Half-jokingly half-seriously I could write that it was not meant to be this way, and our agreement with Angus Leung from WestminsterLab we made last year, during the Audio Video Show, was different. We discussed the test of the Rei monoblocks, which debuted during that show, very interesting and surprisingly compact for the declared class A, which interested us from the very beginning. Putting aside the fact, that they were in just-after-prototype-toddler status, we assumed, that until the next Show, everything will be finalized and a pair of those amplifiers will come with us for testing. But life is writing different scenarios, which are often different to our plans. Audio Video Show 2020 did not happen, and the amplifiers, together with a dedicated pre-amplifier Quest, just arrived in Poland and we received a package containing … a modest USB cable. Was this a surprise? Generally speaking – it totally was. However nothing flames emotion and rises the temperature of discussion as high as cables do, especially the digital ones. So not to prolong the introduction unnecessarily let me invite you to a meeting with the cable WestminsterLab USB Standard, supplied by the Wroclaw Audio Atelier.
Modesty, restraint, elegance. Those three words describe best our tested cable. No glamor, no attempts to lure our attention with stereotypical far-eastern ornaments. Just a plain cardboard box covered with grey foam protecting the very inconspicuous cable, covered with white, cotton sleeve. Even the plugs, covered with black heat shrink do not look special, they are not even gold plated. The only decorative element is the polished, metal muff with the manufacturer’s logo on it. And here we were for another surprise, as instead of creating cosmic theories, Angus Leung just told us, that this muff has some anti-vibration effect, but it is only coming from its mass, as the main goal is to feast the eye and add some weight to a very light and flabby cable.
Regarding its construction, you probably already know, that we did not attempt any vivisection, or take any X-ray of the cable. So the only source of information remains the manufacturer, who told us, that in the Standard he used two kinds of proprietary conductors, with hand polished and cryogenically treated Autria Alloy – one with an overage (>97%) copper and the second one with an overage of silver (>95%). Each of the mentioned conductors is covered with a thin layer of epoxy resin and then placed in a Teflon tube. The next step is to twist the signal wires appropriately, with their twist angle changing and depending on the final length of the cable. This process gained a company name – Vari-Twist technology. Finally carbon fiber is used as shield.
To understand the tested cable, it is worth to visit the company web page and click through it. There we should find a very interesting citation from Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, which, in a way, resolves the mystery behind the cable:
“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces.
Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”
Too ambiguous, metaphoric and unclear? Absolutely not. This is an almost ideal description of our hobby and passion, audio. Please have a closer look at our audiophile snippet of reality. All those fierce discussions, inevitable polarization of beliefs and trying to prove that “white is white, and black is black” come from the conviction, hidden deep in our (sub)conscious mind – that our/my truth/reason is the universal one and only. Only our judgment, our assessment is the proper one, only one certain manufacturer, or we alone, tinkering at our kitchen table, have the knowledge where truth is and what is the one and only correct way of getting there. But when we try to approach the whole from a broader perspective, globally, we will quickly realize, at least if we will not clingingly hold on to our beliefs, and the more or less imaginary dogmas, that we operate with only one of the truths, and usually the least true one of them all.
On the other hand, WestminsterLab sees it as a goal, to collect all the different shards of truth into a complete whole. To reproduce the state from before the shattering and give everybody full insight into the situation. And please believe me, and for now you can only take my word for it, that if they did not reach this goal in 100%, they came extremely close to it.
After some courteous burn-in period, allowing the tested cable ample time for accommodation, I reached for contemporary classical music, not really in-line with my preferences, but with the pandemic, it lately started to appeal to me like never before. I am talking about two, very close in terms of climate, symphonic albums “New Seasons – Glass, Pärt, Kancheli, Umebayashi” by Gideon Kremer and Kamerata Baltica, and “James Horner: Pas de Deux” from the Maria and Hakon Samuelsen siblings. Why that? Among other things due to the freedom of interpretation, what in fact means lack of any imposed boundaries or ways of perception of the “Violin Concerto No. 2 – The American Four Seasons” from Glass. It is the listener who decides, which one of the eight, or to make things simpler, which one of the four pairs of “cells”, should be attributed to the seasons. On the other hand, the opus of maestro Horner also escapes any pigeonholing, as it does not have anything in common with the super-productions in the likes of “Titanic” or “Avatar”, which come to mind when we hear that last name, but this is true classical music, and at that written for a very specific instruments – in this case violin and viola, supported by a symphonic orchestra. So we have something not so obvious, requiring focus, and due to the phenomenal recording also being multilayered and multithreaded, needing your full attention to enter deep enough into the structure and musical tissue. But what would come from our good will and effort, if our audio system, our probing tool, would not be up to par in terms of resolution or ability to reproduce emotion in music, or even worse, would imply on us its own interpretation. The WestminsterLab USB Standard has nothing of that. In general we can assume it does not have any character of its own, becoming a mirror, where everyone looking in there, can see his or hers own reflection. So we get the truth about the recording, but also, regardless if we want it or not, the truth about our stereo.
