HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



March
2004

Reviewed by
Anthony Di Marco
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2004


Stereovox
HDXV RGB Video Cable

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Stereovox HDXV

Price: $300 USD
Dimensions: 1m

Warranty: Lifetime


Features
  • 4GHz bandwidth
  • Impedance matched
  • Low standing-wave ratio greatly reduces internal reflections
  • 99% shielded against RF
  • High-purity solid-core copper conductor coated with silver and wrapped with Teflon tape dielectric
  • True 75-ohm BNC termination
  • RCA adapters

From the design of the Hula Hoop to the timelessness of a Monet, the simplest idea is often the most elegant and lasting. Stereovox believes in simplicity and precision, with zero extravagance. Their goal, reportedly, is to create cables that are transparent conduits for audio and video signals by making sure those cables have as wide a bandwidth as possible. Co-founder Chris Sommovigo has followed this philosophy since developing the highly lauded Illuminati D60 digital coaxial cable and its successor, the HDXV. The HDXV RGB video cable’s ($300 for a one-meter length) wide bandwidth makes it compatible not only with digital signals, but with the current high-quality video formats as well.

Under the skin

There's a reason the HDXV RGB shares its name with its S/PDIF cousin: The RGB is three of the digital cables bundled together in a black jacket and color-coded for ease of installation. As with the HDXV digital coax, there’s nothing overtly special about the cables’ design -- no esoteric metal alloys, no inexplicable fairy dust providing mystical power. According to Chris Sommovigo, what makes the HDXV special is its precision of manufacture and the quality of its parts.

Sommovigo argues that matched impedance and wide bandwidth are interrelated. Mismatched impedances cause internal reflections within a conductor, which restrict the conductor's bandwidth. Getting the impedance right enables the HDXV to carry 4GHz signals without their wavelengths being affected by internal reflections. Noise and distortion occur when the conductor affects the signal’s wavelength. It’s sort of like what happens when a dirty window filters the sun’s rays: The refracted waves are not the same as they were before they passed through the glass; the cleaner the glass, the wider the "bandwidth."

The HDXV has more than enough bandwidth to carry the 30MHz signal required for high-definition television and the 12MHz bandwidth of 480p DVD outputs. In fact, were it not for its terminators, this cable would be capable of handling signals greater than 4GHz, according to Stereovox. Reportedly, many interconnects choke off bandwidth by terminating their cables with connectors that are not true 75-ohm designs. It took some time for Stereovox to find the right connector for the HDXV. Not surprisingly, the HDXV’s beautifully finished British Naval Connectors (BNCs) were originally designed for use in HDTV applications. Sommovigo admits that the included BNC-to-RCA adapter does restrict the bandwidth a little. Still, these gender-benders are of a high enough quality to comfortably exceed the bandwidth requirements of equipment using the RCA interface. Stereovox states that BNC-equipped devices and cables provide the absolute best performance.

The HDXV is manufactured to Stereovox’s specifications in bulk under extremely strict tolerances. A military contractor first extrudes the silver-coated copper conductor, then wraps it in Teflon and, finally, a woven outer shield. This silver-coated copper shield gives the cable a simple yet elegant appearance, and is protected from oxidation by the transparent Teflon skin. The cable is then transported to Stereovox headquarters, where it is cut to length and terminated. Each BNC connector is applied via a 12-point mechanical crimp; shielding is kept in place by a hex crimp.

The application of a tape dielectric is especially important in achieving the HDXV’s electrical characteristics. After the copper conductors are extruded and the silver coating applied, the cable is not exposed to heat again. Many cable manufacturers believe that heat is detrimental to a conductor’s linearity; Stereovox agrees that "cooking" the plastic dielectric releases impurities that change a cable’s electrical properties. Instead of the dielectric being applied via a thermally extruded jacket, the HDXV’s conductor is wrapped with Teflon tape.

In use

Even with three cables, the HDXV RGB is slender and flexible -- I had no problem snaking it behind my cramped entertainment center. The only difficulty was connecting the male RCA adapters to their female counterparts. Talk about a tight fit -- I was concerned about snapping or pushing in my equipment’s connectors by applying too much force. Stereovox blames this on the unregulated tolerances of inexpensive female RCAs. The HDXV’s male adapters have such tight tolerances that users could have a hard time sliding them on mass-produced female connections of inconsistent diameter. I found it much easier to install the cables if I installed the RCA adapters on my components, then affixed the BNC-terminated HDXV to the adapter. I had no problem hooking up the HDXV to the higher-quality RCA video outputs of my Esoteric DV-50, however.

What you see is what you get

Investing in the HDXV RGB cable requires the user to accept the shortcomings of poorly produced video material. Bottom line: Don't expect this cable to soften high-frequency artifacts or hide the seams of poorly produced visual effects. This cable revealed everything, including the noise produced by the less-than-perfect output stages of some DVD players.

