique process, custom-extruded, perfect crystal silver.
- Deep cryogenic treatment of wire and connectors.
- Minimized-wall Teflon® air dielectric tubes.
- A.S.P. Reference series now with vacuum dielectrics and Palladium alloy AeroStrand UltraTM conductors.
- Proprietary TriSilencerTM and 100% radiation resistant H.D.A. foil (High Density Alloy) RF/EMI shielding.
From the very first moments and notes, the Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR reference cables sparked an interesting interplay that I hadn’t expected at all.
In my full-time career as a reviewer and previously as a hardcore audiophile, I’ve tried a whole range of high-end audio cables from all price ranges and some of the most exotic recordings.
To my complete surprise, the Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR Reference Cables bring something completely different to the table. A unique, universal balance that was easy to recognize and decipher when browsing through my record collection and playlists.
Stokowski, Wagner, London Symphony Orchestra – Orchestral Masterpieces From The Ring Of The Niebelung (Decca – PFS 3341 16)
Leopold Stokowski – Orchestral Masterpieces From The Ring Of The Niebelung is one of my Desert Island Classical Records for many reasons. This recording from 1967 is outstanding in many respects.
Other than the famous opening piece, “The Ride Of The Valkyries”, which sounds kind of a surreal mix and unlike the real orchestra for some peculiar reason, the rest of the tracks offer one of the closest approximations of a live orchestra recorded in a mid-sized recording hall. Especially if you’re sitting in the back seats, where the orchestral sounds fully unfold and reach your ears as a huge harmonic bubble, with clearly delineated individual instruments and performers, each with their own easily decipherable placement.
Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR Reference Cables XLR cables didn’t take away any of the recording’s power or alter the course of the musical energy and narrative. On the contrary, something very unexpected took place. The music was completely liquefied and bore a completely surprising level of acoustic focal points and nodes, creating a unique and distinctive immediacy.
“Entrance Of The Gods Into Valhalla,” my favorite track of the album, revealed a newfound spaciousness and intimacy, recalling moments in the past when I had the luxury of touring and performing in some of Europe’s most prestigious venues as part of the large choir.
Regardless of price, many if not most cables can muffle decay and delay tails, blur spatiality and acoustic expanse definition, and alter timbre, tone, and color, thus eliminating key factors in reproducing the natural aural sphere.
Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON stays steadfast to the nature of the sound of the orchestra and enables music to expand beyond the expected boundaries into the listening space while keeping the Technicolor sonic qualities intact.
Carlos Kleiber – Die Fledermaus Johann Strauss – Julia Varady, Lucia Popp, Hermann Prey, Iwan Rebroff, René Kollo, Bernd Weikl, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Carlos Kleiber (Deutsche Grammophon – 2707 088)
The impressive feeling that the music is anchored in the real world continued with another stellar record; Carlos Kleiber – Die Fledermaus – Johann Strauss.
The A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR cables from Stage III Concepts kindled to the same extent the obligatory level of acoustic nodes, which are by no means easy to perpetrate. This is where the weed separates from the ripened fruit.
With the CKAHRON XLR cables in the system, I traveled with my mind seamlessly through the dimensions of music, discovering newfound synergies between the distinctive gravity of the orchestra and the performers. Something I hadn’t expected.
Many, even ultra-high-end interconnects priced above Stage III Concepts’ flagships can detract from subtle harmonization and instead of exploring the heart of the music and reaching the listener’s emotional core as A.S.P. CKAHRON can, they tempt one into the chore, inconsequential listening and leave much to be desired.
Bennie Maupin – The Jewel In The Lotus (ECM 1043 ST)
Clifford Jordan Quartet – Glass Bead Games
The unique phenomenon of A.S.P. CKAHRON was further cemented with one of my favorite ECM releases, going way back to the late seventies of the last century and featuring multi-reedist Bennie Maupin with his debut album.
