Verastarr Grand Illusion – Statement, Signature Series II
BACKDROP & PERSPECTIVES
In my journey over many, many years of doing a wide variety of high-end audio reviews, beyond the interesting equipment I’ve experienced, the thing that has also kept me keenly interested and actively engaged is the people that I’ve met along the way. Particularly in the case of manufacturers, and regardless of the type of product, I find there is often a vision and passion for bringing to the market, a product of excellence and seeking the status of being State of the Art. For the most part, and at a purely gut level, when it comes to speakers, I believe we often tend to think bigger is better and also translates to more sound. When it comes to electronics – the debate regarding the so-called magic of tubes vs. the power and control of solid state continues. When it comes to digital vs. analog – well, you pick your argument and I wish you well. Similarly, this goes for many different products focused on providing isolation for your precious electronics, as well as AC line conditioning, room treatment and on and on and on.
This brings me to my challenge when it comes to cables. Despite the wide range of differences in design, construction and materials used, the end result is what really counts. From my experience with this aspect of reviewing (as well as being a consumer as well), every manufacturer that I’ve ever encountered has had their own proprietary design criteria and typically a convincing argument to support their claims. I’ve mentioned often in my reviews that my level of knowledge and understanding of deep engineering and design theory for many high-end audio products is as best somewhat rudimentary. I’m just putting it out there so there is no confusion when my attempt to provide a thorough analysis of any given product I happen to be auditioning at any given time isn’t mistaken for some sort of technical white paper. Instead – I will engage my listening senses, along with as many others who I can engage in the process by visiting my home and offering their feedback (and opinion) from listening to my reference system. Additionally, I find it quite beneficial to spend time speaking with the designer to learn as much about their vision and approach for the particular product(s) I have for auditioning.
For this particular review, it all started during a conversation with a good friend and colleague of our publication. Also, this particular conversation focused around the issue of what I will call - super cables along with accompanying super expensive pricing. To be clear – I’m not doubting the claims made by the companies that produce these products, in fact – I’ve had the distinct privilege of hearing different systems with some of these products and from time to time, but not always, I have been mightily impressed. Still for me – I’m always on the lookout for alternative products that provide high levels of performance and are more approachable in terms of pricing. Quickly my colleague brought to my attention his rather favorable impression of the cables from the company known as Verastarr. I had heard of this company previously but for whatever reason, hadn’t made an attempt to seriously pursue it. What I did remember was that their designs were of a much different approach than more traditional round, coax, snake-like cables or even some of the more notable flat ribbon designs.
OK, so much for background on this matter. At this point, I was very much ready to pursue an opportunity for possibly reviewing various cable products from the Verastarr line. My initial introduction to head guru and chief designer Mike Powell was via a phone conversation with what proved to be most engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. Also, despite my lack of familiarity with Verastarr – I quickly found out that they’ve been in business for approximately 15 years. Powell also let me know about some of his exclusive designs for silver-plated copper back in the 2009 timeframe. Subsequent conversations provided us with opportunities of sharing our views and perspectives on all things audio as well as a primary focus on music and how high-end audio gear should serve music, not the other way around. From these conversations, I would easily say that Mike Powell is foremost a staunch music-lover who believes that cables should be designed to maximize musical reproduction by preserving the integrity of the source signal, and harmonic integrity of music, as it passes through various cables (and equipment) on its way to the loudspeakers and ultimately as it reaches your ears. You can also interpret Mike Powell’s belief that cables should basically get out of the way as much as possible and hopefully do no harm. Yes, this is all admirable for conversation so I was anxious to see if his products fulfilled the promise.
Yes, I realize this is a design philosophy and goal shared by many other manufacturers as well but with my conversations with Mr. Powell – I simply sensed a very deep passion that made me even that much more interested and intrigued with getting his cables into my system. One other thing that I really appreciated about this designer's approach was that despite his success with his earlier cable designs, along with continued research and development, he also continues to learn through trial and error that he feels is also very important for informing his future design and development considerations. Clearly the focus for Mike Powell, and the folks at Verastarr, is to produce high quality cable products that are innovative and cutting edge. Yet, he is open and willing to modify his designs if, and whenever, needed.
