Power Cord Shoot-Out: 22 Power Cords Reviewed Intro Yes, it’s another over-long epic Master’s Thesis from markl. This time it’s on aftermarket power cords, and what I learned about them along the way after having *finally* concluded my power cord quest (well, for the foreseeable future, does it ever really *end*?). In this review, I will endeavor to describe and review all 22 of the audiophile power cords I’ve auditioned or owned to date. I will also be rating each one on a 10-point scale on key areas of performance and finally ranking them in order of my personal preference at the conclusion. Those of you not interested in reading the Encyclopedia Britannica of power cords are asked to cut to the chase and scroll down to the very end. Congratulations, in just 2 seconds time and a flick of the mouse you've arrived at what took me 5+ years of agony, experimentation, trial and error to achieve! Test Bed Current source: Sony XA9000ES with RAM modifications. Previously: Sony SCD-555ES SACD player with full sacdmods.com modifications Current amp: Rudistor RPX-33 Dualmono Mark II. Previously: Ray Samuels Audio HR-2 headphone amplifier As always, my headphones: Sony MDR-R10 What I’ve Learned About Power Cords --Yes, they make a difference. This difference is on par with (and can be slightly greater than) the differences aftermarket interconnects (ICs) can make. If you can’t hear the differences between ICs, it is doubtful you will hear the differences between power cords either. -- I suspect that the reason power cords seem to effect the sound more than ICs is due to the fact that they appear to actually impact the way the component produces the sound, where ICs only affect the way they pass the existing signal on to the next component. Therefore power cables can influence the sound in a more fundamental way. --They require more break-in than ICs, and break-in effects are much more dramatic than with ICs. Try not to rush to judgment. --It’s even harder to find a good power cord than IC. There is greater variability in the sound and performance of cords than ICs. --Many power cords giveth and then taketh away. They offer substantial gains in some areas, but can take away from key ingredients elsewhere. Or, short of actually harming the sound, they can fall short on some parameters relative to the tantalizing enhancements they provide in other areas. This effect appears to be a factor regardless of price. --Power cords are even more component-dependent than interconnects. A power cord that does not show good compatibility with one component, may really shine with another. In What Ways Do They Affect Component/System Sound? The answer is, “it depends”. Much like with interconnects, it varies from model to model and component to component. If I had to generalize, I would say, *typical* effects of adding a high-quality power cord are: --More substantial sound, more “fleshed-out”, greater body and firmness --Improved cleanliness of the signal, which equals less grain, improved clarity, and resolution --Improved soundstaging, greater sense of air --Greater sense of “ease” to the sound --Greater sense of energy and power, greater dynamics --Lower noise floor, letting you hear into the recording even more That said, effects of power cords are not limited to these bullet points, nor does every cord successfully improve those specific areas. I’m A Skeptic, Prove to Me That Power Cords Work! I didn’t believe in them either, until I tried one on a lark a few years ago. It had a 30-day no-hassle return policy-- I didn’t return it, and haven’t looked back since. Yeah, I know there’s all that non-audiophile-grade cabling in your walls preceding your fancy new power cord. And then from your walls back to the power plant are miles more. But instead of thinking of it as being the *last* 6 feet of cabling, it can be thought of as the *first* 6 feet. It may be more useful to think of it not in terms of *improving* your system’s performance but in terms of *removing the harm* caused it by stock power cabling. It is also possible that the superior power cords act as a sort of “conditioner” on the power line, conditioning the electricity before it enters your component. Generally, fancy power cords also have superior shielding for rejecting EMI/RFI “pollution”, providing a cleaner transmission of electricity to your gear. My overall experience with power conditioners and especially with power cables has opened my eyes to the importance of having a good, clean power supply to feed your audio gear, it’s truly the “life-blood” of your system, and the effects of correcting shortcomings in the power feeding your gear is not small. If that’s not good enough explanation for you and you have problems with the concept that power cables can effect system performance, do yourself (and me) a favor—just stop reading! This thread is not for you, and debate about their efficacy will not be part of this review or this thread. Or, you can try one for yourself and see. How Much Should I Spend On Power Cords? A power cord is not a “band-aid” on a bad component. IMO, it should not be used in the hopes of magically transforming an “unacceptable” component to an “amazing” one; if you have that expectation, you will be disappointed. Putting a fancy power cord on a component that doesn’t already ring your bells is throwing good money after bad. Use your power cable budget and put it toward a better component. Does it make sense to stick a $500 power cord on a $150 DAC, CD player, or headamp? I don’t think so. Common sense would tell you you’re better off with a well-chosen $650 DAC/CDP/amp with a stock power cord. A more interesting question is, “is it worth it to put any aftermarket power cable on a budget component of any kind”? I’m not convinced it is. Chances are that component is going to have a very cheap internal power supply; it will be noisy and flimsy with low build quality. To what extent can adding a power cord change that fact? You can feed it lots of clean power, but then it just runs smack into that unit’s potentially inadequate internal power supply anyway. It may just defeat the whole purpose. I would argue that expensive aftermarket cords require components with at least mid-fi level or better internal power supplies. My conjecture is that bigger and better-built power supplies will benefit more from adding aftermarket power cords, or at least have the potential for more upside. (Or, maybe more accurately, with an audiophile-grade cord, they will suffer less degradation of performance than they do from their stock cords). YMMV. OK, OK, so how much should I budget for power cords already? Well, it’s complicated. IME, aftermarket cables are a lot like headamps—they really don’t start getting good until the $250 mark and above. The lower-end stuff just taunts you by first opening your eyes to the possibilities, and then only delivering a partial down payment on what you can now picture so clearly in your mind. This may only succeed in whetting your appetite for something better (and more expensive). The lower-end stuff may not always add enough value to make it worth while to bother with, or, in many cases, they can do several things right, but fall short in enough areas that they will only succeed in frustrating you. Having glimpsed the Promised Land, you will want a cord that takes you all the way there, and that costs money. Sad to say. And if you start investing lots of money in aftermarket power cords, you really ought to have gear worthy of them. Or else you end up back where we started this discussion--with a $500 power cord on a $150 component. Like ICs, power cords have different “flavors” or sonic signatures. It may be that in terms of performance, you concede that two particular cords are roughly equal, but you happen to prefer the “flavor” of the one that costs $100 more, it’s just more compatible with your gear, gives you greater pleasure. So, is that difference in flavor and compatibility worth the extra $100? Obviously, that’s up to the individual to decide. So, long story longer, getting into the power cord game is opening a huge can of worms. Believe me. Personally, I HATE breaking in cables, and I’ve been through so many in the last 5 months, it’s practically depressing. Be prepared to not find the “perfect” power cord on the first try. Or the second. Or the third… Still up for it? Does Thicker-Gauge Wire = “Better Sound”? Standard stock cords are typically between 22 and 18 gauge. Most aftermarket power cords are between 14 and 8 gauge. Shouldn’t you look for the thickest, fattest, heaviest gauge cord to make the biggest difference? IME, there is *zero* correlation between power cord thickness and sound quality in a headphone system. In a headphone rig, you are likely looking at adding power cables to your digital source and your headphone amplifier, two very low-power units. There is nothing to gain by sticking an 8-gauge power cord on a 500mw headphone amp that draws 30 watts from the wall total. In fact, from what I’ve read, big heavy cables on low-wattage equipment can actually be detrimental to performance, and one of my experiences detailed below seems to bear this out. So, long story short, don’t reject a power cord for your headphone system because it’s “only” 14-gauge. That’s *plenty* fat enough for this application. The gauge of the conductors in a power cord is just one of a dozen possible design factors that make it sound like it does, and far from the determining factor. Where Should I Put My Best Power Cord? Put it on your source. It all flows downstream, to the extent you can improve the performance of your source, you can improve the performance the rest of the signal chain. One More Thing Before We Start the Review… I want to extract one of my earlier observations for further contemplation: Quote: “--Power cords are even more component-dependent than interconnects. A power cord that does not show good compatibility with one component, may really shine with another.” Well, you ask, if that’s true, what is the point of even reviewing power cables at all? You don’t have the same system I do, so of what use are my babblings and pontification on this or that cord? All I can reply to that is—“good point.” In this review, I will try to capture the basic sound of each of the cords that have cycled through my system. Hopefully, I can paint some kind of sonic picture for the reader, so you can have some sense of whether one cable or another is likely to succeed or fail within your own rig. But I will still be critiquing and ranking them anyway, and I will still offer my own opinions on how good or bad they are in terms of absolute performance, but it’s up to the reader to keep these caveats in mind. 22 Power Cords Reviewed *phew* OK, here we go, hope it was worth the wait. Welcome to the review section. These are reviewed in the exact order I owned them, you are looking at the results of 5+ years of experimentation. In that time, some of these models have been discontinued, but that's to be expected. After the general review comments you will find a series of ratings on a 10-point scale (10 being best) that try to apply a measure to several parameters of performance. (Please note: When describing a certain power cord’s “sound”, obviously I am not describing the sound of the cable itself as it is not in the signal path. The description refers instead to the particular *effect* it had on the components in my system.) 