Verdi Interconnect - $400
Chopin Interconnect - $180
Scorpion Speaker Cable - $550
You heard it here first, yes Merlin Cables, but no they are not affiliated with Merlin Music Systems that manufacture loudspeakers here in the US. Merlin cables come to us from our neighbors from across "The Pond”, England and sold in the US by USA HI-FI, owned by Carl James. Our publisher has worked with Carl several times and is convinced that he is one of the industry's good guys. Knowledgeable, helpfull and honest. We want to thank him for working with us on this review.
I'll let Merlin tell us a little about themselves:
"Merlin Cables is a small privately owned company based in the south of England dedicated to the manufacturing and designing of high quality audio and visual products that all represent optimum value for money to consumers.
Merlin currently manufactures a competitive range of products that include Audio Interconnects, Audio Visual Interconnects, Digital Interconnects, Speaker Cables, Mains Cables, Mains Distribution Blocks, and a selection of small accessories.
Merlin operates on an evolutionary design path with regular improvements (often un-announced) constantly being made to all our products.
All our products are produced in the UK and totally custom built around our customers need".
Now on to the “meat of the goody”, the review.
I received the products in a rather large box with a boat load of cables. There were three pairs of interconnects, two pairs of speaker cables, and a power cord. I decided to concentrate on the top three models that I had on hand, the Verdi Interconnect ($400), Chopin Interconnect ($180), and Scorpion Speaker Cable ($550).
Noted music I used for evaluation:
Damien Rice - “Damien Rice 0”
Andre Previn - “Live At The Jazz Standard”
Kate Walsh - “Tim's House”
Source – Onix X-CD88 (transport) with Ack Dack Dac
Amp – Usher R-1.5
Preamp – Belles 21A
Speakers – Usher 6381
Interconnects – Grover SC., 6sonsaudio Windigo
Speaker Cables – Straley Reality
Speaker Jumpers – Elf Audio
Power Cables – 6sonsaudio Windigo, Thunderbird, Wind Spirit II
The fit and finish on the cables is excellent. The Verdi Interconnect is very substantial, a bit little large and heavy. I would not use it on weak or cheesy RCA's.
I mostly attached the interconnects to my source as I find this to be the location where it is easiest to hear differences.
The Verdi takes the place of my Windigo Interconnect ($1,000) going from dac to preamp. My initial impression of the Verdi was that it lacked the emotion of the Windigo, so I guess the cost of emotion is $550 since that is how much more the Windigo costs than the Verdi. Emotion isn't the only area in which the Windigo trumps the Verdi, but I found the Verdi to be detailed with good bass and a clear open midrange. Although the midrange can sound a little metallic at times, the background was coal black and the whole presentation was balanced top to bottom with a good sound stage, width and depth. Impressive.
Specific songs used to evaluate started with tracks from the Damien Rice CD. On the opening cut, “Delicate” the drum work was outstanding. In addition, I was able to hear Damien's fingers on the guitar as they made contact with the strings in the most natural of ways. The attack was fast and lifelike. His voice was natural and just floated in space.
Great midrange energy could be heard on “Volcano” with instruments vibrating with life and the shimmer of the cymbal suspended above in the upper register with never a hint of harshness. Pace is the word here as there is no smearing of tone. Wonderful clarinet on “Cheers Darlin'”, you can hear that wood! Also notable is the imaging on this cut.
From Damien I had to go to the jazz of Andre Previn “Live At The Jazz Standard” with David Finck on double bass. The entire cd offers a great test bed for piano tone, attack, harmonics, pace, bass, and separation of instruments in space. Lets just say the Verdi brought all these aspects out in spades.
How could I leave out some outstanding female vocals? For this I chose Kate Walsh's, “Tim's House”. Kate's voice came through as if she was standing there in front of me, the sound stage was wide and distinct in the placement of Kate and the instruments. The guitar is very natural sounding and the depth as well as height and width of stage was brought home by the Verdi. Overall a very pleasant experience, especially at this price.
I wanted to take a listen to the Chopin so out with the Verdi and in with the Chopin.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the volume level was a little lower but still there was the black background and all the other attributes of the Verdi but less of each, I won't try to put a percentage on it , that's far too subjective and speculative. Wonder how others do it?
What you do miss with the $180 Chopin's compared to a cable many times its price is extension at both extremes, details and a liveliness to the music. So far that's two terms you can add to your list of what you are paying for in high end cables, emotion and liveliness, not just wire and covering.
Overall I much prefer the costlier Verdi to the Chopin's, but thats not to degrade the Chopin's as in their price range they are great sounding cables.
Here's something for you, the noise floor of the Chopin's appear quieter than the Verdi. With the added upper extension comes high-end hiss. The Chopin's sound like your system sounds late at night, say three a.m. in the morning.
The one negative was the locking connectors which were not as smooth as some that I am used to.
The Scorpion Speaker Cables
These cables are thick (same size as the Verdi) but not of the fire hose verity and have decent flexibility. The gray color matches the color of the Verdi interconnects. To listen to the Scorpions I went back to my base reference system and subbed in the Scorpions for my Straleys.
There is no mistake that there is a Merlin “house sound”, to me the Scorpion's sound is closer to the sound of the Chopin than to the Verdi, but it is a tad livelier sounding than the Chopin.
With the Scorpions in place I replaced the Windigos on the dac with the Verdi. Oh my! This combo is out of this world, midrange power and clarity, speed and detail, naturalness of tone, hard to ask for more.
My next combo was to exchange the Chopin for the Verdi. For a few dollars less you can have this combo (got Long John Silvers on the mind), while not as powerful sounding and extended, you can still tell it's Merlin and I think it would be very good in a system that is a little bright.
Now on to the super combo deluxe, Scorpion speaker cables, Verdi interconnects on the source and Chopin interconnects on the preamp to power amp. Holy Batman!! Talk about musical, these cables are the bomb, you could do a lot worse for a lot more. These cables have to get around to the masses somehow. If you are looking in this price range you must give them a try , I quoted the mrsp on the cables but USA HI-FI is selling them at a reduced price.
These are wonderful cables that will not break the bank and will sound good in any combination that you can mix and match, so you can start with the Chopin in the mix and upgrade later. USA HIFI has a generous trade up policy and an in-home listening program.
These will certainly improve the sound of any sytem with lesser cables and probably many systems with more expensive models. I'm going to ask distributor Carl James if I can buy these for my system. I cannot think of any higher recommendation than that.
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