[SoundStage!]Paradise with James Saxon
Back Issue Article
October 1998

Jim Saxon, Audio Reviewer

The following correspondence is released pursuant to an internal investigation at SoundStage! to determine whether a Paradise-based correspondent may have violated his own First Amendment rights.

Memorandum to: Marc Mickelson, Editor-in-Chief

From: Jim Saxon

Subject: Equipment Review

Please find below a draft of an equipment review I have prepared against your wishes and those of Doug Schneider. I no longer buy the line about a conflict of interest. Few people in Paradise attach any weight to my hi-fi opinions. Therefore, I fail to see how I can materially benefit from a positive review of equipment I sell, nor how I might gain by being critical of products I do not. If you regard it differently, please advise. Meanwhile, I want my status upgraded from Paradise Correspondent to Paradise Equipment Reviewer.

...Jim


MR1 Digital Cable

DRAFT 9/6/98

When it comes to digital cables, the old samurai is not an easy lay. During the past nine years I have tried 75-ohm and/or 110-ohm cables made by over a dozen manufacturers. The prices of the cables, which ranged from $90 to $900, were no measure of excellence, although my favorite cable of the group was the most expensive. Some of the cables have had seductive traits. For instance, the Synergistic Research coax cable had great dynamics; the Nirvana, life-like timbre; JPS Labs, inner detail; Madrigal, rhythmic pace. Where the reference digital link surpassed all previous cables was in soundstaging, harmonic definition, and bass punch. Comparing the reference cable to the others was like matching Madonna against Cindi Lauper in a dance contest. Like Madonna, the reference AES/EBU was better coordinated.

However, an inner voice began nagging at me recently. Despite well-regarded electronics, the most revealing of loudspeakers, the finest power cords and line conditioning, and excellent cabling, my music did not give a sense of "ease." I figured I had reached the limits of 16-bit resolution and began to yearn for a new audio format. Then, a little voice screamed in my ear, "Use me. Use." Not having a ventriloquist’s dummy in hand (c.f. Magic, with Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margaret), but rather a Vibrapod, I figured the voice was directing me to Enjoy the Music, where previously I had discovered the pods to my great satisfaction. Dialing up Steve Rochlin’s website, I instantly saw a product to try: the Max Rochlin Memorial Digital Cable (MR1). The bad news? The cable design is a do-it-yourself freebie from Stevie. DIY is a red-flag to Jimbo the timid-o.

By means of cajolery, bribery and feigned injury to my soldering hand, I was able to convince Steven R. to build me a meter of MR1 to try in my system. The resulting effort, which I received in the time it takes to write this, is a virtual dead-ringer for the coax version of my reference digital link. Favorably pre-disposed by the MR1’s good looks, I was nevertheless impressed with how closely it resembled the AES/EBU reference in image specificity. This is one area where all other digital cables had been exposed as Cindi Laupers. I mulled the unmullable -- could we have a Madonna-beater here?

[Note to JS: Insert a paragraph expanding the Madonna/Lauper analogy to include sexual matters.)

But enough fan-dancing, already. Having spent all day yesterday and all morning today listening to the system with the MR1, I have come to a wide-eyed conclusion. If the reference cord is Madonna bumping and grinding, the MR1 is Vanessa Williams doing the Salsa! This cord is hot!

Rounding up the usual musical subjects, I found that vocals sounded less processed; bass was rounder (although not as deep), and harmonic detail more abundant with Steven’s ruby cable. By comparison, the reference cord had an asperity and lumpiness that I didn’t know were there until they were gone. This surprised me since I always thought the 110-ohm connection gave a lower noise floor and more control than the 75-ohm input. Now I surmise the AES/EBU implementation may induce an electronic ringing I had heretofore missed. It may also be easier to "tune" the transformer for certain effect, like punchy bass.

The MR1 replaces a transistor-like dryness with a (dare I say it) tube-like liquidity. Although I may still suffer the effects of 16-or-fewer-bit digital playback, my music has greater smoothness and natural decay than it had last week. A piano gives more of its essence with the MR1, as does acoustic bass and cymbals to name just a few instruments.

Given the retail price of the MR1 (Steven charged me 50 bucks, shipping included), I have to admit that mortification has a very low price-tag, although the psychic cost is terribly high. For anyone whose ego is strong enough to admit his favorite high-priced cables clod-hops compared to the dancing feet of the MR1, I recommend Enjoy the Music’s cable as a BUY NOW product. Envision the MR1 as Vanessa Williams Latin dancing and take the plunge.


FROM: MARC MICKELSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

TO: JIM SAXON

SUBJECT: MR1 REPORT

Dear Jim;

Thank you for your report on the MR1, a departure from your normal areas of concern, which I assume from editing your past columns are mixing drinks and chasing women. Although I encourage our writers to stretch their talents, I think your "review" over-reaches in several ways.

  1. No equipment report should be based on two days of auditioning;
  2. Your conclusion seems hasty and reckless.
  3. Your allusion to Madonna-beating is out of place in an audio magazine;
  4. I like Vanessa Williams too, but fail to see how she remotely resembles a digital cable.

Although I enjoyed your prose, I do not think your listening period was long enough to permit an obvious ardor for the new cable to cool. As I have found, the "underdog" syndrome can be misleading. Before you declare the MR1 a giant-killer, why don’t you take a few weeks to listen, compare and reflect on the differences you are hearing? Then, if you’re still of a mind to do so, you can try again.

