Black Cat cables are the brainchild of Chris Sommovigo and are handmade in Japan. Dave Robson takes a listen to the company’s Redlevel Tube speaker cable ($450 for a 1.5m pair) and RCA interconnects ($350 for 1m).

Black Cat Redlevel Tube Speaker Cable.

It must be near Christmas, vacuum cleaner, carpet cleaner and iron have all packed in! I’ve been waiting desperately for the Postman to arrive to bring my replacement Steam Iron; crinkly work shirts are annoying me!  This morning the knock arrives! Methinks a rather large box for an iron. It’s heavy to one end, no worries. It’s at this point a notice that this box has been shipped from japan! From Kanagawa no doubt, from Black Cat Audio Cables, (High Fidelity Partners).speakercable_a1131ecd-3f55-4cc9-9e91-cb2b87030578_large

For those like myself who are not familiar with Black Cat Audio Cables, these are high end, Audiophile Analogue and Digital hifi cables. These are designed and made by Chris Sommovigo himself, a passionate music lover and cable designer who is known for the Morpheus and NeoMorpheus cables among others.

Chris has moved his home and workshop this year from the USA to Japan. Recent communications with Chris with regards to his new speaker cable design and how he has created his new cable has left me wondering if I ever went to school at all. His knowledge and passion for what he creates is immense. Not a traditional construction, these cables use a Tube style pure copper inner core; this is designed to reduce skin effect. This and several other innovations by Chris have led to the development of his new cable design. Retailing at $450 1.5 metre pair or $750 for a 3 metre pair.

OUT OF THE BOX

The speaker cables out of the box are beautifully made. Nice and flexible, the use of thick, but flexible shrink wrap to cover the terminal ends to the 4mm banana plugs offer reassuring quality. The multifilament nylon, black and red outer covering looks and feels quality and durable. It’s not garish in colour at all. These speaker cables are available in 1.5m and 3m lengths at the moment. A bi-wire variant is not available at this time of writing.

Either end of the cable there is an RCA style aluminium outer casing where at this point the cable splits into its long red/black +/- terminations. This connector is covered in a thick, clear length of shrink wrap.  This holds everything securely in place. The 4mm banana plugs are a new design to me. They are shorter than regular plugs I’m familiar with and are engineered to a good standard and gold plated. They fit nice and securely with their associated sheathing not getting in the way of the sockets. Chris can supply 4mm banana and spade end terminations.

I hook up the cables and start out by leaving them connected with repeat playing on the CD player. I’m quite lucky to have a separate annexe to my living room to use for my hifi and home A/V system. I purposely try not to listen in the music room for the first few days as I believe all cables take a few days to settle and burn in. Some may disagree with this method or belief, but I don’t want to pick up any bad vibes at this point, although from what I do hear there is nothing to speak of except an increase in bass. I have the house to myself for the next 2 days so let’s say the neighbours may not be enjoying the burn in process during this time as much as I am!!!

SOUND

After 10 days of having these cables running in, sometimes on constantly for several hours and overnight, I’m happy that enough signal has passed through them and any variations in sound quality will have ironed itself out. There may be slight changes with more use but I’m confident this would be minimal.

Initial listening over the last week or so, I have noticed a rise in the bass quality and quantity over my own cables. There is more detail and more information getting to the speakers. It’s a quality bass not boom and bang. This isn’t as much a night and day scenario, more of an enrichment.

Time to Rock and Roll!

Loading in disc1 of Fleetwood Mac’s Very Best I flick to “Dreams”. The intro of the rhythmic bass, drums and tick of the cymbals trip out with confidence. The bass is tight, not tubby or loose.  It’s not bleeding into other areas either, which can sometimes happen as bass rises. Stevie Nicks vocals coming over honey like, smooth and warm, allowing you to settle into the track and immediately making you feel comfortable. There is added space around instruments, an inky black space giving an open, wide soundstage allowing a living area to the music. Moving onto “You Make Loving Fun” it’s becoming apparent that the “old” arc of my soundstage has changed somewhat. All the instruments are there, but some have lessened or increased in their volume and intensity. This gives the impression of greater depth from front to back; Christine McVie’s vocals have gained an edge and pushing forward from the recording with more insight into her vocal talents. Running through other Mac tracks on the album percussion and drums are very well presented, metal cymbals, guitar strings and bells come through with a definite edge, very realistic, not crashy or smashy, with the decay from cymbals lasting that micro second longer, a nice smooth decay to the notes bringing a “live” feeling to the instruments.

