FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 32
Stealth's Indra, Nanofiber, and
Metacarbon interconnect cables -
Scoping It All Out
Serguei Timachev at Stealth commands a unique and utterly special place in the world of audio cable design. I've witnessed the evolution of his many cable configurations across the length of a decade. I've recorded with long Stealth microphone cables and, also, with a balanced pair of his take-no-prisoners Indra interconnects. I've employed his drastically delicate, ultra-thin, solid silver, "cross-wrapped" cables in mastering work. In addition, found myself amazed at the enhancing power of his truly "disappearing" power cords and (to verify my belief in Stealth's work) confess that I own a set of Serguei's "mini-dream" speaker cables.
I regard Serguei Timachev as (i) an artist of the highest sonic calibre; (ii) a technical and engineering perfectionist; (iii) a musician at heart; and (iv) an innovator with the soul of a romantic and the intellect of a genius.
Let me clarify that last term. I understand why superior cable designers work toward an essential cable configuration that captures their technical and sonic footprint. You need a standard of sonic excellence in order to arrive near that asymptotic goal. Once a designer approximates the bliss of "one hand clapping," he (she) arrives close to technical nirvana. From that point forward, the designer's life is defined by constant tweaking, refinement, small adjustments which all command exhaustive attention.
The best cable creators are indefatigable. They experiment with the near ruthless obsession of physicists condemned to basement laboratories. They listen to ordinary wire, discarded wire, odd duck metal, strange amalgamations of metals, weird braiding, non-intuitive combinations of gauge ...and on and on in the never completed quest for yet one more "Eureka" discovery. They imagine a unique iteration of sonic transfer; a new cable structure. Then they build it, test it, and play with it endlessly until the sound sought for—the musical delivery worth staking professional pride in—is doggedly achieved. That is, truly dedicated cable designers condemn themselves to such routines. No pain, no improvement.
There's nothing magical about cable design work. If any audiophile believes that "wire is wire" (cables just a feckless, necessary conduit) let me dissuade such innocence or rampant cynicism. When one goes into the inner sanctum of the greatest cable innovators, one steps gingerly into the whale's mouth.
I'm intimately aware of three other mad cable scientists, each a gentleman of great human subtlety and affability ...dauntless, cordial, welcoming -until the crucial work of delving deep into sound delivery occurs. At the point of "getting down" (getting into the bowels of experimentation) you might reconsider being so close to their spiritual Big Bangs. Like the cartoon figure of Michelangelo on his back sketching out the Sistine Chapel ceiling with artist's chalk, this work with wire and other exotic materials might on occasion prompt a reasonable person to explode with frustration. I'll not name the cable designer who allowed me close proximity to his experimental machinations over the largest part of a week. I'll assure you, however, that I learned more than I'd ever imagine about the caring, care-free and, at moments, utterly desperate heroics of this work.
I've spent most of a long life with jazz musicians. To my amazement, despite the divergence of live music-making and cloistered cable making, the energy expended in getting ready for club performances and working on refinements to already superior cables is very much the same. The vibe that a musician such as John Hicks, Red Rodney, Jimmy Rowles, or Nick Brignola (and companions) create, and endure, is very much like the vibe that Serguei Timachev, Robert Lee, Dave Magnan, and Howard Sosna (among others) generate.
When the work of artistic perfection is underway, I'm sure it's no easier for the wives, families, and friends of cable design gurus to harness their resident genius' time, than it is for those bonded to musicians jamming or experimental physicists' endlessly crunching numbers. Have you chatted with Lee Smolin, Lisa Randall, Neil Turok, or Brian Greene recently ? Do you hang out with their kin at Cambridge in England; in Palo Alto; at MIT or Princeton? I do not believe that cable design work is equal in imaginative and mathematical rigor to the excruciating intensity Paul Steinhardt and John Wheeler bring to the work of comprehending gravity's nasty mysteries, but my analogy is, in its own funky way, not completely out of bounds.
