Joe Skubinski of JPS Labs
by Richard Seah
In a world where audiophiles with fat wallets would spend thousands of dollars on cables made from 99.9999...% pure silver, Joe Skubinski must surely be crazy. Not that he goes to greater extremes to make cables from gold, platinum or even more exotic, more expensive metals. No. He goes the other direction and makes audio(phile) cables out of aluminium.
That has raised many eyebrows, followed by the inevitable question: Isn't aluminium a poor conductor?
Not if you know what to do with it, says Joe, 33, of JPS Labs. (Joe likes to keep you guessing what the "P" in JPS stands for). Out of this lowly metal, Joe has created a cable which he calls "The Superconductor".
True to its name, The Superconductor cable boasts extremely low resistance, at 0.08 ohm per half metre. The specifications for capacitance and inductance are even more impressive, with lots more 0's at the front. But specifications, as true audiophiles know, are quite meaningless. How does it sound?
The few hifi reviewers who evaluated The Superconductor so far have been unanimous in their praise. In fact, they use almost exactly the same words:
"JPS Labs make, in my humble opinion, arguably one of the best interconnects at any price!" writes Leon Pereira, Editor of Audio Video Singapore (Jan/Feb 97).
Bound for Sound (no. 9/96) Publisher Martin G DeWulf puts it this way: "What I do know is that the JPS is one of the finest interconnects available at any price."
Marc Mickelson, writing for the internet publication SoundStage! (Dec. 96), cautions: "If you're about to buy something else and haven't listened to the JPS Labs stuff, you're potentially throwing your money away."
So perhaps there is something special about aluminium. (Incidentally, Gallo Acoustics now makes its "Bassball" speakers in anodized aluminium enclosures.) But of course, it is not just the material used that determines the final sound of audio equipment. We'll let Joe tell you more about this, and about himself:
Aluminium cables sound like a crazy, or even dumb, idea. Isn't aluminium a poor conductor compared with copper or silver? So what made you even consider aluminium in the first place? Did you try more conventional materials first?
Aluminum as a wire is actually used in industry where weight is a consideration, such as large coils, aircraft uses, etc. Aluminum does have a higher resistivity per foot than say copper. But by making a larger diameter wire, as with any other conductive material, its resistance per foot decreases.
Underground electrical cables on newer homes are made of stranded aluminum. That is just what they use now, as copper is much heavier in this larger form (higher shipping costs, more broken backs, etc.) than aluminum, and it is equivalent to copper in conductivity if sized accordingly.
Each 'strand' in each large conductor is about the size of a 14 gauge wire, which is not very fine stuff. This just so happens to be the same diameter (about 2 mm) as what I use in the Superconductor cables.
My home has this aluminum underground electrical cable from the mains transformer to the electric meter which I installed during its construction. No wonder my hifi system sounds so good!
What I am trying to say is that aluminum is a more common conductor than people realize. As for other materials, we tried them all. This was something special.
When you made your first aluminium cable and plugged it into your hifi, what was your reaction? Did your jaw drop because it sounded much better than expected? Or were you disappointed and felt that it needed more work?
WOW!!! It was undoubtedly superior to its copper and silver counterparts in terms of neutrality, that is, not imparting any signature onto the sound. This was enough so to make me realize that I had something here.
Proprietary changes were made to the cables until peak sonic performance was reached. Once The Superconductor wire was perfected, a full line of audio cables was designed with this recipe.
All of our present cables are based on this 'Superconductor', so in our line you will not see cables made to fit a price, just cables made to be the best at what they do. This also explains the price difference between say a pair of interconnects and a pair of more costly speaker cables. The interconnects were not designed at a certain price to compare with the speaker cables, and the speaker cables were not designed to be priced like the interconnects, get it?
If you look at the average cost to wire a system with these cables, I believe it would be very much lower than ANY competitive brands. In fact all cables that I can think of in this class could be sold, as used, for more money than the Superconductor cost new. It really can be an inexpensive upgrade for someone who has already paid a large price for cables and feels stuck with them because of it.
But why should aluminium sound good? What's the theory or the science behind it?
To be quite honest I would rather tell you I do not know than give you a BS story to make you believe. All I know is that aluminum allowed much more information throughout the frequency range than its copper / silver counterparts. No magic, no BS, just great sounding music at a very good price.
Martin G DeWulf (Editor of Bound for Sound) does not swear by my products for any other reason than he really believes they are the best. He is a professional reviewer with no reason to have a hidden agenda, as he accepts no advertising. He just speaks his mind. He told one of my customers that my cable is the ONLY one he gives 5 stars to, being judged on value and performance. I got to meet Marty at this years CES in Las Vegas. He is a great guy, as well as a publisher of a fine publication.
