Sometimes an audio company gets its name just right, whether intended or not. “Darwin,” in the case of the Darwin Cable Company, was adapted from the name of a much-loved dog. When I think of this moniker I think Charles Darwin, the evolution guy. As in “The Origin of Species.” As they say, “if the shoe fits…”
Evolution is something of a progression, moving from a position of strength to a position of greater strength, often affected by adaption to environment. Does such an idea apply to audio cables, or to high-end audio in general? I’d expect that it could, and should. Why stick with merely “very good” when one could have “great”? Shouldn’t an already good product continue to evolve into an even better one?
Words and Photos by John Richardson
I actually go back to the very early days of Darwin Cable Company, as one of its co-founders, Bill Magerman, is a long-time audio buddy. I state this in full disclosure, but also to provide some
When I first visited Bill on his Pennsylvania blueberry farm years ago, he showed me some very
homemade-looking interconnect and speaker cables he’d come up with that he employed in the
multiple systems he had scattered throughout his home. These things were hardly audio jewelry, consisting of a really thin wire encased in some sort of translucent cladding. I recall that the conductor seemed to float inside its covering, and that the connectors seemed very simple and almost dainty. I wasn’t exactly impressed by the look of the things, but Bill was most definitely sold on their performance. Knowing what I know now, I should have bartered for a set of them right then and there.
Moving a year or two forward in time, Bill and I met again at a mutual friend’s barbecue party. This time, Bill had brought along a more refined set of interconnects based on the ones he’d showed me before. He explained that he had picked up a business partner, Tony Bender, a fellow audio enthusiast. Together, these two guys refined Bill’s initial design and introduced it as the first product of their joint venture, Darwin Cable Company.
Bill demoed the interconnect on one of the available systems at the get-together, and this time I got smart. I took that pair home with me. This inaugural product, dubbed “Silver” was quite the eye-opener for me; I ended up writing about it in StereoMojo, the on-line mag I was contributing to at the time. In fact, I have that very set of cables connecting my DAC to my preamp in my reference system today.
Since that time, say around the summer of 2015 or so, Darwin’s cables have indeed evolved.
Bill and Tony have continued to work with new and more advanced materials, as well as employing various methods of cryogenic treatment. Lots of new product options have been introduced as well, but everything stems from that first groundbreaking “Silver” interconnect. Their products have also taken on a more mainstream look that will appeal to the most discerning audio nut.
Darwin Cable Company: Enlightenment
What I have on hand today is the most advanced (and expensive) interconnect to come from the Darwin Cable Company’s drawing board. Named “Enlightenment,” it’s meant to portray the very best that the company can do given the materials and technology available. To state that Enlightenment is a far cry from my original Silver interconnects is an understatement, to say the least. While the basic design and implementation remain the the same (think pure silver conductor of very thin gauge floating freely in a much wider cladding), there’s a lot more going on inside than meets the eye.
Here, we’ve got the purest possible silver conductor of optimal gauge coupled with air dielectric (the best option according to Bill), along with painstakingly precise cryogenic treatment. Further, Bill and Tony have opted to employ a unique organic crystalline material near each cable terminus to reduce effects of micro-vibration associated with spurious EMI from neighboring components. I asked Bill specifically about this feature; he mentioned that you could locate it by gently squeezing the cable near each interconnecting end.
The whole production is attractively encased in a neatly woven cotton sheath that makes the cables look quite normal and acceptable by modern audiophile standards. In short, I find them quite lovely to view in an unobtrusive sort of way.
Darwin “The Enlightenment” Listening
I have had the Enlightenment cables rotating throughout various positions in both of my systems
for a few months now. Where to best hear the advantages of all of this technology, one might ask? I finally ended up settling on the simplest and most revealing solution possible: one set of
interconnects in the entire system!
Specifically, I chose to run signal from my Bricasti M1 Special Edition DAC directly (via the Enlightenment interconnects) to a custom single-ended stereo amp build based on the 45 triode tube from the bench of Oliver Sayes. This very special amplifier then powered a pair of single-driver Charney Audio Maestro X speakers employing Voxativ AC 2.6 driver units. This system is about as basic and revealing as it gets, with volume attenuation provided directly by the DAC; no preamp allowed.
What a great way to showcase the capabilities of the Darwin Enlightenment interconnects…talk about being in the spotlight! As an owner of several pairs of Darwin Cable Company products, and after extending listening to the next-level product on display here, I’ve come to accept a certain level of honesty from these cables and their manufacturer. Bill Magerman and Tony Bender will tell you directly that if you want the latest audio fashion wear and bling, you should look elsewhere. Darwin cables are intentionally simple and straightforward in design, but never lacking in the most advanced technology possible. Honesty is the order of the day when it comes to the listening experience.
