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REVIEW: Kimber Kable Illuminati D-60 Cable

Model: Illuminati D-60
Category: Cable
Suggested Retail Price: $230/meter RCA terminated
Description: Digital interconnect
Manufacturer URL: Kimber Kable

Review by Luminator on October 01, 2009 at 11:47:31
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June 1986, San Francisco, CA. My freshman year of high school had just ended. Because summer school in Hawaii beckoned, I did not have much time to go out with my San Francisco friends. So I went out to a friend who lived out on 47th and Irving. That is close to Ocean Beach. It was not always windy out there, but it was usually foggy and drab. So it was a surprise, when it was bright, sunny, and in the 80s. I now know that if it is in the 80s out near Ocean Beach, it is in the 90s and 100s further inland. People in San Francisco have no idea how bad those inland have it…

Anyway, as my friend and I gathered our sports equipment, we spotted a neighbor across the street. He had the garage door open, and his boombox was tuned to KFOG. The Fixx’s “Secret Separation” cut through the yellow sunshine. My friend and I remarked that “Secret Separation” was a harder, more rockin’ tune, compared to The Fixx’s “Saved By Zero” and “One Thing Leads To Another.” And I’ll never forget how KFOG followed that up with GTR’s “When The Heart Rules The Mind.” My friend loved the guitar interplay, and I can’t forget the way Max Bacon’s strident tenor cut across 47th Avenue. Glorious. I was having such a good time in San Francisco. I did not want to leave.

But leave I did. My family spent summers in Honolulu. We stayed at my grandparents’ house, located at the bottom of a hill near the University Of Hawaii campus. As I ran down that hill, there was nothing like hearing Journey’s “Suzanne.” As Journey hailed from the Bay Area, hearing them made it easier to overcome being homesick.

That summer, I took economics at Punahou, the alma mater of Michelle Wie and Barack Obama. I had to walk along Dole and Wilder, in order to get to and from Punahou. Class got out around noon. Regardless of which side of the street I walked, the blazing Hawaiian sun beat down on me. One day, as I was walking home, I tuned in to Rick Dees’ show. He said that the anthem of the San Francisco Giants was the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “Tuff Enuff.” Now, you have to understand that the ’85 Giants lost 100 games. The ’86 team featured rookies Will Clark and Robby Thompson. They helped turn the team and the franchise around. So Dees’ mention of the Giants further eroded any homesickness I may have had.

That summer, my dad worked as an educational consultant on South King Street. On some days, I’d grab lunch, then head to my dad’s office. As the office was air conditioned, I could relax, and comfortably do my homework. But if you know me, you know I could not do homework without my Walkman. One of the most ubiquitous songs on the radio was Peter Cetera’s “Glory Of Love” [the other was Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”]. Each time I heard “Glory Of Love,” I had to put down my pen or book. I’d look out the south-facing window, see through/past/above McKinley High School, peer at the sky, and watch the setting sun bathe everything in its splendor. Because of this song, I thought that my future wife would look like Tamlyn Tomita. But my real-life wife remarks, “That’s ‘cuz a lot of the girls at Punahou look like Tamlyn Tomita.”

And when radio stations also played New Edition’s version of “Earth Angel” [also from the Karate Kid II soundtrack], I had no doubt, San Francisco girls be damned, that my future wife would be a Tamlyn Tomita look-alike from Hawaii.

While the music of ’86 was taking me into fantasy land, something else took me into audio dream land. My dad’s co-worker had and brought in a portable CD player, something we had never seen before. I think it was a Panasonic, and cost $300, which was, in 1986, a princely sum. First of all, the CDs themselves were downright cool. A silver disc with rainbow hues beat the crap out of records and tapes. And instead of a tape counter, the co-worker’s CD player had real time information!

I’m not exactly sure, but I think the co-worker had an Andreas Vollenweider CD. She said that, because the CD had no hiss, she could hear small details, such as the “musicians breathing.” Though there weren’t any popular music titles yet, I was hooked. Radio stations then began announcing that they had acquired CD players. I clearly recall them playing Wham and the S.O.S. Band from CD.

