Argento - User's Perspective

A while ago I had this great honour to be asked by a close friend to build a 2-channel system from scratch for his new flat. I was lucky enough to have an ample budget and high degree of autonomy in selecting components, from source to speakers.

Having considered his preference in mostly Jazz and fair amount of classical strings and also his aesthetic requirement, we set our eyes on European gears. Plans went smoothly and shortly after couple auditions, a combo of Sonata Allegro/ Antelion Signature and a pair of Kharma CE2.2 were sitting on one side of his living room. The effective listening space is around 13ft w x 19ft L x 8ft H in wooden floor with one side wide open extending to the dinning area.

I could have picked bigger and more expensive amps and speakers but reckoned monstrous components will end up big bird in a small cage in his place. The front end is the old Theta Basic & GVa combo (single mode) which remains one of my favourite players to date. The veteran CDM9 pro is still alive and kicking and standing well against the competitors fetching a few fold its price today. I do not like current digital gears no matter how fancy their digital theory behind. They simply fails to raise my eyebrows. This is my bias, I hope.

I intended to unify the conductor type for interconnects, if possible the speaker cables too for better coherence. But upon the trial period, we just grabbed whatever popular brands in the 2nd hand market and did some mix n match to see how the sound turn out. It's either overly warm to rough when copper or anaemic silver. Some sounded neutral and calm on first encounter but turned out lack of zest in the end. The tug of war remained entangled in the vicious cycle of gaining something but trading off others. We tentatively settled with silver interconnects and copper alloy speaker cables. The combination gave sweet euphonic mid-band with attractive vocal, and good presence of the bow-play in violin pieces. But the slightly bloted body of the violin had reminded me the chinese instrument "ErHu", a sobbing femininity. This sort of nasalty resonance, somehow, was able to toxicate many audio enthusiasts with romance.

Despite being euphonic on certain occasions something was "not right" in the chain which tilted the overall presenatation a bit too far from the centre of neutrality meter. We repositioned the speakers, re-arranged power conditioning and performed room treatments. Still we put the blame on the cables. We sit our ass down and had a serious discussion.

First we set our mind on silver as conductor type, then we looked for different geometry and shape other the common litzwire. We are in search of good transience, full body Angelina Jolie type of palpability. Our search had literally narrowed down to only one brand: Argento.

Well this is something I never have heard of. I have little confidence in it as there were way too many cable makers who claimed they made best cables in the world come and gone all these years. On the one hand I was skeptical like an Aussie 60min+ host, but my friend's adventurous mind is fueling my curiousity on the other. Yes curiousity kills more than a cat. We ended up using Argento throughout the system.

The first one was the ex-flagship VDM, great bang for the buck value as a start. The energy factor is immense. Besides the outstanding transient speed it demonstrated; it hasn't much colour nor character in itself. One thing of note was that it revealed the lesser quality of partnering cables, we confirmed that after flipping around with others during our test. That said this prima donna is likely to make others sound coarse to catch up. If you buy one Argento, good chance you gonna buy the next one. Be warned.

Upon the addition of another pair of Serenity Ref SE, music were reproduced in an effortless manner, no more congestion, no more blot up in the mid range. In essence a more linear rendition. You no longer hear a peculiar chest of male vocal. The impact of trumpet burst became so naturally raw. Better still you be able to hear a better sonic proportion of the bow and the vibration off the instrument body which enabled you to visualise the movement of a violinist. That gave us tremendous pleasure disc after disc.

Finally we added the Serenity Ref speaker cables to replace the copper alloy one from a popular American brand. To my surprise the Argento seemed to unveil yet another layer of haze that we were oblivious to notice in the past. I am not talking about extra details but rather the entire sonic picture as a whole. I began to hear better extension on both frequency ends especially the low register. You wouldn't notice on ordinary recordings. If it's not there the unpretentious nature of the Argento would not compromise with large dose of mid-bass to fake scale; that's cheap trick. But in some full orchestral piece I was awed by the cascading notes which flooded down the floor and rolled pass the base of our sofa.

