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|The All PHY Cable System: PHY interconnect | PHY interconnect | PHY speaker cable
Luciano Berio's Folk Songs from Formazioni, Folk Songs, Sinfonia [London 425 832-2] are a riotous affair. Composed by Berio, John Jacob Niles and including an aural transcription from a 78 recording of the "Azerbijan Love Song", Berio's Folk Songs were initially meant as a showcase for Cathy Berberian to whom they're dedicated. On this recording, Jard van Nes handles these duties with all the range of style, emotion and abandon that one could ask for. At times celebratory, dissonant, quiet and reflective, the spare orchestration acts as punctuation to the vocal wanderings. Cymbals crash, flutes flutter and the PHYs capture the textures and keep pace with all the movements even at their most clamorous. Dynamic range is fully exploited as are the instruments' unique voices. Should things get blurred by a bass-heavy, flattened and compressed presentation, this can become side-show music, garish and glaring. The PHYs avoid this with their agile and nimble footing.
Sometimes, mostly late into the evening, I want to hear simple arrangements with vocals but I don't want to understand what they're saying. A mental holiday of sorts. Francoiz Breut's self-titled album [Lithium 72438 445162 2] is sung mostly in French which works for me on this level and the fact that she actually speaks her way through most tracks adds to the overall mood; ennui with a hint of envy. This recording is pure French pop with spare accompaniment, all melancholy and atmosphere. The PHYs envelope you in these odd-set pieces, Breut's voice self-assured yet vulnerable, slide guitar and Hammond organ reverb-heavy. You're about as close as Ms. Breut and her then boyfriend/guitar player/song writer Dominique Ane want you to get with the PHYs - which is close just not too familiar.
I'm not a fan of soundtrack recordings per se but when they work, they can conjure up a mood. Ry Cooder seems to have bottled that desert emptiness and Harry Dean Stanton's loss in the soundtrack to the film Paris, Texas [WB 9 25270-2]. Here David Lindley and Jim Dickinson add the atmosphere over Cooder's slide guitar with an assortment of ambient and at times oddly bowed strings and percussive effects. Harry Dean Stanton's vocals on "Cancion Mixteca" are set against spare, lazy accompaniment to perfect effect. Every element has its voice - the nylon strings, steel percussion and Stanton's phrasing and pronunciation are just off enough to remind us he's a stranger in a strange land. Atmosphere and mood are conveyed as every element is at once laid bare yet part of an intentionally disjointed group. The cumulative effect of the PHYs seem to be more of what the interconnects promised; while each element is given its clear and distinct voice, the music they make together is there for you to explore. An invitation of sorts.
Miles Davis's soundtrack for the Louis Malle film Ascenseur pour l'echafaud [Fontana 836 305-2] is another mood piece. Recorded on December 4 & 5 in 1957, this recording is an anomaly in many ways but has some interest including the multiple takes which let us listen in on the working process. By all accounts, the mood was relaxed. When they arrived for the recording session, Miles and the other musicians were joined for drinks by Malle and Jeanne Moreau who starred in the film. This mood is evident in the music, which is slow and cool. Paris in 1957 with Miles Davis and Jeanne Moreau spells atmosphere and the PHYs deliver every ounce in this intimate setting, giving it just the right amount of sizzle.
R.L. Burnside's Burnside on Burnside [Fat Possum 80343-2] is all sizzle. This is a live recording of RL and while I also enjoy his more adventurous Fat Possum recordings, this is just plain and simple in-your-face music. I'm somewhat surprised to say the PHYs nearly give it up and let you have a full helping of all the stomp and grit. RL and Kenny Brown on guitar with Cedric Burnside's incessant pounding enjoy the differentiation given by the PHYs. There's no bass player in the house, so the momentum is supplied by guitar and drums and RL's voice which has the character and weight to carry these tunes. On the track "Miss Maybelle", the beat is delivered by RL's guitar and Cedric while Kenny Brown slides over the top for some fascinating rhythm. The PHYs catch all the stops and starts and deadened string strumming of RL's scratchy beat but there's some body missing - perhaps a bit too polite, no growl.
Comparisons: Nirvana interconnect | PHY interconnect | PHY speaker cable
I inserted the polyurethane-clad Nirvana S-L interconnects between the source and preamp since this was the same method used in the previous review of the PHY interconnects. Percy Grainger's In a Nutshell [EMI 7243 5 56412 2 9] contains a few gems including his orchestral transcriptions of Debussy's Pagodas and Ravel's La Vallee des cloches (The Valley of the Bells). Originally composed for solo piano, Grainger's arrangements include what he called "tuneful percussion instruments". The Debussy with its Eastern influences is a syncopated jewel. Grainger builds to a few climaxes and with the Nirvanas, the Birmingham Symphony Hall has been foreshortened, adding congestion where there should be breadth. Instead of the music unfolding, one feels the desire to get closer as if there's something separating us from the performance.
