Dynamic Design Constellations Series Cables
|Dynamic Design Constellations Series Cables|
The Stars of the Show
October 20, 2003
Models and Prices:
Platinum Interconnects: $1695/1m pair
Silver Speaker Cable: $2246/8ft pair
Platinum Analog Power Cord: $1200/6ft
Sound Marketing (Distributor)
838 Judson Ave
Evanston, IL 60202
Cables Don’t Make the Man, the Man Makes the Cables
It’s unfortunate that part of the high-end audio component buying experience doesn’t include spending time with the designer and getting know something about the person who makes the equipment that you’re about to buy. Could you imagine sharing a fine Port with Dave Wilson and giving him grief about how brutal the first Watt sounded, but then praising him for how far that speaker has come over the years, or scarfing down a platter of Baked Ziti with Dan D’Agastino while getting him to admit that losing a bet with ex-wife Rhondi was what led to his building a Krell receiver, or even sloshing through a case of Glenlivet with Ray Kimber to find out what the Hell he was thinking when he priced his Black Pearl. Recently, I had such an experience when I shared a bowl of freshly popped Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Buttered Microwave Popcorn with Dynamic Design’s brilliant cable designer and fellow Chicagoan, Olu Sonuga. Okay, so maybe that encounter wasn’t quite as sexy as any of the ones mentioned above, but it was still a great opportunity to simultaneously learn about a product and a designer.
Olu Sonuga is a man whose beginnings in audiophilia were born out of a deep love of music, all music. “I love to buy music that connects with me,” says Olu. And believe me when I tell you that my man has been connecting with a lot of music because he admits that he spends $300 to $400 a month on music! As his appreciation for recorded music increased over the years, so did his dissatisfaction with the quality of cables being offered by the industry’s top cable companies. So in 1994, after buying and then breaking down the characteristics of many other designs to see what was (or wasn’t) going on, he built his first pair of balanced interconnect cables. “I’m a specs guy,” Olu admitted. “I test and measure and sample to find the best properties in all of the materials I use.” The only thing that he is more dedicated to, than his desire to find and use the best materials in his cables, is his philosophy for his designs. “The only way that I know how to build a cable is to make it a transparent conveyor of the signal,” said Olu. This was a perfect description of what the Dynamic Design cables do.
Regular, Midgrade, or Premium?
A few years after building his first cables, Olu decided to take them to a local dealer to get his opinion. That dealer was floored by the cables’ performance and encouraged him to consider taking his creations to the vast high-end cable marketplace. The cables also got the attention of a couple of local audiophiles, Don Smith and Bill Artope, who later formed Sound Marketing Unlimited, the distributor of Dynamic Design cables. The family of Dynamic Design cables is a fairly extensive one, consisting of the moderately priced Voyager Series of interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords, and the Constellation Series cables, most of which are the subject of this review. Now, when I first met Olu he struck me as an extremely polite and quiet gentleman, and I feared that interviewing him was going to be like pulling teeth. But much to my surprise Olu was extremely forthcoming when it came to discussing his cables. And dare I say that after about an hour he became downright chatty.
The most interesting thing he told me though, was something that most cable designers (or any audio equipment designers for that matter) won’t admit, and that is that his lower priced cables give almost the same level of performance as his most expensive designs. The differences mostly being a higher quality of dielectric, conductor, insulation, etc. as you go up the price list. The best analogy of this is in buying gasoline for your car. If you own a moderately priced car, say a Saturn or some GM domestic, then you’d do quite nicely with a high quality “regular” unleaded gasoline from BP/Amoco or Shell. But if you drive a high performance car like, say, a Jaguar, then you will want to use a premium grade fuel. The same applies to the Dynamic Design cables. My system is akin to a Lexus, so the Platinums are perfect for me. In case you were wondering, they make a cable priced for an Aston Martin owner as well as one priced for a Kia owner.
I have long been a believer that it is a sin to let perfectly good audio components be compromised by mediocre or just downright bad interconnects. But I was even more concerned that the prices for the best cables were becoming just plain silly. One of the worst things audio journals such as Stereophile and The Absolute Sound ever did was convince us that cabling was just as much of a component in our systems as were our amps and speakers. Soon, cable designers started pricing them that way. Now I know that you’re probably saying to yourself, “Hey Dave, how can you say that when you’re giving a favorable review to cables that cost more than a thousand dollars?” First of all if you are saying that to yourself, cut it out, you’re probably scaring the people around you, and second, let me make myself perfectly clear about one thing: There are very few products in high-end audio that are actually worth the money that is asked for them, but just like in professional sports, the marketplace dictates the price/value ratio. Sadly, most people don’t take reasonably priced cables and equipment seriously. Serious products must have serious prices. The Dynamic Design cables are serious products.
