Analog Corner #273: Soundsmith Hyperion phono cartridge & AudioQuest AC power products Page 2

The Hyperion delivered the sort of microdynamic information that can bring a recorded performance to life. If you listen mostly to acoustic music, whether small or large ensembles, I found that the Hyperion delivered both convincingly.

The other evening I played for a friend—a mastering engineer who shall remain nameless—Bob Ludwig's legendary "pulled from the shelves" (footnote 3) original mastering of Led Zeppelin's II (LP, Atlantic SD 8236). He was awed by the shimmer and sizzle of John Bonham's cymbals, and the tuneful slam of the rest of his drum kit.

The Hyperion's reproduction of the bottom end of "Whole Lotta Love," and of every rock track I played, left nothing on the table. My reference MC cartridges produce more rock-solid "grip," but the Hyperion's bottom octaves better matched its overall character.

The Hyperion's top end seemed to extend to the upper limit of vinyl—and of music, and of my hearing—without a hint of tacked-on sizzle or grain. However, even loaded at 470 ohms through the transformer, or 510 ohms into the PH 1's non–transformer-coupled input, the Hyperion's top end, silky as it was, seemed to lead the sonic charge. It was a subtle, pleasant sprinkle of high-frequency sugar that never interfered.

518acorn.elling

When I played for my mastering friend "Mood Indigo," from a recent reissue of Duke Ellington's Masterpieces by Ellington (Columbia Masterworks ML 4118/Analogue Productions APJ 4418), with its rich, smooth, sophisticated harmonic and textural palettes, the Hyperion delivered everything you'd hope to hear from one of the most amazing recordings ever (1950). My friend exclaimed, only somewhat facetiously, "How did they do that? It's been mostly downhill from there!"

Playing the same two tracks with the similarly priced and highly regarded Ortofon Anna MC cartridge ($8924) produced subtly different but equally entrancing sounds. The Led Zep was somewhat drier and more tightly gripped, and probably more how I'd like to hear this track reproduced. "Mood Indigo" produced a similar difference, though the Hyperion's richer sustain and more generous decays won that round.

Conclusions: For $8000 I expect and demand a cartridge that's free of obvious tonal peaks or valleys ,just like many inexpensive MM cartridges, and that can extract all of the spatial, textural, harmonic, and dynamic detail that, in my experience, only vinyl contains, and do so without additive artifacts. (Yes, I know: CD's dynamic range measures better. Still . . . )

Despite careful loading, the Hyperion did produce a gracefully rising top end—not a spike—that added a slight amount of presence on top. But because this rise was so gradual, rather than hearing it as such, I experienced it as a slight dip in the upper midrange. I can hear Peter Ledermann bellowing that this is not possible, and that, had I used his phono preamp, all would have been perfect. He's very protective of his creations. But that's what I heard.

The Soundsmith Hyperion got out of the way and delivered the contents of LP grooves to degrees achieved by few other cartridges. Its transparency and neutral tonal balance—other than that subtle, graceful top-end rise—were exceptional, and its suitability for all musical genres was beyond question, though I found it especially suited to acoustic music. Get out your checklist of cartridge-performance parameters and listen to the Hyperion. I predict that you'll give it an A+ in every category, but especially for Transparency.

The Power Cord Question
You know what drives me crazy? A lot of things—but right now, two in particular. In summer 2015 I attended a hi-fi show in Bangkok, Thailand. I shot a few videos there, including one of an over-the-top horn-based system from Living Voice that cost about $2 million. I posted the video on AnalogPlanet's YouTube channel and promptly forgot about it—another hi-fi show, another room, howsoever expensive.

But I've just checked, and as of today that video has gotten 299,495 views—more by far than any other video I've posted, way more than some of my really interesting interviews with musicians and engineers, and more than videos I've made at other shows of rooms of quality gear that people can actually afford.

Some of the comments posted under that video, for some reason, are aimed at me—as if I'm the one responsible for the product I'm reporting on. Others range from nasty to sexist to stupid ("Why didn't you let us hear the system"—through a camcorder microphone?) to vaguely anti-Semitic ("didn't know Jeff Goldblum was into speakers"). You see, I look like Jeff Goldblum. Not really, but you know, there's a "family" resemblance. That drives me crazy. Others post that I look "just like" Jerry Springer, or Lou Reed (!).

