Kubala-Sosna Research LLC Realization USB Cable

Device Type: USB Cable
Length: Standard length is 1 meter
Availability: Kubala-Sosna Research LLC Dealers
Price: $3500 for 1 meter length
Website: www.kubala-sosna.com

When our AudioStream editor, Michael Lavorgna, asked me if I was interested in reviewing the Kubala-Sosna Realization USB cable, I was momentarily hesitant. I knew that some of our gentle readers would be shocked at a review of a $3500 USB cable given that the cost of this cable exceeds many fine DACs that have been reviewed at AudioStream. But my curiosity was tweaked if this cable exceeded the sonic performance of some of the excellent USB cables I have reviewed or discussed in my quest for ever-better sound from computer audio.

Kubala-Sosna Research LLC is a well know manufacturer of high end audio cables that over the years has created a dedicated following among high-end audio enthusiasts. Joe Kubala and Howard Sosna DDS are dedicated audio perfectionists that created Kubala-Sosna Research LLC as they felt that they had unique sounding products to offer compared to what was being sold in the audiophile cable market. The principle R&D is performed by Howard Sosna. Joe also has an engineering degree that further contributed to the company’s design of their cables.

The Design
Kubala-Sosna presently manufactures 4 USB cable models: the Realization, the Sensation, the Emotion and the Temptation that range from $3500 to $600 for 1 meter lengths. I asked Joe what makes these cables different from each other. He replied:

"The sound changes proportionately as the recipe changes moving up the line. The Realization USB cable is our quietest and most “analog” sounding cable."
It is this concept of “recipe” that really explains what Kubala-Sosna is doing with the design of their cables. When I asked Joe for the cable materials used and other questions concerning the specific design of the Realization USB cable, he declined. I also found this design philosophy on the company’s web site:
When an engineer sets out to design an audio cable, he/she must consider conductor material, strand count, strand gauge, total gauge, number of bun¬dles, conductor geometries, conductor spacing, dielectric materials, dielectric thickness, shielding and many other characteristics.”

“The sound of the cable is due to the total “recipe,” and is dependent on all of the above factors, not one or two of them. So knowing, as an example, if a cable is copper or silver will not tell you how it sounds (no matter what preconceptions you have about either). To know its sound, you must listen.”

Kubala-Sosna utilizes a patented cable architecture called OptimiZ. OptimiZ does result in a particular sound to the cable, but exactly how it accomplishes this in the overall design is not discussed by Kubala-Sosna.

I did find the following information about OptimiZ in the patent abstract:

"There are provided cable architectures useful for constructing high-performance audio interconnection cables. Multiple, parallel runs of multiconductor, shielded, twisted pair cable are used to construct both balanced and unbalanced interconnect cables, speaker cables, and power cords. Conductors from each cable run are separated and connected to other conductors from other runs to form composite signal and ground conductors. Shields may be selectively connected to one another and to appropriate pins or terminals of a terminating connector. An overall mother shield may, optionally, be added. Individual runs of cable are braided together. Cables constructed in accordance with the geometries and techniques of the invention sound better than any known cables of the prior art. When measured, the inventive cables exhibit a ratio of capacitance to inductance that is lower than that of prior art cables. The characteristic impedance of the inventive cables is also lower than cables of the prior art."
The Realization USB cable does separate the 5V VBUS line from the data line. An external shield wire is visible on the cable. The connectors utilize gold plated connectors and are quite substantial in weight.

Some Insight into What Is Involved in Measuring USB Cables
Many of our readers ask for measurements to help explain our sonic impressions of the USB cables reviewed. I have yet to find a specific group of measurements that will tell one how a USB cable will sound. It appears that USB audio is a complicated process for measurement purposes.

