Darwin Audio Silver Interconnect Cables
$295 RCA 3' Pair
Introductory price $195
MIKE PESHKIN & DR. JOHN RICHARDSON
Writing about wires is not hard, but it sure ain’t easy. There are some wonderful sounding wires out there, I’m lucky enough to own a few.
But once in a while, I think, we’re all fooled. Thus it is with the Darwin Cable. Bill, the creator, sent me a sample of his wire, an unassuming “little” RCA interconnect sans the jewelry some manufacturers use, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. BUT there are those who feel that the less metal used in an RCA connector allows for a cleaner, more linear sound.
I love the jewelry and have to admit I wasn’t expecting much from this IC. While very well made, again, it is not the flashy jewelry some ICs can be. But when you think of it, why is THAT needed…the wires are not in evidence. Hidden behind your components, those pretty Xhadows do their work extremely well, superbly, BUT YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE WHO KNOWS THEY ARE THERE!
The RCAs on the Darwin look like something (but definitely are not!) you’d see on a Radio shack DIY IC kit. The Teflon tube (the VERY thin wire) travels through is a shiny, but very basic looking black tube. Again, they are behind my equipment, so why should I care if they do what they are intended to do. I assure you that if the wire is NOT attached to any RCA properly, the sound will disappoint the listener.
Obviously, Bill knows how to make connections…after all, he connected with me. If he hadn’t I wouldn’t be writing this review. (lame humor as per usual).
The Darwin literally (ha, lame humor once again) leaps out of the way and allows the recording to do what it is supposed to do…it’s the musician(s) and music that should produce a WOW!, not the sound. Clarity, transmitting those electrons sans grunge, the avoidance of any slurring or exaggerating, emphasizing bass and or treble or thrusting the midrange down your throat is the goal of a good IC.
Using them between the Eastern Electric DAC and the Anthem pre, I was impressed with their neutral presentation. The Darwins look unassuming and sound unassuming…they don’t sound like much at all, simply clarity with a sound-stage that seems exactly as recorded.
MJQ at Carnegie Hall…arghhhh! Vibraphone! A poorly made IC can make the vibes into an instrument of death! You can hear that smooth shimmer, the sound of each hammer stroke instead of a hammer strike, can give you the warm fuzzies. No warm fuzzies if the IC does anything to the signal.
Just a smooth flow of electrons, that’s all. Is that so hard? Given an IC with a huge glob of solder that doesn’t have a good of a mechanical connection that’s equal to the solder connection, can make everything sound both mushy and harsh, a rather uncomfortable sound; even rhythms can be thrown off…you hear something that your brain tells you that things are not quite right.
With percussion, that off-kilter sound really messes with the music and your head! Again, the Darwins allow vibes to shimmer, drum strikes to sound precise, not a sound akin to loose drum heads, or a fist wrapped around a wood block, heavily damping the sound of the wood. Thunk! Or thud! instead of Crack!.
One of the goals of "hi-end" audio has to be "clarity"; the ability to see into the music sonically...understanding the notes (no slush in the audio parking lot).
While a cable of any kind can sort of bend the sound (toward warmth, for instance) a system based upon quality components does things correctly from the get go...or so we'd hope. My needs have changed from needing a warmer sound...in some instances it can be a good thing...other times, with different equipment, it isn't.
The Darwins are designed to present the truth...whatever that may be. I need truthful ICs now.
Female vocals are so feminine you leave the room to make sure your bed is made so it doesn’t offend your lover. Male vocals make you want to grab your bat and glove to join the guys at the high school for a pick-up game (and you haven’t done that in 30 years!).
I tried the Darwin cable between my DAC and preamp and between my Dyna P75 phono stage and the little Scott222C tube integrated amp I liked what I heard in both configurations…folks it’s a hard call, but I think the DAC to pre was just a tiny, tiny bit more pleasing.
I'm gonna keep the ICs! Open, airy, silent, and just darned good! Better n' that!
by Dr. John Richardson
Darwin Cable Company, a new manufacturer of high-end audio interconnects, was brought to my attention recently by its co-founder, a certain Bill Magerman. As it turns out, there’s a story here. Bill has another company, Tribute Audio, which specializes in the improvement and restoration of vintage EPI/Epicure speakers. As a project last summer, I picked up an old pair of EPI 100 speakers on eBay and decided to have them restored. After a bit of internet searching, I found Tribute Audio and ended up having several email conversations with Mr. Magerman. He sold me on his knowledge of the task at hand, and a few weeks later, I had my “better than new” EPIs in house. Long story short, these are my go-to speakers for after hours listening when I get to take my reviewer’s cap off. No worries about the sweet spot, imaging, or flatness of the frequency band, just good ole vintage listening!
