Published: 1. January 2013, No. 104
Audio products are total abstraction for the majority of people. I don’t even necessarily mean audio cables but simply high quality, refined audio components. Refined as in more sophisticated than an alarm clock radio. For a good deal of music listeners, and so a “narrower” group than the “whole,” an amplifier costing 350 USD sounds absurd; bad value for money bordering daylight robbery. Hardly anyone associates audio equipment with so called luxury goods such as yachts, designer watches, good wine, jewelry, expensive cars and other exclusive products.
Seemingly, it’s for historical reasons. From the moment of its inception, audio equipment has been very much egalitarian in nature; everybody could afford an LP or an SP record, a cassette tape, or – in the USA – 8-track cassette. Listening to music has been (and I think still is) regarded as a commonly available activity, close at hand to every single person who wants to enjoy it.
And yet, from the very beginning of Hi-Fi, around the end of World War II, in parallel to this “common” trend another one was emerging, in which designers and manufacturers were striving to correct the flaws, constantly improve their products and recordings – shortly speaking, to reach true MUSIC. And such endeavor has always been expensive.
Why is it then that the same kind of mechanism that worked in case of, let’s say, cars didn’t work here? Cars are also egalitarian products; everybody can have one – or two, or even three. Nobody thinks it’s something special; it’s simply something everyone has. Some people keep their expensive models in air conditioned garages, others park theirs more modest cars at the curb by their blocks of flats; yet all of them belong to the same “class” of utilitarian articles.
And yet every single person knows there are luxury cars. Ferrari, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Bugatti and many other exotic brands I don’t even know as I’m not especially an automobile fan. Still, I know that such category exists and I’m not upset by that fact. When I see a beautiful car, my heart melts but my yearning for it is as for an object of applied art, as “noble aesthetic experience,” not as something I would like to be driving every day.
And yet there are marked differences between “auto” and “audio” (and other fields as well). Similarly to the owners of four wheels who aspire to something more than they have now, audiophiles too strive after perfection in what they care about most – music reproduction. However, while buying expensive cars is socially accepted and is considered to be an indication of one’s high material status (it may stirred up envy but the imprimatur is there), expensive audio equipment or specialist audio equipment in general is regarded as deviation.
Where specialist audio and mainstream home electronics parted their ways – I don’t know. Clearly, however, it was a mistake that cost our industry losing its position and importance. These have been further undermined by a shift of priorities among the young generation, where it is no longer “stereo” that is “cool” and “fun” as it used to be for their parents, but computer games, tablets, smartphones and portable music players.
I am not complaining, though, nor do I blame them for it – these are fantastic devices giving lots of joy to their users. And maybe they will also be the ones to show the way back to our “separated brothers.” For audio such as we talk about here evokes deep emotions and is a wonderful, incomparable and amazing experience; a state of being “immersed” in the art and artistry – both of music performers as well as of audio equipment manufacturers.
Besides, these two elements sometimes happen to merge into each other; the musician himself or herself becomes a manufacturer. It’s rather rare and it is well known that most musicians do not much care about the quality of sound reproduction, having it all “in their head.” From time to time, however, such connection does happen. Just as in the case of VR Workshop cables that came to me from Singapore. First, however, I received an mail – not from the manufacturer but his representative:
Dear Mr Wojciech Pacula,
Recently we discovered a new manufacturer of high performance audio cables and shared the information with Mr Srajan Ebaen the Publisher of 6moons.com. He suggested that I should make contact with you as you may be interested in undertaking a review of the cables which seem to be very high standard at reasonable prices.
Based in Singapore, (Violinist Reference) V R Workshop, is run by a professional musician Yeo Wee Soon who seems to have an excellent ear, which shows up in the sound reproduction which the VRW cables enhance.
We would like to send you a set of RCA, Balance, Power and Speaker cables for you to review. I believe the results will be most interesting for the audio community.
Please confirm your interest in reviewing the cables and advise details of where to send them.
Abtec Electronica, Singapore
What else there was to say than “sure, please send them.” I haven’t had much experience with audio products from Singapore apart from one but fantastic manufacturer LOIT and its Passeri CD player I once reviewed (see HERE). My appreciation for the designer of this extraordinary device grew even higher when I met him personally during High End 2012 in Munich (see my report of the show HERE). If other people from this city-country are at least a little like him – I’m in!
The cables I receive for a review almost always arrive in rather bland cardboard boxes (even the Siltech Double Crown where, for example, the interconnect alone costs 20,000 USD!), and often in bags looking like plastic lunch bags. Mr. Yeo Wee Soon didn’t go over the top and didn’t shove them into wooden boxes but instead came up with something fun and sensible - a sort of plastic, reinforced zipped “folders.” I received three cables for a review: RCA interconnects (1 m), speaker cables (2 x 3 m, single-wiring/banana plugs) and a power cord (1.5 m).
The latter was not reviewed, despite my good intentions. As it turned out, it came with the U.S. type mains plug, not the European Schuko. Mr. Rodger Kimpton who arranged for the shipment suggested that I use an adapter but I could not do that. With my power line being as sleek as it is, its each component well thought out, placing in the power path a component from a different league, i.e. with substandard contacts, poor housing, etc. would constitute a clear malpractice. Hence, I limited the scope of this review to the interconnect coupling the CD player and the preamp, and to the speaker cable.