Now we are approaching the core of what the WestminsterLab cable is or is not. I did not use the term “does” on purpose, because it does nothing, what standard cables do – it does not hurt the sound. It is worth knowing, that the ideal cable connection is the one … that is not there, because any additional connection only degrades the sound, and the measure of success is to keep this degradation at a minimum. I will even say more – the WestminsterLab releases the potential of our system, it flushes its arteries and makes the sound free. Everything becomes more real, more palpable but not obtrusive, clearer but not overdrawn – in general more truthful. But no, not more truthful – just plain true. It is easiest to notice in the area of dynamics, the macro and the micro one. The limitation for presentation of energy just disappears. We get the full package, so I warn you, that it would be recommendable, to have the rest of the system being able to make use of that. Looking for analogies the “pink candy” comes to mind, the family of Furutech DSS-4.1 and DPS-4 (currently in version 4.1), which, when placed in appropriate system, can come very close to the audiophile nirvana.
Interestingly, to feel this freedom, this breath, which almost causes hyperventilation, you do not need to go for Hollywood super-productions like “Gladiator”, it is enough to play the melancholic album “Another Bundle of Tantrums” Jasmine Thompson. It is so, that the ability of transferring energy on the level of single Joules happens on molecular levels, and we do not need concert-like levels of volume and a wall of sound. However there was a temptation to feel the roar of thousand throats of the crowd below the scene, and once it got too strong to combat it, I reached for “Hunter’s Moon” by Delain and then for the club “Live at the Hollywood Palladium” by Keith Richards and the X-pensive Winos. And what? Maybe you will not believe it, but the WestminsterLab clearly showed, that the old guys still have something going on, and this relic of the past, I mean Keith, has a lot more fire and energy in him than most of those young guys yelling to the microphones. Putting aside the very rough, or even crude, sounds, the presence of being there and then had the intensity, that puts the contemporary VR toys to shame. If we add to that a very contagious motoric, which does not allow to sit quietly for even a moment, it becomes clear, that our neighbors will enjoy our beloved recordings with us. Of course, on civilized or even late night volume levels, everything is clearly visible and audible, but let us be frank – we do not buy a 771 HP Mustang Shelby GT500, to drive in tempo 30 areas.
Concluding I will allow myself another thought. An afterthought I got after some time of listening, realizing that the WestminsterLab USB Standard, despite dynamics, freedom and precision being its main characteristic, does not up the bass or tempo. Actually the exact opposite happens. It keeps the whole sound in an iron grip, or better said in a copper-silver grip, emphasizing on linearity, differentiation of structure and nuances rather than showing off, carving mass and muscle, which would serve no purpose at all. And the Asian cable absolutely has a purpose – it should deliver us the truth. All the truth, regardless of what it is.
OK, so what is the end result of my writing? I dare to say, that the WestminsterLab USB Standard is a very good cable, even a brilliant one. Is it a cable for all? I sincerely doubt that, as not everybody likes the truth being served straight up, instead of flattering him or her. This is why I am painfully aware, that with competition sounding more spectacular, upping the tempo much more, or saturating and making the sound beautiful beyond belief, the tested cable might come through as less convincing, at least in the beginning. But please believe me, this visual and sonic mixture of minimalism and purity becomes its greatest asset with time.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-35 (Preamp + Signature) + Finite Elemente Cerabase compact
– Network player: Lumin U1 Mini + Melco N1Z/2EX-H60
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Dynavector DV-10X5
– Phonostage: Tellurium Q Iridium MM/MC Phono Pre Amp
– Power amplifier: Bryston 4B³
– Loudspeakers: Dynaudio Contour 30 + Brass Spike Receptacle Acoustic Revive SPU-8 + Base Audio Quartz platforms
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: Organic Audio; Vermöuth Audio Reference
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver; Fidata HFU2; Vermöuth Audio Reference USB
– Speaker cables: Signal Projects Hydra; Vermöuth Audio Reference Loudspeaker Cable
– Power cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power + Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II; Furutech Nanoflux Power NCF
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Power conditioner: Keces BP-5000 + Shunyata Research Alpha v2 NR
– Wall power socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Anti-vibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Switch: Silent Angel Bonn N8
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+, Audiomica Anort Consequence + Artoc Ultra Reference + Arago Excellence
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM
– Acoustic panels: Vicoustic Flat Panels VMT
You do not need to be an extremely old music lover to remember the times, when people talking about importance of cabling of audio systems in terms of audio quality, were called names. Of course, after years and years of proving, that power and analog transfer of signal between components influences the sound, the burning piles prepared for the heretics were finally extinguished. Not for long, as another fight started soon, but this time around digital transfers, where zeros and ones were passed through LAN or USB cables and should be absolutely immune to any outside influence. So how long will this fight last? I cannot assess that, and frankly speaking, I am completely not interest in it, despite knowing, that I am treading on thin ice. The proof of the latter is, that I am taking another adventure with a digital cable. Which one? Like mentioned in the title – the WestminsterLab USB Standard from Hong Kong, distributed in Poland by Art&Voice / Audio Atelier from Wroclaw.
