Sko­grand

Vi­valdi In­ter­con­nects and Speaker Ca­bles

NOVO - - REVIEW - by Dou­glas Brown

Dur­ing 2016, my ed­i­tor Suave Ka­jko at NOVO mag­a­zine let me au­di­tion a pair of Sko­grand’s Tchaikovsky in­ter­con­nect ca­bles ($6,950 US) for about 8 months. Within a very short time, I con­cluded that these were (in­deed… are) the qui­etest and most ac­cu­rate pair of in­ter­con­nects that I’d ever heard. As a re­viewer, I wanted—per­haps even needed—to have those awe­some ca­bles in my arse­nal of re­view­ing tools. Sadly, I had to re­turn them. At the TAVES Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in 2016, Suave asked if I’d like to re­view Sko­grand’s new Vi­valdi in­ter­con­nects ($750 US/2m length) and a match­ing pair of Vi­valdi speaker ca­bles ($850 US/3m length). Word spread like a virus through my lo­cal grapevine of au­dio­phile friends that I’d be get­ting Sko­grand’s new in­ter­con­nects and speaker ca­bles in for re­view. All of my au­dio- buds were drool­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion at hear­ing the new ‘en­try level’ cords. Up un­til now, the big­gest is­sue with Sko­grand’s wires has been their cost. You want the best…? Well… the best costs money: a LOT of money. Not any more though. The new Vi­valdi ca­ble line has price points that are far more ac­ces­si­ble.

The ex­cite­ment which Sko­grand has cre­ated by re­leas­ing their en­try-level (read: af­ford­able) Vi­valdi line of ca­bles has been ut­terly re­mark­able.

DE­SIGN & FEA­TURES

Since 2011, Sko­grand has been proudly mak­ing ul­tra-high end ref­er­ence cal­i­bre au­dio ca­bles in Norway. Whereas many of the big­ger ca­ble com­pa­nies who es­tab­lished them­selves in the 1990s and 2000s seem to be rest­ing on their lau­rels and are still sell­ing the same wires that they de­signed 15 or 20 years ago, Sko­grand’s newer ca­ble tech­nolo­gies are push­ing the bound­aries of what is, son­i­cally speaking, pos­si­ble.

The Vi­valdi In­ter­con­nects (ICs) which I re­viewed were about 3/4-inch in di­am­e­ter. They have a strik­ing ox-blood red col­ored, stitched fab­ric cover which sits un­derneath a heavy-gauge clear poly­mer outer jacket. The con­duc­tors are 24 AWG OCC (Ohno Con­tin­u­ous Cast) solid core cop­per wires. My re­view pair was ter­mi­nated with lock­ing Sko­grand RCA plugs.

The pri­mary sonic goal for all of Sko­grand’s ca­bles is to “…lib­er­ate the true sound of ev­ery sys­tem con­nected with [them].” In­stead of adding or sub­tract­ing any sort of sonic col­oration, all of Sko­grand’s cords have been de­signed with the penul­ti­mate goal of let­ting au­dio­philes hear ex­actly how their com­po­nents sound.

Sko­grand uses balsa wood, OCC cop­per, Poly-tetra-flu­oro-eth­yl­ene (PTFE) cot­ton, cross linked poly-olefin, Per-flu­oro-alkoxy flu­oro-car­bon (PFA), sil­ver, gold, silk, and rhodium in dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions to achieve an ex­cep­tional clar­ity and ac­cu­racy from all their ca­bles. The ends of the Vi­valdi ICs are fairly stiff. As such, an end user will need at least 12 inches of clear­ance be­hind the com­po­nents.

The 3m pair of Vi­valdi speaker ca­bles (SCs) I re­viewed came with a white tech­flex jacket and was ter­mi­nated with Swiss­made CMC Euro-style Cop­per banana plugs.

Much like the ICs, the Vi­valdi speaker ca­bles also need at least 12 inches of clear­ance on both ends to hook-up an am­pli­fier to most speak­ers.

Both the ICs and SCs come with air tight and wa­ter-proof Pel­i­can hard shell flight cases. The build qual­ity is ex­cep­tion­ally high for ICs and SCs in this price range.

PER­FOR­MANCE

Re­leased in 1993, Junkhouse’s de­but al­bum Strays is a phe­nom­e­nally well recorded rock record that con­tains a wide va­ri­ety of toetap­ping songs with catchy gui­tar riffs and, in places, a strong acous­tic edge that gives some of the tracks a small-town coun­try feel. Fea­tur­ing such epic songs as “Je­sus Sings the Blues”, “Out of my Head”, “Gimme the Love”, “Stone Horses”, “Big Lake”, “No Way Out of Love”, and “The Buf­falo Skin­ner”, the eclec­tic use of in­stru­ments and sounds cap­tured on this record will test any 2-chan­nel sys­tem’s abil­ity to ac­cu­rately re­pro­duce the PRaT, dy­nam­ics, and shaded in­stru­men­tal tim­bers.

