LA Sound Unbalanced RCA Interconnect Cable Review

Manufacturer & Model
LA Sound Unbalanced RCA Interconnect Cables, original version
MSRP
700 Euro - Deviank series, 1 m length; 950 Euro - Olympia series, 1 m length
Link
http://www.lasound.it/
Highlights
Solid retention, silver alloy or solid silver conductors, silver-plated connection surfaces, effective shielding, and solid core center conductor.
Summary
The LA Sound RCA Interconnects are the culmination of 20 years of pursuit of the ultimate sound with silver conductors. Designed for the hi-fi, high-end user, the interconnects are sure to satisfy the pickiest of audio system owners.
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From the northern reaches of Italy, in the Padova province, in the town of Lozzo Atestino, come LA Sound interconnects and accessory cables for hi-fi and high-end audio systems. The company’s business, as explained on their website, is the “production of audio cables, made by applying the best technical-construction solution (pure metals, solid core wires, insulation and shielding) in order to obtain the best result!” From the best available designs, materials, and construction techniques come the best-sounding, best-working audio cables possible.

A 20 year passion of working with silver as a conductor in audio systems has culminated in LA Sound cables. The wire and connectors used in the cables are all produced in their factory. The finished cables themselves are hand assembled. There are not many cable makers who start with virgin metals and make all the materials and parts and sub-assemblies for their wares from scratch in-house, especially when silver is on the bill of materials. Metals arrive at the factory in virgin form and are exposed to minimal processing to preserve their crystalline structure, ensuring transparent delivery of the “sound message.”

The cables tested were the basic versions of these designs. A newer series called "Evolution 1" is also available.


The Details
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LA Sound RCA interconnect cables are available in 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5 m lengths. The Deviank line is made of a copper-silver alloy, with 99.99% pure silver and 4N OFC copper, a solid core AWG 20 center conductor, with electrical characteristics of 0.040 Ohm/meter and 65 pF/meter. The Olympia line is made of 99.99% pure silver, a solid silver AWG 20 center conductor, with electrical characteristics of 0.035 Ohm/meter and 65 pF/meter.

Both cable series feature Teflon insulation and a locking RCA connector that is pure copper with a 0.8 micron coating of pure silver. The outer cable cover is a handsome woven design, black for the Deviank line and red for the Olympia line, with a very professional looking LA Sound strain relief heat shrink protecting those precious connections from tugs and sharp bends. A label wraps around the source end of each interconnect, identifying the cable series and length and reminding the user which end is meant to connect to the source, the end where the shield is connected to ground for optimal immunity to noise and EMI/RFI effects.


Look And Feel
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I received 2 pairs of RCA Interconnect cables from LA Sound for evaluation, a pair from each of those two product lines. The interconnects came beautifully boxed. Each is labeled with series, length, cross section, serial number, and source-end designation, and is terminated with locking RCA connectors. The actual benefit from connecting the shield at only one end will depend on the application, on its location in one’s system, on the presence of ground loops and noise, and on a multitude of factors that make it difficult to predict the precise effect such a cable might have for a given listener.

Overall appearance and build quality were excellent. It was not difficult to spot signs of the cables’ handbuilt heritage - a hand-built cable is usually easy to spot - but the consistency and attention to detail in the build and inspection processes stood out proudly, and the LA Sound interconnects came close to feeling mass-produced while making a professional, high-end appearance statement. The connectors mated firmly and unmated with a good jiggle and pull. The tight connection and the silver plating on the connectors make good electrical connections that do not degrade over months or years of contact a sure thing.

I liked the design of the RCA connectors. A locking sleeve is tightened a few turns to lock, reversed to unlock. The connections are firm to make and break - you might need to brace lighter equipment while doing so - and the resulting connection is secure. Tightening the lock makes it doubly so - I could not budge the connectors once the lock was engaged, yet with just a few turns of the sleeve it could be removed, although two hands and a little effort were required. I like a firm mating action, but not one that puts too much force on the equipment, connectors, and solder joints involved. This is as it should be. In my experience, tiny dimensional variations in some RCA connectors can occur and the tightness of the mating connection can be loose enough that it can pull loose with a light accidental tug. Connection quality with the silver coating on the RCA connector should be excellent with no degradation or loss of connection from corrosion over long connection service periods. Between the locking retention and the silver-plating, there should be no need to wiggle connections to refresh their integrity after an extended connection time (months, years), or to track down a mysterious bad connection of that kind.

The solid core construction made the interconnects a little bit stiff, but not overly so. They were still flexible enough to be easily worked into place in real-world use, mated, and retention engaged without frustration. The woven outer covering feels smooth and will resist binding or catching or snagging.

The labels were my least favorite part of the design. They are made of shiny non-conductive foil-like plastic and were hard to read. Labeling that is difficult to see or read will always get negative points from me.


