What is a ‘reference’ if not an absolute truth, an ultimate goal? It’s a word tagged to products encapsulating a company’s best technologies and, mostly, flagship products. The audio industry certainly has dozens of brands using the term. Then, subsequent to developing a superior product, terms like ‘Signature’, ‘Designer’s Reference’ and so on appear as creative expressions which shoot ever upwards, seemingly transcending the concept of a definitive ‘reference’. Here at SoundStage! Australia HQ, we’ve been using all manner of upmarket cable types and brands including Vermouth Audio’s outstanding Reference line. Recently, we received the company’s latest Reference series creation, the superbly well-made Phono cable. Will this latest offering live up to the lofty term ‘reference’?
In line with the rest of the Reference line – which now offers products for the entire audio signal path – the Phono cable is made to extremely high standards. It carries through the high quality white jacket and bespoke carbon fibre connectors which, in this case, is a five-pin DIN at the tonearm end and twin locking RCAs at the phono stage end (including a captive spade-terminated ground lead). Vermouth Audio also offers RCA to RCA phono leads while XLR versions may be custom-fabricated upon request (you’ll need to confirm this via Vermouth Audio’s ‘Contact’ page on the company website).
Company Founder Hendry Ramli provided some details on the construction of the cable.
I use multi-size UPOCC copper conductors with Teflon insulation and OFC shielding is OFC. The connectors are my own in-house design and are processed by a connector specialist manufacturer to my specifications. The appearance of quality was a very important aspect of the Reference cables. For each channel conductor, I specified an individual PVC jacket to avoid the use of heat shrink in order to achieve a delicate appearance.
All round, the Reference cables ooze build quality and, given the construction and materials used, represent exceptional value. As Ramli explained, the UPOCC conductors are bundled into twin runs per leg and wrapped in FEP insulation (barring the non-signal-carrying ground lead which is insulated via PVC but retains OFC conductor construction). Then the FEP-insulated conductors are enclosed in a PVC inner jacket, polyester filler is packed around the entire bundled construction and wrapped within a braided OFC copper shield. The cable is then further sleeved into an outer jacket which is then finally dressed in the classy white braided outer sleeve. Despite the complex construction, the Reference Phono cable is reasonably flexible, therefore easy to guide around the rear of your components.
I connected the five-pin DIN to the rear socket on the recently acquired, and superbly built, Reed 1X tonearm which houses Shelter’s excellent Harmony Moving Coil cartridge (review here). The turntable is the gorgeous Transrotor Crescendo Nero. The RCA ends (and attached ground lead) were plugged into the highly regarded on-board phono stage in Supratek’s Cortese preamplifier.
A very – and I stress very – important factor I discovered when firing-up the system. Many, but not all, phono cables I’ve tried in the past have had various levels of hum and noise through my high gain preamp/power amp combo (line level connectivity is super, super quiet, almost to the level of a solid state preamp, a real credit to the Supratek Cortese valve design). This has had me always shifting through the gain controls on the preamp to arrive at a compromise of hum and gain level. No such issue with the Vermouth Audio Reference Phono cable. The inherent hum was down remarkably at high gain. This is a very significant factor and testament to an expertly-designed cable.
Barring one extra-long balanced cable from preamplifier to amplifier and a single AC lead, the remaining components were all wired via Vermouth Audio Reference cable loom. As you’d expect, the Phono cable exhibited the sonic traits of its stablemates with, in this case, excellent synergistic interaction.
That meant an accurately dynamic, tight, detailed and rhythmic sound, all familiar characteristics of Vermouth Audio’s Reference line. This was evident when spinning The Pixies’ “Hey” from the classic Doolittle album. The track’s punch and powerful snare are juxtaposed with Frank Black’s simultaneously angry and melancholic vocals (only a true master can balanced the two opposing forces). The guitars twang and buzz realistically too and there’s a great sense of propulsive power to the track.
