H-CAT DF100 MK IV and High Fidelity Pro cables: A follow-up
This is a review of two upgrades that really, at least in my system, define better audio, namely great transparency, detail and overall musicality. One was a new model of the H-Cat X-10 amplifier X-10 Mk IV. The second is of a new inexpensive treatment, which will be used on High Fidelity Cables. Both worked well together and both are advancements.
The H-Cat PA 100.2 X-10 Mk IV
Roger Paul of H-Cat has been on a sonic-tear this last year. His H-Cat PA 100.2 X-10 Mk I stereo amplifier was a major improvement over the earlier X-09 technology. The Mk III followed this and included a final auto focus circuit to keep all frequencies exiting at the same time. A better power supply is the final secret of the Autofocus circuit in the Mk IV amp. It is a great improvement over the Mk III amp, as there is substantially greater detail and transparency. I had both the Mk III and Mk IV here with the same system briefly. While the H-Cat Mk III provides a soundstage that is just striking or magic as a friend says, the Mk IV goes well beyond that. It yields a very precisely defined soundstage that has always been there but obscured by the amplification stages in the amp. This does not happen with the Mk IV, I think because of the better power supply.
One can sense the addition of the new special power supply as the Mk III weighs 28 pounds and the Mk IV, 35 pounds. One might not expect that an independent and stronger power supply would not make as big a difference as what I hear, but there is a magic to this new amplifier centering on its realistic presentation of the music’s soundstage, all the subtleties of the instruments and vocalists, and the dramatic larger sound stage both on the left and right, but also in terms of the height of the image. I suspect that this is a giant killer but presently have no other amps around. Never-the-less, everyone who has heard this amp has marveled at what it does for the sound including the person who said that the Mk III was magic.
As you probably know, I have repeatedly reviewed virtually every new version of High Fidelity cables. Each offered clear improvement in the bass, realism of the performances, and greater quiet between notes. And each thrilled me with the sound stage precision and openness as well as the sense that small groups, in particular, were present before me. This review, however, is of a treatment that HFC is going to do to all new cables sold. I am told that this treatment will be available to those who can do without their HFC cables and/or power cords for about a week. I will state right now that I think you should do so. But all that I have heard is that my HFC Pros were clearly improved. But I suspect that all of the HFC cables will also be improved.
I am in a circumstance, however, where I have to do this review without the benefit of direct with and without this treatment on the cables. I sent my cables back for over a week. I will also say that I have had the cables back for weeks but was immediately shocked at the improved soundstage. I have had all treated cables in use for well over a month and have finally reached where I was for the first two cuts. It took a long time for them to get settled down and performing. But they now are strikingly more resolving of the soundstage, especially these last several weeks. I always had excellent bass and high end as well as midrange. But now the speakers have vanished into the large and sonic holographic image. I am where this was recorded, except of course, I have no visual image, but wow!
The first stage of the HFC Treatment is putting them on the AudioDhrama Cable Cooker's output signal, which combines high voltage, high current, plus a swept square wave covering the range from DC to just a hair over 40 kHz. This steady-state signal outputs 125 mA on the low-level circuit (for interconnects) and approximately 1.9 amperes on the high-level circuit (for speaker cables & power cables). The Cable Cooker utilizes an outboard 12V / 2.5A universal switching power supply. Steady-state voltage output measures out at approximately 11.8V on the low-level circuit and 11.4V on the high-level circuit.
The second treatment is a Tesla coil. About which, Rick Schultz says:
A special application of high voltage energy is used to treat the cables. This type of extremely high voltage device originally was developed by Nicola Tesla and was thereafter referred to as a Tesla Coil.
The machine delivers over 1/2 million volts and this energy is used to help develop stronger magnetic material, help to further magnetize the internal materials and it develops a unique method of cable cooking and magnetic conditioning all in one.
This specially designed Tesla Coil produces frequencies sweeps up to 100K and these are cycled repeatedly through cables as part of the treatment.
Cables treated with the process are engraved on each cable with a lightening bolt. If the process is purchased for a used cable, the mark will be added to the treated product.
The HFC cables with treatment were being used when I had both the Mk III and Mk IV amps. The Mk IV had decidedly better detail and sound stage. All that I really know is that in three or four weeks the sound greatly improved, and I really cannot say which gave the benefit. I must say that I think it was both the Treatment and the Mk IV amp. I should not have changed two things at the same time, but I had no choice.
Much of what you hear is not just music. It is a mix of details that tell you humans are there performing, the reed sounds of some instruments, the skin sounds of drums, the ripeness of brass, the bow on the violin strings, the pluck of the bass, and the decay of bass information. But there are human sounds also, such as their movement along the marimba, their hands hitting Tongo drums, and the slide of their hands down the cello fingerboard.
Plus you know where the instruments are relative to each other. So what you hear is like having the best seat in the house and seeing where some musicians are standing relative to the piano. Sometimes your perspective is hurt by the microphones that might be poorly placed or you perplexed by the singer standing before you and the audience sounding like they are behind her. But in many circumstances the image has most thrilling realism. Also, you often hear instruments that you never noticed before.