How Do They Measure and Sound?
I subscribe to the school of thought that many factors in an audio component CAN have a significant audible effect on its sound, and on a system’s sound, but that only a few such factors actually DO matter greatly in a given situation. The flip side if this view is that components that are doing their job in an audio system do not draw attention to themselves (visual aesthetics aside), and are effectively transparent. The component that is not sonically transparent is the sore thumb that needs attention, and the cable that might end up being that sore thumb probably has weak shielding or corrosion on a connector or a loose fit or a broken or intermittent internal connection.

But the sore thumb in a finely-tuned high-end audio reproduction system might just be a barely noticeable throb, a little increase in the noise floor from a less-than-sufficient shield or connection, a slight alteration in high-frequency response from high cable capacitance, or some effect well below the radar for most listeners but now the ONE FACTOR that stands out as being in need of fixing - once you locate it.

Enter high-end cables, like the LA Sound RCA Interconnects. Other than being of first-rate design and build with quality materials, the reasons I can see to consider cables like the LA Sound are:
  • They provide solid connections that will not degrade, and will stay reliable for years without needing a “maintenance jiggle” when a channel in your system goes silent or noisy.
  • They will stay put, resisting tugs and pulls that might dislodge a lesser cable.
  • The shield connection to ground at source end only can - in the right place - give the shielding needed to control interference without introducing a ground loop and making noise worse.

Measurements
Impedance and signal transmission measurements were performed with the LA Sound Interconnects. Impedance measurements indicated only a few degrees of phase shift above 20 kHz. All other measurements were straight-line flat, downright boring. Exactly the way you want an interconnect to measure. These measurements were performed with the cables in the source -first orientation and in the source-reversed orientation. I could see no difference.


Listening
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The pairs of LA Sound cables each had time in my listening setup - in both orientations - and were compared to everyday cables. An Oppo Sonica DAC with optical input at 24 b / 96 bps (24/96) drove the interconnects, terminated with an Oppo HA-1 headphone amp and Oppo PM-1 headphones, all serving as part of the testing rig.

This evaluation setup allowed simple testing of the LA Sound interconnects with Room EQ Wizard for measurements and with headphones for listening. Measurements showed only a very slight phase shift at frequencies above 20 kHz, with no change in frequency response. Impulse and step response measurements showed no change from input to output. Noise and distortion remained immeasurable.

All of this was as expected.

Claims that the LA Sound Cables can provide greater detail, a three-dimensional scene, and improved dynamics and naturalness are claims I was not able to prove or disprove. Listening tests showed the cables to be very transparent. Noise immunity and detailed listening qualities can vary widely by application, and there are certainly more demanding test situations where these interconnects might improve the sonic qualities a noticeable amount. I experienced no noise problems with or without the LA Sound interconnects, but others might get a very different noise immunity result as well.


Pros and Cons
Pros:

  • Solid, tight connection quality
  • Excellent retention, easy to engage and disengage
  • Beautiful design and construction
  • Effective strain relief
  • No sonic degradation
  • Possible sonic improvements in some systems
Cons:
  • The labels are very difficult to read. The reflective material and fine black print had me reaching for a magnifier and a flashlight. Unreadable labeling is a pet peeve of mine.
  • Price. The LA Sound interconnects are likely to be the choice of discriminating listeners with deep pockets, for whom price is not an issue.

Conclusions
The LA Sound Unbalanced RCA Interconnects are excellent cables that are sure to do no harm in any application, and in some systems might even introduce welcome sonic enhancements. I recommend them for consideration as a possible cable upgrade for discriminating listeners with high-end systems.
 

Comments

Todd Anderson

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They certainly have the "look." Price-wise... WOW. Looks like they run in the $800 range. I'd be curious to know they actual value of the precious metals in the cables?
 

ddude003

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Another nice review Wayne... I use copper and silver from audio quest... Every little bit helps...

Todd: Spot price of silver 99.999% at close today was $14.58 an oz...
Spot price of copper close at $2.8585 a lb... (decimal in the correct position)...
 

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Thanks ddude003.

Almost makes you want to insure them!
 

ddude003

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Thanks for the review Wayne... I knew you could pull it off with integrity. I can see a review of these reading quite differently in the high-end magazines. Of course many of those guys can hear things only those in their circle can hear, so perhaps it should read differently. Too bad my ears are not good enough to appreciate expensive cables like these.
 

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Did you run REW to see if there was any difference compared to your old cables? I ask this as I wonder if the new cables might be accentuating certain frequencies to give more clarity.
 

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I ran impedance tests and frequency & phase response, distortion, impulse response, step response.

All measurements were flat lines, and showed no difference from inexpensive cables. They were too unremarkable to publish.
 

Negatron

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Thanks Wayne. My theory is that if a cable sounds different it should be measurable. I think the main differences people hear are due to inductance, capacitance, and resistance variations.
 

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Thanks for that objective review, Wayne.
 