I asked Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio, an acknowledged USB audio expert, to discuss several factors that come into play when measuring a USB cable’s performance and the recently released AudioQuest JitterBug:

USB Audio is not error correcting, so packet error is a real good indication of how well a cable or computer device works. When designing the AudioQuest JitterBug, 3 major things were looked at:
  1. Slew rate of rise time of the USB data as this will indicate how well the receiving side will interpret the data.
  2. VBUS noise in two separate areas; the audio band and then the high frequency band.
  3. EMI/RFI reduction before it hits the cable.
You really need a sampling scope to see good EYE patterns with high speed DACs. These things are a bit expensive like $15,000. You really need at least 12G-20G sampling scope for high speed USB.

We have found a number of key things about cable design and USB. The biggest thing we found out was that a number of cables cause errors in the feedback pipe, which depending on the version of XMOS you are using, may lead to audible problems.

Problems also result in different USB ports on the same computer or dedicated audio players that are not USB compliant.

My Setup
I decided to use my Asus laptop running Windows 10 Home 64 bit. The Asus G501 JW possesses an Intel Core i7 4720HQ 2.6 GHz processor with 16 GB RAM and a very fast PCE Express X4 SSD. This laptop has 3 USB 3.0 ports as well as a Thunderbolt port. The Asus laptop was plugged into a Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 v2 distribution center to firewall the noise generated by this computer from contaminating my AC line.

The Ausus was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base grounded with the Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable / Grounding Block as was the computer. Two 8 TB GRAID Thunderbolt drives were connected; one for PCM and the other for DSD files. The GRAID Thunderbolt drives were powered by HDPlex 100w linear power supplies.

USB cables employed for comparisons in this evaluation were the Audioquest Diamond, the Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB cable, and the Light Harmonic LightSpeed 10GB USB cable. Software included the use of Roon 1.1 and Fidelizer Pro 6.10.

I decided to use the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base with the new Premium Quad USB2 Module for these evaluations. The Premium Quad Module represents MSB Technology’s most advanced implementation of USB for their DAC with superior isolation compared to their previous efforts. The Analog DAC was plugged into a Shunyata Research Triton v2 / Typhon using Shunyata’s Sigma Digital AC cable. I also employed my wonderful Wavelength Audio Crimson Silver with the new Quotient DAC module. The power supply of the Crimson was also plugged into the Shunyata Triton v2 with a Shunyata Sigma Digital AC cable.

Exploring the Sound of the Realization USB
If I had to discuss the specific sonic qualities of the Realization USB cable that sounds superior to other fine USB cables, it is the midrange and how the midrange is reproduced in the soundstage. The midrange of the USB Realization is the most analog-like of any USB cable I have yet heard. It tends to strip away digital artifacts that lead to hardness or brightness of the sound. Just as important, is the manner in which the Realization USB cable places this midrange in the soundstage. While many USB cables portray good width, the depth of field is often compressed. It is this compression that also contributes to an unnatural hard sound that irritates the heck out of vinyl enthusiasts when listening to digital audio. Instruments and voices are placed slightly back from the front plane with the body and weight of instruments and voices heard in good analog playback. The Realization is detailed from top to bottom without brightness or accentuated sound. The cable has excellent balance without prominence in any one particular area. Bass is tight and very well defined. The micro and macro dynamic qualities of the music are well reproduced with the Realization. I also noticed a very quiet black background to this cable.

Music Flowed Naturally Using the Realization USB
Shawn Colvin’s new release Uncovered (24/88.2) sounded wonderful with the Realization USB cable. Shawn’s voice was naturally and realistically reproduced with no digital edge to the sound. The guitar sounded real with excellent detail. I experienced an ultra-quiet background with the Realization that allowed one to easily hear low level information.

The same was true for Judy Collins’ new release of Strangers Again (24/88.2). Each cut features a well-known signer performing with Judy Collins; Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn, Glen Hansard, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffet to name a few. The Realization provided a relaxed presentation with purity and liquidity to the voices. There was good image solidity with the absence of an electronic quality to the music.

David Gilmour’s new release Rattle That Lock (24/96) allowed me to open up the volume of the system. The former Pink Floyd guitarist recorded this album at his home studio resulting in a beautifully and richly layered sound of instruments and voices. There was a superb visceral grip of the bass and excellent micro dynamic nuances with rhythmic drive heard when listening with the Realization USB. The Realization reproduced this music with immediacy and palpability that was quite engaging.

