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Positive Feedback ISSUE49
Anticipation line of cables
as reviewed by Larry Cox
Unlike preamps and CD players almost anyone can create a line of cables. How many cable vendors (not manufacturers) are there? Seems like a new one pops up daily. I know of one vendor, long gone, who created a short-lived line of good sounding cables out of a spool of wire found in a "come and get it" resale pile—when the spool was gone, so was the line. Lots of engineering in that line? Do other vendors also stumble on to good sound, rather than "engineer" it? I don't really know, but with the proliferation of cable brands, I wonder.
Some lines of cabling have another sort of lucky finding quality to them, as in you're lucky if you find a fundamental character consistently across the line, let alone be able to hear the character of the top of the line cable at the price you're buying at. One part of a line might be a bit bright and lean, whereas further up the line the sound might be warmer and more liquid and yet even further up the liquidity dries up. What we have then is a line with an inconsistent character, if you will.
The again, there are audio vendors with a "repeatable character" across their various lines. That suggests to me that they're on to something. E.A.R. Yoshino products all have a liquidity to them, ATC speakers all have the same essential timbre; you buy bigger ATCs for either more bass or a bigger room. Let's leave the piñata of "equipment should have no sound" for children's games, as all gear (and cables) have some character. I agree that no sonic "character" is the bulls-eye that manufacturers are aiming at, but I think it's more likely a windmill.
I've had Kubala-Sosna's Expression and Emotion lines of cables in my house for the past year. They are among the best I've heard offering an extraordinary level of satisfaction in my system. Their essential characters are very similar, with the Emotions having a "blacker background" and a bit more warmth and fullness. I guess that the blacker background of the Emotions might explain why they seem more finely resolving while also being richer in timbre. Got more money? Get the Emotions, Got less money? Try the Expressions. Like the Expressions' character and have even less money? Try . . . Kubala-Sosna Anticipations.
I received a complement of Anticipation line wires: two power cords; one balanced and one unbalanced set of interconnects; and one digital cable from the line. For comparison, I had on hand three power cords, two interconnects, a digital cable and a phono cable from the Expression line, along with two Emotion power cords. All are loaners.
The Anticipation line is wrought of materials smaller in gauge, lighter in weight and clearly not as elegantly executed as their more expensive brethren, and yet the Anticipations workmanship stands comparison to the Expressions and Emotions. The Anticipations have a tightly braided synthetic cover where the more expensive cables have cotton-like cloth covers. Fit and finish of the cables is of high quality.
Joe Kubala, a gentleman and a scholar in the realm of audio has done a good job of naming some of his cables. The "Elations," Kubala-Sosna's new, very expensive and very well received cables have indeed caused PFO scribners Bob Levi and Jim Merod to express their elation at the sound of their systems with those cables in place. I haven't heard them, so I have no comment. I won't say the Emotion line is "emotional" as that implies to me a bit of coloration, but the Emotions are more relaxed than analytical sounding without losing detail or timbral character.
One might characterize the Kubala-Sosna house sound as warm, seemingly (though not actually) dark with a smooth presentation. I listen for an emotional experience of music, not to hear every bit of information with equal ease. A "satisfying" stereo for me would leave me unaware of its presence except when one side or another ended. I don't catalog information from music, I note emotional impact and the Expressions and Emotions delivered that.
The Anticipation line is poised above Kubala-Sosna's entry level, Imagination line. Sonically, the Anticipations are not the Expressions, and Joe, word smith, says they anticipate the Expressions, though they lack the upper line's ResolutionZ technology. Trite though it might be, the Anticipations do anticipate the Expressions, more so than other entry level lines I'm familiar that cause one to anticipate the top of the line's qualities.
Whereas the Emotion line of cables is nearly the size of my wrists, the Expressions are just a couple of fingers wide, and the Anticipations might be characterized as positively slim by comparison at an index finger's width. The Anticipation cables also lack the noticeable twist of their more expensive brothers.
All of the Kubala-Sosna cables mentioned here have a very flexible "lay," no matter how thick the cables are. While shielding, when combined with the gauge of the wiring, can make cables stiff, the Kubala-Sosna cables make choosing between easy to work with and good sound an irrelevant dichotomy.
