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Positive Feedback ISSUE47
the Elation speaker cables
as reviewed by Jim Merod
Wow! My reference speaker cables for a long while have been the utterly satisfactory, totally remarkable Kubala-Sosna Emotion wires—all braided, bulky, and thickly wrapped with dark blue cloth. Those state of the art speaker cables have made my system sing as never before. The only speaker conductors I ever heard that matched or closely approached the Emotions in neutrality with dynamic vividness and tonal rightness were van den Hul's carbon speaker cables. Those two have represented, for me, the pinnacle of what cables do to avoid degrading sonic signals on their way to musical truth.
When I was asked to consider reviewing the new Kubala-Sosna speaker conduits, the length of my deliberation did not exceed one-half nanosecond. When these thicker, more bulky, less flexible (than the Emotion) wires landed here, I thought the guys back at the east coast Kubala-Sosna ranch were joking. I mean, really and truly, you must hold these python-sized monsters in your paws to fully comprehend the extent to which Howard and Joe (the main ranch hands, cable makers and doubtless brush clearing jacks-of-all-sorts) have now gone in order to craft an even more "state of the high status" pedigree for their burgeoning cable line. These are not barking dogs or bricks offered for curiosity but delicate, if thoroughly self-protected, musical instruments.
I've come, over time, to regard the truly special audio gear that adorns our listening grottos—and that I use in my recording work—as more than "audio listening equipment" since those pieces of sonic delivery that take our musical fulfillment and recording precision to heights of exotic (and erotic) near perfection deserve a designation that differentiates their glory from the audio norm that defines ordinary (even fairly high) performance expectations. To that end, therefore, I view the Elation speaker cables not only to set a new standard for musical signal delivery at a height and with a lyrical delicacy that (in my witness) outflank all previous cables with such noble aims. I view these speaker cables genuinely to earn the title of "musical instruments." Their sense of being inside the music they deliver to one's appreciative ears is uncanny.
What is That?
The uncanny, as Freud went to considerable pains to describe, is aligned with intuition. It is a highly subjective experience of recalling something yet not quite "knowing" it or recognizing its meaning and essence, of not grasping its context of concrete representations and symbolic associations. More than any other art, music can engender a sense of internal floating emotional displacement, an "oceanic feeling" that is akin to a mystical (or at least a non-referential) experience. And it is in these ways that the uncanny provides a sense of haunting recall from our own emotional and cognitive archaeology—a vast inwardness that carries linkages and connections between objects, people, moods, meanings and events or images which we cannot wholly comprehend or map into the full light of understanding. A strongly "uncanny" moment is deeply intriguing. It may occur if you see a landscape that seems to recall a childhood experience that you cannot "place" in your life's chronology; if you have a dream both vivid and eerily "real" with details that put you back somewhere in previously lost memories; and if you hear music so enchanting or seductively beguiling that it opens awareness to utterly mysterious qualities in life's blurred crossing between concrete facts of knowing and feeling, on one side, and vague (far more uncertain) areas of emotional and cognitive being. in sum, those twilight zones of inner life that the practical demands for commensurability evade altogether. Of all these realms and forms of uncanny experience, music doubtless carries the deepest sense of longing with the most highly aesthetic—and steadfast, repeatable—framework for inspection.
My specific claim here is that, in my auditions across the past six months or so, my sound system now carries a greater allure, a palpable sense of inwardness sonically, musically and emotionally (perceptually, as well: sonically, aurally). This, in sum, is a discernible experience of being closer to the music performed, nearer the heart of sound and its organized layers of coherent artistic expression and lyrical intention. This repeated witness and awareness has been (literally "is") precisely "uncanny" because the musicians are not there, here in front of me; the musical event has disappeared, except for the recorded capture, and is no longer "real" or tangibly alive. That event, this music, is merely an illusion, but now (sublimely) it is a fleshy, breathing, gracefully moving illusion. It delivers a sense of being within the confines—the expansive, floating and, at moments soaring, liberated "confines"—of a factually palpable sonic reality. More than ever before, I'm able to re-enter the powerful interiority of music I've recorded and re-experience it as if I am that music. The music is (thus) spoken to me, for me, within me, and almost essentially "as" me... a truly uncanny experience if ever there can be one.
I'm all too aware that such statements sound grotesquely Emersonian in their potential solipsism. But exactly in what way is profound musical awareness not solipsistic? My not so simple, but nonetheless immediate, point is this. It is the subtractive difference of the Elation cables that creates this awareness of greater intimacy with sound and musical transcendence. The enigmatic element in the equation here surely must be "subtractive" (eliminative) because these speaker wires in their profound rightness and daunting bulk seem to get everything out of the way between one's ears and the music; between what is reproduced sonically and the auditor. With a superior recording, nothing about these cables suggests one is hearing "only a recording." Instead, one feels as if music is immediately and spontaneously produced now and here... that one is dwelling with music in an eternal present with repeatable possibilities of delight, fascination, intrigue—as well as the déjà vu reappearance of everything "uncanny."
