ARGENTUN: Howard Popeck speaks at length to people with interesting things to say: Mr. Richard Szafraniec of newly emergent Polish audiophile company Argentum

Preliminary note:

We’ve been both amazed and delighted by our readership’s positive response to our series of interviews with innovative small, intellectually agile makers from outside of the traditional countries associated with state-of-the-art audio / stereo. In particular our series on newly emergent French makers.

Today we turn our attention to Polish organisations you might not have heard of who have something of interest to tell us. We start today with Mr. Richard Szafraniec of Argentum.

We have other Polish makers in the ‘pipeline’ for interviews. If you are a maker. And it doesn’t have to be in Poland, and you want to be considered then please contact our editorial HERE.

Thank you


Hello Ryszard. How did your interest in music reproduction start?

This is a story which started almost 40 years ago, when, as a young man, I was redecorating my room and then, unfortunately, when moving one of my hi-fidelity loudspeakers, I tore a cable in the loudspeaker terminals. I would like to mention that the loudspeakers had been standing there – until that moment – for several years. And that is when something happened, namely after setting the loudspeaker its new position, and while listening to music, I heard clear differences in the quality of sound reproduction between them in the new position and previously.

Any attempts to check particular elements of loudspeakers (switches, speakers, cabling etc.) didn’t help me solve the problem. Quick verification of previous events led me to the loudspeaker cables and I started to take a closer look at them. Just before re-connection, I cut off a few centimetres of the cable and then made re-connection.

The cut-off piece of the cables turned out to be strongly oxidized, which was confirmed by a clear tarnish copper oxide. Encouraged by this observable fact, I conducted re-confection in the second loudspeaker and after turning music on, the sound improved in many aspects so much that it was difficult to believe it, especially that the audio equipment as compared with the present designs was very crude. Thus began my adventure with playing music.

Were you encouraged by others?

No, nobody had to do this.

What are the current design and materials limitations that confront all intelligent skilled audio interconnect designers today?

Yes, resistance to fresh thinking, hahahah! (laughter) of course, this is a joke, but it’s for a good reason. This issue that you mention, Howard, is a topic to be discussed for many evenings at a glass of old Whisky. It’s difficult for me to encompass all these issues on the spot, in a few sentences, but what comes to my mind right now is the frustration in the application of materials with some characteristics.

I don’t understand. Sorry. Can you clarify?

Sure. Yes. For example, electromagnetic compatibility. There are no products which could be sensibly applied at this time to address this. This is only one of the examples, although there are more, and I would mention here superconductivity, which – as a phenomenon in audio applications – would be very desirable. Currently, due to environmental issue with super-low temperatures, this is not practical.

What about creativity, innovation and other ‘drivers’?

Clearly these are characteristics necessary for every designer whose thinking is a logical process leading to the creation of new solutions which will be enhancements to existing concepts and trends in a given market. To sum up, it’s a creative action leading to creating innovative solutions.

Do you have any particular priorities, other than the obvious one of sound quality, when you approach the design of a interconnects?

If we dismiss the sound aspects, in the first place, I will mention aesthetic value, and then ergonomics. Aesthetic value, because audio sets often have an elegant, designer look, which requires the cabling for it to also present a quality look and feel. For this, I have developed Exclusive and Extreme cabling series, which, apart from outstanding sound qualities, have external finishing of natural black and red leather. I'll be a bit ironic, Howard, when I say that the materials used, in particular precious silver 5N for conductors in Argentum cables make this preciousness an obligation, and hence this elegance and style.

And then there is the aspect of ergonomics, which I admit is a kind of a dilemma to me, because application of good construction solutions in it and materials for cable shielding, especially – if it’s multi-layer shielding with high degree of electromagnetic protection – is in strict contrast to flexibility of cables, often so desired.

To what extent – if any – does marketing influence your designs?

Argentum is a small manufacturing plant, producing cabling almost entirely (apart from mechanical wire pulling) in-house and with considerable care too of course. At first as the manufacturer of cabling for AV systems, Argentum was a kind of a "Cinderella" in this market and in order to get to know the needs of this market, to each ordered cable, I attached a questionnaire, in which I asked a few questions about our cables.