My long time favorite interconnect was the Vampire Wire AI-2. It was inexpensive and very neutral and didn’t seem to impart any audible artifacts on the sound of my system. So when my brother, Michael, informed me that Don Smith was a friend of his, I contacted Don and asked him to bring some of the Dynamic Design cables over for a listening session. In the meantime, I noticed that my esteemed colleague, Joe Lamano, had previously written a very favorable review of Dynamic Design’s entry-level cables: the Blue interconnects, speaker cables and power cords. So I was anxious to hear what this company’s more expensive designs would bring. Now my reference system (consisting mainly of an Electrocompaniet CD player and electronics and the Talon Audio Peregrine X speakers) has been developed to provide only a pathway and power to an audio signal as it was actually recorded. It was necessary that the cabling simply maximize that effort. The Platinum interconnects did that like nothing I had ever heard before. Now I have always tried to be careful not to confuse “different sound” with “better sound.” This cable was different because it was better. I don’t get out as much as I used to, so I depend heavily on live recordings to give me some sense of what I’m missing. One of my (and many an audiophile’s) reference recordings is “Jazz at the Pawnshop”, (mine is a 24-bit mastered Super HDCD version [FIM CD 014-15]). This is a disc that has always been favored more so for the superior quality of the recording than for the actual performances, which are certainly fine. But conveyed through my Electrocompaniet/Talon system through the Dynamic Design Platinum balanced interconnects, listening to this disc became a voyage of discovery. As many times as I have listened to this disc, only now have I come to appreciate the splendid vibraphone work of Lars Erstrand, particularly on I’m Confessin’. I then switched electronics and replaced my EC 4.7 preamp and Nemo mono amps with the wonderful Xindak XA3200S tube preamp and the Butler Audio TDB 2250 hybrid tube amp. The sound was exactly what you would expect when adding tubes to a neutrally balanced system. There was a bit more warmth and a slight softening of high frequency transients. The overall presentation was more laid back, which actually served this recording well.
The Silver Speaker Cables
The speakers we had been listening to were the Talons and Dynaudio Contour 5.4’s. We then switched over to the stunning Usher Audio AC10’s. Now just when I thought that the addition of the Platinum interconnects made a big difference, I added the Dynamic Design Silver speaker cables. This was probably the most significant change that I had ever made in my system. I had been playing the Ray Brown Trio’s Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man from “Summer Wind: Live at the Loa” [Concord Jazz CCD-4426] and listening intently to Gene Harris’ dizzying solo, but I wasn’t getting the emotional jolt that I usually get from it. Olu and Don, my brother and my set up man, Craig “Craigy-G” Fitzpatrick, were all there and were basically unmoved by what is usually a very rousing performance by the Trio. I immediately knew what the problem was: the soundstage sounded constricted. Harris’ solo normally sounds slightly forward from the rest of the band. The cables I had in the system at the time were new and not properly broken in. I replaced them with the Silver cables and almost like magic, Harris moved to the forefront and I was sent reeling. “That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!” I said to my brother as we exchanged a high-five. The ceramic Accuton drivers on the AC10’s combined with the truthful presentation of the Silver cables to give the soundstage its proper instrument separation and a sound that was much more involving.
The Platinum Power Cords
During my review of the Electrocompaniet AW220 mono amps, I discovered the tremendous influence that power cords can have on a component’s performance. Using the Dynamic Design Platinum power cords on those amps was such a profound improvement that those already fine sounding amps were transformed into contenders for my reference (and nearly three times more expensive) Nemos. Cleaner and quieter current now runs throughout my system and has resulted in a darker more tightly focused soundstage and deeper, tighter, and more powerful bass performance. And for those of you whose primary source components are digital, Dynamic Design also makes a power cord for you. The $1200 Silver is a “digital” power cord, specially designed to improve the performance of power supplies in digital components which are often inferior to power supplies found in many high-end amplifiers.
What Alchemy is this Dr. Sonuga!
As I mentioned to you earlier, Olu used to purchase and listen closely to other cables to find out how they were made and what they were made of (wouldn’t we all like to know). So now let’s see what kind of alchemy he himself has used to create his products.
To begin with, all cables use what Olu calls Remote Control Multi-Layer™ (RCML™) dual-purpose jackets. These jackets help to dampen and protect the cable assembly. He also uses Unitized Multi-Layer Shielding™ (UMLS™) for its low impedance transfer characteristics, high reflectivity, and absorption of unwanted wide bandwidth noise. The conductors he uses are called High Purity Bi-Metal™ (HPBM™) and Ultra-High Purity Bi-Metal™ (UHPBM™) for ultra-low resistance and uniform conductivity across all frequencies. His Multi-Layered Insulation System™ (MLIS™) offers high propagation velocity speeds as a result of extremely low dielectric constants and very low energy storage. The power cords use hospital grade plugs, and the cables and interconnect use WBT and Neutrik connectors. The results are cables that provide pure signal transference and uncommonly realistic recording reproduction. Simply put, these cables work to get you as close to the actual recording as possible. Great recordings will sound great and poor recordings will sound poor. That’s the way it should be. Cables should no more improve the sound of a recording than diminish it.
The only qualm that I have with the design of these cables is that they are extremely stiff and difficult to use within an equipment rack or entertainment center: I found this out the hard way. During our listening session I damaged one of the balanced cables while trying to bend it to nearly a ninety-degree angle so that it would fit in my entertainment center. The power cords are the stiffest and require about two feet of space behind your components if you need to bend them to reach an outlet. They work best in situations where you put your amps on amp stands and they can be plugged straight into an outlet without having to bend the cord. But that aside, you have to appreciate the beauty and quality of the craftsmanship of these cables.
The feeling that cabling throughout an audio system is just as important as the components and speakers themselves is something that can be debated forever. What should not be debated is the fact that regardless of the value of your system, Dynamic Design makes a cable that is just right for you. I have yet to hear them in a system that they did not improve. More important is the knowledge that the man behind these wonderful cables is not a businessman selling a mediocre product dressed up in a fancy wood box or some secret agent style briefcase. He is simply a lover of music, a protector of the truth in recorded sound, and someone who really likes Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Buttered Microwave Popcorn.
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