The Entry Level #18 Page 2
I also love the cable's look and feelholding it in my hands is almost as satisfying as having it in my system. It's thin, light, and flexible, and its three individually colored wires (red, blue, and black) look purple from a distance. That's cool. I was hoping, perhaps fancifully, that there was some artistic motivation behind the color scheme, but Kimber selected the colors for practical reasons: "Because most of our interconnect cables are the same construct in balanced or single-ended [configuration], we needed three colors to speed production. We had been using black and blue in our TC speaker cables, so adding a red to the ingredient cupboard made sense. There have been times when we ran 24/7 production cycles on PBJ. With that kind of demand, efficiency is important." Apparently, Ray Kimber makes cables like Marvin Gaye partied.
Kimber interconnects are available with a wide variety of connectors. My PBJ samples were fitted with Kimber's standard Ultraplate connectors, which have a solid fluorocarbon dielectric and a split center pin. According to Kimber, the Ultraplate's surface is designed for high conductivity and great durability. Nothing I've used in my system has made stronger, tighter connections with my components. During the evaluation period, there were times when I feared I'd pull the rear panel right off my NAD C316 BEE integrated amplifier while attempting to pry the PBJs from my system. Though this proved annoying for me, I don't think typical users will have the same problem. Tight connections are good, and once the PBJs are in your system, they're likely to stay there a while.
I also tried Kimber's 8VS loudspeaker cable ($280/10' pair). Like the PBJ, the 8VS employs Kimber's braided geometry, but whereas the PBJ has three braided wires, each length of 8VS is made up of eight gray and eight black conductors. I knew there could be no romantic reason for the 8VS's color scheme. Kimber: "The color choice was put to many of our customers' significant others, and black/gray was unanimous. We wanted two distinct colors for manufacturing ease. We are trying to deliver high value to the customer, and wasting time on elements that do not contribute to performance adds cost to the customer with no appreciable improvement." (footnote 2)
My sample of 8VS speaker cable came with Kimber's SBAN banana plugs at the amplifier end and the company's patented PostMaster 33 spade lugs at the speaker end. The SBAN plugs are simple and solid, and made tight, easy connections with my amp. Perfect. I was even more impressed by the PostMaster 33 spade lugs, which are strong and sensiblenot unreasonably bulky, like many high-end connectors. In the PostMaster's unusual sandwich construction, an elastomer strip is placed between outer surfaces of ultrapure copper. The design is meant to provide three benefits to music reproduction: strong contact with the speaker's binding posts, resistance to vibrations, and high-quality energy transfer.
And why the braids? Kimber explained: "A braid looks like a really bad antenna to EMI and RFI, yielding a lower noise floor." While the PBJ's wires are sheathed in Teflon, the 8VS's wires are clad in polyethylene. Other cable manufacturers make a big deal of their complex shielding technologies, but these Kimber cables are unshielded. In theory, an unshielded cable is more susceptible to electromagnetic interference, but in the weeks I've had the Kimbers in my system I've experienced no such problems. I live on the top floor of an apartment building, above a bar and restaurant, surrounded by countless other apartment buildings, in downtown Jersey City, New Jersey. I could reasonably expect a good deal of electromagnetic crap to be falling from the sky, but other than the pigeon poop, it seems my power lines are clean. Nevertheless, you'll want to be sure that your own environment is just as quiet. If possible, try the Kimber products in your system before you buy them, or consult a trusted dealer.
I performed my listening tests with my NAD C316 BEE integrated amplifier ($379) driving my PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers ($299/pair). When playing vinyl, I used Parasound's ZphonoUSB phono preamp ($349). Sources were my Rega P3-24 turntable ($1295; now discontinued) and NAD C515 BEE CD player ($300).
Quiet storm music
With the Kimber cables in my system, everything I listened to benefited from greater clarity, detail, depth, and presence. Earlier in this column, I spent a good deal of time discussing Drake. Part of the reason for that is that the Kimber cables, especially the PBJ interconnects, absolutely adored his voice, setting it solidly at the center of an expanded soundstage, and managing to make individual words and even individual syllables sound clearer and more precise. More impressive was the fact that the Kimber cables did all this without sacrificing momentum and flowthe stuff that makes a recording sound like music. Even as the Kimbers forced me to analyze my music, they allowed me to form a deeper emotional connection to it. Though Drake's words were sharper and more tightly focused than I'd ever heard them, they also sounded more believably human.