The Ravel is more subdued, with layers of orchestral sounds punctuated by bells. While they ring, they are smaller and muffled compared to the PHY's presentation. When layered over the orchestra, we lose some of the air surrounding the sounds, making the distinction between instruments less evident. Part of the interest here are these "tuneful percussion instruments" and how they interact with more traditional members of the orchestra. While this is evident with the PHYs, it's been homogenized by the Nirvanas. We've lost the edge in this juxtaposition.
Comparisons: Nirvana interconnect | PHY interconnect | Nirvana speaker cable
I still have my Nirvana S-L speaker cables so I put them into the mix. All those traits noted in the Nirvana interconnects are even more apparent with the speaker cables added. The Nirvanas are much more balanced toward the dark, lower end of the spectrum. While this gives the overall presentation more body and weight, it comes at the expense of subtlety and air. On the above-mentioned Ravel, there's even less differentiation between the sound of the bells and that of the orchestra. As the music gets more massed -- percussion, strings, bells -- you have a difficult time following what's going on, knowing exactly what instrument is making which sound. The same holds true for the Debussy. The music is presented as a massed whole rather than consisting of distinct voices.
On her 2004 debut album, Erin Moran aka A Girl Called Eddy [Anti 86719-2] sings her self-penned songs close-mic'd and breathy over some interesting arrangements that include strings, trombone and the usual guitar, bass, drums, and synthesizer. Ms. Moran's heroes are clearly evident on some tracks but tastefully so. On "Heartache", the opening piano is a clear reference to Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now' and that's exactly how it's used - as a point of departure to allow Ms. Moran's vocals and lyrics to take us somewhere new. Through the Nirvanas, there's more drive and again that emphasis on the lower end. While this does not interfere as dramatically with this recording, I miss the subtleties of the arrangements, the strings in particular adding a welcome dimension through the PHYs.
Have you ever gone to a favorite restaurant while suffering from a head cold? You know what that dish is supposed to taste like but it's just not there. The more intricate the food -- Thai lets say as opposed to a couple of pizza slices -- the more disappointing the experience. If your musical tastes tend to involve a more intricate palate, I'd suggest some PHY in your diet. On the other hand, if hard-drivin', earth-shakin', straight-ahead grunt and grunge better describe your cuppa tea, the Nirvanas may be more to your liking. On Burnside on Burnside, the Nirvanas stand in for the absentee bass player and give this recording a bit more bar room authority.
Soap Bubbles: Their Colors and the Forces that Mold Them: PHY + PHY + Auditorium 23
After a number of days and CDs with the Auditorium 23s back into the mix, I hit on the PHYs' somewhat elusive quality that was causing a subtle and relative uneasiness. While their somewhat shy bass had been obvious but not particularly bothersome, the PHYs control the music - hold onto it, shape it some and only then release it. This isn't a restriction in dimension or scale and it's certainly subtle and difficult to get hold of but what it amounts to is less sparkle.
One of the most effervescent recordings I own is Kulanjan by Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate [Hannibal HNCD 1444]. This album was recorded live over a few days with one or two takes per song and the energy can be infectious. Toumani Diabate is the world's premier kora player (the kora is a 21-stringed lute/harp) and Taj plays one of his steel-bodied guitars on the entire recording. They are joined by a group of Malian musicians all playing traditional instruments. The kora can send its notes into the air to reverberate unlike Taj's dobro which projects its sounds from a steel body - controlled and restrained by comparison. That's part of the beauty of this recording, the interaction of these distinct and beautiful sounds and the way each instrument deals with the plucked or strummed string. On the track "Atlanta Kaira", a single kora opens and is soon joined by the other musicians and finally Ramatou Diakite & Kassemady Diabate on vocals. "Kaira" means peace and happiness and from the opening notes of the kora, there is no doubt that the listener is going be treated to a celebration. Does the PHYs' control ruin this party? No - and I doubt that without the Auditoriums as a reference, one would be left wanting. However, within this context, that last bit of sparkle and abandon is held back. It's as if you've finally had that perfect soapy bubble detach from the wand but then it never breaks. Wow. But soon enough, you realize part of the fun is in the pop.
Spinning Percy Grainger's In a Nutshell [EMI 7243 5 56412 2 9] with the PHY/Auditoriums, you are immediately struck by the emotional qualities of this recording. The performers are given more space, a deeper and quieter stage to perform on and effectively have sounds emerge from silence and resonate in a very natural way. The juxtaposition of Grainger's tuneful percussion set against the more traditional instruments speaks more about a place and mood. My only complaint is that these two pieces, Debussy's Pagodas and Ravel's La Vallee des cloche, are only just over 5 minutes apiece and with the PHY/A23s, I'd be tempted to stay within them longer.