1. Virtual Dynamics (VD) Power Cables Website: www.virtualdynamics.ca Pricing: varies Review: The Virtual Dynamics products are the ones that first opened my eyes to the possibilities of aftermarket power cords way back when. This new Canadian company was offering an entry-level product, the Power 3, at a special introductory price of $79. At the time, that was one of the lowest prices on any aftermarket cord (since 2001 the power cord market has bloomed into hundreds of models and companies). I was a skeptic, the whole concept seemed pretty absurd, but at that price, I thought, "what the heck?", and I bit. The rest is the history detailed here. All of the Virtual Dynamics cables share a similar “house sound”. If their basic sound doesn’t appeal to you, there is no point in upgrading, you only get the same thing but further enhanced and refined. These cables aren’t particularly “neutral”; they do impart their own sound on the music, but I would think that sound would be appealing to the majority of music lovers on Head-Fi, as it’s on the euphonic, ear-pleasing side. I’ve owned almost all of the VD power cables, and each one was a winner in my system. As you go up the line, they get better and better. I’ve owned 6 of their power cables from their “old” line, starting from the bottom: Power 3, Power 2, Power 1, Reference, Signature, and Nite. These ranged in (list) price from $150 to $1200. VD has recently greatly simplified its product line, as they have gone into distribution through audio dealers, as well as being available direct from the manufacturer. The names of their models have changed, but they are the same basic technology and build, with slightly different cosmetics. The VD house sound is tonally warm, forgiving, and musical. They are great at taking the rough edges off of digital and making it sound less brittle, more inviting and “analog”, imbuing the music with a very organic, natural feel. They have slightly rolled high-end and a fat bass. They are extremely energetic and dynamic cables that deliver a lot of signal, they aren’t polite or veiled or muffled, but due to gently rolled highs and warm sonic signature, they aren’t fatiguing. These aren’t cables for people who want a dainty, quaint and light-weight sound; instead, they offer a powerful sound with lots of foundation. However, they sacrifice some detail and some air to achieve their sound, which can be a little “thick” and heavy. If your system is on the thin and lean side, these are a great option for adding meat to your system’s dry bones. Bass is extremely deep, firm and “present”, but a bit loose, “one-note”, fuzzy, and non-directional. If your system seems to lack a solid foundation, you could do a lot worse than go with VD cables. IMO, the best price-to-performance model in the VD line was the old Reference, which retailed at around $750. It has since been replaced by the David, which costs slightly less and maybe doesn’t have *quite* the same build quality, but should be close enough. Not the last word in transparency, but very pleasant cables to listen to. WARNING: the VD cords have extremely poor flexibility, these are heavy-gauge solid-core conductors. You will need at least 6 inches of clearance to achieve a 90 degree bend. Flexibility: 3 Build quality: 7 Tonality: 8 Soundstaging/imaging: 8 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 7 Resolution/detail/transparency: 7 Value: 7 Overall Performance: 8 2. KAS Audio Primus Website: http://www.kasaudio.com/ Pricing (6ft. cord): $600 retail, $300 direct from manufacturer Review: This is my number 2 cable for the Ray Samuels HR-2 headamp. It also paired very well with the Stealth when I had a review sample in my possession. Very hard to describe its sound, as this is a very neutral cord tonally. For many people, this cord will do what they think a cord should do—don’t add any fancy commentary or special effects, just enhance the performance of my component, thank you very much. If you already like the tonality of your source/amp, but want the other benefits of a power cord, this is an excellent choice. There is a *slight* brittle-ness to the treble, a bit of thin-ness up top and a tiny amount of fogging in the highs, but this is an *incredibly* minor nit-pick. Outside of that, I can detect no particular colorations, and am at a bit of a loss to further describe its “sound”. It will simply make your component sound more like itself, and improve on what it already does well. It performs quite well along most of the parameters of the audiophile idiom, without doing any one of them in a spectacular way that will drop your jaw or make you think you are listening to a whole different component. But you will feel it has taken your current component much closer to its maximum performance level. It has fantastic build quality, and sports a complex design which is very expensive to produce, so at the $300 price, it offers good value. As a nice finishing touch, the female end is adjusted by hand, and provides the best, tightest grip of any power cord I’ve ever had in my possession. A real “sleeper” cord no one knows about that is deserving of a higher profile. Flexibility: 5 Build quality: 8 Tonality: 8 Soundstaging/imaging: 7 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 7 Resolution/detail/transparency: 7 Value: 7 Overall Performance: 7 (up to 8.5 on the right component) 3. Zu Cable BoK Website: http://www.zucable.com/ Pricing (6 ft. cord): $249 Review: I know that the Zu cables for the Sennheiser headphones are very popular around here. I’m also aware that the designer behind Zu has an excellent pedigree. So my expectations were pretty high for this cable, which is in the middle of Zu’s power cord line. Well, it didn’t work so well in my system. My main problem with the BoK was in terms of tonality, it has an unpleasant coloration that carries over and infects every component you put it on. I would describe the coloration of the Zu Cable *in my system* to be a sort of an aluminum-plastic flavor, if you can imagine such a thing-- a synthetic taint at any rate, not huge but quite bothersome. Also, something in the frequency spectrum is out of whack, there's a slight incoherence to the sound, it can all get confused and muddled. The BoK also seems to slightly sap the energy levels of the components it's attached to, they become sluggish, slightly lean, and dark. I felt this cable restrained the performance of gear rather than unlocking its potential. Flexibility: 7 Build quality: 7 Tonality: 3 Soundstaging/imaging: 5 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 3 Resolution/detail/transparency: 6 Value: 4 Overall Performance: 4 4. Analysis Plus Oval 10 Website: www.analysis-plus.com Pricing (6ft. cord): $219 Analysis Plus is a manufacturer who purports to base their designs purely on science and *measurements*. To this end, they've developed some very unique cable geometries (hollow oval) and special extrusion processes that results in “single-crystal” (ultra-pure) copper. Due to these unique design factors, they assert their cables are *measurably better* than other cables, and their trade show booths are famous for doing demos with their test equipment that show the "superiority" of their cables vs. much more expensive competitors. So, if having cables backed up by science and machines that go “ping” matters to you, these might be worth a look. But sometimes, you need to actually *listen* to a cable to determine its true value and performance level vs. its measured specs. Listening to the Oval 10s is really something its designers should have done instead of simply taking their machines’ word for it. On the plus side, the Oval 10s were extremely transparent, clean and clear with solid soundstaging. BUT they were way too bright and lean and thin in my system. Bass was lacking, the sound has no foundation, and they were fatiguing to me. Yes, they can dazzle you with their lightning fast delivery, they are extremely quick, almost unnaturally so. But you pay for that with a gauzy whiteness to the background, and the aforementioned thin sound and tipped-up, hissy highs that have an astringent, stinging quality. Music sounds “recorded” instead of natural. Edges can be a bit sharp, and when turned up loud (as I like to do), this cable can leave your ears ringing after a very short session. Overall—dare I say it—I found the Analysis Plus too “analytical”. Flexibility: 6 Build quality: 7 Tonality: 4 Soundstaging/imaging: 7 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 9 Resolution/detail/transparency: 8 Value: 5 Overall Performance: 6 5. Tek Line Eclipse Website: http://www.teklineaudio.com/ Pricing (6ft. cord): $149 list (available for less on audiogon) Review: This is Tek Line’s bottom-of-the-line cord, it’s a new product for them, and isn’t even on their website yet. It sports immaculate build quality, and is very pleasing to the eye with a midnight-blue outer molded jacket with silver writing on the side. It looks a lot more expensive than the price you will pay for it on audiogon (I paid around $60 at a special intro price which is now over, instead you can bid on it in the auction section). This cable excels at soundstaging, image width is very impressive. It provides a definite sense of 3D space, with a very "airy" presentation, easily allowing each instrument to comfortably occupy its own space. The cable really makes you feel like you are in the studio with the musicians, it's pretty eerie. Great image stability too, everything is very well-defined. It has a very clean presentation, with a natural tonality, if a bit dry and a little laid back. Unfortunately, sibilants are emphasized, which sticks out all the more simply because everything else is so well-behaved. There's an area in the midrange centered around where male voices lie that is somewhat repressed and recessed relative to what's going on around it. For me, as someone who focuses chiefly on the vocalist ahead of the musicians, that can be an issue. But the major weakness of the Tek Line Eclipse in my system was the light-weight, gently rolled off bass. Overall, bass performance excepted, this cable performs at a much higher level than it has any right to given its street price. Since this is Tek Line’s entry-level cable, I was tempted to move up the line and explore further, but for no good reason, I regretfully did not. Tek Line has been at it a while, but they don’t have any high-profile reviews anywhere and are still somewhat unknown. Based on what I’ve heard, I think these cables are well worth further consideration. Flexibility: 6 Build quality: 8 Tonality: 6 Soundstaging/imaging: 9 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 6 Resolution/detail/transparency: 7 Value: 8 Overall Performance: 7 6. Iron Lung Jellyfish Website: http://www.2baudio.com/ Pricing (6ft. cord): $29 Review: While perusing audiogon, I came across an ad for the Iron Lung Jellyfish power cord, a no-frills, custom-built hospital-grade 14-guage cable. They have those see-through rubbery molded hospital-grade connectors you see on the Quail cords. They were a mere $29.00 each. What the heck, why not? I ordered two of them, put one on my RS Audio HR-2 and another on my Sony SCD-555ES sacdmods