The other thing driving me crazy: My video "CES 2018 Day Two," which contains excerpts from Garth Powell's demonstration of AudioQuest power cords in which everyone in the room—including the skeptics—easily heard differences among various cords used to power a CD player. Granted, Powell made the mistake of telegraphing what people would hear before playing the music. (He corrected his behavior for Day Two, but I didn't shoot a video of any of those demos.)

I filmed only Powell's comparison of an inexpensive stock cord with an AudioQuest Thunder ($624.95/1m)—the least expensive model in AQ's new line, which was designed by Powell (footnote 4).

The comments about this video ranged wildly. Some were sexist: "I heard that your Husband prefers digital." (That poster "apologized" by writing that his comment was intended for another Stereophile writer.) Some commented "confirmational bias" and charged that I'm a paid shill for AudioQuest: "Shameless flogging of 'magic' power cables to the 'true believers.' What's next? Phlogiston-free PC's?" "Shill," "fraud," "paid off," etc. Not pleasant. So far, more than 260 comments, many of them intensely emotional in tone, have been posted for this video and story—a record for AnalogPlanet.

Many people believe that power cords can't possibly make differences in a system's sound. Therefore, there's no point in subjecting them to listening tests. One thing about confirmation bias, which Wikipedia defines as "the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses": If you mix music for a living, unless you subject every adjustment of every fader to A/B/X testing, it's likely you're being fooled by confirmation bias and are producing really bad mixes, because humans are incapable of perceiving anything accurately without testing.

Garth Powell also compared the various models within AQ's new line of power cords, using a track from Muddy Waters's Folk Singer. It sounded different with each cord. Guess which sounded best? Right—the most expensive model, AQ's Dragon Source, which sells for $3400/1m—and $4400/1m for the high-current version designed for power amps and conditioners.

Here's my own tale of power-cord confirmation bias. Recently, not long before CES 2018, Shunyata Research asked me to return some power cords I'd been using on long-term loan—cords I'd really liked, compared to a few others I'd tried. Return them I did, but not before asking AudioQuest if I could try theirs. AQ shipped me enough Dragons for my entire system, and I installed them. My plan was to run some A/B comparisons of the Shunyata and AQ cords before shipping Shunyata's back to them.

518acorn.aq1

The business end of AudioQuest's Dragon Source AC cable.

But not right away. My first order of business was to compare my original pressing of the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request (UK LP, Decca TXS 103) with the vinyl from ABKCO's recent reissue, which includes mono and stereo LPs and mono and stereo multilayer SACD/CDs, all of which were mastered by Bob Ludwig from DSD files made from the original tapes. (ABKCO 5001-1, footnote 5). I began with the new stereo version—the original stereo version of that album is lysergically implanted in my brain—and as soon as it began, and especially when Mick Jagger sings, in the right channel, "Why don't we sing this song all together?," it was clear that this new version achieves levels of clarity, transient precision, and transparency that blow away the original.

In the chorus I could effortlessly hear each voice in its own space. I sat through both sides of this LP, appreciating it as never before. Dynamics and bass were clearly better than the original, which was compressed and rolled off on the bottom, as were most rock records of that time, but mostly it was the transparency and consequent sorting-out of individual elements that dumbfounded me.

But when I then played the original UK Decca pressing, although the bass was attenuated and the dynamics were compressed, as expected, the transparency, transient precision, and all the rest remained—I was now hearing into the old record, as if looking through a window I'd just cleaned, and as never before. I then replayed the stack of records I'd been listening to at the time, and heard the same cleaned-window improvement. What was going on?

The only change in the system had been the power cords. The result was a major improvement in the overall sound. And ever since, I've been appreciating and enjoying that improvement with every LP, CD, and file I play. I won't repeat here the technological claims AudioQuest makes for the Dragon, which can be read at www.audioquest.com/power-cables/dragon-source.

518acorn.aq2

Two high-current AudioQuest Dragons with 15A and 20A terminators.