You mention that you use high purity aluminium coated with high purity copper. How pure is pure in this case? Is this an expensive material?
Ultra-pure is the term I use to describe the ingredients which make up The Superconductor wire. I prefer to stay away from the 'nines' race in audio, you know, 99.9999... % pure whatever. About the only comment I can make is that all materials, right down to the solder, have been optimized for maximum sonic purity.
As for costs, your typical silver audio cable costs less per foot to manufacture than The Superconductor does.
I know it's not just the conductor material, but also the design, construction and various other factors that determine the final sound quality. What else is unique about your cable designs?
The first thing which comes to mind is that a person could climb down a long run of interconnect to safety in case of a fire (just kidding).
More seriously, by using solid-core conductors, stranding configuration issues such as twisting, litz, etc, were totally avoided. The center insulating material was designed to closely mimic air (the reference of insulators). This, in conjunction with the corrugated outer copper shield, also locks-in the position of the aluminum center conductor relative to the shield, so that bending does not change the characteristics, or the sound of these cables.
This corrugated solid ultra-pure copper shield, which provides a true 100% coverage (unlike compromising foils and braids), also provides for much greater flexibility than a straight copper tube would have.
The aluminum center conductor is not really 100% aluminum. It is heavily cladded (many times thicker than a plating) with ultra-pure copper. This cladding is analogous to silver plating a copper wire in that it increases the high frequency and transient response of the conductor. And in the case of these cables, the copper cladding also allows for solderability.
The outside aesthetic coating of all of these cables is just that, and as far as I am concerned what is on the outside of this shield is irrelevant.
But what do you think is the most important factor - the material or the design? If you were to build another cable exactly the same way, but using copper, silver, or some other material, how differently would it sound? Or what if you were to build another aluminium cable differently, perhaps a more flexible one?
Good question. The initial prototype designs of The Superconductor included solid copper (which sounded pretty good), silver coated copper (which I did not like), silver, and finally aluminum. Needless to say, the present aluminium design won hands-down.
Greater flexibility would require one of two things; smaller or thinner conductors, or a stranded design. Either change would be a compromise for what should be.
As stated in the literature, "By minimizing all interactive components, and maximizing positive contributing factors, JPS Labs provides the best cables available at any price". That pretty much sums it up.
You said you didn't like the silver cable which you built. What was wrong with it? Is this just a personal preference or is it because silver itself imparted certain sonic qualities which degraded or changed the sound? Have you ever like any silver cables? A lot of audiophiles seem to like them.
Silver can have some good qualities in certain systems, being neutral and smooth without much brightness. In my particular case, by using silver as a plating, it dulled the sound of the cables highs. Solid silver had the opposite effect. I can go on and on about the differences with various center conductor materials, but the point is that this overall design proved to be very universal in listening with other systems and people; they all liked it.
Silver, on the other hand has its share of hecklers, and for good reasons. It is not uniform at supplying neutral sound, particularly in the long term. I have always preferred a lack of silver.
So do you think more cable companies will start to use aluminium?
I hope not. I consider aluminum to be a trademark of JPS Labs, so much so that I have applied for patents to protect my interests. If someone were to 'copy', it would be a short-lived endeavor at best.
I thought patents only protect designs, but not the basic materials? Can a patent actually prevent other companies from making aluminium cables using different designs?
It depends on how good of a lawyer you can afford A basic material such as aluminum itself cannot be granted a patent, but combinations of materials considered to be unique and non-obvious can. It's all in the wording.
Another unusual feature of your cables is the solid copper tube shielding which you consider to be 100% shielded. Why don't other cable companies do the same? Is it merely a practical consideration? As far as I am concerned, audiophiles are not practical people to begin with.
Our ultra-pure solid copper shield reduces RF interference by more than 120 dB, as opposed to about 80 dB for a typical well-shielded braided cable. In audio levels, that would be the difference between a normal conversation and a police siren going off right next to your head!
Other companies could have exploited such a design at any time but turned it down simply because they did not think audiophiles would want to deal with its somewhat greater inherent rigidity. I was not opposed to this simple limiting factor when sound quality was the issue, so I figured nor would most others be.
If you look at all the time and trouble audiophiles go through (myself included) to squeeze the best sound out of their systems, this is no contest. As for practicality, it is not the mother of invention, and I will not subscribe to it, you can't make me.
