Review: van den Hul The Orchid Interconnect

Category: Cables

Perhaps an oddball among audiophiles, I listen mainly to classical music--Renaissance choral, symphonic orchestral, and romantic opera to be specific. Yesterday, while listening to Le Chapelle Royale's 1986 Harmonia Mundi recording of Josquin Desprez's motets (dir. Phillippe Herreweghe), I dropped a 1m RCA Orchid into the system and, immediately, the clarity and separation of voices was remarkable in comparison with my reference IC, an Audience Au24, which I like very much. I use Audience cabling throughout the system (Cary SLI-80, Lector 0.6T CDP, Sonus Faber Grand Piano speakers, Audience Au24 speaker cables, Audience PC on the amp) and had been committed to consistency regarding cables, but the Orchid is turning my head. On Renaissance choral music, the Orchid is not only more refined in its separation and spacing of voices, but in finesse too--transients are more delicate, realistic, so the pulsing of voices feels more natural.

Last night, I stayed up a couple of extra hours just listening to what the Orchid can do in my main system, as my friends Dale and Chris Shepherd, owners of Eugene Hi-Fi, needed the cables back for a morning recording session. They've loaned me several pairs of interconnects to audition over the past few weeks and had been urging me to try the Orchid even though I'd thought my cabling "had arrived" already. And I must admit I had become somewhat smug about my success, until I dropped The Orchid into my system yesterday and heard how much more air and vocal separation it gave to yet another CD--"Utopia Triumphans," an anthology of choral pieces by various composers performed by the Huelgas-Ensemble.

With orchestral music, the Orchid was especially good with Beethoven's "Eroica" performed by the Cleveland Symphony, conducted by Dohnanyi. From the first timpani strikes and then throughout the first movement, the Orchid was wonderfully dynamic, speedy, and detailed. And the most pleasing thing of all was it handled string attack transients terrifically, bringout out the pulses of string phrasing as the violin sections quietly "strike" their own notes in response to the energy of the timpani. Only two other cables I've tried captured this exciting effect--the Atlas Titan from Scotland and the van den Hul the Second XLR. Other cables, as good as they are, don't quite reproduce the suddenness of the violin phrasing, those shuddering attack transients and correspondingly sudden silences between phrases. Beethoven's symphony is written as if the violin section was a regimental detachment of light cavalry--quick to strike and even quicker in getaway. The Orchid captures this.

The Orchid is also fabulous with operatic voices, particularly lyric sopranos like Renee Fleming and Anna Netrebko and dark, lyric tenors like Rolando Villazon. While a very few select cables can reproduce the general tessitura of a lyric aria (the Orchid easily among them), the big, fat virtuosic moments of rangey dynamic and treble peaks of dramatic arias can overwhelm the capabilities of most. Rare too is the cable that can render subtly complex pianissimo passages with fine, note to note nuance. The Orchid sailed through the entire scale of a variety of vocal performances without the treble hardness, upper register glass, or tenor blattiness other cables are prone to reproduce when called on by operatic majesty. And, with the ones that do succeed in representing a full operatic range, they mainly do so by softening attack transients and rolling off the top. In the Orchid, I could hear none of the lively transient sounds rounded off or the upper registers overly smoothed in order to better capture the bigger vocal dynamics--there is no sacrifice of vocal evanescence and pure presence. Again, as I said about the Orchid's performance with choral music, there's an unusual degree of robustness and brio combined with detail, finesse, and refinement here.

In my search for equipment to handle the range of music I listen to, it's been very difficult to find any one piece in any category that can handle energetic symphonies, the beautifully lyric and the powerfully virtuosic operatic arias, and Renaissance choral music full of complex treble harmonies, delicate tones and phrasing. This is the one cable I've auditioned that delivers most completely across the broad spectrum of my listening. In short, the Orchid is aptly named--bold and delicate both. It's now become my reference interconnect.

Associated gear
Cary SLI-80 integrated amplifier;
Cal Audio Labs CL-15 CDP;
Lector 0.6T CDP;
Shunyata Diamondback PC (CDP);
PS Audio Plus PC (amp);
Audience Au24 speaker cables (2.5m);
Sonus Faber Grand Piano speakers.

