Empress and Michael Wolff cables

Category: Cables

Grover Huffman has been building cables for members of Steve Hoffman’s forum for some time and has now embarked on a joint venture with Michael Wolff, who builds power cords. I decided to try Michael’s Source cable and the Empress interconnects.

First, the power cord. Michael makes two models: one for source level gear, another for power amps. I got a cable for my Grover linestage; I had been using a power cord built by a local audio shop. The improvement was enormous. It was on the level of changing the linestage. I had been a little concerned about some brightness in my system, but the power cord removed a lot of it. Music now had a more natural top end so that concerns about edginess evaporated. Bass lines were cleaner and sounded deeper, and everything sounded more fleshed-out. This degree of improvement surprised me. It made the Beatles 1 CD listenable - a little tilted up, but not painful anymore. Michael believes that a lot of edge is actually RF effects on the signal, and he may be right.

The Empress interconnects arrived and they went into the system. The improvements were of the same character, just cumulative, so I could hear deeper into the performance and everything sounded more natural. What struck me this time was that transient information was filled out more - a guitar attack revealed the make up of the chord and not just the sound of the attack. Vocals were also more revealing. I was impressed.

The drawback is that these cables are costly. But again, there are more expensive cables out there. Luckily, I haven't cable rolled much since discovering Grovers, and never in the stratospheric price range. These cables seem to be reasonable priced when you see them, feel them and hear them.

Michael Wolff's site address is below. Click on his Ribbon Source link to get to the other links. There is also a link to Empress cables.

I recently purchase a biwire pair of the Empress speaker cables. I have only had them about two weeks and although they are not yet fully broken in they seem harmonically well balanced, not emphasizing any frequency range at
the expense of others. They have dimension and clarity, and let all the
width and depth on particular recordings come through as engineered. They
mate well with my Pass XA 160's, which are a little fussy about cables. I can recommend these as excellent cables, equal or better in performance than megabuck cables. And they have yet to reach their full capability, which I would guess would be after 150-200 hours.
The balance of the Empresses is similar to that of the Grover SR IIs (which some of you may be familiar with), as both are very neutral, however. I feel there is something more going on in the midrange of the Empresses. Asside from superior smoothness there seems to be a greater tonal accuracy as well. The first time i heard Patricia Barber's voice using the empresses, I immediatly detected a new organic palpability/intimacy to it. There was a certain intimacy to her voice that I previously had not exprienced--it was as if I could feel the moisture of her breath.

I think also that these cables do a wonderful job of effortlessly imaging/reproducing a soundstage. The Grover SR IIs are really great at it, but there is a noticeablly superior overall coherance to the Empresses, and I have never heard imaging this precise before.

The resolution, speed, decay and airiness of these cables is remarkable as well. The best I have heard in, period.

Also, I think the extra smoothness goes a long way with these cables. The Grover SR IIs were already super smooth cables, but with my Musical Fidliety a308cr, badly recorded CDs were almost unlistenable and I was seriously contemplating moving to another source (ie. Meridian or Naim). With the Empresses everything sounds wonderful. I honestly have no complaints. I don't know if these cables are imparting a signature (actually, I kind of doubt it) or are just doing a better job then any other I've heard of getting out of the way, but I have reached a greater level of digital satisfaction then ever before with them in place...

Bottom line, the SR IIs are excellent cables and IMO the best value I've encountered, but if you can afford it and demand the best Empresses are them.

I liked these enough that to sell off my Bogdan Silver Spirit References, and am awaiting the delivery of a second pair of phono edition ones for my low output moving coil setup. When funds permit I intend to explore the entire line.
It took me 10 tries to finally find the right ic for my system, and the empress is the one. I'm working on a review right now, but for now I'd like to say I agree with gophers comments having compared the same two cables.


