Since a few years ago the concept of a “global village” is no longer a pure cliché, but has became a hard fact. It does not matter if we are sitting in adjacent rooms, or thousand miles apart, we can talk and see each other via the Internet. Similarly making purchases – one click and we buy anything, without taking into account where the purchased item will arrive from, as long as the transportation costs are within acceptable limits. This logistic unconcern is also present on audiophile grounds, and in fact was adopted very well, and now when something new appears somewhere on the edge of the audiophile world, the information will appear in most portals usually within a day from the original event.
It was not different in case of the “small” cable manufacturing company Signal Projects led by Nick Korakakis. Frankly speaking I cannot recall where I firstly read about his products. I just happened to see one of his cables on an English language forum about one year ago, then consulted Google and that was it. I was quite intrigued by the very positive opinions, so I wrote Nick and it turned out, that he has no objections to test loudspeaker cables from the Hydra series. Nick just asked for patience, as he needed time to prepare a 3m set and so I waited, trying to shorten the waiting period corresponding with him. Then came May and we finally had the opportunity to meet in person, talk and listen during the Munich High End show. Unfortunately due to some formal and courier issues I received the box only a month after the show.
I put parentheses on the size of the company in the previous paragraph on purpose, as Signal Projects cannot match the big fishes in the cable branch, yet it is far from being a one man manufacture. In fact the company consists of two entities – Signal Projects Professional Cables Manufacturing located in Greece (Athens), which manufactures and supplies professional cables for recording studios, theaters, public utility buildings and installations in general and the recently launched Signal Projects Audio Ltd. located in U.K. (in Manchester). The main laboratory is also located in Athens, and that is the place the cables I received came from.
Apart from the incredibly attractive looks (we will talk about the sound a bit later), which reminds much more renowned, and expensive, competition, the Hydra series is the second lowest, with the “lower budget” Lynx being their entry level. I will allow myself a small correction here – just one day before publishing of this original test I received an email from Nick with information about a new and even lower budget series called Monitor, which will be presented to the wider audience soon. But let us get back to the main topic. Above the Hydra series there are four more levels: Apollon, Atlantis, Andromeda and Golden Sequence. Compared to the more noble brethren the Hydra speaker cables are using copper conductors, while the higher models are using hybrid conductors, consisted also from silver and gold metal mixtures. The family characteristic of the brand’s range of cables is, that all of them are offered in the form of loosely woven and easy to place braid with massive splitters and well marked directionality. The external sleeve is made of dense plaid of silver plastic, nice to touch and with a silky shine. On the splitters there are the direction marks as well as the name of the cable and serial number. For testing we received a version with solid spade connectors, but you can optionally order other terminations at will. I wouldn’t even mention such details like a wooden box that Hydra were delivered in and the certificate of authenticity supplied with the cable, but being thorough I have to do that, because I know, that there are people out there, who value such things, and would bash on the manufacturer, if those things were not present, even resigning from purchase.
But let us come to the most important thing, which is … the sound. Taking into account, that I did not have to hurry, and that I did not have any previous contact with these cables, well, except from a hasty audition during the show, I decided to have longer contact with Hydra, to evaluate them better and gain insight into their true nature. Looking at the mythology, a multi-headed monster having such sympathetic brethren like the Cerberus, Chimera or Orthrus requires special treatment. And now seriously – after weeks of listening in my system the cables went to Jacek, who had the chance to evaluate them with some more amplifiers. So you will find quite a substantial listing of gear the Hydra had to cooperate with at the end of the article.
Despite their origin, the Greek-British cables showed an above average musicality and vividness of the reproduced timbres. Not masking the microdetails and without a tendency to average the quality of the reproduced material they introduced a substantial amount of naturalness and humanity. With the mighty Hegel power amplifier you could feel the dignity and power sleeping inside the Norwegian giant. Starting with the anniversary edition of “Rage Against The Machine” RATM and ending with “Bolero! – Orchestral Fireworks” Eiji Oue / Minnesota Orchestra every pluck of a string, every hit of the basedrum or orchestral tutti was reproduced with full dynamics and awaited timing. The bass was ruthless in punching the listeners guts and made me have a more refined choice of repertoire as well as the volume setting during the rest of the test. With less powerful amplifiers, and I need to note immediately, that “less” in terms of Moon 600i, NAD M3 and Electrocompaniet ECI5 can only be conventional, and related to what was presented by the 50 kg heavy Norwegian, you could feel a slight slack on the lower bass, which I primarily attributed it to the cable, but finally (after listening to the cables in Jacek’s setup) it turned out, that Hydra just exposed the shortcomings of the mentioned integrated amps, and it was not the culprit of the anomaly.