Symphonic recordings were well served with the Realization USB’s soundstage qualities. The Utah Symphony / Thierry Fischer’s Mahler Symphony No. 1 (DSD64) had a beautiful sense of bloom and three-dimensionality with the Realization USB. Air and bloom was heard around the instruments with marvelous reproduction of the instrumental textures. The Realization USB was able to reproduce the weight and authority found in a Mahler symphony. The overall resolution and transparency with this USB cable was very satisfying.

Comparisons with Other USB Cables

The Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB Cable
I have found the Galileo LE to be an outstanding USB cable priced at $2000.00 for 1 meter. But there are significant sonic differences between the Realization USB and the Galileo LE. The Galileo LE does not quite sonically measure up to the outstanding midrange reproduction qualities of the Realization USB. Compared to the Realization, the Galileo LE does not present the same degree of midrange richness and weight. But it does have a more forward midrange projection that might be appealing to some listeners. The bass and high ends are slightly more prominent sounding with the Galileo LE. The Realization USB is able to project a wider and deeper soundstage than the Galileo LE. One nice feature of the Galileo LE is that its sound has a fine tuning feature with the UEF Active Tuning Circuits. Both the Galileo and the Realization are similar in their low noise characteristics.

The AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable
If I had to pick a USB cable that sounded the most similar to the Realization USB, I would select the AudioQuest Diamond. As with the Galileo LE, the Diamond has a more forward sounding midrange projection that while lacking any traces of hardness, does not have the midrange dimensionally and weight of the Realization. The bass of the Diamond is less powerful and dynamic sounding compared to that of the Realization USB, and the high end does not present the detail of the Realization. But at a $1095 the 1 meter Diamond represents a very good value for a high end USB cable.

The Light Harmonic LightSpeed 10G USB Cable
This highly regarded USB cable sells for $999.00 for a .8 meter length. I feel the LightSpeed has the most personality compared to the 3 other USB cables previously mentioned in this review. In many ways the LightSpeed compliments the wonderful sounding Light Harmonic Da Vinci DAC. The LightSpeed is a very fast sounding cable that gives the impression of being more detailed than the Realization. The bass is less prominent while the highs are more prominent sounding than those of the Realization. The soundstage does not quite match the width or depth of the Realization nor does it have the fabulous analog-like midrange of the Realization.

A USB Cable for a Connoisseur of Audio Excellence
There is no question in my mind that the Kubala-Sosna Realization USB cable is the finest USB cable I have yet auditioned. No other USB cable I have heard matches the glorious midrange qualities of the Realization USB. The Realization USB is perfectly balanced from top to bottom with excellent dynamic qualities and detail reproduction. The cable has very low noise qualities that most likely aid in its ability to reproduce micro dynamic shadings. No, I am not abandoning my Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB cable as there are DAC combinations that might prefer this cable and I am still impressed with the overall sound quality of the Galileo LE. But as of this date, the Kubala-Sosna Realization USB cable receives my strongest accolades as the most satisfying USB cable I have had the pleasure to audition.

COMMENTS
maelob's picture

Love the "Ferrari"cables that cost more than my DAC and speaker combined. So jealous!!!! My wife would kill me LOL

weirdo12's picture

A run of the mill ASUS laptop running Windows 10 Home is considered a great platform for testing a $3500 USB cable.

solarophile's picture

[Useless comment deleted. Ed.]

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If you have something of value to add to the conversation, please do. If not, this is your first and last warning. One more nonsensical comment and I'll block your account.

Cheers.

Steven Plaskin's picture
If I were you, I would do a little research before I would call this a run-of-the-mill computer. Asus builds some great stuff including routers and motherboards.
Wavelength's picture

Steve,

I would agree! When I have to buy a PC (I have 3 ASUS) ASUS is the company I go to. They are the only brand that tells you when a new driver is out or new firmware. No other company does that.

Really guys, not like Steve doesn't have a 17" MacBook Pro as well fully decked out. He probably has more computers than you do.

Thanks,
Gordon

CG's picture

Economics!

