FLINKENICK'S SILVERFI IEM-R2 REVIEW ON THL

http://theheadphonelist.com/the-silverfi-iem-r2-cable/

BY FLINKENICK ON AUGUST 15, 2016

Introduction

SilverFi is a very special cable manufacturer, with a truly unique and beautiful sound. The tale of SilverFi starts with Sezai Saktanber, a cable manufacturer who like most others started out with a very different profession – in this case that of city planner, following a degree in architecture. But as often in this community, music was his one true passion and still very much is. Like many of us, he was on a continuous path in search of ‘audiophile nirvana’. Sezai is in it for the music, and no matter the workload or circumstance,

Over 40 years of experience and learning has paid off, for SilverFi has evolved to a truly unique cable manufacturer: while nearly all cable manufacturers will buy their wires in bulk from a processing factory, SilverFi builds their own wires from the ground up, as in, from raw material. An extremely time and cost consuming process, but it ensures total freedom in design and possibilities. Sezai emphasizes that despite his accumulated knowledge, he never sits still; or so to speak, his journey to nirvana has not ended. He endlessly experiments with gauge sizes and conductors. For instance, there are differences in diameters of conductors between models. Some of the conductors’ diameter is even variable within each sleeve, and is drawn up separately according to each model. The thickness of conductors can vary with millimeters and even one thousandth of a millimeter, all affecting the sound in different ways.The result is an iem cable line starting with the IEM2 model priced at $389, all the way up to the their recently developed flagship; the IEM-R4 costing a massive $1999. So yes, the R2 reviewed here is not even their highest model. But SilverFi isn’t limited to iems, offering a wide variety of headphone and speaker cables, as well as interconnects, coax cables and adapters. While their price maneuvers them to the higher end of the market, all products come with a 10-year warranty, and of course, have a touch of that special SilverFi magic.SilverFi IEM-R2
Alloy: Pure Silver
Conductors: 10 wires in a flat braid
Construction: Pure silver with cotton sleeving
MRSP: $1295

Build & Design

Each cable has variations that make it distinguishable in its own right, but the R2 is unlike anything within my collection. The cable consists of 10 thick conductors, woven together in a flat braid. Due to the flat braid, the cable is fairly grand in its size, dwarfing cables in its vicinity. Each conductor is individually shielded by a cream colored cotton, that has a beautiful silky look and feel to it. However, the special conductors and sleeving require an alternate type of connectors at the top end. The red and blue connectors have the appearance of a sort of memory wire, but serve to fasten the conductors. Similarly at the bottom end, the plug is a high quality Neutrik jack, but the special conductors require extra sealing with blue tape. The connectors and sealing are required due to the type of construction, but the colored tones and somewhat odd connectors give the cable a kind of DIY finish. On the other hand, it is ‘DIY’ by the hand of a master, which is again a comforting thought that makes it acceptable.My main gripe with the R2 is that due its build, the connectors, silky sleeving and flat braid, it doesn’t really invite you to take it out of the house, especially when you take its price into consideration. This is the type of cable that you keep in an elegant wooden box, and after taking it out for a listening session, gently whisper a soft ‘good night’ to before safely putting it back for storage. So while there’s no debate about the craftsmanship, build construction and overall quality, the cable isn’t the most practical for every day use.

R2_3


Sound impressions

Tonality
This isn’t a sound that you waste on modern pop or dance music. When you listen to the R2, you can feel you’re gently but decisively been steered towards the classics, the all-time greats. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy pop music designed to score with the simple-minded, but you can hear a voice whispering that kind of poorly designed music isn’t worth the class that the SilverFi IEM-R2 eludes. However, this isn’t due to the craftsmanship and price of the R2, or to the fact that I know that Sezai listens to the soulful music of the greats himself. It’s based on its tonality, which can be considered a slightly mid-centric version of neutral. But the word that will immediately come to mind is ‘natural’. But natural sound in this case is not synonymous for neutral; this is a romantic kind of natural, an enhanced, more beautiful version of realism.The R2’s presentation is fairly neutral, as notes are neither thick nor thin. There is slight inherent warmth, that essential ‘spring breeze’ kind of warmth that gives it a beautiful emotional touch, while at the same time refraining from being overly warm. The IEM2 for instance is a great deal warmer. Inherent in this case means that the midrange itself has a warmer tone, but the atmosphere itself is clean.The R2’s bass is soft yet impactful, due to a slight emphasis of mid- over sub-bass, though mostly very linear. While I wouldn’t describe it as hard-hitting, sub-bass driven bass, it has a slightly warm tone and beautiful texture. Most importantly, bass resolution is very high, with excellent definition of individual tones as well as segregation of multiple bass lines. The midrange is slightly forward, and impresses upon listening. It is only slightly warm, and adds some depth to vocals. The result is a very natural, beautiful and emotional recreation of vocals. Its treble is smooth, a gentle touch in the presentation. It is articulate, but never too prominent, playing an important role in defining the overall naturalness of the presentation. On the other hand it isn’t overly sparkly either, and the reason I don’t tend to use the cable for treble-oriented music as pop, hip hop or EDM. No, this is a cable for classic rock, soulful jazz, or powerful vocals.Technical performance
The R2 combines its beautiful tone with a highly capable performance; for starters, its separation is very good. The R2 has a clean stage, due to a combination of high resolution and clean atmosphere. Its tonality is slightly warm, but not in the form or warm air between the instruments due to the well-controlled mid-bass presentation. The IEM-R2 competes with my highest resolving cables, but combines excellent definition with a natural sound, rather than apparent clarity due to heightened treble. The tonality of the midrange is uncolored, but highly transparent. This means there isn’t any added form of artificial brightening to add clarity or an unnatural form of excitement. But the increasing lack of veil in combination with high definition, simply allows the beauty to shine through from the pureness of the music.