SACDP. Let's just say I had *very low* expectations, but I was very pleasantly surprised (I would even say a little slack-jawed *given the price*). Tonally, they are fairly balanced with surprisingly good bass response, though the treble can be a little sugary sweet. They are reasonably clean, but a bit grainier than the best cords I’ve heard, with decent soundstaging (although a little 2-D and flat relative to other cords), relatively low noise floor. These are lively and “fun” cables, toe-tappers, they are quite good at PRAT. Comparing them several times to the stock cabling, the difference could not have been clearer, the Jellyfish represents a significant jump in performance. I think if you've ever been tempted to dip your toes in the aftermarket power cables pond, these are a great way to start. I don't think you would be disappointed. At $29 they give you a level of performance that is absolutely ridiculous given the cost of entry. Flexibility: 9 Build quality: 5 Tonality: 6 Soundstaging/imaging: 6 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 6 Resolution/detail/transparency: 7 Value: 9 Overall Performance: 7 7. Absolute Power Cord Mark II Website: http://www.gttgroup.com/ Pricing (8ft. cable): $49.95 Review: Like the Jellyfish, the Absolute power cord is one of those very flexible, molded jobs that looks like a hospital-grade cord more than an audio-grade cord. Also like the Jellyfish, it has one of those rubbery see-through molded male ends that hospital-grade cords have, plus a molded plastic female end that matches the blue color of the cable. It only comes in an 8-foot length, no custom sizes. The manufacturer claims that the cable is completely custom built to spec, it is not an off-the-shelf cord with standard wiring inside. It is built and assembled in China to keep the costs down. The Absolute Power Cord is advertised with heavy emphasis placed on its “neutrality”. The designers claim to have honed and refined the design to be the most neutral power cord on the market. Nice things have been said about the performance of the Absolute cord by people I respect. Nevertheless, they didn’t work so well in my system, but perhaps my experience is not typical. Sometimes, saying something is “neutral” can be another way of admitting, “it doesn’t do very much”. That was my experience with the Absolutes. They were somewhat foggy, hazy and reserved. Behind the veiling, yes, everything is in proportion with regard to frequency response, but lack of transparency is still a “coloration” to me, and in that sense, they varied from the promised absolute neutrality. Soundstage was constricted relative to some other cables under review. Depending on the listener, they are either really refined, mature, and well-behaved, or a bit dim and lifeless. It has a *very* quiet background, but it achieves this by damping down the sound, throwing a wet blanket over it all. Because of this, it’s also somewhat lacking in PRAT and dynamics. If you were trying to correct a problem in your system by suppressing it rather than eliminating it, the Absolutes might be a good choice. I tend to like a more open, robust, expressive, vigorous and dynamic sound. I value clarity/resolution very highly. Viewed through my lens, the foggy, inoffensive Absolutes did not fare especially well, YMMV. Flexibility: 8 Build quality: 6 Tonality: 6 Soundstaging/imaging: 5 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 4 Resolution/detail/transparency: 5 Value: 6 Overall Performance: 5.5 8. PS Audio XStream Plus Website: www.psaudio.com Pricing (2 meter cord): $279 Review: Well, at least it *looks* awesome. This is by far the sexiest looking cord under review. Every piece of this is custom-made by PS Audio to their high specifications. The ends are not the usual off-the-shelf Hubbells or Marincos, but custom-molded and sleek-looking with the PS Audio logo built in. This is a very thick, beefy, and *heavy* cord. Although it’s 8-gauge, PS Audio recommends it for digital sources; they actually have a *6*-gauge cable for amps! Because of the extreme amount of shielding and the heavy-gauge conductors, this is one stiff cord, but still not as stiff as some I’ve tried. PS Audio has left no stone unturned in their quest to completely re-think the power cord. They have specific reasons (listed in copious detail on their website) for every single design decision on every single aspect of their cords. Given the general reputation of PS Audio’s other products, their general level of innovation, and the fact that everything is custom on this cord, I had high expectations, and if nothing else, was expecting a cable that sounded like no other. And in some ways that’s what I got. Tonally, I noticed right away that it sounded almost identical to a Virtual Dynamics cable. Not neutral or thin, but warm, rich, with that same heavy bass that’s a little loose and unfocused. Same slightly rolled highs, same sense of extra force being delivered with the sound, same extra meat on the musical bones, with a heaviness and real foundation to the sound. And that’s about all that I can say good about it. First disc I played after installing the PS Audio on my source was AC/DC Back In Black, the 1994 Ted Jensen remaster with which I am very familiar. I was very perplexed by what I heard. It was as if heavy weights had been laid on top of the band, everything ground down to a halt. This cable is sloooooooooooooooooooow as molasses, like the performers are fighting against a heavy headwind, striving against the grain to make progress. That CD should sound energetic and powerful, make you want to bang your head, but it sounded dull, forced, and lifeless, as if all the passion of the performances had been drained out. I let it burn in for two days (it was a used cable so it already had plenty enough hours of burn in already), and then played numerous CDs and the effect of the cord was always the same. I switched it to my headamp, and that didn’t help either. If I had to guess, my feeling is that, despite being billed as ideal for sources, a cable like the XStream Plus really requires a big beefy multi-watt speaker amplifier with high current demands to “pull” the juice through it to overcome the resistance that seems to be inherent in the cable. Gear like CD players and headamps that don’t draw much current don’t seem to suit it. It should also be noted that the XStream Plus is probably the most heavily shielded cable I’ve ever owned. In addition to the layers and layers of regular shielding, it has ferrite embedded in the jacket. That’s part of the reason the cable is so thick and heavy. From my limited first-hand experience, and based on what I’ve read elsewhere, I’ve never been a fan of adding ferrite clamps and such to my audio cables, I find it “chokes” the sound, and truncates highs. It’s *possible* (I speculate) that all that ferrous material might also be responsible for the cables seeming lack of speed. Whatever the reason for its sluggishness, I couldn’t wait to get this cable out of my system. Flexibility: 4 Build quality: 8 Tonality: 7 Soundstaging/imaging: 6 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 2 Resolution/detail/transparency: 6 Value: 6 Overall Performance: 4 9. VH Audio Flavor 1 & 2 Website: www.vhaudio.com Pricing (6ft. cord): $103.99 - $114.99 (depending on Model and features selected) Review: VH Audio is a relatively new company, helmed by Chris VenHaus. VenHaus made his name on audioasylum by offering DIY-ers home-brewed recipes for power cables based on standard Belden wire. He apparently got so many requests from technically unskilled audiophiles for his cables that he eventually went into business for himself. His cables now apparently do not use off-the-shelf wire, but wire that has been custom-built to his spec. He also has his own trademark “counter-spiraled ground” which I won’t attempt to describe except to point out that it is clearly visible under the sheath of his cords as an individual wire outside of the main bundle that wraps around his cords. Chris VenHaus offers several different “flavors” of power cords, each a subtle variation on his basic design, that he has deemed most compatible with each type of audio component. I ordered a cryo-treated Flavor 1 for my digital source, and a non-cryoed Flavor 2 for my headamp. Man, did I HATE these cords when I first plugged them in. They were incredibly raw, poorly-behaved (actually out of control), frayed at the edges, white of background, frazzled and aggressive highs, with all kinds of frequency anomalies, and no soundstage to speak of. Chris VenHaus does caution you in advance that his cables require a lot of burn-in, possibly more than other cords. Well, based on my initial impression, I didn’t even want to bother waiting for them to burn-in-- I was ready to chuck them, as I’d never heard any cable or component change enough through break-in to compensate for what I was hearing from the VH Audio cords. Nevertheless, I left them there while I plotted my next move. And much to my amazement, after 3 weeks, they were a very different animal, and quite enjoyable on their terms. The VH Audio cables are quite energetic, lively, extremely fun and engaging. They are a great choice for people who really like to rock out, play air drums and air guitar, and bang their heads while listening to their tunes. They are very dynamic, fast, hard-driving and rhythmic. Bass is the best I’ve heard in a power cord, if best is measured by going deepest and playing loudest and hardest. These cables are ferocious, barely-tamed beasts, and they came to party. If you like to listen as an active participant in the music, they’re sure to excite you in the deepest recesses of your lizard-brain. That’s the good news. The bad news is that while these cables most definitely rock, they just don’t do finesse. Or soundstage. They are heavy-handed and aggressive, and they aren’t adept at the little nuances that many audiophiles get off on. Low-level detail? Nope. Air and space? Nope. Midrange lushness? Uh-uh. Sublime treble response? Fuggedaboudit. Subtleties just aren’t their bag, and get lost or just hammered away. Still, in the right system for the right listener, they should really hit the spot. At this point in the quest, my ideal was to find a cable that could deliver the fun factor and dynamics of the VenHaus without losing all those little subtleties that are just as important in good/accurate music reproduction. I really did enjoy the VH Audio cords for what they were, and I miss their bass response. A lot. WARNING: these are some of the stiffest, least accommodating cords ever made, they have a mind of their own. They have a rubbery tube around them that positively refuses to accept any shape you want to bend it in-- it just INSISTS on going its own way no matter what, refusing to be bent and to STAY. It automatically flexes back to its original configuration. You will have a devil of a time trying to get the female and male ends (especially the male end) to stay seated in their sockets or outlets. I could never quite succeed at getting a solid connection to the wall outlet, the cable always was displaced slightly, hanging down and out of the outlet, exposing a small part of the male prongs. While this may not affect the quality of the connection electrically, it’s still very frustrating