There is an argument to be made that writing about audiophile cabling is more than a bit like dancing on the “third rail” — even with all the poise in the world, no good can ever come of it. This is, in this reviewer’s opinion, a foolish stance. Understandable, but foolish.
The problem appears to lie in that middle-distance, square between expectation and reality, where far too many see only smoke and mirrors. Now, that isn’t to say that there isn’t chicanery that goes on in high-end audio, nor would any reasonable person deny that there are some cable manufacturers that have been known to indulge more than a bit in pseudo-scientific marketing, if not outright thaumaturgy, colored with dramatic levels of (admittedly impressive) prestidigitation. But acknowledging those failings — and also acknowledging that those kinds of failings are hardly unique or specific to high-end audio generally or of audiophile cabling in specific — is not the same thing as saying that all is pyrotechnics, sleight-of-hand, and bald-faced lies. Far from it. Quite a lot of this stuff is exactly what it purports to be. And yes, I include cabling in that sweeping gesture, too. Now, in my (admittedly short) experience, I’ve run across some real howlers. But I’ve also run across some truly innovative, hard-working, and obviously honest men and women, all trying to make ends meet here in this weird-and-wonderful corner of consumer electronics. And today, I want to call one of them forward.
Pete Grzybowski, or “Triode Pete” (or even Pete Grizz, for those of us with phonetic impairments), is the owner of Triode Wire Labs, a Long Island-based company that specializes in “high-end cables at budget-friendly prices”. He also happens to be one of the nicest guys in today’s high-end. A cheerful, affable, and earnest man, Pete just happens to make some of the best-sounding cables you can currently buy. Full stop. End of line. Done. Finis. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. Here endeth the lesson.
Yeah, okay, fine. There’s more to say. In fact, some of it we’ve already said. Several years ago, we reviewed some of Grzybowski’s Seven Plus power cords (starting at $549), cheerfully awarding them an Editor’s Choice award. I’ve seen and heard some tremendous power cords since then, and the Seven Plus remains a reference, and yes, I bought a full set. The reason? Quite simple — my system sounded better with Triode Wire Labs power cords. Much better.
Apparently, that was only the beginning.
Over the last several years, Pete has introduced more depth to his lineup. There’s the “Digital American” power cable, with some interesting “passive-filtering” built-in for those seeking the more refined for their sensitive digital electronics. New connectors and even larger-gauge conductors led to the Silver Statement (starting at $1,199) and adding in the kitchen sink led to the new top-of-the-line Obsession (starting at $1,399).
But Triode Wire Labs is not only power cords. New to the loom are the “American Speaker Cables” (starting at $699) and the “Spirit” interconnects (starting at $349). And with them, we’re pretty much rounded out — Triode Wire Labs now has your (analog) audio system covered. And wired. And yes, that’s a very good thing.
The metallurgical formula that Grzybowski uses for his cables is proprietary, so I can’t and won’t wax philosophic about the virtues of single-crystal copper or silver braided by hand by Himalayan nuns. In fact, I can’t really say much about it at all. Grzybowski has let drop that while this formulation is new, it’s not precisely novel — those with a love of vintage wire may well find that the new-and-improved approach here takes on new levels of joy-making. And that’s all we get.
Well, no, not quite all.
What you’ll probably notice first about Triode Wire Labs cables is that they’re flexible. We’ve all seen (or at least heard stories of) anaconda-ate-the-cat sized cables that have all the flexibility of an 80-year-old GOP Congressman, with a stiffness easily able to lift small buildings, much less Components Of A Lesser Weight (COALW), and toss said objects about like an 200lb mastiff tosses around an annoying Chihuahua (question: is “annoying Chihuahua” redundant?).
With the Triode cables, there’s none of that nonsense. The cables all have a reassuring weight and solidity to them, and will cheerfully flop around like the ears on a golden retriever. The most massive of the bunch, the Obsession power cord, is still absurdly easy to use and while you probably wouldn’t want to use it on an old 2nd generation Oppo CD player, you can, with no fear whatever. Corners? No problem. The massive plugs aside, the cables will handily flop in the direction of gravity whenever given the chance. I love that. Which may seem silly. Until you see (and have to try and use) the aforementioned pet-devouring reptiloids.
