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Positive Feedback ISSUE 54
march/april 2011

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genesis

Absolute Fidelity Cables: High-end Bargains Without Reservations

as reviewed by Jim Merod

 

genesis cables

 

 

 

 

JIM MEROD'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
TETRA 606s (also: Apogee Stages, SP TECH Time Piece 1.2s, Vandersteen 2Ce-modified, Acoustic Zen Adagios, van Scweikert VCL-15 monitor reference and sub, Tetra Manhattans),

ELECTRONICS
Z Systems UDP-1, Birdland Odeon-Ag 24-192/SACD Upsampling DAC, Manley Shrimp, Meridian 518 mod plus, Audio Research SP-8 Dahong Seeto version preamplifiers. McCormack 125 Platinum Full-Rev Edition, Nuforce P-9 mono blocks, KR VT600-MK tube mono blocks, McCormack 0.5 "Lady Day" Edition amplifiers.

SOURCES
OPPO DV 970HD, Denon 1650-AR, Pioneer Elite DV-45A , Samsung DVD R135, McCormack CD Drive-plus, Alesis ML 9600 MasterLink 24-96 digital recorder, Tascam RA1000 DSD recorder, Marantz "Professional" Recorder, Tascam RW750 Pro CD Recorder,

CABLES
Nordost Valhalla, Stealth Meta-carbon and Stealth ZERO limited edition, Kubala-Sosna Emotion and Emotion "cryo'd", van den Hull carbon, Acoustic Zen Matrix and Silver Reference "Exact", Magnan Silver Bronze, Silversmith Paladium, Analysis Plus ULTRA PLUS, Wireworld Eclipse III, Audience Conductor, Bogdan Silver Spirit, Silverline "Alan Yun Special Edition" balanced digital, Acoustic Zen MC-Squared, Magnan digital RCA. Kubala-Sosna Emotion, Analysis Plus, Acoustic Zen Absolute. Gargantua, Krakatoa, and Tsunami power cords, VH Audio Flavor 4, Stealth, PS Audio, WireWorld power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Audience AdeptResponse 12 outlet power conditioner and Magnan ultra power strip.

 

Looking at Cable Facts

Many audiophiles and their colleagues in the high-end audio press have become weary of a constant stream of new audio cables that threatens to expand into a river of sonic uncertainty. How can anyone keep up with an increasing flow of decent, good and much better audio cables? With difficulty, at best... in fact, just about impossible, in truth.

My own obsession with audio cables has evolved from my work as a recording engineer. Early on I learned—by hearing: direct observation—how crucial cables are in capturing the best possible sound. I've often been puzzled that most studio recording work occurs with mid-fi cables semi-permanently installed. When you reckon how many linear feet of less than optimum cables inhabit the average recording studio, you soon realize that the cost of re-wiring an entire studio with cables of the very best quality is a prohibitive expense. On one side, my time with quite a few extremely competent engineers has earned my considerable respect for their stamina, good taste, and tenacity. Recording work is tedious and the hours many recording engineers suffer to meet deadlines and make a few bucks along the way are powerful disincentives for exotic studio innovation. What works there is often (necessarily) what MUST be made to work if deadlines, production values and a modicum of profit are to come together successfully. On the other side of all this, I find myself fortunate NOT to be tied to a sixty or seventy hour a week schedule in a single recording environment. I think that grind would wear me down and actually turn me off. I've been fortunate to choose my recording gigs and to record "on location." Virtually each recording session is not just unique, but also challenging in its special way. In sum, I've re-assembled a one shot recording studio time after time, which entailed locating the best spot to set up (sometimes the only spot), working on the fly with imponderables—extraneous noise; bad electricity; inferior PA systems; mic bleed from stage monitors; and even (believe it or not) inferior PA engineers who resent having an outside guy come into their space as a "hired gun" to make a live recording they are absolutely certain they could've made as well or better.

That experience has reinforced the virtue of humility. I feel like the fisherman who caught the prize marlin when I return to discover that, against odds I just outlined, I snagged the sonic and musical "truth" waiting to be captured. I tell young recording aspirants that there's not one way to record any gig, live or studio, because each situation poses its own risks and possibilities. You have to consider, most of all, the ambient acoustics. You need to work closely with the musicians and, believe me here, every band has a widely divergent range of personalities and expectations from others, so that acutely sensitive (but candid) interpersonal give and take is a pre-requisite. There are literally dozens of choices that a "live" recording engineer confronts. Thus, my work keeps me not merely humble and flexible, but challenges me without stint. I've been forced to learn many things about mics, headphones, mic bleed, stage ambience, the importance of room temperature and humidity, on and ceaselessly on. I should write a book, "The Village Idiot's Guide to Live Recording and Tempting Cobras from Their Comfort Zones."

