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The State of the Cable Art: van den Hul 3T Mountain Cables, & the Kubala-Sosna Realization Series

09-29-2017 | By Jim Merod | Issue 93

Experience, Direct Witness, Astonishment

What It Is

Across more than forty years I've recorded live jazz in many locations. The list of venues and places has grown long. The number of musicians—great, very good, extraordinary, iconoclastic and, on occasion, startling—has grown even longer.

Jim Merod with Ornette Coleman (photograph courtesy of BluePort Records)

Early on, with equipment far inferior to recent high-resolution recording devices that essentially deliver state of the art sonic capture with hand-held compact ease, I learned how crucial two elements of the enterprise truly were: good microphones with exquisitely precise placement; and outstanding cables at the point of audio reception as well as recorded transfer.

A search for the best possible recording cables became a near obsession. In the early years of recording-on-site with all the obstacles and challenges that effort encounters, I was no less dedicated to learn how various superior microphones shape each event's aspirations and outcome. The elusive enigmatic "x factor" was perennially one's choice of cables.

Jim Merod, master producer and scholar of Jazz (photograph courtesy of BluePort Records)

Despite traditional practices, the word on the street, well-placed advertisements and industry gossip and rumors, I discovered nothing substitutes for careful listening to cables under consideration for this delicate, somewhat mysterious (frequently ephemeral) art. Many parameters contribute to recording success, its sonic accuracy and musical allure.

Dynamic precision. Textural complexity. Tonal veracity. Soundstage replication. And that most difficult of all recording values: a near holographic blend of all those values brought together as a truthful representation of the recorded event... sound that is convincingly "real," space convincingly rendered, music gathered in its discrete elements and separate pieces nonetheless organically whole and sometimes flat out seductive.

None of these statements comprise a full list of sonic items and technical aspects that make up profound music profoundly captured. But they indicate the almost Zen evanescence of the recording art in its "on site" (against all odds) ambitions and victories.

What I've Recently Learned (alpha):  The van den Hul 3T Mountain Cables, RCA and XLR

The van den Hul 3T Mountain Interconnects (photograph courtesy of van den Hul)

I was given the good fortune to spend extended time with extremely attractive, beautifully packaged van den Hul cables that recently caught my reviewer's attention since, for almost thirty years, van den Hul's carbon and carbon-based hybrid cables have not only earned my genuine respect. They have frequently solved subtle sonic problems with their innate audio honesty and native accuracy. I've learned that van den Hul's commitment to sonic neutrality is remarkable, a virtue to count on as a recording hopeful.

A Jazz session produced by Jim Merod and recorded in Quad DSD at Soka University (photograph courtesy of Soka University)

As usual, I took notes as I listened to a wide variety of musical genres and recording logistics. As usual I found van den Hul cleaved to its traditional performance goals and success. I was not surprised to find

that these newer cables, not at all inexpensive yet placed within the mid-spectrum of the whole van den Hul line-up, met my expectations and were a delight to spend listening time with. I have no problem affirming that, while their expense is not inconsiderable, their performance can easily in today's audio cable market be looked at without wincing.

Let me say here that the steady inflation of cable prices over the last two decades seems out of proportion to their intrinsic use and value, but by nature markets bear costs and prices that either sustain themselves or bomb out. In no way do I believe van den Hul violates these marketplace standards and expectations, as dismal as the entire upward crawl of audio pricing has been and continues to be.  The bottom line here is that van den Hul's cable performance—like Jaguar, Porsche, and BMW—has a sturdy record of satisfied customers... and, in me, a long history of commitment satisfied over and over.

Jim Merod:  A portrait at his home (photograph by David W. Robinson)

Any audio reviewer knows how difficult it is to craft a vocabulary of analytic discernment and listening precision. Cables pose a special challenge because of inherent signal anomalies easily encountered: mismatched impedance loads, subtle eccentricities of audio delivery that color or infringe upon this or that audio system's ability to deliver music accurately, happily, effortlessly... in sum, the variables of matching cables with systems are less a matter of technical quirks or limits and much more an issue of a discerning listener's understanding of his or her own system. Because I've depended on van den Hul's cables for so long and in so many iterations I feel satisfied that here, under inspection in my audio rig, they performed beautifully as they should and as I thought they would. 

