Klee Acoustics Speaker Cables and Interconnects
What, another cable review? Yes… I've said it before: this industry needs a new cable like a moose needs a hat rack. In fact, when walking through any audio show (or event), there's nothing more common than someone touting a new cable design. On more than a few occasions, I sat in and gave many of these cables a good listen at the show or later in my home. And one after another, they failed to deliver what they promised. It's no wonder Bybee Super Effect speaker cables have served as my reference for several years. I often wondered whether if it was possible to outperform this wonderfully dynamic and ultra quiet design.
Then I discovered Klee Acoustics Grand Illusion loudspeaker and Waveguide digital cables! Klee Acoustics is a relatively new brand in the highly competitive world of audio cables. The company was launched in 2008 by Larry Forbes who designs and continues to build his cables by hand. Forbes, whom I met at recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and CES events, is a retired ad copywriter and prides himself on having been a died-in-the-wool audiophile for more than 60 years. His hero is the late Edgar Villchur who invented the famed acoustic suspension loudspeaker, Acoustic Research AR-3. Forbes treasures the memory of meeting Villchur, and his partner Abe Hoffman, in AR’s Cambridge factory in 1957 and having dinner in a restaurant overlooking the Charles River, listening to Villchur discuss his new dome tweeter. Forbes proudly described his own dome tweeter, invented when he was fifteen, which incorporated half a ping pong ball glued to a voice coil. Forbes recals Villchur laughing in appreciation of their similar thinking.
In the last dozen years or so, Forbes has seriously concentrated on making cables. He received a patent for his resistive ribbon cable in 2008 (#7,388,155). The technical description on the company’s website states the cables are made from “…special alloy ribbons that are more than physically flat. Ordinary cables typically made of copper, silver or similar metals are highly electrically conductive, which necessarily create powerful impeding inductive fields that vary with the frequency of the signal, and therefore in accordance with the laws of physics selectively restrict, or color the music. Attempts to harness these undesirable inductive fields with special “locked in” physical geometries are only partially successful, since such cables must necessarily favor one frequency band over another. Klee Acoustics cables permit musical signals to travel through a purely resistive pathway that is completely free of inductive reactance, conquering a final stubborn roadblock that has heretofore defeated cable designers since the dawning of the high-end stereo age. Technically speaking, the tiny yet pure DC resistive load of a Klee Acoustics special metal-alloy ribbon cable swamps, or suppresses, its own inductance, and therefore removes time-smearing, music-corrupting inductive reactance from the equation once and for all. This is the core novel feature of the Klee Acoustics landmark patent.”
I've read ad scripts from other cable manufacturers whose designs fell flat on their collective faces when I actually listened to their products. Although, in fairness, there are a number of cable manufacturers that can claim patented technologies as well. One can read more about the design of Klee Acoustics cable on their website here if that interests you however, I am prepared to describe what I experienced using the Grand Illusion speaker cables and Digital Waveguide digital (RCA) for over a 24 months period. [NOTE: Forbes was in the middle of founding Klee Acoustics at the time I first contacted him in early 2011. When I received sample cables some months later, Forbes advised me that he wasn't ready for prime time. A formal review would have to wait —hence the 24-month time span.]
This, as a result, marks the first formal review of Klee Acoustic cables.
Klee Acoustics Grand Illusion cables are ribbon-based, using a variety of specially interwoven precious oxide-free metals (see the technology section on their website). The Grand Illusion speaker cable is a thicker and heavier gauge cable than other ribbon designs such as Nordost. Cosmetically, the Klee Acoustic cables boast an attractive, yet somewhat unassuming look, wrapped in their dark gray mesh jacket and sporting laser-etched endcaps. Flexible, as most ribbon-based cables are, hooking these cables up to the Sunny Supreme horn loudspeakers from a pair of Behold BPA-768 amplifiers proved a cinch.
Turn up the Quiet
The sound of Klee Acoustics cables is very hard to describe because they have very little sonic character of their own and minimize any variation of the actual signal. They are also quite instructive and reveal lots about previous cables I’ve owned. One thing that surprised me initially was how loud I could turn up the volume with no noticeable stress or strain. Easily, the remote control for my Behold APU preamp was typically showing 4 to 6 dB higher on every song I cued up! The music came through with a natural flow and unforced feel, sounding as though the signal was traveling through a much larger and less restrictive pathway. Additionally this was across the entire audio spectrum. Images emerged from a soundstage that was arrayed dimensionally from front to back as well as from left to right. This enhanced soundstage was both spacious, lucid and dimensionally layered. The improved dynamics greatly enhanced the illusion of listening to recorded music as though I was listening to a live event. In fact, the most impressive feature of this cable is that it simply brings the music through unfettered and in a way that was totally unexpected.