Matching

EarSonics S-EM9 10/10
The S-EM9 is a fantastic iem that always remains in my high rotation. With resolution, imaging and dynamics well above the TOTL average, it combines a highly technical performance with a somewhat dry midrange and slightly enhanced treble. Pairing the R2 adds a slight forwardness and warmth to the midrange, while softening its somewhat clinical treble. The result is a dynamic, smooth and natural sound. Outstanding for female vocals, and even more so for a little upbeat folk or classic rock. On the other hand, the smooth treble and natural sound misses a bit of sparkle for the genres I’m used to using the S-EM9 for: pop, fast rock or EDM. Still, taking all genres into consideration including jazz, classical, rock, and vocals besides pop and EDM, the S-EM9 sounds at its best.Empire Ears Zeus-XIV 9/10
The highly resolving and mid-centric Zeus pairs outstandingly well with the R2; two somewhat similar presentations that add on to what the other is building. Zeus does what it does best even better, sounding smooth, beautiful as well as technically proficient. Its instrument timbre is exceedingly natural, and vocals sound both powerful as well as emotional. The reason that Zeus does not achieve full score is that its strong mid-centric signature remains unaltered; not a bad thing of course, but versatility remains Zeus-XIV’s weakness. Combining the Golden with Zeus for instance adds a bit of brightness, making its tonality overall more neutral and versatile. The downside of that pairing is the midrange does not achieve the smoothness of the IEM-R2 combination, and while the signature gains in excitement, the colored tonality in turn is less natural.Lime Ears Aether 9,5/10
The Aether has a natural, slightly warm and very airy sound. I once described it as the ciem equivalent of the SilverFi sound, though ironically the Aether has a lower MRSP than the R2. The combination is simply beautiful; the Aether’s midrange has a natural tone, but much like the S-EM9, isn’t overly dense. The R2 adds a bit of thickness, while retaining that smooth and natural sound. The midrange gains from the outstanding resolution, while the treble remains fairly similar in its presentation and balance with the midrange, though sounding slightly more articulate. Overall, no drastic changes in signature due to their similarities, but the Aether sounds simply wonderful.Rhapsodio Solar 9,5/10
The Solar pairing excellently with the R2 came as a surprise. Usually the Solar fairs best with a brighter/leaner cable to harness its powerful mid-bass, clean the mid-bass air up somewhat, and increase its midrange resolution; reasons why the Solar paired so well with the Wagnus Frosty Sheep. I suspected the Solar might be too warm to pair well with the R2. The pairing however was superb, demonstrating the R2 equally pairs well with warm/smooth ciems. The Solar’s stage is cleaned up noticeably, sounding airier with a more effortless separation; midrange resolution most definitely gets the required boost. The combination of warmer signatures didn’t prove an issue, and the Solar, much like the others, glowed with the R2’s beautifully natural tone.ComparisonsSilverFi IEM-R2 vs. Rhapsodio Golden ($700)At almost twice the price, this comparison might seem more unfair than it actually is. There is a difference in performance according to price, but both cables are so different, they offer their unique flavor. As such they each have their own place and purpose within a collection, and are among my absolute favorites.The Golden has a slightly warmer bass response, though not being overly enhanced in quantity by comparison. The IEM-R2 ‘s mid-bass however is more controlled, resulting in less warm air and accordingly a cleaner and airier stage. The Golden has a forward midrange, and creates slightly thicker notes, though the difference is not great. The main difference is between their midrange tone; the Golden’s is brighter. This comes at the cost of naturalness, but adds a bit of liveliness to the presentation, even though it is artificial. Here is where the two cables come to different means of conveying detail; the Golden has more apparent clarity due to the brighter tone, while the IEM-R2 has the superior resolution. Instruments are not only better defined, the R2 has an advantage in separation due to the higher resolution and airier stage. Both share articulate treble, but the Golden’s is slightly more prominent compared to the smoother treble of the IEM-R2. The Golden versus IEM-R2: pop culture versus audiophile refinement.SilverFi IEM-R2 vs. Labkable Samurai III ($875)
LabKable’s new Samurai consists of an exotic mix of silver, gold and platinum. The Samurai has a very balanced signature, and sparkles and shines based on great resolution and transparency rather than a brighter treble response. The R2’s midrange is slightly more forward and warmer, sounding more emotional and pleasing than the Samurai. The Samurai’s however is crystal clear, and gets a sense of purity due to a lack of coloration; it can neither be classified as warm or cold.The Same holds for its treble, which conveys detail without sounding harsh. The balance between treble, bass and midrange is overall very good, and the Samurai really just lets the signature of the ciem shine through with great transparency. While the R2 is equally transparent and resolving, it adds its owns touch to a signature. When you’re listening to the R2 combined to a ciem, you’re actively enjoying the influence of both components. The Samurai on the other hand just tries to let the ciem be its best, without getting involved.SilverFi IEM-R2 vs. Rhapsodio Wizard OCC Copper 8-braid ($1000)
The Rhapsodio Wizard combines high resolution with clarity to bring out the highest level of detail, definition and separation. Its mid-bass is enhanced and gives the signature an overall warm tone, with more warm air than the IEM-R2. But R2 creates thicker notes; the Wizard has its emphasis on the upper midrange, rather than the lower and center midrange of the IEM-R2.The Wizard’s treble is articulate, clearly defined and highly detailed, but gives a slight coloration to the upper midrange, making it brighter. The IEM-R2 has a smoother treble response, resulting in a more tonally accurate and uncolored midrange. So while the Wizard sounds warmer due to its mid-bass presentation, the IEM-R2’s midrange is fuller, inherently warmer and more natural, compared to the leaner and brighter midrange of the Wizard. This results in a more natural sound for the IEM-R2, compared to a more detailed and articulated sound of the Wizard.SilverFi IEM-R2 vs. Wagnus Frosty Sheep ($1000)
Both the Frosty Sheep and IEM-R2 are exceptionally high performing cables. Overall, the Wagnus’ focus is on definition and accuracy; it has a slight edge in midrange resolution. The IEM-R2 in turn has greater transparency, giving it overall a more realistic and natural tone. While both have a clean stage and truly excel in separation, the Wagnus has a slight advantage over IEM-R2 in imaging, feeling more pinpoint precise in the exact spatial localization. But again, differences are very close.While both have a very neutral and uncolored midrange, the SilverFi has warmer and more forward lower frequencies. Its mid-bass has slightly more impact with better resolution, and its midrange is more forward and inherently warmer, although both have a clean atmosphere. Accordingly, the IEM-R2 creates slightly thicker notes, while vocals have more depth. Not to say the IEM-R2 is a thick sounding cable, it remains very close to neutral. Both cables have smooth treble, with the IEM-R2’s being slightly smoother, and the focus of the Wagnus’ treble being on precision. Overall, the IEM-R2’s signature can be considered slightly midcentric, but most of all, incredibly natural. The Frosty Sheep has a relatively more neutral signature, feeling a bit more accurate, but less emotional.

