At times, I get so frustrated with the mind-numbing intransigence of certain people that all I can do is look to the sky and yell “Piano!” By screaming this, I hope that God will drop a piano from the Heavens onto the heads of those I disagree with. Lately it’s been cable sceptics. Cable deniers stubbornly argue that cables cannot possibly affect any difference in the sound quality of stereo systems. Sadly, these fools consistently fail to do one simple thing: sit down and listen to different cables with an open mind.
More French Canadian than Guy Lafleur wearing a replica 1923-era Montréal Canadiens prison-break hockey jersey while piloting a zamboni through a Tim Hortons drive-thru and ordering a triple-triple, Quebec-based BIS Audio has been manufacturing audiophile cables since 1993. Instead of only measuring wires, BIS prefers to judge the sound quality of their cables by listening to them. Imagine that… a cable company that actually listens to their own cables.
When NOVO asked if I’d review a pair of BIS Audio’s flagship Vivat balanced XLR interconnects, I was more excited than Fluffy Trudeau when he recently awarded a $478 million dollar Montréal bridge reconstruction project to SNC-Lavalin.
BIS’ balanced XLR Vivat interconnects (MSRP $990 CAD / $750 USD) use high quality high-density stranded copper (Cu) conductors. Every single copper strand is silver plated, and then twisted in a proprietary manner. To complete the process, another coat of silver is applied and covered by Teflon insulation.
The conductors are terminated with Neutrik® multi-point XLR plugs. All terminations are soldered by hand. BIS washes every solder joint clean of any residual solder flux. The shielding is grounded to diffuse radio frequency interference (RFI) and electro-magnetic interference (EMI).
BIS recommends burning in the Vivat interconnects for at least 300 hours, but even after 48 hours you will notice a difference. As I have zero sympathy for interconnects that fall apart when a butterfly lands on them and flaps its wings, I’m happy to report that the fit and finish of my review pair of Vivat XLRs was flawless. So… what do the Vivat XLRs sound like?
The sound quality (or lack thereof) of interconnects is based upon several things: 1), the quality and type of the metals used as conductors; 2), the di-electric materials and shielding used to insulate the conductors; 3), the quality of the connecting plugs; and 4), the consistency of the assembly and termination work.
I first compared BIS’ Vivat XLRs to a pair of 39¢ Chinese no-name balanced ICs. With the cheap interconnects, the soundstage of my $150K CAD level main 2-channel tube rig collapsed faster than a poorly made soufflé. The imaging and walk through 3-dimensional layering of well-recorded jazz pieces suffered a stroke and fell on its face like Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US Presidential election.
With the 39¢ Chinese XLRs, PRaT was more out of step than a wildly intoxicated Nick Nolte gettin’ jiggy with it at an urban and hip hop dance studio. Transients slowed to a miserable crawl like downtown Montréal traffic on Hwy #20 during rush hour. The attack, sustain, and decay of cymbal strikes, violin arpeggios, and high frequency instruments blurred into an unrecognizable sonic mess. The bloom and 3-dimensionality of midrange vocals cratered to one dimension as if an elephant had stepped on the holographic soundstage and squashed it like a bag of rotting turnips.
Switching the disposable Chinese cables out for BIS’ Vivat XLR ICs, the soul moving sound that I’m used to hearing returned immediately. Like jolting my stereo with defibrillator paddles cranked up to 80,000 volts, the Vivats shocked the entire system and brought the reference calibre transparency, startling dynamics, and 3-dimensional holographic soundstaging back to life. Jumping Jesus on a Kawasaki… the goose bump inducing sound was once again right *there* for all to hear.
In terms of precision and detail versus warmth and body, the Vivat XLRs are a neutral pair of interconnects. They batted right down the middle and didn’t dramatically change the innate sound of my system. Rather, BIS’ Vivats increased the resolution and let the music “flow” better.
Realism from recorded music is an odd thing. When you hear it, there’s a spine-chilling immediacy and an innate recognition that’s undeniable. If a stereo system allows a listener to suspend his or her disbelief and sink into the music on an emotional level, that’s when the gear and cables are getting it right.