I do not know which I liked more: the cable’s unrestricted dynamic life or the natural feel and truth of timbre. One thing's for sure– in my system, the music continued to soar higher and higher with each passing hour. Also, regardless of how loud I played my system, it never became hot or fatiguing that is, except for below average recordings. Ultimately, I felt as though I could have listened for days. And I kept mental notes such as, this is as close to actually being there as I have ever encountered in my own system.
Trumpeter Mark Isham is better known for his film and TV soundtracks than for his chops which I think is unfortunate. In particular, his remarkable recording Blue Sun, released in the early '90s, is something special and I urge you to check it out. It has varied and memorable tracks, like “Trapeze,” that soars with a melodic swing that would delight the great Miles Davis. I have used this disc as a reference for 15 years and I know it intimately. Hearing it through the Grand Illusion cables was quite a surprise. A near tidal wave of energy came through in a way that I had not felt before. The volume setting being nearly 6 dB higher than usual might have contributed to this partially. However, it was the life-like ebb and flow and vitality that washed across my listening room and that so completely won me over.
Caveats? Well, I guess any respectable reviewer would have to find a few.
I base mine more on a hunch rather than an observation. Whenever you encounter a cable that sounds unusually natural (like the Bybees for example), it is often accused of lacking high-frequency extension and sparkle. Ultimately, natural to Forbes - and I include myself along with the other reviewers here - might be too dark sounding for some systems. It is my opinion that, the Klee Acoustics Grand Illusion cables remove excess hash and time-based distortions that ride atop high-frequencies and is often mistaken for "sparkle and air." That is, until you hear them removed. Attending live music events, it never occurs to me how much "air" there is during a performance. Likewise, the Klee Acoustics' goal is get you beyond great stereo reproduction and closer to the sound of the real thing.
To be sure of my sonic impressions, my journey to find out if I could mimic these sonic enhancements in the systems of other friends and audiophiles began almost immediately. By using different systems, some modest, others not, I am able learn more about how a particular component performs. This, in turn, provides valuable practical information for which I draw conclusions. For the record, the comments of these writers are included in this review. As it stands here and now, the Grand Illusions have set a new benchmark in terms of allowing the music to flow naturally, effortlessly, dynamically and most of all, musically. I further assume it's Forbes' patented design that may in fact have something to do with its sonic excellence. As a result, I found myself reading over patent #7,388,155 with a heightened level of concentration.
Lastly, I’ve spent the last three months auditioning and evaluating these cables and have them in many different systems.At this point, I am very impressed with the Klee Grand Illusion's state of the art performance and appreciate how their performance is based on science rather than luck. Additionally, after many months of listening to these cables I have concluded that their success is based on a combination of both science and good fortune...Forbes's science and our good fortune!
In my quest to set-up the best two channel audio system within my budget, I recently replaced the Delphi Aerospace interconnect and speaker cables marketed by Von Schweikert Audio and reviewed here with Klee Acoustic interconnect and speaker cables. I first heard about Klee Acoustic cables from Buffer (aka L. Langdon Ergmann, Jr.) of Laufer Teknik. In the last three years of knowing Buffer, I have found that he seems to be in the know about the latest high end audio products and has always been willing to give his unbiased opinion. Shortly after I heard that Clement Perry had switched over to Klee Acoustic Grand Illusion cables - that solidified it for me. Crazy to think that I felt compelled to try these new cables from an unknown designer. Before actually requesting review samples, I did some research on the Klee Acoustic cable design and concluded that there is no other cable that I know of, designed from the ground up like the Klee Acoustic cables.
In my review of the Delphi Aerospace Signature speaker and interconnect cables back in 2011, I highly praised these cables and for good reason. They truly are special in the following ways: separation among images, liquidity, truthfulness, coherence and clarity. However, when I swapped in the Klee Acoustic speaker cables and cued up Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (Rounder) 24 bit / 96k download, the Klee Acoustic speaker cables showed me just how signal restrictive the Delphi Aerospace Signature speaker were. Although the Delphi Aerospace Signature and Klee Acoustic speaker cables had the same tonal balance and soundstage size and depth, the Klee Acoustic speaker cables had greater resolution, transparency and dynamic shadings. This was confirmed again when I played selected cuts from Clocks and Spies, ColdPlay, Pickin’ on ColdPlay a bluegrass tribute (CMH Records) through the Laufer Teknik MP64. Interestingly, I noticed that the overall volume of my system was increased by 25% without turning the volume knob on the Ayon Audio Triton II integrated amplifier. Swapping in the Klee Acoustic balanced interconnects had the same effect as the Klee Acoustic speaker cables but to a lesser degree as heard on various cuts from the Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall (RCA).