The van den Hul 3T Cumulus speaker cables (photograph courtesy of van den Hul Audio)

At the end of the process was I tempted to buy them? I was, but I did not. In part their price, even with generous consideration, outflanked their values here for me… which does not mar or impinge on their values in another system for someone else. Simply put:  A. J. van den Hul's technical genius (not a term I use with trivial abandon) is once more regnant here. If anything must be said to substantiate his long track record of successful cable production it is this:  these two sets of two-meter-plus XCLR and RCA cables offer even better resolution, more signal relaxation, and all the nearly unnoticeable qualities of musical subtlety that the van den Hul line has shown to be its unique cable strength and distinction.

What I've Learned Recently (beta):  Kubala-Sosna Realization Cables

Enter, virtually out of nowhere, the new KUBALA-SOSNA Realization cables (themselves expensive) that extend unrivaled performance achievements initially rendered in their Emotion cables and, once again, extended further in their "Elation!" cables.

The Kubala-Sosna Realization RCA cables

Not unlike van den Hul's grip on my audio and recording worlds, Kubala-Sosna's Emotion and Elation! cables have transformed my understanding of what state-of-the art cables are capable of accomplishing. Despite the difficulty of crafting adequate audio review vocabularies, K-S cables seem to speak for themselves. I've sat here with my own system and elsewhere at shows, when comrades of longstanding and folks I've never previously hung out with occupied time and space listening to those astonishing cables do their thing, as it were . . . which was to make one's jaw drop with surprise, delight, joy, and musical involvement.

Howard Sosna, Jim Merod, Steve McCormack, and Joe Kubala at CES 2008 (photograph courtesy of Greg Weaver and Positive Feedback)

Several times at audio shows in California and beyond I've found no words possible to name (much less summarize) the haptic force and clarity of what they delivered. Others with me found themselves equally disabled of useful speech, but no less happy—in fact, ecstatic. When I say, for example, that Elation cables completed very very expensive audio systems that were impressive before they were swapped in—"completing" vividly compelling, essentially you-are-there musical delivery—I mean that what they did to bring music to full vivacity and life was so immediately beguiling that words were irrelevant. One sat, somewhat stunned, wanting more music.  Asking for more time just to listen, hungrily. No babble needed. No comments offered. Just music to plunge into, music splendidly real and uplifting to indulge.

The Kubala-Sosna Realization AC Power Cable

So, again, it's been recently, that the Realization cables (RCAs and also power cords) blew whatever ceiling my already well-prepared expectations anticipated. In one phrase I'll admit that, while I thought I was prepared to hear more involving and accurate audio; musical seduction and persuasive sonic staging and dynamic textural veracity... I was not. Words become foolish cyphers in the presence of a full blown "total" solar eclipse. Who has the inclination to talk at length (pompously, analytically, mock-heroically) about the most fabulous thrilling moments one has experienced in the sack? Few, I suppose, if any. My implied analogy here holds front and center. Hearing my own recordings rendered in my own well-tweaked system with Realization cables in the most important signal positions approached an ineffable experience of joy and immediacy that I did not have words for then. And do not find adequate words for now.

The Realizations are expensive. They constitute, I truly believe, the Mercedes AMG series of the audio delivery cable art. Would I buy them if my loose change could indulge the investment? Yes.

In the absence of language to retrieve the impossible—transferring into words the poetic complexity and divine impact of great music spectacularly reproduced—I urge anyone with interest to hear these elegant lithe beasts in performance. I must somehow find more loose change.  I must reverse the aging process. I must deny myself Lagavulin's mystique. I must earn my way past wordless discourse to surmount intellect's frustration.

A portrait of Jim Merod (photograph by David W. Robinson)

Prices vary; contact the manufacturers for specific pricing

van den Hul, US Distributor

Finest Fidelity, Randy Forman

3 Sagebrook Drive

Bluffton, SC 29910


[email protected]

Kubala•Sosna Research LLC

11 Melanie Lane, Unit 24A

East Hanover, NJ 07936


[email protected]

All photographs as credited; drawing by Bruce Walker.