USB cables seem to be so easy to bash if one thinks of all 0’s and 1’s as a purely digital thing. According to many enthusiasts and regardless of what naysayers might think or say, such items do impact the sound very clearly at times. And once in a while a product emerges with a statement so blunt in this regard that it’s very difficult to not trust your own ears. StavEssence Apricity and Eunoia are this review’s two main courses. Enjoy.
Let’s kick this review off with a short story. A good while ago I worked for one of the biggest IT sites in Poland. People there were and presumably still are very tech savvy and their point of view has always been based on hard evidence, benchmarks and other measurable things. As a music enthusiast, I always trusted my own ears above all else. After getting myself familiarized with hundreds of various products over years, my own palette was developed and this was and still is my daily tool to do the audio job. To have such experience is to know whether a pair of headphones, a DAC or a set of speakers sounds sharp, agile, thin, airy and lit up or thick, stuffy, syrupy and dark. Reference setup nearby also helps. In any case, past years of friendly yet constant friction my IT co-workers had enough of the whole ‘audiophile bs’ I was on about. They simply couldn’t get it and asked for something other than just words. Needless to say, I happily obliged to prepare a test truly worth their while.
At some point, three Harmonix X-DC2F power cords were sent to me and then matched with Trilogy 992 + 908 combo I had back then. The grand master plan was very simple. These Japanese power cords were swapped with regular computer equivalents of the same length. Obvious, yes? Not for three individuals who willingly decided to go inside my audio cellar. One by one they took several short auditions, got outside (in the meantime all three power cords were changed), then got back and the whole procedure was repeated several times for each person. The key element of this exercise was that they had no clue what products were the case, how many and in what order.
After several hours of listening and feedback, I asked each person about what, according to him, had happened. All three individuals were convinced that they had compared lossy vs lossless formats. When I explained what really was on, they were very surprised and in denial at first. Especially because each of them actually heard that the outcome differed from one recording playback to another. Neither of IT related and benchmark heavy participants was ballsy enough to question the whole thing. In short, cables beat ’em and they quite enjoyed the brawl. But the takeaway here is this: they finally understood that the best and most informative way at times is to actually sit, have a proper listen, an audible outcome will reveal itself sooner or later and is all that’s really needed. I’m far from saying that this experience changed their lives, but they’ve learned about ‘my way’ and a thing or two about audio in general. The same ‘ol story about miles of crappy wire before wall sockets in our houses? I haven’t heard about this ever since, not a word. The complete story in Polish is to be found here.My point is that people oftentimes criticize things they are somewhat aware of yet never had a chance to experience for themselves. It’s very easy to badmouth someone’s work without – at least to a degree – being familiar with it. Too easy in fact, www takes it all with no mercy or filter and the word is spread. Hence I’m not going to convince anyone that USB cables can be very potent audio tweaks. If that’s not your game in general, please feel free to move on. Yet if you actually experienced how beneficial products of this sort might be, by all means read on. And while doing so rest assured that time spent on digesting writing below won’t be wasted. If you play the USB game, on the contrary in fact. Simply because of what the funder of Polish StavEssence manufacture – Karol Staworko – was somehow able to pull off.
Karol Staworko is the man behind the quite new StavEssence operation. This is a family business, Mr Staworko does R&D and assembly whereas his wife helps him with braiding. More people aren’t needed in fact. He’s also an engineer by trade, he has been working in Siemens for two decades, for some time as a department director. He has access to various costly equipment which would help him in his work, yet as a practitioner he leaves numbers to others. Needless to say, all StavEssence products are designed in the good ‘ol trial&error fashion, tuned by several pairs of ears and not heartless machines. Sounds weird? Like an audiophile fairy tale? That, dear readers, was my very first impression of the man. Karol delivered his goods to my place in person. He seemed back then to be a very passionate guy and surely certain of his products, yet exceptionally enthusiastic at the same time, slightly off the rails even. This wasn’t a business meeting for him but yet another opportunity to witness what his work is capable of in an unknown environment. Mine. A hobbyist visited me and not a marketing/sales person, which already tells you something about our man. Long story’s short, curiosity prevailed and – shortly past the initial audition – the conclusion was that Mr Staworko is onto something very big and very respectful. It took me mere minutes to understand that and yes, it’s about USB cables still. Go figure.
