Darwin Cables

This is a review of The Darwin Cable Co. silver interconnect cable, both balanced and unbalanced.

Disclaimers first: I am good friends with Tony Bender, one of the owners of the company. He asked if I would listen to the Darwins and write my opinion of them. I said I would, but stipulated it would be without any pre-conditions other than I would tell the truth as I heard it. Also, I would not submit the review for his approval before I posted it on Audiogon. He quickly and happily agreed. At the time I thought he was seemed very confident. After listening to the Darwins, that confidence proved to be in no way misplaced.

The Darwin interconnects are the lightest and thinnest ic’s I have ever come across, though I would not characterize them as “flimsy” in any way. By exercising just a modicum of care when handling, I found I could move them where I wanted, as often as I wanted. They were surprisingly sturdy despite their outward appearance.

Apparently simple in design, the Darwins consist of a thin plastic tube inside which “floats” a single angel-hair thread of silver wire. The unbalanced RCA connectors have been pared down to a very low mass; the connections are tight and secure. The balanced connectors are lightweight Neutriks that locked into the balanced sockets with a satisfying click. The cables the company now sells are made from black tubing, though the ones I listened to were clear plastic (which I found very appealing in that the clear tubing enhanced my expectation of an ephemeral transparency). The Darwin’s basic –some might say “plain “ - cosmetics set the stage for an expectation of uncluttered, uncolored, musical reproduction.

In order to have a baseline reference, I first listened to my system’s digital end. The interconnects used were all Nordost: a Silver Shadow balanced digital cable ran from transport to dac, two pair of balanced SPM’s went from dac to preamp and preamp to amp, and a pair of unbalanced quattro fils connected the sub to the preamp. I had been listening to this configuration for 6 months and always found it to be detailed, musical, and tonally accurate.

After listening to the Nordosts, I replaced them with the Darwins (except for the digital cable as Darwin does yet offer a digital product). I had already allowed them to break in for 100 hours before listening to them. Though the manufacturer claims the Darwins need little, if any, break-in period, I did not find that to be true. After a hundred hours my ears heard a constant sweetening of the sound that ran well-passed 200 hours. Every day my system sounded slightly better, and as I had made no other changes I attributed those improvements to the cables. You can make of that what you will, but that is what I heard (and surmised).

As for the sound, I preferred the Darwins far more than the Nordosts. The Darwins were fuller, reached DEEEEPer into the lower frequencies, and had better detail than the Nordosts… better in the sense that the detail they revealed allowed me to see both the big and small musical landscape in a way that was effortless and smooth. Not once did the Darwins shout, “Here I am and listen to all THIS information!” Rather, they snuck up on me, their reproductive capabilties gently tapping me on the shoulder, nudging me with their subtlety. Only after repeated listening to some familiar tracks did I realize there was more – much more – detail present than what I had initially presumed. I had been so focused on the total sound that I had not turned my attention to the micro details as a way to reassure myself that I had received my audio money’s worth (as I typically do). It was like I was just listening to music.

Here's how I thought of it. If you took a slice of muscle tissue and put it under an electron microscope, you would see the construction of the fibers in minute relief... but you would see them in such a way that while you knew what the fibers were, you would not recognize them as muscle fiber. But if you took another snapshot of the same fiber, one that was not so unnecessarily magnified, one that showed the individual fibrous strands –striations and all – you would not only know at what you were looking but of what it was made. The big picture, you see.

In all cases, the Darwins never failed to deliver a rich, in-the-room sound. The soundstage was no wider than the Nordosts but it was deeper, the imaging more realistically precise. While the S+K monitors would occasionally disappear with the Nordosts, the same music heard through Darwins had the speakers completely disappear. And when I say completely, I do not invoke an ounce of hyperbole. I could put my ear right up to either monitor and hear no sound emanating from them...other than the sound that came from BEWTEEN the speakers. It was close to surreal.

The Darwins acquitted themselves equally as well in the analog domain. I used the Darwins throughout the entire analog chain, with the exception of the phono cables. For that I used the Quattro Fils because I found the Darwins slightly hissy. This is typical of my system as the Karat 17 is a low output cartridge -.3mv – and a bit of white noise seems to be the price of its not-insignificant capabilities for extracting all the music from the grooves... and as that noise is so slight and totally inaudible once the music plays, I ignore it.

My usual one-song vinyl touchstone is “Whole Lotta Love”. In particular, I like to see how well a cable makes the sound jump from the speakers...whether the sound swirls above and around my head like a swarm of angry bees or whether it swirls above, around, and behind my head...or whether it comes from those three directions as well as from in front of me, laid out across the entire width and breadth of the soundstage so that Zeppelin is Led-ing from everywhere, and all at the same time.

The Darwins recreated that illusion so accurately, and so naturally (which is saying something since Zeppelin could never be accused of having a “natural” sound), that I actually became slightly sick to my stomach, made vertiginous by the sturm und drang of the group’s powerful fury. I have heard that passage hundreds of times, but never have I unconsciously gripped the arms of my chair to keep from falling until I heard it through the Darwins.

As to the value for the price?

The Darwins’s are $195...with a 30-day return period. I would only be gilding the lily were I to say more.

I have heard much of the “moderately” priced wire that is sold on Audiogon. With only two exceptions, I found them all to be pleasing... some, of course, more than others. But nothing I have heard in that end of the price spectrum (below $500), nor higher really, has come remotely close to the sound of the Darwin Interconnects. In the right application, I believe you would find them to be most efficacious.

Associated Equipment:
Amp: Pass XA30.5
Pre-Amp: Pass X1
Phono Amp and Step Up: Graham Slee Revelation and Graham Slee Elevator
Digital: Stello CDT 220 transport and DA 220 dac
TT: Pro-ject 9.1 with Dynavector Karat 17 D3 cartridge.
Speakers: Shelby + Kroll Custom Nano Monitors with S+K Subwoofer.
Speaker Cables: Burley Cable
Power Cords: BPT L9C