You can hear the rattle and vibration from plucked strings. These may have been subliminally there before but they are now outed and adding to the atmosphere on tracks like “The Chain”. The well documented affairs within Fleetwood Mac while Rumours was being recorded to me comes to light on “Go Your Own Way”, Mick Fleetwood’s anger and emotions spilling into his drumming on the track, the Tube cables bringing the bite and attack on the skins out beautifully. One of my favourite Fleetwood Mac tracks is “World Turning” it’s an older recording from their first album (I think). With the Black Cat Tube cables in place, the vocals which once lay slightly in the back ground are now wrapped around the room. I feel I’m inside the music and its cosseting me and holding my focus. There is a point where the music pauses and the bass drum kicks in, the wallop that comes out of my small floorstanding speakers is like being at a rock concert! A tight and punchy sound, it’s not overdone or overbearing in any way. What these cables can drag out from the amplifier and instruct your speakers to do is amazing and beyond what you would expect.

Changing CDs to Supertramp’s Crime Of The Century album and “Bloody well Right”, the piano intro has no electronic buzz, fizz or unpleasant resonance that can be heard from electric piano notes. There is also a lot of space around the instruments and musicians and this gives the impression that the soundstage is stretched to as far as my room and equipment can take it. It stays surefooted, and as the music gets complicated keeps its composed without getting ruffled or shouty. The same can be said for “Asylum” the more complicated sections of music with other set ups has tripped itself up, not with the Black Cat Redline Tube cables in place. All nicely controlled without holding the music back.

These cables are very revealing. Which as your probably aware is a slight double edged sword, bringing great satisfaction to good recordings, but showing up poor recordings too. Throwing “Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on the “Verve” label into the drive is like sitting in a room with the pair of old masters. Ella’s fantastic voice standing out proud and hearing Louis throaty grumbles before he has even started singing (this was not noticeable before with other lesser cables) showing this cable brings detail to your speakers that you may not have realised that they were capable of.

My final test disc is a new artist to me which was given to me by Alan Clark of Kralk Audio (see last months speaker review). An excellent album, if not a little different to mainstream music by Scott Wainwright. Titled “Every Man Has His Critics”. The album is recorded leaving instruments quite raw and forward. This is great to hear how individual instruments interact and sound on your speakers. Drums, cymbals, harmonicas, strings, whistles, bells and even a tuba makes an appearance! Recorded with little faffing to the sound, piano finely weighted and detailed, the Black Cat cables leaving you in no doubt what each instrument should sound like. Scott’s growling vocals offset by the sweet, sweet female co-singers. All the feelings and emotions tripping out on a musical parade with lyrics cleanly layered and portrayed.

CONCLUSION

These are great cables. The technology and attention to detail in their construction is far more than your run of the mill multi-strand copper gubbins. The hand crafted quality comes in at a relatively premium price, but if your equipment warrants this level then these are a must audition listing.

If you want to hear the absolute maximum that your speakers are capable of you need to hear these. It may seem like a silly notion to add a cable that may be a similar price to your speakers themselves, but Black Cat Redlevel Tube speaker cables will give you everything you need to push the performance capabilities of your equipment to its limits and show you exactly what you may have been missing. The only real downside I can speak of is that they won’t massage or dress up a poor recording. If the drums have been recorded like plastic topped yogurt pots, then they will sound like plastic topped yogurt pots, if the vocals have been badly recorded then this is what you will hear. There is a very slight warmth to the sound and bass is brought out tight and strong. If the acoustics of your listening room or your system is a little boomy then a careful audition is required. The cables took a good 10 days to fully bed in and settle. The wait was worth it.