But let’s return to the evident, at least according to me, assets of the British cables. The thing that attracts attention, and we are not able to skip it, is the way the space is shaped. Regardless if we are listening to a recording from a smoked jazz club, like “Jazz at the Pawnshop” or sitting in a lodge enjoying “Carmen” (RCA / Herbert von Karajan) we will always feel greater breath, space and freedom around the musicians, which gives them possibility to a more spontaneous, more vivid articulation, that which was not present before. The artists seem, virtually of course, not to have to be constrained anymore, so they catch a second breath and present their pieces with greater verve. The sound got more dynamic and made listening more attractive, improving the motoric aspects in the macro and micro scale.
Observing how the character relationships behave in the amplifier-cable set, and I came quickly to the conclusion, that the Hydra are very corresponding and universal cables. With the linear sounding NAD they got in the shadow, and their presence was almost undetectable, while with the Moon they upped the atmosphere acting as a dynamic and saturation booster making the sound more attractive and coloring nicely the presented reality. What is important, despite the noticeable, although very elegant enlargement of the virtual sources, I did not notice any tendency for them to become overly gigantic or any attempts to place the, not always so beautiful, singer on the lap of the listener. The Hydra always kept the common sense and cool head, making only a cosmetic, or almost natural, re-scaling of the instruments, musicians and vocalists to its wide, and multilayer, sound stage. Without this action, when the “standard” sized hero of the spectacle would be placed on that stage, it would look much like in photography the “tilt-shift” effect, which manipulates perspective, allowing to see the world like small model.
This kind of presentation, this manner, was often associated with American cables, like the MIT or Transparent, and we can find a lot of their aesthetics in Hydra, as those are cables which like to sound with a big, and glamorous sound, but without losing nuances and detail, so adored by the golden eared crowd. Fortunately the ability to reproduce the emotions of lyric and focus was not pushed aside, and recordings like the memorable “The Koln Concert” Keith Jarrett, or one of my favorite jazz albums – “Kristin Lavransdatter” Arild Andersen were able to enchant by focusing on the microdetails, or the, loved by Jacek, so called “Playing with silence”. Each note was adored and lighted with utmost precision, to shine in full strength and create a mystic climate. On the mentioned albums the treble was shiny, ethereal and at the same time silky smooth and crystal clear, what made their master resolution stand apart. There was no hyper detail of clinical coldness present.
The Hydras of Signal Projects are not cheap cables, especially for Polish customers. In addition to that, the „new manufacturer in town” is not that famous yet like the top tier of world’s leading cable companies, a fact that would increase the risk of such purchase (for now) in case there was a need of a quick second hand sale. So the question is, if it is worth to enter the gamble with such a product. The answer is not unanimous, but allows the customer to make his or hers own, informed decision. If we carry the “audiophilia nervosa” bacillus in us, and the period of a week, or eventhat of a day, would seem as log without changing anything in our system, and if we practically spend more time listening to new products in our system than listening to music, then … we could just let these cable go. But when there is more of a music lover in us, than the overly excited and nervous audiophile, then it would be worth to listen to Hydra for a week or two in our system. Although they have their own idea on how to present music, and for the moment I can hardly imagine a high-end system, that they would perform bad, or they would be regarded as a misalliance. On the contrary – the higher quality of system’s devices, the more they will shine, and make us curious to try the more renowned brethren. For me, Hydra is a combination of the assets of the mentioned American brands and the refinement of the Danish cables Argento. If you will see this as a recommendation – I will leave that up to you, but when you encounter somewhere those British-Greek braids please sit down for a moment, listen to your favorite music and then start writing a message to Santa.
Text and pictures: Marcin Olszewski
Manufacturer: Signal Projects
Distributor in Poland: none.
