HIFI WIGWAM REVIEW NUBLU, SEMPERFI & HARMONIC TECH
Reviews by Kevin Fiske and George Sallit
Another day another review, and another opportunity to put my neck on the cable-deniers’ chopping block.
Earlier this year I wrote about Puritan Audio’s mains cables, the Classic, the Classic Plus and the Ultimate. The plain-speaking and honest construction favoured by Puritan’s Mike Lester appealed to me, and it seems, to quite a few ‘wammers’ too. Apparently quite a few contacted him to try a single cable, and some went on to place much larger follow-up orders. There’s no shame in appreciating a genuinely good buy.
For the sake of clarity I should state that I had zero skin in the game, save the satisfaction of having pointed readers to an affordable product that might enhance enjoyment of their music library. It’s satisfying too when a small-scale and thoughtfully honest manufacturer reports an uplift in business. And now I have another tip for you, and the same zero-skin rule applies.
Chris Duwe is the proprietor and sole employee of cable-maker Gothic Audio. He makes a range of interconnects, digital cables and, launched recently, speaker cables too. Like Puritan Audio, he has zero marketing budget, makes no outlandish pseudo-science claims, and has an approach to product pricing that people used to the ticket price of big-name cables will find highly appealing.
I needed a high quality USB lead for use in reviewing a particular DAC, but only had to hand regular cheap-as-chips copper variety. After half an hour or so on the Web I stumbled over the Gothic Audio site, and read with approval that Duwe offers just such a cable, hand-built using solid silver conductors, each inside its own Teflon tube, with the + 5V conductor on its own, under the red Techflex braid, but outside the screening that wraps around the digital conductors. Ordered via the Gothic Audio Web site, the Semperfi Outsider USB cable cost £180 for a 1.5m length, turned up by post two days later, and swapped in place of the regular copper cable made an instant favourable impression; more dynamic expression, extended highs and tighter, more natural bottom end, plus improved spatial cues.
Some weeks later another review project required a quality AES/EBU coax, and my earlier experience led me back to Gothic Audio. Every other Gothic cable is hand-assembled from individual elements, but coaxial construction requires specialist and very costly machinery – quite beyond the resources of a one-man-band in the suburbs of Manchester.
Duwe has made a good choice for his necessarily bought-in stock coaxial cable, though, opting for Harmonic Technology’s solid silver 110Ohm Magic Digital Silver III for 11Ohm needs and Silver Magic III for 75Ohm. He finishes them with high quality silver plate on copper XLR or RCA connectors and the sonic result is, frankly, a fag paper apart from big-name silver leads, but at a third the price or less.
The final Gothic Audio cable that I want to mention is the NUBLU XLR interconnect, and it’s actually one of Chris Duwe’s latest creations. Duwe is not an engineer, but until redundancy brought a halt to it, made his living as a purchasing specialist for an electrical company. Some might share my astonishment that he doesn’t own an audio system, and that he relies on a network for friends and supporters to do road-testing.
Duwe, like a number of manufacturers, favours a braided or plaited construction for his cables because it both confers mechanical integrity and a degree of EMI/RFI immunity. A fine silver wire is threaded down a Teflon tube and cut to length. Multiple threaded tubes are then woven together to create the characteristic braided appearance. Duwe admits to being lured down the path of using more and more tubes as customers became giddy with the sheer relative affordability of this cables.
It seems to me this is a bit like salt. Some salt on our food tastes good, so even more salt must be even better. Right? Of course that’s a theory flawed in practice whether in a culinary or audio cabling sense, and in the latter case it results in a level of capacitance that can have a profoundly negative effect on sonic quality.
The NUBLU represents a re-set by Duwe, a return to what might be considered a more science-based approach to cable construction. With NUBLU Duwe has upped the size of the solid silver conductors from 26 to 22 AWG and reduced the number of them to just four. They are plaited together before a cotton spacer is slid over, followed by a copper and mylar foil and braided copper shield, then a silicon sheath and finally Techflex braid. Capacitance of 30pF and inductance of 0.06uH per foot is achieved. A metre pair costs £275 delivered. And yes, you did read that correctly.
The very short burn-in required of the NUBLU utterly confounded expectations set by my use of silver interconnects and mains cables for the best part of two decades. New cables in the past have all exhibited a degree or grit and glare at the start and have taken several tens of hours to settle down. Is it because Duwe is now using single-crystal silver wire in his cables? We’d need metallurgy and electrical engineering qualifications to be able to divine the answer to that question, but whatever the reason the NUBLU had settled after less than two hours. I had placed it between a Denafrips Terminator Plus DAC and a Bryston BP-17 Cubed pre-amp, replacing a solid silver cable by a very large US manufacturer, and had been rewarded with…little or no change in performance. Particularly after it had been through its short acclimatisation time the NUBLU proved to be the virtual sonic equal of the three-and-a-half times as much big-name cable. In every key musical element; dynamic expression and agility, tonal density, timing and spatial detail, the two cables traded punch for punch.
