Luminous Audio Technology Synchestra Silver Reference


Some of the Best Gets Better

Gene Towne

Novmber 2003


22-gauge 99.9998 pure silver twisted twin conductor, Teflon coated Fine-mesh fiberglass 3/8” diameter jacket, air-core insulation 
Eichmann Silver Bullet Plug® RCAs, Neutrix XLRs $80 additional
Inductance: 1.9 uH/m
Capacitance: 58 pF/m
Resistance: .04 ohm/m 
Price: $599/1 meter pair 

Luminous Audio Technology
8705 West Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23294
Telephone: 804-741-5826
Fax: 858-346-0876

Over the past couple of years, I have auditioned products from Luminous Audio Technology of Richmond, VA, purveyor of wireware to the gentry. Admittedly, having not sampled all of LAT Chief, Tim Stinson’s wares (shameful), I do have considerable experience with the crème de la crème of Luminous’ offerings—the Synchestra series. The Signature and the Reference were reviewed here earlier and as my reference, each of the then top shelf Stinson interconnects has provided much listening enjoyment over the ensuing months.

I had settled into a satisfying relationship with the Refs when an E-mail showed up from VA. Seems that the promised Synchestra Silver Reference — after months of listening tests and tweaking — was ready for battle and going into production as the flagship of the Luminous fleet.

“The silver’s finished. I think it’s my best work,” read the message from Captain Stinson. “I’m sending some samples for evaluation.” But, there was a caveat, “They may be bright in your system.” Ah, the reminder of the character of silver vs. copper and the reason many won’t bother to audition silver interconnects or speaker cable, cost differences aside. The Synchestra Reference contained 6/9s single-crystal OFHC conductors; the Silver Reference was just that—5/9s pure Au. Having suffered the earbleeds that silver wire can produce, I warily replied that I welcomed a listen. 

Within a week, the guy in the brown truck arrived at my door with a box. Therein were the metalized bags in which Luminous wire is packaged for 1) protection against X-ray and EMI screening and 2) because the company doesn’t believe “that you should have to pay for exotic wood, velvet-lined, or other ‘designer’ containers that add to cable cost.”

Inside the bags were two pair of midnight black, woven fiberglass-covered ICs terminated with Eichmann Silver Bullet Plugs®. Around the plugs were copper sleeves with their connection to the wire encased in black heatshrink imprinted with the Luminous logo in silver. The new Silver Reference fairly shouted “class!”

Extremely flexible, the interconnects contain a pair of 22-gauge conductors with nothing but air between them and the fiberglass jacket. While the polymer Bullet Plugs aren’t fragile, very fine silver wire is and care should be taken when handling the ICs. The plugs fit snugly and twisting should be minimized when inserting or removing them.

The Synchestra Refs were pulled, the Caig Pro-Gold ritual was performed on the new wire and all female RCAs, and the Silver Refs were plugged into the amp, preamp, CD player and tuner. I reached for the familiar copy of Jesse Cook’s Gravity [Narada ND-63037], a favorite reference disc, and took my couch potato position across the room. Okay, so I use a remote. 

Silver Has It

Cook’s guitar poured out of my Avalon Arcus’; no slim pickin’s here. The group’s signature “Mario Takes A Walk” opens with thirteen guitar notes, repeats and moves into a glissando with Blake Manning’s timbales punching holes in the air behind Cook. Percussionist Mario Melo, for whom the cut is named, seasons the mix with a hail of sound from percussion exotiqué and the venue fills with the beat backed by Tony Levin’s bass cues. The difference in hearing this cut through the Synchestra Reference and the Silver Reference is one of discovery; Cook’s guitar is more immediate, Manning’s timbales more authoritative, Melos’ basket of sound makers more distinct and Levin’s double bass more resonant. 

The sum had become greater than its parts and the caveat from Luminous’ Tim Stinson that the Silver Ref “ … may be bright in your system,” did not apply. There was no edge, etch, stridency or brightness and I was surprised, frankly. Silver or silver/copper wire that I have auditioned had these characteristics to a greater or lesser degree or were lean, dry or missing something in my system. And I didn’t like them. Blaming the SS Sonogy Black Knight MKII amp would be missing the mark; I heard the same thing with a c-j Eight. I replayed the cut and listened to the end of the CD, finding something new everywhere.

It was time to sample that most difficult of instruments to get right—the piano. There are keyboard recordings and then there are keyboard recordings. Some of the very best are on the fabled Three Blind Mice label and were cut in the early days of “Perfect Sound Forever,” ca. 1974. If you haven’t heard Midnight Sugar [TBM CD 2523] with the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto trio, I suggest you secure a copy at your earliest convenience. 

The recording is superb and is not a CD that falls into the much-maligned ADS category: Audiophile Discs that Suck. Not only is the recording excellent technically, selections thereon are of the jazz evergreen genre (Carmichael, Van Heusen, etc.), with the title cut and closer “Sweet Georgia Blues” penned by Yamamoto. Add Isoo Fukui on bass and the drum kit of Tetsujiro Obara and you are into “Midnight Sugar.”

The trio is spellbinding in its “hereness” — to say “thereness” would be misleading; Yamamoto’s piano notes are gemlike in their clarity, Jiro’s brush work is sweetened by the 99.9998 pure silver Reference ah so delicately, while Fukui’s bass notes are captured sublimely. No lo-cal substitutes here. Again, the Silver held the edge over the copper Refs in every aspect of the recording, from instrumental tonality to bass and treble extension. Transient speed is superior.