I'll put you in the hot seat where everything musical comes together @ Casa BluePort. First, plop the enhanced version of Miles Davis with Gil Evans, Sketches of Spain, in your transport. Upload that glorious 16/44.1 compact disc data to a KORG M1000direct stream data digital recorder at the DSF setting. Now that you have a superior recording at a resolution higher than 24/96—music to enchant all beasts and sound that boggles attention—take notes with your current speaker cables... say, Kubala-Sosna Emotions or, perhaps, Nordost Valhallas.
Nothing about the sonic and spatial presentation of Miles' seductive contortion into a lyrical bullfight mode with elegant Moorish finesse seems wrong or out of proportion using either speaker cable. With the Nordost wire, sweetness in the top octaves adds a sense of "Rembrandt light" to the soundstage, as if everything is bathed in gold sheen. With the Elation cables a starkness of sonic outline with tonal relaxation defines the soundstage and its melodic drama as if a moving 3D musical image were unfolding to arouse aesthetic attention.
The moment, however, you put Kubala-Sosna Elation speaker wire into harness and hit "go" on the high-resolution files something thrilling and almost beyond words occurs. You feel that you are in the studio with Miles and Gil Evans. You are no longer witnessing a brilliant ensemble expounding at their utmost height of lyrical power with a rare instrumentalist discoursing in his most difficult but successful moment of improvisation.
You are there with the orchestra and with Miles' sweating expressiveness. In fifty years of listening to this most remarkable of all Miles Davis performances—which may jolt the average jazz fan certain that Kind of Blue is the top rung of Miles' art (which is close, in fact)—I have not once heard this transcendent session from such an intimate and genuinely "inside" perspective. This reach into a believable and highly detailed realm of music-in-production, sound underway and under the shaping of artistic pressures, defines Elation speaker cables from one well-recorded track to another, from this artist and that album to others. Wait until you hear the Guarneri String Quartet's recording of Opus 131.
What is This?
Okay, I record music. Mostly jazz. Right. I am devoted to the music, its legacy, many of its practitioners, and a great deal of its arcane minutiae. Good enough. I am also still deeply immersed across several decades of constant attempts to record this great body of music with greater clarity, exactness and intimacy. Anytime I find myself confronted with en example of "tactile sonic truth" at an unusually high level of musical vividness, I'm interested in what allowed that to occur. With the late-‘50s Davis/Evans Sketches of Spain sessions at Columbia Studios in New York, you have a nearly unrivaled recording production crew working in a state of the art recording space with virtually all tube gear placed in exactly the right locations. Enhancements to the analogue masters in transfer both preserve the clarity and openness of the original tapes, but highlight the fragile time-delay elements within the hall that deliver a sense of "thereness"... but, one more element concocts this staggering success: sonic reproduction up to the level of detailed musical information.
In short, "hi-fi gear"... including cables that act as sonic transmission lines across a half century—music recorded once, enhanced several times, and sent hurtling from 1958 to its majestic encore here in our immediate moment with emotional force and delicacy. Kubala-Sosna's Elation speaker wire is "up to the level" of the best sonic delivery I've enjoyed, endured or been instructed by. It is the final leg of a dramatic lyric journey that began with Miles Davis' discovery of exotic Spanish sounds and musical motifs and culminates with his most startling album brought thoroughly into vibrant life... with my ears (yours, too, if you're fortunate) not "over here" at another, later moment of time and space; but with me in the studio with Gil and Miles. It is as if that "there" is still "now," which may be the final piece of the puzzle I was mulling earlier, the secret of the uncanny in at least one of its embodiments. It is surely a puzzle in its own right, since how precisely can a long ago event appear to be still so vividly alive in all of its tactile complexity that it creates that most alluring of all illusions: the sense of being at once here and there across a fifty and longer gap ?
This has less to do with E=MC squared that with wire configured right. I do not know what these Sosna and Kubala gurus have done to craft a form of time-travel out of copper wire and over the top protective insulation, but their new cables are in a class by themselves on a level all their own. I will not be sending these review "sonic transmission lines" back to their home base since this spooky time dislocation stuff, over the last few weeks, has discombobulated my once steady sense of things (now askew) to the point where I'm certain these Elation speaker cables have finally arrived "home." Jim Merod