That’s a truly impressive performance from the made-in-Manchester NUBLU. Chris Duwe’s Gothic Audio should take a well-deserved bow.
Another view on Gothic Audio cables using a different system.
I have used a variety of USB cables in my system ranging from a good quality generic cable, a fairly inexpensive high-quality copper cable and a very expensive USB cable. The sound quality difference of the very expensive copper cable was not worth the price difference. I settled on the mid-priced copper cable. But I could not achieve what I really wanted.
I use a Melco digital front end which has an in-built streamer with a USB output for a DAC. Unfortunately, my Audionote DAC 4.1x does not have a USB input. The Melco does have an ethernet output. I, therefore, connected the Melco ethernet connection to a dCS Bridge and then use the SPDIF output to connect to the Audionote DAC. I reasoned, would it not be great to get a direct USB connection from the Melco into a suitable DAC, thereby negating the need for the extra electronics of the dCS Bridge. But no dice. The dCS route always sounded superb and better than direct.
And then along came a Denafrips Terminator + with its many inputs. I again wondered if……
And when Kevin F mentioned that Gothic Audio cables were quite good and fairly inexpensive (understatement there!), I ordered a 1.5m length of their Semperfi, The Outsider Type A to Type B USB cable. It costs £ 180. Not cheap but not a fortune either for a pure silver cable.
I did the comparison. My Melco fed the dCS using a silver RJ 45 cable, with the signal going from the dCS to a Denafrips Terminator + via the SPDIF connection. I initially used a Wave SPDIF cable and later a very expensive silver SPDIF ribbon cable. This was compared to the Melco going direct into the T+ using the Gothic Audio USB cable. The sound quality from the two set-ups, dCS and direct, were close. I had a slight preference for the Gothic Audio Semperfi USB. The Wave cable did really well considering the dCS was no longer in circuit. I then tried the silver ribbon cable and it may have just pipped the Gothic Audio USB. However, the price difference is a factor of 10x and not worth that amount of money. My aim had been achieved. I appreciate this was a peculiarity of my system but the dCS is now ‘redundant’.
The Gothic Audio USB was well ahead of my mid-range copper reference cable. There was a small sound quality difference between the Gothic Audio and the silver ribbon cable that was more a difference/preference. An excellent outcome for me.
I contacted Chris Duwe and let him know I wanted to explore more from his cable range.
After some discussion, he sent me a 1.0m AES/EBU Pure OCC Silver digital interconnect. I connected this cable between a Jays 2 Mk III CD transport and the Denafrips Terminator +. It sounded superb, after a few 10s of hours to allow the cable to settle down. The sound was natural, 3D, with real dynamics. Playing modern studio music showed the timing was very good and the pace and rhythm were not slowed down or blurred. Cymbals sounded like a metallic musical instrument which is what they are and not like steam escaping from a radiator. I compared the Gothic Audio AES/EBU cable to two other companies’ cables. One was a good quality copper cable at a similar price and the other a silver cable at a much higher price. The Gothic Audio was better than the similarly priced copper cable and not that far behind the higher-priced silver cable. This was getting good.
Finally, I tried Gothic Audio’s NUBLU XLR cables between the Denafrips Terminator + and my Vitus RI 101 Mk2 amplifier. No XLR cable has come close to the sound of my single-ended RCA silver ribbon cables, which is why they are my reference cables.
After balancing the volume level differences, I heard a clear sound quality difference between the two cables. I preferred the NUBLU. I then compared the NUBLU to a high-quality copper XLR cable (£3,000) and a less expensive XLR cable. The outcome was the same, I preferred the NUBLU.
And to top it all off? I have a friend who has a really good system using PMC FACT 8 speakers. Based on what he heard with one cable, he has now wired his system with Gothic Audio silver cables including their new speaker cables. And the fun bit, he was not really a cable believer and now has mentioned that he is hearing his music with additional musical details, especially in the bass. He was REALLY impressed with the depth, power and detail in the bass and the fact it was all done without losing the tightness of the bass. And Hannah Reid is now singing without her Covid mask on. I said I was going to use that.
Normally when you mention pure silver cables prices start to go into the 4-figure region, but not with Gothic Audio. They are reasonably priced, sound very good as Chris uses high-quality silver wires with good connectors and have the right geometry.
I unequivocally recommend these cables because of their sound quality and when you take into account their price, they are an easy recommendation.
Beware, there are many cables advertised as silver cables on a certain US-based sales/buy page, most are silver-plated copper and very thin silver plating at that.