A selection of recordings used during auditions:
- Chet Baker, Big Band, Pacific Jazz Records/Toshiba-EMI Limited, TOCJ-9442, "Super Bit Jazz Classics", CD (1957/2002).
- Claudio Monteverdi, Ottavo Libro De' Madrigali, wyk. Concerto Italiano. dir. Rinaldo Alessandrini, Opus111, OPS 30-187, CD (1997).
- David Sylvian, Brilliant Trees, Virgin/EMI Music Japan, VJCP-68876, CD (1984/2008).
- David Sylvian, Sleepwalkers, P-Vine Records, PVCP-8790, CD (2010).
- Dead Can Dance, Anastasis, [PIAS] Entertainment Group, PIASR311CDX, "Special Edition Hardbound Box Set", CD+USB drive 24/44,1 WAV (2012);
- Delius, Cello Concertos, wyk. Jacqueline Du Pré, EMI Classic, 9559052, 2 x SACD/CD (1965/2012).
- Eva & Manu, Eva & Manu, Warner Music Finland, 5389629, CD (2012).
- Gerry Mulligan & Scott Hamilton, Soft Lights & Sweet Music, Concord Jazz/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2017, SACD/CD (1986/2006).
- Hilary Hann, Hilary Hann Plays Bach, Sony Classical, SK 62793, Super Bit Mapping, 2 x CD (1997).
- Laurie Anderson, Homeland, Nonesuch, 524055-2, CD + DVD (2010).
- Miles Davis, Milestones, Columbia/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2084, SACD/CD (1958/2012).
- Portishead, Third, Go! Disc/Universal Music K.K. (Japan), UICI-1069, CD (2008).
- The Beatles, Yellow Submarine, Parlophone/Apple/Toshiba-EMI, TOCP-51121, CD (1969/1998).
- This Mortal Coil, HD-CD Box SET: It’ll End In Tears, Filigree & Shadow, Blood, Dust & Guitars, 4AD [Japan], TMCBOX1, 4 x HDCD, (2011).
- Wes Montgomery, Echoes of Indiana Avenue, Resonance Records, 195562, CD (2012).
Japanese editions available from
Comparing anything against reference components, i.e. those one knows inside and out and has heard confronted against dozens of other products, is a challenge for each manufacturer. After all, such reference is something carefully selected after many auditions, matching both the particular system as well as reviewer’s preferences; in a word, a deliberate, informed choice. In comparison, each other product, no matter how good, has to come off a bit short, at least in some aspects. It is only clearly superior products that can make us, reviewers, kick it in and start counting the money. It happens very rarely, though.
Consequently, when the reviewed product is significantly worse than the reference, it is important for it to have something that catches our attention, allowing us to appreciate it. If such a product is thought out through and through, well-made and demonstrates an interesting design idea, any differences in quality are then pushed into the background. And it can even be, say, a 300 USD amplifier compared to a 10k or more two-box reference amplifier, as it happened in case of the tiny Italian wonder, the Lym Audio LYM 1.0T Phono! Something so well done gives so much joy and energy that the price gap between the compared components seems to disappear. Just as it does with the cables from Singapore.
The cable set I was sent came as a real surprise to me firstly because of the fact that I couldn’t find any info about them on the Internet. Secondly, because they presented music in an interesting way – so much so that I enjoyed listening to it (i.e. to music through it), and even analyzing its sonics I wasn’t breaking it into details but rather taking it as a whole.
The interconnect presentation is fairly direct. It displays clear shapes in the foreground, slightly emphasizing sound attack and attack energy. The difference against the Acrolink 7N-DA9300 Mexcel to which it was compared was obvious and only grew deeper with each next album. Against such background, the Japanese cable sounded more distant, showed the performers a bit further and in a more pronounced acoustic environment.
The interconnect from Mr. Yeo Wee Soon is therefore much more conspicuous. I can easily see it in systems with tube amps or where additional energy is needed, something to “help up” the system from its knees. The presentation is very energetic, with “oomph,” and treble slightly stronger than with the Acrolink. That gives it just such “fresh” glow without exposing sibilance or bringing anything into the open. Also, mid-bass is stronger. It is the latter that makes us play a well-known album and unconsciously say something like “ouch,” as in Japanese anime. That is, of course, due to some modification of sound but I can’t pretend that Acrolink doesn’t modify it in their own way, either.
The sound color is a critical characteristic for me, even though music doesn’t exist without the rhythm. And in this department the reviewed interconnect shines brightly. I’m sure that was what the designer most cared about and that is key for this cable. Such powerful sound attack gives a sort of “forward timing,” i.e. the presentation goes forward, pushing and quickly building events.