The market for Asus computers is WAY larger than the market for high performance audio products. So, Asus has a far better economy of scale for their products. The expensive parts within an Asus laptop are made by the bazillion, driving their costs down, which helps Asus keep their costs low.

That's a good thing for audio enthusiasts, not a bad thing.

If Asus only built computers for the audio world, and had to write their own operating systems and fab their own chips, you can bet that this computer wouldn't be selling for under $3000...

Steven Plaskin's picture
weirdo12's picture

Of ASUS and their products and I certainly wasn't suggesting you use a Mac! Does a great gaming computer make a great audio playback device? I was thinking of something like a fan less PC, the JRiver Id or a dedicated player (e.g. Aurender, Auralic). Something that had been reviewed favourably here would likely be a good candidate. It just seems whacky to using a laptop - even if it is extremely cool and powerful - to test a $3500 USB cable.

Steven Plaskin's picture
Please read my setup and what is being used with the computer. Yes, under these conditions, this little computer makes a great sounding audio computer.
bit01's picture

I find that the so called 'sound' of USB cables can be system dependent. Of course strictly speaking the USB 2 cable has no 'sound' (assuming it meets the USB 2 spec & is bit perfect in the setup). So we are looking at some sort of computer noise transmission/interaction with the DAC interface or analog output. DAC designs seem to be in the learning curve of how to deal with this and may do it in different ways. Laptops or desktops may generate quite different noise spectrums. I find that I may prefer one cable in one setup but not like it in another!

Steven Plaskin's picture

All good points bit01.

I did most of my listening as noted in the setup, but also employed a REGEN powered by an HDPlex LPS, 2 AudioQuest JitterBugs, and my MacBook Pro.

The results were consistent with what I heard in my described setup.

But system dependence is why I keep a stable of USB cables here for use with different DACs.

Leo2's picture

Can you recommend a USB cable for a Benchmark DAC2 HGC? Thanks.

Steven Plaskin's picture

Hi Leo,

It's been some time since I have listened to the Benchmark, but looking back at my notes, I would go with the Shunayta Research Venom if you would like a little more weight at the low end, or the AudioQuest Carbon that has less low end emphasis. Both of these are very nice cables for this DAC.

http://www.audiostream.com/content/benchmark-media-systems-dac2-hgc-dac#...

derneck's picture

is you gotta be a doctor to afford it, otherwise I am sure it's as perfect / desirable as a piece of premium wire gets ;)

Steven Plaskin's picture

Don't forget the Shunyata Venom. A very nice cable at a very reasonable price. Also, the AudioQuest Carbon is a fine sounding USB cable.

http://www.audiostream.com/content/shunyata-research-venom-usb-cable#CFq...

Venere 2's picture

I have to agree with Steven about the Shunyata Venom USB. I have it in my system and love it. I have not been compelled to buy another USB cable that is 3 times the price or more, for maybe a 10-15% improvement.

It also seems from reading Steven's reviews, that some cables sound better with certain DACs, less so on other DACs. Since I have a great match with the Shunyata and Rega DAC R, I'll quit while I am ahead ;-)

24bitbob's picture

Steven,

You've got the goldenest of golden ears. For sure, I'd never distinguish cables as you do.

My question: most commentators say that using a device such as an Auralic Aries or Aurender as a front end, will out perform a 'noisy laptop' any day (And I note the lengths you go to regarding power supply, isolation, etc., but I understood most laptop noise to be internally generated). Do you see that differently?

Or to put my question more bluntly, isn't it madness to put a $3500 USB cable on a laptop? ($3500 = 1 Aries + 1 very good cable + lots and lots of music)

Many thanks,

Bob

Steven Plaskin's picture

"Or to put my question more bluntly, isn't it madness to put a $3500 USB cable on a laptop? ($3500 = 1 Aries + 1 very good cable + lots and lots of music)"

If we are strictly speaking about money, you have a very good point. But many hobbyists enjoy the computer and the variety of programs and tweaking they can perform. Some feel that they can better the sound of an Aries.