...Marc


Memorandum to: Marc Mickelson, Editor-in-Chief

From: JS

Subject: Your Rejection Memo

Thank you for pointing out the error of my ways. You may not know this, but I do have a full-time job, and writing for SoundStage! is not it. When DAS comes up with enough scratch to defray my living expenses, I’ll think about doing "in-depth" reporting. Until then, don’t expect me to spend weeks listening to one silly-ass cable.

...Jim


FROM: MARC MICKELSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

TO: JIM SAXON

SUBJECT: MR1 REPORT

Jim, please don’t take my remarks personally. They were intended to achieve our common goal of providing quality journalism. I think if you re-read your review objectively you’ll find that is falls short of our goal by quite a long distance.

...Marc


Memorandum to: Marc Mickelson

From: JS

Subject: Your Sanctimonious Rebuttal

Marc,

PULEEZE let’s can the lecture on our common goals. I was writing quality prose when you were merely a gleam in your father’s eye. I concede that the review needs a little refinement and will work on it over the weekend. Meanwhile, don’t expect any more Paradise articles from me until the review is published. I am sick and tired of hearing that my column is only filler and that real men write equipment reviews.

...(signed) A Real Man


MR1 Digital Cable

DRAFT 9/15/98

Auditioning Enjoy the Music’s digital cable has created a problem for me. It does not sound anything like my $900 reference AES/EBU cable, nor is it akin to my $10 RatShack throwaway. Rather, it reminds me a lot of Madrigal’s digital cable, which the factory uses despite my advice that it is too mellow for minute details. However, both the Max Rochlin Memorial digital cable (MR1) and the Madrigal MDC-2 have a smoothness that seems to promote a flow to the music at slight expense to digital fractals. Ironically, the RatShack RG-59 coax is much closer to the sound of the reference link with oodles of detail but a grating overall presentation.

My question is, which presentation is "right?" In my system, which is maxed out for transparency, the MR1 has instant appeal because of its softening effect, especially on piano, whose notes clang less and have more decay, and voice, which seems less grainy. The reference link is spectacular with noticeably more, and occasionally disconcerting, detail.

Recently, one of my customers who also has a system finely honed for high definition, replaced his super-transparent interconnects and speaker cable with a brand of wire I regard as lower in resolution (which the customer freely admits). I thought he was nuts. Now, as I relax in the softened sound of the MR1, I’m not so sure of my customer’s insanity. I would welcome any comments on "ruthlessly revealing" versus "musically involving."

According to specifications, the MR1 is about as perfect a digital cable as one can build. Except for Steven Rochlin’s loving care and his ProGold lube job, his cable is straight out of Digital Engineering 101, the same as Madrigal’s MDC-2, which retails for $280 and is not as pretty as the MR1’s ruby slipper. Since the virtues and shortcomings I perceived in the MDC-2 are essentially repeated in the $50 MR1, I am beginning to wonder if Steven and Madrigal actually got it right and everyone else has gotten it wrong.

Although I am not prepared to give up my reference link at the moment, if I were in the market for a digital cable and didn’t have $900 to spend, or maybe even if I did, I’d give the MR1 strong consideration for its smoothing out of the digital edges.

...Jim Saxon
jimsax@soundstage.com


FROM: MARC MICKELSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

TO: JS

SUBJECT: REVISED MR1 REPORT

Jim, your draft of 9/15/98 is more like it! If you don’t mind, I’ll just send it over to Technical Editor Doug Blackburn for factual clearance. After he signs off, we will most likely publish it next month.

...Marc


Memorandum to: MM

From: JS

Subject: Kiss of Death

Marc, you know full-well that submitting the review to Blackburn is the kiss of death. I do not profess to have any technical proficiency. The findings derive from my Golden Ear and a cool judgment developed over many years of escaping the clutches of matrimony. I implore you to forego an official technical review by Blackburn, otherwise known as Dr. Death.

...Jim


FROM: Doug Blackburn, Technical Editor

TO: Marc Mickelson, Editor-in-Chief

RE: Jim Saxon’s Review

Don’t send me any more "reviews" from that madman. I had to correct the entire report. If you want to send Saxon a copy of the portions I did NOT cross out, send him a blank page.

...dB


Memorandum to: MM

From: JS

Subject: URGENT

Marc, don’t publish the MR1 review! A couple of friends came over last night and subjected themselves to blind testing of the MR1 versus the reference AES/EBU. They preferred the reference link every time I switched cables. I told them a deliberate falsehood, that the MR1 cost the same as the reference link. They told me to send it back! I asked them if they would pay $500 for it and they said No. I asked if they’d pay $300 and they still said No. Finally, I asked them how much they would pay and they said between 50 and a 100 bucks. Please don’t publish the MR1 review. It will end my credibility as a Golden Ear and maybe ruin my hi-fi business. I was wrong. I beg your forgiveness.

...Jim


FROM: MARC MICKELSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
TO: JS

SUBJECT: URGENT

Received your note about canceling the MR1 review. As you know, we were planning to publish the article in its entirety next month. However, I would not want to frustrate your wishes and possibly expose you to allegations of being a charlatan. I hope this will in no way affect your valued contributions of humor and "what have you" we are used to seeing on a regular basis.

Shall we mutually agree to end the review "experiment?"

...Marc


[email]

Marc,

Thanks pal. Agreed. Now, what should I do with Rochlin’s Manufacturer’s Response?

...Jim


[email]

You wrote:

>>what should I do with Rochlin’s Manufacturer’s Response?

Send it back to him and ask forgiveness.

...Marc


...James Saxon
jimsax@soundstage.com

 

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