I never have the privilege to own any Argento cables; poor guy like me has a tight belt. But I am going to cut down on red wine and dine-outs; hopefully I will save up enough to buy a pair of Serenity Ref speaker cables to hook up my budget gear one day. It is just that darn good! Until then you wouldn't know what it's going to be like. Hermes jacket on chinos or down trodden Chet Baker in a 6-star hotel? I'll let you know.
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Comments

  • I agree every bit of your description, in particular many cable make the sound of violin become erhu. Many people seem to like the wrong sound.

    I have two pair of SR SE, one pair of SMR spk cable. The SMR digital cable is amazing.

    Mr.Santa, your English very good!
  • Mr.Santa, I am planning for the serenity reference speaker cable too. Your description sound attractive. What abt the SMR spk cables? Should I jump step and reach for SMR?

    AE recommends the Serenity Reference not not SMR.

    PS
  • Hi Philip

    Congratulations. It's such an admirable thing that you have the financial strength to own these prestigious speaker cables.

    We never have any experience with the SMR spk cable but I can assure you the SR SE is linear, neutral and coherent. It's the best sounding cable I ever met which outperforms its peers by the biggest margin in audio history I can recall in the past twenty some years. Expensive it maybe; you wouldn't regret the investment.

    I wonder if the SMR spk cable is going to be a further extention in terms of sonic merits of the SR SE, or simply another design. you might be interested in my latest encounter with the SMR SE interconnects. Being successful with the previous Argento, it's natural for my friend to plan for an upgrade. So in comes the SMR SE but out goes which is something to chew on. We have the VDM, SR SE and now the SMR SE. There are quite a few combinations to flip around between the dac, pre and power.

    With great anticipation, not to mention the sweat and sore back from narrow manoeuvring behind the rig, NONE of the combinations we tried could achieve the previous tonal balance of the original setting of SR SE and VDM. Again none of the combinations was concluded bad sounding; it was just not as even regarding energy dispersion across the frequency spectrum. A dead silence between me and my friend feeling a tad humiliated after failing to tame the SMR SE. Don't forget we're expecting a great leap.

    Of note, though, no matter where we hooked the SMR, there was always a sense of less stress. It will be hard to put it into words. I can give you numerous examples like you hear better proprortion between the bow, reacting sound after the bow hitting off the strings, the resonance of the body and the mix of the whole thing, even the violinist inclusive. Inner resolutions are excellent. Pherhaps "serenity" is the nearest word for it.

    What didn't sound right was that upon a certain combinations trace of imagery enlargement was noticed which unaturally altered the pace of original music tempo, while upon others overemphasizing too much inner details burrying you inside a piano drowning in the enrichment of pedal play.

    I can appreciate the importance of correlating proximity of audio reproduction to live music. But every now and then I saw fellow audio lovers overly preached on the idea of concert going (classical) and stamping upon those who "invent" their own sound at home to enjoy. Way unnecessary to the extent that as if it's a sin if one never goes to a live concert ever in his life. Just DO NOT kid yourself bringing a symphony back home; the volume of air simply is not matching and comparable. It's only a matter of how likely is alike. I was a regular concert goer and I believe I know enough of how true music instruments would sound in front of me.

    The SMR SE interconnect is probably the closest to reality, if not a tad too emphaisze on the "down-sizing" the usual blot-up in the mid range where majority branded cables are selling. While extremely transparent in its own right, the SR SE suddenly became colourful sitting on the side of his bigger sibling. Besides the trasnparency their rendition in music reproduction is different too. The SMR is more to rely on the software to depict its speed, but the SE SR has its own pace. If the SR SE is the finest cable ever, the SMR SE deserves being treated as an equipment. Whether or not this discrepancy is a result of different cable design, I haven't a clue here. As with the VDM, a powerful stallion with lots of charisma. I admire its zest and full of energy, but sometimes sound over-enthusiastic in quiet passage. Ironically you probably need a slightly un-balanced system to match for good result.

    The brief encounter with the SMR SE has earned my respect to this up-market cable which requires experienced audio hobbist to start thinking over the adequacy along the whole chain. Screwing up a part, the SMR will show let you know you are indeed screwing up the whole thing. It's that unforgiving. Whether it will be too embarrassing for the very ears to take or re-lighting your fire will be a matter of personal interpretation. I find it chanllenging.