I compared BIS’ $990 CAD / $750 USD Vivat XLRs to the following pairs of balanced ICs: a), Cardas’ Clear V2 (MSRP $1,600 USD); b), Siltech’s 35th Anniversary Crown Princess (MSRP $4,000 USD); c), Ansuz Acoustics’ Signalz Ceramic (MSRP $5,900 USD); and d), Stealth’s Sakra V16 (MSRP $18,000 USD).
Cardas’ Clear V2 XLR ICs sounded congested, sluggish, and far less musical. Although the V2s were slightly warmer than the Vivats, this warmth came with the rather heavy cost of losing substantial amounts of the air and space between instruments. The Vivat XLRs also had noticeably better PRaT, deeper resolution, and a more cohesive sound than the Clear V2s.
Siltech’s $4K USD 35th Anniversary Crown Princess XLRs had deeper resolution, more detail, and similar dynamics to the Vivat ICs. Ansuz Acoustics’ Signalz Ceramic $6K USD XLRs had greater transparency, superior dynamics, and better timbral accuracy. The sound quality of the Vivat ICs was, however, a lot closer to Ansuz’ Signalz Ceramic ICs than I expected them to be.
Stealth’s $18,000 USD Sakra V16 was in a class all by itself. At less than 1/20th the retail cost, BIS’ Vivats offered some of the Sakra’s state-of-the-art sonic coherency, PRaT, and musicality. Up to the $2,000 CAD retail price point, I currently know of no balanced ICs that cleanly beat the sound quality of the Vivat XLRs.
Released in 1988, Melissa Etheridge’s first self-titled album has superb sonics. Featuring the toe-tapping tracks “Similar Features”, “Chrome Plated Heart”, “Like the Way I Do”, and “Bring Me Some Water”, every rager on this record is a visceral outlet for Etheridge’s broken-hearted vocal gymnastics.
BIS’ Vivat XLRs let me hear with a profound intimacy how effective Kevin McCormack’s slap, pop, and slide bass guitar lines are as the rhythmic foundation to these songs. The way in which Etheridge’s simple but spiritually stirring acoustic guitar chords are mixed with the percussive accents, evocative rhythms, and her effusive and emotionally explosive vocals was a pleasure to sink into.
On the track “Occasionally”, a single hand-struck drum backs Etheridge’s voice. With BIS’ Vivat XLRs, I could clearly hear her breathing and the fascinating way in which the drum strikes are sonically layered in and around her vocals and smouldering breaths.
No balanced ICs anywhere near the Vivat’s price range have ever peeled back so many layers of the sonic onion while still presenting me with such an emotionally moving musical experience. Strip me naked, slather me in 72% dark cocoa chocolate sauce, and throw me into a swirling pit of hungry lesbians at a Melissa Etheridge concert, because THIS is how her songs are supposed to sound.
Recorded in 1981, Saxon’s The Eagle Has Landed still ranks in my top-5 live albums of all time. Showcasing the anthemic songs “Motorcycle Man”, “Princess of the Night”, “Heavy Metal Thunder”, “20,000 Feet”, and “Wheels of Steel”, for fans of early 1980’s NWoBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) music, this is a *Must Own* record.
Other than Motörhead, no NWoBHM band so consistently played with such a swaggering confidence and musical cohesion as Saxon did. In the mid-1980s, I listened to Landed on damn near a daily basis. Hearing this album with BIS’ Vivat XLRs took me right back to that time in my life. From an emotional standpoint, it knocked me to the moon to have so many memories of those days come flooding back to me.
If you believe that audio cables can’t possibly improve the sound quality of a stereo system, you should sit down and listen—just… listen—to BIS Audio’s Vivat balanced XLR interconnects. Otherwise, I’d recommend that you wear a hardhat and spinal column protection 24/7 just in case a piano falls out of the sky and lands squarely on your stubborn head.
BIS Audio claims that their cables offer: “Twice the sound for half the money.” While this may read like little more than marketing hype, it’s a very accurate statement. BIS’ Vivat XLRs deliver a sound quality that’s WAY above their asking price.
BIS Audio Vivat Balanced XLR Interconnect Cable: $990 CAD / $750 USD