These few answers received from many friendly customers allowed me to identify and specify the market needs. Right now the company conducts such a sales policy that it doesn’t have a distributor and sales are direct to the customer.

Why is this?

It means I have a direct contact and I know this customer's audio system, acoustic conditions of the room for listening, type of music he or she listens to, and on the basis of this data, I determine his or her needs. It’s a quite a burdensome manner of sale, but the customers are not anonymous and, on the other hand, despite the time-consuming process is easier to meet their individual needs.

Very clever. To date, of all the makers we have interviewed, you are the first to do this as far as we are aware. Very logical.

Thank you

To what extent does marketing into your home market differ from marketing to your foreign distributors?

I do not have my own experience with distributors at all, so it seems I have no basis on which to answer and so I will make no comments about this.

I’m curious about the gestation process you go through designing interconnects. How do you normally operate from, say, a clean sheet of paper?

Oh, the "tabula rasa - the blank slate" it always appears exactly after we have already fulfilled another design. It's simply continuous creative yearning that drives me. A kind of a precedent to the blank slate is that it contains another record of ideas and everything starts from scratch i.e., tests, observations, everything new happening in such domains as physics, chemistry, metallurgy, electrical conductivity, etc., or imagining new materials and their properties, having attributes for verification in cabling technology.

The ability to use new solutions which are a gift from science to us is a priority to me. To put it shortly in the scope of manufacturing – the technology, in which specific particular operations have been already outlined until the final product – prototype, which passed quality tests in terms of sound. If a cable has passed the mentioned stages positively, the last stage is work on its external look, which must have such characteristics to be identified with products by Argentum.

Can we talk a bit about the technology of your manufacturing process?

Yes. What are your questions Howard. Please bear in mind that quite a bit of information about this is on our website. So …?

So, what is your preferred primary material?

The main and the only material used for conductors in Argentum company audio cables is a noble metal, silver having a purity of 99.999 (5N). Silver has a paramount physical-chemical and technological properties, i.e. the highest electrical conductivity rate of 0.01612 ohms mm ² / m (copper has 0.02222 and gold has 0.01724 ohm mm ² / m), corrosion resistance, low chemical activity, high thermal conductivity , solderability, and above all, sonic qualities. These characteristics rank silver in the first place in application of wiring and audio / video systems electronics. The possibility of widespread use is limited by its economic considerations - high cost.

Manufacturing process of Argentum cables besides forming, and mechanical wire drawing, is an entirely handicraft process. Each batch of silver granules undergoes a refining process by which 5N-99, 999 high purity is obtained. Regardless of positive results obtained, a sample from a batch of silver wire is subjected to further analysis of the degree of purity in the Measuring Office in Krakow. Confirmed by the Measuring Office result of analysis, the degree of purity equal to 99.999 decides to admit the batch to produce a silver wire cables. Silver wire, obtained by mechanical wire drawing has in its surface layer of stress and structural defects in the form of draft, which in turn creates a spindly - fibrous structure.

What is the reason for heat-treatment?

Draft induced adverse effects are removed by carrying out a controlled process-heat treatment - annealing and stabilization. Annealing process is optimized in terms of selection of the recrystallization temperature of silver and its degree of purity / each impurity, i.e., degree of purity shifts the recrystallization temperature limit / and the duration of each of its phases. The initial recrystallization, the so-called primary recrystallization removes own internal stresses and proper recrystallization restores structure to its original state.

Full heat treatment process takes several hours and results from the heating rate, proper soak time and ends with thermal stabilization phase. The structure formed by primary recrystallization is in a state of equilibrium and as a result of proper recrystallization grain growth occurs through migration of their wide-angle borders. As a result of heat treatment carried out in such a manner, silver wire has a structure that is appropriate for unrestricted free movement of electrons.

Can you tell our readers more?