Unfortunately, my story plays perfectly into the beliefs of the cynical and skeptical: "Fremer had to return the Shunyatas. AudioQuest sent replacements. Now he can punish Shunyata for asking for their cables back and reward AQ for lending him theirs." Calmer counsel (read: the editor) usually says, "Ignore those people. Your reputation is firmly established." But I'd rather "game" their belief systems by buying AQ's cords.

Yes, I can buy the Dragons at an industry accommodation price, though it's still costly—as much as some pay for an entire audio system. But in the context of my audio system, based on what I hear every day, it's well worth it. That system's sound has been transformed for the better, especially in terms of wide-open transparency, without sacrificing the "black" backgrounds provided by the Shunyata cords. Every listening session with familiar recordings is a revelation. What might that be worth to you?

I'm fortunate—I can afford the Dragon Source, and I can pay it off in installments. I'm buying it not only to quiet the cynics, but, I hope, to also encourage those who don't believe that a power cord can make a difference in the sound to take some home—whichever brand, at whatever price—and listen to them. Any smart dealer would make a money-back offer, because the cords probably won't be coming back.


Footnote 3: This original mastering was pulled from retailers' shelves and replaced with one that was dynamically compressed and bass-attenuated. A few thousand got out and are now collectible.

Footnote 4: AudioQuest, 2621 White Road, Irvine, CA 92614. Tel: (949) 585-0111. Web: audioquest.com

Footnote 5: This set won a Grammy for packaging.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
thatguy's picture

"comments about this video ranged wildly."

Only moronic idiots post comments about things.

;)

bhkat's picture

I watched that Living Voice video again. It was a great deal of fun looking at that video. It's great to see someone care about music and audio so much and be able to spend that kind of money on it.

tonykaz's picture

I'm impressed that you are finally admitting being "crazy" to this readership ! Of course, it has always been rather obvious.

Way back in the day, we at Esoteric Audio were demonstrating and Modelling Cable Sound differences. ( the 1980s ) I'm pleased that Analog Planet has finally arrived at a place where Cable Interfaces are components in the system that should be auditioned and even matched to the gear in use . Considering that this reviewer ( until recently ) only had Aluminium power wiring in his house, hmmmmm..

Since the Audioquest Guy helped you rewire and re-engineer your house wiring, it seems appropriate that his Cable devices would get honourable mention, which I would imagine deserve far more praise than you seem to offer, I'd be doing 5,000 words on all their neuanced improvements .

Not that it matters but I also approve the SoundSmith guy getting a few rounds of applause here in this Magazine, he is definitely one of our better talents with a lonnnnnnnngggg list of accomplishments. Bravo

Tony in no lockdown, masks, mandates or illegal immegrants Florida

CG's picture

This column is a reprint from 2018.

As far as I can tell, that was a couple years prior to the generator installation at Chez Fremer and the subsequent reconfiguration of the house electrical wiring.

So, you know what drives me crazy???

tonykaz's picture

I stand corrected !!

Tony in the lowest taxed State : Florida

Anton's picture

"Tony in no lockdown, masks, mandates or illegal immegrants Florida"

Ewww.

Jack L's picture

Hi

God bless. Amen !

Jack

tonykaz's picture

Stereophile is an Institution in pursuit of Quality of Life

I'm letting people know that Florida is the leader in that search ! ( I've traveled the World and seen most of the great places )

This is a big tent with room for all outstanding qualities. Isn't it ???

Tony in Florida

Anton's picture

Doesn't surprise me that you need to track political douchery into a Hi Fi site. It gives you something to talk about other than the same narcissistic self-back-patting blather you typically rehash over and over and over.

Stereophile should have nothing to do with your political bullshit. We are hear/here for Hi Fi, not your utterly idiotic politics masquerading as science idiocy.

I guess you can't keep low lifes out of Hi Fi.

tonykaz's picture

or is it sarcasm. ?

Anton's picture

You don't rise to a level that would generate an emotional response.

I'm just saying any Hi Fi website doesn't need your douchebag attempt to work politics into a Hi Fi discussion. What sort of creepy dumbassery is that?