VERASTARR CABLES TO MINNESOTA – MY COLD WEATHER TREAT
Much of my earlier conversations with Mike Powell occurred during a fairly heavy travel season for me resulting in the need for me to coordinate arrival of these cables at a time when I would be prepared to get them into my system. With the weather changing in Minnesota and much more listening time than during the summer months – I was hopeful that I would have lots of time for listening and critical listening to these cables. Powell was quite accommodating in timing the arrival of the initial set of cables that included his Grand Illusion Statement power cables and Signature interconnects. Needless to say – when you feel you have your reference system fairly well tuned, you’re very likely to walk cautiously when introducing new products into the mix especially cables. We both agreed that I would first start with the AC cords (I.e., Grand Illusion Statement).
Opening the neatly designed boxes for the Verastarr cables revealed a product that is an eye-catcher and physically – speaks of very high quality and manufacturer production technique. For me – other than my reference speaker cables being ribbon type design, this was the first time I’ve ever had ribbon type power cords in my system. Typically I’ve had thick, round, braided, heavy and often times somewhat stiff cables going from my electronics into my AC outlets. The Verastarr AC cords have a very nicely knit, cloth outer cover with very impressively built connectors and terminations at each end. My initial concern with these AC cords was the manner in which I would dress them, in my system, in order to make sure that I had them elevated above the carpet and positioned properly. This is something that I do for all cables in my system but with these particularly cables, since their design was a flat ribbon type style – it wasn’t quite the same as running round cables through devices that easily lifted them off the floor. Important for users to know, Verastarr has a specially designed product for this purpose. It very effectively allows these cables to be positioned properly.
However, the secret sauce to the Verastarr cable designs does not lie in their looks but in the special high-purity alloy foil that's inside. Powell feels strongly that specific type of foil is the best possible way to preserve the signal integrity in cables. Additionally as you go up the line in his cable products, the amount of foil is increased appropriately. From my conversations with Powell – the type of high quality foil used in his cables is fairly expensive and nothing like various types of wire that comes from a large spool. For more detailed information around the Verastarr cable designs, I encourage you to check the Verastarr website.
GETTING STARTED – MY SYSTEM AWAITS
So now I was ready for prime time with nothing left except to start installing the power cables into my system. Whereas I was already quite pleased with the sound of my reference system – and with the high expectations set during my conversations with Powell, I definitely had a bit of anxiety. On the other hand, the colleague who had encouraged me to take this route had assured me that I was in for a real treat.
Once I had more time on the AC cords and was able to clearly distinguish what they were doing, I then moved on to the Grand Illusion Signature Series II interconnects. Similar to the AC cords, these products boast the look and feel of a quality product. Essentially, I ran a single pair of balanced cables from my DAC to my ASR integrated amplifier. Again – this cable replaced my long-term reference cable so I was very curious to audition and hear what differences there might be.
Also, according to Powell, Verastarr’s design methodology is accuracy first and foremost. And foils are chosen based on their measured lower distortion while maintaining a more efficient electron flow. Verastarr also employs the use of passive noise filtration that's designed to work outside the cable's signal path. Rare earth elements that activate in the presence of electric signal, and pull out noise at frequencies beyond 20 kHz. This is said to help the signal that lies within the limits of human hearing sound better.
THE SOUND OF POWER CABLES
First up for serious listening were the truly superb Grand Illusion Statement AC cables. This is the Big Daddy AC cord for Verastarr and I was anxious to get it on with the listening session. In my system – I placed one on each of the two External Power Supplies and one on the Battery Power Supply of my reference ASR integrated amplifier and one for my DAC. The ASR integrated amplifier is quite sensitive to AC cords so this would be a really good test. With having the top of the line Verastarr AC cords available, I was hoping to hear the magic as described by my colleague as well as Mike Powell. My initial reaction, with these AC cords installed was: the already very quiet character of my system was now even more so. As a result, I was able to experience the music to emerge from an even blacker background. This effectively elevated the sense of presence and dynamics along with noticeably enhanced sense of resolution. Getting the noise floor down in a system is dependent on so many different factors and through judicial use of better AC cords, inherent noise from the AC line can be addressed. In this regard – the Grand Illusion Statement AC cords are absolutely outstanding and brought a big smile to my face.