Build Quality: 8.75     RECOMMENDED LOGO NEW

Sound Quality: 8.9

Value for money: 8.75

Overall: 8.8

Pros/ Great sound, realistic and faithful, with good bass and detail. Well made, flexible with great terminations/banana plugs.

Cons. May sound a little warm vocally with some types of recordings. Won’t hide poor recordings.

Black Cat Redlevel “Tube” RCA Interconnects.

The cables arrive in a smart flat box, emblazoned with the “Redlevel” motif on the top leaf.

Out the box, these like Chris Sommovigo’s “Tube”speaker cables (see later in this review) are well made and attractive looking cables. The custom, handmade finish is good and again the same red and black shielding looks tough and durable.REDLEVEL_IC_FULL_9029ee89-4d90-4c04-8887-18841d1ea882_large

The custom “Lovecraft” RCA connectors are made specifically to Chris’s specifications and look the business -an alloy outer, with a gold plated gripping inner core. All solidly held in place with tough but flexible red / black shrink-wrap, covered over with a thick, clear shrink-wrap. The cables are nicely flexible, and I’m assured by Chris himself that he has tested the durability of the tube style copper cores by twisting and bending them without the tube structure failing or kinking, even after being wound around a screwdriver shaft! It is good to know that their ability to take some abuse has been tested at source. Holding the cables in your hands they do feel like quality items.

This description is taken from Chris’s website:

“”The Tube” is based upon an evolution of our very first and most enduring product concept: Morpheus (and NeoMorpheus). In this latest iteration, we use the same form-factor as our exception “Coeur” interconnect, and then use the air-filled PTFE tube to run an air-filled pure copper tube (CuTube™) down the centre. Lower dielectric constant, higher velocity, lower capacitance, the skin effect profile of a 32 awg wire with the low resistance of a 22 awg wire”.

I’ve decided to audition the RCA cable with my own speaker cable in place so I have an accurate idea of their capabilities and sound style, and knowing my own sound will help this. I will review both the tube speaker and RCA cables together later on.

I connect the lovecraft RCA connectors to the Audiolab CDQ, they slide on easily. Some may like a tighter fit, they are not loose by any means and there is no play in the connection but a stray hand may just dislodge them.

Again after several days of running in with different kinds of music playing, giving 50-75 hours of use, I’m happy to sit down and give them a proper audition.

THE SOUND

Sliding in Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” CD and hitting play on “19” brings out the Black Cats tight, powerful bass lines. Deep and smooth, not flabby or uncouth. Vocals come through nice and clear with a smooth honey like quality. The sound comes through with speedy and rhythmical timing. “Time Out Of Mind” is selected next, cymbal and percussion is sharp and clear with just the right amount of crispness without being harsh. Piano is weighted just right with a wide and controlled soundstage to boot. Throughout the other tracks on this album I note that some vocals before adding the Black Cat Tube cable into my set up can have a slight “Lispyness” to them. This isn’t the case with it now. There is no harshness to the “SSSSS” sounds, all very rounded and smooth. Again like the other cables Chris supplied, these seem neutral and very detailed, and very easy to listen to… maybe a slight warmth, but unless you have an overly warm system it will only enhance your listening pleasure, thus, to the point I keep having to go back to the beginning of the track as I’ve been lulled into a very relaxed state and I’ve just forgotten to be critical! These RCA’s are a bit more forgiving of poor recordings too. Some music I found to be unlistenable or fatiguing in the past is a bit more palatable.

And so to something a bit more upbeat. Foreigner “4”. Time to separate the men from the boys! This album can be a little muddled with the driving drums and percussion, which can put your nerves on edge while listening at times. I’m happy to announce that the vocals and other sounds are kept well apart. The drums on “Juke Box Hero” are kept at the rear, still defined and driving the track. The backing vocals too, sitting in the gods up out the way of lead vocals. Soundstage front to back is a deep experience. It’s not immediately apparent until you actually go looking (listening) for it. You realise that the music isn’t so much to your left or right, but it’s surrounding you. You’re in a bit of a Black Cat vortex. Turning the volume up to unhealthy levels, it’s as close to being there as you can imagine.

