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Ckahron from Stage III Concepts

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. This was, as the company materials read, a task in which cost did not matter and in which Luis de la Fuente, founder and designer, was able to fully develop all his key concepts and solutions.

Among them, we should point out the dielectric, which is largely vacuum (or at least vacuum is what the manufacturer says it is), the conductors, which are ribbons made of silver and palladium, and the damping of natural vibrations thanks to properly selected materials and through topology developed by Luis. Together, these add up to a product that not only sits at the top of the company’s lineup, not only is it the most expensive interconnect in it, but in it you’ll find everything the company has learned about audio signal transmission during these twenty-five years

Ckahron

CKAHRON INTERCONNECTS ARE PART OF Stage III Concepts’ top-of-the-line series, along with the Cerberus speaker cable and Poseidon AC power cable; in all of them the main dielectric is vacuum: “Stage III Concepts celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021 with the launch of three products of the highest level of quality the world has never seen before. These lines represent an uncompromising attack on what can be achieved if there are no compromises or limitations in design. The three lines are Cerberus speaker cables, Poseidon power cables and finally Ckahron analog interconnects, undoubtedly contenders for the most advanced audio cables available on the market, and unique technological works of art.”

Ckahron is, truth be told, extremely similar in its design to a speaker cable. However, the manufacturer says that while the construction is similar, the interconnect is designed slightly differently, for low-level (line-level) signals – the manufacturer says simply: “fine-tuned for optimal transmission of line-level signals.” As we read in the company materials, this “fine-tuning” of the conductors is the key to achieving the sound the designer had in mind.

This cable is very thick and very heavy. I can’t really imagine it hanging freely behind the components, because it will then exert very strong pressure on the sockets. It is better to suspend it on something or use stands. It is built with three separate cables twisted around each other; the company calls the topology “triple dual-helix”.

It’s three, individually twisted pairs of conductors (in Poland, a similar topology has been used for some time by KBL Sound, more → HERE https://highfidelity.pl/@main-1320&lang=en ). Each run is a multi-layered array, with shielding, vibration-damping materials, and at the center of each run there are two tubes containing individual conductor strips; the latter are held in place by carbon-fiber bundles.

It is not only the appearance of the interconnects that is surprising, as the conductors used in them are also interesting. Each run uses six ribbons made of silver and palladium, two each for plus, minus and ground in a telescoping arrangement. The conductor is made using a slow pull-out process, and the company has named its solution AeroStrandUltra. The conductors are housed in tubes from which air has been pumped out, achieving a vacuum, according to the manufacturer. Let me remind you that similar cables were produced by TARA Labs. However, it was Stage III Concepts that was the first – it presented this solution in 1996, while the first cable with this type of dielectric TARA Labs introduced to the market in 1999 (model Zero).

The place from which the single cable comes out was connected by an aluminum “bridge” made in-house. It serves not only an aesthetic role, but also a mechanical and electrical one – it is part of the vibration damping system. And this aspect is very important to Stage III Concepts. Dielectrics and a multi-layer shield are also part of it. The tubes in which the conductors are placed are made of nylon and Teflon FEP (“virgin”, as the manufacturer says). The outer layer is a shield made of braided copper and conductive nylon, a solution bearing the company’s name ASPIS. Subsequent layers contain ceramic granules to help dampen vibrations. The exterior uses custom-made polymer tubing.

The cables are terminated with silver and other metal alloy plugs (unfortunately, I couldn’t find information on which ones), named by the company Hyperion. Both the contact elements and their large bodies are made in-house by the company. These are the largest plugs I’ve ever seen, but, as the manufacturer points out, this is an important part of Ckahron’s mechanical design. All metal components, including conductors and plugs, undergo thermal treatment – cryogenic.

In a summary of the press materials, the manufacturer says: “All this unprecedented technology and effort has yielded astonishing results. The sound has vitality and energy, and is completely free of any distortion or sound 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 equivalent to improving your sources, amplifiers and speakers by several levels! You will then experience the impact these cables have on your system, and once you hear it, you won’t be able to forget about it!”

Sound

HOW WE LISTENED

The Stage III Concepts interconnects were tested in a HIGH FIDELITY reference system. It was compared to the reference cable: the Siltech Triple Crown interconnect. The interconnect connected the RCA output (WBT Nextgen jacks, gold-plated) of the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player and the input of the same company’s Spheris III line-level preamplifier (again, WBT Nextgen jacks, gold-plated).

The comparison was conducted as A/B and A/B listening with known A and B. The pieces listened to were between 1 and 2 minutes long. The comparison was not instantaneous – the intervals lasted about 30 s. Separately, I listened to entire albums without comparing it to other cables.

RECORDINGS USED FOR 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 WHETHER I’m remembering correctly, or if I’m whether the association is right, but I have an irresistible impression that the Ckahron interconnect I tested has some characteristics that were memorable to me after testing TARA Labs’ Zero and Zero Evolution interconnects. These are not the same cables – again: as far as I can remember – but I feel they have some common characteristics. On the other hand, however, there is a lot in common between the interconnect in the test and the Siltech Triple Crown cables, which are my reference.