The connectors tend to be very high-quality, like the Furutech FI-50 (R) NCF series found on the Obession, or the Furutech FI-11M (Cu) mains and FI-11 (Cu) C13 found on the big Seven Plus. The number of conductors varies (the more, the merrier — and the larger the final gauge), but they are arranged in a Litzendraught braid and not solid-core. Analog cables get spiffy Cardas spade connectors or Cardas rhodium-over-silver-plated banana connectors. For the interconnects, there are two choices:
- Aircraft aluminum-bodied single-ended RCA connectors with equal, super low-mass & ultra-low capacitance center pin and ground. Both center pin & ground are high purity OFC copper with 24K gold flash plating.
- Brass-bodied balanced XLR connectors available with three equal, super low-mass & ultra-low capacitance positive & negative polarity pins and ground. All three pins are high purity OFC copper with 24K gold flash plating.
On the power cords, the RF/EMI approach varies. That is, the Digital American, Silver Statement and Obsession all have some. These cables all use (gold or silver) “conductive mylar as well as patented conductive carbonized external sleeving to assist in maintaining clean signals as well as providing interference & RF filtering.”
Lastly, the cables are all — all — cryogenically treated, and then “run in” on a “high power audiodharma CABLE COOKER™ Anniversary Edition 3.5 with premium all-copper billet Cardas CCGR binding posts”.
- Triode Wire Labs American Speaker Cables, bi-wire to use with my extraordinarily competent Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW loudspeakers, and a full set of matching jumpers to connect the outboard crossover to the speaker. Prices start at $1,099 for 6′ length for the speaker cables (check with them about jumpers and pricing). I opted for bananas all the way around because spades are annoying.
- Triode Wire Labs Spirit Interconnects. Prices start at $349 for 3′ length. I opted for RCA all the way around because that’s the gear that I have.
- Triode Wire Labs Obsession power cord. Prices start at $1,399 for 6′ length.
- Triode Wire Labs Silver Statement power cord. Prices start at $1,199 for 6′ of length.
- Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW loudspeakers. I cannot express the awesomeness of these speakers.
- Pass Labs INT-60 integrated amplifier — I only had the one power cord of each type, and my tube amps require four, so Pass Labs it was.
- BorderPatrol DAC (review forthcoming) — this DAC is crazy-good, and while it only plays Redbook files (over S/PDIF or USB), the sheer immediacy and openness makes it wildly transparent to system changes.
I’m going to start with the assumption that wiring has a perceptible contribution to make to the overall sound of the system they find themselves in. I’m also going to assume that explaining that metallurgically, chemically, or electrically, is going to be beyond my capacity as a writer. I’m also going to suggest that those that find these assumptions difficult to accommodate are entirely welcome to do the empirical thing and try it out themselves, with any maiming or blinding that they feel compelled to inflict on themselves or to random victims pulled in off the street, their kicking and wailing notwithstanding.
I will also acknowledge that these assumptions are not untendentious. I have, many times in the past, attempted to capture the issues surrounding such complaints, so I will not bother to revisit them here. If you feel moved to revisit them in the Comments Section, below, feel free — but be aware that the usual requirements of civility and charitableness still apply.
In general, I want to offer that the Triode Wire Labs cables seem to fall into that delightful category that will, admittedly, annoy most hi-fi enthusiasts — they’re “natural”. How ya like them apples? Ha!
To be only slightly more specific, I think the signal cables are just plain excellent. They’re fluid, and natural, and everything played through them comes out sounding a little easier. Not smoother. Easier. As if some kind of glare has been lifted. Now, before you go all over-concluding, let me say also that both the speaker cables and the interconnects both also present as very “open” sounding — which is something very easy to say and much harder to describe. I liken this effect to “removing the window” (as opposed to cleaning it or opening it), and I find it quite thoroughly addicting. Those of you that like to use the term “veil” (as in, “removing a veil”) will probably be impelled to use it here. The cables are also a touch warm but without thickness, and in that way, rather similar to my reference cables from TelWire. I like this signature, for whatever it’s worth, as it tends to add more organic life to the overall presentation. I have had a few cables that suck this sense of life right out, which is awful since many speaker designers also suck this region dry, so I’m very happy to have some strength here. Overall frequency extension is unquestionable — the speakers present a lovely sparkle up top, wild intensity in the mids, and effortless power down low (such as it is).