Not long ago, Bill emailed me to tell me about this new venture, the Darwin Cable Company, which he co-founded with another audiophile, writer, and venture capitalist named Tony Bender. Again, there’s a story here. A sideline of Tribute Audio was the development of audio interconnects, which were of a decidedly homemade variety. When I visited Bill last summer to pick up my speakers, he showed me a set. These puppies were ugly (and Bill would add, fragile), but supposedly sounded very good. As I recall, the cables consisted of simple connectors and two runs of very narrow gauge silver wire that were kept from touching by being encapsulated in lengths of clear packing tape. Poor man’s Nordost flat cable, I joked. Well, as luck would have it, the aforementioned Tony Bender requested a pair of Bill’s interconnects (which he really didn’t actively try to advertise or sell). A quick audition, and Tony ended up replacing all of the expensive interconnects in his reference system with Bill’s ugly duckling cable.
The fairy tales tell us that ugly ducklings can become swans in the end. That’s where Tony enters the picture as a co-founder. Given the cable’s sonic potential, Tony prodded Bill to improve his design to make it more robust and visually presentable so that other audiophiles and music lovers could enjoy it. Thus, the Darwin Cable Company was born and continues to evolve (pun intended).
When Bill Magerman asked if I would be interested in reviewing a set of Darwin’s silver interconnect, I readily agreed, as I try to keep an open mind and open ears when it comes to cables. The pair I received were the one meter silver RCA interconnects, which have a list price of $295 usd, though Darwin is offering them at an introductory price of $195. Also available is a copper option that is a bit more affordable, and custom lengths and XLR terminations are offered as well.
A careful look at the cables is all that’s needed to outline the philosophy of their design and implementation. Bill Magerman fits right into the Stereomojo “Cheap Bastards” philosophy that I value so much. His mantra is to offer the best possible sound for the lowest possible price. I like that. A lot. However, he and Tony both knew that the packing tape insulation had to go.
The connectors are indeed nondescript. They are gold plated and sans the locking nut, as Bill reports that this reduces smearing of the sound. Looking further, the primary dielectric insulating material is probably the cheapest and most readily available: air. In other words, each conductor run (0.9999 silver) is loosely suspended in its own teflon plastic tube with which it has very little direct contact. Not exactly state-of-the-art materials-wise, but theoretically very effective. I have read about an interconnect that uses helium as its dielectric, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how they keep it from leaking out of its casing, so air is probably best as it can freely diffuse in and out of the teflon sheath.
The makers of Darwin Audio cables promise excellent sound for the money, and here they don’t disappoint. I left my pair running between the DAC and amplifier in my downstairs system for a couple of weeks to run in (though Bill and Tony claim this little ceremony may be of questionable use with their interconnects). I don’t usually listen critically at this stage, but I definitely noticed that all sounded as it should in that the music was especially engaging and enjoyable.
When I do get down to critical listening with cable products such as interconnects, I have a tendency to listen for several things:
Audio enthusiasts know that it’s hard for electronics and speakers in a system to get all of these things right. Once near perfection is achieved, however, we don’t want our cables, which are the conduits of signal from component to component, to foul up the works. Rather, we want our cables to get out of the way, and this is exactly what I found the Darwin interconnects to do.
The Darwin interconnects were initially installed in my main system between my Eastern Electric Minimax DAC and my Wytech Labs Coral preamplifier, as I felt that any sonic footprint they might leave behind would be most readily apparent in this configuration. The Darwins weren’t labeled in any way to indicate directionality, so I marked one end of each with a small strip of masking tape to signify the source end, as some cables develop directionality with use.
I can happily report that the Darwin interconnects seem to perform as advertised. I didn’t notice any sins of omission with regard to transparency. All of the music was coming through, loud and clear. I’ve been recently enjoying Cyril Scott’s Piano Concerto #1 (Lyrita LP, 24 bit/96 kHz digital archive), a languid and lovely Edwardian composition reminiscent of the likes of Delius. For some reason, I find myself drawn to the celesta in the second and third movements, as it adds some needed energy to this otherwise sleepy, but beautiful, piece. And energetic it is, cutting through the recording with ample and natural high-frequency life and verve, all of which was captured sublimely with the Darwin interconnect in the system.
As a further test, I tried the Darwins between the Minimax DAC (or the Antelope Audio Zodiac, which recently came in for review) and my Threshold amplifier, just to cut out that middleman of a preamp and a lot of cabling. Since both DACs have on-board volume attenuators, such a matching was possible. While I couldn’t run my subwoofer in this configuration, I must say that the sound through my main speakers (either Shahinian Compasses or Von Schwiekert VR1s) was beguiling. Musical details jumped out at me from the sonic canvas spread before my ears. Yes, some dynamics were missing, but on acoustic jazz or light classical, the experience was enchanting. Again, no smearing or loss of resolution from the cables was apparent. I found this setup to be ideal for low volume late night listening sessions where such laid back music is most welcome anyhow.