In terms of the overall pace, rhythm and flow of reproduced music – there was now a greater sense of drive and power along with dynamic contrasts being noticeably improved. This was all across the audio spectrum and brought forth greater organic completeness and bloom to the music. Bass power, control and articulation also moved to a noticeably higher level. This was very appealing and with added sense of speed and control, music had a wonderfully natural sense of ease. Beyond that, music sounded smoother and with an observable reduction of those little subtle artifacts that often intrude and mask the music signal.
A couple of outstanding recordings that really allowed me to hear what these AC cords were doing included Ahmad Jamal’s recording titled Blue Moon. Throughout the recording Jamal provides a very dynamic and forceful approach to his reworking of several old standards. Behind him is the every present Herlin Riley on drums with the interplay between these two artists nothing but spectacular. The Verastarr AC cords noticeably enhanced the power reserves that my ASR integrated amplifier is capable of and when things got busy in this recording, there was a wonderful open, dynamic quality to the sound. Another outstanding recording is Gonzalo Rubacalba’s recording titled The Blessing. Rubacalba's piano work throughout this recording is stellar and the manner in which the Verastarr AC cords allowed the sound to fully open up and become engaging was superb. Very same for sounds of drums, percussion and acoustic bass.
NEXT MOVE – HERE COME THE INTERCONNECTS
While I could slowly walk you through a step-by-step overview of what I experienced when I finally got the cables installed, that would not be fair. Let me just say this – there was absolutely no confusion regarding the level of sonic improvement that I instantly experienced. Also, let me be clear - I am not saving that there was a quantum leap forward in the sound of my system but something more along the lines of the sound simply opening up, in all dimensions, with far less of any sort of signature that might have been imparted by my reference level interconnects. I know this might sound dicey to some of you and I am not saying that the Verastarr IC’s literally shamed my reference cables – what I am saying is that the sonic impact of the Verastarr IC’s, in my system, was much more than I would have imagined and all for the better.
Specifically, my reaction and assessment of what I was now hearing was that of being able to observe far more clearly the subtle nuances in the music and to such an extent, I was able to follow the music line and the intention of the arrangement that much more so. In fact – with the Verstarr IC’s now in place, it was more like I was listening through them – not to them. There was now a refreshed vitality and expression to the music that was unmistakable. Not suggesting that there were veils and veils lifted but there was definitely a sense of greater musical authenticity and a more natural, open, neutral sound. Again – it felt very much as though I was able to gain a greater appreciation of what the components in my system were doing to reproduce a signal with wonderful musicality.
Others who visited my home all commented about this and most often without any clue that I had changed something. My wife is often my worse critic when it comes to judging the sound of my system and she will typically let me know her reaction by how long she sticks around when the music is playing. If things are working, she will unhesitating take a seat, grab her iPad, get comfortable on the sofa (i.e., located in a semi-sweet spot position) and do her thing while enjoying the sounds. Ironically, after the Verastarr IC’s were in the system, and fully broken-in, often when listening to some really good music (mainly contemporary vocals, R&B and some light jazz) she would ask……..”who is that artist? I really like their voice and their band. When did you get that recording?” My response – “I’ve had this recording for quite some time and something you’ve heard many times before.” She would then start to describe how impressed she was with the overall clarity of the music and how for the first time she was able to literally hear every word that was being song along with also being able to distinguish different instruments in the background. It was this type of affirmation that further helped me understand the importance how important it is for cables to simply get out of the way. As Mike Powell reminded me in the beginning of our conversations – he works hard to follow this saying - “First do no harm!”. I’m totally with him on this and found that I was able to totally immerse myself in the music with his cables in place.