The exquisitely produced computer animation from Pixar proved to be the perfect demo material for HDXV. The depth of field in the undersea home of Marlin and his son in the opening chapter of Finding Nemo was cavernous. Every marine plant and animal popped from the screen while inhabiting a discrete plane within each CGI frame. Elements stood out on the screen and had a quality that made them feel more realistic. At times, I felt as if I was experiencing a well-produced 3D film, only without the funny glasses.

The improved depth of field was further enhanced by extremely rich colors. The surplus of luminescent colors in Finding Nemo never misbehaved or bled. Edges around "objects" were consistent and showed none of the shimmer associated with noisy high frequencies. For example, the shades of color in the tendrils of the sea anemone (chapter 1) displayed a mesmerizing vibrancy as they moved with the gentle ocean current. Everything had an extremely clean appearance that enhanced the viewing experience and pushed the DVD’s progressive-scan images closer toward high definition.

The HDXV also excelled at detail. Extreme close-ups of the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Platinum Series Special Extended Edition) revealed the smallest imperfections. Pores, scars, even the sheen of sweat on skin, were more apparent. And the quality of rain, fog, and other atmospheric peculiarities felt more tangible -- a distinct chill ran down my back as Frodo, Sam, and Gollum made their way through the Dead Marshes. The HDXV made well-shot visuals more arresting, but also revealed some warts. Unlike The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers has some annoying differences between the brightness and color saturation of some scenes and some not-so-well-done visual effects. The HDXV cable made it even easier to pick out the poorly produced chroma key of Merry and Pippin as they took a ride on Treebeard.

The perfectly produced, albeit poorly written, Bad Boys 2 was an absolute treat for the eyes. The same punch apparent in Finding Nemo was even more pronounced in the blacks and sun-baked cinematography of this mile-a-minute cop movie. Small things, such as the flame reflecting off the skins of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the opening Ku Klux Klan sting operation, and the depth and reflectivity of the glass façade of police captain Howard’s office in chapter 8, were just two of the many instances that made me sit up and take notice.

Double the cost for double the performance?

The BetterCables Silver Serpent component-video cable has been my reference for quite some time. At $110, this cable has very few faults and has never failed to produce a great picture.

In terms of build quality, the Silver Serpent is a good example of a well-made, mass-produced cable. It sports good-quality, off-the-shelf RCA connectors and has a rock-solid bond between the cable and its RCA connector (BNCs are optional). It also uses a conductor design similar to the HDXV’s: solid-core copper coated with a silver skin. Where the Serpent differs is in the type of dielectric used and the means by which the connector is attached. The polyethylene dielectric used in the Serpent’s construction is thermally extruded, while the cable’s termination is both soldered and crimped. Nothing about the Silver Serpent’s construction indicates a cut-rate approach. But in terms of overall attention to detail and perceived quality, the HDXV is the equivalent of fine jewelry, and the included RCA adapters give it added flexibility for installation.

There was subjectively less of a difference when I compared the cables in terms of absolute performance. Although the Silver Serpent gave up detail, had a shallower depth of field, and lacked the ultimate punch of the HDXV, it was in no way shamed by the more-than-twice-as-expensive Stereovox. The Serpent’s strength was its ability to produce a clean, rich-looking picture that favored a warmer color temperature. Still, the subtle improvements apparent with the Stereovox made an enjoyable experience approach one that was genuinely mesmerizing. My son loves watching everything Pixar produces, but I think even he got tired of his father watching Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Monsters, Inc. I couldn’t get over how vibrant and pristine the images in these films were. Like a drug, the added snap to the colors and CGI elements visible through the HDXV made it hard for me to pull myself away.

Will your life be changed?

The differences the Stereovox HDXV RGB makes may be small, but the areas affected glued me to my chair. The differences were especially apparent with films that contained computer animation. But be warned -- the HDXV will also reveal the not-so-attractive sides of some DVDs. I was surprised to find that what I’d thought were soft images in some movies was actually my old cable softening high-frequency MPEG artifacts. The HDXV’s transparency just made any distortion and noise in my system much more apparent. An in-home audition with a fully burned-in sample is compulsory.

The Stereovox HDXV RGB is expensive, but provided your gear is up to snuff, it will make the video side of your home-theater system remarkably more lifelike.

Review System
Speakers - Canton Ergo 900 DC (mains), 300 DC (surrounds), CM 500 DC (center), AS 2 SC (subwoofer)
Preamplifier - McCormack MAP-1
Amplifier - Pass Laboratories X5
Sources - Esoteric DV-50 universal audio/video player
Cables - BetterCables, Analysis Plus
Monitor - Mitsubishi WT-46809 widescreen rear-projection monitor (with Duvetyne modification and full ISF calibration)
Power conditioners - Panamax, Shunyata Research
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Stereovox, Inc.
2710 Natoma Street
Coconut Grove, FL 33133
Phone/Fax: (305) 858-7777

E-mail: sales@stereovox.com
Website: www.stereovox.com

 


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