Price: 2m stereo – €3250; €490 for each additional 0.5m
– type: multi-core
– conductor cross-section: 3,20 mm²
– material: copper
– purity: 99,99997%
– capacity: 13,78 pF/ft @1 kHz
– resistance: 1,53 mΩ/ft @1 kHz
– inductance: 0,42 µH/ft @1 kHz
– conductor isolation: Polytetrafluoroethylene
– external isolation: Polyurethane and Polyolefin
System used in this test:
– CD / DAC Ayon 1SC
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Stream player: Olive O2M; laptop Dell Inspiron 1764 + JRiver Media Center;
– Integrated Amplifiers: Electrocompaniet ECI 5; Moon 600i; NAD M3
– Preamplifier: Hegel P30
– Power Amplifier: Hegel H30
– Speakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– Headphones: Brainwavz HM5; Nu Force HP-800
– IC RCA: Antipodes Audio Katipo; Harmonix CI-230 Mark-II; Harmonix HS101-Improved; Neyton Neurnberg NF
– IC XLR LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio
– Digital IC: Fadel Art DigiLitz, Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye, Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB Cables Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Neyton Hamburg LS
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; GigaWatt LC-1mk2
– Power distribution board: GigaWatt PF-2 + cable LC-2mk2; Amare Musica Silver Passive Power Station
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7 +
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; HighEndNovum PMR Premium; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips
In our days, where there are too many companies manufacturing audio cables, the testing of such products has become a standard, which is undoubtedly increasing the brands recognition to the potential market.
However, an in depth review of such products, even if the results are positive, cannot always be „a guarantee of success” for the maker, but in all cases it verifies the mutual expectations in the client- manufacturer relationship.
Different markets may have different needs, and therefore product must be designed in a way to meet them. For the designer of the product, this is tough, because having a palette of propositions he has to decide which choices to make, where to position the product and what strategy to follow. This is why he is often forced to gamble, when he is about to launch a new product. So sending the cables to the reviewer, and retrieving them, is a negligible cost for checking, if the chosen strategy is the right one. And I was chosen to be the reviewer for the cables from the British company Signal Projects.
For many customers not only the sound, but also the looks count. Earlier it was easy – the bigger the diameter of the “garden hose” the higher the esteem of their owner. And even if the construction was similar to the hero of this test (a nice braid), still the cable would be placed in a thick tube and colorful sleeve, as that was the Hi End approach. Although this was not bad, for many owners of bookshelf speakers it was sometimes a problem, with the most frequent examples those when cables were lifting up the speaker from the stand, or the cases where speaker cables’ rigidity was causing substantial placement problems to systems that were placed close to the wall. I see a departure from that dogma, for a few years now. It is much harder to come across a loudspeaker “anaconda”, what does not mean, that it does not happen at all. The tested cables look like a beautiful braid with four conductors in opalescent sleeve, and terminated with spade connectors, with marked directionality and enough flexibility to be placed according to the needs of their user. So, Hydra speaker cables from Signal Projects… just landed in my system.
Testing one set of loudspeaker cables is a bit problematic for me, but I already resolved even more pronounced problems in my system, so this time I had the chance to listen to the cables in two different configurations, so that I could observe their influence in the various frequency bands. The tested set is second lowest in the portfolio of the British manufacturer with Greek roots. You can see, that he is still just probing the market, still keeping the aces up his sleeves. We can be sure, that after having positive response of the test he will show what he can do even better. This strategy is a bit laid back, but the audiophile community is a little picky and complaining, so it is better to have a good position on the lower price levels and then start to attack the summit. And in fact this is a good strategy.
I started to evaluate the influence of the “wires” from the mid-treble range, as in that range of frequencies most changes are easiest to be spotted. And considering that my system is custom tailored, any changes within that range can be easily recognised and I can hear them from the first few notes, even if I am still during the burn-in period of the tested product. Those are sometimes deceiving and changing observations, and on the long run they can move in a different direction than anticipated in the beginning. In this case the changes were evident, but I needed some time to be able to define their influence on the music. After an hour the first impressions got confirmed – and a slight brightening in the upper midrange appeared to give a bit of an extra shine, with some weight on the treble, – making the sound more vivid with extra information, and in the same time was lowering the temperature of the treble, avoiding the unwanted over-aggressiveness in the midrange-treble range. The observed effect of opening the midrange allows for a greater insight into the recording (we get more of the so called plankton), but it happens at the cost of weight, so without interference in the treble region, it could be too much. I am trying to say, that ethereal midrange together with such treble could make a recording become just a shout. Everything must be balanced, otherwise failure is imminent, and the higher a product is placed in the catalog, the more refined is the way the manufacturers handle this tonal balance. For sure, there are many systems, where this effect will help. To hear this I used jazz recordings. Taking for example a very well recorded disc Stefano Battaglia Trio called “The River of Anyder” (ECM) and with the first track you hear exactly what I am telling here. The sound of the piano is accompanied by many silent sounds, almost on the verge of perception – like the action of the pedals, which becomes a full fledged part of the recording in this configuration – audiophile plankton at its best, surely something many would like to have in their systems. Of course those little sounds do not become the main thing on the disc, but are clearly there. In addition to that, the slight elevation of resolution in the middle of the frequency spectrum allows the whole instrument to sound more vivid. The effect is very nice, but of course there will be people, for whom this would be cheating and departure from neutrality. This is the reason why you should try the cables for yourself, because different systems act differently.