I acquired my first CD players in Spring 1987, and have never looked back. CD has always been my favorite format. But little did I know in 86-87 that CD players would be split into separate transport and DAC units. Transports and DACs were popular in the mid-90s, when the need for digital cables arose. And this is where the Illuminati D-60 comes in.

If you are familiar with my reviews here on Audio Asylum, you know you need to click on the provided links, in order to access my posts on the product. These posts will take you in and around San Francisco, tell you what music I listen to, show you detailed pictures, and reveal real-world experiences. And yes, you can leave comments, feedback, and questions on these posts:

Part 1: packaging, graph
Part 2: physical description
Part 3: burn-in
Part 4: flexibility
Part 5: more about burn-in

Kimber Kable became the distributor of Illuminati. The only Kimber dealer in San Francisco was Ultimate Sound, conveniently and beautifully located on Grant, between O’Farrell and Geary. I borrowed three samples of the D-60 from Ultimate Sound. And each time, before I could run it in, a customer wanted to buy one, so I had to go back, and return it.

Quite frankly, the other customers and I were underwhelmed. Many wanted to strangle the D-60. But then we realized that we did not have exalted digital gear, such as the Forsell and Jadis, which Stereophile’s Jonathan Scull possessed. Furthermore, customers verified that the D-60 took a long time to sound better. Some recommended using the D-60 as a video cable first. Others said to use it as a line-level interconnect, where it would be subjected to higher voltages.

Ahem. We audiophiles now have access to cable burn-in devices. I personally use an Audio Dharma Cable Cooker. 24 hours on the Cooker is better than 13 years of regular use. But for full conditioning, 4 days of Cook time will do the trick.

Back to the mid-90s. I initially used the D-60 between a California Audio Labs Delta and Theta Cobalt 307. Yuck. The sound was all gummy. Cetera’s “Glory Of Love” sounded like the stereotypical lite rock mush your office co-workers snicker at.

In my main system, I used the D-60 with a Theta Data Basic II and Pro Prime IIa. The sound was still underwhelming. There was a loss of edge definition. It was like an old, worn coin.

When I traded in the Pro Prime IIa for a Basic IIIa, the sound did improve. The sound spread out, so there was more space between the instruments. But the overall sound was still lacking in oomph, resolution, and purpose.

In the late 90s, I acquired the Mark Levinson No. 37 transport and No. 360 DAC. The D-60’s softer, more feminine presentation was not what the Levinsons needed. A Tara Labs ISM The One Digital came along with vastly superior transparency. Clearly, the cables made a huge difference, with the D-60 falling short.

I now use some modern heavy hitters, such as the dCS Puccini, Simaudio Andromeda, and Wadia 781i. Even with un-Cooked samples of the D-60, these higher-resolution sources prove that the D-60 can reach higher than I previously gave them credit for.

But Cooking the D-60 really opens up the soundstage, equivalent to rubbing the crud out of your eyes, blowing the snot out of your nose, and digging the wax out of your ears. The Cooked D-60 proves that the CAL Delta/Alpha (with good tubes) combo punches way above its weight. No, the D-60 is not as see-through transparent, focused, resolving, and noise-free as, say, my Tara Labs ISM On Board Digital 0.8. But what remains is fun. It is relatively free from bloat, dullness, and muck.

Instruments are in decent proportion. “Secret Separation” and “When The Heart Rules The Mind” are still thin, but not so harsh as to be unlistenable. They still remind me of that unusually hot and sunny day out near Ocean Beach. There is enough air up top, that Journey’s “Suzanne” is not shut-in [parts of this recording were run through mellow-sounding Monster Cable interconnects, so it is not uncommon for Raised On Radio to sound like it has no cymbals]. I can still picture myself running down the hill to my grandparents’ house. “Glory Of Love” moves along nicely, and sets the mood. Yes, I can re-live that glorious summer of ’86, when I thought my future wife would look like Tamlyn Tomita. The notes start quickly enough, that when you listen to Regina’s “Baby Love,” you snicker at Madonna rejecting this song, ‘cuz she wanted to be taken more seriously.