Frankly, the variables I've faced have been part of the fun for me. Part of the work and its energizing output, however, also resides with problems that must be overcome. Or else. No recording book I'm aware of could possibly outline or forecast the hundreds of curves and glitches, obstacles and improbabilities that I've faced... because, in fact, no one has been as ridiculously obsessed about on location recording work as I have been over a span of nearly forty years. I am one hundred per cent certain that I've faced and overcome more impediments to optimum recording conditions than anyone. If you do this sort of crazy work thousands of times in hundreds of locations from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Boston and New York and beyond, to Salzburg, Budapest and Vienna, you just might consider yourself a major nut case who has, best of all, survived his own self-declared war against a great deal of great music from disappearing into permanent silence.

The greatest blessing for me is that I set up my recording work new each time... and, thereby, control the number and length of cables. If I needed to rely upon hundreds of feet (or more) of mic cables and routing cables along with splitters and so forth, I'd not be able to record on a constant basis with the best, most expensive and (did I mention) the most transparent, fully nuanced, highly dynamic and uncolored cables on earth. That would be impossible since those cables made available for this work are not only not cheap. Their total cost approaches the funding that high rollers, with several children enrolled in the Ivy League, bankroll to promote their clan's self-worth.

Make no mistake here. If you know what you're doing—with average microphones and decent cables (unless your mic preamps are grossly inferior and your associated gear is long in the tooth or degenerated by abuse)—there's really no reason why, IF you know how to record, that you cannot make a good recording. That's absolutely true. But the difference between your "very good" sound capture and what's possible with the crème de la crème (immensely expensive yet ridiculously glorious) cables that Santa Claus generously dropped beneath your Christmas tree is on the order of magnitude defined by comparing a "decent" bottle of Trader Joe's $1.99 chardonnay to Rombauer's special vintage chard at, say, $44 per bottle. That difference might be likened to Sunday outings in your dad's beat up Jeep and a tour of Cape Cod your rich uncle Roland once gave you in his S-series Mercedes.

Particulars

I hate most speakers, adore all microphones, and love most cables, even those with less than aristocratic heritage. The reason is simple. Even a used Radio Shack mic can be employed in a useful way if you know what its dynamic and tonal limitations are and apply them to a specific sonic shape or need appropriate to your recording mix.

I appreciate even dog shit cables for the same reason. Believe it or not, just about every cable you'll encounter is, to varying degrees, a tone (and dynamic) control device. Just as a "lesser mic" can be used affirmatively in particular instances, the same is true with inferior cables. Ragged cable sound delivers ragged music signals. Sometimes just such a wooly or slightly abrasive sound sits just right inside the total sound field. You don't have to trust me here. Go out and try it yourself. There are hundreds (thousands) of sonic tricks that serve discrete purposes if you think of them and are willing to experiment.

Why do I hate most speakers? If you knew how hard it is to achieve exactly the sound you're after, and if you can imagine how few speakers own the wide transparency and sonic accuracy as well as musical truthfulness to fully articulate what hard effort delivers on the final recording... then you get my point here. Believe me, monitor speakers are crucial in the final accomplishment of all well recorded music. But, in that activity, some quite good and useful monitor speakers are "accurate" without being "musical." If you want to know what that difference is, I recommend that you begin your own investigation by performing careful listening to a single supremely recorded track with the use of, say, three headphones that you like and respect.

Because headphones most often couple with your cranium, your sense of "musical involvement" is often heightened over the more detached (if also frequently higher) sound pressure levels from your home audio set up. You're quite probably more likely to be stunned or, at least, deeply impressed, by sonic differences that headphones render. Is any single one accurate to what the engineer(s) had in mind and actually crafted? How will you know? Do you have access to the recorded master or the mix ready for pressing? Probably, not, so how do you decide which audio presentation is best? Or more "musical" and so forth?

The fly in the musical and sonic ointment here is that, unless you recorded and/or mastered the music you're listening to, you really do NOT have an insightful way to be certain what your headphones and speakers (and sound systems) are delivering. So much for audio pontifications. The high end audio world is founded on subjective differences of audio response and production. Some discerning music connoisseurs realize this and do all they can to plow through the labyrinth of audio information and misinformation as well as their own subjectivity. I'm blown away on occasion by such dedicated people, because their search is very difficult, at best, and constantly conducted for the most "through a can darkly"... in fact, through sonic cans that make their empirical investigations almost infinitely obscured.

I'm not offering a pessimist's view of sound and music. If I were genuinely pessimistic, years ago I'd have quit my happy madness as a music lover and recording nut job. My fretful semi-optimism is based on my constant endeavors to refine my listening as well as my recording equipment alongside my recording techniques.

Let me make this search for continuously strengthened personal education (and upgraded gear) concrete right here.