and unsettling to look at. Flexibility: 2 Build quality: 6 Tonality: 7 Soundstaging/imaging: 4 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 9 Resolution/detail/transparency: 6 Value: 8 Overall Performance: 7.5 10. Custom Power Cord Company Model 14 Series 2 Website: None. Out of business. Pricing (6 ft. cord): $260 (retail when new) Review: Custom Power Cord Company (CPCC) was a very respected brand a few years ago, before they went out of business. Their higher-end cables won many awards and were included in several of the Stereophile reviewers’ reference systems. Yet another extremely stiff cord. This one has a very thick garden-hose like rubber tube surrounding it with lots of air in between the outer shell and the internal wires, presumably to provide an air dielectric (but I can’t say for sure the purpose as there is no longer any website to refer to). Also refuses to bend in a 90 degree angle, and when it does, it causes the outer shell to sort of crimp up on itself at the point where it flexes. This was an enjoyable cable. Very level-headed, neutral in tonality, except for a slight bass roll-off that was the ultimate reason I sold it. Very adept at portraying soundstage and air, nice 3D imaging. Definitely puts you right there in the studio with the musicians. Decent “palpability” factor, if a little reserved and polite. Very nice sparkly, effervescent highs, no roll-off, but not aggressive. It’s a real pity it’s missing that extreme low-bass information. It needs more grunt, more foundation, and firmness. Otherwise, a very pleasant cable and a solid performer for the money. Flexibility: 2 Build quality: 7 Tonality: 7 Soundstaging/imaging: 8 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 6 Resolution/detail/transparency: 8 Value: 7 Overall Performance: 7.5 11. Audio Metallurgy Gold Alloy 9 Website: www.audiometallurgy.com Pricing: ~$1200 (fake “list price”, these are sold on audiogon auctions for around $250) Review: Many new cable manufacturers start out by auctioning their cables on audiogon. In doing this, they often create wildly inflated list prices to try to make people bid higher, or to believe they’ve gotten a really great bargain. (“Wow, I just won a $2000 cable for $400!). The reality is that no one ever purchases at the alleged list price, all items are sold through the auction process, resulting in street prices much lower than the inflated list. Some people find the practice dishonest or deceptive. Personally, it doesn’t bother me that much, you can always look at the build quality to determine if you got a good deal or not. And when I paid $200 for a cable where the IEC connectors *alone* cost roughly $150 retail, I just can’t be bothered to get all that worked up about the practice. Audio Metallurgy is “new” but their designers have made cables for several other companies. There are a number of other small mom and pop companies that advertise similar-looking products in audiogon’s auctions; they all share a familiar braided design with similar gold/silver/copper alloy wire conductors. This wire is actually made by Audio Metallurgy for them. Furthermore, the actual Audio Metallurgy cables use thicker-gauge configurations with more strands of this expensive wire, so you get more of the gold alloy wires for your money, *and* they deep-cryo treat it for 168 hours. They top it off with some of the most fancy IECs on the market, the Furutech 25 series gold connectors which retail at $75 a piece. Well, given the build quality, the great connectors, the gold alloy and the good price I got the cable for, I was really anticipating the arrival of this exotic cord. If nothing else, it would surely sound very different than any other power cord I’d tried so far, and so it did. There’s a fine line between smooth and soft, between lush and syrupy, between liquid and soggy, between sweet and sickly sweet, and the Audio Metallurgy crossed all of them for me. Not a tonally neutral cord, it has a distinct flavor that will either thrill the owner or completely turn him off. Highs are so sweet, they’ll give you a toothache. Midrange is so warm and fluid, it’s kind of “gooey” and overly honeyed. Bass is also very warm and slightly gentle and unfocused. This is not the most dynamic or incisive cable on the block either. It’s fairly restrained and polite. It’s not the most transparent cable either, there is a whiteness to the background, and its lazy attitude keeps it from digging up all those tiny little details that can excite most audiophiles. While very easy on the ears, it lacks life and excitement. Edges are too blunted and warm and fuzzy to stay interesting or engaging for very long. It is quite grain-free and clean, however. I concede that some people will surely *love* what this cable does, even if they have to admit in turn that it deviates greatly from any sane definition of “neutral”. I can see this maybe finding a use in a solid-state system where someone wanted to add a little flavor, or rid the system of the etching, grain, roughness, hardness, sharpness or some other typical misbehavior common to solid-state gear. I think that in a tube-based system this would just be too much—way way too much. YMMV. Flexibility: 9 Build quality: 8 Tonality: 5 Soundstaging/imaging: 7 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 4 Resolution/detail/transparency: 6 Value: 7 Overall Performance: 6.5 12. TG Audio 688 Website: www.tgaudio.com Pricing (6ft cord): $350 Review: TG Audio is the name of Bob Crump’s cable company. Like Chris VenHaus, Crump is well-known on audioasylum for providing recipes for home-brewed cables that have been quite popular there in the past. Also like Chris VH, his own branded cables are very different (and greatly improved with special wire that’s not off-the-shelf) from the home-brews made from his designs. He’s been making his own power cords for some years (he started in the early 90’s I believe), which means that the 688 is a very mature product arrived at after years of experimentation. It replaces a number of earlier models. His web-site is beyond minimal, his seems to be mainly a word-of-mouth operation. And after lots of research, I couldn’t find anyone on audioasylum who had one bad thing to say about any of his cords. So I bit. Like the VH Audio cables, both users and Crump himself report a longer than average burn-in period with the TG Audio cables. I can confirm the 688 does have some issues prior to break-in. I have around 450 hours on it, and it seems to have settled in, though Crump recommends 30 days or 700 hours to get fully cooked. This is the best cable I’ve had so far—on my source. I don’t care for it especially on my headamp. It almost sounds like two entirely different cables on each position. This review reflects its performance on the sacdmods Sony 555ES only. Tonally, this is a very neutral cord. Except for a bit of glare upstairs (which I am optimistic could be reduced with further break-in), I am unable to find fault with its presentation of anything else across the frequency spectrum, it is very consistent and coherent, nothing sticks out as being “wrong”. Very natural sound, instruments and voices sound like they are supposed to. Bass is excellent, if not quite as pronounced as the VH Audio cords. This cable is a soundstaging champ. HUGE soundstage, with an eerie sense of *depth* to the image, more than I’ve ever heard before. Each musician is firmly ensconced in his own space, this is a very airy cable. It is the best I’ve heard in terms of ability to portray small sounds/events at low volume, and big/loud events LOUDLY, incredible dynamic range. Sounds remain distinct from one another, there is no jumbling or mixing, blending, or blurring together into a muddled, incoherent mush. It has an effortless feel to the presentation, it’s never breaking a sweat, no matter what you throw at it. PRAT/dynamics and speed are first rate, it’s not quite the aggressive monster that the VH Audio cables are, but it comes pretty close. This is a powerful cable, very incisive, direct and firm. When big crescendos are required, it doesn’t hold back, it can deliver them all with authority. It’s a very lively, entertaining and engaging cable, one of those rare components that makes you want to grab every CD in your collection and hear them for the first time all over again. The TG 688 really brings the music to life in a very exciting way. Where The TG 688 differs from the VH Audio cables is chiefly in its ability to get the slam, crash and bang down without sacrificing the subtleties in the process. This cable does both dynamics *and* finesse. This is a very versatile cable, comes pretty close to doing it all. It’s not the most dynamic cable I’ve ever heard, nor the most detailed and refined, but it offers a very nice balance of both. If you cherish either end of the scale, it won’t disappoint. I would rate this cable near the top of the heap in terms of transparency and resolution. It has the black background, low noise floor, and plenty of micro-details. It has very good clarity and low grain level (although not quite the cleanest in this review sample). It has an open sound that invites your mind to come on in and take a wander around the soundstage. It’s quite a realistic and vivid presentation. All that said, on my headamp, it lacked a little air, and was a little foggy; it didn’t strike me as anything particularly special in that position (but it certainly doesn’t sound *bad* by any stretch). As I mentioned at the outset of this review, it’s important to try your new power cord on all your components to see where it fits best, you may be surprised at how it affects different kinds of gear. Flexibility: 5 Build quality: 7 Tonality: 9 Soundstaging/imaging: 9 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 9 Resolution/detail/transparency: 8 Value: 8 Overall Performance: 9 13. Michael Wolff Silver Carbon Source Website: www.wolffaudio.com Pricing (6ft. cord): $550 Review: You may recall I recently wrote a gushing review of Michael Wolff’s Silver/Gold/Carbon interconnects (http://www6.head-fi.org/forums/showt...ghlight=wolff). They are by far the best ICs I’ve ever had in my system. As it turns out, Wolff is primarily known for his power cords rather than his ICs. His latest revision of his Source power cord uses silver ribbons along with Wolff’s trademark carbon conductors. They are terminated with the extremely cool Oyaide P-046 and C-046 (orange in color) IECs. These are their top-of-the-line and run $115 *each* retail. Oyaide is another specialized Japanese company like Furutech specializing in high-end wire, connectors, power strips and the like. Wolff sells two flavors of power cord, one for multi-watt amplifiers (called the Gain), and one for components that draw less than 350 watts of power called the Source. The Source cord can of course be utilized on more than just digital front-ends, and is ideal for headphone amps, pre-amps or other gear that draws far less than 350 watts. It’s a very supple, pliable cable that is flat instead of round, and is very easy to work with. In addition to looking sexy, the Oyiade ends grip nice and firmly. The Wolff Source cord bears a strong resemblance in several key ways to his ICs, and that’s all to the good. It could not possibly be any cleaner or free of distortion. Zero grunge, zero