My journey to find a reasonably priced cable able to do all the little things right has been a long one. Each cable that has entered my system came with it’s own strengths and weaknesses, but not one seemed to do everything right. I would occasionally ponder what one of the mega-bucks cables could do for my system but reason always prevailed and I continued to swap cables within my budget hoping to find the right one. The list of cables I have had in my system in chronological order is:

-Virtual Dynamics Audition
-Belden 89259 with Cardas SLVR
-Cardas Neutral Reference
-Grover mkII
-W Enterprises NW Gold Alloy
-Aural Thrills Active Gold (used Topline WBT’s, gold tri-alloy wire)
-Grover Reference mkI
-Aural Thrills Active Gold (used Midline WBT’s, solid gold wire, silver return wire)
-Aural Thrills Beryllium Copper

Of course these are not the only cables I have listened to, but they are the ones that have stayed in my system for a reasonable amount of time. The first 3 cables all have the typical copper flavoring, which I do not like. They give warmth and body to the music but cloud the details and do not do anything particularly well. The Grover mkII cable I owned was a real bargain for the price. It easily best the copper cables for clarity, imaging, focus, speed, detail and tonal balance. The Grover Reference beats out its kid brother the mkII by bettering what the mkII does well. I ended up selling these cables because while not bright or thin sounding, they add an edge to the music that I find to be unnatural (this accentuated edge shows up in almost all silver cables I have listened to). The Aural Thrills Active Gold cables I owned were very pleasing to my ears. Each cable gives a rich inviting midrange, large open soundstage, black background and a very smooth full-bodied sound. The solid gold wire version is superior to the older version because it has superior imaging and crisper, albeit more laid back highs that have a touch of sweetness to them (kind of magical). While not as fast as the Grover cables, these cables are both detailed and creamy smooth. Next up was Aural Thrills Beryllium copper cable. This cable is more detailed, faster, has less soft edges while still remaining smooth and just as full. I ended up returning it though, because I did not like its tone in my system. It has that copper warmth that puts a sonic blanket the whole music spectrum. I still hadn’t found the right cable for my system. Next up was the Grover/Wolff Empress.


I can tell that this cable is solidly built and will be able to handle many connection swaps. It is fairly flexible and none too heavy. The connectors look like the NOS ones used for the Grover Reference cables. They make a snug connection and are malleable enough that you can adjust their grip if needed. The sheathing looks to be the same type used for the Wolff carbon power cords (of which I own and highly recommend the Wolff carbon source cord). My only gripe with the cable is that the colours used for the shrink-wrapping aren’t attractive as the rest of the cable. But overall the build quality of the Empress is very nice and the looks are a definite improvement over Grover’s older cables.


The first thing that stuck me about the empress cable is how smooth it made my systems playback. Perhaps this was because in my past experience with silver cables I longed for this very trait. That typical silver edginess is in no way characteristic of this cable. Now I’ve heard this claim about other silver cables before, and I haven’t always agreed with such comments, but this is the real deal. Poor recordings are just as easy to listen to as good recordings but still do sound the poorer. I believe there is nothing worse then a highly resolving system that renders bad recordings almost unlistenable (hmm unlistenable does not show up on my spell checker but its too good a word not to use). I’m not sure how the carbon ribbons in this cable work, but they must be doing a lot of good to rid the cable of the infamous silver sheen. Now I have heard smooth cables before, but have I heard ones that are as detailed, as tonally accurate or as fast? The answer is no, and now let me go into more detail.

In my system I exclusively use Grado headphones that are known mainly for two things, great mids and prat (pace rhythm and timing). The Grados let me know which cables can keep up with the music and which cannot. To determine if an interconnect can recreate these complex passages I like to use tracks with some intense cymbal usage. Cables that get left in the dust cause the cymbals to smear into each other and kill the prat. In my tests the empress’s were never caught with their guard down; they flowed through the music with a natural grace and never sounded compressed or slow.

