STEALTH audio cables


Author: Jim Merod


Interlink House plopped a pair of 30' microphone cables in a big package that arrived two months ago, landing with a small dull thud that scared the family pooch waiting to snare the delivery man at the gate. The package betrayed its real intent.

Not only did its heft spook the dog. Its contents have now spooked me. Here we are, just past the time of pumpkin patch watching, Linus safely put to bed in cartoon heaven, and I'm left spooked all by myself. Here's why.

I have used (and still own) virtually every microphone cable known to man and pumpkin: Canare, Mogami, Belden, Clark, Radio Shack, Guitar Center Off-the-Rack Specials, Kimber, AudioQuest, Wire World, van den Hul, Lunara, Depth Charge, Bombast . . . you get the point. That collection has been supplemented by a wonderful 25' pair of Magnan IIIi cables, custom made for yours truly by that redoubtable cable master, Dave Magnan. They have been supplemented, too, by unearthly cable concoctions crafted by various engineering colleagues intrigued by the opportunity to check their cablework at the expense of yours truly . . . laboring in the outback of stage left or stage right positions creating live recordings.

I list the good and not so good (the spectacular, the bizarre, and banal) mic cables that have run through my paws because the world of mic cables is still an undiscovered "musical territory." I invent that phrase to emphasize the simple, but apparently controversial fact, that mic cables DO IN TRUTH "create" music - - in any number of positive and negative ways. Mic cables are not a neutral, invisible, inaudible part of the recording chain. They are at the absolute heart of the recording venture. You cannot escape their central importance if you are a recording engineer.

Therefore, my dedicated interest in enhanced mic cable designs and outcomes. Enter, front and center, Stealth's "bullet proof" mic cables. Now I cannot fully attest to the internal construction of these remarkable anti-gravity devices . . . but they are powerful "get-off-the-ground and boogie" wires. They levitate. They make the initial mic feed you capture on a live recording seem to wake up and soar to the sky - - as music wants to do when it is played and captured right.

If I sound enthusiastic about Sergeui Timachev's mic cables it is because I am, in fact, excited about their pristine clarity, utter transparency, and just-plain-musical attributes. Mic cables come in all sizes and varieties. Many engineers have told me over the years that, when you "measure" mic cables, you find they are all the same unless there is a broken wire or frayed, bent, beat up and mangled deformation in the cable.

RIGHT ! Sure. Signal "flatness" is measured. The good old square wave test proves that this Edsel mic cable is no different in specs than that Rolls Royce cable. They are measurably identical.

So much for measuring instruments and their numerical delicacy. I trust another instrument -- my ears. What else does a recording engineer have to trust if not well-chosen, well-set up equipment, and one's own hearing?

I have spoken recently to a veteran studio recording engineer back East. He will remain anonymous because he would not want to ruin his reputation for professional common sense by breaking from the orthodox logic that affirms that wire is wire, mic cables are all alike.

This very astute and longtime masterful recording cat averrs that he was flat out astounded not long ago after I had urged him to swap out a single short run of cables at the very center of his studio set up. He did, putting a two-meter pair of ACOUSTIC ZEN "Silver Reference" cables at an important crux of his mixing set up. The results -- in recording, in mastering, and in monitoring his mixes-on-the-fly -- surprised him. In fact, he said that the result "flabberghasted" him. A single relatively short run of cables (at the gathering point of his entire mixing console) heightened the clarity and vividness of the whole ensemble. He could not believe his ears - - and yet the evidence stared him, second by second, day after day, directly in the face. Right in the ears. Smack ! Whack ! Thump !

Hearing is the evidence one ought to trust. This east coast recording cat is not a convert to cable upgrades. He will not, I am told, remove the Acoustic Zen cables from their new-found home in his work station.

On another hand, Denny Purcell, the Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer at Georgetown Masters, in Nashville, is a huge fan of good cables. But, then, Denny Purcell is one of the music-making engineers who long ago discovered the virtues of getting all cables in the sonic chain to the point of greatest resolution. One wonders, sometimes, how come a cat like Denny Purcell hears such low level and subtle differences and others do not? Or is it that Purcell learned that the additive results -- the incremental addition of low level resolution-enhancement multiplies dozen of times with the assemblage of each cable feed to the whole mix -- are essential parts of the "magic" that a superior masterting engineer can count upon if he is to work his sonic magic in the first place ?