Basically what I observed was a clear, open, very natural and fully textured presentation of instruments and voices. Additionally, transients flowed the way you'd hear them live: quick and fast but with nary an edge. These cables don't sharpen up the leading edges either: they simply pass along the musical signal accurately and portray the music in a most convincing manner. There is also no added warmth but at the same time, there is no coolness. Instead there was a full spectrum of musical colors. Even though much of what I'm referring to has to do with the subtleties in the music. However, when it happens – it is pure magical. The other very noticeable attribute was the inner silence with these cables in place. When the music stopped – there was utter silence a very black background. I’m talking serious quiet folks and the Verastarr IC’s had this in spades.
In regard to the higher upper frequencies – the sound was totally unobstructed with full extension and expression of the music. This allowed notes to come forth naturally and hang in the air with ease. Cymbals also had a wonderful metallic ring and shimmer with superb decay. One thing I can say about these cables is – the better recordings were an absolutely delight but poorer recordings were very quickly revealed. Additionally, there was no exaggeration or artificial extension evident and the overall balance remained intact. These cables were speaking with musical truth and for this listener, became very addictive.
SPEAKER CABLES – THE FINAL CHAPTER
Essentially what I found with installing the Grand Illusion speaker cables into my system was a continuation of what might be referred to as the Verstarr “House Sound.” It is a sound that is very transparent with a see-through quality and neutral tonal balance. In fact, with the speaker cables in place – instruments, seemed better focused and locked in a three-dimensional space. Specifically, the speaker cables extended the virtues of the other cables but also provided a solid grip and control over the loudspeakers. Through this – the Grand Illusion speaker cables exhibited an ability to help my system further disappear. Truth be told – the level of improvement was once again incremental and not some sort of earth-shattering event. However, the various speakers I had in place during the review all seemed to respond very well to these cables ability to deliver a very pure signal and at the same time provide a level of control and finesse that enhanced their overall performance. Once again, I was transported to another level of appreciation and totally for the better.
By now, you are very likely convinced that my impression of the Verstarr cables is very positive and you would be absolutely correct. From the very beginning to the end of this extended review – I was struck by the significant level of overall improvement in my system with these cables in place. In a very real sense – you can consider them as transformational in their ability to preserve the integrity of the signal and something that I am confident will help move your system to another level. For this – I offer to Mike Powell my congratulations on a job very well done. Beyond that, knowing how Powell isn’t simply satisfied with whatever success he’s achieved, I suspect that he will continue to aggressively engage in ongoing research and development in order to further improve his cable product line. Also, based on the extended period of my having these cables, as well as the time it took for me to complete this review (i.e., this is what can happen when you receive something that you truly don’t want to let go!) – thanks much to Verastarr for their patience and understanding.
Final note – based on my experience with these particular cables, although I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any particular one of these cables, I am also very much inclined to recommend they be used as a full set for maximum benefit.
Grand Illusion Statement Series Power Cords - $4,899, 1.8 m (6’)
Grand Illusion Signature – Interconnects (XLR) - 1.0 m (3.3’); $2,468.70
Grand Illusion Signature Speaker Cables - $4,248.30, 2.4m (8’), w/spade lug terminations
NOTE: Additional pricing information for incremental lengths is available through Verastarr.
PRODUCT DESCRIPTION/TECHNICAL INFORMATION
Grand Illusion Statement Power Cable – 2 3/8” wide 99.9997% pure silver foil, cyro treated, 3 foils, Solid silver Plug and IEC
Grand Illusion Signature XLR – ¼” wide, 99.9997% pure silver foil, cyro treated – 3 foils – static free design, Neutrik silver plated connectors;
Grand Illusion Signature Speaker Cables – 2” wide, 99.997% pure silver foil, cyro treated – 2 foils – static free design.
Designer: Mike Powell, Founder
Address: Atlanta, GA