Stereomojo breaks new ground with this review. Marvin Bolden, Ken Yuan and Art Smuck decided to try something very innovative. Instead of the usual individual entries, they each spent several weeks with the KCI Silkworm’s in their systems and then got together to have a lengthy discussion about what they’d heard with the Silkworm’s, and how they felt about the different aspects of these cables. In that spirit, "Cable Conversations" is written as a dialogue among the reviewers about the products - publisher
MSRP is $850 for 1M and $240 for each additional ½ meter.
The original design process of the Silkworms was an evolving process that lasted around 18 months for John Prator, the owner, designer and man in charge at KCI. John spent that time testing a wide variety of products for sound quality. “I started with the usual metals, pure copper, pure silver, palladium, aluminum and any combination of the different metals as both alloys and individual runs,” said John. “I found that for the most part it seemed that each metal had a basic signature sound to it and after trying a cheap gold filled jewelry wire I began to suspect that gold may have the sound I was looking for, but it also had quite a few drawbacks. A couple being lack of low end authority and rolled off highs.”
“I found that as I moved up the purity ladder that gold sounded better and better. Pure 24K gold sounded fantastic but still lacked that last bit of detail up top and though it had a tight low end, I wanted them to dig just a little deeper. I tried several different combinations in my build process including different solders; wire vendors, different brands/types of RCA plugs etc. I finally settled on my current construction process using only the finest virgin silk, Teflon, and four nines gold terminated with Eichmann Silver Bullets.”
Silkworms are entirely hand built, one at a time by John and the KCI elves, and are unshielded. KCI uses single strand 26awg custom pulled pure 24-karat gold wire, with a standard that guarantees purity of at least 99.998%. This wire is then hand polished and chemically treated. The dielectric used is pure virgin over-sized Teflon tube that is then encased in a pure, chemical free virgin silk. This entire assembly is finally encased in a high-grade Techflex type covering for protection. The standard issue Silkworm cables are terminated with Eichmann Silver Bullets with Eichmann upgraded metal bodies. KCI will accommodate requests for your favorite connectors, and a discussion with John of these options is not time wasted, as he truly has heard a multitude of connectors with his Silkworms. WBT silver solder is used throughout the construction process. Prior to shipping to the customers John treats them on an AudioDharma Cable Cooker Pro 2.5 for approximately 48 hours, giving the customer a little bit of a head-start on the break-in process but still allowing them to hear the cables go through the different stages of break-in.
What I was looking for when I started on the Silkworms was a cable that was extremely smooth, open and airy, offered great sound staging and was a step or two to the warm side of neutral yet gave up nothing in detail and dynamics. I also wanted a cable that was easy to manage, one that didn't tear the jacks off of the rear of my components and wasn't a close relative of an FDNY fire hose! I decided to build one myself to try and achieve my goals or at least get as close to them as possible. To be honest, I didn't design this cable for retail; I wanted to build a cable for myself, and for a few of my audio buddies that were looking for the same traits in a cable. I was assisted in this process by several friends/audio buddies with better ears than mine and I feel the results are what I was looking for as my latest cable has all of what I was hoping it would. I have yet to find a cable that can do the human voice and acoustics like the Silkworm.
The Silkworms have an odd break-in process. They go through several steps (what I have gotten into the habit of calling "levels") as they improve throughout the break-in process. The main reason I say they have "an odd break-in process" is that as the Silkworms reach each step, or level, they seem to take a step backwards, actually sounding very different than they did yesterday. But, this is a good sign because the Silkworms will open up and expose a whole new level of performance. The bass will be tighter and lower; and the highs will have extended yet becoming smoother, silkier. Right out of the box the cable will sound a little lacking in bass and slightly warm in it's presentation also lacking in upper detail. You can expect 1-2 steps in the first 100-150 hours. Then, from 150-250 hours they will begin to open up, going through 2-3 more steps or "levels", again, each one offering up more improvement in both bottom and top extension, midrange clarity. Finally, past the 300-hour mark the Silkworms come "into their own". Bass extension is reaching down lower than you thought possible yet never sounds "mushy or soggy". The soundstage is huge and lifelike and the highs are just silky smooth.
