SALON AV: S.A.Lab Red Arrow Interconnect Cables

October 28, 2022
Article on the reviewer's resource

Russia's Sound Analysis Laboratory (S.A.Lab company) never ceases to amaze us with its products — it recently released the RCA and XLR cables, each conductor of which consists of 10,000 of the thinnest — that is, thousand times thinner than a human hair — insulated cores of monocrystalline copper.

Well, it's time to listen in different systems, compare, and share our impressions.



The Russian company S.A.Lab started producing its own cables four years ago, and before that it concentrated its efforts mainly on the development of amplifiers, using its proprietary circuitry and the widest range of active elements. Among them are silicon and germanium transistors, as well as lamps — both traditional glass lamps and cerametallic. And in any case, when designing, priority was given not so much to objective characteristics as to the nature of the sound, which was honed during numerous auditions of the prototypes. Alexey Syomin, S.A.Lab's head and chief designer, pays much attention to input and output interfaces in preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers, transformers are used to organize not only balanced, but also conventional RCA outputs. This ensures low output impedance and, as a result, better matching with long connecting lines. Behind the prospects of a further development of this theme, lies the idea of creating proprietary interconnecting cables that allow to fully unlock the potential of any [audio] sources and amplifiers.

A Bet on Speed

Cables code-named Red Arrow were developed by Alexey quite recently and, like the vast majority of S.A.Lab products, were the products of multiple rigorous experiments. The choice of material for conductors was perhaps the most difficult: silver delivered good speed, but shifted the tonal balance upwards. Copper had no problems with balance, but it turned out to be too slow for transmission and microcontrasts. However, a solution was found.

«At audio frequencies, the skin effect, in theory, should not appear, but it was the Litz wire that gave the very speed that was achieved when creating the Red Arrow.»

In Red Arrow cables, each conductor consists of 10,000 cores of pure monocrystalline copper with a cross section of 0.006 mm, each of which is gold plated and varnished. This is a classic litz wire, or litz, as it is also called, is widely used in radio engineering for winding high frequency coils. The large total surface of thin conductors provides the maximum skin effect — as you know, most of the RF energy is distributed precisely over the surface of the conductor, and not over its "body". At sound frequencies, the skin effect, in theory, should not appear, but it was the Litz wire that gave the very speed that was achieved when creating the Red Arrow. In addition, this geometry provides an optimal combination of linear capacitance and inductance, as well as a lower active resistance of the cable.
Each stranded conductor is insulated with a silk braid and damped with an organosilicon polymer. All this is placed in a fiberglass tube, from which air is pumped out, after which it is filled with argon. Then there is a screen made of dense copper braid, and it is grounded only on one side, so the cables have a specific direction. It is indicated on the connectors, but experience shows that the proper switching must be selected by ear for each specific case. Sometimes turning on "against the grain" produces the best results.

«Cables are very soft, literally relaxed, which is nice as tense structures are contraindicated for sound.»

The outer shell is flexible red. The cables are very soft, literally relaxed, which is nice, as tense structures are contraindicated for sound.

The connectors are custom made by the Canadian company Zafino, a reputable manufacturer of cable products and accessories.

Prices for one and a half meter pairs of Red Arrow are as follows: RCA version — 65,000 rubles, XLR — 80,000 rubles. The kit includes tricky devices that are put on the cables and suppress the RF interference induced on them (they are not included in our photos).

Expansion of Consciousness

The cable tests were carried out in three stages.

Stage one: TASCAM BR20 reel to reel tape recorder, CR Developments Calypso tube integrated circuit (converted to balanced inputs), Dynaudio Contour 1.3 monitors. Comparable cables: Studio XLR 2m, Cardas Cross, AudioQuest Emerald RCA, Physics Style Everest XLR.

Compared to copper interconnects (the first three in the list), Red Arrow delivered noticeably higher resolution, not only in the upper and middle ranges, but also in the lower ones. Sound images became more prominent, the sound as a whole became denser. The top is a bit clearer with the Cardas Cross, but these cables have been in my system for over 10 years, and the Red Arrows have only warmed up for a few hours. And yet, in all cases, the latter won in terms of the scale of the sound picture and its filling.

«Takeaways: Red Arrow delivered a noticeably higher resolution, not only in the upper and middle ranges, but also in the lower ones.»

With Physics Style Everest, the picture is somewhat different. In these interconnects, the conductor is a sandwich of thin silver and 7N copper ribbons with cryogenic treatment. The contrast with these cables has noticeably increased, subjectively there are more high frequencies, but a slight "digital" touch has appeared in the sound of the analog system. Red Arrow played softer, calmer, but did not lag behind in speed. And again — a feeling of expanding space. When playing studio soundtracks, the balance between micro- and macrodynamics was perfectly observed, while Physics Style clearly emphasized super detail.

The second system in which we listened to the cables was extremely High End: a V.Y.G.E.R Atlantis IV SE turntable, an EMTJSD Novel Gold head, an EMT 128 phono stage, a DarTZeel 8350 Mk 2 integrated amplifier, and PBN Montana MR777 acoustics. Cable strapping were Siltech Signature interconnects and acoustic Shinpy SST.
When replacing the phono cable with Red Arrow RCA, a light veil appeared in the upper range and the sound space in the room expanded slightly, quite a bit. We had already decided that there was no point in competing with expensive silver, but nevertheless we replaced it with Red Arrow and a balanced interconnect that goes from the corrector to the amplifier. And this gave a very interesting effect: the veil ceased to be noticeable, and the sound stage moved apart so much that I even had to sit away from the speakers. Compared to silver, the resolution has decreased slightly, but there is more plasticity in the music, melodiousness, if you like. And again, I take note of the high speed — the attack of the strings and percussion was transmitted extremely clearly, and the timbres became, as it were, warmer and definitely richer. I wonder what would have happened if we had replaced acoustic Shinpy with litz from S.A. Lab? The principle that "the whole system must be connected by cables of the same brand" sometimes gives stunning results.

And again, I take note of the high speed — the attack of strings and drums was transmitted extremely clearly, and the timbres became, as it were, warmer and definitely richer.»

Now it's time to check out Red Arrow with a digital source. In a system with inexpensive Chinese components, they showed themselves in all their glory. They expanded the sound across the entire width and, most importantly, introduced analog plasticity and fusion into it. The system really began to sing, even some grace and refinement appeared in its character.

As our experiments proved once again, there are no universal cables, each is good in its place. The advantage of S.A. Lab Red Arrow is that they really work, and their effect on the sound is noticeable even to random people with the most conventional hearing. And utilizing them to enhance any particular system is a task that is so effortless.

S.A.Lab (Russia)