So far, your cables have been receiving rave reviews in the smaller audio publications, like Bound for Sound and SoundStage! on the internet. But they seem to have been ignored by the big magazines like Stereophile, The Absolute Sound or FI. Doesn't this, plus the fact that your cables are aluminium, make them very hard to sell?
The larger publications have recently shown an interest, but I cannot mention names. Realize though that a relatively short period of time has lapsed from even the first public mention in a smaller publication.
Also, I have not been aggressively seeking a review in a larger publication, as I first needed to build a strong foundation for JPS Labs to stand on. I was too busy perfecting methods, improving packaging, labeling, literature, etc, along with manufacturing cables, to deal with a rave review in say Stereophile or another larger publication.
I will say though that the smaller publications, such as Bound for Sound, can carry great weight as well, as their subscribers tend to be very dedicated listeners in more ways than one. Now that most of that is behind me, and distribution grows, I am prepared for almost any great review I can get my hands on.
I find that The Superconductor line of cables really sells itself (with a little help from our dealers) once in a person's system. They will completely outperform cables may times their cost, guaranteed at that. The only place they will not excel is where the cables are used as a passive adjustment to tailor the systems sound to a pleasing tone. In these systems, honest cables are not welcome.
The aluminum issue I see as a very good advantage; you see, I have something totally different from all the rest, and it is about time. Copper and silver have been played out to a point where various past ads touting twisting, turning, construction techniques have been reduced to what is left, adjectives; many adjectives as to what a cable will do for a listener. That is after all the bottom line, isn't it?
Now I am not going to say that JPS will not use adjectives to describe what you are going to hear, but what I am trying to convey is that in order for an adjective to have meaning, you must have a reference point; a basis for it all to make sense.
Our new design changes the old reference a bit. As one of my newer dealers had said, "The proof is in the pudding." As he had found out, I make a hell of a good aluminum pudding (that is if you like metals).
You only started making cables recently. What prompted you to try out cable design? Is it easier than, say, building an amplifier or some other audio equipment? I would think it's easier to make a cable, but harder to make it really good.
I have been dabbling with various cable designs for more than a few years now. The most important things that I have learned are never stop learning, never give up, and never assume (although at times I cannot help myself). I just happened to stumble on something that really works well, and I went with it full steam ahead.
Don't anyone get the idea though that it was easy. It is all too simple to say "Oh yea, all he does is put connectors on cables, make a lot of money, and drive a fancy car."
The missing parts to this fairy tale are all the years of preparation and thought, endless 12-14 hour days, high advertising costs, samples, searching for and trying new technologies, lack of sleep, disillusioned wife, mood swings, increasing costs, countless literature revisions, computer problems, phone bills, total lack of free time, new product R&D and introduction, countless literature revisions (I know, I know), make cables, make Flutes, make cables, make cables, etc, etc.
This is the long version of "it's a lot of work." I am not complaining though. I would not give it up for the world. By the way, I drive a 1986 car with over 120K miles on it, but I must admit I am planning on trading it in soon, that is, if I can sell cables.
What cables would you use if you hadn't made your own? And what would you use if you have absolutely no budget constraints?
I would always use a cable of my design in my system, for as many years as I had a system worthy of it. If I had to choose a replacement at any price, NBS would come to mind.
I understand your first product was the Golden Flute Bass Alignment Filter. Can you tell us more about this?
The Golden Flutes were initially designed to replace the factory high pass filter made by B&W for their 800 series of loudspeakers. The whole concept of a high-pass, or bass alignment filter, is to electronically extend the bass response of a given loudspeaker by installing an active device, typically between the preamp and amp, to supply a boost in a very narrow range of bass frequencies at a specific frequency, bandwidth, and amplitude.
JPS Labs began, as a company, in 1990 making these beautiful hand-made polished brass Flutes (the outer cases of each of a pair of Golden Flutes is tubular in shape, with a jack at each end, so they went in-line with a set of interconnects).
We now make Golden Flutes for over 50 different models of loudspeakers, as well as specialty OEM products for other audio manufacturers. The concept from the beginning was to make an excellent product that extended the bass response without screwing up everything, at a great price. We have been doing that for almost 7 years now, and of course we are still devoted to the same concepts.
What other products do you make? And what others are you planning?
So far that is it. The fast growth of our cable line slowed down a few other projects that were in the works. I hope to come out with some interesting new products as time permits. I would prefer them to be a surprise, so I cannot tell. For now, I am almost totally devoted to The Superconductor line and its future growth.
More options and products are being added all the time, and power cords are now in the works as the amount of requests can no longer be ignored. The plan is to try to please as many people as possible, and we will go to great lengths to do so. Our motto is "just ask."
