Harmonic Technology: Initial Impressions

Harmonic Technology: Initial Impressions

“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” –Oscar Wilde

Signor Scardanelli

[November 1998. Originally appeared in La Folia 1:4.]

Conspicuous consumption. Thorsten Veblen named the behavior a century ago, when the carriage trade actually rode about in horse-drawn carriages. Excepting Manhattan’s Central Park and environs, the patties dotting city streets are distant memories; the urge to purchase conspicuously operates as primally as it ever did. Take audiophiles. (Shades of Henny Youngman’s “Take my wife. Please!”) We all know at least one fellow hobbyist who acquires only the most expensive (or talked-about, or esoteric) gear, which he tends not to keep for long.

I am, I fear, a conspicuous consumer who mitigates his behavior with a flaccid excuse: When one sees Wilson speakers on demo, they’re usually attached to networked cables. In order to keep abreast of the Joneses, I acquired at, to be honest, a journalist’s steep discount among the world’s costliest cables. One set of double-networked balanced interconnects, one pair of networked speaker cables, suggested civilian tariff, ca. $18,000. No, my finger didn’t slip. $18,000. (I’ve visions of gasping readers, those at least strange to these waters, and shrugs of resignation among my vast audiophile public.) Anyway, my WATT/Puppy 5.1’s, Mark Levinson amp and CD player are not what you’d call flea-market items. Further, I admit to the teensiest consumerist rush contemplating the system’s worth. And of course, I was delighted with its performance. Let’s never lose sight of that lofty goal! Also mark was.

Our story begins. Scot Markwell, The Abso!ute Sound’s technical editor, sent me a boxful of wires. He felt (correctly) that I needed the education. And what a delicious assortment! XLO, Wire World, Discovery, Siltech, Nordost. Having sampled everything (much of it for too brief a time), I settled finally as Best of Show on Nordost’s SPM interconnects and speaker cables, as well as that maker’s Quattro Fil interconnect, all of which have received ample, and to my mind proper, praise in TAS. My fabulously tony networked cables were history. Thanks to Nordost, I’d achieved a new level of speed, transparency, resolution, timbral and soundstage rectitude.

A fly enters the unguent. He’s large for a bug and furthermore talks. My friend Clem Perry, the editor of the webzine Planet HiFi, put me on to a new product line from an OEM wire fabricator headquartered in San Diego. (Clem in turn was alerted by a speaker manufacturer discretion prevents him from naming. Never mind, I know who it is.) The company’s two principals, engineer Robert Lee and businessman Jim Wang, call their freshman operation Harmonic Technology. I phoned, dangling Clem’s name like a talisman, and lo, by Priority Mail do I swiftly receive one pair Truth-Link balanced interconnects, one pair Pro-9 Plus speaker cables, one Pro-11 CL3 power cord (I can use only one, the amp’s hardwired). A veritable effusion! Unhappily, I had to return the speaker cable. They’d sent me the bi-wire version. As the Puppy’s jewelry-perfect slotted posts host sandwiched lugs unhappily, I requested the mono setup, in effect, the same cable’s bi-wires terminating, as they begin, at a single spade lug.

The power cord I loved instantly. (In the interests of brevity, I’ll discuss the cables only.) With the Nordost SPMs substituting for my yet to arrive Pro-9 solo-wired speaker cables, I burned in Harmonic Technology’s Truth-Link interconnect. But let’s back up a tad. Like the speaker cable, the HT interconnect employs OCC copper, the letters unexplained in the booklet accompanying. As I’d earlier experience with PCOCC interconnects from Signet, I thought I knew what the letters stand for: Ohno Continuous Casting (Signet’s prefatory PC initialing Pure Copper). I asked Robert Lee if I had that right. Yes, but not entirely. HT’s engineer contends that the wire his company manufactures in Taiwan under license from Ohno in Japan is several generations removed from the good doctor’s original continuous-crystal innovation. Backing up a further tad, when I returned the original speaker cables, I requested Harmonic Technology’s OCC silver Pro-Silway interconnect for the purpose of comparison with its OCC copper Truth-Link counterpart. Narrative back-ups accounted for, I found the Nordost SPM speaker cable / Harmonic Technology Truth-Link interconnect combo a thing of musical loveliness. The overriding impression was one of heightened palpability, without however the sense of coloration I’d detected when I auditioned the Siltech stuff Scot sent.

The replacement HT speaker cables arrived in short order. As the CD player with its analog volume control goes directly to the amp, I require but one set of balanced interconnects. The Nordost / HT combo is wonderful, the HT / HT combo better yet. Canned life via Harmonic Technology’s interconnects and speaker cables contributes to Nirvana thus: In the normal course of events, even with remarkably well produced recordings played on remarkably good systems, we perceive a three-dimensional soundfield filled, more or less, with two-dimensional events. It’s particularly observable in intimate recordings of acoustic jazz, for example. HT’s wares contribute substantially toward fleshing out a good recording’s cast of characters. To put that another way: IÍve a heightened sense of Musical Truth, of, if you like, harmonic complexity. Further, these are the only cables I’ve so far listened to that seem to me to have no character whatever. They are neither lush, nor dry, nor particularly this or that in any way discernable.

It may be, as Scot Markwell remarked when I first conveyed my delight, that, relative to this gear in this room, I stumbled upon the ideal synergy. As suspicious as I am that he may be implying a lesser result elsewhere, I cannot argue the point. So, as far as you, dear reader, are concerned, I’m here to share my happiness. I’d be even happier were my effusions to arouse your curiosity.

Exclamatory flurries and errant apostrophes aside, so far as I can determine, HT’s booklet describes its wires’ sonic qualities accurately. I agree that the Pro-Silway OCC silver interconnect provides superior treble detail. However, the booklet’s caution notwithstanding, I cannot imagine a system in which this exquisite top end might appear excessive. Indeed, were one to perceive it as so, I’d suggest positioning oneself behind his rig, removing the cables, holding them in place there in midair, till an accomplice rolls in a new load of components.

It’s customary in remarks of this kind to comment discretely on low-end extension, timbral truth, transparency, resolution, macro- and micro-dynamic, spaciousness, and so on down the list of high-end goodies. And so I shall, but as I hear it: palpability, harmonic complexity, fully-fleshed dimensionality, soundstage solidity. Look, itÍs really very simple. If you feel you’re where it’s happening, it seems to me that all else falls into place in one’s delightfully solipsistic universe.

I began to a purpose with Veblen’s conspicuous consumption coinage. Let me say it plain: this Harmonic Technology stuff is the best I’ve ever heard. At less than a tenth, pricewise, of my networked cables’ ticket. HTÍs business-side partner, Jim Wang, is very touchy on this point. He dreads any finding that concludes “excellent value” or “best in its price class.” He actually said to me, “I’d prefer no review to your writing something like that,” and, as amusing as I find being dictated to by the manufacturer of the item under (it is to be hoped) disinterested scrutiny, I’m not without sympathy. Clem quotes a high-rolling friend, the very model of the epigraph with which I begin these remarks: “At that price it cannot be good.” I can only respond by repeating that a $932 speaker cable (a mono-terminated 9-footer’s suggested list) obliterates the memory of the $10,000 wires that lay in its place, as do these interconnects, with silver as my preference, at $519 for a 1.5-meter, balanced pair. This, I think, is what they call a no-brainer. Just open your ears and turn off the snobbery pump.