I’m biased. I hate cheap interconnect cables. There, I said it. It’s not just the appalling sonics (unlistenable at worst, inoffensive at best). It’s the flimsy construction, cheap connectors and the general ‘out of a Christmas cracker’ build quality.
So imagine my dismay when I received a phone call to ask me to review the Vermouth Audio ‘Black Curse’ interconnect, retailing at £45 and from that well-known hotbed of audio innovation, errr… ahem, Jakarta. Hell flashed before my eyes, visions of myself wincing and shaking my head as I listened, followed by further desperate and entirely futile days burning the cables in on the secondary system, in the hope that harshness would be reduced and the agony of trying to find something to say about the cables that wasn’t completely disparaging. Unable to come up with anything close to a suitable excuse for refusing, I found myself reluctantly committed to reviewing my own personal idea of audio hell…
When the mailman finally cometh, a smile spread across my face. A mix up had resulted in the wrong cable being delivered – a high quality affair in fact, sporting heavyweight RCA phono plugs – with decent hard gold plated body, hard rhodium plated copper centre pin and an anodised outer shell to maintain screening effectiveness and a level of overall build quality that really inspired confidence. Inspiration struck – I’d make a quick call to Vermouth Audio’s UK distributor, Mains Cables Are Us in order to ‘fess up’, magnanimously offer to review this more expensive offering and everyone would be a winner! To my surprise, MCRU assured me that there had, in fact, been no mix-up and that despite its non-budget appearance, the cables in my possession were Vermouth Audio’s Black Curse model, retailing at just £45 for a 1 metre pair!
Closer examination revealed the cable to be of co-axial construction, using the shield as return with foamed polyethylene dielectric and PVC outer. A further PVC mesh braid finishes the cable off, giving a nice tactile quality.
OK, so the Black Curse bucks the ‘build quality vs cost’ equation, but could it pull off a similar balancing act in the sonic stakes?
Well, listening showed the Black Curse to be the antithesis of most interconnects in this price range, providing decent soundstaging, little in the way of treble harshness and full and rich bass, with reasonable control, if not the ‘stop-start’ precision of the best.
More extended listening confirmed the fact that the Black Curse pulls of a clever juggling act, ideally suited to budget and mid range systems. Listening to Cassandra Wilson’s cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Tupelo Honey’, from the ‘Blue Light Till Dawn’ album, the slightly rich balance provides a good foundation for the music and the mid-forward presentation – a common characteristic of multistranded interconnects in my experience, provided wonderfully upfront, direct, engaging vocals and a soundstage pushed well forward of the speakers. Treble resolution was slightly limited however, robbing strings in particular of ultimate attack and detail – making it harder, for example, to discern percussionist Kevin Johnson’s pocket change-jangling finale. ‘Sankofa’, an acapela three-hander from the same album, proved that this cable can ‘do’ acoustic space, providing a more than fair representation of the recording room. The baritone harmony part dominated proceedings more than usual, but was vibrant and resonant all the same – impressive stuff.
Next up was from KD Lang’s 1992 album, Ingénue. I’ve always felt that this was a good recording, despite a slightly bright ‘studio’ balance. Would Jakarta’s finest tame it?
‘Outside Myself’ features strings a-plenty and easily exposes cables with even the slightest tendency toward brightness. The chorus in particular descends into vocal sibilance on peaks as compression is reached. The Black Curse was self assured, rubbing off the rough edges, without robbing the music of life. A neat trick.
The opening bars to ‘So Shall It Be’ feature a simple kick drum and brushed snare. Not satisfied with providing just the instrument, the Black Curse served up the (huge) recording room for good measure. It wasn’t just percussion that was given the ‘this is the instrument and this is where it lives’ treatment. Vibraphone and KD Langs vocals also resonated from clearly defined points in the soundstage.
I just don’t know how this Indonesian newcomer does it. Usually, manufacturers offering cables in this price range either go all-out for sonics – often with less than ‘robust’ build quality, or go for bullet-proof construction and high perceived value (with decent sound quality an occasional and incidental bonus). Incredibly, Vermouth Audio have managed both good sonics and great build quality. It’s an excellent budget cable, which is difficult to improve on without spending multiples of its purchase price.
The Black Curse is far from perfect, but pulls off a clever balancing act, trading ultimate treble extension and air for a more seamless reproduction of high frequencies. This ‘keep it smooth’ approach to treble reproduction ensures that the treble stridency and excesses of budget tweeters aren’t accentuated – a boon for owners of budget boxes. The mid-forward balance will, for many, provide the first real approximation of soundstaging their systems have produced, while the full and resonant bass will help to disguise some of the anemia inevitable with smaller budget boxes.
Nits worth picking? Well, there is a (barely detectable) trace of lower treble grain and bass is very slightly fuller than is strictly accurate. But it seems churlish to mention these given the wonderful performance of offer for the price. In fact, at double the price, the Vermouth Black Curse interconnect would still be great value.
Other manufacturers would do well to model their budget offerings on the sonic balance that the Vermouth Audio Black Curse interconnect provides. Clearly marketed at those with budget priced systems just starting their own personal journey of cable discovery (and perfectly suited to the task) but they equally at home in more expensive systems. I won’t be so damning of budget cables in future…
Author – Rod