Aiming at the high-end market, Paul Rigby reviews two sets of Black Rhodium cables, the Oratorio interconnects and the Waltz speaker cables
Black Rhodium has been pretty busy of late, producing a host of cables. I wanted to look at two of those new releases.
The Waltz speaker cables actually retain family links to the company’s earlier Quickstep design. Black Rhodium has added new technology to Quickstep’s basic design which means that the new Waltz is about 50% heavier than Quickstep.
The Waltz is fitted with a tightly braided metal screen to “reduce the distortion effects of high frequency interference”, said the company, together with the RFI filter technology used in the Quickstep and Foxtrot speaker cables.
Transient Phase Distortion has also been tackled by using thicker insulation than is usual in speaker cables. The company has done this by, “increasing the distance between conductors and thereby reducing the magnetic field seen in each conductor wire as a result of the magnetic field created by the current in the other conductor wire.”
Termination is achieved via Graham Nalty Legacy Range GN-1 Straight Line Contact rhodium-plated plugs.
The Oratoria features 99.99% purity silver which has been treated by the company’s Deep Cryogenic Treatment and Crystal Sound process. PTFE insulation has been utilised to tackle very low levels of dielectric absorption. A braided screen is featured to, “…protect the inner cores from picking up radio frequency interference (RFI) which is further reduced by twisting the cores,” said the company. Graham Nalty GN-4 Rhodium plated RCA connectors are to be found here too.
So how do these cables sound? I’ll go through one at a time.
BLACK RHODIUM ORATORIO
I began with the original vinyl pressing of Siouxsie and The Banshees’ Join Hands and the track Playground Twist
The response from the Oratorio cables is an intriguing one. The music here is by no means enveloping. You never feel immersed with the Oratorios, they never draw you in like some other cables I could mention at this price point
In fact, the sense of distance between you and the music was accentuated with the Oratorio cables. That is, the music seemed to take one step further away from the ear. I believe that this was a symptom of the extra precision offered by the cables. That point was accentuated with the upper mid/treble accentuated musical box chimes at the beginning of the following track, Mother, which was focused to a point, although never strident or bright.
That element is part of the cable’s personality which isn’t bad, it’s just different. There is a lack of engagement and emotion with the Oratorios. They are a little detached and analytical. Not clinical or edgy, just reserved. Like a scientist cooly addressing an experiment. For some, this trait might be too aloof but I can also see the benefits of the sound envelope too. The sense of focus adds a discipline and control that keeps any potentially unruly frequencies in check. While the lean aspect of the performance adds a clean and slightly stripped essence.
I moved to Don Cornell on CD and Heart of My Heart, a sort of honky tonk pop outing. The Oratorio cables were ideal for this vintage original with its original echo chamber EQ because it grabbed the track by the scruff of the neck and prevented the reverb from dominating the entire soundstage. Vintage ‘echo chamber’ recordings can be wholly unruly. Not here. More than this, the busy soundstage was honed to accentuate instrumental separation, adding air to the upper mids and accentuating dynamic reach. This meant that the honky tonk piano was easily picked up by the ear, despite the dominating, twangy lead guitar. More than that, there was plenty of subtle secondary percussion that was sharpened to enable the ear to easily find it on the busy soundstage.
Providing a precise and focused presentation, the Black Rhodium Oratorios are designed to transfer as much detail as possible in a neutral fashion while keeping a sense of balance on the frequency spectrum.
BLACK RHODIUM ORATORIO
Price: £2,100 for 1.5m
GOOD: precision, instrumental separation, focused mids, disciplined soundstage
BAD: disengaged performance
BLACK RHODIUM WALTZ SPEAKER CABLES
I began again with the Siouxsie and The Banshees track and was immediately impressed by the Waltz cable’s notable balance.
Hence, the percussion on this track provided a characterful and wholly organic reproduction that responded to the drummer’s own energy and passion. That is, you could feel the effort put into his performance. Similarly, the lead vocal was both emotive and passionate while both sat within a broad and open soundstage offering plenty of space for the performance to stretch out, giving the music a relaxed and smooth presentation.
Instruments that were placed more to the periphery of the mix, in this case the rhythm guitar and, to some extent, the bass guitar, where never hidden or masked. Each had their place and each instrument was able to fully express themselves. In this way, the soundstage had a rich and mature nature that added gravitas to the dynamic and energetic performance.
Turning to Don Cornell on CD and Heart of My Heart, I was impressed by the gentle control imposed by the Waltz. Adding a guidance to the upper mids which can be rather excitable with some cables. That guidance was naturalistic in presentation though without any undue emphasis. The lively echo chamber-enhanced lead vocal was also impressive by its balanced delivery. The ‘echo’ can often feel like a tagged-on blanket to the vocal. Here, that echo was integrated, as if the EQ was part of the original performance. Which is the general idea, of course.
There was no element of misbehaviour from the Waltz cables: no brightness, no bass bloom, to midrange smearing or treble pinching. Every frequency was in its pace and comfortable with it. In this price point, they are the most even-handed set of speaker cables that I’ve come across in a long time.
BLACK RHODIUM WALTZ SPEAKER CABLES
Price: £800 for 3m pair
GOOD: neutral performance, spacious soundstage, characterful bass, detailed mids
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