    Hope my early acquaintance with the SMR SE will shed some light on your decision making. I must say I ain't no tech head the above impression was only based on few hours of intensive listening. If a girl is to ask Romeo how much he loves her, I'm sure he wouldn't show her a graph on heartbeats.


    Regards



















































  • Marvel bro, wanna add anything to santa comment on smr se and sr se? Mr.Santa, are you essentially saying the smr se screw up the tonal balance? Your friend may want to use smr se in the entire signal path to get it right.

    I agree with you that in the past 20 years, no cables are up to the standard. That is a very bold statement of yours but I have no choice but to agree. Many are still buying the dirt trick of a bloated mid range. Anything less than abnormal, they claim it too bright. That is very disappointing.

    The real trouble is a good cable will not fix the bad system sound like a click on the mouse. It will probably worsen the problem. Poor audio souls then blame the cable, change the gears, and start yelling everything with a bunch of motherhood theories on the net. It is pathetic. Isnt it? Do you know the netherland cables? I spent tons of money on those shits, and never get the sound of Anna right. But my expert friends visited me and said the sound is correct. Fart! They probably need a little session of von stade.

    Average people dont want to face the damn problem, they run away and declare a bright new day with cheaper means. Smart people dont want to face the problem either. They try to get around it. Santa, got my message?

    That very point of yours bringing the whole hack of orchestra home is very funny. You are such an experience audio soul. I admire brave guts with substance.

    I am more than lucky to be able to own the SMR EE series, from digital all the way to speaker cable. For younger audio souls with a passion for music but a limited pocket, the Serenity Reference is all you need. It is that good. In the hand of piano tuner, the serenity reference se shattered quite a few vinyl verean. Put a period on cables, and focus on room acoustics. Then, play the music.

    Marvel bro, cant wait to hear your Argento journey,

    VR

  • Santa,

    It is delighted to read your writing in this forum after some years ago seeing yours in R33 in Linnman's thread. Your experience sharing is certainly one of the biggest drive for me to go to R33.

    I am using a pair of SR SE RCA from the Heritage DAC to the new preamp which only accepts all RCA input. I have a pair of SMR EE XLR for use between the DAC and the now off-duty Karan preamp. I used SMR, SMR SE but certainly did not have a switch point from SR SE to SMR SE since chronologically, I believe SMR was invented earlier than SR SE latter of which is primarily to provide the best cost effectiveness that Argento technology can render.

    Your observation is particularly reflecting on the way that SMR SE/ SMR EE could actually allow the original recording to set the pace while SR SE has its own rhythm. This is no doubt as a result of the fact that SMR SE/SMR EE is a much more balanced and neutral cable than SR SE. The slight coloration on the speed of SR SE is perhaps due to the lack of the bass foundation and a bit of roll off in the extreme treble leading to a sharp cut of the harmonic tail. In a lot of system and especially in listening area of many audiophiles in HK(including myself), this may not be that apparent because bass is always in a state of either over supply or under demand. Whether it is because of the imbalance of the system or more importantly (in my latest experience on the reasonators/diffusors on acoustics) the reflective sound due to the room. Let me side track a little bit, when I first ventured in listening to music, the common logic was if bass is not enough, move the speakers closer to the rear wall. Are we hearing the 2nd order bass due to the reflection by the rear wall? There is in fact no such bass information stored in the original recording. Now I realise if the speakers are 'up to the level', it should be moved away from the rear wall in order to let the energy dispersed out in a unconstrained way . In fact, the reflection back from the rear wall would in turn cause vibration to the speakers and cause the 3rd order distortion to the sound wave produced by the speakers so we are actually hearing: 1st transmission, 2nd order reflection from the wall plus 3rd order vibration flow back to the speaker...wow...

    Back to SMR SE/EE vs SR SE, SMR SE/EE is a truer mirror to your system and the room acoustics and if you feel something is not right in terms of the energy distribution or the linearity of the frequency spectrum, I think the focus should be shifted on the room and components as SMR SE/EE is definitely added to zeroise one variable in the entire equation.