I have recently purchased a label maker which allows me to make custom gold on black labels easily. I have just begun personalizing the speaker cables with either a dealer or a customer name, so every pair is somewhat unique, and nicely labeled. As these cables take time to assemble properly, increasing efficiency is also a present concern to help keep prices low.
What got you into audio design and manufacturing in the first place? Where there times when you (or your wife) felt that you should be in a different business?
Some could say it was my good looks, charm, and outgoing personality that brought me where I am today... I credit most of it to dumb luck.
In looking back, I see all my past experience in electronics, and in working for relatively small places, coming together to give me what I needed to deal with my own business. Having the mechanical aptitude to create well made, well thought out products at very affordable prices didn't hurt either.
I do not need to ask my wife how she now feels, but I know there were times when she made it seem I should be doing other things.
I would say my real interest in electronics began with a Lafayette 150 in one electronics kit which I believe my uncle bought me when I was about 11. It had spring terminals attached to every component for easy hookup, lots of wires for wiring things together, a solid state transistor, caps, resistors, etc. all in a nice wooden briefcase, and a book that showed how to hook 150 different things up.
Of course after I had made everything in the book, I began making my own things, but unfortunately there was only so many things you could do with a single transistor - an outdoor TV antenna, various batteries, coils, a tuning cap, and the neighbors garage door opener. I was on my way.
From there I would spend much of my free time fiddling with anything I could get my hands on. The local flea market supplied me with all kinds of surplus goods to dive into, take apart, modify, and make work. It was time well spent, as it gave me a mechanical aptitude you just could not be taught.
In this industry, at 33, I am a youngster, relatively speaking. Even at this age I have almost 16 years of work experience in the electronics field.
My first job was in 1981 working part-time, while going to school, for a small family-owned electronics store called Hirsch's as a bench technician/salesman/computer game player. There I finally got to use all that I learned since my single digit years.
After graduating from Electronic Engineering, I moved onto a job in professional audio full-time (but remained at Hirsch's part-time) designing and installing custom audio systems in schools, convention centers, etc.
After that short but enlightening stint, I moved to a job in communications, which was part of what I did at my first job. There I learned all about RF and how wonderful it can be to get it right; various antennas, transmitters, receivers, remote tower sites for police, fire, ambulance, etc. I designed, modified, and fixed it all.
Now it was 1987, and I was itching to do something different. Along came a job with B&W Loudspeaker as their Service Manager. Talk about a challenge, lets just say I had to start it all from the ground up. In working for B&W, I learned a hell of a lot very quickly, particularly about high-end.
Before working there, I thought a capacitor was a capacitor, a resistor a resistor; WRONG. I learned that physics was not the end of the road as far as sound was concerned. I absorbed too much parallel input though, and after a few years, and an offer to return to my old communications stomping grounds in a management position, I did just that. It felt like I was on vacation going back there.
Don't get me wrong, B&W was very good to me, but I needed some R&R. It also gave me the ability to start my own company, which is something I was meaning to do for a long time. I now had something to sell, and a market to sell it in - making a replacement filter for B&W's unit, which is something I could not do while with them (B&W sells B&W). The rest is history
In all honesty, JPS Labs has been a second full time job until recently. All these years and persistence are finally paying off some of the bills. I now see the light and it is a great thing. In many respects, going into this business full time was like winning the lottery. I have been working toward, and wishing for the ability to be self-employed for what feels like all of my life, and I could not be happier to see it all come true. It has been a lot of work, but the rewards make it all worth while.
I think a comedian's career is similar to my own in that he enjoys making people happy. All jokes aside, this is a serious business, with serious competition, and ups and downs just like any other business. It is also a business where I have spoken to and met some of the best people a person could ever wish for.
I would not change where I am right now for anything, and I thank everyone who has helped me spread the word about JPS Labs over the past 7 years. To them I am ever indebted.
Talking about spreading the word, JPS has been rather low key all along and selling mainly through word of mouth. Is it going to remain that way or are you ready to take on a higher profile? Put another way, do you want fame and fortune?
If fame and fortune come my way, I would gladly accept them. I am dabbling with many ways to increase our sales and market share, formulating and reformulating the plan as I go along. I do not want to make too many mistakes, as mistakes cost money, which in a growing business is not in abundance.
I have always known that by taking care of customers, word of mouth will flourish, and I plan on word of mouth sales to increase dramatically. All I can presently say is that people will be hearing much more about JPS Labs than ever before very soon.
SoundStage! wishes to thank
Joe Skubinksi and Richard Seah for this interview.
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