Matthew J Poes

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Thanks Wayne. My theory is that if a cable sounds different it should be measurable. I think the main differences people hear are due to inductance, capacitance, and resistance variations.
Something to keep in mind, you would need to use a much different measurement approach to pick this up. Keep in mind that the room, even at mid and high frequencies, contributes greatly to the response. So much so that small differences made by cables, if they existed, would very likely not show up. That doesn't mean no measurable difference was made, just that the in room measurement taken with an omnidirectional mic and using an FFT approach wouldn't show it. You would likely need to move to an anechoic chamber and use a low noise measurement approach to detect these differences. Just yesterday, while checking the differences between a new measurement mic and a known older one, we took a series of quick and dirty measurements, we found small SPL differences between measurements unrelated to the mic's (just the nature of the approach).

Now you might argue that if the difference isn't obviously measurable, then how could it be audible. Of course, that is a much different argument. One one hand, we can detect very small differences (that this in-room measurement approach wouldn't resolve). On the other hand, why wouldn't the room effect drown it out? Without rigorous research, we couldn't say (and I don't believe such research exists, though certainly plenty of ABX tests have been tried over the years, but then, this was about measuring a difference we should hear, not reliably hearing the difference).
 

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Silver is more conductive than copper by a small amount... I used to work for a company that used silver wire to wire wrap their computer back planes... Someone made a engineering mod/fix with a same length copper wire that caused all kinds of errors...

I am wondering where in the signal chain does silver wire/cables make the most difference... Between source/DAC and preamp, preamp and amp or amp to speakers... I think one would be lowering distortion by using higher quality cables anywhere in the signal chain... At the amp to speaker connection, and depending on designs, it may alter impedance curves and hence changes to Negative Feedback, Damping and Harmonic Distortion...

All of these thing are measurable to a bench tech...
 

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Something to keep in mind, you would need to use a much different measurement approach to pick this up. Keep in mind that the room, even at mid and high frequencies, contributes greatly to the response. So much so that small differences made by cables, if they existed, would very likely not show up. That doesn't mean no measurable difference was made, just that the in room measurement taken with an omnidirectional mic and using an FFT approach wouldn't show it. You would likely need to move to an anechoic chamber and use a low noise measurement approach to detect these differences. Just yesterday, while checking the differences between a new measurement mic and a known older one, we took a series of quick and dirty measurements, we found small SPL differences between measurements unrelated to the mic's (just the nature of the approach).

Now you might argue that if the difference isn't obviously measurable, then how could it be audible. Of course, that is a much different argument. One one hand, we can detect very small differences (that this in-room measurement approach wouldn't resolve). On the other hand, why wouldn't the room effect drown it out? Without rigorous research, we couldn't say (and I don't believe such research exists, though certainly plenty of ABX tests have been tried over the years, but then, this was about measuring a difference we should hear, not reliably hearing the difference).
All measurements were done electronically, all listening was done with headphones. There were no room effects in either case.

Silver is more conductive than copper by a small amount... I used to work for a company that used silver wire to wire wrap their computer back planes... Someone made a engineering mod/fix with a same length copper wire that caused all kinds of errors...

I am wondering where in the signal chain does silver wire/cables make the most difference... Between source/DAC and preamp, preamp and amp or amp to speakers... I think one would be lowering distortion by using higher quality cables anywhere in the signal chain... At the amp to speaker connection, and depending on designs, it may alter impedance curves and hence changes to Negative Feedback, Damping and Harmonic Distortion...

All of these thing are measurable to a bench tech...
I had forgotten about those old wire-wrap boards. They did use silver-plated wire, didn't they! I, too, remember the propensity toward reliability problems if someone used the non-silver wire.

I would probably try them first at the lowest signal level, early in the signal chain, although it seems that there are many possible variables that could make them more effective elsewhere.
 

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A little more about my approach for this review.

Claims about a cable's "sound" are not hard to find. I am a believer, like others who have commented, that a cable rarely has such an effect that can be clearly audible, and that it is poor control of variables that leads to some claimed listening differences. However, it only seemed fair to the cable producers in this case to take an approach that was open-minded to the possibility of an audible difference from these interconnects, while taking measurements that might reveal some characteristic that points to a unique sonic quality to listen for. In other words, I fully expected the measurements to reveal nothing, but as an open-minded reviewer had to give them a fair chance to do so all the same.

Of course, the test setup could have been better - given tens of thousands of dollars of cash - and a better measurement setup might have detected some tiny measurable difference from less expensive cables, but the point was that my measurement setup did its job, that I did not measure or hear a difference, Plus my test setup is better than most audio reviewers and I trust it.
 

Todd Anderson

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I think you gave it a fair shake, Wayne.
 

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I definitely do NOT like unbalanced connections. To much dirt.
and ... RCA -- Cinch is one of the worst connectors arround.
 
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