My analog interconnect journey

  1. Rhamnetin
    As of late, I have been purchasing various different interconnects and also borrowing some using The Cable Company's lending library. I thought I'd share my subjective results, using my Chord Hugo 2 + KGSSHV Carbon + Stax SR-009 system which is a real microscope that highlights interconnect differences far better than any non-electrostatic headphone system can.

    This is just part 1 of my journey, all limited by the Chord Hugo 2's board mounted RCA jacks which limit what size RCA connectors you can use. Part 2 will continue with the Chord Hugo TT 2.

    AudioQuest Evergreen RCA (Cardas Clear XLR adapters on load/amp end) - $32.95
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    This is mostly one cable but with a Y splitter at each end, so it's not exactly thick on gauge. So as expected, the sound is not close to a high end interconnect, or any of the others listed in this comparison for that matter.

    But compared to the generic Mediabridge, the sound here is much cleaner. More bass slam, more clarity everywhere, treble is a bit more airy, but the treble is still sloppy, most noticeable with metal music. There is sibilance, cymbals sound muddy, and the sound is not as "fast" because the attack isn't crisp and clean, rather the attack is dirty and a bit blurry. Imaging has improved slightly. Not an enormous difference compared to the Mediabridge.

    If 0% is the Mediabridge and 100% is the Kimber Kable Hero (my reference, the one I have the most experience with), my brain wants to put the AudioQuest Evergreen at 30%. I also have what I believe are some Philips interconnects with RCA on one end, XLR on the other, but I'm not entirely sure if that is indeed the brand. The Evergreen's treble is a bit less refined than those, but highly unsatisfactory sound for both.


    Blue Jeans LC-1 - $37.75 for 3 ft
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    Shown here with Cardas Clear XLR adapters which I need for my system.

    Noteworthy for its low price, shielding, and low capacitance (12.2 pF/ft). Now THIS is a low budget interconnect. Significantly better than the AudioQuest Evergreen in every way. Not the cleanest upper mids, not the cleanest treble (cymbals are slightly blurred, not the airiest sound, slight sibilance at 'sss' or close to it), not the deepest or hardest hitting or most full bodied bass, relatively sloppy in metal music but not utterly embarrassing, but the immediate sound is at least pretty good. Perhaps even end game worthy for any non-electrostatic headphone system.

    The Kimber Kable Hero cleans up the treble, reducing sibilance and making cymbals sound super realistic, while adding "airiness" and harder/more tactile impact from the headphones in general. Bass is more full bodied and slams harder with the Hero, and the Hero has a more coherent sound stage and imaging with far better instrument separation (most notable in metal).


    Belden 1694A - $33.75 for 1.5 ft
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    Sold on the Blue Jeans website, this interconnect looks like a slightly thinner Blue Jeans LC-1 and is in the same price range, and is also shielded with similarly low capacitance (16.2 PF/FT). This is similar to the Belden 1505F, both of which are lower profile than the LC-1, and they sound close enough for me to fail blind testing between them. So I'd say Amazon availability in favor of the LC-1 is the main deciding factor between them, along with the LC-1 being available in more limited length options on Amazon.


    Kimber Kable Hero (Ultraplate Black RCA w/ Cardas Clear XLR adapters on load/amp end) - $167
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    This was my entry into high end audio interconnects and boy is it impressive for the price. Read my reviews of the Stax SR-009 and Chord Hugo 2 here on Head-Fi; they would not have been anywhere near as positive with cheap interconnects!

    The Kimber Hero is a four wire braid copper interconnect. Compared to all of the above interconnects, on a system like mine the Hero will greatly broaden the sound stage in all three dimensions, greatly improve imaging, it'll introduce a new dimension to bass body and fullness and boy does the bass slam harder. The entire frequency range is far more transparent but the biggest improvement is in the treble, which is more extended now and less recessed overall, with a much cleaner response that is airier and sounds perfectly smooth. The Hero also speeds up the sound significantly compared to the previous interconnects, due to its faster decay, more crisp attack, and generally improved treble.

    Metal music will make this more obvious than any. All sibilance is gone, cymbals now sound perfect, the impact and weight to all instruments is like nothing I've ever heard in a headphone before. The sound is much faster since the attack is much more crisp, clean, and potent. Metal music is no longer a muddy mess! The sound compared to the above interconnects is purely magical. The above interconnects will HUGELY downgrade an elite Stax system.

    The Kimber Kable Hero taught me to never cheap out on interconnects. No wonder it is part of the "Ascent" lineup, as the Hero really allows your audio equipment to ascend into new levels. You don't want to go below something of this level with a high end system. I have not tried similarly priced alternatives from Tara Labs, Cardas, AudioQuest, and others however, nor have I tried the even lower priced Corpse Cable interconnects.

    The Hero has a reputation of being slightly bright, or rather it does not recess treble frequencies (it's not like it causes treble peaks). Indeed, it does not hold back the treble (at least as far as the abilities of copper go at least), much to my delight.


    Kimber Kable Silver Streak Balanced (WBT-0114Ag silver RCA, Switchcraft silver plated XLR on load/amp end) - $518
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    My first venture into silver interconnects, and not my last. The Silver Streak Balanced is a different beast than the single ended one, having 2 silver conductors and 1 copper opposed to 2 copper and 1 silver. Mine had WBT-0114Ag RCA connectors on one end which use silver contacts, and Switchcraft XLR on the other which has silver plated contact pins.