It may be, of course, that the standard orthodoxy still insulating the recording proletariat from mic cable rebellion serves its purpose perfectly. It may be that, like any dogma, this one perpetuates the status quo . . . the better to keep hard working recording guys from pursuing yet another potential will o' the wisp. Believe me, many tricks and tweaks and (even) standard practices that are dispensed as crucial items in the recording engineer's daily workaholic grab bag are bugaboos. One must discover the tricks that work on one's own. No "book of recording rules" can ever cover the infinite contingencies that confront an enginner in the field or up against time pressures in the studio. When bird doo hits the fan, you need to have been there already, having solved this sort of dilemma already. Or you will need to be lucky or instantaneously brilliant.

Sometimes we all get lucky. I've known a few brilliant cats in my time (my longtime colleague Steve McCormack is one of them). But, don't count on luck or brilliance in a crunch. Nothing succeeds like experience that knows what to do in a crisis.

Thus, my appreciation for Denny Purcell's superior hearing and mastering tact. This is a cat who knows. Thus my respect for Steve McCormack's trained technical and instinctive mastering insight. He is another cat who knows. These two professional seekers-of-perfect-sound do not let themselves get skinned by orthodoxies that protect a fool from the joys and perils of creative experimentation.

By the opening of the 21st century, you'd not think that looking for (and using) magnificent microphone cables would be a secret trick only for the few. I believe it is. Enter Stealth's "bullet-proof" cables. Dr. Timachev at Stealth has not dubbed his custom-made mic cable creations "bullet-proof"; I have. These cables are strong. They are impervious to the sort of routine abuse that mic cable receive on stage as performances are underway. The Stealth cables are not rigid (as, for example, the wonderful Silverline power cords are), but they are solidly insulated by metal-like sheathing that gives them protection from enthusiastic musicians stomping and strolling and clattering all across the work area (read "stage") where their music is in excited motion.

None of that protection would be of any use or interest if the signals the Stealth cables sent to the recording console were not special. The Stealth mic cables do their job in spades. You hear more and better at the point of reception. The music thrown at your board by the mic of your choice swoops through these cables with grace and clarity. They are "musical." What more can a recording engineer ask for?

I regard the Stealth mic cables to be, among the literally dozens I have used (among the thousands of feet of mic cables that I have been "exposed to" at the point of signal reception), the most extraordinary and the most musical I've yet tried. I wish that I had a fleet of Stealth mic cables. I have many uses for more of them. They are beautifully made. They look good. The sound even better. They are a recording "tool" to be sought after by any serious and creative sound engineer.

The secret ingredients in these cables are extremely thin strands of silver wire. Stealth configures the braid in such a way that skin effect cannot destroy the mic feed. I find no blurring or smudging at the point of signal reception. Instead, one hears a very fast, clean feed that translates precisely as you want to on your console.

If you are a minimalist recording engineer, if you believe in the least amount of eq-alteration at the point of signal reception -- preferring, instead, to tailor sound by the choice of microphones and the choice of mic placement -- these mic cables will allow your "minimalist creativity" room to work.

At the moment, I am not at all certain if Stealth is producing large production runs of their boffo mic cords for the market. If not, they should. I have recently been intriqued by the mic cables crafted at Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics (BLUE), a relatively new microphone maker whose "Dragonfly" microphones, at the bottom end of their remarkable series, will soon receive affirmative attention from this writer. While I have not yet auditioned the BLUE mic cables, I trust the musicality of the astounding "Dragonfly" microphones enough to believe that they will position themselves favorably in the mic cable market.

In the interim, let's celebrate what we know. Let me suggest that Stealth has a superior product that needs greater reception and wider professional acknowledgement. Microphone cables may be the best kept secret at the bottom of a recording engineer's black bag. Only mic cables as good as these deserve to reside in that bag. Now they deserve to meet the light of day for others to use . . . and hear. Try them. You will like them and respect them. I'm certain.