In my system, a full arsenal of Klee Acoustic cables sounded like there was no cable at all. Klee Acoustic cables should be run in bi-wire configuration if your speakers (and budget) are optimized for it. For example, when I replaced the jumpers on my Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers with another set of Klee Acoustic speaker cables the vocals became even more natural sounding with a greater sense of “air” as well as the mid/lower bass response being much better defined.
Also, what is really different about Klee Acoustic cables, compared to other cables I have had in my system over the years, the ability to play at live sound pressure levels without a hint of distortion. If you consider the cost of Klee Acoustic cables and by specifically gauging their performance against super mega dollar cables, Klee Acoustic cables are a bargain. In the final analysis, Klee Acoustic serves as my new reference cables.
Clement also asked me if I would try this new Klee Grand Illusion Speaker Cables in my system to confirm what he was hearing in his own system. In particular, he said he wanted to hear how they would sound on my Dynaudio Evidence Temptation loudspeakers and Behold electronics combo. At the time, I was not familiar with the Klee brand, so I wasn't exactly anxious to give them a try. But I admit, after installing these cables into my system we began to listen to familiar recordings and to my astonishment, the Klee Acoustic cables provided significant improvements compared to my cherished and very expensive Sunny Supreme Speaker Cables. The Klee's presented a higher level of sonic virtues such as cleaner silky-smooth highs, a lower noise floor with blacker backgrounds, better resolution from top to bottom, better dynamic range, greater reproduction of harmonic details, and a greater sense of “being there.”
Also, prior to using the Klee cables I used Transparent Ultra Cables as well a Sunny Supreme Series Cables. In fact, I was perfectly satisfied with my sound using these excellent products and was not prepared for the marked improvement the Klee Grand Illusion Loudspeaker Cables brought forth. These cables simply provided a sense of increased musicality and on all levels. It was as if one peeled back a sonic layer of veiling when compared to the other cables. Initially, when I acquired the very expensive Sunny Supreme Speaker Cables - I thought I had finally reached cable nirvana and something that would fulfill my cable needs. The Sunny Supreme Cables produced an incredible sense of space and palpable sense of realness.
Installing the Klee Grand Illusion Loudspeaker Cables was a revelation for me. Friends, very familiar with my system’s performance, were also ecstatic about the improvement they heard. So much so that three of them are now using Klee Acoustics Grand Illusion cables as their new reference as well.
Okay, so I decided to give the Klee Acoustic Speaker and Digital Cable the proper due diligence since they came highly recommended by my man CP. Upon their arrival, I became immediately suspect due to how light the package felt. Ten pounds, tops. that maybe Larry (Forbes) had decided to send the rest of the cables to me later. I had requested a bi-wire run of the Grand Illusion speaker cables and Waveguide digital cable (RCA). However, when I opened the package there was a 10-foot bi-wire pair of speaker cables and Digital Waveguide. I somehow forgot how light ribbon cables are when compared with the heavier traditional brands. At first glance the construction of the Klee Acoustic speaker cables reminded me of a set of Nordost Valhalla, and similar to the ones I owned a few years back.
Connecting these babies to my system was a snap, the Klee cables are the most flexible speaker cables I’ve had the pleasure of hooking to my system since using the Valhalla's. Replacing the Stealth Sextet was tough to do since I so adored their sonic charm and musical dexterity.
Listening to the Klee Acoustics Grand Illusion cables and Waveguide digital cables caused a series of emotions to surface. Hearing this level of energy released into my room completely mesmerized me, and also angered me at the same time. I began saying to myself "you mean to tell me this level of life, dynamics and presence was being held back all this time? What the Grand Illusions brought was immediately recognizable on each and every CD I played throughout the evening. Nothing was being held back. Tonality remained intact, if not a tad richer, while the music flowed with an enhanced sense of purpose and dynamic realism. In short, the Klee Acoustics Grand Illusion cables have taken me to new levels of musical enjoyment and something that I would have not believed possible.
Grand Illusion speaker cables (2.5 meter): $8995.00
Klee Model One Interconnects (one meter): $2995.00
Klee Digital Waveguide (one meter): $1294.00