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Kimber Carbon 8 and 16 review

Tuesday, 3rd March 2020

Kimber Carbon-8 and -16 reviewed by Ken Stokes of hifipig.com.

Kimber Carbon

Ken owns what may be considered a mid-range system although, as we shall see, it is certainly capable of high-end performance. My reason for mentioning this will become clear later, but suffice to say, it's a level of system which many would say is below that at which these cables would normally be used. And that makes it even more interesting, because if the Carbons can perform here, just imagine what they can do with an even more revealing system...

Burn-in love.

Ken starts with the Kimber Carbon-8 and makes some insightful observations about the need to give cables time to burn-in properly before making snap judgements on their performance. "Putting it bluntly", he writes, "my initial reaction with Carbon-8 was not entirely positive". Straight out of the box, he found the sound a bit too forward and edgy. 

Even so, he could already detect impressive elements to the cable's performance. He writes; "the effect was very 'dynamic and fast'. I want to use superlatives like breath-taking, fast sheer, majestic. It was as if the delivery accentuated the scope of everything I played, it was as if the attack of the music I listened to was on steroids!". But, he adds, "it felt a bit too much".

Kimber Carbon-8

Sensibly, he decided to leave the Carbon-8's in situ to let them burn-in and settle down. As he observes, this process is seldom plain sailing because the performance tends to fluctuate over this period: "it was probably, in equal measure, at various moments a mix of absolute disbelief that music I've played literally countless times over the last fifty years could sound so incredibly good, mesmerising, breathtakingly real and yet with some pieces leave me struggling and finding the sound quality a little harder".

How true this is! We've all been there, and it is incredibly frustrating when you just want the cable to settle and get to its ultimate performance as soon as possible (that's why it's always worth taking full advantage of our 60-day trial period - click here to find out more).

Once the cable had had chance to fully burn-in, that hard edge softened and the cable became far more comfortable to listen to, with only the positive points to its character remaining.

Click here to buy Carbon 8

Moving on to Carbon-16 the difference was clear to hear. Even before burning-in, the 16 was perceived to be "smoother and more balanced". "Like the Carbon-8", he continues, "the Carbon-16 had a breadth and scale I simply wasn't used to. I literally didn't think my system could sound this good!" 

Kimber Carbon 16

Click here to buy Carbon 16

Clearly, Ken was very impressed by both cables, with the price difference between the two reflecting the uptake in performance. Compared to his existing cables, the "differences were immediate and frankly, in keeping with the budget differences, staggering. I had been prepared for a different SQ [sound quality]" he continues, "but not anything quite so dramatic!".

The cables are very revealing though, so he warns that they will reflect what they are given; if there's any problem further downstream in the system, you're going to be made more aware of this. Nevertheless, assuming you have a well set up Hi-Fi, he offers a high recommendation, noting that both the cables, "at times, saw me sat listening with mouth wide open".

A final thought: balancing the budget.

This is an interesting review because, in a way, it highlights the unspoken and widely-held assumption that the value of a cable should always be in direct proportion to the value of your system - no matter how much of an improvement it brings. That's certainly not a criticism of this reviewer in particular - far from it. It's more a general observation that's illustrated well here.

Cables vs hardware

The overall feel of the review is that the Carbon cables - the 16 in particular - were revelatory in this system. Phrases such as "How could my humble system sound like this?"; "these cables showed me my set up is capable of delivering way more than I realised" and "I was astounded, mesmerised and found myself lingering over some albums on an almost track by track shock basis" Those are the kind of superlatives that you would normally see reserved for an amp or source in a review - and no questions about the cost in relation to the rest of the system.

Yet, in concluding, the reviewer writes: "these are clearly for those with pretty high-end rigs... they are out of my typical price range, but for those who do have the reach and system to match all I can say is enjoy!" Let's unpack this a bit more.

Ken lists his kit at the end of the review as follows: Roksan Caspian M2 CD player (transport only), Macbook Pro using Audiovana for ripped uncompressed files and Quboz studio for streamed. Benchmark Dac3 to Nord NC500 upgraded to M2 spec' dual mono power amps, Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand SE speakers. I reckon that's around £7k or more of hardware. That's by no means a budget system. Given the level of improvement that he describes, I'd say even the Carbon-16 at £2960 for a 2.5m pair wouldn't be overkill, let alone the Carbon-8 at £1524.

My point is that, it really doesn't matter whether more money has gone into the hardware or the cables, if the sound you are getting is this good; who cares? I remember a demo we once did at the old National Audio Show at Whittlebury Hall where we had a system comprising around £1500 of hardware and around £18500 of cables and supports. It sounded amazing and we would have been happy to put it up against any other £20k system - and then some. But, apart from a few exceptions, people just couldn't get their heads around even the idea of committing more to the infrastructure than the hardware - no matter how good the system sounded! But ultimately, what does it matter, so long as the end result is an amazing listening experience?

Read more about the Kimber Carbon range here.

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