The mids of Grado headphones is another reason I enjoy them. I have found that some silver cables tend to bleach the mids and other cables to substantially colour them. Either of these flavors lead to one thing, what I hear played back does not sound as realistic, nor does it sound as the headphone was intended to sound in my opinion. Thankfully, the empress cables allow the Grado mids to shine in all their glory. Vocals blossom out of a black background and never sound coloured or held back. I would go as far as to say the mids of the empress cable are holographic while not being euphonic (although I do like that). The all-important midrange is just a pleasure to listen to using the empress interconnects.

The soundstage on these cables is large and well defined. It is open and never compressed. The empress does depth well and imaging is very precise. Great imaging is a characteristic of all Grover’s cables in my opinion. The sound produced by the empress shows no signs of thinness and is very well balanced. This is as neutral a cable as I have heard. The wonderful tone keeps the Grado’s notoriously forward highs in check (I didn’t try them with bowl pads mind you). Bass is detailed and full; everything is in its right place.

The detail of this cable is what I would call ‘natural detail’. Unnatural detail would be when a cable derives its detail from an emphasized high end (magnifying hiss and the like). The empress simply gives you what’s there, without emphasizing any part of the sound spectrum. This is detail without fatigue, while not rounding off the edges as some cables may do. There is no veil over the music, everything is there for you to touch and feel. The timbre of the music is what I would call accurate and believable, certainly much care was put into voicing this cables just right. Simply put, the empress makes digital played through my system sound like real music, and that’s all I could ever ask for in a cable.


As I see it there are two types of audiophiles, those that just want what was is on the recording played back as accurately as possible with as much detail as possible, and those who want to recreate the live event with a very musical and involving sound. Can a cable really combine both of these worlds into one? Well now I know that yes a cable can, but only the really good ones. Which leads me to my final point; the empress really does impress.


I mainly listen to rock music, so all my impressions were based on good and bad rock recordings. If you are interested in seeing what my system consists of, here is a link:
I hope to be able to update this review with a direct A/B comparison with another cable once my rig is all settled in later this fall. I recently switched from Grado rs-1’s to Grado ps-1 pros.

The Empress Phono Interconnects are the finest cables made. I have upgraded from the SRII cables. The Empress uses the same internal wiring; however, the shielding common to virtually all Phono ICs is a metal type shield. Unfortunately, the SRIIs are so revealing and transient rich that the metal shielding elevates record noise and blurs timing, etc. relative to the Empress ICs. The new carbon shielding is non-metallic/non-magnetic and serves the same purpose but with extremely superior results. The Empress removes all of the noise inherent in common shielding designs and provides the SRII wiring to sing music sweeter than I have ever heard. This is a revolutionary change in phono cable sound. Grover and Michael have invented the ideal phono cable (and I've tried dozens of brands and types over the years). Analog is king with the Empress. (Digital remains the queen of sound with the Empress unshielded ICs, it can=t outdo analog). My friends come over and salivate at the sound of my system since I upgraded to Empress cables (although they always enjoyed Grover=s ICs before). My wife agrees that her rock records have the best vocal sound she has heard recorded or live. It=s difficult not to listen for hours into the night. My advice is to purchase the line stage to amp ICs first, then the analog (if you have it), then another pair for CDs. I also purchased Empress ICs for my Alesis Masterlink CD burner-unbelievable, great CDs from all analog sources.

I feel I am providing a necessary service to all you audiophiles and music lovers out there reading this. You will feel that the biggest bargain you have made is in purchasing the Empress ICs. You will change your equipment before you will change these wires. I am an amateur musician, music lover and audiophile (without the high end gear pretensions, quality always over snob appeal).