The StavEssence portfolio is very short, straightforward and it clearly indicates that the digital domain is Karol’s main playground. Two USB cables and the same number of Ethernet products are all there is, at least for now. All goods are in-house made by hands and there’s not much room as far as their customization goes. According to the man himself, the reason behind this is simple and not manufacturing cost related at all. It’s about sound quality. For instance, I was told that something magic happens when a cable is one meter long. Any shorter/longer than this will work obviously, but sound wise something’s not there anymore. Karol also informed me that over the years he gained knowledge about individual semi-components’ impact on the outcome and the same story is with wire gauge, its geometry, twist ratios etc. He mixed’n’matched all this for years, ended up with dozens of various prototypes and reduced this number to be left with just two superior yet completely different products sound wise. That’s how this review’s heroes – Eunoia and Apricity – were born. Karol’s findings were then implemented in network cables and Eloquence and Lagoon models are the outcome.
Karol wants to make things simple and easygoing for his customers. Each product he makes cost €2’500. But as far as build quality goes, these are second to none. The luxury is there right from the get-go. The very first sight past opening the package was a rather thick foam with two openings. One bottle of hardwax oil and a ‘thank you’ letter sat in these. Somewhat underneath there was a box and a fine one it was. In the past I’ve seen some fancy ones, but what Mr Staworko uses is really nice. It was designed to be exploited as i.e. a jewelry/watches storage unit and along with two removable spacers inside it’ll fit this purpose more than well. This enclosure is sturdy, of quality and details like these leave one with an impression that someone pays a lot of attention to details.
Visuals wise, the only difference between Eunoia and Aprocity is in colour scheme visible on cotton braiding; fuchsia lines are to be found in the latter whereas orange bits are seen in the former. Karol’s wife is responsible for braiding and this task she fulfils manually, no machine is involved. The outcome is great, kudos. Moving on, USB connectors on both ends are gold plated and standard, this goes rather without saying. But their housings are wooden and handmade. Bubinga is the material and it screams quality. Yes, it’s seen that a human being trimmed and polished wooden blocks, but I’d say that this job’s done very nicely and the same story is with machined company logo visible on each plug. Mr Staworko is a fan of natural materials. Wood and cotton we’ve already covered and now let’s also add seasoned copper, mild amount of gold and bees wax to the mix. As Karol describes at his site, his cables are decidedly thicker, more rigid and less flexible than those available on the market. It’s advised to check dimensions, available space, and the location of necessary ports before ordering anything made by StavEseense.
As far as usability goes, it might seem that to use StavEssence products is troublesome to say the least, that’s the initial impression. First of all, both Eunoia and Apricity are very light, hence no USB port will be damaged in the process, that I’m sure of. Secondly, these products are flexible, though once bent will remain in a given shape until aligned in a different way. And thirdly, in general it’s good to have some extra space near electronics with Mr Staworko’s goods, it really helps. And lastly, each product’s USB type B plug is loaded with a short cable ended with a small crocodile clip. It’s meant to ground it to earth and the best way to do this is via a device’s enclosure. As far as user experience goes, both StavEssence cables worked with a number of d/a converters with no issues. LampizatOr Golden Gate, AMR DP-777, Xonar Essence III and iFi Audio iDSD Black Label were perfectly operable with no hiccups. What didn’t work were two devices; Hydra-X+ S/PDIF converter by Audiobyte and iFi Audio’s iGalvanic3.0 isolator. Neither of the aforementioned DACs were seen by OS. Karol told me that his products oftentimes don’t like such additions along the road for some reason. It is what it is. To summarize this chapter, I’d say that his cables are gorgeously made and packed. As he puts it, he makes products he’d buy for himself and that’s seen easily. Yes, not very generous as far as their usability goes, but manageable still.
In order to review Eunoia and Apricity USB cables, Swiss Boenicke Audio W8 and PureAudioProject Trio10 Voxativ floorstanders were used. Trilogy 925 integrated and 903 + 993 combo by the same manufacturer were on duty as well. As per usual, LampizatOr Golden Gate (Psvane WE-101D + KR Audio 5U4G Ltd. Ed.) handled the d/a conversion task, whereas Asus UX305LA was responsible for files storage and OS control. The USB cables used were a DIY leash made by yours truly and one generic €1 cable. Here’s the story.
