These cables are fucking great!
Other than the Head-Case style intro, this is the same review I posted on Head-Fi to make known Alex's fine work. Enjoy, or don't.
At all three of the meets I have attended, I have used various cables made by Alex, aka ayt999, and I have been impressed with his work. At the recent Saratoga meet, I sampled three different mini-mini cables that he was working on, and talked to him about his idea of opening a "shop" on Mall-Fi. I said I would be happy to be one of his first customers and asked him to make me a mini-RCA cable for use with an iPod dock.
When I received the mini-RCA last week, Alex also had included three new mini-mini cables and asked me to give them a listen and to post some thoughts if I felt like reviewing them. Each cable arrived in a cloth draw-string bag inside a small cardboard box. Someone in my office commented that the cables looked like jewelry and had boxes to match. Yes, this is fine audio jewelry but the cables are not just pretty--they all sound outstanding! So, here is a brief review along with some comparisons to the "reference" cables in my stash.
First Up: Argentum Signature Ag-8 Mini-RCA
Argentum is Latin for silver, which is what makes this cable shine. The mini-RCA is based on Alex's Ag-8 cable, which has eight separate insulated strands of solid silver wire braided together. Mine is terminated with a Switchcraft mini connector on one end and silver Cardas RCA connectors on the other. Alex uses what he calls a "Center-Sink ground return system is kept intact throughout with a dedicated Center-Sink system present for each channel from the mini connector to its corresponding RCA plug." All of this is wrapped up in beautiful white tech-flex, and the cable is very flexible. He also does a black tech-flex version. The build quality is excellent and the cable has handled lots of use and switching from home to office every day without a flaw. The introductory price on his Mall-Fi site is $150 for an 8" cable and $180 for a 12" cable.
The mini-RCA I have been using is a Monster Cable variety that I got for use with an early iPod, and was purchased years before finding Head-Fi. It is not a great cable, but it is not terrible either. There is nothing too distinct about its sound signature or its capabilities. Usually, I like to do a lot of comparisons back and forth between cables because it is sometimes hard to tell differences, and different songs and setups have a different impact with one cable or another. The results of this comparison were too obvious, and too lopsided, so I quickly moved on to listening to the Ag-8 alone.
Changing to the Ag-8 vastly expands the soundstage and overall resolution over headphones and speakers (yes, it is shocking to think that people use those big clunky things but it is a necessity on occasion). The Ag-8 has connected my new iPod 5G on an Apple universal dock to both my Prehead Prototype setup at home and my office setup with Headroom Desktop (Home amp/DAC modules). In both setups, the sound changed dramatically for the better with the Ag-8. The multiple strands of silver wire have a rich, detailed sound that does not get edgy or etched like silver cables sometimes can. The resolution pumps through a lot of music along with the room cues and "air" that create a large headstage with distinct instrument separation, placement, and a personal favorite element of presence. The high end definitely sparkles but the Ag-8 also has hefty bass that has good tone and control. Vocals have a distinctly "real" feel, and come through to your ears as they were sung. Between the time of the Saratoga meet and opening his Mall-Fi site, Alex says that he had changed the design of his silver cables, and I believe it! This cable is a big improvement: it has the things I liked about the cable at the time but with more body and no undue brightness.
If anything, I would say that the Ag-8's clarity and transparency define it the most. I listened to a wide range of music on two different setups that have different sound signatures themselves, and the Ag-8 allowed those differences to be heard. The Prehead definitely has a warmer feel than the Headroom Desktop, and that additional warmth came through. The Ag-8 does not add a lot of its own sound, but portrays whatever you play very truly. For me, that is a very high compliment indeed. The original goal was to prevent me from buying a Crystal Cable iPod Piccolo cable for $400. As I have already told Alex, my previously burning desire has been quenched (for now at least), and I am very happy with the Wyvern Audio Ag-8 cable. As a matter of fact, I didn't even flinch when Alex pointed out that I missed out on a used Piccolo for a great price on the FS/FT board the other day (OK, I flinched a little). The Ag-8 is a very refined cable and well worth the price for its level of performance.