Similar products
Audience Au24
Audience Maestro
Atlas Titan
Atlas Navigator All Cu
Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval
van den Hul "The Ultimate"
I too own the Au24 speaker cables, and tried their RCA interconnects on loan. Matched against my personal reference van den Hul The First Ultimate interconnects, I thought the Au24 was very good but not quite as accomplished as their speaker cables, and not superior to TFU. Specifically, I could identify some very slight coloration and smearing, and a hint of compression, that was absent from the vdH TFU, though in general the Au24's performance was probably better than that of my previous interconnects (the ones I replaced with the TFU).

(I should note that my interconnect auditions include both conventional subjective A/B's, and also more controlled bypass tests, where each IC is compared with its absence from the chain, to help determine what the objective effects of each are in isolation and not just in relation to each other. My preference and goal is for interconnects that degrade the input signal as little as possible.)

Dale has offered for me to try out the Orchid XLR, which I will put up against vdH The Second XLR (my balanced reference), in a system with a balanced DAC, preamp and power amp. In addition, I will get a second audition with the Atlas Navigator, this time in XLR form, which Dale previously lent me with RCA's. (I thought it was quite good, especially in terms of top end extension and dynamics, and though it didn't quite manage to overthrow TFU for me, it was very competitive with an RCA pair of The Second.) So we'll see how this shakes out -- The Second is supposed to be at its best in balanced configuration, and I'm a big fan of the vdH carbon sound, or lack thereof. (For those unfamiliar with the line, vdH offers interconnects with conductors made from carbon fiber instead of metal, The First and The Second, but The Orchid is not one of those.)
I auditioned The Second as well and found it very dynamic and fairly well-balanced through the range, except for being slightly rolled-off in the top trebles. It is a very good XLR cable in my opinion and, for the price, I can hardly think of any to compare it with except for The Orchid XLR. Though not as dynamic in my system as The Second, The Orchid XLR had much more top-end extension, a slightly leaner sound, and was in general more resolving. I like both cables in XLR but I feel even more strongly about The Orchid as an RCA cable.
Dale sent me the Atlas All Cu Navigators and Orchids too. Compared to my The Second XLRs, it was a close call with the Orchid XLRs but in the end, I went for them due to their better resolution. The Atlas was wonderful in my buddy's system but not quite as magical in mine. Now, three weeks later, I am very happy with the Orchids - simply outstanding pace and resolution.

However the big surprise was putting a vdH Mainsserver power cord on my CD player. Holy cow! What an improvement! Definately a much larger difference than the Orchids made and well worth every penny, no question in my mind. The same improvement happened in my buddy's system. It really is a clear winner (pun intended!). Arthur
I really should mention that I ran the vdH The Second and The Orchid in an SS integrated system (Electrocompaniet ECI-3) with a Cal Audio Labs CL-15 player. My impressions of The Orchid RCA were formed with it connecting a Cary SLI-80 integrated to a Cary 303/300. It could very well be that The Orchid XLR is every bit as smooth, warm, and resolving as the RCA version but I couldn't test that, as the tube system is single-ended.

It's interesting about the Mainsserver PC, as I've heard Dale and Chris rave about it. I will have to give it an audition.
I listen in a small dedicated listening with a full compliment of bass traps, tunes, etc. I went through many introductory level IC's until I came upon the VDH D103MkII (both RCA for my tube integrated and XLR for my SS gear). I found that their sound satisfied my ears. However, I continued to try many other higher-end IC's through I purchased and extensively listened to VDH "The Second" and PS Audio Xstream Resolution PCOCC IC's (all XLR). At first I was impressed with the speed, resolution and clarity of the PS audio cables. However, since I have a small listening room, my available speakers consist of Paradigm S60V3's, Triangle Antals and Dali Ikon 6's, I found that I needed as much bass transmission as possible. The PS audio just could not deliver enough bottom end with my system/room. While the VDH "The Second" marginally provided the best bass, they did not give the full top end extension and livelyness that I like. So, at present I am using the VDH D103MkII between CDP and preamp, and PS audio Resolution ICs between preamp and power amps. Take this for what it's worth - it works for me now but is likely not where I end the journey. Very satisfying and enjoyable, but I still itch to try other combos to see if I can find "better sound".

If you have made an improvement from VDH cables in your system (particularly with regard to bass without loss of detail), please advise, as I would love to try something new.

Thanks, and enjoy the music!!


Source: Marantz SA11-S1 SACDP
Preamps: Balanced Placette RVC
Balanced PLC Sonic Euphoria
Amps: NuForce Ref9
Other: PS Audio UPC200
Speakers: See message
Power Cables: All PS Audio Plus
Speaker Cables: Kimber 4TC/8TC Shotgun Biwire