Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kimber Kable: Kimber USB Review

My motto when it comes to high end audio equipment is simple, "Everything matters." There are countless arguments on the internet about whether certain parts of the audio chain really matter. There are more so-called experts trying to pass their opinion as fact and even more followers grabbing on to that opinion and spreading it like a virus. More on this whole topic to come on a later date. I briefly mentioned my everything matters motto because of the high quantity of people who believe different USB cables in an audio system do not make a difference. I can imagine their listening tests consisting of one zip cord USB cable versus another zip cord USB cable. The infamous saying "bits is bits" can be found all over the web. Without many many vocal audiophiles out there dispelling the myth, it continues to snowball. I'm happy to say Kimber Kable has created a product that melts this proverbial snowball. The very appropriately named Kimber USB.

Now that the chaos of CES has settled down a bit I have much more time to review equipment. So, I contacted the very friendly people at Kimber Kable for a review sample of the Kimber USB. The following day I received a package from Brett at Kimber. Try getting that kind of response out of one of the major manufacturers. I won't hold my breath waiting for a forum post describing your excellent experience with a cable conglomerate.

Build Quality
Like all Kimber products the Kimber USB has very good build quality. It doesn't seem like much can be done to the build quality of a USB cable, but you'll have to trust me until you get your own. The Kimber USB uses copper conductors with unusually thick silver plating that enhances conductivity and signal support. Kimber uses the largest gauge conductors possible under the USB spec for both the signal and power conductors. A critically important part of this cable is Kimber's use of a high performance nitrogen-infused polyethylene (PE) dielectric on the signal conductors to maximize signal integrity. In addition, Ferrite noise reduction beads are used at both ends of the cable to prevent interference of the data stream. Kimber offers this cable with two standard termination options. The Mini Bus is terminated with a type A connector on one end and a mini type B on the other. The B Bus is terminated with an A type on one end and B type on the other end. The connection types are pretty basic but may sound more technical than Joe Sixpack understands. In layman's term they offer what is commonly referred to as a standard USB termination and a Mini USB termination.

I have been using the stock USB cable that came with my Benchmark DAC1 USB for some time now. I am very familiar with the sound of my system using this "zip cord". I listened to my existing system for a while to make sure my ears were not on another planet, which happens easily with all the colds and viruses going around, and to make sure everything was warmed up. Then I replaced the stock cable with the Kimber USB. My initial reaction was one of confusion. I thought something was missing. After about two minutes it came to me. I'm listening for things that aren't there. This is similar to an experience I had listening to a complete Audio Research system connected to Wilson WATT/Puppy speakers. It was my first time listening to a very high end system and I needed al little education from my local dealer to figure out what was going on. Now, Im certainly not suggesting this USB cable will make a $100,000 difference in sound like a complete ARC / Wilson makeover would. I am saying that this cable will have a very positive impact on your music.

I started my listening sessions off with a little Pearl Jam. PJ is my favorite band of all time and I know every song backward & forward and how the songs sound on about 100 different systems. To save you from repetition I'll add that all my music is ripped in AIFF uncompressed at 16 bit / 44.1 KHz, unless otherwise noted. The first song I played was Save You from Riot Act. This song has a fabulous guitar riff that kicks the song off at 0:05 of the track. Pearl Jam uses all vintage gear to record and the vintage tube amps produce such great sound on this track. The Kimber USB made this song sound as warm as it was meant to sound. Put another way, the Kimber USB stepped out of the way sonically and got rid of everything else standard USB cables just pass right through to your DAC. I followed Save You with Last Exit the opening track from Pearl Jam's Vitology. This short 2:55 song has a great mix of instruments. The part that really shines through with the Kimber USB is the air that can be heard around the drums and the sound of the drums is even more "real". What more could you ask for from a USB cable than to let the drums come through as they sounded in the recording session and to stop all the extraneous interference from polluting the sound?

I felt somewhat obligated to listen to a more traditional "audiophile" recording when auditioning this cable. Fortunately I really like DIana Krall and the DK burnout experienced at CES had worn off. One of my favorite songs is A Case of You from her Live In Paris album. Continuing its consistency the Kimber USB didn't allow me to hear as much. Before you take that sentence out of context let me say this is a good thing! Noise reduction is a good thing as long as it reduces noise only. The Kimber USB does just that. I heard only the music and the miscellaneous crowd cough or clap in the background. In typical Diana Krall fashion you can certainly hear Diana lips and breathing as she begins a verse. Don't even worry about the finest details disappearing. The Kimber USB only allows you to hear the finest details because you're not wading through any interference thinking it is part of the original recording.

I've been a Kimber customer for years and I have very high expectations for Kimber products. It was no different for the Kimber USB. I had high expectations and those expectations were more than met. Prior to the Kimber USB I thought I was already hearing everything. Unfortunately I was right. I heard the music plus everything else that came through my stock USB cable. Now that the Kimber USB is in my system I only hear the original recording. Sometimes that means hearing things you'd rather not hear, but don't blame Kimber for that. Not even the Kimber USB can save the Red Hot Chili Peppers horribly compressed Californication album. I can't recommend this cable enough. This cable is very inexpensive for high end audio quality. Roughly $50 for such an improvement is a no-brainer. Quit listening to interference and start listening to your favorite recordings. Trust me on this one, pick up a Kimber USB and leave your opinion below. I won't censor any of them. I just know what this cable does for my system and am confident it will do the same for yours.

Kimber Usb
click to enlarge


For more information on Kimber Kable please checkout the Kimber website.