grit, zero grain, the music just *is*. It is beyond immaculate; you get the entirety of the audio signal totally uncompromised. This is a very scintillating, refined, assured, and sublime cable. The sound has the power to delight and elate the listener at every turn. Music through the Wolff cord is able to just *breathe*; I don’t think it’s possible to provide more air than this cable gives. Like his ICs, the most remarkable thing about Wolff’s Source cord is the pure *ease* with which they deliver the sound. I’ve been reading up on descriptions of other cables that utilize carbon in their design, and most reviewers/commentators seem to hit on the same thing—there’s a flowing effortless quality to the way music just pours out of them. The Wolff cord is the least fatiguing cable I could ever imagine. But it doesn’t achieve that by truncating the highs by politely rolling them off. Because it’s so clean and clear, it’s able to present highs in their entirety in a way that does not prick or pierce the ear. This is the most extended top-end of any of the cables under review by a fair margin. If you are a treble aficionado, the way there are bass-heads, look no further, you’ve found the Holy Grail. Highs shimmer and glisten, tantalize and caress the ear in a beautiful way. There’s a lushness there that never bleeds over into the sickly-sweet like the Audio Metallurgy cable can. Cymbals have never sounded better, Wolff’s power cords and ICs do cymbals better than I’ve ever heard them. At last, digitally-rendered cymbal crashes sound like they are supposed to, they fully resolve without breaking up into abrasive white noise. All in all the best treble I’ve heard in a power cord so far. Midrange is lush and present, vocals sound fantastic, Wolff’s cables let you hear words that other cables garble. The mystery of what the heck your favorite singer is singing in your favorite song may finally be resolved with the Wolff cord. I wouldn’t describe the midrange as “warm” but it isn’t cold or analytical, either. It’s just about right. I am constantly surprised at how different recordings sound *different* with Wolff’s Source cord. The individual character of the recording really comes through in a distinct and unique way. It does not homogenize the sound or leave its stamp on everything it touches. The Source cord throws an *awesome* soundstage. It can tackle the tiniest bits of micro-detail with aplomb. The noise floor does not exist on this cable, if it’s in the recording, and your component is capable of delivering it, the Wolff cord will help it serve it up for your perusal. No stone is left unturned. Incredibly sharp focus and high resolution without the jagged “crispy” edges that mar other cords. Everything is just “there” for you to take or leave at will, it’s a subtle, nuanced cable that isn’t going to shove everything right under your nose in a rude or intrusive way. In terms of speed, I have no complaints. It can strike like lightning when required. There are no noticeable strings attached to the sound, it feels like its totally free and unfettered, but because the Source cord is so distortion-free, it all stays firmly focused, coherent and precise. But I am not wholly without a few minor reservations about the Source cord—on my source. My main concern is the way it handles bass which is very different than any other cord I’ve heard. Many aftermarket power cords appear to add weight to the bass to some degree when compared to a stock cable. If your system is lacking in bass weight, that can be an important advantage. My system is built around the R10, which despite all its other charms, I have to admit rolls the bass gently down below, so it needs any extra oomph you can feed it, however artificial. After several weeks with the Wolff cord, I was resigned that it was never going to be a bass monster, although it was clearly a very fluent speaker of the bass language. Then, one day, I threw on Chemical Brothers "Surrender" CD and cued up the track “Under the Influence”, which about 30 seconds in has this *incredible* bass drop where this HUGE slab of electronic bass comes in and starts out at the high end of the bass spectrum and slowly drops down to the very lowest lows the CD format can deliver. All of a sudden, on this track, here was the “missing” bass! Well, where had it been? Befuddled, I downloaded a big set of bass test tones from the web, and dusted off my trusty Radio Shack digital SPL meter. I then proceeded to take several sets of measurements of the bass performance of my system with the Wolff cord on my source and without. I was expecting to see a slight drop off in the Sony R10’s bass response with the Wolff cord attached, but to my surprise, it was stone cold *identical* to the control (VenHaus plus Crump) every single time, and a db or two *louder* than a control set-up with a stock cord in the signal chain (Crump + stock). How is that possible? How is it that the VenHaus gives the illusion of more bass than the Wolff cord even though they measure the same? I puzzled over this for some time and did more listening to the Wolff cord. My ultimate conclusion was that the Venhaus cord is sort of the “cable that cried wolf” (please forgive the pun ) when it comes to bass. I hypothesize that when feeding a musical bass signal (as opposed to a flat test tone), it gets over-excited and exaggerates the response. Individual bass sounds and tones and volume levels get mixed up and it replies with the same bass force to every call for a bass signal of any size. In contrast, the Wolff cord is much more precise, and able to distinguish subtle shadings of bass tones and volumes, and only dips low when the music asks it to, as it did on the Chemical Brothers track I mentioned earlier. Either that or what we *perceive* in bass response as greater “firmness”, “presence”, “solidity”, “authority” or whatever catch-phrase, may be one of those unmeasureable psycho-acoustic phenomena. Or behind door number three we have the limitations of my test, my tools, or my methodology. Take your pick! Nevertheless, in a system like mine with the R10, I can’t always afford to have a neutral bass response, I need a cable that sometimes cries wolf, and the Wolff cable is not that cord (still follow me? ). At least not on my source. When I switched the Wolff cord to my headamp and put the Crump cord (TG 688) on my source-- holy cow!!! My system has *never* sounded better. The Wolff cord makes a *perfect* match for the Ray Samuels HR-2, and I am experiencing no bass roll-off in that position. The HR-2 has been elevated to whole new level (and it was *mighty* impressive to begin with). The Wolff cord affects the stubborn HR-2 more than any other cord I’ve tried in a very positive way. It brings the airiness, the soundstage depth, and the delectable highs to HR-2, increasing the sense of "open-ness" by several degrees. Because the HR-2 also has a low noise floor (which some have dubbed its “blackground”) it is further enhanced by the Wolff Source cord. Sounds really do emerge out of nothing. It’s too bad the cord costs roughly two-thirds what the amp itself does, they make beautiful music together. To summarize, the Wolff cord needs to be paired with the right component and the right listener. If you like to listen loud like I do, its unfatiguing nature is positive boon. It will protect your ears by preventing distortion and piercing highs from causing them harm. You can rock out enjoyably and safely at ridiculous volume levels (not that I recommend this, of course ). However, I think for people who like to listen at more sane levels or even low levels, I wonder if the Wolff cord might come across as a little glassy, a little tame, one might actually desire some artificially added zing and bite to keep your mind interested. Still in all, the Wolff Source cord provides a very unique sound that none of the other cables can match. It isn’t colored tonally, so it’s not a matter of preferring or rejecting its special “flavoring”, I don’t think. I do think that if someone was to find the cord unsuitable in a particular application it would be on the basis that they might mistake the lack of distortion as some kind of coloration in itself. It will certainly sound “different” than other more conventional cords, but IMHO that’s down to superior performance, purity of signal, and freedom from fatigue-- not a "coloration" but rather the absence of one. Or, they might wish for some extra firmness downstairs, whether that is natural or not. I think those are all fair objections, we each need cabling that compliments our tastes and needs best, whatever its particular colorations may be. Flexibility: 8 Build quality: 9 Tonality: 8 Soundstaging/imaging: 9 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 8 Resolution/detail/transparency: 9 Value: 7 Overall Performance: 9 14. Straight Wire Blue Thunder Website: www.straightwire.com (Blue Thunder is not yet up on the site.) Pricing (2 meter cord): $250.00 Review Straight Wire has been around for some time, they have lots of distributors and can be found in many of your local hi-fi shops. For such a (relatively) large company in the cable business, their website is surprisingly incomplete. The Blue Thunder power cord is still not listed (though they tell me it will be soon), despite being on the market for almost two years. Straight Wire sent me the skinny on the cable separately, so I can share it with you. It's a solid-core design with several ultra-high-purity 18-gauge solid-core copper wires wound together to form each 12-gauge pole. The use of these relatively thick solid-core wires is said to help combat strand interraction that plagues many multi-strand designs. It has Teflon insulation for the best EMI/RFI rejection, and the conductors are encased in a professionally molded cord for reduction of vibration, topped off with Hubbell terminations. These conductors are not just loose inside a techflex outer sleeve like many brands of more home-brewed-style recipes. One would assume that this construction method would increase Straight Wire's costs for producing the wire that makes up the Blue Thunder, as obviously, the wire would have to be professionally built and molded. The cord can also be used for both high-current multi-watt amplifiers *and* front-end equipment. I would describe the sound as remarkably neutral tonally (as I have discovered and detailed here, most power cords are not). This makes it harder to describe its "sound". It's extremely clean, with lots of body and firm, if controlled bass. The Blue Thunder puts a lot of "flesh" on the musical bones, somewhat like the Virtual Dynamics cables (which are also based on even thicker solid-core wires). But the Straight Wire lacks the VD cable's tonal coloration that depending on the listener is either very pleasant, or an annoying deviation from neutrality. It is not a slow or a fast cable, it's just about right. It has a very unfatiguing, mellow sound due to its relaxed but firm and authoritative nature. Image stability is excellent, as is soundstage height and width. Reasonably detailed, but it does not force those details in an "in-your-face" sort of way, its laid back nature leaves them there for you to discover on your own. Overall, The Blue Thunder is a strong performer, offers above-average value at a reasonable list price ($250). It is tonally neutral, if a bit "thick"-sounding, which may be advantageous for folks trying to alleviate a slightly "thin" system. I think this cable would appeal to many who value a relaxed and engrossing sound, rather than a head-banging hyped-up "exciting" or forward sound. Definitely worth a look for the right listener. Flexibility: 5 Build quality: 8 Tonality: 8 Soundstaging/imaging: 7 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 7 Resolution/detail/transparency: 7 Value: 7 Overall Performance: 7.5 15. Volex 17604 Pricing (6 ft. cord): $8-$12.00 Review In other threads on this site, this cheap Volex cord has been compared favorably to cables costing 30X its price. The 17604 is the shielded version of Volex's basic cable which features wire made by Belden. How does it stack up for this reviewer among all the various cables I've had so far? Surprisingly well. Let me amend that-- shockingly well (qualifier-- given the price). I can say that this power cord easily and handily beats out several of the much more expensive cables I've reviewed so far. To put that statement in perspective, though, as you've read, there are a number of fancy power cords I didn't care for at all, so it's in that context that this cheap Volex stands out ahead of them. But saying the Volex is better than cables I really detested is not the same as saying it compares favorably with the really good aftermarket cables. A better, more fair and interesting comparison is against another mass-produced budget cable I think very highly of-- the Iron Lung Jellyfish. I was quite surprised at the difference between these two budget cables. I suspected they would sound quite similar, but they don't. The unshielded Jellyfish is much more extended at both ends-- there's clearly more treble and much more bass. The Jellyfish is more "hi-fi" sounding, where the Volex is more "natural" and warm. The Volex has the "tone" thing down. It *harmonizes* very well. It sounds very "real" and natural. In contrast, the Jellyfish has more "glare" than the Volex, sounds are more "recorded" than real, yielding an artifically sweetened sound. Tonally, Volex focuses more on the mid-range, Jellyfish more on the lows and the highs. Neither one is completely right; one has a smiley-face EQ (Jellyfish), the other a frowny-face EQ (Volex). Overall, the Volex is easier on the ears, the sound is "thicker", and less "exciting". If you want to relax into the sound, the Volex would be a better choice, but if you want to be a participant, rather than just an observer, the Jellyfish makes more sense. The Jellyfish definitely is superior to the Volex in terms of PRAT and sheer slam. It's a much more forceful, impacting and energetic cable. In terms of soundstaging, the Volex is smaller, moving you back a couple rows. The Volex has less "air" and dimesionality than the Jellyfish, making it seem somewhat 2-dimensional and flat. They are roughly equal in terms of detail/resolution. I estimated I switched out these two budget cables at least 30 times doing this comparison. This was a royal pain in the butt. It took quite a while to decide which one I preferred, it was not clear-cut. Overall, these are both terrific budget cables with different strengths and weaknesses, I think it comes down to where you are more willing to compromise. I can live without the extended highs of the Jellyfish (which can sound somewhat artificial), but the deal-breaker for me on the Volex is its pretty severely rolled bass response. I need every last drop of bass I can get, and the Volex withholds a little too much to overlook. And that's a shame because it's so tonally attractive and natural, very "musical" and quite enjoyable. Flexibility: 9 Build quality: 5 Tonality: 9 Soundstaging/imaging: 5 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 5 Resolution/detail/transparency: 7 Value: 8 Overall Performance: 7.5 16. Oyaide Tunami Power Cord- Assembled by Michael Wolff Web site: Website: www.wolffaudio.com Pricing (6ft. cord): $345 Preface Since publishing this review (and its updates), I've turned down over a dozen other offers for review samples from other makers/marketers of power cords (who may well be reading this now-- hi! ), due to absolute burn-out (as you can imagine). A few months back, I sold my TG Audio 688 that had been on my source since I first got and recommended it when this review was fresh. I sold it in a temporary pinch (and an attempt to rationalize my system to no avail), and I've regretted it ever since. I replaced it with a cheapie hospital-grade Iron Lung Jellyfish, which I still say greatly outperforms very many much more expensive cords; it's a real and true bargain. Still, it was no TG 688, though it more than held it's own given its absurdly low price. Also, for even longer, I've been happily using the Jellyfish on my stubborn, somewhat power-cord-immune Ray Samuels HR-2, where it has again served more than admirably. Much as I might wish to have used Michael Wolff's Silver Carbon Source cable (now no longer available, he's gone even further upmarket with even more exotic designs) on the HR-2, I couldn't justify buying a cord that cost 2/3rds of what the amp itself cost. C'est la vie. Recently Michael contacted me regarding a new (reasonably affordable) cord he was carrying called the Tunami. Even though temporarily "retired" from the power cord game, I asked him to send me a sample copy for review. Here are my results with the Tunami on my source; though again, I am comparing (in recent audio memory) against a much much cheaper unit (though a strong performer) in the Jellyfish. In swapping back and forth between the Tunami and the Jellyfish, I hear a difference on the level that is simply undisputable. This is the difference between a nice budget cord that does no wrong, and a serious piece of audio that provides actual bona-fide *enhancement* (with caveats). I've swapped these cords (and what a pain that is) several dozen times, and though not double-blind, I am more than satisfied that the Tunami is simply in a different class altogether from the mighty little Jellysfish. *But* it's potential drawbacks can't be overlooked. That said, a cable on this level demands that you judge it accordingly on a scale fitting its performance and cost. That means I'm going to be harder on it than it would be on the Jellyfish. After all, I'm not judging in a vacuum. The Tunami is not a perfect cable; it has a few potentially deal-breaking attributes that I will point out. Review Oyaide is a Japanese company known (to me) for making very exotic (and expensive) ends/connectors for power cords. Their products typically end up on the most top-of-the-line esoteric cords out there. This seems to be their first attempt at producing the actual cord that fits between their high-quality connectors. Of course the Tunami (as assembled by Michael Wolff) uses Oyaide connectors at both ends; in this case, in a very cool-looking fire-engine red. This is a super-attractive cord if looks matter to you. This is one of the relatively few aftermarket fancy power cords that is molded/extruded; it isn't just bare wire wrapped in a tech-flex sheath. This is a professionally-made cable, so the internal wires are not loose or jumbled; they are locked in place inside the rubber/plastic sheath. I've read other manufacturers argue that using molded wire cuts down on vibration, which if you believe some claims, is a source of distortion in the audio signal. The wire itself is the purest copper known to man; this is the same single-crystal copper developed by Prof. Ohno that you've seen used in many expensive interconnects and a few power cords. This is a *very* stiff cord. Not the worst offender in this survey, but still a royal pain to install-- be warned! So how does it sound? Great! This is definitely one of the better power cords I've tried so far. The first thing that struck me was the incredible blackness of the background from which sounds emerge. This thing is DEAD quiet. Forget about a noise floor- there isn't one. That's it's defining characteristic, most everything else flows from that attribute. This is a very "vivid" and high-contrast cable. There is a big difference between the lowest lows and the highest highs. Everything is thrown into sharp, stark relief with great clarity and crispness to the image. A pitch-black backround also almost always means you get a fantastic soundstage, and the Tunami does not disappoint in that respect. Stereo separation is wide, adding volume to the soundstage. This is a very "hi-fi" sounding cable, if not the most natural and realistic I've heard. It digs up under the sound and pushes it out toward you. This can be thrilling for the right listener. It's an extremely hi-rez presentation; the Tunami leaves little to the imagination, you feel like you get to hear every digital bit on your CDs. Tonally, I wouldn't call the Tunami "warm" or "lush" or "romantic". It's a bit crisp, a bit "digital"; but it errs more toward neutrality than either the warm or cold/analytical sides of the spectrum. This is one of those "ruthlessly revealing" cables that lets the chips fall where they may. Legitimate criticism would be that it's too "revealing", but for some, that's music to the ears. This is also a powerful cable. Not as tear-your-head-off aggressive as the VH Audio cords, but the Tunami has a powerful and full bottom end, and drums are allowed to really pound. The Tunami gives a firm and fleshy bass without being heavy or slow. Electric bass lines are easy to follow, and exhibit a wide range of tones, so it's not one-note bass. Adding this cable is like adding a turbo-boost to your system. It gooses everything it touches for better or worse. That concludes the positives. On the down side, one wishes for more midrage warmth/lushness. There is a slight hollowness to the mids that is troubling. There's a bit of glare or sugar-coatedness to the highs that isn't natural. The Tunami is a bit "digital" and "analytical". There's a bit of sugar-coating to it that isn't natural. Flexibility: 4 Build quality: 7 Tonality: 7 Soundstaging/imaging: 9 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 9 Resolution/detail/transparency: 9 Value: 8 Overall Performance: 8 17. Black Sand Cable Violet Z1 and Silver Web site: Website: http://blacksandcable.com/ Pricing (6ft. cord): ~$250 Review Black Sand Cables is one of those low-flying, under-the-radar companies that prefers to let the quality of their products do the talking for them, rather than relying on marketing hyperbole. I've observed as the man behind the company, John, has declined to hype his products on numerous occasions when he could have otherwise easily done so. It seems genuinely not to be his style. In fact, if you were to visit their modest web-site (as it exists as I write), you'd be quite puzzled by their offerings. You'd have a hard time determining what went into their basic offerings vs. what went into their more upscale offerings. It's basically a mess (sorry, John)... Allow me to clarify (such as I can with the limited info even I have). Black Sand used to have a full cable product line, but more recently, they decided to focus exclusively on power cords only, as that was where they felt they had the most value-add. To that end, they've developed a few power cords, but at the low-end, after