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Stage III Concepts A.S.P. CKAHRON

High Fidelity

⌈ Stage III Concepts is an American company based in Brooklyn, New York, specializing in audio cables. It was founded by LUIS DE LA FUENTE in 1996 – he is its owner and also its designer. Stage III Concepts gained recognition with its vacuum dielectric cables, and later with the use of rare materials for conductors. It also makes its own plugs. Its cables are heavy and very solid. We test her top-of-the-line interconnect, the CKAHRON Limited Edition. ⌋

N 2021, STAGE III CONCEPTS COMPANY celebrated its 25th anniversary. To celebrate, it prepared a limited edition of complete cabling – interconnect, speaker cable and power cable. As we read in the company’s materials, this was a cost-neutral task in which Luis de la Fuente, the founder and designer, was able to develop all his key concepts and solutions to the full.

These include a dielectric that is largely vacuum (or at least the manufacturer refers to vacuum), conductors that are ribbons (“ribbon”) of silver and palladium, and natural vibration damping thanks to selected materials and a topology developed by Luis. All of this combines to create a product that is not only at the top of the company’s offering, not only the most expensive interconnect in it, but also incorporates everything the company has learned about audio signal transmission over these 25 years.

Ckahron

The CKAHRON INTERCOUNTS cables are part of the top-of-the-line Stage III Concepts series, along with the Cerberus speaker cable and Poseidon power cable; all feature vacuum as the main dielectric: “Stage III Concepts celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2021 with the launch of three products of the highest level of quality the world has ever seen. These lines represent an uncompromising assault on what can be achieved when there are no compromises or limitations in design. These three lines are the Cerberus speaker cables, the Poseidon power cables and finally the Ckahron analog interconnect cables, which undoubtedly lay claim to the title of the most advanced audio cables available on the market while being unique technological works of art.” ⸜ press release

The Ckahron is actually very similar in design to a speaker cable. However, the manufacturer claims that although the design is similar, the interconnect has been designed slightly differently, for low level (line level) signals – the manufacturer puts it simply: “tuned for optimal transmission of line signals”. As we read in the company’s materials, this “fine-tuning” of the drivers is the key to achieving the sound the designer had in mind.

This cable is very thick and very heavy. I can’t very well imagine it hanging loosely behind the components, because then it will put very strong pressure on the sockets. It’s better to hang it on something or use stands. It was constructed with three separate cables coiled around each other; the company calls this topology “triple dual-helix”.

These are three, separately twisted pairs of lines (in Poland, a similar topology has been used for some time by KBL Sound, more → HERE). Each device is multi-layered, with shielding, vibration damping materials and at the centre of each are two tubes containing individual strips of conductors; these are held in place by carbon fibre bundles.

Not only the appearance of the interconnections is surprising, the wires used in them are also interesting. Six bands of silver and palladium are used in each series, two each for plus, minus and ground in a telescopic arrangement. This wire is produced by a slow pull-out process and the company has named its solution AeroStrandUltra. The wires are placed in tubes from which air has been pumped out, which, according to the manufacturer, creates a vacuum. Recall that similar cables were produced by TARA Labs. However, Stage III Concepts was the first to introduce this solution in 1996, while the first cable with this type of dielectric from TARA Labs appeared on the market in 1999 (the Zero model).

The place from which one cable comes out is connected by an aluminium, self-made “bridge”. It has not only an aesthetic role, but also a mechanical and electrical role – it is part of the vibration damping system. And this aspect is very important for Stage III Concepts. It also includes a dielectric and multilayer shielding. The tubes in which the wires are placed are made of nylon and Teflon FEP (“virgin”, as the manufacturer states). The outer layer consists of a shielding made of braided copper and conductive nylon, a solution that bears the company’s ASPIS name. Additional layers contain ceramic granules to help dampen vibrations. Custom-made polymer tubes are used on the outside.

The cables are terminated with connectors made of an alloy of silver and other metals (unfortunately I could not find information about which ones), named by Hyperion. Both the contact elements and their large bodies are manufactured by the company itself. They’re the biggest plugs I’ve ever seen, but as the manufacturer points out, it’s an important part of the Ckahron’s mechanical design. All metal components, including wires and plugs, undergo a heat treatment – cryogenic.