Another thing that we haven't tried is the Realization with the Aries and how that would play out.

24bitbob's picture

....for your reply

I too prefer the increased functionality / flexibility of a laptop solution, hence my question to you. My laptop sounds pretty good, but of course one of the reasons for my interest in Audiostream is to check out what alternatives there are in the fast moving world of computer audio. Budgets are a real world constraint for most, so articles like yours and Michaels' are most appreciated.

Cheers,

Bob

2_channel_ears's picture

"the Realization with the Aries" - will you? This is exactly my question, it seems other reviews of USB cables I've read here are done with laptops. Why not in a system?

Steven Plaskin's picture
Something that will definitely be considered for the future. There seems to be good interest out there for this evaluation.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
First off, Steve reviewed this cable in his system. Secondly, he does not have an Aries, I do.

In terms of an appropriate system context within which to review a USB cable, Steve's is appropriate. There is no debating that simple fact.

While it would be great to review everything in every possible scenario, reality intrudes.

2_channel_ears's picture

"system" in the context as in not a PC in the system. sheesh

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Please explain (asks the Editor of a Computer Audio site ;-)
2_channel_ears's picture

When I saw "Another thing that we haven't tried is the Realization with the Aries and how that would play out" I was wondering why that hasn't happened? When I saw "First off..." I thought I hit a hot button.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
But I can understand why you'd like to think otherwise.

Do you want to have a conversation or an argument?

2_channel_ears's picture

I am not here for trouble sir. Only to get educated (and entertained).

Michael Lavorgna's picture
What I'm pointing out is simply the fact that we cannot possibly accommodate every reader's ideal system context. Some may be interested in the Aries or an Aurender or an Antipodes or the REFstream, etc. The reality is we review within our 'reference system' context. Using a computer is to my mind the most common context for computer audio today. This is why I still use a MacBook Pro in my system.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
Let's not forget to consider the other end of the equation. Different DACs certainly react to cables differently. Some manufacturer's claim immunity to USB cable differences and I think it's safe to generalize that immunity as being due to a variety of measures including isolation, grounding schemes, buffering, re-clocking, and more.
fritzg's picture

So, will this cable make all DACs song better? And if not, why not?

fritzg's picture

d*mn autocorrect

Steven Plaskin's picture

Michael offered a good explanation why some DACs are less sensitive to changes in USB cables:

"Let's not forget to consider the other end of the equation. Different DACs certainly react to cables differently. Some manufacturer's claim immunity to USB cable differences and I think it's safe to generalize that immunity as being due to a variety of measures including isolation, grounding schemes, buffering, re-clocking, and more."

Reed's picture

....of why some DACs have considerable improvements to their external power supply & others don't. I have to think this is a factor. While the argument of improved "data transmission" with a better USB cable has questionable consequence, cleaner USB power from the computer for DACs that have their USB chip powered from the computer has a quite larger potential of effect. I happen to be in the camp that data transmission is data transmission. However, given the undeniable improvements when I added my Aqvox USB power supply, I do think a USB cables abilities to offer better, cleaner, power delivery could very well be a factor. Maybe these cables that sound better are simply better at delivering the power component of USB. Read the link I posted. Aqvox is very up front about stating no improvement to certain DACs because their USB chip receives its power from the onboard DAC power supply.

http://www.aqvox.de/usb-power_en.html

Reed's picture

I just don't notice any differences when I Compare other cables to my USB $150 silver Kimber 1/2 foot USB cable. I did notice a considerable improvement when I added the Aqvox USB power unit, however.

amcolema@eagle.fgcu.edu's picture

As a Computer Science graduate, I cannot for the life of me understand this. Standard digital signals include copious amounts of error correction in their encoding. CDs, digital TV, the USB standard itself, they all include multiple layers of error recovery. Why, then, was USB Audio designed without error correction? A cable like this would be unnecessary if conventional wisdom had been followed - a little bit of extra overhead in the signal is not going to kill anything, even USB 1.0 has more than enough bandwidth :-\

The only thing I can think of is latency, but realistically how important is latency in audio?

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