Enter Gary Koh, The Guru @ Genesis

Well before I met Maestro Gary Koh, who bought Genesis and took on both a regnant name in the high end audio market as well as unnamed liabilities that often come with such territory, I realized to a total maximum the crucial significance of cables in music reproduction and, not a jot less, in audio recording. My last twenty five or so years of work with recording and with audiophile aspirations, also, brought me into contact with a small army of technical creators and sonic masters such as Dave Magnan, Steve Hofmann, Denny Purcell, Serguei Timachev, John LaGrou, Rudy Van Gelder, Steve McCormack, Stan Riker, John Grado, Sr., Robert Lee, David Kawakami, Howard Sosna, Aspen Pittman, Boothroyd Stuart, Jeff Smith, Eveanna Manley, Casey Ng, Riccardo Kron, Carl Countryman, Giles Gamiero, Lou Johnson, Bill Conrad, Len Miller, Martens Saulespurens, Ivor Tiefenbrun, Alan Yun, and Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg. Joe Kubala is on this list, too, but I'll discuss that in greater detail later. This group of audio-enabling geniuses (or their near kin) could be considered—alongside that inaugural genius of all things sonic, Alan Blumlein—to constitute an opening set of nominees for an Audio Hall of Fame.

Bluntly put, some here have created cables that literally define the ultimate reach of the "cable art." Others have accomplished remarkable mastering and recording precision. Still others have brought microphone pre-amplification to new heights. And two, now deceased, dedicated their lives' work to tube refinement and the enhancement of the analog domain. To that august list, I'll now add Gary Koh's name. Each of these audio maestros, over time, have proved the value of extraordinary musical taste and technical ability.

Why Gary Koh, you ask? If for no other reason that his extremely limited production run of analog interconnects and speaker cables approach the top rung of the cable art... and do so at prices that, while not cheap, are more within reach of Sam Six-pack or, at least, Sam's adventurous and more lucrative older brother, Talbot. Genesis cables are constructed with magical internal configurations that, simply, continuously deliver effortlessly transparent, dynamic music.

Genesis $3000/2m pair "loudspeaker interface cables" are silver-plated copper, while the "component interface cables (balanced or single-ended) are $1800/0.8m pair. Those cables employ copper with gold-plated termination (connectors) at the output end and silver-plated connectors at the input end. These cables are rare at any price because they reveal no inherent footprint of their own.

genesis cables

A few months ago, I awarded Genesis loudspeaker interface cables and Kubala-Sosna's Elation speaker cables the joint award for cable products of the year 2010. While they are distinct from one another, they are difficult to choose between because, when they're in harness, you are fully in the presence of music to its saturated core. Each of them provides an immensely open signal delivery conduit. Kubala-Sosna's glorious Elation cables are marvelously transparent all across the sonic spectrum. From the first time they entered my sonic universe, I was hooked. In truth, I did not expect any speaker cable to come so close to such stunning authority, neutrality and what I'll simply call their "hilariously gorgeous and joyful musicality." The Elations special strength is a virtual Grand Canyon sense of sonic and ambient openness combined with a profound "rightness" of bottom octave musical information (in truth, the most difficult part of the sound spectrum to define without tonal blurring or image-smearing). I do not hear these top of the line K-S speaker cables "privileging" the bottom end so much as they seem to "receive" those signals with extraordinary ease, transparency and delicacy. There's no skewing or spectral tilting that I discern when Elation speaker cables are in harness.

For example, via these Elation cables, Buster Williams' unrivaled sonic command on bass, a full-bodied "deep in the basement" sonic power that Buster's seductive bass authority produces, stands clear in its full sonic radiance... precisely as you hear it live (in concert from a front row middle seat) and as it was recorded with enormous care. I know of no other bassist and bass sound with such singular majesty. One wonders what J. S. Bach, Sr, would have thought about it. My bet is that the feisty old guy would ask Maestro Williams to join his chamber cohort. Think of this: Buster Williams, who has absolutely mastered Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranquez," digging into any of Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello. We now know, for certain, that Bach's original ambition for those difficult and transcendent pieces did NOT favor cello over alternate instruments. If any bassist can accomplish this semi-miraculous feat of transposition and execution, it‘s our man Buster!

genesis cables

The Elations' amazing bass tactility may have a great deal to do with the salient fact that Buster's bass was recorded live, "on location," with long runs of K-S "Emotion" balanced microphone cables. Surely a degree of family-related sonic reinforce-ment may be at work {BluePort, 65 Roses, BP J-016}. With slight but genuinely engaging musical differences, Genesis loudspeaker interface cables own a similar sensitivity in the upper mid-range that (for example) allows Miles Davis' trumpet on the 1958 Columbia sextet recording of "On Green Dolphin Street" to shine with complete immediacy that is uniquely appealing but without etched emphasis of any sort. Genesis speaker wire is a touch brighter than Elation, yet in no way overly-emphatic. It may be that the emotional appeal of the K-S bottom end frames the entire sonic soundstage, but Genesis does, without question, present a warm timbral definition at once illuminated and sonic illuminating.