Concluding thoughts

With its silky flat braid and red and blue finish, the IEM-R2 both looks and sounds like nothing else I’ve come across. Priced at $1295, the IEM-R2’s MRSP is exorbitant by anybody’s standard, even the most hardcore cable enthusiast as myself. Priced at yet another level higher than already expensive $1000 cables, this is also reflected in the quality of its sound. It only took a few seconds to realize I was hearing something really special.Unfortunately, there are some cable manufacturers that don’t deliver the quality they promise by their marketing credos, but there are also a lot of good ones. There are even a few that stand out from the rest, but there’s none like SilverFi. SilverFi cables deliver a sound that is special, combining a truly natural sound with high performance.While this might be expected from its price, its smooth, natural and romantic tonality is somewhat unique and consistent over the SilverFi line up. I first came across SilverFi through my close friend and fellow reviewer, who lent me his IEM2 cable (the first in line, priced at $389). While it isn’t as highly resolving or transparent as the R2, it was the first time I heard a sound that was so beautifully natural, and nothing I had come across in all the silver, copper or mixed alloy cables I had owned before. This was a sound I had to own for myself, and naturally, we always want the best. So I contacted Sezai, and we eventually settled at the IEM-R2, as the R4 was still under development and admittedly, not quite within my personal budget. But who knows, there’s always room for improvement, or as Sezai would say – this journey to audiophile nirvana ends.