Phil Collins comes to visit! Not in person (he is busy coming out of retirement), in the guise of his “Face Value” album. “In The air Tonight” just has to be turned up for the drums, the strike of the sticks on the skins is so just right, the power smacking you hard but never distorted or overdone. ”The Roof Is Leaking” starts with the sound of Crickets. These are usually above the speakers, today they are in my head, chirping away merrily. There is also a sound I’ve never heard before, just before the piano starts somebody shifts bodyweight and mumbles something. I’ve never heard this before, or it’s never been noticeable. The “Tube” cable brings out the finest detail your equipment can muster mister, that’s a fact.

CONCLUSION

A fine product from Chris Sommovigo’s workshop in Japan. These Redlevel “Tube” RCA’s retail for $350 per Metre and with a maximum of 3m. The cables are quite neutral, maybe adding a little warmth to some systems. They bring out and convey great detail to music doing nothing negative to your listening experience. There was a little rounding off on some percussion sounds but that was recording specific and not something across all music. A fast and tight sound producing good timing and rhythms, thus inducing great foot tapping sessions. There are some camps that say you don’t need expensive cables (see “Cable Wars” article ). It’s my opinion that spending on high quality cables like these is not just a way to upgrade your equipment it’s more of an investment. A rock or springboard as to which you can judge all future upgrades and make lifetime purchase decisions on.

Build Quality: 8.5RECOMMENDED LOGO NEW

Sound Quality: 8.8     

Value for Money: 8.6

Overall: 8.6

Pros/ neutral sound, should fit into any system.

Cons/ RCA plugs could do with being a little tighter.

 

Black Cat Redlevel “Tube” Speaker and RCA. Used Simultaneously.

Cables have always proved a bit of a minefield for me. They are the final piece of the jigsaw when assembling a hifi system, giving their accent to what comes out of the speakers. This final acquisition doesn’t necessarily have to be very costly, but getting enough cables to try out can be a difficult situation to be in, especially if your using a new hifi retailer or your new to the game. The 10% rule of thumb was always a good place to start for me…£1000 system and £100 on cables…but using these Black Cat “Tube” cables has slightly altered my perspective on this. If your prepared to push that %%% rule higher then you can really hear what your system is capable of.

Having added the “tube” speaker cables into the mix I was expecting certain things to be multiplied up. Earlier in the reviews I mentioned that some tracks showed a warmer side and I was expecting to have to report that they got overly warm or perhaps too smooth. This isn’t the case. Everything is just right. I’ve tried to catch the Black Cats out with poor compilation type recordings, with bass heavy tracks and multi-layered material.

Together the Redlevel cables just now seem to smooth over any cracks and strip back any harshness. Detail is still there, nothing has been lost. The innovative construction Chris Sommovigo has put into his cables gives the smoothness of a multi-core copper cable with the deep bass and sweet mid-upper of pure silver cables. Stereo imaging is pin sharp, depth perspective is good, giving the musicians a very definite place in the soundstage. Music leaves the speakers and travels around your listening space, bringing you into contact with the instruments in a more intimate “feeling” way. It is like being there. My only real criticism and it is only on a miniscule number of recordings I’ve listened to over the last 2-3 weeks, is that some bass heavy male vocals can seem a little warm and could do with being a bit more forward. This though is far outweighed by the number of tracks I once found irritating but now find enjoyable. They do take quite a few hours to burn in and settle down but the wait is worth it.

FINAL SAY

These cables should fit virtually any system, improving or enhancing your listening pleasure. Ask your dealer to get some in, Pronto.

Overall Verdict: 8.7RECOMMENDED LOGO NEW

Dave Robson

 

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