As you can see on the attached photographs, the tested cable is absolutely not monstrous. However after checking back with the manufacturer, this is not a result of any savings, being that financial or resource ones, but the need to propose a cable, which will fulfill its role, but without overblown looks. In terms of the conductors, after many tests with pure copper, gold alloys, silver and many other materials available on the market, the company decided to develop their own product, called Autria Alloy. In case of the tested USB Standard, two different wires were used – one based on 97% copper and the second one based on 95% silver; both cryogenically treated. What is important in the manufacturing process, each of the cryogenically treated solid-core wires is hand polished and then coated with a thin layer of epoxy resin, to protect it from oxidizing. Such half-product is then placed in a thin Teflon tube. The following step is the proprietary Vari Twist – twisting of the signal wires with changing twist angles. Finally the cable is shielded with braided carbon fiber. The whole is then placed inside an opalescent, white, braided sheath. But this is not all – to eliminate detrimental vibration, close to the USB plug, a nicely looking barrel with the company logo and model name was placed. For the transfer of the completed product to the customer, the cable is packed in a nice box, upholstered with appropriately shaped foam.
If I would need to define the changes introduced by the tested USB cable, with a sneer I could tell, that a visual representation of the zeros and ones would be writing them in Cyrillic alphabet. I am not joking, as in my opinion, this transcript translated one-to-one the sonic result of the test system. What did that mean? As you know, the mentioned style of writing letters and numerals, compared to the commonly used Arabic one, seems very distinct on its edges. And this edginess, colloquially speaking, was the analogy to the definition of the virtual sources. It concentrated the sound inside, what cleaned the virtual background from unneeded distortion. I got a much clearer sound, what on one hand allowed me to listen to music at much lower volume levels, with the same packet of information being received, and on the other hand, due to the lowering of the parasitic distortion, if we want to virtually attend the live performance we are just listening to, we can turn the volume knob to the right without any issues. Important is, that all this happened without the cost of thinning of changing the tonal balance of the music reaching my ears. I checked that very thoroughly, using very strong albums from Jordi Savall discography, like “El Cant de la Sibil.la”. The voice of his, unfortunately late wife, Montserrat Figueras, did not lose anything from its body, which was brilliantly decaying among the musicians in the monastery. Also due to the removal of the “fog” around the musicians, I could enjoy even more the reality of the echo, the natural emotion amplifier of such recordings, which was phenomenally used by the sound engineer. It was omnipresent, but still not exaggerated. A similar situation happened in jazz-like genres, especially in creations from ensembles which “play with silence”, like for example RGG in the compilation disc “Szymanowski”. During listening to that disc, the key word for the sound was transparency, without any overinterpretation, what resulted in brilliantly reproducing the artistry of the cooperation between the noble piano with the double bass, which treated the body and strings equally, and that all backed by cymbals, present everywhere. And what about heavy rock? What about what? It was normal, what means skillfully healing the usually very bad masters. Were it Metallica, Slayer or AC/DC, removing the delicate fog did far more good than bad. Why? Like I mentioned – better contours of the sound avoiding its thinning. Unfortunately this does not always goes hand in hand, so confirming the claims of the manufacturer on my own, using very demanding musical material, can result only in giving him the highest praise.
So whom would I recommend the tested cable? I do not know how you see it, but I do not see any counterindications to recommend it to everybody. Bettering of the contours of the sound, without raising its tonal balance, should not hurt anybody. If this still happens, by any coincidence, then I would not blame the WestminsterLab USB Standard for that, but the system it was plugged into, as it achieved the apparent esthetic of saturation by being mudded by the cable used before. Of course I understand, that potential beneficiaries of such result will fight like lions, to show, that this problem is caused by something completely different. But I assure you, treating the plague with cholera, by which I mean curing a too light sound with a dense cable, will finally come out to the light of the day, and the tested cable from Hong Kong, will be one of the first, to clearly show it.
System used in this test:
– CD transport” CEC TL 0 3.0, Melco N1Z/2EX-H60
– DAC: dCS Vivaldi DAC 2.0
– Reference clock: Mutec REF 10
– Reclocker: Mutec MC-3+USB
– Shunyata Research Sigma CLOCK
– Shunyata Sigma NR
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Gryphon Audio Mephisto Stereo
– Loudspeakers: Dynaudio Consequence
– Speaker Cables: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC RCA: Hijri „Million”, Vermouth Audio Reference
– IC XLR: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, Furutech NanoFlux NCF Furutech DPS-4 + FI-E50 NCF(R)/ FI-50(R), Hijiri Nagomi; Vermouth Audio Reference Power Cord
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints ULTRA SS, Stillpoints ULTRA MINI, antivibration platform by SOLID TECH, Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V, Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
– Acoustic treatments by Artnovion
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Step-up: Thrax Trajan
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA