AOM Logo February 1999


On The High Wire
The Kimber PBJ/4TC, Wireworld Polaris III, and NBS King/Serpent II Interconnects and Loudspeaker Cables

Blair Roger

Rock Bottom
I used to work in the Financial District. Some of the oldest parts of the city are only a few blocks away and I discovered an electronics surplus store close enough that I could easily spend my lunch hours browsing there. They sold everything from complete sets of dental instruments to NIB/NOS Decca Dustbugs, to scary rubber feet. At least, that's what the label on the bin said. My favorite part of the store was the basement, where there were rows of dusty Hammond transformers, bins of Krell-style heat sinks, shiny steel ball bearings as big as marbles, and of course, the wire.

They had all kinds of it: foil shielded coaxial, four conductor Teflon insulated wire, high speed data communications wire, flat ribbon cable, many types of antique hook-up wire, and even some stuff that those alleged to be working there couldn't identify. The best part was that it was outrageously cheap. So cheap, in fact, that I could bi-wire my whole system and make interconnects too for about $8.00. And that was for the exotic type that appeared to have been custom made for some big name high-tech firm.

I had a l lot of fun with all that wire, but I'm not really sure that it made my music sound better. I particularly remember a shotgun affair I dreamed up that featured a 32 awg. solidcore, pink Kynar insulated conductor spiraled around a Teflon coated multi-stranded silver-plated copper wire. It looked great but it made my Dyna 70 amp sound like it was gagging. This wasn't at all what I had hoped for - I had had more the siren song of the Lorelei in mind, and I realized finally that I would have to set my sights higher than the basement to find musical bliss.

Kimber PBJ

The Real Thing
A few years back Kimber Kable grabbed a lot of attention with their unshielded, $69.00/meter PBJ interconnects. I tried a pair and they were good. Actually, I made my own, which was quite easy to do. I bought Kimber Ultraplate RCA plugs and four meters of Kimber PSB wire from The Parts Connection and put it all together with Wonder Solder. There are two things I recommend especially: use the Ultraplate plugs and audio quality solder like Wonder. The reasons for this are simple: the plugs cost three times more than the wire so they must be contributing something important to the sound. Wonder Solder has a low melting temperature so you have less risk of a cold solder joint and, because it melts and flows so easily, it is much more satisfying to work with than the dreck from Radio Shack.

I was so pleased with my PBJ interconnects that I decided to make a pair of Kimber 4TC speaker cables as well. An eight-foot (2.5 meter) pair costs about $100.00 - more if you want the Kimber spade lugs - and they're a music lover's bargain in any language. The 4TC design, eight individual conductors woven into a unique RFI rejecting braid, has been available for many years. Like PBJ, the 4TC cable uses a Teflon dielectric and fine internal strands of high purity copper wire of varying gauges. The result is a cable with two four-wire conductors of #13 awg. aggregate size each.

My plan in buying this wire was to use it with my vintage Fisher 500B receiver and Quad ESL-57s. The combination of PBJ interconnects and 4TC cables made that Surplus Basement wire seem harsh and gritty. I hooked up an inexpensive NAD 502 CD player to these components and I noticed that with the Kimber wire installed, this system was seeing more use. This isn't a full-blown audiophile system but it does provide a lot of entertainment and pleasant, non-fatiguing FM sound as well. It has become a point of focus for our activity on the main floor of the house and that is exactly what I wanted.

Don't fret if you can't afford to spend more than this on wire. Certainly, there are smoother, richer sounding wires, but you'll have to spend considerably more to get them.

WireWorld Polaris III Speaker Cables

The Real Thing: Part II
Wireworld Polaris III speaker cable and interconnects are third from the top-of-the-line in David Salz's lineup. They are beautiful looking cables: a bit stout but still flexible, clad in clear PVC over a woven silver and black textile sheath. The ¼" (6 mm) spade lugs are solid silver and the interconnects feature patented gold-plated copper RCA plugs that are unique in appearance and a delight to use.