I was talking with a friend who actually found the interconnects to be a bit dark — that is, emphasizing the mids/lows perhaps at the expense of the highs — but that is clearly overstating things. We’re drawing with pretty fine lines at this point; what I’m describing is more “hint” than “truth”. After settling in to the experience, I never noticed anything untoward or reserved about the cables — there was all the air and sparkle I’ve ever looked for, and nothing extra.
To me, what seems to happen with “exotic” cable constructions and complex/rare metallurgical blends, is that there is this sense of “extra” up top. Maybe a little zing, a little dash of extra energy, that can be quite arresting. Some folks I know tell me that this leads quite directly to listener fatigue, but I think that’s also overstating things — I know quite a few audiophiles that revel in that “extra sensory” sort of approach that seems to characterize the modern hi-fi sound. And that’s fine. You say toe-may-toe, I say toe-mah-toe. Beauty, beholders, yadda yadda yadda. But for me, moving back to cables with “traditional materials” (pure copper, for example) almost always results in a “Oh, thank God” reaction — that sort of relaxation, or “ease” that I was talking about. I will say that Grzybowski actually uses a “proprietary material”, and that did make me quite suspicious, especially as he seems to have captured my stereotypical expectations quite well. While he’s never quite revealed what’s happening behind the curtain there — and to be fair, I would deny it even if he did — but I’m fully mollified that Grzybowski’s approach is in line with my preconceptions about materials. Sometimes, simpler is better — and my experience with TWL underscores that firmly.
A special note about the frequency extension — the full loom of TWL cables gives me a full-spectrum presentation. Bass is in the “best ever” category, with timbre on par with the best my system has ever sounded. Piano strikes are percussive and clean, with unhindered decays and heart-stopping transients — everything my system is capable of appears to come through as clean, clear, rich and as open-sounding as it has ever sounded. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. This is about as good as it gets in my system, so I’m totally sold.
The new power cords were very interesting to me. As I mentioned, I’ve been a fan of the Seven Plus for some number of years now, and I’ve always been extremely impressed with the bass quality and texture of those power cords. That is, I’d never really noticed that the power cords I’d been using had been strangling my gear, a “problem” that I handily addressed with a fistful of Seven Pluses.
The new Silver Statement, by contrast, does something unmentionable in the bass department. Think “Cialis” and you’re getting into the neighborhood that this metaphor is cruising around in. Ready to throw down at a moment’s notice, no prep required, if you follow. To retreat into less colorful territory, I wanted to say that the bass was marginally more impactful and/or tracked just a bit better. If you’ll pardon the shift, it’s very much like driving around with a car with more torque, not more horsepower. Of course, if you’re not into cars, this won’t mean a lot, but that’s the way of metaphors. Anyway, the amplifier, with the Silver Statement power cord, just sounded more “capable”, for want of a better phrase. Not night-and-day (these things never are), but obvious.
The Obsession was, again, a little different. I want to say that the difference from the Silver Statement lay mainly along the lines of overall refinement — things just felt very planted and settled, but this did feel a bit like chasing after phantoms as the difference between it and the Silver Statement was modest, at least in the review system. I had to back out and swap in the Seven Plus to get a handle on what I think is going on. In each comparison, the Obsession just had “more” on tap. More power, more reach, more refinement, more solidity, more responsiveness. Not much, compared to the Silver Statement, but still more. Going back down the line, transients, which were not a problem at all with the Seven Plus, now snap with alarming alacrity on the Obsession. Take the shimmer of the cymbal strike in the opening bars of the Reference Recordings rendition of Copland’s “Fanfare of the Common Man”. I’ve heard that brassy crash thinned, paled, attenuated, silvered, foreshortened, converted to tin, and otherwise maligned in just about every way possible — but in this system, with that power cord on the amplifier, I have a new reference sound. It was one of those “holy shit” moments. That system had — literally — never sounded better.
