The Sound of Power Cords

October 20, 2010

Neil Gader did a shoot-out of thirteen power cords in the latest issue of The Absolute Sound. His test bed was an Audio Research CD-5 compact disc player and the Audio Research DSi200 integrated amplifier. He didn’t specify what speakers he was listening to. The power cord reference was the $2600 Synergistic Research Tesla Hologram D for the digital source and the $1800 Precision AC for the amplifier.

Why he didn’t compare these cables to a generic power cord is beyond me. That way you would know what improvements your were getting for your money instead of what compromises you were making by not springing for the reference cables. In addition, presumably all of his comparisons would change if he had selected a different reference cables. In that light, one has to wonder about the value of the survey.

Here just a few of observations:

…Note that this is not a discussion about power-cord technology or philosophy. Manufacturer claims about the superiority of a given cable geometry or dielectric are set forth at the companies’ Web sites for all to read and investigate further. This survey only summarizes my listening conclusions based upon a single reference system.

Acoustic Zen Tsunami ($350)

…Its treble range was properly detailed yet just a bit dry, so that during Jennifer Warnes’ “Lights of Lousianne” there was a small amount of brightening on the leading edges of the accordion….And there was also an aura of micro-dynamic restraint during violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s reading of Korngold’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra [DG].

Audience powerChords ($482)

…On a track like Rosanne Cash’s “God Is In The Roses” there was a sense that the air around images had dissipated somewhat, but it was still close to the survey reference in this regard. The feeling of transient speed and sustain from the guitar during this same track was enormously satisfying.

Audioquest NRG-4 ($350)

…The NRG-4 had a delicacy and clarity in the lower half of the treble that enlivened piano harmonics and brass ensembles.

…A sense of modest micro-dynamic compression of the deep bass seemed to limit its slam, but this subtraction was more than made up for by a sense of speed and pace that was rhythmically very satisfying.

Argentum Acoustics Proteus 14 ($499)

…As the other instruments joined in—vamping cymbal and high-hat, brushed snare, and piano—I heard the lowest level details in all their specificity, a fine soundstage that only narrowed slightly in comparison with the reference, with a warmer overall signature.

…The density factor was very good, closing just short of the Audience and Wireworld, but in a dead heat with the Synergistic, Shunyata, and Tara.

Furutech Absolute Power I8P ($352)

…My only reservation was a reduction of back-to-front dimensionality during Yo Yo Ma’s “1A”—a characteristic that left soundstage layering just a bit flat and made the three dimensional acoustic of the venue less enveloping.

…I felt micro-dynamic energy waver and dip a bit in terms of outright immediacy—heard as a
modest shortfall of liveliness and transient impact.

Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC10SE ($500)

…Harmonic Technology has produced a high-output cable that seems to magically raise the volume level—a trait that was likely emphasized by its forward-leaning, highly charged presentation.

…the interplay of their vocals had softer transient edges and a small degree of veiling.

Kimber Kable PK-10AG ($371)

…Thus for rock music, it provided a rich heavy beat, even slightly overripe depending on your system, but nicely detailed and uncompressed. Compared with the reference there were touches of treble peakiness. The PK10 offered an open, colorful, high-density sound…

Purist Audio Musaeus Praesto ($360)

…It set a standard that was often matched throughout these listening sessions of transparency and delicacy in the midrange, with a lighter overall balance and very good upper-frequency air. At the outset, it didn’t exhibit any tonal balance anomalies, but later on I did note a slightly subtractive character when it portrayed Pieter Wispelwey’s cello during the Kol Nidre with a little less woody resonance, making the instrument not quite as darkly mysterious.

Shunyata Venom3 ($95)

…Only a bit of image definition and focus escaped it, and only a hint of image constriction deprived the Venom of the last iota of realism.

…Tonally it was little darker overall but with a very rich signature—so much so that after much listening I finally had to concede that there wasn’t a lean bone in the Venom’s slithery body.

Synergistic Research Precision AC Basik ($250)

…In many ways Basik veered very close to the survey reference; the critical differences lay in the fact that it didn’t sort out inner voices as neatly as the reference, whose greatest strength is a lack of background noise, which allowed instruments to materialize from the authentic acoustic silence of the venue rather than from an electronic glaze overlaying the presentation.

…There was just a hint of added sibilance during Dianne Reeves’ “One For My Baby”…

Tara Labs RSC Prime ($500)

…Although there’s a good amount of midrange warmth, its character in the upper octaves was a bit drier and brighter than the survey reference.

…Image or soundstage congestion was slight even in the the most complex orchestral passages, but there were some instances where I felt the immediacy factor could be bettered.

VooDoo Ultra Wave and Vector Dragon ($375 and $425)

…The Voodoos were high-output cords with a forward sound and hint of a darker tonality that placed Pieter Wispelwey’s cello nearer the edge of the stage than in a mid-stage central pocket. In that vein orchestral layering and soundstage cues were well defined, but I found the soundstage a hint narrower and not quite as immersive or as dimensional as the survey reference.

Wireworld Electra 5.2 ($360)

…However, I found that in comparison to the survey reference Holly Cole’s vocal during “Jersey Girl” was skewed to a slightly cooler temperature, and I noted a very modest veiling on low-level percussion cues.

…Although there was little congestion per se, the Wireworld seemed at a slight loss, in comparison to the survey reference, when it came to sorting out the full harmonic and imaging complexities of a high-revving orchestra…

Conclusion

My view is that power cords serve the system in much the way speaker cables and interconnects do—by honing and polishing areas of resolution that the owner considers a little soft, dull, sharp, or rough around the edges. That said, in terms of straightline performance, clearly this was a tightly grouped collection – tighter even than my descriptions allowed. As alluring as it is to anoint a single “Best” in a survey, when it comes to wires so much is dependent on their synergy with associated system components that these impressions will better serve you as a guide to narrowing down your choices to a select two or three for audition. After that, your own ears won’t lead you wrong.

Regardless of how you feel about the efficacy of power cables, I think you’d have to agree that his observations are just silly. Methinks he has been drinking to much of Jonathan Valin’s kool-aid. I urge you not to run out and buy this issue. It only encourages them. Unless of course you want to read Jonathan Valin’s rave review of the latest revision of Robert Harley’s book. Who knows, maybe next month Robert Harley will write a rave review one of Jonathan Valin’s books.