receiving lots of feedback, they decided to consolidate their products into a single design. These bottom-level products are all identical save for the color of the jacket they come in: White, Crimson, Arctic Blue. These are all pure copper designs. Beyond that, they offer a copper/silver hybrid called the Silver Reference Mark 4. That's their current top-of-the-line cable. OK, so Black Sand has only 2 products, right? Well, not exactly. This review chiefly concerns their "Violet" power cord, a product that John is not yet convinced he should include in his product line. It was made as an experiment, and rests between their bottom-of-the-line cords and the Silver. John is not sure if he's going to ofer the Violet as a full-time product. I've written to him several times urging him to reconsider and to unleash the Violet on the world at large. We'll see... I paid for and received a single Violet, and then later informed John about my intentions to review his product. He then sent me his top-of-the-line product, the Silver to put his best foot forward. Well, after giving the Silver and the Violet equal time, and numerous swaps, I have to give the nod to the cheaper all-copper Violet. This all-copper power cord goes WAY WAY beyond the level of performance I've achieved with any other cable. And at a fraction of the price, AND with twice the build quality. (And it's highly flexible, to boot). Anyway, this cable (the Violet) is just stunning, I'm very excited; it's really like a component upgrade rather than a mere power cord swap. These impressions concern the performance of the Violet on my source, though I've ordered another one for my headamp. Mad resolution, I'm constantly hearing things I've never heard before, and as you know, that's always a thrill. It's making old 80s CDs sound practically hi-rez. This thing is totally "un-veiled" in every possible way. Best soundstaging I've heard so far (not the biggest, but pretty astounding imaging, everything is so vividly defined and real), and ultra BLACK background. The Violet is all about lifting veils. The question it poses to you is: how many veils do I *really* want lifted? Is there such thing as "too open" or "too revealing"? With the Violet attached, your gear becomes totally open and airy, with a nice full, firm sound. Bass is insanely tight and solid. Everything sounds extremely *real* with this cord. The Violet digs up so much information you've never heard before, it can leave you slack-jawed. This cord (like all great audio products) has taught me something new. Yes, we are all intoxicated by that component which gives us a perceptibly "blacker" background. But, when you think about it, really, half of obtaining a "blacker" background is achieving whiter whites and thus, establishing a greater sense of contrast. IMHO, the Violet is a lot like an Ansel Adams print-- it goes from absolute white whites to pitch blacks; yet it's incredibly sharp and detailed because he's used an absurdly large 4x5 negative. The Violet leaves you with the exact same feeling. It leaves nothing to the imagination, yet at the same time, it doesn't exaggerate or over-emphasize. It's almost realer than real. The Violet excels in palpability-- you can reach out and touch the artist(s). Guitars are crunchy and vivid. Voices are so clear, you can easily make out expressions that were previously garbled. Bass and dynamics are second to none. Bass is TIGHT and solid. Bass goes incredibly LOW. The sound this cord makes is eerily present and *real*. There is no way to extract greater dynamic range than to attach the Violet to your gear. Regarding the Silver, there's definitely a family resemblance, so there seems to be a Black Sand "house sound". However, the Silver still comes across a bit more constrained, the background not *quite* as black. It has a *slightly* more mellow top end than the Violet. So yes, it's definitely more "refined", but it doesn't have the same degree of impact, dynamics, astonishing dynamic range, and amazing holographic sound of the Violet. I would think if the Violet was "too much" in your system, the Silver would be a great alternative. But for me, the Violet is intoxicating, I pause and listen to songs I normally skip just because everything sounds so fresh and new. Even though this cord is beyond ruthless and ultra-high-rez, it does the neat trick of making everything sound great without resorting to syrupy euphony. Over the course of doing this review, I purchased a second Violet for my headphone amp. While not quite double the fun, adding the extra Violet to my HR-2 has taken my system a few steps further into the direction described above, and that's all to the good. One final word of caution on the Violet-- it needs around 150 hours of break-in. While it sounds fantastic out of the box, you will likely notice a bit of extra top-end energy. Don't be too concerned, because over time, it just dissipates away, leaving you with a cable without a sound (coloration) of its own. Flexibility: 7 Build quality: 9 Tonality: 10 Soundstaging/imaging: 10 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 9 Resolution/detail/transparency: 10 Value: 10 Overall Performance: 9.5 18. Virtual Dynamics Nite II Web site: http://www.virtualdynamics.ca/ Pricing (6ft. cord): ~$1300 (the Nite is now up to Series III, there is no more Nite II) Review I haven't owned any VD cords since several years and iterations ago (as reported on here earlier in this thread). They have since come a long way in terms of design and sonics (I have also purchased another updated VD cable as my IC now, the Master Series III-- very very nice!). The Nite II has similar advantages as you always get with the VD stuff, but it's more neutral, less warm and romantic than the earlier version of the cord. The new version is also more resolving, with better extension up top (after burn-in, which is prolonged). The VD house sound is robust, full and dynamic and powerful. It adds weight and meat to musical bones without making the music sluggish or slow (a la the PS Audio cords). It's an extremely substantial sound that is anything but "thin". Bass is firm and fat with great tonality. But the key is the eerie realness and naturalness (organic sound) to the tone of the VD cords. They are extremely life-like and un-hi-fi. Which is not to say the VD Nite II is soft or unresolving, it's quite crisp and focused. The noise floor is non-existent (after burn-in, prepare for 400 hours) and the backgound is famously black as night (hence the name). It images like a champ, and throws an awesomely deep and realistic soundstage, but it's not as wide or separated as some. I wouldn't at all call the Nite II "laid-back", as it's too robust and dynamic. But, like the best gear, it has a way of sounding powerful and clear without assaulting your ears. This lets you listen louder and longer, always a good thing. The VD wires are among the fattest (10-guage) and stiffest you'll ever see. They sport insane amounts of shielding plus their pixie-dust "dynamic filerting" material is stuffed into fat cables that are individually wrapped and separate from one another. They are literally the thickness of three regular aftermarket power cords. So if you have very little space behind your components, they are not practical at all, as it takes a lot of room to get a 90-degree bend. If you normally need a 5-foot cable, buy a 6-footer instead to give you the extra room you'll need to make those bends to get it to fit into your socket. These cords (and their ICs) are also *very* heavy, so they can stress your IECs on your component. I've taken to stacking things directly underneath the connector of the cord to support its weight at the point where it attaches to my gear. This works well. So, anyway there's a conundrum that has crystallized for me lately. Seems to me, at the high-end of audio, when most restrictions/limitations are removed and you're purely into the realm of goodness, you still are presented with a choice to make between two different kinds of sound, each equally seductive: 1. There's a realistic, natural and organic sound that sounds eerily like life; you get a "presentation" of the master tape (a "show") where you can suspend your disbelief and accept you are witnessing an event instead of a recording or a mere recreation of an event. So, you get to experience the *illusion* that the makers of the music were trying to create in the first place. 2. Then, there's the other side of the coin-- hyper-real, super-detailed, "hi-fi" sound, where you are examining the contents of the master tape under a microscope. Gear like this doesn't take you out of reality or try to throw a show or create an illusion of life; instead it allows you to penetrate every nook and cranny of the master tape so nothing is left to the imagination. Both of these approaches are exciting and appealing in their own way. Depending on my mood and the recording, I could go either way. The difference is in the macro vs. the micro presentation. The Black Sand Violet falls firmly under #2 above, where the Virtual Dynamics falls under #1. Because my new source (RAM modified Sony XA9000ES) is itself so resolving and clear, the combination with the Violet was a bit much. The addition of the VD cord perfectly complimented what the RAM XA9000ES was doing so well, it's no comparison here in this set-up. IMO, the Nite II, even though it's thick enough to be strung up as power lines, is ideal for low-powered digital sources. The Black Sand Violet imparts a tiny sheen of artificiality, and a slightly aluminum/metallic twinge that's missing on the VD Nite II. You aren't aware of that until you hear a cable that doesn't have it like the Nite II. In addition to tone, the basic advantage for me of the VD Nite II over the Black Sand Violet is in terms of foundation. The Nite II can't be beat for shear weight and heft of the bass, and overall solidity to the sound which is needed with my Sony R10 headphones. Actually, that solidity is a boon to any headphone, as that's one area where they tend to lag far behind speakers. You do lose a smidge of the focus and ability to absolutely pin-point each sound in space you get with the Violet, but for me in my system, that's an easy trade-off. The blackness of the background is comparable on both (blacker than 3AM on a starless night). Then the question of value. FWIW, I would not likely buy a VD Nite II at full cost when you compare that to the value of the Violet. But, generally, you can pick up a VD Nite II power cord for ~$300-$400 on audiogon, and then it becomes much more attractive, and less of an issue. I would say, if your system is more lo-fi, then the hi-rez Violet is the way to go. But if your system is very high-end and revealing, the Nite II is it. Flexibility: 3 Build quality: 9 Tonality: 10 Soundstaging/imaging: 10 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 9 Resolution/detail/transparency: 10 Value: 8 Overall Performance: 9.5 19. Michael Wolff Bohica Web site: http://www.wolffaudio.com/ Pricing (6ft. cord): ~$700 Review OK, so I just received Michael's latest and greatest power cord, called the Bohica. It has all his latest technology in the cable itself, but instead of the absurdly expensive Acrolink carbon Oyaide connectors, it has the next level down Oyaide's with aluminum barrels, the