Maupin came to prominence through his involvement with Bitches Brew, Miles Davis’ seminal fusion album, and later as a member of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet and the Headhunters band. Hancock also plays acoustic and electric pianos on this timeless album recorded at the iconic studio Record Plant, N.Y.C.
The Jewel In The Lotus has a Steve Reich pulsating vibe, especially on the opening track “Ensenada”, where with A.S.P. CKAHRON the notes seamlessly collide with no hiccups, alienation, or alternating, which is immediately apparent on many of the cables.
The Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR reference cables take the Maupin compositions to new heights, where the notes do not fade out too quickly, but come alive and channel the music for what it is, acting not just as an exchanger of information, but as a via medium without the listener having to pay attention for the communication with the music to take place. A very rare virtue worthy of all of the highlights.
Glass Bead Games, the album by the Clifford Jordan Quartet, is an underrated masterpiece that you have to listen to because the semantics can’t provide an adequate framework. This is one of those albums where the energy of the music and the musicianship are in rare balance. No one is really in the foreground, but the musical roles are evenly distributed. The same goes for the tonal balance of the instruments.
An entire album is great, but “John Coltrane,” a masterful tribute to one of my favorite jazz musicians, is truly exceptional. The Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR reference cables simply let the language of the music flow and with the song “John Coltrane” they proved to be an excellent testament to how fundamental high-end audio cables are for close-knit interaction with music.
CKAHRON XLR interconnect cables have a boundless quality, a kind of frontier ability to establish the mandated interconnections for unadulterated music reproduction while bringing the instruments to life without stretching them to any frequency extremes or tinkering with myriad musical complexities while summoning compositions with a unique sense of completeness.
Some high-end audio manufacturers are rather under the radar compared to many brands that invest heavily in advertising and high-end audio show presence.
This in no way makes them less important or less interesting. Some of these brands make much more interesting and often better-performing products. Diverting from the typical marketing strategies, they focus on materials, field testing, new technologies, etc. with careful attention to the details that matter to the music.
Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR reference cables are among the few manufacturers of high-end audio cables that concentrate on above mentioned directions while delivering an obvious proof of concept that follows a holistic paradigm.
There is something fundamentally different about the Stage III cables that unite the same music qualities across all genres and create synergies that go far beyond the mere sum (something that cannot be said of many even more expensive cable offerings).
Music is non-linear and stochastically complex, and for any high-end audio cable to properly reproduce these attributes is an extremely challenging task. Stage III XLRs shine in actually reproducing the music, not just combining the sounds, a phenomenon that a lot of cables can not escape.
A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR audio cables are designed to support the complex and dynamic workflow of the music within the upper-echelon setup and Stage III Concepts’ heuristic approach to cable manufacturing promotes extremely dynamic spatial reproduction, with natural tendencies toward optimal, fundamental equivalence of real-world music traits.
They are perfect in the graded audiophile classification because compared to most cables, the differences are monumental, never sounding compressed, always operating in a dynamic juxtaposition without destroying timbre, tone, or color. When necessary, they allow the music to be raw, and when subtle, feather-light nuances are required, they deliver them with all the subtleties.
With Stage III Concepts, there is simply no analysis paralysis. The signal flow allows for enchanting developments gained from years of development work and the A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR reference cables set a higher standard.
Merely playing with semantics doesn’t do them justice, and they may not be in the current high-end audiophile audio lexicon, but they should be. Their sheer potency will instantly plumb and probe the weaknesses and strengths of high-end audio, and over the course of nearly three decades, they have won the trust of numerous hardcore clients around the world.
Despite their relatively thick diameter and almost monumental appearance, they are surprisingly flexible and easy to install.
For what they represent sonically and musically, and especially for the way they draw the listener into the depths of the music, I am pleased to present the Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON XLR Reference cables with the 2023 Mono & Stereo Editors Choice Award. ❖
- Ckahron XLR 1m 22.000€
- Ckahron XLR 1,5m 27.300€
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