There is always a question of what is “worth it” in any pursuit where people attempt to make a living. I will admit, I get a little impatient with the requirement to keep coming back to it. If you cannot afford it, do not afford it and don’t worry about it — move along. There are plenty of wonderful ways to spend your days that don’t involve an OCD-level fixation on unhealthy and out-of-reach purchases. But, that said, there are clearly times when money not only matters, but when you can say “this thing has great value”, and mean both “high-performance” and “low-cost” for that performance. That’s unusual. When that happens, my inner happy starts glowing like a firefly in summertime out for hot bug-sex before dropping dead of exhaustion. Whew-wee! I’m getting all sweaty.
Anyway, here at Part-Time Audiophile, we call that happy occurrence worthy of a Julia Award. Which is what these speaker cables and interconnects are — high value for the dollar. I love that.
As for the power cords, both Silver Statement and Obsession, their pricing is a bit too rich for that appellation. Which gives me the sad face. Womp womp. But, no fear — we still have a thing to say about these power cords! What’s that, you say? Yes! We need to tell you that these things are amazeballs and that you really ought to try a pair before indulging in an ultra-megabucks power solution. My favorite combo was something suggested to me, kinda after all the listening and not relevant given that I don’t actually have a setup that allows it, but I’d suggest that the Silver Statement may be a great preamplifier power cord. It’s a clear step up from the Seven Plus, which also got an Editor’s Choice Award, which leaves me no choice but to lift the Silver Statement onto the same field. And since the Obsession, now one of my references for amplification, is another (albeit small) step up from that, that too warrants an Editor’s Choice. So there you have it. Four cables, four awards. Ta da!
I want to extend another round of congratulations to Triode Wire Labs, and thank them for their patience during this review. The pleasure has been entirely mine. And now, hopefully, yours.
Scot: Why did you start making audio cables? Did someone do this to you? What were you doing before that?
Pete: I started fabricating audio cables as a “DIY’r” many moons ago since I knew I could make decent sounding ones for a reasonable price. However, it was at a NY Audio Rave where I heard one of the AR members power cords and it was a “revelation” in sound quality improvement. After that, I was “hooked” big time! I’ve been a licensed Professional Engineer (P.E.) for a long time and I have a lot of experience in the power generation and transmission industry.
Scot: What do you listen to at home? Describe your audio system! What speakers, amp, and music do you like?
Pete: I listen to a diverse selection of music and love it all! For instance yesterday, I listened to “Ella and Louis”, “Dave Brubeck”, “Doug MacLeod”, “Charlie Byrd”, “Rachmaninoff”, “Count Basie”, “Beach Boys”,”John Lee Hooker”, “Rolling Stones”, “Dave Matthews Band” and “The Clash” (not necessarily in that order…LOL!). I have three systems in my home, the main one has vintage mint Rosewood Klipschorns (with all Volti Audio-modded horns & crossovers w/ TWL internal wire), Loesch & Wiesner Western Electric 417A line & phono stage preamp (with dual Gen-Rad tube regulated PS’s), Border Patrol S10 300B SET (EXD version with dual PS’s), Well Tempered Reference turntable (with Clearaudio Maestro V2) and Goldenote Stibbert V CD player. TWL Cable Loom of course! The system is all tube, dead silent at idle with explosive dynamics! Organic & real sounding even at low volume levels… The second system room consists of Tannoy Gold 12″ dual concentric drivers in custom-made cherry enclosures (with tuned port down to 26 Hz), Steve Short designed DHT 171A preamp (with dual Gen-Rad tube regulated PS’s), Loesch & Wiesner 300B – 50 – 10 SET Convertible monoblock amps & a Philips SACD player. TWL Cable Loom of course, with bi-wired TWL speaker cables… I’m a big fan of Tannoy with their coherent, accurate & lovely sound! Third system is in my large garage with a Yamaha receiver, Dahlquist & Polk monitors with a CD player… by far the best garage system in the neighborhood!
