OxBox, October 2009 - Interconnects, Connectors & Music Reviews

      Date posted: October 8, 2009

The Equipment

A couple of experiments with interconnects has led me to a discovery. The connectors at either end of the interconnect have a “sound”. I will explain but first, let us agree that interconnects have an effect on overall sound and that different ones can change the way a system sounds. Usually it is a slight change, but a change nonetheless. As obvious as this seems now, there was a time when I didn’t believe such a thing was really important and that paying hundreds of dollars for a pair of interconnects was outrageous. I still think that the price asked for some interconnects is outrageous. The same goes for power cords. I long resisted the idea they could make a difference. I was very wrong. Back to my discovery.

To get connected, my Project 2Xperience turntable requires the use of RCA terminated cables. Initially I used the supplied set with good results. Then I realized the 1.5 meter long Kimber Selects  I was using between my Aurum Acoustics CDP  disc player/pre amp/phono stage and my Aurum Integris Active speakers were twice as long as I needed. So, I cut them in half  and made up a second set of Selects. Set #1 was terminated with the original equipment WBT RCAs. Set #2 was terminated with Furutech_FP108  RCAs.

My friend, Derrick Moss, the designer and builder of Aurum Acoustics  equipment, suggested I ought to see if they sounded the same. I told him that on a day when I had absolutely nothing else to do I might compare them. Eventually I did and there was a difference. Then, Derrick tried them in his much larger and more lively room. He heard a difference too but it turned out we didn’t agree on which we liked better. He liked the WBTs. I liked the Furutechs, and as it turned out our preferences were dictated by our listening rooms. In my room, the WBTs  sounded warmer, with more bloom, but not as detailed or as completely out of the speaker boxes. The Furutechs sounded leaner, more focused and had a greater sense of space. In his listening room, Derrick heard strengths in the WBT’s presentation that I had perceived as weaknesses in mine. The converse was true of the Furutechs. So there we are, same wire, different connectors, different sound and with the room response dictating preferences. We are left with one intriguing question, what makes the greater difference in an interconnects’ sound, the connectors or the wire to which they are attached?

As a postscript, let me say that, unless you are working with interconnects you have made up yourself, my little experiment will be one you will not want to try. Most have connectors that are a carefully engineered, integral part of the product. It would be reckless to suggest they ought to be tampered with. In my case, the comparison was easily done as both the WBT and Furutech connectors are screw-ons.

The Music

Transmigration cover

Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings; Jennifer Higdon: Dooryard Bloom; John Corigliano: Elegy; John Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls; Samuel Barber: Agnus Dei,
Nmon Ford, baritone, Gwinnett Young Singers, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses, Robert Spano conducting
Telarc SACD-60673

If you are familiar with John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls, then you know this is an important release. It received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for music and the Nonesuch CD of the premier performance won three Grammys.  I had never heard it until now. It is an immensely powerful and deeply moving commemoration of the loss of life that took place as a result of attacks on the United States on 9/11/2001. Adams conceived the piece for orchestra, chorus, children’s choir, and pre-recorded soundtrack. The soundtrack is of street sounds including a person walking. As well in the mix we hear people speak and the choirs sing words that Adams wrote. His sources were brief quotations from missing-person signs that were posted by friends and family members after the tragedy and personal reminiscences drawn from interviews. The most arresting words, the most compelling aspect of Transmigration are the names that are spoken. The names of some of those who died that day. Names are recited throughout Transmigration, weaving in and out, spoken with a quiet passion. They almost become like chant. All of this occurs with the orchestra as the backdrop, the connecting voice. The work lasts a bit over twenty minutes. It is extremely compact but it feels like you’ve been on a long journey. Quite remarkable. This recorded performance is first rate from start to finish including the Telarc full, detailed sound. The whole CD is like that.