Physics at its most advanced theoretical reach is now a turmoil of brilliant possibilities: do we live in an Inflationary Universe (13-plus billion years old) or a Cyclic Cosmos (essentially an infinite past and future)? Music will not solve this recently propounded problem, but the delicacy by which sound is gathered and released to one's attentive ears is not in the least unlike the delicacy by which physicists put ideas into theoretical harness and, if worthy of institutional commitment, into experimental research.
Like physicists, the best cable designers are poets. They hear music with intense delight. Music is their mistress (to steal Duke's phrase). Sound - its triumphant glory—is their Holy Grail. Thus, the aim of great cable innovators is to craft the most transparent signal delivery possible. Their cables are their offspring. Cable designs are also sincere (if elusively technical) offerings to the world. Superior audio cables are—strange, but true—dedicated to increasing the amount and degree of lyrical beauty on planet earth.
Our Resident Poet
Enter into this forest of self-consuming artistic dedication one Serguei Timachev. His romantic inclinations are inherited honestly. Serguei is Russian (you dig?). His technical prowess is clearly earned by hard work. But the extra ingredient at work in the multiplicity of his brilliant cable configurations is his genius ...among other things, his ability to hear the value of a single note and how transparently full with complex overtones it genuinely is, well-delivered (well-captured), from one spatial point to another in a Stealth signal path.
I want to dwell momentarily with this recognition, this ability to hear and discriminate nuances within an envelope of sonic signals. Not everyone has it. I've known many very good musicians who somehow work right past the innate glory and seductive power of one note aptly struck, one note given appropriate weight and allowed to resonate within its musical halo. Serguei Timachev clearly comprehends that everything in the creation and pristine delivery of music depends upon the value of individual notes as much as sonic clusters. With audio capture and delivery however, literally everything in the sonic field—and its transportation from musical invention to recording and beyond to acoustic reproduction—depends upon the resonant value of signal notes played well ...and preserved within cables that hold (and carry) their audio weight.
Let me put this axiom as simply as I can. In my recording work I count on many cables of various kinds to get radically different jobs accomplished: microphone cables; recording cables (digital and analog); mastering cables; and, at virtually every point, monitoring cables (which, of course, includes headphone cables, and speaker cables).
Not every kind (or brand or iteration) of cable serves equally for each task in the complicated run of signals from "on location" recording all the way to the end of the mastering and production line. One thing, nonetheless, is clear to this writer-recorder-listener: Stealth Cables are among the elite few cables produced on this planet. PERIOD.
I'll amplify what I mean. Over the course of 2006, I was asked to record the solo piano series at the Pasadena Jazz Institute. Now, solo piano is the litmus test for cables. Why? Because well-crafted, beautifully tuned pianos offer the widest possible ambient audio spectrum. Truly great pianos—certain Steinway grands; Fazzioli grands; Bosendorfers; some large Yamahas; and an occasional well-voiced Baldwin—carry the dynamic thrust and delicacy, as well as the wide-range of timbral pitch, that literally reveal the whole of the audio spectrum (from 20Hz to 20kHz and beyond) ...but such marvelous instruments also "sing" as if their harmonic capacities were human with individual vocal sympathies.
Great pianos recorded solo, offer stern challenges to recording engineers and to the recording set up employed. The success of a magnificent recording is part well-selected gear, part ambient acoustical properties, part recording skill, and part good old dumb luck (or what sometimes blurs into that: recording instinct that "works"). Ask Herbie Hancock how often his favorite (in truth, his exclusive) piano, a Fazzioli, is recorded to his complete satisfaction. Then sit back and allow Herbie to educate you about sound and its most subtle qualities.