In constant rotation in my CD player is Cal Tjader’s Monterey Concerts [Prestige PRCD-24026-2]. In my opinion, this is one of his best recordings both technically and content-wise, particularly for a live venue. Monterey Concerts was recorded on April 20, 1959, prior to the second Monterey Jazz Festival and originally released on the Fantasy label in the two volume set, Concert By The Sea. The sound is excellent for any location, live or studio, and the thirteen tunes create a lucky Tjader Tjazz blend, from cut one “Doxy,” a Sonny Rollins offering, to the final “Tumbao” by Mr. T. 

This historic compilation has Paul Horn on flute, Mongo Santamaria on bongos and percussion, the drums and timbales of Willie Bobo, Lonnie Hewitt’s piano and Al McKibbon’s bass; a must-have for Tjader fans as well as aficionados of mainstream jazz.

“Doxy” and Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” are percussion standouts to die for on a disc rampant with them, the melancholy “We’ll Be Together Again” features a perfect Paul Horn PH factor on flute — he’s in the room — and throughout all cuts is the mallet artistry of Tjader, a Hewitt keyboard tour-de-force and some awesome subterranean bass work by McKibbon. Another disc that shows off the Silver Refs to their best advantage.

Dynamics, You Say?

Back in ’93, Reference Recordings did a number of things with Keith O. Johnson’s new High Definition Compatible Digital process, a way to Better Sound Forever according to many. Although RR claimed that a CD player should incorporate HDCD decoding to enjoy the process to its fullest, Johnson’s work has enhanced digital recording for all, regardless of the playback unit employed.

Of the early HDCD releases, Trittico [RR-52CD] was a singularly stunning recording featuring Frederick Fennell conducting the Dallas Wind Symphony in a montage of challenging musical nuggets. In the early 90’s, the DWS was one of the few active wind bands in the U.S. and adjudged one of the finest anywhere, performing many times under Fennell’s baton. 

For sheer dynamic contrast, the disc puts your system through the wringer, from the opening notes of Trittico by Vaclav Nelhybel, to the afterglow of Vittorio Giananni’s Symphony #3, with additional selections by Albeniz, Dello Joio and Grieg. This HDCD disc was recorded DDD at Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas by Johnson and mastered by Paul Stubblebine, and the sound (non-HDCD, in my case) is exquisite, thus laying to rest the canard that all triple-D recordings are reproductions of fingernails on blackboards.

The Silver Reference captured, without congestion, the 55-piece orchestra composed of oboes, flutes, piccolo, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, saxophones, flugelhorns, French horns, trombone, tubas, euphonium, string bass, tympani and percussion, piano, celeste and harp. Sorting the instruments proved no problem for the latest Luminous interconnect and the sheer weight of the group at work was handled without fault. The venue was well-delineated from front to back and side to side, the recording reflecting the volume of the Center and the Silver Reference responding with alacrity to the challenge. Macro- and micro-dynamics displayed well the ability of the latest iteration of the Luminous Synchestra to interpret clearly the dynamic outpouring of this orchestra. Transparency of the wire
was open-window clear. 

As the final notes of the Dallas Wind Symphony faded into the late afternoon dust motes, I applauded mentally and turned to the soundtrack from Mulholland Drive [Milan 73138-35971-2], another of David Lynch’s dark mindbenders. Musical offerings here run the gamut: a jitterbug, dinner party combo music, a 50’s vocal version of the Hammerstein-Kern “I’ve Told Every Little Star,” variations on the album title theme, a disorienting heavily worked piece with a buried down-speed voice track called “Go Get Some,” a love theme and the showpiece—“Llorando,” a Spanish torch version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” sung by Rebekah Del Rio.

The Silver Reference continued to interpret more deeply than did the Reference. Nowhere was this more evident than in “Llorando,” in which Del Rio sings unaccompanied with incredible pathos, voice aching with emotion. The end of the piece scales the heights and stays there, the title of the song repeats…and repeats, her final “Llorando” disappearing somewhere in the vastness around her. I have played this cut innumerable times for the overwhelming quality of the voice and the lyrical interpretation by Del Rio. It has never failed to move me; the Silver Refs increase the goose bump factor by whole numbers.

Turning to the male voice, there is an abbey in Southern Tuscany near Castelnuovo dell’Abate that dates to the 700’s and the days of Charlemagne, the abbey of Sant’Antimo. I have been fortunate to visit, on more than one occasion, this fine example of Romanesque architecture that possesses some of the finest acoustics to be found anywhere, an environment in which the abbey’s Augustinian monks augment donations by recording and selling CDs and tapes of Gregorian chants. 

In their desire to provide a variety of the genré for the tourists who travel to the abbey near Montalcino, the hill town noted for Brunello wine, the monks record a new collection of chants periodically. They currently number six CDs in their catalog, including Mysterium, a series of 25 chants from 23 seconds to two minutes in length. The handsome 144-page disc-sized album that holds the CD contains narrative and chant verse in four languages, with a myriad of photographs. 

The recording is excellent, the solo and massed voices distinct and palpable. I have been in the abbey when the monks were chanting; the recording reproduces the event closely. The sound of the venue is as one might expect in a stone edifice half the length of a football field and one quarter as high. The Golden Ratio it is not, but the sound is spectacular—wide, deep and a good measure of height. To listen to the chanti gregoriani in Mysterium is to gather in a bit of religious history dating back more than twelve centuries. 

This review of the Luminous Silver Reference interconnects could include additional examples of instruments in single and multiple mode, voices solo and en masse, electronica, etc.; more would add nothing to the observations above.

The ability of the Silver Reference to reproduce music naturally is its primary raison d’être. Superior to the Synchestra Reference in all respects and able to challenge all comers, this latest offering by Luminous Audio Technology is a benchmark interconnect by which others may be measured, most particularly at its price. 

I highly recommend an audition at your earliest opportunity. 


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