Vermouth Audio Black Pearl MkII and Rhapsody interlinks
Review samples provided by Vermouth Audio
Black Pearl MkII 1 meter – $450 (additional 0.25m – $70) (+ tax)
Rhapsody 1 meter – $270 (additional 0.25m – $26) (+ tax)
Having used the Vermouth Reference cinch and XLR cables on many occasions over a period of 1,5 years, I think I have a very good handle on their performance. As the name implies, the Reference series is the best that Vermouth makes, and as such, they are the leaders in the interlink category. Positioned underneath the Reference range are four more interlink models of which some are available in both cinch and XLR- and some only in a cinch configuration.
Positioned right underneath the Reference is the Black Pearl MkII which is one of the subjects of this review. This cable is available only with cinch connectors. Positioned under the Black Pearl MkII is the Red Velvet MkIII and under that is the Rhapsody which is the other subject of this review. With only the Serenade positioned below it, the Rhapsody is affordably priced but, as with all Vermouth cables, the build quality is top-notch. You won’t be able to guess its price point based on looks alone.
For this review, I will use the Aqua Formula xHD DAC with V2 output board, the Audio-GD Master 1 preamplifier with the CH Precision A1.5 power amplifier and the Martin Logan ESL15A loudspeakers with Jorma Trinity speaker cables. Alternatively, I will also be using the CH Precision C1 DAC and the Magico S1 MkII speakers.
Both Vermouth cables were used continuously for a couple of days prior to making my assessments.
Black Pearl MkII
Aside from the mentioning of using “the perfect blend of solid core and multi-size OCC conductor wrapped in high-quality Teflon insulation”, there is no technical information on the Vermouth website pertaining to the Black Pearl interlink. But what’s easy to see is that the same excellent Rhodium-plated connectors were used as for the Reference interlinks. The cable feels more supple than the Reference cable when handling it while being similarly heavy. Its construction is flawless, even inside the connectors.
As can be read in my earlier review, the Vermouth Reference cinch cable has a controlled and articulate sound with very good solidity and an attractive amount of body and tonal fulness. The balance is very well-made and comes across as quite transparent but not dry and certainly not thin.
Moving from the Reference cinch to the Black Pearl MkII makes for a sweeter and more relaxed, more free-flowing and remarkably liquid sound with a perfectly-dosed amount of creaminess. While less tight and articulate than the Reference, the Black Pearl MkII maintains the full-bodied Vermouth house sound.
Especially for vocals and with soul music, this cable works very well, adding a lot of richness and emotive power. For more percussive music such as R&B or rock, however, I find it to be less ideal due to its less articulate bass and slightly rounded transients. Contrary to what might be expected, in spite of its smooth balance, the Black Pearl MkII is quite revealing. It has an inherently high resolution but it always remains gentlemanly about it. The treble is airy and highly refined and the entire presentation just oozes sophistication. You will hear it all but nothing is ever exaggerated or in your face.
The Rhapsody is positioned right below the Red Velvet MkIII. Made of Multisize OCC copper conductor in a Mylar wrapped protection with Airtube spacers, the Rhapsody differs from the Red Velvet only in the use of a braided OFC shield rather than a fully OCC copper shield. The connectors use direct gold plated Tellurium copper conductors with a black anodized aluminum Shell. Truly nothing about this cable gives away its friendly list price.
Moving from the Reference XLR to the Rhapsody, the latter sounds less expansive, less voluptuous, and less rich. It’s comparatively less magical, not possessing of the Reference cable’s “fascination-factor” nor its deep 3D imaging. However, the focus is still very good and the midrange even seems slightly more cleanly cut than with the Reference model. The articulation, most noticeable in the bass, is also slightly better. Another way of putting these differences is that it’s a fuller and rounder and more expansive sound versus a tighter and leaner and more contained sound. While it may appear more “normal”, the Rhapsody has lots of strong suits, all in equal measure. The humble cable just doesn’t brag about it.
The beauty of all the Vermouth cables is that the sound never becomes threadbare, cool or dry. Even the Rhapsody, which is only the second cable up from the entry-level Serenade, has a timbrally full sound as well as good texture.
The Rhapsody’s bass may be less voluptuous than that of the Reference cable but I would not label the cable as lean in an absolute sense. Rather, it is really quite neutral and even-handed. It’s when comparing to a cable in a very different price category that you can easily make out the differences but when judged on its own, there’s precious little to criticize. So, what is there to criticize? Well, I’d say that the main area in which the cable could do better is expression. It is a little easy-going and for my taste could do with some more energy and enthusiasm.
All the Vermouth interlink cables tend to be on the sophisticated side, they simply never sound hard, let alone aggressive. With the more expensive cables in the Vermouth range, the sophistication is accompanied by extraordinary fullness, richness or expansive soundstaging, and with the Rhapsody not being exemplary in these fields, this aspect is more exposed. But that said, the Rhapsody’s sins really are only of omission, it has none of commission. In other words, it does not put a foot wrong. You can certainly do better but only at an increased cost.
The FoilFlex XLR and cinch cables sound more open and with a slight emphasis toward the upper treble and no added body, they are airier and more transparent but they’re also leaner from the midrange down. In many ways, the FoilFlex cables are the polar opposite of the Vermouth cables and, because of that, the results work out differently depending on the system in which they are used.
With the Martin Logans and the full CH system, the FoilFlex cables’ leanness is not an issue, and the sound balances out really well. These cables remain exemplary in terms of resolution and transparency but they sure don’t charm like the Vermouths. When the C1 DAC is replaced with the considerably leaner-sounding Aqua Formula xHD, the balance starts to shift, and especially when the Logans are also exchanged for the Magicos, the Vermouth cables, in general, simply work better. As such, it remains a relative matter.
My reference in terms of precision and neutrality is the CH Precision Balanced Link XLR cable. This cable has the transparency and precision of the FoilFlex cables combined with excellent bass authority and tonal fullness. Of course, as references usually go, this cable comes with a steep price. The Vermouth Reference cables have a similar amount of authority and control, yet with a timbrally richer and fuller sound. While it can be argued that utter neutrality is the ultimate goal, the reality is that every system is different and has different requirements. Unless you want the truth and nothing but the truth, the more organic approach of the Vermouths may be more agreeable. They certainly are more organic and charming than either the FoilFlex or CH Precision cables.
Talking about charm: the Black Pearl MkII absolutely charms your pants off! Compared to FoilFlex, it’s less articulate and incisive, but after the swap, all of a sudden the music seems to be released from the vices and flowing freely, right out of the speakers, over the floor and into your lap.
The beauty of all the Vermouth cables is that the sound never becomes threadbare, cool or dry. Even the Rhapsody, which is only the second cable up from the entry-level Serenade, has a timbrally full presentation with well laid-out textures. The Black Pearl MkII adds to this with a more sophisticated sound, more refinement, and lots of charm. Combining resolution and sophistication with liquidity and organic sweetness in equal measure, the Black Pearl MkII is the absolute antithesis of dry and sterile.
Manufacturer: Vermouth Audio