StavEssence Eunoia came in as first one. With Trilogy 925, my Boenicke W8 reference would benefit from additional agility as – among other things – Apricity is said to provide this exactly. Yet Trilogy 993 + 903 combo is a different animal, much feistier and stronger in comparison to 925, yet less romantic, hence Eunoia seemed to be a better match here and past short evaluation it turned out to be one indeed. Now if anyone wonders how much of an impact this product had on the outcome, well, a lot. If I had to frame the initial Eunoia experience intensity in numbers, I’d give it strong eight points out of ten possible. My point here is that this cable proved to be instantly audible in my reference setup with no questions asked. There were no ifs, ands or buts, but immediate presence. That was one of the most surprising things in this exercise. Usually magnitude this high is the case when swapping similar amplifiers or speakers of comparable class and Polish USB leash kept up here with ease. To reverse the situation, getting back to the usual USB suspects was as loud and clear as Eunoia in the works. Just a small upgrade? Small tweak and nothing else? Not at all. Damn.
StavEssence Eunoia is a very special product, that’s undeniable to my ears. Presumably to yours too if you’re willing to give this cable a go. But it operates in areas not openly related to music. It neither shifts the density meta, nor makes any of audible FR parts more emphasized than the rest. When this product comes into play, it instantly paints virtual sound sources in more clear, better defined way. Let me stress this again: not slightly or barely noticeably but much more instead and this alone is a feat to behold. Smoothness increases as well, yet with no strings attached, there’s no price to pay for this. Edges are still there, but slightly softer and – subjectively – more enjoyably served. People who want to know everything about a given track will still be able to do so.
Moving on, background also changed and in several ways. It became cleaner but also bigger, that’s one of the most impressive things Eunoia had to offer in my setup. Not only this, but all instruments/sounds somewhere in the back row became bigger and more present in the process. The sensation was similar to bringing an unknown and small picture in the art gallery on the pedestal aside of the most known ones, yet leaving it as is, with no additional alterations. More exposure in this case nets better knowledge about what’s going on behind the very first row and effect is utterly impressive all by itself. This was my main joy provider with Eunoia at work. Additionally there was one noticeable LF change. It wasn’t weightier/leaner than usually, but packed substantially more punch and was controlled much better.
The same story was with highs. Better, namely longer decay and more air were two things instantly better past shifting from my daily USB drivers to Eunoia. This cable also showed dynamic contrasts in music more effortlessly and left me with an impression that my setup was limited in this regard thus far. Another beauty of Karol’s product is that once it starts to do its usual magic, overall clarity gets elevated and not sharpness. The outcome becomes more lively in general, yet at the same time calmer and with i.e minimalist music this becomes very noticeable. I had a lot of joy listening to The Acid, Heilung, Alt J, Wardruna, Danheim or – partially – Eivør Pálsdóttir. Heck, even Icelandic Voces Thules sounded much better than usually, case closed.
Mr Staworko described Eunoia as the one with “smooth climactic sound, no signs of digitization, ‘dark sound’, with huge advances in articulation and a detailed musical picture. Wide, deep stage, well rounded bass, natural vocals, warm, detailed background sound, total instrument sustain. Settles ,aggressive’ systems.” In short, I’d agree with most of those things. On the other hand there’s Apricity and its description is as follows: “Dynamic, high-speed, analytical, resolving yet musical, good control, smooth transmission, no signs of digitization. Wide, deep stage, selective, low reaching bass. Consistent bandwidth and tone, tangible vocals, total instrument sustain. Revitalizes passive systems, bringing air and lightness.” What about the latter performer then? Does it behave accordingly?