To look at the treble we need to evaluate the timbre of the percussive instruments. To avoid their obtrusiveness in combination with the lighter midrange, the constructor tempers them with putting more weight and underlining them, what comes together with shorter sustain – this is how it works, you get something in exchange for something else. Due to this, they do not stand out, while remaining readable and free from harshness, and this is really important. This is how compromises work, you need to compensate one thing with another, to create an acceptable consensus, otherwise it is not worth the effort. But in this case the final result is worthwhile, the overall musical picture gains on this.
Finally a few words about the lower octaves, which, not apart from the rest, also become more readable and nimble, and become more controlled. During the test I used the cult 300B Reimyo amplifier, not manufactured anymore unfortunately, which had a lot to do in this part of the frequency range, because it is a known shortcoming of 7W SET amplifiers. I do not claim, that the amplifier had issues controlling the speakers in that aspect, but the British cable helped. The combination of the Japanese amp with the refined British cable was for the good of the set, the slight relief of the bass improved its readability and contour. There was a bit less of it in the whole picture, but the positive aspects of this operation compensated everything – you do not need strong, but monotone bass, when you can go a little lighter, but at the same time more expressive and quicker, showing more information in the end. The art of compromise is an important aspect of synergy in creating audio systems.
Having learned the assets of the tested loudspeaker cables, I thought of pairing them with an analog sound source. I pressed the right button on the preamplifier and due to having still at home the phonostage RCM Theriaa I moved to another realm of perceiving music. The phonostage itself converted my vision on the format and I decided to test it in many different configurations. But this test is not about the phono preamplifier. I do not need to tell you, that this is another world – a world of timbre, smoothness and celebration. This all makes you either love it or hate it. I prefer the first choice, and having a lot of discs, where the Signal Projects proposed treatment could help, I started to dig through my collection. New and old pressings, there are always discs where opening of the midrange will put new energy in them. Without searching too much, I took two disc album issued on 180g vinyl Kari Bremnes “Over en by”. This is a recording with a lot of bass and it showed a different face. But with Hydra, it was no longer a dark recording, but a happening full of nuances, a reproduction of the imagination of the artist and the recording engineer. The lack of breath, which was present before in the music disappeared, the instruments reverberated freely, and the vocalist sung more ethereal. Being an audiophile is a nice game, because this was not the only disc from my library, which profited from this British cable. I got bored in searching for those, so I started to listen to well recorded discs, which I knew by heart, and yet I was surprised with additional details, which slipped my notice before. This is nice to uncover something new, what is still hidden in the well known recordings. It turns out, that we still have lots of discs to go through, to learn to know it anew. And this is not only valid for the analogs, it is valid for all recordings regardless of the carrier.
The adventure with another cable company, probing our audio market turned out to be very interesting. Their proposition of brightening the sound, at first approached by me with caution, turned out to give me a lot of fun from listening. I see it as a result of listening to my discs in a very well designed system, but it may turn out, that the Hydra is a panacea for too dense audio systems, which will show what the sound engineer wanted us to hear only when paired with the Signal Projects cable. This may sound trivial, but I met a few systems, where on the question of their owner about the sound of them I answered: there is potential. And now after meeting the tested cable I would propose them as saviors of their heavy souls. If somebody has a feeling of too dense sound of his or her system, composed of handpicked elements, then this is the cable to try out, it could provide the needed breath enclosed in the nice braid.
The system used in the test, a complete set of Combak Corporation.
– Separate DAC + CD player: CDT – 777 + DAP – 999 EX
– Tube preamp: CAT – 777 MK II
– Solid state power amp: KAP – 777
Speakers: Bravo Consequence +
Power cables: Harmonix X-DC-350M2R Improved Version
Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (Section woofer)
IC RCA Harmonix HS 101-GP
Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
Table: Rogoz Audio
Accessories: Antivibration stand for the power amp by Harmonix TU-505EX MK2, Harmonix Enacom improved for AC 100-240V; Harmonix Tuning Room Mini Disk RFA-80i
drive: Dr. Feickert Analogue „Twin”
arm: SME V
cartridge: Dynavector XX-2 MK II
– Preamp: RCM Sensor Prelude IC