Caveat Emptor, a truly bad recording will be just that much worse sounding with the Empress Phono ICs - you can hear the electronics used in recording and cutting records, the ICs are that revealing. I heard bad cutter head amps and noisy microphone pre-amps revealed on previously okay sounding records. Now they show how bad they really are. On the bright side, most of my 17,000 LPs sound good to great. Average sounding records which may have restricted dynamics, highs, lows, etc. are just that much more interesting with better timing, openness and transients to reveal the essence of the music. Good music is just that more interesting and musically involving.
I recently bought a set of empress ics and spkr cables and have been delighted with the results. I gave them a week of burn-in time on the audio dharma cable cooker before listening. Initially they seemed competent but uninspiring; then i discovered that one of the speaker cables was on back to front. I turned it around and the system really came alive! That was a week ago, during which time they've settled in in-situ and are revealing greater depths of prowess. My overall impression is that they're well balanced and confer a greater enjoyment of our hobby. They offer the incisiveness of silver without the harshness and fatigue that sometimes accompanies it. That may imply to some that there is a dullness to the sound but that simply isn't the case. I've played mostly jazz through them over the past few days and there's a great palpability and insight into the ambience of the recording. They offer a natural presentation and a pretty broad frequency range. I've yet to do some AB comparisons against my previous cables (valhalla ic and xindak fs2 spkr cable) however given the enjoyment I'm having with the empress, probably won't rush to do so. I can furthermore highly recommend the service offered by Michael and Grover; they're really nice people and true enthusiasts. They let their product do the talking and I can't imagine that there'll be many returns under their 60 day trial policy!

Finally (if there is such a thing in this hobby), my system is as follows:

Audio Synthesis Transcend (ASL) and blackgated Dax Discrete
CJ 140 Amp (unmodified, as yet....)
Diapason Adamantes 3 speakers (modified)
Townshend stand
Shunyata Hydra 8 plus Anaconda vxs / Xindak Gold pc on the amp
I received my Empress interconnects about 3 weeks ago, at first they were a bith bright and harsh, with almost too much detail and high end. I waited patiently for burn in, they are truely wonderful cables, they took 3 weeks to burn inn. The music is GREAT, and thats why we tweak our system.

Highly Recommended.

Thanks Michael, and grover. These are exceptional cables.
I am the proud owner of the Empress speaker cables. They currently have about 75 hours on them in the breakin period and I have already sold my old cables.

Over the years I have had the following speaker cables in my system:

XLO Limited
Stealth UR
Purist Dominous or whatever
Siltech SQ188 or whatever--- not the top but second
Audio Metallurgy Gold Reference
Omega Mikro active copper
Omega Mikro active silver and copper

My ears and memory tell me that the Empress tops them all in overall performance.

In comparison to the shopping list of other cables that I have used the Empress are more detailed by a good margin, but not at the cost of being bright. Several of the above had about as much detail but were so bright I couldn't listen to the for long periods.

The Empress are very dynamic particularly from the midbass and up. None of my prior cables came close to the dynamics of this cable.

Imaging is excellent but the Omega Mikros were their equal in this area.

Bass from the Empress is solid, tight and extended. Not as extended as the Audio Metallurgy but much tighter than those cables. Not as dynamic as the Stealth in the lower bass but much more extended than those cables. The XLO cables perform as good as the Empress in the bass region but imho the only cables that I have tried that can match the Empress in overall bass performance.

I have not heard all of the speaker cables on the market as time and particularly my pocketbook won't allow it. However, without regard to price (and they are a bargain at their price) the Empress speaker cables are the best that I have heard.
I had the pleasure of listening to a system at The SHOW
2 weeks ago in Las Vegas that included the Ultimate
Monitor speakers with Empress ICs and speaker cables. The
electronics were powered via Wolff Power Cords. The sound
in this room was amazing. The speakers melted away and
you were left with one of the most musical experiences
at THE SHOW or CES 2005. This includes some systems that
cost more than the median home price in some parts of the
country. With vocals and small groups the experience was
almost visual. On the spacious soundstage you could easily
place the instruments and singers. After repeated visits
to room 1509 I was moved to purchase several Empress ICs,
a source power cord, and some speaker cables so that I
could rewire my 5.1 system. If I were not so in love with
my Martin Logan speakers I would have also seriously
considered the Ultimate Monitor speakers.