Listening #96 Page 2

When I powered the system back up after installing all of this, it seemed the Shunyatas were doing a number of things I like—to a greater degree than I associate with cables at all, let alone AC cables. "Winterlong" and "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," from Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Live at the Fillmore (LP, Reprise/Classic 44429-1), had a better, larger sense of scale. Instruments sounded more explosively dramatic, and voices were similarly punchier: There was more holler in the singing (I mean that in a good way). Cecille Ousset and Rudolf Barshai's fine recording of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto 3 (LP, EMI ASD 1077851) gained in similar ways, with an added sense of purpose: Musical lines sounded surer and more meaningful. I like that sort of thing.

Then, also in keeping with Shunyata's recommendations, I added to the system their Hydra V-Ray power distributor. CDA-101 copper also abounds in the Hydra, as do capacitive filters and specially made MOVs designed to sacrifice themselves only in the event of severe, potentially catastrophic spikes and irregularities. There are also electromagnetic circuit breakers, a dual-box chassis of aluminum alloy, and fully 7 lbs of copper bus bar. Also featured are Shunyata's proprietary SR-Z1 AC outlets, manufactured for them by Hubbell (footnote 4).

Yet on first listen, the gains gained by the Black Mambas were gone, and then some. The imaginary stage seemed wider, but the center fill was absent. The color, too—the area the crayon was supposed to fill in—was gone, leaving only outlines, albeit sonically sharp ones. In the Prokofiev concerto, the fifths in the bass strings and timpani that announce the piano's entrance were robbed of substance and momentum. The Neil Young album sounded scooped-out in the way of so much modern sound: plenty of bass and treble, not enough flesh and blood in between. I was sufficiently disappointed with the sound of the V-Rayed system that I wondered if either the Shunyata power distributor had had insufficient running in, or if the listener had had too much—for that day, at least. I elected to stop for the time being, to relegate the V-Rayed system to background duties for a few days, and to listen more intently some other time.

Drifting too far from the shore
Later in the week I repeated all of the above, with similar results: Wonderful sound with stock AC cables. Even better sound with Black Mamba Power Snakes on the preamp and amps. Enduringly and unambiguously less center-fill focus, less color, and less sense of solidity and substance with the Shunyata power distributor in the system. The Sibelius Violin Concerto, with violinist Ruggiero Ricci, Øivin Fjeldstad, and the London Symphony, in a typically first-rate reissue by Speakers Corner (LP, Decca SXL 2077), sounded better without the V-Ray in virtually every regard: Staccato eighth-notes in the ensemble violins and violas in the first movement had much more texture and clearer attacks without the power distributor, while the clarinet had greater presence and a more believable spatial presence. Most of all, the many rubato passages seemed better timed—less aimless and adrift, temporally, and much more purposeful—without the V-Ray.

And in the 1958 David Oistrakh/André Cluytens recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra (LP, a typically noisy late-'90s EMI Centenary reissue, SAX 2315), the soloist's "Conte de Fontana" Stradivarius was richly textured when the preamp and amplifiers were connected directly to the household AC outlet, but noticeably less so with those same components plugged into the Shunyata distributor.

Still, I listened on, returning once again to that Prokofiev concerto: There was no question that, with the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray, piano chords were being hit harder while remaining even cleaner. And I dare say the system's sense of spatial focus improved with the AC power distributor in-line: Oddly or not, I merely had to move my listening seat back a few inches in order to notice or appreciate that change.

Then I noticed: With the Shunyata AC distributor, digital music files (mostly AIFF with a scattering of WAVs, streamed from iTunes on a recent iMac) fared even worse than LPs. That led me to try three more experiments:

First, I compared the performance of my Thorens TD 124 turntables (these days, one is relegated to stereo duty, while the other one handles mono LPs and 78s), plugged alternately straight into the household current and into the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray. In every case, with every record I tried, my turntables sounded markedly better—more drive, more momentum, more realistic textures—when their AC was conditioned by the Shunyata: a true man-on-the-street difference. (When I began making those comparisons, it also seemed that the 124s' platters got up to speed more quickly, with less need for speed correction, with the Hydra V-Ray in line. But while those distinctions were never reversed, they weren't consistently present, leaving open the possibility that motor temperature or other factors were at play.) As a hobbyist with years of experience with various accessory power supplies for turntables with AC motors, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.

Footnote 4: Grant Samuelsen also sent me a sample of Shunyata's SR-Z1 twin-socket AC outlet ($75), but I have yet to find time to install it, for comparison with either my stock household units or the PS Audio outlets I wrote about some time ago. I intend nonetheless to try the Shunyata outlet, and will report back by and by.
Share | |

Enter your username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.