Scot: Do you dance naked to your system when it’s turned up to 11, or do you prefer to wear tight-fitting clothes?
Pete: I dance naked most of the time but sometimes with very big & loose clothing (like David Byrne)…
Scot: What’s the biggest challenge to making audiophile cables? Marketing? Raw materials costs? The forums?
Pete: The biggest challenge is to make them sound great. Being a “direct to consumer” website-based company also poses many marketing issues and sales challenges.
Scot: What can you tell us about the construction and manufacturing of these cables? What’s different about your early cables and what you saw on the market? That is, why make cables? Was there something you were looking for and couldn’t find and had to do yourself? Or were you just doing it for all the sex, drugs and rock & roll?
Pete: My early commercially-made cables were “warmer” sounding and less accurate than my current models. The newer models have higher quality connectors and are professionally cryogenically treated as well. The geometry of construction and using non-traditional, “hi-tech” shielding techniques separates my cables from other cables on the market. For instance, one hi-end power cable manufacturer “brags” about his traditional quad shielding technique. Traditional shielding adds capacitance to a cable, resulting in a “dull-sounding”, lifeless cable. My goal is to design & build Affordable, Audiophile cables in a true artisan way.
Scot: Is there an overall design goal or sonic signature that you were looking for when you put out a new product? A price point?
Pete: I want my cable products to “get out-of-the-way”, to let the components attributes shine through with any added coloration. If I can achieve that, at an affordable cost, I’ve met my design goal.
Scot: What is it about your cables — or any cable — that lets them “sound different”?
Pete: EVERYTHING makes a difference (could be good or bad). Geometry of construction, materials used (metallurgy, dielectrics, contact enhancement treatments), cryogenic process, the color of the dielectric, quality of the build (torquing values, finish of the connectors, etc.) and the use of non-traditional materials (like used in the Furutech NCF series of components).
Scot: How has the general design or approach evolved over time?
Pete: The design has evolved and improved over time, mainly with higher quality & better sounding materials.
Scot: Talk about the Digital American — why a “digital” power cord? What are you trying to solve? How did you solve it?
Pete: There’s a lot of high frequency noise generated by digital component power supplies. I call it “Digititus”, that annoying fatiguing noise! My design goal was to dramatically reduce the noise associated with digital components. Using “hi-tech shielding techniques” along with functional, custom-made high-end CNC machined carbon-fiber based outer connector shells mated with high quality pure Furukawa copper connectors resulted in a high performance power cord for digital applications.
Scot: Talk about the evolution from Seven Plus to Silver Statement and Obsession — what was missing in the early design? Or were the new cables simply an experiment?
Pete: The “lessons learned” and design improvements made in the “Digital American” power cord were employed in the design of my “Statement Series” of power cords (The “Obsession” and “Silver Statement”). Also, I used many of the design elements of the “Seven Plus” with 20% additional conductors along with the two of the highest quality (and most expensive!) & best sounding connectors found on the planet! In the case of the “Silver Statement”, IeGO solid silver (not plated) connectors in custom carbon-fiber connector bodies and in the “Obsession”, Furutech’s best connectors, the FI-50 series now with NCF (Nano Crystalline Formula).
And now, as always, we close our classroom with the questions asked by the great James Lipton from Inside the Actor’s Studio.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Music, of course and the warm feeling of family & friends.
What turns you off?
“Flat Earth Society” members… those who cannot ponder the possibility that an audio cable can make a difference in sound quality… and they are SO WRONG!!!
What is your favorite curse word?
I don’t have one! When one of my 4 kids uses an inappropriate word, I shout, “LANGUAGE!”
What sound or noise do you love?
Great harmonics with natural macro & micro-dynamics as well as decay… the shimmering of a cymbal done right!
What sound or noise do you hate?
“DIGITITUS”, that annoying, fatiguing sound that drives you out of the room when listening to poor reproduction of digital sound…
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Philanthropist, if given the opportunity one day…
What profession would you not like to do?
Process Safety Engineer
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Welcome son, we’ve been waiting for you!