I live in a dream where someday I'll find a giant killer that performs as well as the giant, maybe you do, too. But David and Goliath is a good story because the times that the little guy (read inexpensive) beats the big guy (read expensive) is rare. The Anticipations do not dethrone the Expressions. When I replaced the Expressions with the Anticipations, the initial comparison clearly favored the Expressions. The Anticipations didn't have all of the Expressions' fullness and warmth; that character allows me to relax more into the music. But to my ear the difference was slight, but audiophiles are very much the main character of The Princess and the Pea and can tell the difference.
Despite my fastidiousness, I did not hear grit or grain with the Anticipation line. In the cable vernacular, their sound is on the fuller, rather than the leaner side of presentations. The sound was even across the range of my system, with no beaming in the midrange or treble. The digital cable seemed a bit leaner than the rest of the Anticipation line, though it was hardly a problem; again splitting hairs is the nature of audio reviews and my duty to report.
I've had the Anticipations around for nearly a year. They've been in my system for extended periods in place of the Expressions, and the truth be told, several times I've forgotten which set of cables I was listening to. With the exception of the digital cable, I never had an itch for the swapping in the Expressions. Besides, other differences in music playback may show up just as substantially as the differences in the cables.
A prime example is when I bumped into exceptional writer and fellow PFO-guy Dean Seislove at a John Doe (of X fame) concert. We discovered a shared appreciation for X's music. I invited Dean over to listen to a new audio toy. Dean disgorged his vinyl years ago, so in honor of our mutual affection, I offered to play one of four X albums on vinyl. "More Fun in the New World," his choice, sounded a bit lean and scratchy. Hey, it's post punk why would it sound different? I don't think Dean was particularly enamored with my system, as he said nothing much about its sound. That was my system linked up by Kubala-Sosna Expressions. Ha!
Dean returned about three weeks later, this time I was playing a better digital recording. Now, Dean said of my system, "Your system sounds good." This time, the system was linked by the Anticipations! I would assert in this short casual listening experience the quality of the recording made a bigger difference than the sonic difference between the two. Over a more extended listening period I think he'd choose the Expressions; I would. This is not to say, however, that in the same system, with equal quality of recordings that Dean would not have preferred the Expressions.
What I prefer about the Expressions to the Anticipations, after a year of listening, is a deeper, inkier tonality. Perhaps that more fully fleshed out tone also delivers a fleshier, fuller lower midrange and bottom end. The treble region is no more "extended" but the Expressions write treble extension with a light, unwavering feel and a finer tipped pen. These qualities are largely, I think, a function of the darker background or what an engineer would call a less noisy sound.
All Kubala-Sosna cables I've heard to date are extended in the treble region, when the treble is populated. But absent extended treble, I do not hear top end sparkle, and that can make the Kubala-Sosna cables sound a bit closed in, until suddenly the top end is populated and I hear treble blossom and splash across the front wall of my listening room and think, magnificent!
The Anticipations' top end is not quite as clear as the Expressions, not as open and delicate in touch as the Emotions, perhaps because its otherwise inaudible noise level interferes where the Emotions and Expressions do not. But that doesn't make the Anticipations chickenfeed, they're just not as detailed. Though the differences in price between the cables operate like multipliers, the sound differences are not multipliers.
The digital Anticipation cable is not scratchy or annoying, but it is a wee bit leaner than the rest of the Anticipation line and leaner than the Expressions. The Expression digital cable excelled more in the emotional realm. Though I could easily live with either cabling line, the Anticipation's digital cable nudged the sound toward a slightly analytical sound. My system is most certainly not romantic, though it's not analytical either. I suffer the pleasure and bane of having a system that is quite neutral in tone and detailed such that poor, analytical recordings sound unambiguously poor and analytical. It truly is a pleasure to hear really well recorded music and it is a bane to hear music I love(d) that has also been recorded poorly - the Anticipations' presentation is such that such issues are evident though not obtrusive.
I found the Anticipation's presentation, with that line's digital cable in circuit, just a bit less emotionally engaging, a more cerebral presentation. This is not code for it's scratchy and horrible, but that I found myself listening to music from a different part of my brain. And yet, the Anticipations are not for those looking for hyper-detail retrieval. If your system is overly juicy and needs a leaner cable, well, this isn't it, and probably none of the Kubala-Sosna cables will be for you.
The Anticipation line from Kubala-Sosna are a much more affordable option than their big brother Emotions, while retaining quite a bit of their exceptional qualities. I think they're a good value because they sound like the much more expensive offerings at a fraction of the cost. For those dubious of the differences in cables, Kubala-Sosna represents a good place to start and perhaps finish your search for the magical. Larry Cox