Makes you a loser and detracts from the site. I don't even care which side of politics you are on, you could have been a liberal dick and it would be the same crap move. I'm just saying it's a low life approach that you feel the need to bring it here.

Why do it, other than to show yourself to be a master debating troll?

tonykaz's picture

You attack with emotional rage !

I wonder if all this is substance induced.

Phew , you seem a little dangerous.

Anton's picture

You should go out record shopping and find some nice vinyl.

tonykaz's picture

You attack with emotional rage !

I wonder if all this is substance induced.

Phew , you seem a little dangerous.

Anton's picture

Dude, just leave your low life need to politicize at the door.

Now you are simply obfuscating and starting to play victim.

Tear yourself away from the mirror and channel your need for constant attention at a more appropriate venue.

Hi Fi is the game here, not your ‘look at me, look at me’ political toilet jamming.

MatthewT's picture

He campaigned for Sanders, so yeah.

deckeda's picture

of:

untimeliness
arrogance of "approval"
embarrassingly moronic and off-topic political "insight"

MatthewT's picture

Accurate, too.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Bingo ! I found noticeable sonic improvement many years back. I simply design/built a power cord for my tube power amps.

As already said in MF's last audio interconnects review, I only use
99.99% pure solid silver conductors for ALL my audio interconnects for sonic reason over non-silver conductors, e..g oxygen-free 'pure' copper.

So the power cord I built is with Teflon + variable air as insulation dielectric for the silver conductors, totally air-tighted. NO overall/individual metallic shielding to ensure FREE flow of the 60Hz AC power current.

So many years now, I can't go without it. Imagine how much I got to pay
for such pure silver power cord assuming such 'gadget' available in the marketplace ?

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

Whoever claims power cords making no sonic difference needs either tune up/train up its ears or to upgrade its audios, IMO.

A solid evidence of power cord sonic difference is provided by a music production company which only produced GOLD-plated music CDs to the higest audiophile quality (up to 24bit). I got a few of them many years as my sound reference. 24-karat golden plated as the golden colour never fade a bit after so many years ?? Not cheap to own, no kidding !

One such gold-plated reference CD got it last track recorded the same short piece of music using 10 differenet brandname power cords in sequence.

So if there were no sonic difference among power cords, why did this music prdouction company did such 'redundant' thing ????

Nayers, wake up & smell the coffee !

Listening is believing

Jack L

rschryer's picture

..making a mistake in English. "Nayers" isn't a word!

Nice try, pal. :-)

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yea, you got me this time. I stand corrected.

It should be "naysayer" instead. Sometimes, my fingers move faster than my brain. Thanks for pointing it out.

Jack

Long-time listener's picture

... of gold-plated CDs? Do you even know why they USED TO BE considered superior sonically?

Anton's picture

The original thought was that gold would not oxidize, I think.

Archimago's picture

What reference CD is this with the power cord recordings?

Jack L's picture

Hi

You can order it online. I don't have the CD label no. with me here.
Will let you know once I return home from work.

Jack L

Long-time listener's picture

How about some transparency here, from you and from Audioquest? How MUCH of a discount did you get? And why should you get one at all?

And Audioquest, why don't you, like other manufacturers, state the degree of purity of your "high purity" copper? And can you explain why "perfect surface" copper would be advantageous for transmission of a 60-cycle current? Isn't that only relevant for higher frequencies?

I absolutely hear distinct differences in any kind of audio cable, including power cables. Not buying Audioquest until I can get past their BS.

Jack L's picture

Hi

My question to Audioquest: how "high" is the purity of the copper wires used in the Dragons power cords ?? Not every Joe Blow around here knows nothing about metals.

FYI, Oxygen-free pure copper get 2 levels :-
C10100 pure copper: 99.99% pure copper + main imperity 0.0005% copper oxide.
C10200 copper: 99.95% pure copper + 0.001% copper oxide.

It is the impurity copper oxide that affect the sound. Less copper oxides means better sound.

Again, even 99.99% pure silver still get impurtiy: mainly silver oxide which gets only 6.9% of oxygen in its mass. But for 'pure' copper, its impurity: copper oxide gets 25% of oxygen in its mass. That might explain why pure siver sounds so much better than pure copper: much more oxygen content in copper oxider than same in silver oxide, IMO.

