The Entry Level #19

It was unusually warm for early spring, without a cloud in the big, blue sky to tame the sun's dazzling light—far too beautiful a day to be indoors, but Uncle Omar and I had already planned a little listening session, and I was determined to show him that high-end cables would make a difference in his system. I wasn't necessarily feeling bullish about the task, though. It had taken me a couple of years to convince Omar that he should replace his old boom-box speakers with something better, and it was only dumb luck that finally made it happen: I was with him when he found a gently used pair of B&W DM602 speakers at a junk shop in Jersey City. When they were new, the DM602s sold for around $600/pair, but on this happy day they were tagged at $50. "Do it," I begged him. "Doooooo it!"

He did it—thank goodness—and, a couple of weeks later, we made a trip to Audio Connection in Verona, New Jersey, where affable store owner John Rutan accomplished what I thought impossible: He sold Omar a cool, new Rega P1 turntable to replace his beat-to-death Salvation Army record player. Of course, this smart purchase soon led to another (Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge), another (Bellari VP129 phono preamp), another (Oppo DV-980 universal player), and another (Harman/Kardon HK3390 receiver). But for some damn reason I could never get Omar to invest in new cables. His decade-old spool of RadioShack 16-gauge zip cord, diligently carried from one rented apartment to the next, served him just fine. "I know what cables do," he would say, "and I just can't see why high-end cables would make a difference."

In the past, I might have mumbled something about high-purity copper or Teflon insulation, but Omar would easily see that I was out of my depth. This time, I would come prepared with Kimber Kable's 4PR and 8VS loudspeaker cables ($150 and $280 per 10' pair, respectively) and let them do the talking.

Three demo tracks
I met Omar at his front door, where we performed our usual greeting: a patented high-five routine of over the top, down low, fist-bump, blow it up, perfected long ago over beers and a Mets game. Upstairs, Omar poured two cups of Puerto Rican coffee (strain through a sweat sock, add five pounds of sugar) and we got to work. To keep things simple, we listened only to CDs through Omar's Oppo DV-980. From the discs available on Omar's racks we selected three demo tracks with which we were equally and intimately familiar: "One Armed Scissor," from At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command (Grand Royal/Virgin 49999), recorded by Chuck Johnson; the title track of Jay-Z's The Blueprint2: The Gift & the Curse (Roc-A-Fella 063381-2), recorded by Gimel "Young Guru" Keaton; and "Becuz," from Sonic Youth's Washing Machine (DGC 24825), recorded by John Siket.

First, we listened to Omar's system with his usual RadioShack wire connecting his B&W DM602s to his Harman/Kardon HK3390 receiver. "One Armed Scissor" sounded just as I remembered: urgent and dramatic, with pleading vocals, heavily distorted guitars, and furious rhythms, but needlessly loud and compressed. Aside from the recording's common deficiencies, the overall sound was entirely fine. Nothing sounded particularly wrong. I began to worry. What if we don't hear an improvement?

"Sounds pretty good," Omar said.

"Hmm," I cautiously replied, reaching into my bag of cables.

Kimber Kable 4PR
Kimber Kable's 4PR, the company's very first product and its most affordable speaker cable ($150/10' pair), was introduced in 1979, when I was two years old. Like Kimber's popular PBJ interconnect ($110/1m pair, reviewed last month), the 4PR has gone practically unchanged since its release. It employs the same braided geometry found in Kimber's more expensive 8VS speaker cable ($280/10' pair, reviewed last month), but instead of the 8VS's eight gray and eight black conductors, the 4PR has four pairs each of black and brown conductors in an apparently looser braid. I've always loved the look of the 4PR. Brown? Brown? It's so understated it's almost bold.

My samples came with Kimber's high-quality SBAN banana plugs at the amp ends and their confidence-inspiring PostMaster 33 spade lugs at the speaker ends. When I unpacked the 4PRs and held them in my hands, I was immediately impressed by their overall build quality—it takes only a moment to recognize the high level of craftsmanship in any Kimber product—but, beyond that, I felt as if I were holding a piece of hi-fi history. Few hi-fi products can match the 4PR's longevity; anything that sticks around our fickle world for thirtysomething years has got to have a lot going for it. The 4PR deserves respect and attention. But what would it offer over the typical RadioShack wire in terms of sound quality?

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COMMENTS
kevon27's picture

Why oh why can't we get measurements with these cable reviews? We get measurements with speakers, audio and video components etc but not cables. I still say if cable A is better than cable B it should be easy to show performance numbers.. I can only hope and dream..

Stephen Mejias's picture

Better than numbers, I gave you words.

mrplankton2u's picture

I'd take real collected data that can be readily reproduced via documented experimentation over a pompous idiot's BS any day. But perhaps that's just me. Talk is cheap. Total BS is worth less than talk.

ikymagoo's picture

I've always liked Polk Audio, I own a nice pair of LS50s, bought when I was 21 in 1992

Francois Du Nord's picture

Kevon,

Measurements are one way to evaluate components, and your desire for a way to generate a straightforward and objective evaluation makes perfect sense. I'm the wrong guy to engineer that equipment however. Thirty or more years ago, manufacturers got enamored with amplification measurements and produced some really execrable receivers and amps.

When the original article on using twisted pair Radio Shack wire for speaker cable came out in Stereophile, my listening buddy and I figured we could do a cheap test on our own. A spool of red and black might have cost a total of $ 10. Subjective yes, and perhaps not 100% normalized, but we spent an evening doing blind A/B comparisons and sipping our preferred beverages. Both of us could easily tell to which cable we were listening.