Once I had front row seats for a music ensemble with both Stradivari and Guarneri violins. They sounded quite different to me sitting about fifteen feet from them. At the time having read that musicians could not hear a difference between a Stradivari and a modern violin, I would have to say, ‘they just couldn’t hear.’ Now I suspect that they heard poorly recorded and even worse reproduction of the music. Were I to have a recording, I think I would easily hear the difference in my system.
There are many components that contribute to what I have heard. Each has to be considered. First, I have an Avari DSD dac capable of quad DSD and providing it to the system. This information comes from my music server, an AMS (Analogue Music Server) from Archiving Vinyl. The DAC uses a Mytek board and J-fets. I have another dac using the same board, but it only has transistor replacing all opamps and a minimal power supply. But, of course, many will not know either of these, as there is little circulation of informationbetween audiophiles and profession audio providers.
I used both of the Archiving Vinyl dacs with one being the modified Mytek dac and the other the Avari J-fet dac. The AVM music server was used with both dacs. Most of the listening was with the Avari dac and a little from vinyl.
The normal method for doing a review is to replace the comparable reference component and listen for the differences. The primary components here are my “reference” components updated both in the case of the cables and the H-Cat amp. While I will be making several comparisons, I will describe what I heard with my upgrade digital source system. I first would observe that all of my components worked extraordinarily well together once I had the HFC Pros settled down again and the H-Cat warmed up. They remove noise; they greatly improve transparency; they open up the image on the speaker end of the room, and they provide the most incredible holographic illusion of the recording event that I have ever heard. The instruments are so precisely located that I cannot sense that the sound is coming from speakers. They are just gone. I get the awesome sense that the performers are here. Basically, one can focus on an instrument and even move around the room without it ever changing location.
I continue to use Zilplex room treatment. On Saturday I noticed that the one is to my listening position’s left was not tipping at the desired 45º angle of the cup relative to the wall. Even while I was on the stepstool to reach the holder and adjusted the bowl, I clearly heard everything that we like improve. My guests uttered, “wow!” also.
I can hear many sounds of the musicians, including their breathing, the sliding of their fingers on the guitars, violins, etc. I hear the harmonics of the instruments, the skin on the drums, and all the harmonics of the instruments. Often I can hear sounds from outside the recording event, such as the subways under , trucks outside the recording room. I grant that much of this is not music but it is what you would hear at the actual event. It is realism. Sometimes it is implausible. Since you are typically not where the microphones are and you are closer to the performers than usual, you might find what you hear as implausible. But most of the time the microphones are placed properly.
This realism also is thrilling as you find it easy to think you are there. I love hearing the old Thelonious Monk recordings as well as those of Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Ansermet’s Swan Lake, etc. I never heard them live, but now they are strikingly real. All that I really know is that what I am hearing far surpasses what I thought was possible or ever heard before.
Can I say which component adds the most to this remarkable sonic image? No I cannot. Would I do without any component? No, I would not, were I in any way able to afford it. I did one more effort to point to the real source of the excellence, namely vinyl. I have several recordings on both quad DSD and quality vinyl. Last night I listened to Hugh Masekela’s Stimela on vinyl on a special Thorens recording and quad DSD from a SACD transferred to DSD (Analogue Productions, APJ 82020). On vinyl the drums were more prominent but less defined. The image was not as wide but the musicians were well located, but overall, I could be quite happy with only a vinyl source. But the digital was far more realistic.
My real question is do I expect there are further improvements that I might leap to review. I seriously doubt it, but in 1977, I thought my Audio Research SP3 and Dual 75s and Infinity ServoStatics were the best I had ever heard. I had them for five years and only sold them to get the new ServoStatics 1As, that ultimately were not released. I guess I will seek to attend some shows to listen for better components, but I should say that never in the last five years have I heard anything that tempts me at shows. With my present experience with excellence, I doubt I will ever hear better sound at shows.
I am entirely mind-full that these are all expensive components, but I am gratified that such performance can be achieved. I certainly know of many even more expensive components that cannot rival what I’m hearing.
Interconnects: Pro $18,900.00 for 1 m. but the wave-guide is 15 inches long. ($650 per .5 m extra).
Speaker Wires: Pro $34,900.00 for 1 m. but the wave-guide is 30 inches long. ($1,100.00 per .5 m. extra).
MC-0.5 Magnetic Wave Guide, $299.00
MC-6 Power Distributor, $999.00 Magnetic Adapters $299.00 or two pair $549
Price for treating cables: starting at $25 to $30 plus shipping and going up with length and series of cables.
High Fidelity Cables
901 N. McDonald Street, STE 502
McKinney, Texas, 75069
Phone: 1-844 348-6292
H-Cat DF-100.2 (X-10) Mk IV stereo amplifier: $10,995
H-Cat P12R X10 preamp:
North American Products
700A South White Horse Pike, Suite 197
Somerdale, NJ 08083
Phone: 856-204- HCAT