In the summary of the press materials, the manufacturer writes: “All this unprecedented technology and effort has produced amazing results. The sound has vitality and energy and is completely free of any distortion or sonic artifacts. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience this level of cable quality, it may shatter your previous paradigms. Introducing it into your system is tantamount to improving your sources, amplifiers and speakers by several levels! You will then experience the impact these cables have on your system, and when you hear it, you can’t “unhear” it!”⸜ press pad.

Listening

Stage III Concepts links were tested in the HIGH FIDELITY reference system. It was compared with a reference system: the Siltech Triple Crown link. The interconnect connected the RCA output (WBT Nextgen sockets, gold-plated) of an Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player and the input of a Spheris III line preamplifier from the same company (again, WBT Nextgen sockets, gold-plated).

A/B and A/B listening were compared with the familiar A and B. The listening tracks were between 1 and 2 minutes in length. The comparison was not instantaneous – the intervals were approximately 30 s. I’ve listened to entire albums on their own, no longer comparing.

Plates used in the test

  • GEORGE MICHAEL, Older, Epic | Aegean/Sony Music Labels SICP-31544-5, 2 x Blu-spec CD2 (1996/2022)
  • GRATEFUL DEAD, The Best of The Grateful Dead, Rhino Records 08122 7955984, 2 x HDCD (2015).
  • CZESŁAW NIEMEN, Katharsis, Polskie Nagrania “Muza”/Warner Music Poland 9 77373 3, “Limited Edition SACD Hybrid”, SACD/CD (1978/2023).
  • OLIVER NELSON, The Blues And The Abstract Truth, Impulse/Universal Classics & Jazz UCGQ-9040, “Acoustic Sounds SACD Series”, SHM-SACD (1961/2023).
  • MAYO NAKANO PIANO TRIO, Miwaku, Briphonic BRPN-7007GL, Extreme Hard Glass CD-R (2017)
  • REYNA QOTRUNNADA, Passion, Master Music MMXR24001, XRCD24 (2019),
  • MADONNA Ray of Light, Maverick | Warner Bros. Records 9362-46847-2 | WE 852, CD (1998)

I DON’T KNOW if I’m remembering correctly, or if I’m remembering correctly if I’m associating correctly, but I have the irresistible impression that the Ckahron interconnect I tested has some of the characteristics I remembered after testing the Zero and Zero Evolution interconnects from TARA Labs. They’re not the same cables – again: as far as I can remember – but I have a feeling they share common characteristics. On the other hand, there is a lot in common between the tested interconnect and the Siltech Triple Crown cables, which are my reference.

The sound of the Stage III Concepts interconnect could be briefly outlined as follows: softness → fullness → smoothness → depth. To this I would add the dominance of sustain over attack and the focus of the listener’s attention on the midrange. Is that enough? – Of course not, but it will help us navigate through other recordings and can be a guide for those who don’t like to read tests but would like to have a quick answer to the question “How does it play?”.

The softness I’m talking about comes from shaping the punch of the signal so that it’s not “edgy” or overly contoured, no matter what album you’re listening to. I started with the first two tracks from GEORGE MICHAEL OLDER, ˻ 1 ˺ Jesus to a Child˻ and ˻ 2 ˺ Fastlove. Both played thickly and warmly. Well, that’s exactly what the RADAR recording on which this material was recorded sounds like.

On the other hand, it is a very simple recorder with a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converter. This in turn means that the albums recorded on it, including just Older, but also Blur by BLUR or Time Out Of Mind by BOB DYLAN (a very good reissue has just come out), don’t have the resolution we know from earlier, reel-to-reel digital recorders and from much later DAW recordings.

This results in their sound not being particularly selective and can sometimes seem a little ‘hollow’ inside. With American cables, all this was clear it means almost “analogue” sound structure, but also imperfect selectivity and not fully realised resolution. However, the cable served these recordings in its own way and filled in the recording’s shortcomings to some extent. For example, he slightly rounded the bass attack. This achieved an incredibly velvety sound without the sometimes fatiguing effect of low tones. These were dense and massive, just without clear definition at the very bottom of the band. It is more about “painting” the sound rather than “forging” it.