For powerline frequency: 60Hz which is so low to worry about its skin effect inside the copper conductor. So would a smooth copper conductor surface help to reduce skin effect or for whatever reason? Audioquest should be more transparent in this claim.

I can't agree more to your above statement" "Not buying Audioquest until I can past their BS." Hahaaaaa.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Anton's picture

I have read that it is silver sulfide that forms, predominantly, and not silver oxide. Silver oxide, IIRC, has about the same conductivity as silver, some people think it is even higher. I make no claim to definitive insight.

Conductivity of the metals in question:

Silver: 0.016 ohm mm2/m
Copper: 0.017 ohm mm2/m

It would seem cable length would make a bigger difference than copper vs. silver, per se.

Of interest:

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1143/JJAP.46.4179

"...reduced silver and the remaining Ag2O enhance the connectivity and packing density of the silver flakes, and thus increase the electric conductivity of the films."

We have a complex hobby, but are those conductivity differences useful?

Is 0.016 ohms per meter usefully (audibly) different that 0.017 ohms per meter?

Short and thick copper might be vastly better than longer and thinner silver!

Jack L's picture

Hi

Why pure silver sounds better than pure copper is NOT due to their resistivity. The electroncs inside the silver molecules move FASTER than those in copper.

Also, as I already said earlier, the main impurity: silver oxides does less 'harm' to the music signals than copper oxide.

Of course, pure silver power cords to power mega-watt solidstate power amps will surely costly enough to wreck the wallets.

My silver power cord is for my 35+35W tube power amp. So I don't need pure silver conductors of too large gauge size. Plus I was smart enough to obtain my 99.99% pure solid silver wires from a surplus store, saving
big money.

Play smart when dealing with audio cords, my friend

Jack L

Anton's picture

This may be my error, but I (maybe wrongly) thought the speed at which energy or signals travel down a cable is actually the speed of the electromagnetic wave, not the movement of electrons.

Then, does not electromagnetic wave propagation depend more on the dielectric constant of the material rather than speed of any electron moving?

I am happy to learn more!

MatthewT's picture

https://www.wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/mobile/2014/02/19/what-is-the-speed-of-electricity/

Jack L's picture

Hi

We are talking about different things here:-

(1) Every metal conductor is made up of many many metal crystal 'grains' in ramdom lineup, even for oxygen-free 'pure' copper or silver. So the music singal waves got to go through the enclosure wall of each such metal grains, causing harmonic & phase distortion (slowing down the signal transit time).

So the best way is to cast the metal rods in the smelting mill so that only one long crystal grain forming the whole length of the metal rod rather than numberless grains in conventional casting way. This was special one-grain casting method was first achieved in 1982 in Japan. We call this long-grain casting. Could be the same long-grain copper metal used in some expensive cables.

All metal grains are made up of numberless molecules with electroncs circulating around. I read a paper before that electrons spinng speed diference was mentioned for silver vs copper.

Finally you mentioned the dielectric used for insulating a copper/silver conductor. Ideally, when a frequency wave passes through a BARE metal conductor placed in a vacuum, there is no slow down in its speed.

Since vacuum does not exist in the real world, we take free admospheric air to substitute vacuum. Air dieletric = 1 like vacuum for a bare metal conductor.

However, for real world electral/electronic insulation, when multi conductors run across each other, INSULATION on each metal conductor is therefore needed to prevent shorting.

It is the insulation material dielectric affecting the flowing of wave.
The very best is foamed polyethylene (dielectric constant= 2.25) usesd extensively as insulation material for cables in very high frequency application, up to beyond 1,000MHz.

Teflon is even better = 2.1. But it is so much much stiffer physically & way way toooo costly for miles-long run very high freqeuncy application. That's why foamed polyethylene is commonly used though its dielectric not is low is Teflon.

Jack L

Briandrumzilla's picture

My guess is that price is dealer cost. The difference between dealer cost and retail price could be considered compensation for the reviewer and that opens up additional questions.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant"

Glotz's picture

You guys are the greatest.. bro hug.

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