Now do keep in mind that I can’t directly test the manufacturer’s claim that the Darwins trump mega dollar cables, mainly because no such cables have taken up residence in my home. I’m an audiophile and music lover of reasonable means and have to be careful how my hard-earned dollars are spent (Stereomojo would rightfully categorize me as a cheap bastard). What I can say is that the Darwins sound good; in fact, very good. Based on what I am used to hearing, they do indeed satisfy my four requirements listed above. Do the Darwins outperform other cables at two and three times their price? Maybe, or maybe not, but I can’t say for sure.
HEAD TO HEAD
Perhaps a useful comparison might be in order using some excellent interconnects that I do have on hand. Earlier this year, I reviewed the new Timeline interconnects from Holistic Audio Arts ($360 usd for a 1 meter run), which share a very similar design with the Darwins. Both manufacturers believe in using narrow gauge wire, physically separating the signal carrier from the return, and encasing each wire primarily in air. The Holistic cables differ in that they employ an gold/silver alloy conductor, use woven cotton sheathing, and have Eichmann Bullet RCA connectors. I liked the Holistic cables even more than my long-standing Kimber Silver Streaks, primarily based on improved immediacy, transparency, and sound staging, so I ended up buying two pairs.
In head to head comparisons, I’d say that the Holistic Audio interconnects impart just a tad more high frequency energy than do the Darwins. Maybe this is a function of the conductor alloy, or maybe it’s the connectors. Either way, I ended up slightly preferring the Darwins’ tonal balance, which I found to be more lifelike in my system. Of course, your own experiences may differ, and you should audition both cables if you are a believer in this minimalistic approach to cable design and construction. In terms of overall transparency and detail, I could easily tell that these cables are of similar design and implementation; neither will get in the way of the music, and both render it in an exceptionally lifelike and unclouded manner.
I also somehow felt that the Darwin interconnects are a little less fragile than the rope-like Holistic cables. Perhaps it’s the rigidity of the teflon sheathing that helps here, as the cables tend to gracefully arc out away from components rather than drape behind them. Both look very nice in their own way; fellow reviewer Mike Peshkin really liked the draped, free-flowing look of the Holistic cables.
As audio enthusiasts, we have lots of choices when it comes to interconnects. There are plenty of cable products out there that sound awesome and look phenomenal: exceptionally well-heeled, if you will. However, you will pay dearly for that combination, which seems to get harder and harder to do in these inflationary times. I, for one, would rather spend my hard earned shekels on reasonably priced cables that up the ante in my system on a musical level, and that’s what the Darwin Audio interconnects do very well. Give these guys a call, try a pair, and see what you think. I doubt you will be sending them back, especially at the introductory price.
As I was preparing to send this review off to the Publisher, I got a somewhat apologetic e-mail from Bill Magerman stating that he has made a couple of improvements to the Darwin interconnects, and he wanted me to take a listen... So he sent me an updated pair. The improvements include treatment of the connectors with CAIG Gold to improve conductivity, along with a teflon tape wrapping of the conductors to improve the dielectric properties. Bill and Tony both thought these improvements were substantial and worth hearing; besides, they are now part and parcel of stock Darwin cables.
First off, the new cables used a clear teflon sheath which allowed me to see the tiny silver conductor wire inside. Second, Bill was right about the sound. Directly comparing the old and new Darwins immediately showed an audible improvement to an already wonderful sounding design. The improved cables were more sparkly all around (read: improved transparency and resolution) and demonstrated an even more defined soundstage. A definite improvement in the excitement factor and well worth the effort. Kudos to Bill to continue to improve his design and not pass the cost on to his customers!
Are you up for trying something completely different? Tired of running with the same old conventional audiophile crowd? Better yet, is transparency of prime importance to your reproduction of music? And you don’t require your cables to look like expensive jewelry that could be worn out for a night on the town? If yes, then by all means try out the new Darwin Audio interconnects. You really can impress your audiophile friends. Just have them sit down, close their eyes, and listen. Don’t look, just listen...
If you’re looking for ICs as tone controls, don’t bother looking this way. In fact, if you are using ANY cable as a tone control, you should be covered in ants and thrown in a cage with a hundred hungry anteaters and armadillos – in the dark! Of course, some of you might actually like that…but as a rule, cables should never be used (misused) to remedy problems with the sound of your system. The object is to reveal the true sound of your system as best as possible without changing the “color” or frequency response of it. If your system sounds funny using these cables, it’s your system, Chester, not the cables.
For an introductory price of less than 200 bucks for a 3-foot pair, the Darwin Silver interconnects will be at home in entry level systems as well as much higher end systems. How "higher end" is up to you, but we think you may be able to buy these and sell your current upper-midlevel cables and use the difference for some something else and just maybe end up with better sound. As always, your ears know best. Well, usually...