Oh how cool that he came out with the first track from The Best of The Grateful Dead compilation! The album opens with the ˻ 1 ˺ track The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion). The album, which was recorded in just four days in 1967, did not include this track when it was recorded and handed over to RCA. However, the label executives forced the band to write whatever “hit” they wanted – thus The Golden Road was born…..

It’s a fast, lingering radio-style track, but with really good production. It’s a stereo recording, but with instruments spaced to the sides of the stage. Ckahron captured the “spirit” of the time in which the album was made very well – he reminds us that Woodstock “broke out” two years later. That is, he showed it in a colourful, flowing way, a bit like the psychedelic animations of the time. The definition of the sound was very good, proving that the American cable does not blur the attack, but simply smoothes it out.

The resolution is really good because of this. The cable has its own agenda, but it does not impose it on the recordings by force, but rather “suggests” its own solutions. That’s why subsequent recordings and subsequent discs sound their own way – the last recording on the first disc, ˻ 19 ˺ Estimated Prophet, so different from the first recording, had a nice depth to it and was much darker. The cable slightly overdriven the upper mids and accentuated the guitar sounds without slowing the whole thing down. It was dense, cool, lush – the record has a reggae flavor – playing.

The album Katharsis by CZESŁAW NIEMEN also sounded beautiful with TESTED CABLE. Just released on SACD, with DXD remastering by Damian Lipinski, it is a synthesizer showcase for the musician. Most impressive, however, are the acoustic elements in contrast with the electronics, such as in the opening ˻ 9 ˺ Epitaph (in memory of Peter). Not only did the cable perfectly show the different types of sheet metal that Niemen hit, but it also displayed the wide stereo panorama fantastically.

When the multiplied voice of the musician appears in the recording, the space suddenly explodes and a dense “wall” of sound rises in front of us. And that’s because Ckahron can render the range of a recording with ease, even help it slightly. The message is big and intense with him. I can’t imagine listening to music with it in the background because the intensity of the sound is so high that we focus our attention on what’s happening in front of us. Interestingly, the energy of the overall sound calms down slightly. Siltech plays with a more precise and energetic sound. Still, American Cable takes us “into” the record, especially with its expansiveness.

So it won’t be an interconnect that is comforting, even if – objectively speaking – it has a warm tone. It may soothe some brightening, but it doesn’t make up for the adrenaline rush it induces in us. And at the same time, it’s an absolutely internally arranged sound. Because even with the dense sound of OLIVER NELSON’s The Blues And The Abstract Truth with the latest remaster released on SACD. It’s really dense playing here because we have a strong brass section recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in a palpable, powerful way.

Stage III Concepts showcased it in a way that was both creamy and expansive. Her sound was warm on the one hand and energetically active on the other. That’s probably the best summary of what I heard with her throughout the test. The energy comes from internal focus and momentum rather than a fired up offense. The warmth, on the other hand, comes from emphasising the multi-colourfulness of the mid-range rather than clipping its extremes. Yes, the highest highs and lowest lows are not defined in any clear way with this cable. And yet we don’t see it as a correction, but as part of the subtle, as if “analogue” playing that this interconnect offers.

Summary

BIG CABLE = BIG SOUND, that’s the equation that lights up in my head almost every time I see products I’ve tested, such as the Stage III Concepts Ckahron Limited Edition interconnect. And it usually works. In this case, it works doubly well because it’s a big sound, but it’s also a powerful and fast sound. The opposite of thick cables are cables with the smallest possible cross-section, whose designers want to get as much speed out of the sound as possible. As you can see, these two things can be combined.

Ckahron plays warm, dense and with an emphasis on the middle zone. But the sound is fast, brisk. And that’s because – I assume – it maintains temporal consistency between all the subbands. That’s why we have both a rounded attack and an excellent, powerful sound filling. This is the cable that directs the audio system to the commonly understood “analogue”. It adds colour, adds depth and evens out – if there are any – anomalies in the high centres. It’s a very laid-back, fine-tuned cable with a “forgiving” character for those who know what high-end is and how it manifests itself.

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