What I've come to realize is that the Auditoriums are largely responsible for that uncanny representation of the place in the recording. Spatial cues between performers are so palpable that you can actually listen in to the performance. The Auditoriums also provide more bass heft than the PHY speaker cables while holding onto the PHYs' detail and differentiation, something the Nirvanas did not do. Inserting the second PHY interconnect imparted a more subtle change than the first but a change for the better none the less. A bit more air and detail, another layer of haze removed, more of the music revealed. As a system, the PHYs deliver all the details and the A23s supply the bloom.
|I've experienced systems that seem to dictate the kind of music to play, mostly because they're too bright or too lean. Within my system, there is no hint of brightness with the PHYs to go along with their amazing detail and slightly laid back bass presentation. They get out of the music's way and provide an invitation to whatever you may want to spin. The PHY interconnects represent a remarkable bargain at their asking price and are worth seeking out. Considering the truly superb performance of the Auditorium 23s, I prefer them to the PHY speaker cables. If your budget won't allow for the A23s and your binding posts can accommodate bare wire, then the PHYs may be just the ticket. The all-PHY system will take whatever you send its way and give you back a detailed and involving|
|account of the recording. One practical word of caution: as Gizmo pointed out in his comments, the PHY speaker cables are stiff.
Weighing In: A Measured Approach
The French own the original meter called M. Made of an iridium-platinum alloy, M was created in 1889 and placed in a velvet-lined case, screwed inside a brass cylinder and buried in an underground iron vault in the basement of the Breteuil Observatory near Paris. Thirty standard bars (accurate to within 2/10,000th of a millimeter) where painstakingly produced at this same time for delegates from other nations to bring home as their replica of the universal prototype meter. The importance of a unified standard of measure was becoming increasingly vital for many industries as the world was growing more connected.
When it comes to measuring audio equipment's performance, there's no artifact in anyone's basement waiting to provide the ultimate objective truth. Even if the French also had the universal neutral meter-long interconnect cable UNIC, its effect would still be based on our particular variables & tastes. After all, we're not using it to measure. We're using it to listen, which is a rather subjective ear/mind/heart mix. The best one can offer is an honest unbiased approach that doesn't fly in the face of the reason of the day. Over time and with increased experience, there's always room for improvement. After all, even M has since been replaced by a more accurate form of measure.
Can I finally say that due to the PHYs' lack of MDI, we have a relatively inexpensive cable that is the embodiment of neutrality? Well, neutrality is a trait that should apply independent of other variables while a natural sound is a system-dependant observation. Neutrality can be measured but naturalness is perceived. Can I assume that if I put a neutral cable into my system, I'll have a more natural sound? Or if a certain cable makes my system sound more natural, does it necessarily follow that the cable itself must be neutral?
Wouldn't that be something! Yes, I can walk blindly into a multi-cable, multi-part review but I certainly will not step where many Asylum inmates are waiting to pounce. While I never understand nor see the use of the more vilifying attacks, the claims attached to the science behind some manufacturer's products are enough to make a patent examiner go red in the face (and I had an interesting and informative exchange with Klaus who just so happens to be one so I'm not making this up). As to the validity of PHY's claims regarding MDI, we need to examine the rest of the equation, i.e. what are the purported results of its effective elimination. From the PHY web site:"These techniques give extremely natural results; transparency with fullness, sweetness with high definition, a much larger objective and subjective frequency response, and an astonishing amount of information. As to their sound, musicality and emotion is carried by our cables with very few added perturbations allowing a rare level of pleasure."
While this obviously compares very closely to my impressions, it doesn't necessarily follow as proof of concept. For that I'd have to send the PHYs off to the lab - but mine was shut down by Timothy Leary when he determined our methods were too esoteric to be of any practical value. In the end, I'm not a measurer but a listener. Which brings me to perhaps another controversial point: I trust my ears. More specifically, I trust my emotional response when listening to music. Certainly the most colorful element in any system is the music we play through it. If I can get more involved in the music by adding a $290 interconnect cable -- which also means being less involved with the equipment responsible for playing it -- I'm not so sure I care what it's doing in absolute, measurable terms. If this change affects the majority of the types of music I listen to for the better and gets me closer regardless of the recording quality, I'll take two.
I have no qualms with Mr. Salabert's claims and am inclined to take him at his word. I do not see him wanting or needing to prop his products up on false claims. In fact, if the emperor needed some new clothes, I'd suggest a back-to-basics approach. Stick with au naturel 100% cotton. He'd certainly be more comfortable than if he were wrapped in polyurethane. If experience bears any fruit in this particular analogy, it may just improve his character.