Astonishments Come in Pairs

I noted above that Gary Koh's recognition as a force in the high-end audio industry is earned "if for no other reason" that his as yet undiscovered genius in cable design deserves serious focus. I do understand that I'm one of very few who've had to honor of living at length with his state-of-the-art audio wires. Soon, I'd imagine, others will come to hear the musical "all-ness" and sonic "there-ness" Genesis cables provide... but that notwithstanding, two other items of significance must be brought to the fore here.

Numero Uno: Genesis loudspeaker interface cables are matched by Genesis balanced as well as unbalanced component interface cables. In sum, if you find someday that you've been seduced by Koh's artistry with speaker wire, believe me you'll find the precise sonic openness and just plain flat out kick-your-butt musicality with his interconnect cables. When I rig up the entire system with Genesis wire (top to bottom), what is impressive becomes more impressive.

Let me be as concrete as possible. Recently I recorded Grammy nominated pianist Tamir Hendleman's trio. The trio's mojo was seriously engaged throughout two sets and the audience reaction that night (preserved forever more) attests to how sublime their quick dance-like pace and languorous ballad touch both achieved perfection. It would be difficult for any jazz trio to be more attractive, alert, variegated and engaging musically. I'm happy to say that we have a spectacular recording that reanimates a great night's playing.

The trick of a superior recording's genuine "superiority" resides with the playback. Speakers again . . ugh! Or, shit! When will I find speakers up to the level of live music recorded as if there is no "recording" . . . only the sonic facts, themselves, musical truth in its vivid immediacy and raw delicate power?

Numero Dos: Gary brought a pair of his monitor speakers—the Genesis 7.2 petite, at a resounding bargain basement price of $2950/pair, beautifully finished) and installed them caringly on proprietary stands, For the record, I cannot wait until the articulate sonic beauty of these monitors hit Maestro Koh's ears with four of Paul Waukeen's Stillpoints placed under each speaker: jaw dropping became awe-inspiring!

With my sound system rigged with Genesis wire, amp to preamp, monitors to amplifier, and front end (Benchmark DAC) to preamp: VOILA! Three musicians and their instruments became holographic in three-dimensional space between and outside the Genesis speakers. Right here in River City ! These little speakers are as revealing, detailed and musically sympathetic as ANY speakers at any size or price that I've ever heard. PERIOD. Are they "perfect"? Give me slack, Dorko. Of course not, but while larger speakers move more air and growl with fuller thunder, no speaker I've encountered is as delicate and exquisitely dense with sound and pace and "musical feeling," saturated all around your hungry ears—precisely as sound is genuinely "saturated" at the point of hearing live music. Damn !

Tamir Hendleman's world class trio had been recorded only fifteen hours before these small reference speakers were connected to my entire master playback system. I was astonished at the vivacity and tangible audacity I heard. These fantastic, over-achieving monitor giant slayers brought forward clarity, the most subtle and detailed nuances of musical and sonic complexity imaginable… beyond their apparent physical constraints. There is a real and obviously deep story here and I intend to unearth it and share that with anyone who cares.

Gary's witness here was defined instantly by his own surprise, no less than mine, but he'll surely address that issue on his own. For the moment, I'll pause now (to return before long) and assert that—if I were forced to live only with Genesis cables in my system; and only with these Genesis monitors on hand to work with professionally and to enjoy personally—I could easily accept that "imposed liability" since it would not be, in any way I'd suffer, a liability at all.

Thus, my essential point holds two halves.

First, Gary Koh's "underground" interconnects and speaker wires stand shoulder to shoulder, or nearly so, with the most transcendent and truly expensive cables which constitute the top of contemporary audio cable performance: Kubala-Sosna's Elation and their Emotion; Stealth's "Indra" and "Metacarbon"; along with Silversmith's "Palladium" cables. To add intrigue to good fortune, Van den Hul has a new cable worthy of careful consideration that I'm not yet ready to elaborate on in detail: the van den Hul "Rock Hybrid" cables.

The second half of my point here is this: for less than $3000, Genesis monitor speakers are a bargain rarely this extravagantly fair-minded and audiophile-friendly in the (much too often) overpriced universe of high-end gear. Of the speakers I've auditioned in the last four months or so, several earn my sincere respect. Only the new Magnepan 3.7s elicit my complete admiration alongside Gary Koh's fire-breathing, dragon-slaying little sonic engines with enormous musical hearts. Jim Merod

Loudspeaker Interface Cables
Retail: $3000/2m pair

Component Interface Cables (balanced or single-ended)
Retail: $1800/0.8m pair

Genesis' appealing "underground website" is: www.absolutefidelity.com

 

 

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