The Black Cat Cable Graceline L1 Interconnects & Speaker Cables: Evolution to Transformation.
Review by Fairhedon
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Chris Sommovigo has exceptional taste. In everything. Some would even say esoteric. That covers high performance audio playback equipment, culture, literature, and of course music. In fact, we have conversed about music with Sommovigo more than any other subject, even gear. This is of note because he own some of the finest components and has been designing exceptional audio cables for decades. A fascinating view into his mindset, philosophy, and world view can be found here: In Conversation: Chris Sommovigo of Black Cat Cable
Sommovigo contacted us about his newest creation, the Graceline series of cables. We were thoroughly impressed with the entry level Coppertone series, which brought, in our estimation, unparraled performance at their price point. Full review is here: Black Cat Cable Coppertone interconnects And Speaker Cables
So what was the impetus behind the Graceline series? It is always best to hear direct from source, and here are Sommovigo’s musings and back story of the design-
This begins with the introduction of a cable in Black Cat called Setsuna. It played upon an idea I’ve been experimenting with that reached “that” point – where it made sense to introduce to the catalog. Everyone who got the Setsuna interconnects and speaker cables were fairly shocked at the differences they heard, and I was ready to run some more of it.
Simultaneously, a group of Black Cat fans out in Singapore reached out to me – as they have done periodically for several years – to ask if I had anything ‘in the works’ or off menu to tantalize them with. I thought about the improvements I wanted to make to Setsuna, and the methods I wanted to use to break it out into three levels – and made the pitch. This came around in March/April just as Covid lockdowns were hitting. They were keen, so I got to work on the new expressions.
These so totally blew me away that I felt a predicament: If I included them in the Black Cat Cable catalog they would overcrowd what was already an overpopulated menu, AND they would not be related – technically – to the build philosophy of the Black Cat Line. Specifically: these new iterations riffing off the baseline Setsuna idea are multi-layered, process-intense cables that require a tremendous amount of machine time.
Conversely, Black Cat analog designs are based upon a theme whereupon I run specialized and shaped conductors down a Teflon/Air tube that has been shielded or quasi-shielded. In the 3202 interconnect, the construction is similar but not precisely the same, as a matrix of signal conductors is braided where the shield would usually be, and the ground wire is internal to the tube. Still, the theme remained (and remains) with all the Black Cat analog models … except Setsuna. It was the Black Sheep of the Black Cat lineup.
So with these new, off-menu iterations that were improvements to the Setsuna design being built for our audiophile brothers in Singapore, and with the improvement in performance over the original Setsuna, I had to make some difficult decisions. Breathing on my neck in the background was the suggestion I had been given by several of my dealers to trim the Black Cat offering because they felt that too many products were making it difficult for customers to understand and choose from among them all. This is when the idea for the spinoff came to mind: Graceline, by Black Cat Cable.
By depositing this new catalog on its own site, I hoped to make it less confusing while still being able to give the series proper illumination. I trimmed the analog offerings at Black Cat down to three: Coppertone Flatewave, 3200 Series, and Ultranova. I discontinued the other analog models (Lupo, Triode, Stargate) as they were the slow movers, but I assured the dealers that I would make these as custom items for them if they still wanted them (in fact, one dealer ordered 9 pairs of Lupo …). I eliminated Setsuna from the Black Cat site and named the new, improved version in Graceline as “Level 2 : Setsuna” so there was some continuity.
[The new L2:Setsuna is much better than the original – better insulators, better compliment of conductors (and more of them). It’s a three-level design vs. the original two-level design. In fact, the Level 1:Kibou cables that you have in for review are more closely related to the original Setsuna]
I still needed a way to connect Black Cat and Graceline, so I put a link to the Graceline series on the Black Cat site.
LOVECRAFT : I have two things in the Lovecraft line: The Reference RCA and the MINI RCA. They share one attribute in common, a specialized signal pin construction. It is both hollow and terminated by set-screw. There is another feature that ensures extremely intimate contact between wire and pin, which is a series of sharp ridges inside the solder-area that bite into the conductor when the setscrew is tightened down. This allows me to flow solder into the joint assured that contact is as good as the best crimps, but it is also hermetically sealed.
I had begun using the Lovecraft MINI RCA on the Level 1:Kibou interconnects, but relented and made the Reference RCA the standard on L1 and L2 after hearing the difference for myself. I didn’t change the price of the L1 … yet. I suspect I won’t raise it in the future, but they are about 3x the cost of the MINIs and so I’m eating that differential. For now, these connectors are only for use with Black Cat and Graceline cables. I also use Oyaide pure-silver RCAs in the Level 3:Mezame interconnects, as well as their Focus-1 XLRs (both superb performers).
The Graceline Level 1w/ Lovecraft Reference RCA retails for $795, and the Level 1 speaker cable with Lovecraft banana plugs retails for $1595. The cables arrived beautifully packaged, which adds to the pride of ownership, if nothing else. The craftsmanship and build quality is quite impressive. And yes, this does make a difference to us. The Lovecraft connectors are off the charts rugged, and provide a secure connection that inspires confidence.
We installed the Graceline cables into our reference system comprised of a Rogue Audio RP5 preamp, a Simaudio 760A power amp, a Sonore microRendu streamer feeding a Bryston BDA-3 DAC, and a Rega Planar 6 Turntable. Our speakers for this write up were Magnepan 1.7i speakers.