    Marvel
  • 各位前輩,在下覺得你們的討論很好,我學了許多野。我有一問題,為何一粒小小的diffusor木仔貼上了在後牆中位後,音像進步了很多,昨晚再加了粒silver resonator在diffusor上面,蔡琴成個人企了出來,連我老婆都覺得好神奇,究竟點解?Room acoutics真係奇妙。
  • 志雄,你有沒有問幫你整的那位人兄點解?
  • Klau兄, Piano tuner解釋得好細心,但我資質有限,未能全明白,但進步確是明顯。我老婆也認同。
  • 志雄兄,請問你是貼前牆定後牆?
  • Klau, 我是貼在spk後面那幅牆,在diffusor小木上,另外我用了兩個diffusors在spk後方。總言之,整個音場立體了許多,我也莫名奇妙,所以想了解多一些,我現才明白到room acoustics是這麼重要。

    劉兄,你有冇用diffusors或resonator? 我建議你起碼要用diffusor,是必須品。
  • 志雄兄,可否另開topic,我們再討論多些.
  • Voy

    Am I essentially saying the SMR SE screw up the tonal balance?

    In that particular Gryphon-Kharma combo with his other existing setup... Yes. Realizing the unforgiving nature of the SMR SE, I ain't blaming on the cable itself which may just expose the unbalanced nature of other component(s) down the chain.

    The Theta and Gryphon are never balanced sounding gears to begin with. But the SR SE + VDM did provide better tonal balance to my ears. The room had been treated by diffusors and resonators to rectify the Kharma's mildly chaotic mid-low in-room response. Bringing in the SMR did upset this sensitive harmony, without changing the others.

    My role is more or less like a construction worker who's to smoothen out an uneven wall with base coat caulk. The original SR SE + VDM seemed fit in well with the sonic uneveness of the rig. Despite being skeptical on the hardware, it's almost impoosible to suggest a house-clearing change without searching all possible means to resume a harmony, not to mention the difficulty in locating sutable hardwares.

    "Closest thing to reality" is my highest regard to the SMR SE but still my word of caveat is to avoid viewing either the SMR SE or even EE as a yardstick of absolute neutrality. I reckon the Argento designer would not put the SMR out to market right after it's baked in the lab. The SMR must have gone through human ear's credentials. Was it tested in a concrete room?

    Being an audio lover, I would like to express my heart felt admiration to you all in search of true sound, setting new standard for the audio lovers of next generation to follow. My salute to your guts to say no to reputed brands because they failed to deliver realistic mids. However I would also like to caution on the unequited love of "absolute neutrality" which I remember I had a long debate with Tuner years ago in another forum, as sonic neutrality should remain a subjective interaction result. Physically insensitive ears, if trained, can still differentiate minute sonic information untrained ears left oblivious.

    As of true sound, synthesizers still approximate a form of "true sound" in its own right. The "neturality" of Heavy Metal or even Punk music should in fact base on "distortion". I must admit neutrality has never been among top priority in my audio journey. Being a down trodden sentimental kind of dirty old sod, I prefer my rig to produce music that moisten up my heart. I need that connection.

    Last year when I was in search of suitable interconnects for my friend, I bumped into couple setup that Tuner had authenicated good. They are hooked with SMR throughout. It was unbeatable in classical playing leaving dumbstruck in the armchair. But couple of Jazz tracks left me lukewarm while Metal simply fell as its nose. If nothing to do with neither recording nor music format ( both studio and live), what is failure to do with? Neutrality? Maybe there's still a lot much for us to explore.

    As with the SMR SE, I will do my second audition together trying to locate the cable's best speaker position for it's peculiar in-room response. I might even re-work from scratch. Hope I can reveal its true ability this time.

    If originality is a composer to write a piece of music, what is that when all other conductors who add their interpretation to create their own signature play? Distortion? No I see it as an art form and I also would like to attach this personal touch to the system that I tuned.