Stephen, I had an opportunity to pick up a 3.5 mm m/m cable for my traveling kit at Radio Shack called Auvio. Sounds great, perhaps you could do a review. Certainly is priced right.

 

Best, Fran 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Stephen, I had an opportunity to pick up a 3.5 mm m/m cable for my traveling kit at Radio Shack called Auvio. Sounds great, perhaps you could do a review. Certainly is priced right.

Hi Fran. That's twice this week that someone's mentioned the Auvio cables. I'll have to check them out. Thanks.

larryincmh's picture

Thank you for a great review of the Thinksound ms01 and for pointing out such a great sounding and affordable set of portable headphones.  As a long time Klipsch s4i user, I enjoyed my headphones a lot but knew there was just "something" that was not 100% right with them.  I had noticed the harshness but always thought it was the fault of my rips or settings, but, with your review you hit the nail on the head for me.

I generally am not an impulse buyer, but within a day of reading your review I was online ordering not only a set of ms01's, but also the appropriate Comply pad upgrades (I'm a distance runner and use these for long multi-hour runs and bike rides).  I could not be more pleased, the harshness from the songs is gone, the phones are much more enjoyable to listen to for extended periods, and the Klipsch units have now been relegated to my cube at the office to block out the sounds from the rest of the staff, in a definite non-audiophile setting.

Thank you again for findings such great products to review and profile and I look forward to your continuing sagas and stories.

Larry

Audio Asylum Bruce from DC's picture

Here's the problem: two pieces of wire linking an amplifier and a loudspeaker and delivering AC of varying frequencies are doing a far more complex job than two pieces of wire delivering 6 volts of DC from a battery to a lightbulb.  You can easily meausure the properties of the cable in the latter situation: inductance, capacitance, resistance but those same measurements will vary widely with so many variables on either end of a cable between an amplifier and a loudspeaker. 

Sadly, it really is "cut and try" when it comes to audio cables . . . either interconnects or speaker cables.  And, to the extent that static measures can be useful, it seems that high inductance on a loudspeaker cable is not good, but high capacitance is o.k. but high capacitance on an interconnect is not good; but high inductance is o.k.

Even to these "rules" there are lots of exceptions, sadly, for the buyer.

mrplankton2u's picture

Amplitude, phase, and frequency data can be very precisely measured at the input and output ends of any cable - precisely establishing the effect or lack thereof produced by the cable. Electricity maybe magic to a total newbie or a fraud who's bent on establishing a scam. Inductive, capacitive, and resistive phenomena have been studied ad nauseum. There is no mystery. No magic. Anyone who insists that there is is either a complete fraud or a moron. Take your pick.

MVBC's picture

Well this could be easily settled: there must be measurements since these smart engineers who manufactured the better cable created it, no? And since they even went into designing a series of cables at various prices, it must be easy to simply ask the manufacturer for their comparative designer sheet.laugh

WapatoWolf's picture

i can appreciate why some people get all geeked out over numbers, stats, measurements, etc. most equipment can be measured by these. I enjoyed the columnist's article and insight about speaker cable (as well as some posters: very useful info). sometimes you just need to listen to the music....and not over analyze everything. or you can be a pompous, insulting blowhard. whatever works i guess.

villager56's picture

Stephen,

what was it about the Rocket 33 that made them a better choice for listening to the Polk  RTi A3? 

Thanks!

Stephen Mejias's picture

The Polks could sound bright, forward, and edgy.  The AudioQuests' darker, fuller sound tempered those characteristics of the Polks, while the Kimbers' greater clarity and control tended to enhance the Polks' brightness.

JadenKrosis's picture

I`ve read over and over the debate about cables, their high prices, snake oil-like claims what with all the talk of dielectric noise cancelling, gyroquad veristrand and field geometric technologies. Or whatever.

I noticed a set of fancy looking interconnects at a friends house set aside from his system, and he told me he wasnt using them anymore as he upgraded to some other cables (I later found out, Kimber) he offered me his old ones to try out before he put them on e-bay (Audioquest Jaguars 24v DBS XLR`s) and when I say fancy, they were a jacked up looking green color with a battery pack attached to them. Ridiculous looking, I laughed at them but decided what could it hurt to plug them in.

I connected them to my own system and noticed a big difference right away and could not believe it, not just that there were any difference at all but that the difference was very audible. It had more "musicality" and for the first time ever, I now  truly understood the meaning of that word.
I checked all of my settings and other connections thinking I`d find some other explaination of what was happening, but realized after a quick return to those stock cables that it was indeed, these cables named after a cat.
I must have done 5 or 6 a/b comparisons before coming to that final conclusion.
I stood back and listened dumbfounded. "Hello kitty" .

I`m glad I never participated in those sometimes heated discussions regarding cables as I`d be eating my words and passing out apologies now.

Apparently my system has the "synergy" which makes it more susceptible to these audible changes to my equipment.
I see this as both a blessing and a curse. It has introduced me to higher levels of musical enjoyment, but it will also turn me into "one of them guys" who wonders about upgrades and then goes off to spend significant amounts of money pursuing that "next higher high" of musical enjoyment and justifying it by pointing out other things people blow money on.

The kittys are sitting in a cabinet now, a new set of Kimber Heros currently burning in and settling very nicely ...........just as the "cable people" said they will.
 

 

 

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