The gorgeous soundscapes on Mary Webb’s Love Like Planets are made to spread from corner to corner of the room. This is an exceptional recording and within the context of our reference system’s electronics and loudspeakers, the Reference Phono cable is quite the soundstaging ninja. Webb’s delicate vocals cut through the mix with emotive power while her voice’s beautiful tonal qualities are precisely reproduced.
The track “Ghosts” from Japan’s the Exorcising Ghosts LP features striking transient attack of plucked strings and keyboard notes peppered throughout sections of the track. Via the phono cable and turntable system there’s no blunting nor diminishing of leading edges and, again, David Sylvian’s voice is movingly and beautifully recreated. The cable’s accuracy in transmitting impeccably undistorted signal (the braided copper shield’s efficacy is obvious there) allows tremendous ambient reproduction when it’s been captured in the recording. With “Ghosts” the mood and ‘feel’ of the track is communicated beautifully.
AC/DC’s classic Back in Black was a tour-de-force of punch, dynamics and sheer rock and roll pleasure. The title track’s boogie-toe-tapping style, the snappy snares, concussive toms and kick drums, the snarling guitars are all slammingly… power-driven fun. The Phono cable does not pull punches – it’s as forceful and rhythmic as the music demands.
More subtle fare, such as Deutsche Grammophon’s Mozart Concertos for piano and orchestra N° 27 and N° 8 with Rudolf Serkin on piano and Claudio Abbado conducting the London Symphony Orchestra sounded spacious and grand in scale. The LSO spread across a large soundfield while the spaciousness did not impinge into the beautifully open and precisely textured piano tonality.
Each encounter I’ve had with the Vermouth Audio Reference cable line has been impressive and musically satisfying – with cable products at all stages of the signal and power paths. Hold, feel and examine them and you’ll be convinced of the superb value these cables offer. Their well-engineered design, faultless construction and pleasing aesthetics place the Reference Series on an equal standing with some of the best in the high-end cable space.
Engineering itself, of course, is a strong pointer to precise objective empirical results. Potentially too, an indicator to positive subjective performance. So, beyond the excellence of design and construction, the Vermouth Audio Reference Phono cable delivers performance in line with the sum of its other design aspects. It’s a refined overall presentation in common with its Reference line brethren. Yes, the Phono cable is a genuine over-achiever. And at the price it’s a rare high-end bargain. Yes, the Phono cable is a genuine over-achiever. I’m truly shaken and stirred.
… Edgar Kramer
- Speakers — Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2, Monitors: Axis Loudspeakers VoiceBox S, Vermouth Audio Little Luccas Mk.II
- Amplifier — Gryphon Audio Antileon EVO
- Preamplifier — Supratek Cortese, Lightspeed Attenuator LDR passive
- Sources — Digital: 432EVO High-End Music Server Roon Core, Yamaha CD-S2100 transport, Totaldac d1-core DAC. Analogue: Transrotor Crescendo with Konstant Studio controller, Reed 1x Tonearm with upgraded internal wiring, Shelter Harmony cartridge, Supratek Cortese & REDGUM Audio RGPH2 phono stages
- Processor — DEQX PreMate
- Cables — Vermouth Audio Reference loom, Vermouth Audio Black Pearl Mk.II loom
- Audio Rack — SGR Audio Statement Model V
- Acoustic Treatment — Vicoustic Multifuser Wood, Wavewood Ultra, Cinema Round Premium and Super Bass Extreme
- Miscellaneous — GigaWatt PF-1 EVO, Les Davis Audio Viscoelastic CLD discs, VRC Vinyl Record Cleaning system plus miscellaneous accessories
Vermouth Audio Reference DIN to RCA Phono Cable
Price: AU$650 1m DIN-RCA, AU$700 1m RCA-RCA
Warranty: Three Years
Australian Distributor: Krispy Audio
+61 411 968 902
Jalan Saridana VIII No.3
Bali – 80116, Indonesia