Okay, I have to admit that, in late August 1986, I actually saw the movie, Howard The Duck, at a movie theater on Kapiolani. But hey, Lea Thompson looked good. And the best part may have been Thomas Dolby’s title song. Via the D-60, there is a little bit of rounding of the edges. So “Howard The Duck” could use a little more oomph and kick. But you know what? The same sonic signature actually helps Wham’s “The Edge Of Heaven.” I remember going to basketball practice at Kilauea gym, Wilson Playground, and Holy Nativity church. When I’d hear “The Edge Of Heaven” on the radio, (a) it sounded forced, and (b) I was sad that Wham had broken up. The D-60’s slightly gentle and feminine touch may not change the tonal balance of “The Edge Of Heaven,” but you still hear/feel the strain and tension. There are times, when the Delta/D-60/Alpha plays this song, that I can still see the yellow Hawaiian late afternoons, as I headed back to town along Kalanianaole.

In popular music, there was just so much going on, that summer of ’86. Genesis, Mike + The Mechanics, Peter Gabriel, GTR, and even Steve Winwood were on the charts. With all the heavyweights out there, Toto’s “I’ll Be Over You” went completely unnoticed. It does not help that the recording is thin, hazy, and obscure. The D-60 can’t change this fact, but in absolute terms, its shortcomings in transparency, focus, and available palette of textures and tones leave you hankering for more. Now I know why Jonathan Scull mentioned a couple times that analog did these things better than digital of the mid-90s. Nevertheless, I can’t expect perfection in a now $390 digital cable. In an overall sense, the D-60 deals more cards than its old competitors, the MIT Digital Reference, Wireworld Gold Starlight, and XLO Signature 4.1. The Digital Reference outpoints the D-60 in terms of 3D images firmly anchored in a large, well-defined space. The Gold Starlight can produce a more burnished midrange. And with the right gear, the Signature 4.1 can zip along faster and cleaner. But if you were to make a checklist of all the sonic traits audiophiles look for, you might find that the D-60 has the best overall mix and balance than the other three. Just don’t let anyone tell you that any of these four is universally superior to the others.

The D-60 has long been available with BNC connectors. I have not used these enough, to merit any comments. I am also aware that the D-60 is now available with WBT-0102 copper or silver RCAs. I have neither seen nor heard these, so I am not at liberty to comment.

Over the years, the Illuminati D-60 has both garnered praise and taken its lumps. But we audiophiles now have (a) access to a greater variety of digital gear, and (b) no excuse not to use a cable burn-in device. (a) and (b) have shone a completely different light on the D-60. My observations and opinion of the D-60 have developed over the 13 years I have used it. If you are still interested in such things as digital cables, my hope is that by sharing my experience with you, you can make a better-informed decision whether it is worth your time, effort, and money to (re)investigate the Illuminati D-60.

-Lummy The Seahorse

Product Weakness: realizing the D-60's true potential requires the use of a cable burn-in device; signal direction not marked
Product Strengths: flexible; pretty; RCAs are friction-fit (i.e., not a locking-barrel design)

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: numerous
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): numerous
Sources (CDP/Turntable): see text
Speakers: numerous
Cables/Interconnects: AudioQuest Digital Pro; HAVE/Canare Digiflex Gold; Kimber KS-2020; MIT T3 and Digital Reference; Stereovox HDXV; Tara Labs RSC Digital 75, The One Digital; 0.8 Onboard Digital 75; Wireworld Gold Starlight 5.2; XLO Reference Type 4 and Signature 4.1
Music Used (Genre/Selections): rock, pop, metal, R&B, Hawaiian
Time Period/Length of Audition: 13 years
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Kimber Kable Illuminati D-60 Cable - Luminator 11:47:31 10/01/09 (1)


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