The electrical design of the cable is based on Salz's patented Symmetrical Coaxial Cable concept. Multiple strands of coaxial polymer coated Grain Optimized™ copper wire are wrapped around a polyethylene core. The next layer is a Teflon dielectric that is encased in another coaxial sheath of Grain Optimized™ copper strands. Finally, on the outside comes the silver and black polymer coated textile layer that is protected by a clear PVC tube. According to Salz the purpose of the coaxial design is two-fold: to eliminate magnetic effects between the internal conductors and to dampen mechanical vibration within the cable. Both of these effects are said to be detrimental to the performance of any audio cable. This is a serious product at a serious, but not impossible, price. The speaker cables are $850.00 for 2.5 meters and the interconnects are $280.00 for 1 meter and $60.00 for every additional half meter. These prices include excellent terminations.

WireWorld Polaris III Interconnects

A considerable amount of information comes with Wireworld products regarding their design philosophy. One point I noticed, and agree with through experience, is that it is imperative that a system be put together with interconnects and speaker cable of the same brand. David Salz presents two graphs illustrating that the signal transmission property of interconnects and speaker cables are different. These differences can be used to advantage by a designer who understands them, to develop interconnects and speaker cables that complement each other and sound best when used together. Others have speculated on this but Salz actually presents research to prove the point. I tried mixing Polaris wire with other brands and found the results inferior to an all-Wireworld system.

As expected, the Polaris III speaker cable and interconnects were considerably different from less costly, simpler wire I've used in the past. Once settled in to my system, which currently consists of the Lyra Lydian cartridge, Well Tempered Table and LP Labs armtube, Sonic Frontiers Phono 1, Jadis Orchestra amp and Quad ESL-63 USA Monitors, I found the Polaris wire lived up to its pedigree. I noticed no exaggeration in any frequency range and the overall tonality of the cable was neutral. Clarity and transparency were excellent; the treble delicate and detailed; midrange true and bass deep and firm. The most striking characteristic of the Polaris cable was a remarkable improvement in the body of instrumental timbres. This was not fatness or fullness or warmth, but simply a more fleshed-out presence that was clearly worthwhile and augmented considerably the musical experience.

Take for example, My Funny Valentine from the Prestige album Cookin'' [OJC 128] with the Miles Davis Quintet. Miles' muted horn had new substance giving one an intimate, up close feeling, like being seated front and center at the Village Gate. Even though this is a mono recording, there is clarity and depth definition. His solo on the second cut, Blues by Five is quick and tight with firm tonality and detailed articulation. I believe that mono has more intensity because the instrumentalists are more tightly focused in perspective. The drums, for example, are clearly positioned at the back of the stage, not spread wide across both channels. This is arguably more realistic and not lacking in subtle details by any means.

On the 1983 stereo recording Top Drawer [Concord Jazz CJ-219], featuring Mel Tormé and George Shearing, the Velvet Fog is still in good voice: full and warm within his limited range, tenderly caressing the lyric to Jerome Kern's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Tormé's sense of pitch is astounding. Audiophilia's Music Editor, Anthony Kershaw, pointed out to me that Shearing and Tormé are performing in "unrelated" keys. Yet, the vocalist never wavers for an instant. This is true talent. Sibilants have a realistic touch of spit to them, and I can hear Tormé sing 'froan' rather than 'flown' at one point in the song. I find myself thinking about the music and the artist not the kind of wire I'm supposed to be reviewing. I think this is a good sign.

In all, Polaris is a fine cable with vividly detailed treble, intimate, and engaging midrange and firm, tuneful bass. Construction and materials quality is superb. I highly recommend this cable and interconnect combination because the performance-to-price ratio is hard to beat.

NBS King/Serpent II Interconnects

The Real Thing: Part III
NBS (Nothing But Signal) is certainly among the more enigmatic cable manufacturers in existence. But I can understand that. They don't want to give any secrets away.

Their prices can be stratospheric too. They have a very wide range of cables and recommend selection based on the approximate value of the rest of the system. In my case that meant the King/Serpent II speaker cables and interconnects, which are about the middle of their product line at about $1800.00 for each 8-foot (2.5 m) pair.

I had a bit of a wait as the cables are made to order and tested individually. The actual construction can vary for a given model depending on the length required. Mine arrived in due course packaged in zippered black canvas sacks. The King/Serpent lls are brilliant crimson and a bit stiff. The spade lugs on the cables are very robust and of high quality. The RCA plugs on the interconnects cling to the jacks with an absolute death-grip. All their wire incorporates a Passive Frequency Inductance Network (PFIN) and unconventional use of silver shielding and unique wire weave patterns. The purpose for this is to minimize the effects of RFI and EMI in the cable. The result is said to be the achievement of a dramatically lowered noise floor, maximal dynamic range, and the ultimate in information retrieval.

