Listening #96 Page 3

Second, I tried something out of the ordinary (for me, at least): I powered my iMac with the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray, to see if it could make even a slight difference in the sound of music files streamed from therein. I admit, I so expected to hear no difference that I almost wrote the rest of this paragraph ahead of time. And I admit, not only was there an audible improvement with my computer plugged into the Hydra V-Ray, that difference was just as significant as the one wreaked on my Thorenses, and quite possibly more so. Singers had more body, instruments more substance and texture—oddly enough, the very qualities the Shunyata power distributor seemed to withhold from my electronics.

Third and finally—and back to LPs—I compared the sound of my system with no components plugged into the Hydra V-Ray (the Shunyata Power Snakes remained in place), and with either just my preamp or just my power amps drawing their AC from the Shunyata. In a nutshell, I was hard-pressed to hear any difference at all between having my Shindo Masseto preamp plugged into the household outlet and having it plugged into the Shunyata. But my Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks were another story—and there, I knew, was the source of my disappointment: my amps didn't in the least care for the AC distributor.

I repeated the comparisons using an alternate preamp (the Shindo Vosne-Romanee, which I wrote about in the October Stereophile) and an alternate pair of monoblocks (the interesting Shindo Lafon GM70s, which so far are the least Shindo-sounding Shindo amps I've heard), and heard the same results. I don't know the precise origin of the discomfit, though it's hard to imagine that a product containing 7 lbs of copper bar-stock alone could be somehow limiting current draw (footnote 5).

Then, without a moment's hesitation, I powered down my iMac, moved the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray back to the other side of the room, and once again used the latter to power the former. Once again, my AIFFs sounded better that way. And who among us wouldn't want his or her computer, and irreplaceable photos and Word files, protected by such a thing?

Sailing home
That's where I was going to leave this story. But the same inner voice that compels me to help red efts across our driveway each fall, and that keeps me from filling my pockets with those little jars of marmalade when I have breakfast in nice restaurants, chided me: By neglecting to use a Black Mamba Power Snake on my iMac before hooking up the Hydra V-Ray, I had confounded the Shunyata's very reasonable requirements. Then another voice joined the debate, possibly the one that compels me to play with the blood-pressure apparatus and the illuminated magnifying scope when I visit the doctor's office. This one argued that an iMac with an enormous audiophile cable emerging from its backside would look ridiculous. Besides, the plug of the one surely wouldn't fit the socket of the other.

The only way to end the inner turmoil was to try it anyway. I powered down the iMac again, removed its very nice, pliant AC cord, and replaced it with the Shunyata Black Mamba, the plug of which fit perfectly after all. I sat back down, booted up the system, and actually made a little noise of surprise when I saw my "wallpaper" picture: a photo I took of my daughter some four or five years ago, on a day when the cows from Glensfoot Farm climbed the hill, breached the fence, and began to fill our yard. The resolution and contrast apparent in that image had increased, unambiguously and without doubt. I was mildly stunned.

I popped in a DVD, hoping for some quick confirmation of either refinement or delusion. (For reasons best left unsaid, my visual acuity is not at its best of late.) An hour later I realized that I had just sat, mesmerized, through almost half of Tim Burton's Big Fish. Probably with my mouth agape.

At their most impressive, the audible improvements wrought by Shunyata's AC products didn't equal the degree of improvement I associate with, say, upgrading a major sound-system component to a model unambiguously better. But those improvements were quite real—and I'm open to the suggestion that their perceived benefits would be greater, perhaps significantly so, in a music system assembled with resolution of sonic detail more in mind. (Assuming that Shunyata Research's interest was in determining their products' effects on my sort of playback system, which has been assembled with very different values in mind, the answer is a gentler if no less clear-cut yes.) And I admit that, this morning, as I played the AIFF of Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left while gazing over steepled fingers at the lush fields outside my window, I wondered if I could really bring myself to send these Snakes back to Shunyata. Notwithstanding their (presumably uncommon) incompatibility with my favorite amplifiers, I finally know what all the fuss is about.

Footnote 5: Certain builders of artisanal amplifiers have long held that an amp's sound can be influenced by the quality of the electron flow pulled from ground, as determined by the material used for that portion of the thing's chassis that functions as a central grounding point. Thus we see solid-copper plates on portions of some amp enclosures, silver on others, steel on yet others, and so forth. Fanciful though such an idea will surely sound to some, I can't help wondering if that's at least an issue here.
Share | |

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