Sko­grand’s Vi­valdi ICs and SCs were so ac­cu­rate that they re­vealed how flawed the dig­i­tized CD ver­sion of Strays sounded as a source for re­pro­duc­ing their songs. Af­ter lis­ten­ing to both a red­book CD and a 150-weight vinyl record copy, the record sounded far more like real mu­sic, with real in­stru­ments in real space and time. The true sonic beauty of Strays came straight out of my vinyl rig. So much so that I de­cided to solely use vinyl for the rest of my lis­ten­ing tests.

For per­spec­tive, I took the Vi­valdi ICs and SCs over to my friend Allan’s house. Lis­ten­ing to Mo­bile Fidelity Sound Labs’ new 180 gram 2-record set of San­tana’s clas­sic 1970 al­bum Abraxas on his $100K+ level 2-chan­nel vinyl rig, the Vi­valdi ca­bles let the stun­ning amount of in­ner sonic de­tail, un­stop­pable Latin-flavoured rhythms, and the star­tling dy­nam­ics con­tained on this amaz­ing al­bum flow forth with­out re­stric­tion.

While MFSL’s 2007 re-is­sue of Abraxas had good son­ics, their new Ul­tra-Disc ‘one step’ plat­ing and press­ing process brings a strik­ing new vi­tal­ity and mu­si­cal­ity to one of San­tana’s best al­bums.

Fea­tur­ing such songs as “Singing Winds, Cry­ing Beasts”, “Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen”, “Oye Como Va”, “Se a Cabo”, “Mother’s Daugh­ter”, and “Sampa Pa Ti”, the 1970 al­bum Abraxas show­cases Car­los San­tana’s tech­ni­cal mas­tery of the gui­tar. The Vi­valdi ca­bles let Allan and I hear the amaz­ing PRaT, strik­ing dy­nam­ics, and jaw­drop­ping lay­er­ing of sounds con­tained on Abraxas in all of its sonic glory.

Back in 1970, San­tana’s abil­ity as a gui­tarist was (ar­guably) sec­ond only to Jimi Hen­drix. A lis­tener should be able to ‘feel’ the sub­tle sonic tex­tures and strik­ing rhyth­mic changes in San­tana’s play­ing on Abraxas at an emo­tional and spir­i­tual level. With Sko­grand’s Vi­valdi ca­bles, both Allan and I heard the truth of San­tana’s mu­si­cal ge­nius. We hap­pily agreed that this was the best that ei­ther of us had ever heard Abraxas sound.

Sko­grand’s new en­try-level Vi­valdi in­ter­con­nects and speaker ca­bles de­liver about 85% of de­tail, smooth­ness, and mu­si­cal co­herency of their ref­er­ence cal­i­bre top-level cords; at a frac­tion of the price.

The Vi­valdi line offers a de­cent sense of space, 3-di­men­sion­al­ity, and pre­ci­sion imag­ing. The higher fre­quen­cies were ex­tended and ac­cu­rate, with­out in­duc­ing any of the high-band “ring­ing” which ca­bles in this price range usu­ally cre­ate. The mid-range was neu­tral and ac­cu­rate. I’ve heard warmer mids from a few other ca­bles, but this “warmth” was usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by un-nat­u­ral sonic col­orations and too much em­pha­sis in the lower fre­quency reg­is­ters.

Low to mid bass was del­i­cate, tex­tured, and… again… ac­cu­rate. If a 2-chan­nel sys­tem cre­ated low-end rhythm, groove, and slam, the Vi­valdi ca­bles let it all come forth with an al­most un­par­al­leled pre­ci­sion.

Judged within their price bracket, the Vi­valdi ICs and SCs of­fer ex­cep­tional ac­cu­racy. These are not ca­bles which pro­duce ro­man­tic warmth or sonic eu­pho­ria. And this pre­ci­sion will, un­for­tu­nately, re­veal how poor sound­ing most lower-end and midfi 2-chan­nel digital sources truly are.

You wanna hear what your gear re­ally sounds like…? Give Sko­grand’s Vi­valdi in­ter­con­nects and speaker ca­bles a lis­ten. Be fore­warned though: these ca­bles are hy­per-ac­cu­rate. They will tell you ex­actly how good your gear is; or… isn’t.

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