Note from Art Smuck: The description of break-in provided by the Manufacturer is pretty darn accurate. During the first few days it really changed and forced me to go back and re-listen and rethink my previous notes. The wait is definitely worth it however…read on!
Marvin’s review cuts:
Kari Bremnes – My Heart Is Pounding Like A Hammer
Andre’ Previn – Stars Fell On Alabama (Old Friends – Telarc)
Amos Lee – Dreamin’
Vienna Teng – Eric’s Song
1st Pirates Of The Caribbean soundtrack – Barbossa is Hungry
Brian Bromberg – Freedom Jazz Dance
Art Pepper – Over the Rainbow
Katie Melua – Piece By Piece
Art’s review cuts:
Jacqui Naylor – I Remember YouJohn Mayer - Gravity
Air – Alone in Kyoto Rimsky – Korsakov - Scheherazade
Katie Melua - Nine Million Bicycles - I Cried For You - I Do Believe In Love
Rebecca Pidgeon - Spanish Harlem
John Mayer – Gravity - Dreaming With A Broken Heart
Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade
Sara K. - If I Could Sing Your Blues
Marvin: I like the looks of the cables; the gold colored connectors is a nice touch. KCI also has a black metal casing connector that looks nice.
Art: I think these are exceptionally well made cables. The connections seem robust and durable; they don’t feel like they are fragile at all. They are really flexible and easy to work with in and around your gear as well.
Marvin: The cables are high quality constructed, but knowing they are made of 24k gold makes you want to handle them with care. The certificate of authenticity gives the cables a touch of elegance along with the instructions for caring of the cables, all first class.
Ken: The Techflex cover with the purple heat shrink and gold Eichmann connectors constitute an attractive appearance cable. The build-quality seems very solid in your hand and as you plug and unplug them. The high craftsmanship quality is definitely evident in the Silkworms.
Marvin: I found the height of the soundstage with the Silkworm to be very good, I’m 6’3” and I found vocals to be in the right place horizontally even when I was standing. My speakers are 50” high.
Art: I know what you mean Marvin; I found these bumped up the overall height of my stage as well. I found that on the Jacquie Naylor piece; at around 2:50 into the song a backup chorus comes in and I’m not sure I ever noticed before that they were slightly raised up above her height, and I’ve listened to that cut a lot!
Ken: Height? What about depth? On Sara K’s “If I Could Sing Your Blues” I had some serious depth to the soundstage. I would say the trumpet that’s in the song sounded about 12 feet deep in my room, which is deeper than that presented by my resident set-up.
Marvin: Very good 3D image and depth, more backwards than forward (from front of speakers back). Speakers are 40” out into the room.
Art: Height…Depth…I guess I need to talk about width so you guys will let me in the conversation. I thought the width of the soundstage thrown by the Silkworm’s was excellent. “Alone in Kyoto” seemed to come from way outside my speakers, and towards the end of the song, there’s waves washing up on a beach, gave me chills it sounded so real, like it extended to the reach of my hearing, as you would hear it if you were on a beach.
Ken: I found the Silkworm maintained the nice width of my systems soundstage. The cymbal crash on “Gravity” as an example, sounded as good as it always does – an evidence that the gold Silkworm is not conceding any transient attack.
Marvin: I got some nice improvement from these cables in that area. The width extends outside my speakers on most cuts. My speakers are 26” from the sidewalls. Now, I’m not going to be one to say it extends through the walls, just that it was nice and wide…
I think you can see all three of us are in agreement that the Silkworm will certainly contribute to a soundstage that has appropriate height and impressive width and depth.
Ken: You know I like to talk imaging guys, so what did you think about the Silkworm’s delivery of imaging?