Walter Fields, President of NBS Audio Cables and the company's chief designer, sounds like the Edgar Cayce of audio. It is said that he "pictures" (dreams?) what he wants his cables to sound like and then he goes about creating that sound. I believe it.

NBS King/Serpent II Loudspeaker Cables

The King/Serpent ll is on a different plane of performance from what I might call simply "wire". It is beyond wire. It is mystical and enchanting. Again, take the mono recording of My Funny Valentine by the Miles Davis Quintet. I played this cut and then replaced my regular interconnects with a pair of King/Serpent ll. The typically narrow mono image between the ESL-63s became wider and deeper. That was a surprise so I decided to install the King/Serpent ll speaker cables and start over. The mono image changed in character: again, wider and deeper but now the musicians were spread out in space almost like a purist miked stereo recording. In addition, I began to notice that the leading edge of transients were subtly relieved of the hardness I now realize to be a cable distortion. None of the drama or impact of the music was lost. If anything, the music was more dynamic and more free-breathing - not softened - but more subtly and gently detailed. The music sounded more natural.

I can't explain why, but it seems that these cables really are somehow quieter than others. I have the conviction that there is less internal interference with the signal. They even seem to settle faster after a transient so that there is less residual noise in the system. Less is more: more music, that is.

The King/Serpent lls reveal a richness and fullness in certain recordings I had considered almost unlistenable in the past. Take, for example, a French re-issue of Herbie Hancock's classic Maiden Voyage [Blue Note 84195]. I did not enjoy listening to this album when I reviewed the Waveform Mach 17 loudspeakers in the fall of 1997. Now the opening chords of side one thrilled me with a feeling of restless anticipation of the voyage. I was immersed in the music as Freddie Hubbard's uniquely warm and gently buzzing Flugelhorn appeared to my left, and painted an image of the musician's spirit in the air. To the right, George Coleman joined in on Tenor and the picture was complete. I mused, is it possible that Tony Williams could ever play the drumkit better, more gently or with more nuance than this?

I don't want you to think that this wire is designed to make bad records sound better. There is nothing euphonic about it. NBS wire just reveals what is on the disk without adding distortions of its own. I've listened many times to the early recording of Manuel Barrueco, Guitar [VOX Turnabout TV 34738]. I had noted previously that this album of guitar suites by Albeniz and Granados seemed to have been recorded in a large hall, but I could not distinguish much beyond that. With the full set of King/Serpent lls in place, several things came to light. First, the recording was made in a school gymnasium. I could hear children playing in the hallway outside. Second, and most surprising, the guitar suite had not been recorded in one session as I had thought. It was very evident now that at least two sessions, each with different microphone positioning, had been required to get a complete take. The differences between the cuts were very clear: a different day, a different mike setup, and a completely different sound from the same location.

This is powerful wire. It will bring out the best qualities in your system: qualities that will surprise and possibly amaze you. Is it the best? I can't answer that question. I can only tell you that I'm completely infatuated with the way this wire brings my music to life.

Kimber PBJ Interconnect and 4TC Loudspeaker Cable
Manufactured by Kimber Kable
2752 South 1900 West Ogden, Utah, 84401 USA
phone: (801) 621-5330, fax: (801) 627-6980
web: http://www.kimber.com
Source of review sample: Reviewer Purchase

Polaris III Loudspeaker Cable and Interconnect
Manufactured by Wireworld
3320 Griffin Road, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33312 USA
phone: (954) 962-2650, fax: (954) 962-2603
web: http://www.wireworldaudio.com, e-mail: puresound@wireworldaudio.com
Source of review sample: Manufacturer Loan

King/Serpent II Loudspeaker Cable and Interconnect
Manufactured by NBS Audio Cables
155 Fifth Avenue South Suite 150, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
phone: (800) 627-0204, fax: (612) 339-8750
web: http://www.nbscables.com, e-mail: kashbeck@nbscables.com
Source of review sample: Manufacturer Loan
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