Man, can I drag things out. I wrote the first installment of “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for SoundStage! Ultra, in July 2017. That series of six articles, the most recent published in December 2017, chronicled my search for -- you guessed it -- a new audio system. When I conceived of the series, I was about to move from our former home, had just sold my $400,000 reference stereo system, and was looking forward to whatever might be next. Perhaps the title of the series should have been “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System . . . or Not.”
I never finished the system. I like to think that was because, this time, my approach was super-pragmatic. I’m not as rash as I was in my youth -- or so I try to convince myself -- and surely that will help me make the best choices in choosing a stereo. If idealism is the opposite of pragmatism, then in this area of my life, at least, I can get behind my, um, delayed response. In high-end audio as in anything else, it’s too easy to buy the wrong thing. Such mistakes can be expensive and frustrating.
Nonetheless, here it is May 2020, and I’m taking another step toward the completion of my reference audio system. I won’t recount everything I’ve done up to this point -- all of the older articles are available in the SoundStage! Ultra archives. This article is about the next step -- interconnects, digital links, speaker cables, and power conditioner -- and it’s one I’m confident in taking.
Shunyata Research enters the game
Last month, I reviewed Shunyata Research’s Hydra Alpha A12 power conditioner and Venom NR-V10 power cord. If you haven’t read that review, I recommend you read it before continuing with this article. The Shunyatas earned a Reviewers’ Choice award, and the reasons were crystal clear. The products I reviewed have it all: fantastic sound quality, flawless build quality, and prices that, at this point in my life, make sense to me -- high value for dollar spent. In short, I had no reservations about the Shunyata models I reviewed -- something that, with me, seldom happens with high-end audio products.
Shunyata Research makes everything you need to wire up your system and clean the power you feed it. I already had the Venom NR-V10 power cords connected to my electronics -- a Boulder Amplifiers 2060 stereo amplifier and a Hegel Music Systems HD30 DAC -- so it made perfect sense to me to try speaker cables and interconnects from the same manufacturer, to hear if that would improve even more the great sound I was already getting. I called Grant Samuelsen, Shunyata’s director of marketing and sales, to talk about what might be best for my system. He knows the Shunyata line inside and out -- of course -- and was already familiar with the components of my system. Samuelsen didn’t hesitate to make some suggestions.
From our earlier conversations, and his knowledge of which products I’ve bought in the past, Samuelsen knows that I like noiseless, transparent, dynamic sound, without any sweetening, taming, or warming up of my audio system. As I write this, I’m listening to András Schiff performing the first movement, Allegro con brio, of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.3 in C, Op.2 No.3 (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, ECM/Qobuz). The sound is open and engaging, filled with light and life. It is in no way warm or syrupy -- I can’t tolerate a sound that drags the music down into the muck. The ceramic drivers of my Vimberg Tonda speakers are fleet of foot and can produce amazing delicacy of sound, and the Shunyata interconnects and speaker cables are a perfect fit for these attributes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t told you which Shunyata products I’ve added to my system.
Grant Samuelsen recommended models that he thought would be perfect matches for my current setup. I received a pair of Alpha SP speaker cables ($4300/2.5m pair) and a set of Delta IC balanced interconnects (XLR, $3000/6m pair) -- remember, I already had the Venom NR-V10 power cords and Hydra Alpha A12 power conditioner. I also got an Alpha USB link ($1100/1.5m). The interconnects run from the Hegel (placed on one side of my room, on an SGR Audio Model III Symphony equipment rack) to the Boulder (dead center between the speakers). The Boulder is connected to the Vimbergs with speaker cables terminated with spades on both ends. The Alpha USB interconnect links the Hegel to my MacBook Pro computer via a USB dongle that also connects my external hard drive full of music.
I’ve been around the high-end audio block a few times now. Although I trust my ears -- I know well the kind of sound I like and the kind I don’t like -- I’m also convinced that the more data points I have, the better. If that’s your thing, too, I suggest that you spend an hour or so on Shunyata Research’s website and read about the technologies they use in their products. What you’ll find there is not a mess of manufacturer propaganda, but technical bits backed up with measurements that support Shunyata’s claims. Many cable manufacturers are measurement averse, which makes me nervous when considering those companies’ products. Shunyata embraces measurements, and the extra data points they provide buttress my listening impressions.
One last point: Anyone who’s familiar with my writing knows that I’m a fanatic about build quality. I want the products in my system to be constructed and finished to the highest quality possible. The materials should be commensurate with the price of the products, and the workmanship should reflect this as well. The Shunyatas exhibit these qualities to a very high degree.
Back to András Schiff . . . with the Shunyatas now connecting and conditioning the power for my entire system, his piano notes float effortlessly between my speakers, sounding delicate but not forced, tonally dense but not flat. It’s as if, today, my stereo system is joyfully reproducing the sound of his Steinway. Yeah, I know -- that’s not possible. Maybe, as I listen on this quiet Saturday morning, it’s only I who am joyful. Regardless, I’m very happy with the sound of my system, as now wired and power-conditioned by these products from Shunyata Research.
Perhaps I was a bit hard on myself in the first two paragraphs of this piece. If being an audiophile is more journey than destination, then maybe my more than two decades as an audio journalist has all been Jeff’s getting a new stereo system. Whatever, my very personal odyssey has been conducted in public, in full view. This editorial documents only the most recent step forward in a quest that, God willing, is still far from over.
. . . Jeff Fritz