Yes Howard. The Argentum company was the first and only to develop and implement in production a method an alternating system of individual wires in the conductor. Every second wire in the conductor is placed opposite to the direction of broaching. Approaching empirically the method of alternating wires, we can say that the wires in the Argentum conductors have the same direction, but the opposite turns. This method takes into account the phenomenon of ,, memory" of a metal subject to plastic treatment - broaching.

The heat treatment process and the method of alternating wires in a conductor are completely developed by Argentum and constitute its intellectual property.

What about insulation? How do you use PTFE? Are their difficulties associated with this?

The main and the only first contact insulation material with the conductor is air and polytetrafluoroethylene PTFE / trade name Teflon, the Polish name Tarflen /. Teflon has excellent chemical properties, which include indifference to virtually all chemicals, thermal properties, particularly a low coefficient of thermal conductivity of 0.2-0.4 [Kcal / mxhx ˚ C], electrical properties and dielectric strength 20-30 [kV / mm] , the dielectric constant of 2.1 and no absorption of water. Insulating air space is obtained as a result of the cold imposition of Teflon tape with a thickness of 0.08 mm specially impregnated by saturant on a twisted beam of conductors.

Teflon application process under normal conditions / ambient temperature / does not initiate the so-called. , the diode process"/ appearance of oxides /, which can occur in a classic production process where Teflon is hot applied / over 300 º C /, and which is particularly undesirable for copper conductor due to the occurrence of non-conducting copper oxides. Such optimum insulation conditions can be achieved by a developed method of manual clipping, as a result of which the desired optimum insulation space is created. The effect of clipping method is shown in a pictorial description of construction at various audio cables.

What are your thoughts about shielding?

Exclusive and Extreme series signal cables / interconnects / due to particular sensitivity of the signal connections have received triple shielding, which very significantly minimized the impact of RF and EM effects on the course of the useful signal. Moreover, the connection by the so-called ,, chicanery " of external screen with chrome-nickel steel braid with RCA plug allowed to obtain the effect of a barrier to,, leakage" of harmful electromagnetic waves.

The screen is never good enough to provide full protection, and so, for example, at frequencies of 50 Hz it would have to be made as thick as steel of armour of military vehicles – having in mind, of course, tens-order reduction of effective interference.

Due to the shielding signal cables / interconnects / are polarized - they have directionality. Signal cables / interconnects / Extreme Series are equipped with Gold-plated Argentum connectors or Rhodium plated. Argentum RCA plugs are characteristic because they have an inner pin of 5 N purity silver, which is rhodium plated. Speaker cables are equipped with so- extra cable called,, pig-tail " that allows to equalize the potential / potential equalizing / of cable shield with the ground of intermediate plate, which in the case of the audio amplifier is a metal casing / chassis /.

Thank you. We’re getting near the end now and so … the controversial issue of microphony in cables, cable length and so on. Would you care to comment?

Yes – a bit. To get the highest degree of noise reduction the connection between cable shield and amplifier housing should be as short as possible. The shorter the distance the higher the degree of noise reduction. It is a pity that the current standards of mounting speaker cables sockets are not compatible with EMC. Speaker cables with GCG symbol and signal cables with SCG symbol have the Star-Quad structures of conductors. This system affects the elimination of the internal crosstalk causing harmful interference in a useful signal and additionally in the case of speaker cables allows bi-wiring connection method. Exclusive series signal cables and Extreme Series speaker cables are equipped with single and dual zone STOPER system, which effectively dampens vibrations, reduces the 'microphone effect' and eliminates static electricity

What are your feelings about the whole digital / analog controversy?

I think that this is a debate really necessary for both technologies, because it forces the creators of audio - video market to continuous competition, which is to the benefit of the potential buyer.

Because …?

They are receiving better and better products. On the market there are many extremely splendid creations and devices in both analogue and digital technology. Both technologies coexist very close to each other, for example, hybrid audio sets of renowned manufacturers, whose sound qualities are appreciated even by very demanding audiophiles.

Thank you Richard. It’s been a pleasure