For the five solo piano concerts that I recorded in Pasadena, I chose a slightly less than two-meter pair of balanced Stealth "Indra" cables to feed a set of Taylor Hohendahl custom omni microphones directly to a Manley "Dual Mono" Microphone preamp which fed a Tascam 24/96 direct-to-disc recorder via a set of Stealth "Gold" cables (now discontinued to my consternation). The line up of pianists was impressive: Bill Cunliffe, Larry Fuller, Gerald Clayton, Josh Nelson, and Chris Dawson. These pianists deserved the best I could offer them. Short runs of superior mic cables; extraordinary microphones; and a high-resolution recording machine meet that standard. The rest is ambient acoustic resonance and pure luck or its partner.
Let me attest to the following. I have enormous respect and perhaps something approaching reverence for two other cable manufacturers. I've tested their accuracy in signal transport; their spectral heft and sonic values; and their ability to work successfully under divergent audio conditions. These are not cable lightweights. They, too, are part of my world. I trust them. My point here is that Serguei Timachev's top of the line Indra cables own sonic virtues I've never encountered in any other cable. They are not "there." Indra cables disappear. You do not "hear" their sonic footprint or any smudge (or hint or edge) of their intrepid glory. They are utterly silent accomplices to a recording engineer's work.
There is more at Stealth that demands close attention. Serguei's Nanofiber cables are from another universe. Why? If (like me) you believe that the broad sonic mid-range literally "defines" music, then you must investigate Stealth's pure carbon Nanofiber cables.
I've long admired van den Hul's pure carbon cables. I've used them for twenty years in recording work. The combination of their spectral neutrality and mid-range richness—no over-ripe emphasis, just a "bloom" that caresses one's ear—makes those venerable cables classics in my world. Like those, Stealth's Nanofiber cables are carbon through and through, though with a difference from that of van den Hul's configuration. Stealth Nanofiber has carbon pins among its terminating connectors, adding greater transparency to the sonic virtues that van den Hul's carbon cables provide. However, there's more. The dynamic heft of the Stealth design is stunning. These are awe-inspiring cables. They remove, or eliminate, signal impediments ...as if nothing but naked sound, truthful ear-beguiling music alone, were worth their pedigree.
I find myself reaching to put them at vital places within the recording or mastering chain. Stealth's Nanofiber cables, in a phrase, are without flaws of any kind that irritates my caring ears. I've not once in any way ever found myself disturbed by their clear, liquid, open and utterly no nonsense presentation.
As if that good fortune—a cable that gives a wholly accurate view of complex sound and music alongside inherent seductiveness—were not achievement enough: Serguei Timachev (the Restless Russian, a man with unstoppable experimental zeal) has sought to top even that.
I've spent a great deal of time swapping cables in and out to gain a clear opinion in this matter. I cannot choose between Serquei's amazing Nanofiber cables and his distinct but equally amazing Metacarbon design. The Metacarbon has a more complete resolution of top octaves (roughly from 12kH on up). The Metacarbon has a more thoroughly delineated bottom end. Yet, while it seems intuitive that one should, first to last, choose the more fully realized sonic presentation, something about the laid-back (not at all polite) acoustically fleshy texture of the Nanofiber makes it inexpugnable in its musical appeal.
I cannot choose between these two magnificent cables. Such a dilemma, right? I love them both. On some occasions, I'll select the Metacarbons; on others, vice versa. As a way to "resolve" vexation here, I'll merely say this. In my lifetime of listening to cables at every price range – from expensive lamp cord sold as state of the art wire, all the way through the cast of cables-of-the-year (many here and gone, including exquisite boutique cables such as the Bogdans)—I've never encountered another cable designer with as many ways to deliver audio signals accurately, alluringly, and disarmingly. In my estimation Serguei Timachev stands by himself. He is not alone in the brilliance by which he has achieved greatness in the elusive universe of cables and sonic signal delivery, but he is unique in his voracious quest for constantly new ways to attain virtually impossible sonic goals.
I regard Serquei Timachev as the Tutto De Tutti Capi of contemporary cable inventors and experimentalists. With such rarefied cables, virtually without rivals as Stealth's Indra, Metacarbon, and Nanofiber creations are, price should never be an object of concern.