The audiophile world is filled with manufacturers who cater to specific avenues of the hobby. These companies work hard to deliver the goods on their particular vision of what the ultimate sound in recorded playback should be, and one of the hardest working individuals behind one of these companies is Chris Sommovigo of Black Cat Cable.
Chris Sommovigo: In ’91 I lived in Los Angeles for a brief time. I had a transport/DAC combo (Luxman/Audio Alchemy DDE). I was using RG6 cable between them. My dealer wanted me to try (and buy) Alchemy’s digital cable. I agreed to try it out, but told him that a cable couldn’t make a difference with a digital signal, for all the same reasons that the parade of naysayers love to cite. I tried it. I wasn’t happy. It sounded whitewashed and compressed.That impressed me enough to try and look into why. I pinged a friend – a radio frequency (RF) engineer – and together we thought it had something to do with the characteristic impedance of the cable not matching the load of the DAC. Surveying what was being offered as “digital” cables at the time, I determined that the typical M.O. of many cable companies was to the cull a cable from their analog interconnect line, call it “digital” and sell it to audiophiles as somehow designed for the purpose. That’s where the idea for Illuminati (my first company) found its inspiration: We created an impedance-critical digital cable with custom-designed RCAs in order to address what I thought was a gaping hole in the market. That’s how this career started for me.
CS: Along the way I had some extraordinary mentors, starting with my father who was an entrepreneurial master electrician who raised me in the trade since I was quite young, some highly accomplished RF engineers, a few people in the audio trade, some “thermionic” artists, writers, etc. It’s been a long, strange trip so far and all of it has informed where I am right now and where I suppose I must be heading.
CS: Black Cat began as an exercise in necessity. I truly wanted to be able to insulate my own bare wire so that I could free myself 100 per cent from reliance on industrial subcontractors and explore some of my own ideas within my own workshop. I spent two years or so getting the first insulation processes worked out – this became the AERON dielectric, which is a small-form knitting process that allowed me to insulate raw conductors with a form of multifilament raw teflon yarn in a way that introduced quite a bit of air into the medium. This meant lower dielectric constance, which meant lower capacitance and higher velocity for any given cable using AERON. I’ve since developed other ideas, such as uniformly suspending conductors in teflon/air tubes (see Matrix “guts”) that are even better in this regard.
Prior to Black Cat I had developed a micro-braided magnet wire design that was specifically for Continuum’s Cobra tonearm-wire. It was made on a very small catheter-braider that I acquired from an industrial source, and this small-form braid proved to be very interesting and useful in other ways. Flash forward to 2017–2018 and I’ve had some machines custom made for me here in Japan that allow me to braid 32 small conductors in various ways, all of which are referred to as “Matrix.”
One of these is the very complex Zoltán Matrix (ZMX) that is used in my Indigo cables. This is what I used to make some custom balanced cables for Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings, which was a bear of a project because the cable had to be broken-out into individual conductors landing on a terminal-strip input for the amplifier that drives the cutting head on the lathe that’s used to cut his lacquers. I also made some custom microphone cables for him using a variation of Matrix, and the latest 3202 interconnects use another form of Matrix.
CS: At this moment, I’m converging various design elements and technologies under the Black Cat marque to create a range that will carry forward my own design ideals into several series of products. Whether it’s the micro-braiding of fine wires into various forms, the suspension of conductors in air tubes, the coaxial arrangement of braided-wire tubes, or variations and combinations of all of these, my intentions are to create products that adhere to a form of minimalism, if not also minimalism as an answer to the bulky, shiny, unrefined and vulgar trends that somehow lend the audiophile bragging rights, but deprive them of refinement. Some of my designs are quite complex, but they are simultaneously minimal; small conductors, simple/elegant arrangements and relationships between conductor and insulator, all brought together from raw materials through custom machinery and formed into high-performance products inside my workshop.
CS: I approach my work as art, for whatever that word is worth in circumstances like these, but it does reflect my attitude toward the audio disciplines. All of my favorite designers in this industry, from past to present, were part-technician/part-shaman. I don’t see myself in that light, but I’m trying to work at it.
While both sets of conductors -–Lupo and Lupino – are “nami” (wave) processed, the Lupino conductor has a much shallower wave form owing to the fact that it has to fit inside a smaller diameter tube.