Art: I felt like the Silkworm did nothing but solidify the imaging in my system. I got a greater sense of placement and spacing and it seemed to me the images took another step towards realism in terms of height and size, which I already thought was good with my gear, this took it a bit further. On Scheherazade, I could visualize exactly where the players were in respect to each other. Of particular note were the cymbals, which I always knew were on a riser, but again the height and placement of it in respect to the rest of the orchestra seemed more precise with the Silkworm’s in my system.
Ken: Similar thoughts here. The Silkworm presented a centered image, similar to my resident Reality Cables; however, the height of vocal appears to be about 6 inches higher with the Silkworm. I also agree that the instrument placement in Scheherazade is well delineated and defined. To some, this type of soundstage delineation may be artificial, but it nonetheless is appealing characteristic to me.
Marvin: For me, instruments and voices were very precise with sharply defined edges and plenty of air around them.
Marvin: This precision and air also extends into the third dimension. Here’s a weird one, on “Piece by Piece”, Katie’s sss sounds can clearly be heard moving as an echo through the depth of the room.
Art: I’ve always had a good sense of air with my setup, and the Silkworm did nothing to diminish that.
Ken: On Sara K’s “If I Could Sing Your Blues,” the trumpet not only has depth, but also has a clear stage-left placement.
Art: I think this is the strength of this cable. Wow, such body and texture across the spectrum. And you don’t give up any of the detail at all. On “Arose” from American beauty there are a series of triangles in the beginning, they were crystal clear sounding with rich texture and ring, and had excellent decay to them. They seemed to be hanging right in the room with me.
Ken: Smooth, smooth, smooth – the overall tone was coherent, without a hint of glare. The Silkworms sounded really terrific in my system.
Marvin: The tonality is very natural and non-fatiguing with a very soothing/smooth sound that you can listen to for hours on end, but with this smoothness there is still plenty of detail. When I say detail, I don’t mean the type that picks the music apart, but rather the detail that comes naturally balanced with the music. (If this makes sense).
Ken: Makes sense to me Marvin. The smooth and coherent sound is especially apparent when I throw Katie Melua’s “I Cried For You” in for a spin. Her voice was airy, smooth, and palpable. Did I say “smooth?” Oh, I did? Well let me say it again, one very smooth and open sounding cable.
Art: I wanted to say smooth also, but I think we’ve made that point!
Marvin: The bass goes low and is full sounding without being fat sounding. There is no smearing into the midrange. “My Heart is Pounding Like a Hammer” and “Barbossa is Hungry” really brought this out during my listening sessions. Very tight and fast bass, and somehow still manages to sound full.
Ken: My system, given its limited bass parameters, already has decent bass performance. With the Silkworm between the preamp and the amp, the bass performance seemed to kick-up another notch. Of course, these trusty old ears of mine do measurement of this added bass performance; I have no access to measuring tools.
Art: We’re measuring with the same ears then, I heard what both of you are describing during my sessions. I felt like the bass was actually more pronounced at first, but after the cables settled in a bit; it was just as Marvin describes it.
Ken: John Mayer’s “Gravity” has ample upper bass signals. The Silkworm gave my system an extra shot of tight, musical, and abundant upper bass. My Merlin VSM-MX usually is a bit leaner on the bass, but in this case, its bass performance is amply augmented.
Art: Marvin, want the last word here?
Marvin: No sweat, overall the Silkworm” bass paints a solid, tuneful; articulate canvas, yet it is quick and balanced with the rest of the audio spectrum.
Art: I really love the midrange of this cable. Very real and hypnotic. Vocals sound so human and realistic, I had multiple goose bump moments during my listening sessions. My favorite was the Jacqui Naylor cut; you could hear her saliva and every nuance of her vocals, really incredible.
Marvin: I agree Art! Female/male vocals are to die for with the Silkworm’s. There’s no overemphasis in any area of the frequency range. Instruments (especially piano) have correct pitch and tonality with the proper attack from each.