This also held true for female and background voices. The title track of Drake's Take Care was produced by Jamie "XX" Smith; it features lead vocals by Rihanna and samples of Gil Scott-Heron's version of "I'll Take Care of You," written by Brook Benton and originally recorded by Bobby Bland in 1959. Like Jamie Smith's work for his own band, The XX, "Take Care" uses loads of space, interesting rhythms, and a simple but intelligent arrangement to create a compelling listening experience. When I listened to this song with Kimber's PBJ, the small pitch fluctuations in Rihanna's voice were easier to follow and enjoy. Additionally, the rich sound of Scott-Heron's voice was set deeper in the soundstage and surrounded by more space, making it easier for me to believe I was listening to the real thing.
The biggest differences between the Kimber PBJ and the AudioQuest Sidewinder were in terms of speed and detail. The AudioQuest had a softer, slower sound, with added measures of body and warmth; the Kimber was more insistent, muscular, and precise. Initially, I thought the Kimber sacrificed the AQ's ability to present long, graceful decays. But when I focused only on crash cymbals, for instance, I realized that the Kimber did, in fact, produce equally well-expressed decays; it just had a persistent way of redirecting my attention to attack transientsthe initial pulses of energy from percussive sounds such as piano keys, drum heads, and metal shakers.
The differences between the Kimber 8VS and AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables ($299/10' pair) were very much like those between the Kimber PBJ and AudioQuest's Sidewinder, but slightly less pronounced. I think the Kimber offered greater clarity and control, the AudioQuest more body and warmth.
Of course, I listened to more than just Drake while evaluating Kimber's cables, but the results were consistent regardless of the music I played. If the Kimber had a fault, it was that it could be too revealing. A couple of examples: In "Amazing Backgrounds," from Eric Chenaux's gorgeous Guitar & Voice (CD, Constellation CST088-2), Chenaux demands attention with sweetly sung lyrics that twist and turn with easy grace: "If life's cruel tricksters keep us apart / Keeping myself together will be twice as hard." At times, the Kimber's fast, detailed delivery had me blinking at those spitty s and p sounds. And with "Kumano Codex 4," from Masaki Batoh's awesome Brain Pulse Music (CD, Drag City 471CD), the Kimbers added an urgency to Akihito Obama's shakuhachi; through the AudioQuest cables, this Japanese wood flute had a softer, rounder body. Then again, at around 2:50 into "Kumano Codex 4," Obama just barely pulls the flute from his lips and reaches for a breath. The Kimbers infused that moment with the sort of life and magic that only the best hi-fi can conjure.
A guiding principle
When I asked Ray Kimber how he manages to keep the price of his PBJ and 8VS so low, he said, "Through no effort other than simplicity. Every product we make is priced based on actual labor and materials cost. We use the same parts in different ways throughout our products, and we don't throw out good ideas just to have something new to talk about."
Isn't that refreshing? At a time when people seem more interested in what's new than what's needed, Ray Kimber remains dedicated to providing high-quality products that will last for years to come.
"Efficiency in every step is how we remain high-value," Kimber continued. "It began out of necessity in 1979, but has morphed into a guiding principle."
Now I just have to get Uncle Omar to believe. Perhaps a listening party is in order. I'll bring the beer, the cables, the Drake.
Footnote 2: Ray Kimber's philosophy is in stark contrast to that of AudioQuest's Bill Low. In response to my review of AudioQuest's Alpha-Snake and G-Snake interconnects (respectively, $22.50 and $34 per 0.5m pair; both discontinued), Low said, "I use gold on under-$100 AudioQuest cables because the tiny amount of gold-flash costs much less than what it would cost to lose sales without it. There is essentially no audio damage done by the additional thin gold layer, though no good is done either." It should also be noted, however, that Kimber's least expensive interconnect, the Tonik ($80/1m pair), reviewed by Art Dudley in November 2011, costs significantly more than AudioQuest's lowest-priced models.