Next Up: Cyprium One, Argentum Signature Ag-8, and Argentum Signature Ag-16 Mini-Mini Cables
The heart of the Wyvern Audio lineup are three mini-mini cables, two made of pure silver wire and one of copper. From my discussions with him, it seems that Alex generally prefers silver-based cables to copper cables as a rule, but he attempts to voice his own silver work toward the sound of copper. To me, that means a fast and highly resolving cable that also has body and some warmth. To my ears, he has succeeded in both directions--making a copper cable that is highly resolving and fast, as well as some extraordinary silver cables that have body and warmth, and avoid the tendency toward glare.
Alex sent me samples of each cable listed in the heading, and I have spent a fair amount of time listening to each of them and comparing them to my own "reference" mini cables. My goal here is not to provide head-to-head comparisons or to pick a "winner." Rather, I just wanted a point of reference. I will describe each of the Wyvern Audio cables, quickly lay out what was in my test rigs, and then give some listening impressions with a few comparisons along the way.
The first mini is called Cyprium One to denote its copper core. Alex wanted to make a lower-priced but still reference-quality mini as part of his line. The result is a cable that uses 24AWG pure copper conductors for signal and ground, and the wire is thin but has a very solid feel to it. It is extremely flexible and retains its shape like a solid core cable, which is actually quite handy in a portable setup--no torque on the components and you are able to fold or bend the cable as convenient. It has a black cloth covering, and heavy-duty Switchcraft connectors--optional Neutrik connectors are available if a smaller size is necessary. Although the review sample is about 7 inches long, Alex is offering Micro and even Nano sizes for low-profile mobile rigs. All-in-all, the Cyprium has a clean, simple look and feel, but looks can be deceiving. It is very well-made and sturdy. More on the sound below.
The second mini in the Wyvern line is the Argentum Signature Ag-8, and the insides have the same make-up and geometry as the mini-RCA described above. It has the same 8 strands of pure silver cable, and a center-sink ground wire. One interesting note on the build quality of these cables is that Alex starts with bare silver wire and teflon tubes, so he is actually insulating his own wire as opposed to buying pre-fabricated silver wire. Talk about painstaking! The review sample is sheathed in black tech-flex, and has black and gold-accented barrels and gold-plated connectors. It is quite beautiful and sleek with my black iPod rig, and it feels solid as a rock at the connections. The sample is 12 inches and it is thicker and less flexible than the Cyprium, but still flexible enough to be easily workable in a portable rig. It also retains its shape, but not to the same degree as the Cyprium.
The third mini cable is the Argentum Signature Ag-16, which is an over-the-top statement cable sporting 16 strands of pure silver delight. It is thicker and more rigid than the Ag-8, but the solid wire is flexible in use and can be bent into shape. The only available connectors are the heavy-duty Switchcraft nickel-plated variety, because the geometry cannot fit into any smaller. Still, I had no problems plugging into portable amps or docks, and the Supermacro 3 especially is rather a tight fit. The review sample has a more open-weave black tech-flex that lets the white braided wires peek through. It also comes in white tech-flex, and a naked version that is my personal favorite from the pics on wyvernaudio.com. The elaborate 16-wire braid is striking on its own, IMHO.
I listened to the Wyvern Audio line-up as well as the reference cables on a few different setups because I wanted to get a sense of the cables on different systems and with different cans. The one constant was that I used my new 5G 60GB iPod as the source for all of the testing I did. For amps, I used both my SR-71 and Supermacro v.3, although the bulk of the critical listening was done with the SMv.3. As for the headphones, I used CD3Ks, HD650s, HF-1s, K701s and Super.Fi 5 Pros. The last two in that list were the ones I used to compare the cables against my reference cables. I also listened to a pretty wide range of music, including Bebo and Cigala, Aztec Camera, Lou Reed, Ginger Baker and the DJQ2O, Belle and Sebastian, Stereolab, Portishead, Ron Carter and Rosa Passos, The Cult and Norah Jones.