What I mean to convey here is that many audio enthusiasts spend big bucks on interconnects and speaker cables to tailor the sound of their systems in a certain way. Stated differently, such cables can be used as a form of tone control. Let’s say a listener wants to tame a bit of glare in the upper registers of the treble coming from somewhere in the system… Well, there’s a cable for that. I’m not knocking this approach, as it works for lots of audio tweaks out there (and who among us isn’t really a tweaker at heart?).
The folks at Darwin Cable Company opted to choose a different route, and their approach may not represent the best solution for every enthusiast out there. And that’s fine. What Darwin cables get you is transparency to the source at its very finest. The sound is laid bare in its most basic and elemental form. Listening through Darwin cables may well be the next best thing to having no cables at all.
As for me, I’m a fan. The longer I remain in this business of perfectionist audio, the more I
appreciate honesty and transparency, both from my friends and my audio components. I want to hear what the musicians, audio engineers, and producers intended for me to hear. If I don’t like
it, I can always take my ball home and choose to play elsewhere.
Darwin “The Enlightenment” Specifics
Go ahead. Choose any favorite recording in your collection. Listen carefully. What do you hear?
In the case of the Darwin Cable Company’s “The Enlightenment,” I hear a lot.
Going back to a favorite recording I use to suss out resolution and detail, Pat Metheny’s solo
album One Quiet Night (16/44 kHz flac, streamed via Qobuz), I heard some crazy things on
the cut “Ferry Cross the Mersey.” For instance, I like to listen for the squeaks associated with
Pat’s fingers moving deftly across the fretboard of his acoustic guitar. This time around, with the
simple system employing the Darwin Enlightenment interconnects, I heard the squeaks and
squawks as always, but from a totally different perspective.
Now, what bubbled up was the ability to “see” Metheny’s fingers moving up and down the neck of the guitar as I listened with my eyes closed. Perhaps this illusion was always there, but I’d never before focused in on it to such an extent. An individual squeak was actually translating during its illusory lifetime from point to point in three-dimensional space, leading to a seriously extrasensory listening experience.
Of course, such a revelation is a result of a great recording coupled with a very simple and highly resolving system. There was no doubt in my mind, however, that the Darwin cables were contributing heavily to the overall effect.
Listen next to a complex recording. With cables like “The Enlightenment,” the small details come
through with no sense of sonic smearing on either the front or back end of the note. Again, as I
spend more time in this listening business, muddy reproduction of a recording really gets on my
nerves. Is it any wonder that most of the stuff played at audio shows consists of simple vocals and/or one or two accompanying instruments? Keeping the music simple makes it sound better since it’s easier to deal with potential flaws in the venue, recording technique, or production. Even so, there are plenty of good recordings out there of large ensembles doing their thing in a real-life venue. Listening to these gives a good accounting of what a truly transparent system can do.
I tried out that old audiophile classic of Sir Malcolm Arnold’s raucous sets of English Dances on the Lyrita label (16/44 kHz flac, streamed via Qobuz) to see how well my simple system would handle the mayhem. Turning the volume up, I was quite pleasantly surprised… a little tube amp putting out around 1.5 watts per channel shouldn’t be so much fun with this kind of music. The crispness and snap I’d expected to hear was most certainly present, thanks at least in part to the transparency of the Darwin Enlightenment interconnects. I heard it all: the biting upper registers of the brass, the intricate percussion lines, and most importantly, a bunch of musicians letting it all hang out.
The system in general is a bit lightweight for this kind of stuff, but nonetheless what I heard was tonally correct. And that’s another point worth making here: the Transcendence cables are pure silver, but don’t have that overly “silvery” sound that the metal is often accused of making. What I got was pure tonal neutrality, plain and simple.
In the end…
So here are my final thoughts on the Darwin Enlightenment interconnect cables.
As a regular user of Darwin Cable Company’s products, I fully expected to be impressed by this new product, and I most certainly was. Is it the best choice for all listeners? Given the range of strong opinions floating about in this hobby, no one product is going to suit everyone, and nor should it. However, if you, like me, value sonic truth, accuracy, and overall transparency, you probably won’t do much better at any price than “The Enlightenment” interconnects. They are admittedly a bit pricey for my blood (I am, and remain, something of a cheapskate in this hobby), but they do deliver the goods as advertised.
A caveat is that some folks might be put off by their admittedly simple appearance given the money spent. That’s also fine in my book. If you are after audio jewelry that looks like it came off the Rolex assembly line, then Darwin probably isn’t your bag. I am about the only person who spends any real time looking at my system, and I think the cables look just fine.
Darwin Cable Company isn’t exactly a newcomer to the game, and they aren’t exactly a major player in the overhyped audio cable cabal. Again, I’m fine with that, as they have defined their product and direction, which focuses on hand-crafting some of the most technologically sound and transparent audio cables on the market today. And for this, they have my utmost respect.
So then, I’ll end this up by nominating the Darwin Cable Company’s “The Enlightenment” interconnect a PTA Reviewers’ Choice Award. Well done gentlemen!
Darwin Cable Company “The Enlightenment”: $1,995 per 1m pair