    Regards

  • Santa,

    Following on your last point, if different conductors and different performers are pulling together their effort to produce a signature performance on a piece by the same composer, it is certainly a form of art representing the passion and musical culture of the performers. That said, if a system is tuned to the flavour of the owner, different recordings would carry to the same extent the characteristics of such tuning, wouldn't it be a form of coloration imposed by the system rather than a true manifestation of the original performance?

    My path of using Argento cables is: VDM ---> SMR ---> SMR SE ---> SMR EE. I think I miss a transition from SR SE ----> SMR SE which I may not be able to fully understand your observation. I would try to borrow a pair of SMR SE from AE to see if I would encounter the same situation.

    Thanks for the sharing.
    Marvel

  • "That said, if a system is tuned to the flavour of the owner, different recordings would carry to the same extent the characteristics of such tuning, wouldn't it be a form of coloration imposed by the system rather than a true manifestation of the original performance?"

    Dear Marvel Bro
    I can certainly understand your concern as I have witnessed in the past years the efforts you guys have paid (also the time and money too) courageously speaking out your observation of colouration from reputable branded cables. Correctly pointing out the culprit which keeps audiophiles from reaching a balanced sounding system. The bigger the cables, ie. the norm of higher the model from the same brand, the heavier the colouration. Don't you think I would forget all that debate of intention, conspiracy sort of debate in another forum?

    When you choose say your swiss candy or german tank or whatever other hardwares, you probably have accepted their inherited sonic traits. Hook them up with SMR EE, are you going to hear the signature tone of a famous amp through the "Neutrality Boulevard of Argento"? Or are you effectively take a passive role to taste a prescribed dose of colouration from audio designers?

    Am I correct to assume both SR SE & SMR SE are using the same conductor and connector? It's interesting to observe different sonic characters if they are sharing identical cable design. That's why I wonder if the SMR has a different geometry or dielectric material. I noticed the superiority of the SMR over the SR in resolution, speed and slam by a surprisingly big margin yet lacking the agility, embracing sense of space and a more comfortable temperature from the SR. Both of them sound neutral to me.

    When both SMR SE and SR SE sound "neutral" to me, there must be a wider sense of neutrality. Marvel Bro, the personal touch, the leaning towards my personal flavour and the happening of connection between me and the system, would not drift too far off from my above interpretation of neutrality. Even using the entirely same rig from hardwares to cables, different in-room furnishing and speakers placement still yield different sound which is another form of personal interaction.

    Even a documentary photographer is shooting with his own piont of view, personnal is everywhere around us. I remembered my elder brother drove a Mercedes and told me how elegant that the German car filtered the bump and hump on the road; you didn't even feel it on the steering wheel. I called it lack of information... isn't that personal interpretation? Without that, the audio world is just too black and white without colour.

    As much as I'm enlightened by your perseverance in pursuing neutrality , pushing the standard higher and pushing the envelope of cabling adventure, I caution again the quest of "absolute neutrality". There is simply no such thing.

    I will report later on my second testing on the SMR SE. It was a surprisingly successful night!

    Argento SMR SE interconnect .... a GREAT cable indeed!!!!

  • I concur there is no such thing as "absolute neutrality". I can only use certain objective criteria as guidance towards that goal. In the end, there is always subjective bias and personal perferences involved both at the designer and the user level. For example, Horning seems to place greater emphasis on calmness, silence between notes and individuality of each musical objects. Da Vinci on the other hand seems to place more emphasis on timbre correctness. Syren of Tron, or the famous silver batman, focuses more on transient, microdynamics and speed. The Audio Valve seems to take music from a top down perspective, the construction of soundstage by the Baldur 300 is second to none. Which is more neutral? I dont have an answer. But there is always some machine does certain traits better than some other. I cannot say timbre of horning is not as accurate as da vinci and hence it is not neutral. I cannot also conclude da vinci has more correct timbre and hence everything else is incorrect. These designers know what they are doing. It is just that their perceived balance differs from each other. They all know what constitues a musical expereince. Peter of Da Vinci of course knows the importance of speed and transiet. It is just that the weighting of importance of these attributes differ amongst them.