While the  John Adams work is the heart of the matter, each of the other works on this release has been carefully chosen and complement it perfectly. Jennifer Higdon has a Telarc-Robert Spano-Atlanta Symphony connection, the recording of her Concerto for Orchestra  (Telarc CD-80620). Her Dooryard Bloom is for baritone and orchestra. The title and text come from Walt Whitman`s elegy, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom`d. The style of the work made me think of Benjamin Britten settings for voice and  orchestra.  It is very effectively and thoughtfully sung by Nmon Ford. The opening Barber Adagio for Strings  hardly needs another recording but in the context of the rest of album, it is the perfect place to begin. The closing Barber Agnus Dei, beautifully sung by the Chamber Chorus, is to the melody of the Adagio for Strings. This is a very special artistic achievement.

Michael Gandolfi: The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano, Telarc SACD-60696 

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is a garden. It was created by an American-born Architect, Charles Jencks, in the Borders area of Scotland. Inspired by a book of photographs and commentary on the garden, Gandolfi wrote a four movement suite for orchestra. The music was subsequently used for the soundtrack of a British documentary on the garden. A couple of years after that the composer went to Scotland to visit the Garden. His Garden grew. It is excellent music for a documentary and the work never pretends to be more than light music, but light music that is engaging and has bouquets of charm. Sorry to say, in the charm department, Gandolfi’s garden is bereft of even a single bloom. Good playing by the orchestra and splendid sound.

The Telarc label has undergone a “transmigration” of sorts. It has been taken over by the Concord Music Group. California-based Concord  has concentrated on jazz releases of a conservative nature over the many years since it began. Their most ambitious project has been a lengthy series of solo recordings by jazz pianists made in the Maybeck Hall. In addition to its recordings on its own label, in the past few years the Concord Group has amassed a very impressive collection of pioneering jazz labels such as Prestige and Contemporary. They are now inactive for the most part but reissues of their back catalog are invaluable.

Wither Telarc?  I understand the Cleveland headquarters have been closed and the Robert Woods production team disbanded. Concord will have the back catalog but will there be new Telarc releases? I think there will be. I have seen, for example, an on line depiction of a new release of the Beethoven Sonatas for cello and piano on the label but with a completely different overall design. So, I am hopeful. In the meantime, I must suggest one of my favorites on Telarc, On the Other Side, by the Tierney Sutton Band (Telarc SACD-63650) Get it while the gettin’s good.
At Home With Friends
At Home With Friends

Joshua Bell, violin, with, among others,
Chris Botti, Sting, Edgar Meyer and Marvin Hamlisch
Sony Classical (advance release, no CD number) (ed: it’s 8697-52716-2)

As you will have guessed this is Joshua Bell’s crossover album. There are a lot of crossovers around now. Some are quite successful, eg. Yo Yo Ma, some are OK, some are dreadful. The wonderful guitarist Sharon Isbin has a crossover now, Journey to the New World, also on Sony. But like all the rest, it can not avoid being compared with the work Bell, Isbin or Ma have already done to become established artists. Of course, that doesn’t matter if you are getting to know them for the first time. That is exactly what the artists and producers are hoping for and, if it also leads the listener on to their other discs and fosters a love of more challenging music, their purpose has been more than served.

At Home With Friends  can take its place among the crossover successes. To say it is not a patch on Bell’s other recordings is like comparing apples and oranges. (Or to say I really couldn’t get through Isbin’s Journey, thinking all the while of the excellence of her other recordings is not the point). There are sixteen selections on Bell’s disc. A lot of them are seasoned standards, for example, the opening I Loves You Porgy, with friend Chris Botti. It is just gorgeous. Botti is spot-on, and here and throughout Bell produces a ravishing sound. Sting takes another stab at an English Madrigal, the familiar Come Again, with the same bad luck he had on his DG disc of this repertoire. Bell sounds great, though. We have the second movement of Grieg’s Violin Sonata No.3  with the Zenph Re-Performance of Rachmaninoff at the keyboard. It comes off quite well and makes one realize what one is missing, as does the commanding performance by baritone Nathan Gunn of a Rachmaninoff’s O, Cease Thy Singing, Maiden Fair. That is proceeded by a rendition of Eleanor Rigby that will have Beatle fans rolling their eyes (or rolling their own, ed.). And so it goes. The sound recording is good.

Bob Oxley

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