Sugg. Retail: (1 metre) US $195.00
Distributor: Lenbrook Industries,
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ont. L1W 3K1
(905) 831-6555 FAX (905) 831-6936
Reprinted from the Spring 2002 Issue
Bill Low, AudioQuest’s president and founder, must have a thing for snakes, something not entirely inappropriate for someone who spends most of their time making audio cable. The Viper is fourth from the top in AudioQuest’s interconnect hierarchy behind the Amazon, Anaconda, and Python. Less expensive snakes include the Coral, Diamond Back, Copperhead, and Sidewinder. This motif is followed right to the jacket design, the Viper and many of its cousins, featuring colourful woven jackets more than a little reminiscent of exotic reptiles.
Under that jacket is what AudioQuest calls a triple-balanced interconnect. The AudioQuest website sheds some light on this: “This means there are three identical insulated conductors, in addition to a separate conductor underneath the 100% coverage foil shield. When used with XLR connectors and balanced electronics, the two positive signals (inverting and non-inverting) and the negative, all get the same low distortion conducting path. The shield is attached to chassis ground through the case of the XLR, providing extremely effective shielding without contaminating the quality of the negative conducting path. When Viper is fitted with RCA plugs, two conductors are used together for the much higher potential across the negative connection, providing a substantial performance advantage. The shield is only attached at one end, providing total shield coverage without compromising the negative conducting path.”
Citing interaction between strands as a significant source of distortion, AudioQuest has opted for solid copper conductors made from a proprietary processing technology called Perfect Surface Copper+, which is said to maintain a very high level of purity throughout the metal while ensuring an extremely smooth surface. Equally important is insulation, which in low quality cables can absorb energy (causing signal loss) or worse, absorb and then reflect energy milliseconds later, causing smearing. In the interests of avoiding either phenomenon the Viper’s conductors are insulated by air filled FPE (foam polyethylene); air because it absorbs almost no energy at all, and polyethylene because of it’s “benign distortion profile.”
The business ends of the Viper are similarly high-tech, the silver plated RCA plugs “are resistance welded to the cable in a process which sends 8,000 amperes of current through the junction of conductor and plug for 33 millionths of a second. The heat resulting from the resistance locally liquefies the conductor and the plug, creating a single material alloy where the two meet. An ideal connection that puts any solder to shame.”
The Sound of The Snake
I was supplied with a 2 meter run of Viper terminated with RCAs which I diligently broke-in over a couple of weeks on the currently unused analog outputs of my Rotel RCD-951 CD player. I started out by using the Viper between the Perpetual Technologies P3-A DAC (Fall 2001) and my Musical Fidelitly A3CR preamp (Spring 2001). It was immediately apparent that the Viper was a very competent performer. Transients were particularly crisp and well defined, an area of performance brought to light by the amazing transient ability of the Musical Fidelity gear. This was combined with excellent low level detail retrieval, allowing soundstages to bloom into large, airy soundscapes with a high degree of delicacy and finesse. Bass too was very well conveyed: deep, firm and well controlled.
Comparisons with similarly priced cables (Kimber’s Silver Streak US $240/1M and Ultralink’s Ultima $149/1M) demonstrated that the Viper could certainly hold its own against accomplished competitors, even with a one meter length handicap (both the Kimber and the Ultralink are 1m lengths). The differences between the three were subtle, often requiring repeated swapping to isolate, but were significant enough to be audible. The Viper had a slight edge in terms of low level detail, transients and bass control but I felt that the Silver Streak had a little more inner detail, a smidge more midrange transparency and slightly smoother top end. The less expensive Ultralink ($149), by comparison, had a somewhat darker overall tonal character but a very compelling smoothness across the frequency band, at the expense of transient snap and low level detail. The fact that the Viper can compete on similar footing with the Silver Streak says an awful lot about its price to performance ratio, as the Kimber cable is quite a heavyweight in this category.
Moving on to using the Viper between my amp and preamp was perhaps an unfair challenge. Replacing a Kimber Select KS-1030, Kimber’s top-of-the-line single ended interconnect, a cable with a price tag at least four times higher (for one meter), is something of a David vs. Goliath scenario. Well, it didn’t slay the beast, so to speak, but the Viper did just fine, thank you very much. The strengths I heard during its stint between the DAC and preamp were in evidence with equal measure, the cable producing a lively and very musical sound with lots of air and great deep bass. The Viper’s character, however, was still present, its signature audible, whereas the Kimber virtually disappeared by comparison, seemingly perfectly transparent. And herein lies the difference between a very good audio cable and a truly top notch one. I noticed the same thing when I reviewed Nordost’s ultra pricey SPM speaker cable, and, as I discovered then, the top notch don’t come cheap. Luckily, by comparison anyway, the Viper does. At US $195 for a meter it represents excellent value, buying probably as much transparency as you’re likely to get without spending significantly more money.