In short, yes, it does indeed. It’s a different animal as far as its sound goes in general, but the level of sophistication it brings to the table is no lesser in comparison to its sibling clad in pink/fuchsia suit. I could go on and on here about how Apricity behaved in my setup, yet I’ll spare you additional laudatory paragraphs here. The most important takeaway is that both cables are very different and in a very audible, obvious way. Sound wise these are not slightly, not in the ‘a bit here and a bit there’ fashion, but bluntly varied indeed, hence meant for different setups. Warm, thick, slow and stuffy company fits Apricity more whereas lean, agile and lifeless setups will benefit from Eunoia’s presence. That’s the gist and as long as one follows here and is aware of fashion his own rig serves music, things will be dandy.
Past several auditions of both Polish products, the time has come to see how they’ll fare against two well-known USB enhancers. Here iFi Audio iGalvanic3.0 and micro iUSB3.0 duo came into play. That’s the best USB treatment solution by this manufacturer. The former is a galvanic isolator, whereas the latter’s duty is to reclock the signal (among other things) and provide clean power. In order for these to become viable, three USB cables and one external PSU have to be used. iFi’s iGalvanic3.0 is sold for €399, micro iUSB3.0 runs for €445 and two (0.5m) Mercury3.0 cables add another 2 x €239 to the tab. Also, one Forza AudioWorks (0,5m) Copper Series Twin USB leash and one iFi Audio iPower are needed too. That’s another €79 and €49 respectively off one’s wallet just like that. Why not iFi’s Gemini3.0? The USB input of my reference LampizatOr is 2.0 and not 3.0. This means that the latest English cable wouldn’t fit in there. To summarize, the total ride is €1’446. A lot of money, yet ~€1’000 less than Eunoia’s cost, still. And this fight was inconclusive, the performance was very similar. Several minor aspects were different, but this aside it became very difficult to say whether one pricey product or several affordable ones combined were victorious. Let’s summarize.
StavEssence Eunoia and Apricity are remarkable products of truly impressive performance. There’s no question about it. As far as their input goes, not a single thing I’d change. Karol Staworko has been doing his homework for several years. And the outcome now is the A+ score and nothing less. Not weeks or hours are needed to properly grasp what he did, but several short moments with favourite music. This will do.
Both products are built to last. Either one accepts that 1m length, a crocodile clip, thick diameter, stiffness, big wooden plugs and a beef with USB decrapifiers are the best way to happiness here or he’d be better off somewhere else. Karol did all this on purpose, that’s his way. I can only say that – past several weeks spent with both Eunoia and Apricity – his USB leashes are manageable and reliable. Neither failed, not even once. The price tag, though…
Karol doesn’t hide it, his products are meant for people on a lookout for the ultimate solution, an end-game as far as USB tweaks go. I can’t decisively say that this man’s cables are the best ones currently available, I haven’t heard every single one out there, but are damn impressive nonetheless. Yes, similar outcome can be pulled off for far less. I was able to witness a very similar magic for €1’500 and not €2’500. But two boxes, three cables and one PSU crowded between my laptop and source were the price to pay. To be perfectly honest, a single iGalvanic3.0 does helluva job for a fracture of this sum.
Still, some enthusiasts are in search of a simple yet elegant solution. Not a box or several of these combined but one single item instead. Individuals wealthy enough to spend €2’500 on a product like this with ease are out there and that’s Karol’s target group. Hence if you fit this profile, you owe it to yourself to at least audition Mr Staworko’s USB cables as these are very impressive and – dare I say – brilliant. Yet again, from Poland with love. ‘Till next time!
- Amplifier: Trilogy 925, trilogy 993 + 903
- source: Lampizator Golden Gate (Psvane WE101D-L + KR Audio 5U4G Ltd. Ed.)
- Speakers: Boenicke Audio W8, PureAudioProject Trio10 Voxativ
- Transport: Asus UX305LA
- Speaker cables: Forza AudioWorks Noir Concept, Audiomica Laboratory Celes Excellence
- Interconnects: Forza AudioWorks Noir, Audiomica Laboratory Erys Excellence
- USB cables: DIY cable, generic 1€ cable
- Power supply: Gigawatt PF-2 + Gigawatt LC-2 MK2 + Forza AudioWorks Noir Concept/Audiomica Laboratory Ness Excellence
- Rack: Franc Audio Accesories Wood Block Rack
- Music: NativeDSD
Retail price of reviewed component in EU (excl. VAT):
- StavEssence Eunoia: €2’500
- StavEssence Apricity: €2’500