The sound of the Stage III Concepts interconnect could, in short, be sketched this way: softness → fullness → liquidity → depth. I would add to this the dominance of sustain over attack and the focus of the listener’s attention on the midrange. Is it all? – Of course it is not, but it will help us navigate among more recordings, and can be a guide for those who don’t like reading tests but would like to have a quick answer to the question, “How does it sound?”

The softness I’m talking about comes from shaping the attack of the signal in such a way that the it is not “square” or too contoured, no matter what kind of recording you listen to. I started with the first two recordings from GEORGE MICHAEL’s album Older, ˻ 1 ˺ Jesus to a Child and ˻ 2 ˺ FastloveBoth sounded dense and warm. And well, that’s how the RADAR recorder used in this case sounds like.

On the other hand, it’s a very simple recorder with 16-bit, 44.1 kHz analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters. This, in turn, means that albums recorded with it, Older being one of them, but also Blur by BLUR or Time Out Of Mind by BOB DYLAN (a very good reissue of it has just been released), do not have the resolution known from earlier, reel-to-reel digital recorders and from much later DAW recordings.

This is why their sound is not particularly selective and can sometimes seem a bit “empty” inside. With the American cables all this was clear, that is the almost “analog” sound texture, but also imperfect selectivity, and not fully realized resolution. But this cable served these recordings in its own way, filling in to some extend the deficiencies of the recording. For example, it slightly rounded out the bass attack. This gave an incredibly velvety sound, without the sometimes tiresome thump of the low notes. These were dense and massive, only without clear definition at the very bottom of the band. It’s more about “painting” with the sound than “forging” it.

I liked how cool it came out with the first track from the The Best of The Grateful Dead compilation! The album begins with the ˻ 1 ˺ The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) track. Recorded in just four days in 1967, the album, when recorded and submitted to RCA, did not include this track. However, the label’s managers forced the band to write some “hit – thus The Golden Road… was created.

It’s a fast-paced, “radio” style track, but with really well produced. It’s a stereo recording, but with instruments spread out on the sides of the stage. Ckahron captured very well the “spirit” of the times in which the album was made – let me remind you that Woodstock happened only two years later. I mean that it showed it in a colorful, fluid way, a bit like in the psychedelic animations of the time. The definition of the sound was very good, showing that American cable does not blur the attack, but simply smooths it out.

It’s what make differentiation really good. The cable has its own agenda, but it does not impose it on the recordings by force, but rather “proposes” its own solutions. That’s why subsequent recordings and subsequent discs sound their own way – the last track on the first disc ˻ 19 ˺ Estimated Prophet, so different from the first recording, had nice depth and was much darker. The cable slightly warmed the higher midrange and emphasized the guitar sounds, without slowing the whole thing down. It was dense, cool, rocking – the recording brings reggae music to mind.

CZESŁAW NIEMEN’s Katharsis album also sounded beautifully with the tested cable. Just released on SACD, with a DXD remastering by Damian Lipinski, it is a showcase of the musician’s synths. But it’s the acoustic elements juxtaposed with the electronics that are most impressive, as in the introduction to 9 Epitafium (pamięci Piotra). Not only did the cable perfectly show the different types of metal cymbals struck by Niemen, but it also fantastically displayed a wide stereo panorama.

When the multiplied voice of the musician appears in the recording, suddenly the space explodes, and a dense “wall” of sound rises in front of us. And that’s because Ckahron is able to render the scale of recordings with ease, and even helps it slightly. The presentation is big and intense with it. I can’t really imagine having music playing in the background with it, 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 is slightly calmed. Siltech plays with a more punctuated and energetic sound. Yet the American cable takes us “into” the recordings, especially with its expansiveness.

So it won’t be an interconnect that will calm anything down, even though – objectively speaking – it has a warm tone. Maybe it will calm down some brightening, but it won’t flatten out what causes the adrenaline rush in us. And it is at the same time absolutely internally well-arranged sound. It is also so 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 because here we have a strong brass section, recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in a palpable, powerful way.

Stage III Concepts showed it in a creamy yet expansive way. Its sound was warm on the one hand and energetically active on the other. This is probably the best summary of what I heard with it throughout the test. The energy comes from the inner focus and momentum, not the burn-in of the attack. Warmth, on the other hand, comes from emphasizing the multicoloredness of the midrange rather than from clipping its extremes. Yes, both the highest treble and the lowest bass are not defined in particularly clear way with this cable. And yet, we don’t perceive this as a correction, but as part of the soft, as “analog” playing that this interconnect offers.

Summary

BIG CABLE = BIG SOUND, that’s the equation that pops up in my head almost every time I see products such as the reviewed Stage III Concepts Ckahron Limited Edition interconnect. And it usually works. In this case it works even better, because it is a big sound, but it is also a powerful and fast. 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, the two can be combined.

The Ckahron sound warm, dense and plays with an emphasis put on the midrange. But the sound is fast, agile with it. And this is because, I assume, it maintains time coherence between all sub-bands. That’s why we have both a rounded attack and excellent, powerful sound filling. This is a cable that will steer your audio system towards “analog” in general. It will add color, give it depth and straighten out – if there are any – anomalies in the high midrange. This is a very cool, detail-oriented cable with a “forgiving” character for all who know what high-end is and how it manifests itself.

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