The fact that both cables came from a single source is reflected by a similar set of their characteristic sonic attributes. It is a slightly raised, fresh sound with bold attack and very clean, nice treble. The speaker cable has actually even more refined treble than the interconnect (or I picked it up as better) although not by a large margin. What I mean is that while showing the highs stronger than the reference cable, here the Tara Labs Omega Onyx, it does it with flair, not mechanically. The cymbals on the Chet Baker’s album had slightly creamy color, although they had a good “beat” and attack.
The speaker cable shows a slight hardening of midbass, more pronounced than with the interconnect. I did not pay attention to it before, taking it simply for an extra emphasis in the case of the interconnect. Now it was audible that it’s also some hardening of attack. The low end is not deeply extended because the listener’s attention stops in the above mentioned frequency band.
It's a pretty obvious deviation from neutrality, in my case defined by the Tara Labs cable and also proven by the Siltech from the Royal Signature Double Crown Series. There is nothing to discuss here. At the same time I know that this kind of sonic modification is actually often sought out for the systems that are a bit sluggish or without character. And the cables from Singapore certainly cannot be accused of the lack of the latter!
I was also curious how the reviewed cable shows the volume of sound. The Tara Labs acting in the role of the reference point is outstanding in this regard and it’s no wonder that the speaker cable from Singapore was not better or even similar. But it didn’t significantly diminish anything, i.e. vocals occupied a large space between the speakers and their size was well differentiated. Accordingly, they were presented differently on David Sylvian’s Sleepwalkers where the artist’s voice is very large and shown powerfully, than on his much earlier album Brilliant Trees where it blends with the background. Even in the latter case, however, it wasn’t a marked reduction of perspective or vocals’ withdrawal and it was only a direct comparison to the reference cable that helped me to see it.
What’s interesting in all this was that against the reference the reviewed cables weren’t offending or upsetting in any way. I think it’s because their sound is so smooth and so – after all – refined. Color modifications are obvious as is the fact that the resolution is only good. The cables make up for it with above-average selectivity and “presence” of instruments. The presentation is energetic with a feel of “drive.”
Hook them up to a tube system and they will give it a second chance, as if someone “pumped it up” with vitality. Open treble isn’t exaggerated and doesn’t lead to unpleasant consequences, all the more so as it’s really refined. Low bass is only indicated but not realized. On the other hand, midbass is strong and slightly favored at the expense of lower midrange. Dynamics is high and allows even small groups, such as Concerto Italiano on the Monteverdi’s album Ottavo Libro de 'Madrigali, to sound with panache.
They are sensibly made, equally sensible reasonable sounding cables with a character many an audio system needs. Without lightening of sound they will bring in freshness, “drive” and tangibility. An additional asset of Mr. Yeo Wee Soon’s cables is that they are very flexible and easy for hookup. Fantastic connectors allow hooking up both the interconnect and the speaker cable in a safe, reliable way without any need to worry that something comes loose over time. It is an artist’s cable made for other artists, audio artists that is.
The cables were tested separately and then as a set in multiple A/B/A/B/A comparisons. Music samples were 1 minute long. During auditions I used not only the reference Ancient Audio (CD player), but also the Mark Levinson No.512 SACD. In addition to the Harbeth M40.1 speakers I also used the Acoustic Zen Crescendo driven by the Bakoon Products AMP-11R amplifier.
V R Workshop is a tiny, one-man manufacturing company being a side occupation of the cellist, Mr. Yeo Wee Soon. Hence, the cables from V R Workshop are unique works rather than mass production. Each one of them bears a sort of “blessing” of its creator. They look inconspicuous because they are thin and loosely covered with black mesh characteristic of 99% of other cables. It is the faultless, beautiful looking plugs resembling the Furutech that indicate we are dealing with something more than yet another counterfeit. Their pins are made of pure copper coated with rhodium and the screw caps that fix them in the sockets are made of carbon fiber. Their metallic “body” is made of multi-layered, non-magnetic stainless steel with acetyl copolymer.
As it turns out, these particular plugs can be bought from the Chinese manufacturer Sonarquest. It seems that the company manufactures connectors for many companies worldwide that actually claim they manufacture them in house. On the other hand, some Japanese companies, like Acrolink and Oyaide, maintain that Chinese manufacturers such as Sonarquest forge their products. I talked about it with Mr. Satoru Murayama, CEO at Oyaide Elec. Co., when he was in Warsaw at Audio Show 2012 and according to him they’re a cheap imitation, manufactured with much less precision of different metal alloys and incomparably worse components, etc., than their own. Be that as it may, the plugs used in the VR Workshop power cord cost 160 USD a piece from the manufacturer!
I don’t know much about these cables design. After opening up the plugs we can see, however, that they are made of solid core copper, a few wires per cable. The interconnects sport four wires, each in its own transparent sleeve. The negative run is soldered to the side and also seems to be made of wires not braided screen. The cables are directional, marked accordingly on the connectors. Each cable comes with a hand-signed certificate of authenticity, with our name and serial cable.
The website HERE offers a bit more information on the cables design. It follows that the copper used for manufacturing is of a very pure UPOCC grade in a dielectric applied manually on each single wire. The series name comes from the name of the violinist Nathan Milstein.
Important note – the manufacturer says that all its cables ought to be broken-in for 400 hours to perform at their best!