Art: Yeah, the piano on the Joe Sample cut was very dynamic, full and just tore it up with attack.
Ken: Well, as a man with a pair of 37-year old ears, the midrange is where most of the smooth and sweet sound comes into place. The Silkworm does a wonderful job here. Sara K’s “If I Could Sing Your Blues” sounded just palpable, so full and smooth. There I go again with that “smooth” thing.
Marvin/Art: Yep, there you go…again….
Marvin: The high end with these cables is…. extended…detailed…natural...smooth… airy…fast. Enough said.
Art: You sure Marvin?
Marvin: Yep, enough said.
Art: I agree, wonderful open and smooth up top, these really make it easy to listen for long periods. The smooth comment was for you Ken….
Ken: However, let’s not make the mistake of thinking there’s a lack of high frequency performance. In contrary, there was no roll-off on the high-end and Katie Melua’s voice still reached its peak – I just think the that one last bit of shrill in my system has been resolved. Rebecca Pidgeon’s voice sounded so soft and airy.
Marvin: My current source interconnect (Audio Art IC-3) is a great cable that is balanced with good overall performance and is truly a giant killer for a cable in it’s price range. If you are just cabling your system you could not go wrong by using them. That said, the Silkworm’s, in my system, sounded more balanced than the IC-3’s, were more extended in the high end, bass was a push with the IC-3’s having a more powerful presentation but both seem to be playing the same notes but the IC-3’s have a little more oomph. The Silkworms are more musical sounding, and along with the details you cold hear more of the harmonics of the chords. Hard to put it into words but the Silkworms just sound right. One place where I found the Audio Arts out performed the Silkworms was in darkness of the background. The IC-3’s have an uncanny way of making sounds seem to come from a totally silent background.
Ken: Comparatively speaking, the Silkworm produced more clean bass, smoother sound, and just made my system that much more enjoyable. Now, I’m not going to dispense any audiophile jargons, Silkworm, simply put, just makes fine music. My Reality Cables are no slouch. For its asking price, the Reality Cable should be heard in just about any system as it not only is a good performer, but also comes at a great performance-to-price ratio. The Silkworm interconnects just seemed to take the performance another step higher.
Art: I’ve had the TG Audio High Purity HSR’s in my system for some time now, they are a solid and dependable cable that does so many things right. One thing that has always kept me coming back to the TG is the openness and extension, and the Silkworm maintained that while adding some glow and body that the TG do not.
Marvin: I love the Silkworms, they make magic (or is that music?) Soundstage, pace, tonality, imaging, balance, naturalness, transient attack, and pure musicality make them a joy to listen to. A funny story, I was comparing the Silkworms to John’s middle level offering (Mandarina) and by comparison I started to think the Silkworms rounded over the dynamics of large scale musical works so I contacted John about it, come to find out that the Mandarina’s simply needed more burn in as they were the one’s over emphasizing transient attacks. The Mandarina’s did smooth out a lot after some more playing time. By the way, these are also great sounding cables, just not in the sale league as the Silkworms.
Ken: In summary, the Silkworm excelled in my system irrespective of musical genre. The sound reproduced by the Silkworm was smooth, coherent, and clean. I did not feel that the Silkworm gave up anything to the Reality Cable, but rather, improved my system’s overall performance in several areas.
Art: Color me a fan of these well made, expansive and full-bodied beauties. It’s fun to review a product that you can’t really find any faults with, and that’s the case here.
Marvin: I highly recommend the Silkworms as your last cable. If you truly love music, I don’t see how you would improve on their sound or why you would want to look for another interconnect.
Art: I think this is a cable that is right for a wide range of systems, they aren’t cheap, but beyond the audiophile hyperbole, the Silkworm’s really do deliver on a value for dollars level.
Publisher: Ok guys. do you think these cables deserve our Maximum Mojo Award?
Marvin: Wholeheartedly, without reservation.
Ken: Yes, absolutely.
Art: You betcha, well done John and KCI.
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