For reference cables I used the RnB Audio Black Diamond Tiny matched up with the Cyprium One. The Black Diamond has been well reviewed here on Head-Fi, and I have been enjoying mine for the last few months. It is superbly made and has a refined look in a Tiny package. The Black Diamond runs about $10-20 more than the Cyprium, with the prices ranging from $65-$90 for RnB, and $55-70 for Wyvern. For the Ag-8, matchups, I used the RnB Audio Gold Reference and The Cable Pro's Ted's Earcandy. The Gold Reference is a beautiful and well-constructed gold and silver cable, about 12" long, and has Switchcraft connectors. The Ted's cable is 8", built like a tank, and I am not sure what kind of wire it uses but I have to guess it is some kind of stranded copper because. It is very flexible and takes a beating. Both of these cables are/were about the same amount as the Ag-8 ($115), even though the Gold Reference is not available for sale any more (and you can't have mine so don't ask!). The Ag-16 is in a class by itself because I don't own any mini cables at that price point. I also threw in a Rat Shack cheapie just as a sanity check every once in a while. It clearly sucked in comparison, so I felt good about that.
The Good Part: How These New Mini Cables Sound
As I said above, the Cyprium One is a deceptively simple and clean looking cable, but it really delivers especially considering its price relative to the market. Cyprium is as good as the Black Diamond on clarity, speed and soundstage, and that is a good mark to hit. Both of these cables are accurate and detailed, and have an open, airy feel to them. The Cyprium is much faster than your typical copper cable, and on some particularly sharp and fast piano runs in Bebo and Cigala, I felt the Cyprium handled the challenge a tad bit better than the Black Diamond. The Black Diamond is a little more transparent and neutral than the Cyprium, which does impart a little "copper" to the sound. However, the addition is a *little* extra warmth, it translates into more weight, body and bass, not flab or smearing. I especially noticed this late one night of listening with the K701. I compared back and forth between the cables listening to Ginger Baker, Portishead, and Ron Carter / Rosa Passos, and found that the Cyprium gave a little more body to the sound and some more bass. I like both of these cables very much, and different people might prefer one over the other but I would say you can't go wrong with either.
The Ag-8 is the sweet spot in the Wyvern Audio line, IMHO, and is better on many fronts than any mini cable I have heard. The Ag-8 has the same braided silver design as the mini-RCA and has the same characteristics, but it seemed to have an even more obvious impact in the portable setup comparison. [One reason for that is that I did much more A-B-C testing with this cable than I did with the Ag-8 / Monster comparison.] Like its big brother, the Ag-8 mini is transparent and highly resolving, with the same rich, detailed sound described above. Alex's earlier mini-minis that I tried briefly in loud meet setting were a bit bright for my taste, even as recently as the Saratoga meet last mont, but there really was not a hint of edginess or glare when listening to the Ag-8 (like I am doing right now while typing). Alex apparently has worked out a new design that really sings. And the separation, air, and sense of space are outstanding for a mini cable.
I think the Ag-8 exceeds the Ted's cable on all fronts. In comparison, Ted's is too congested and lacks headstage depth or breadth, can be smeared and muddy, and lacks resolution overall. The RnB Gold is a cable I really love because its sound signature is fast and warm at the same time. It has wonderful clarity, good range high and low, and creates a decent headstage. To my ears, however, the Ag-8 is a more neutral and a more resolving cable, that also has a bigger headstage (especially in width) and deeper, very controlled bass. The Ag-8 isn't cheap but it offers an exceptional cable at the same price people are paying for lesser cables like the Ted's Earcandy. I'm not sure Alex is going to get this one back anytime soon?
Finally, there is the Ag-16. Since the Ag-16 has no price-equivalent in my stocks, I cannot compare it to anything directly other than the ones discussed above, and spent less time listening to it. Basically, the Ag-16 takes the Ag-8 and kicks it up a notch, to borrow an overused phrase. It manages an even bigger soundstage and a little more bass, but it has the overall neutral "sound" signature. It is a statement and it comes at a price, but I say Go For It if you can afford it.
Kudos to Alex on his new line of Wyvern Audio mini cables, which I find all the more impressive because they are his first commercial offerings.