We started with the speaker cables first, then installed the interconnects. We expected to hear what the Graceline was cable of over time, but astonishingly, we experienced somewhat of a system transformation immediately. Sommovigo even noted that the cables would break in over time. But immediately we heard the musical picture snap into focus, and recordings that previously seemed a bit flat sound revitalized.
It seemed like the tap had been previously partially open and the Black Cat Graceline cleared the path for the music to gush through the pipeline. We found our selves listening to albums two or three times in succession to absorb fully all the superb imaging and mix details. It was like musical archeology. Speaking of, we were in a bit of a vintage mood and we spun virtually the entire Jefferson Airplane discography, all original and early pressings. Their psychedelic folk rock was on full display from their 1966 debut Takes Off, through Volunteers, and even into Bark, with it’s Grateful Dead influences.
Sticking with 60’s folk rock a bit longer, we spun both an original Island pink label and A&M pressing of Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief. We have not heard this album sound this rich, with shimmering acoustic guitars, Richard Thompson’s immaculate lead guitar, and of course Sandy Denny’s magical voice all distinct in the mix, yet seamlessly blending as masterful performances. The Graceline loom expanded the sound picture to a degree we have not experienced before.
Earlier in the year, we ordered a bunch of direct-to-disc LPs from the Night Dreamer label on Bandcamp. They sound otherworldly, with the immediacy one would expect from a master tape, or in this case, a master pressing. The releases, which include new music from jazz and world music legends Gary Bartz, Seu Jorge, Etuk Ubong, and Seun Kuti, and more, were recorded live and direct in the Netherlands. The bass, drums, and vocals, were amazingly present, and with the Graceline wire installed, we heard the sound of a “live” room, and even mic leakage!
Switching over to our digital rig, inserting the Graceline interconnects between the DAC and preamp, the results were just as convincing. Recent 24 bit Bandcamp purchases sounded stunning, with a presence, precision, and definition that took the system to a new level. Some particular standouts include Songs Of Worship, by Kimono Drag Queens, with it’s sinister psychedelic sprawl, Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection, by Spencer Cullum, a beautiful ode to British folk rock and and the “cosmic country” sound.
One download that just really to held of our imagination was Songs Of Disenchantment: Music From The Greek Underground, by Brendan Perry, one half of the legendary Dead Can Dance. Perry’s distinctive, dark voice is perfectly suited to the ancient sounding melodies and Greek instrumentation. With the Graceline cable, the album hypnotized the listener and we had the album on repeat.
Speaking of Dead Can Dance, their catalog was superbly remastered on SACD by Mobile Fidelity some years ago and streaming the DSD files was was like unearthing buried treasure. Their albums are like listening in on ancient pagan ceremonies, with electronic ambience and experimental elements thrown in. Into The Labyrinth, a particular favorite, astounded listeners with it’s dynamic range, and mind bending arrangements.
Really the most striking thing about the Graceline L1 is they were able to organize the music in what seemed like the correct presentation. A few albums that seemed a bit muddled or disorganized were reshaped so to speak into a clear portrait, almost like having looked at painting for a long time then suddenly understanding it’s meaning. Yes, the Graceline wire is that good.
We firmly believe that audio cables are actually components within an audiophile system. So careful consideration is warranted in purchasing these products. Of course, we recommend acquiring the very best electronics and speakers you can afford, and spending commensurately on cables. A $5000 power cord on a $5000 amplifier most certainly does not make sense.
The Graceline series by Sommovigo/Black Cat Cable offers 3 levels from which to choose, and the Level 1 cables we received are a perfect match expenditure wise and sonically with our system. Since we enjoy such an extremely wide variety of music, we don’t believe in a “specialist” system that excels at classical, rock, jazz, or anything else. It has to excel at reproducing the recorded arts, period. The Graceline cables seem to have been designed with the same philosophy, they bring the music.
You read above Sommovigo describe the evolution of the Graceline series. We experienced a distinct and positive transformation of the presentation of our system, both from vinyl and digital playback. Several listeners were quite taken with the depth of sound-field and how each instrument seemed to carve out it’s own space in the mix.
A special note about the Level 1 speaker cables. We feel these are the most transparent, uncolored we have encountered. This is with a reference point of close to a hundred different cable brands we have had in our systems over the years. The Graceline Level 1 with banana connectors is neither bright”, “dark”, “midrang-ey”, it just is. In other words, it provides as direct a connection between amplifier and speaker as one could expect at this price point.
If this is the time for investing in cable upgrades, or if one is setting up a new system, we can without hesitation recommend a good look at Black Cat Cable, and now, especially, the Graceline series. There are hundreds of audiophile cable brands to choose from, but we feel Sommovigo has a very special dedication to the craft, and is fearless in regards to pushing the envelope on design refinement.
The Graceline series are breakthrough products in our estimation. For those who want to go even further, there are Level 2 and 3, which offer higher grade materials and connectors, plus XLR. In the end, your ears will tell you what you need to know. If unsure how to choose, Sommovigo is more than happy to provide suggestions on what product may be appropriate for your system. We have done our very best to offer honest listening impressions and an overall value judgement. The Graceline series is an instant classic.