F-1 and M-1, which together only cost a mere $500. These connectors look SWEET, and clamp down very well at the same time. This cord contains all of Michael's latest thinking on power cord design for sources (and headphone amps). The cables are super-pure flat silver conductors combined with carbon, plus, there is now also a flat copper conductor in there as well to further bring out the bottom octave. The addition of this flat copper conductor is one of the chief differences between the Bohica and the previous Source cord I reviewed earlier. The Bohica cord is designed for components that draw less than 350 watts from the wall, which is everything but the biggest power amps, for which Michael has another cord. I'm currently using this latest Wolff cord on my headamp, the Rudistor RPX-33 mark II. On my source is the $1300 Virtual Dynamics Nite II power cord. Sonically, this new Wolff cord is a real WINNER. It's so typically Michael Wolff-- super smooooooth and CLEAN and CLEAR, and Hi-Rez. NOTHING sounds like a Wolff cable and that's down to his innovative use of carbon. It removes a layer of grit and grain you didn't even know was there. It has an EASE to the sound that's enchanting. Yet it leaves nothing to the imagination, it's as full-rez as you could hope for. With all those different conductors (copper, silver, carbon), you'd think this cable could be an incoherent mess, but it is anything but. Typical of Wolff's design, it speaks totally and completely with it's own voice, one that is utterly unlike anything you've heard before. I've certainly not heard another power cord that sounds like this, although his ICs (when he still made them, RIP) also had this wonderful sound. But trying to pin down its sound is kind of mis-leading, as truthfully, the Bohica just plain *disappears*. I can verify my earlier initial impression that this cord is simply fantastic, at the top the class of what I've reviewed so far. If you read my earlier review of Wolff's previous model, you will recall I went through a lot of testing with my Rat Shack level meter to inspect bass response on that cord. To my surprise, the tests showed absolutely zero drop-off in actual bass response even though subjectively, I could never shake the impression it was *slightly* bass light. Well, this new cord has no such issues; it has sumptous, full bass. And it retains all the goodies I've come to expect from Michael Wolff-- namely smoother than smooth, cleaner than immacualte, sound. 16-bit cymbal crashes that normally sound jagged, crispy, grainy, harsh or frayed on other cords are simply complete and fully-rendered through the Wolff cable. Is that because all other cables are false or inadequate, or because the Wolff is adding or subtracting something that's not there? That is the question, I guess, to be answered by each listener. The Wolff cord handles high frequencies in a totally unique way, and that's something I expect listeners to react to most strongly and immediately. Depending on your ears and biases, the Wolff cord is either artificially smooth and grainless in the extreme (although I'm not sure how you'd fake that), or it's actually rendering lo-rez 16-bit digital in a completely novel and natural way that you haven't heard before-- i.e. immaculately clean and well-rounded, not spitty and harsh. It's certainly not rolling the highs, but it finds a way of cleaning them up along with the rest of the frequency spectrum, and that I suspect may sound slightly "weird" at first blush. I could see some folks feeling this presentation of the highs is a bit lacking in "bite", "sharpness", "edginess" or "crispness". Maybe so, but that's where personal preference and system synergy comes in. Those traits could just as easily be labelled "harshness", "hardness", "spitty-ness" or "grainy-ness". I would ask you if those extra frayed edges and brashness are "supposed" to be there. I don't hear that artificial crispy digital sound in real life; I think its something added by our electronics that the Wolff cord helps to remove. But I do suspect the absolute grainlessness of this cord can be disconcerting, especially for ears raised on and trained on digital that naturally expect spittiness or harshness to extreme highs. OK, so much for treble, what about the rest of the frequency spectrum and all the other audiophile goodies? As close to "perfect" as I've heard. Again, I'm going to have a hard time describing the "sound" of the Bohica, because it doesn't really have one. No frequency anomolies, perfectly balanced between forwardness and laid-back-ness, no grain, no background noise, no fake sharp serrated edges, that signature effortless flowing sound, and most critically and significantly of all-- AIR to breathe. The Bohica is open and full, not smothered or damped down, or sluggish and listless. The Bohica provides everything a great upscale power cord can do for your system, but without adding its own flavor or imposing any restrictions. If you are trying to "correct" some problem with your gear and are looking to add or subtract this or that, the Bohica will not make a good tone control. If you have a piece of gear that is already performing at a very high level, and you are satisfied with its basic sound but looking for the extra goodness a top-quality power cord can provide, the Bohica is the one. It will take your gear to that next level. Michael Wolff has really raised the bar with his new cord; it's a large step forward from his original Source cord reviewed earlier. In fact, it's at the very top of the heap in my quest so far. Flexibility: 8 Build quality: 9 Tonality: 10 Soundstaging/imaging: 10 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 9 Resolution/detail/transparency: 10 Value: 10 Overall Performance: 9.5 20. Black Sand Violet "Deluxe" Web site: http://blacksandcable.com/ Pricing (6ft. cord): ~$395 Review Today I got my package from Canada with my Premium Deluxe model Violet. This cord has the standard Violet cable but with very expensive ($200 per pair) Oyaide 046 series connectors. These are palladium over gold. It's not called the "Deluxe", but for my purposes, that's what I'll call it to distinguish it from the base model. They are orange in color, so in combination with the pale violet color of the cord, let's just say, it's not the prettiest cord on the block, but it will spend it's life behind your rack out of site, so who cares? The first CD I fired up was Porcupine Tree's Deadwing, an album I don't know that well except that it's well recorded. The first track starts out low and has lots of little electronic sounds happening when suddenly it bursts in at full volume with drums and guitars. Well, the top of my head must have hit the ceiling when that happened. I almost jumped out of my skin! The sheer dynamics on this cable are borderline *outrageous*, almost overwhelming. Sounds leap out and sock you in the jaw. Drums have amazing pop and thump. Low bass is a subatomic explosive rumble. Dynamic range at both ends of the spectrum are extended 100 yards beyond the range of human hearing. Soundstage is colossal in scale, swarming around you and enveloping you. My impression of the original Violet was that it was already a hyper-conductive cord; adding these Oyaide connectors takes that 3 or 4 steps further. I swear this cord makes everything sound 3-4 db louder, it lets so much through you'll need to turn your gear down a couple notches to compensate. I think this Deluxe version is perfect for the active listener who likes to participate in the music, whether that's boogieing naked in your living room, playing air drums and guitar, or simply nodding your head or tapping your foot. If you love electric guitars with lots of balls and crunch, look no further. If you value CLARITY and ruthlessly REVEALING gear, look no further. This is your Mecca. With 6 hours of burn-in the cord is still a bit toppy for my taste, but this was true of the original Violet which normalized at around the 150 hour mark. Still, this cord is so completely absurdly extreme, it boggles my mind. No one (who is honest) who listens to this cord can credibly say that aftermarket power cords do nothing. If you can't hear this difference, you are deaf as a post. If you liked the original Violet (and I know there are now many many happy owners), the Deluxe model is all that but on steroids-- not just squared performance, but cubed. It's super-intense and alive. In short, this cord KICKS ASS. Yes, it's "off the hook", but it may even be off the *charts*. But is it too much? Depends on the listener and the system and the kind of music you favor. The question for me is, will everything else sound too tame and reserved after I switch back? Well, after more listening, I eventually found that the Violet Deluxe was indeed a bit too much of a good thing in my system. It's certainly one heck of a cord, but not for the squeemish. If I was younger and more inclined to jump around when I listen, this cord would make more sense. These days, I like to kick back and listen with my eyes closed, imaginging the performance. For that purpose the Violet Deluxe does not work quite as well. If nothing else, one thing I learned from the Violet Deluxe is just how much the connectors can affect the sound of a power cord. The difference between the stock ends and the Oyaides on the same violet cord was nothing short of night and day. However, that difference wasn't 100% positive for me in all ways. Now, to be fair, Black Sand can terminate the basic Violet cable with any number of different hi-end connectors. Others have reported favorably about the use of different Oyaides on the Violet to get a more mellow sound. John at Black Sand won't steer you wrong-- he knows the sound of the cord with all the different connectors he offers. Just describe the kind of sound you are after and he'll set you up with the right pair for you. Flexibility: 7 Build quality: 9 Tonality: 7 Soundstaging/imaging: 9 PRAT/dynamics/speed: 10 Resolution/detail/transparency: 10 Value: 9 Overall Performance: 9.0 Conclusion Still with me? To wrap this up, it’s time for me to rank order all of the cables under review. This rank ordering reflects performance in my system, based on my own biases and needs. It reflects performance on those components on which each cable fared best. It is not a straight listing of cables in order of the “Overall performance” rating I gave within the individual reviews. Those ratings are dependent on cost/value, flexibility and other factors, the final rank order is based on pure *sound* alone, all other factors be damned. 1. (Tie) Virtual Dynamics Nite II (on my source), Michael Wolff Bohica (on my headphone amp) 2.Black Sand Violet with stock ends. 3. Black Sand Silver 4. Split decision between the TG 688 (for my source), and the Wolff Source cord (for my headamp) 5. Black Sand Violet "Deluxe" (with Oyaide 046 ends) 6.Virtual Dynamics Reference (since replaced/superseded by the David) 7.(Tie) KAS Audio Primus (on my headamp) and Oyaide Tunami (on my source) 8.VH Audio Flavor 1 and Flavor 2 9.Custom Power Cord Company Model 14 Series 2 10.Tek Line Eclipse 11.Iron Lung Jellyfish / Volex 17604 12. Straight Wire Blue Thunder 13.Audio Metallurgy Gold Alloy 9 14.Analysis Plus Oval 10 15.Absolute Power Cord 16.Zu Cable BoK 17.PS Audio XStream Plus Thank you for reading!