    It sounds a bit like the Kimber Kable Hero. All of the Hero's positive attributes are there. I was actually expecting more of an improvement; the main differences I hear are very slightly improved transparency; noticeable in upper mids, sometimes around vocals, treble, horns, sometimes bass frequencies (most notably in "Hotel California"), slightly more air in the upper mids and treble, ever so slightly faster decay (most impressive in "I'm Housin" by Rage Against the Machine of any song I've listened to), and slightly more bass impact that is only noticeable with softer drums and the like, not even noticeable in rap (though I wasn't in need of more bass slam anyway).

    Sound stage depth is improved, aand sometimes width too in some songs but not all. The biggest differences I've heard here are the width of the earlier bassier sequences in Hotel California, and depth in "Pistol Grip Punp" by Rage Against the Machine.

    But at the same time, the treble has gotten slightly splashier: cymbals sound slightly exaggerated now, there is almost some sibilance now at 'sss'. The Silver Streak Balanced would be better than the Hero for darker sounding systems I think, but it's not for the SR-009 and KGSSHV Carbon it seems. I think the triple braid design might not be enough. I'm guessing the KCAG would be better, but I did not test the KCAG. I did test one other silver interconnect with the Hugo 2 that has more conductors and wire, and the results were more positive.

    Is the Kimber Kable Hero truly the point of diminishing returns? At least for headphone systems (because boy would I enjoy redoing these tests on an electrostatic loudspeaker setup)? We'll soon find out...


    Audience Au24 SX (RCA w/ Cardas Clear XLR adapters on load/amp end) - $1,683
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    Very pricey for a copper interconnect and a long time audiophile favorite, the Audience Au24 SX has a very unassuming presence. The $167 Kimber Kable Hero LOOKS more expensive to me, I'd expect it to be the higher end one based on looks alone, but looks can be deceiving.

    So getting right into the sound... very nice, extremely balanced, on the warm side but without obnoxiously recessed treble. Ever so slightly more present lower mids it seems. Compared to the previously tested interconnects, I am hearing slightly more layered sound, further spaced out separation and slightly more precise imaging. Vocals sound ever slightly more transparent at times. As expected, the splashiness that the Silver Streak Balanced caused in my system is gone.

    The Au24 SX is somewhat laid back compared to the Kimber Hero, it possesses a slightly warm sound character that many people will enjoy. For those afraid of brightness and listening fatigue, this is sure to please.

    But I can't really justify the cost of these. Even with my highly revealing Stax system; there are sound improvements, but they are not significant to me. I can live perfectly fine with the Kimber Kable Hero, sacrificing maybe 5% of technical sound quality at most. And I personally do prefer ever so slightly brighter sound of the Hero anyway. And, as you'll find out, I discover technically better performance for a lower price than these.


    Kimber Kable Hero Ag (WBT-0102Ag RCA w/ Cardas Clear XLR adapters on load/amp end) - $1,223
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    Next to the Silver Streak Balanced.

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    Showing the Hero Ag's WBT-0102Ag connector next to the Silver Streak Balanced's WBT-0114Ag connector (though WBT-0102Ag is available for the Silver Streak Balanced too).

    Seeing as how much I loved the Hero, I had to try the Kimber Kable Hero Ag. The VariStrand copper conductors of the Hero have been replaced by Hyper-pure silver conductors here. Capacitance is far lower with the Hero Ag. Note the WBT-0102Ag connectors (and even WBT-0114Ag) raise the price of these significantly, with Ultraplate Black RCA they are 'only' $857 which is a good value for the sound quality these provide.

    So how does this sound? In one word, superb! It sounds more like the regular Hero than I expected (as in I expected more significant tonal change). Sounds like the same balance, but slightly improved transparency in general, slightly quicker attack with more impact, improved sound stage depth, imaging, slightly more heft and definition to bass notes. Best bass, imaging, sound stage, and vocals of all of these so far (though the vocals are only sometimes more transparent, usually the same as the other high end interconnects). But still not a huge difference vs the regular Hero like the price difference would suggest, not with my system at least. Noticeable but not $700 or $1,100 better.

    The Audience Au24 SX is less bright, and is slightly bested in bass, sound stage depth, imaging and occasionally vocals to the Hero Ag in my opinion. That makes the Hero Ag a great value compared to the far more expensive Au24 SX. The Au24 SX reaffirms my suspicions of super expensive copper interconnects and their value compared to lower priced silver ones, but I will test more of both in part 2.

    But for those who want a more laid back sound, avoid the Kimber Hero Ag. The Hero Ag does push my system closer to having sibilance than the standard Hero, like the Silver Streak Balanced, noticeable in powerful cymbal strikes and 'sss.' Cymbals are a tiny bit exaggerated and 'sss' sounds are a bit sharper than the regular Hero, but the sibilance is lower than the Silver Streak Balanced. Despite this, I do prefer the Hero Ag to the original for all of its improvements. But still, I could ALMOST live happily ever after with the standard Hero.

    Perhaps an awesome electrostatic loudspeaker system will benefit more from such interconnects by allowing the improved imaging to shine more. Keep this in mind, as I am only using headphones. Sure, it is a microscope of a headphone system I am using, but its sound staging ability is limited in the big picture.

    And that is the extent of my interconnect journey with the Chord Hugo 2. I plan to compare the following on the Chord Hugo TT 2, which is due in September where I live:

    • Kimber Kable Hero
    • Kimber Kable Select KS-1036
    • AudioQuest Fire
    • Cardas Clear
    • Tara Labs RSC Air Evolution w/ EVO Ground Station
    • Shunyata Research Alpha
     
    Nik74, wmak79, KaiserTK and 3 others like this.
  2. Rhamnetin
    Reserved for part 2
     
  3. eushvedov
    Thanks a lot! I just wanted to know more about kimbers
     

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