Gramophone Dreams #23: AudioQuest, Triode Wire Labs

Before I spin this 23rd edition of "Gramophone Dreams," I must ask: How many of you are using zip-cord as your speaker cables? RadioShack interconnects? Those black universal 18/3 power cords that come standard with virtually every audio amplifier?

AudioQuest Storm Tornado/High-Current power cord
A few months after I wrote about AudioQuest's Niagara 1000 power-line conditioner ($1000), my friend Sphere asked if I'd ever then removed the Niagara from my system, listened, and still thought it improved the sound.

I had not. So next morning I removed the Niagara and plugged everything into two plastic power strips from Home Depot. Instantly, the sound became darker, thicker, fuzzier. Also warmer, more relaxed, and—maybe—more enjoyable. Low-level hash returned, but so did a greater ease of musical flow. The tones of voices and instruments affected my feelings more. I liked this naturalness enough that I didn't reinstate the Niagara.

One day, John Atkinson came by, noticed that I wasn't using the Niagara, and asked why.

"Right now, I like my music better without it." When he left, he took the Niagara with him.

A month later, I acquired a single Triode Wire Labs Digital–American Series power cord ($499/up to 5'), which I installed between my DAC and one of the plastic power strips. The difference seemed subtle but positive, so I left it in. After a while, I wondered: If the Triode cord helped the sound of my DAC even when plugged into a $7.99 plastic power strip, what might it do when plugged into AudioQuest's $1000 Niagara?

I wrote to AudioQuest's CEO, Bill Low, and told him that JA had stolen my Niagara. A few weeks later, a new one arrived, along with a second box containing two extremely stiff, three-conductor (braided), Storm Tornado/High-Current power cords. They cost $949.95 for a 1m cord. Groan. But the Storm Tornados came packed in a hard, pro-audio–style carrying case the perfect size for carrying a dozen or so LPs. Repurposing is even better than recycling.

With power cords and conditioners, it's reasonable to expect clearer, less fuzzy, less noisy sound. Likewise, it's reasonable to expect "blacker" backgrounds. But when I plugged AQ's new, nearly $1000 power cord into the back of a Pass Laboratories XA25 stereo power amp and that plastic Home Depot strip, what I heard was far more than less fuzz and "blacker" backgrounds.

I immediately noticed a change in the fundamental shape and tone character of the music coming out of my speakers. Instruments and voices seemed bigger, stronger, more three-dimensional. A sleeping dog would have been startled by these differences.

Curious, I streamed from Tidal a series of tracks of various genres, and the next day replaced the $950 AQ cord with a generic cord. Again the change was obvious. The generic cord reduced the essence (or presence) of performers' images. Drumbeats and bass lines were less distinct, harder to follow. Dynamics seemed truncated. All precisely the opposite of what the AudioQuest Tornado did.

Next, I wrestled the Pass Labs XA25 and the heinously stiff AQ cord into an awkward-looking relationship with my stock wall socket. The character of the sound again changed, even more than the first time I'd used the Tornado.

The most exciting change caused by plugging the XA25 directly into the wall with the fat AQ cord was that music now sounded more direct, solid, and three-dimensional—more physical, more there. This increase in body was not subtle, and it was really impressive.

Conclusion #1
AudioQuest's Storm Tornado/High-Current power cord could do much of whatever it does even when connected to a cheap power strip. Plugged directly into the wall, this $950 cord did all of what it does. And what it did was anything but subtle.

I woke up early. The May sun was bright. But when I replaced the Tornado with a $1 black generic cord, it was like putting on scratched sunglasses and a wool coat on a hot day. I didn't care. Mississippi Fred McDowell singing "Wished I Was in Heaven Sitting Down," from The Alan Lomax Collection's Southern Journey, Volume 1: Voices from the American South—Blues, Ballads, Hymns, Reels, Shouts, Chanteys and Work Songs (CD, Rounder 1701), still sounded satisfying. The music was now slightly muffled, but it had a naturalness of tone and temper that seemed true to McDowell's spirit, voice, and guitar skills. I didn't need a Tornado to enjoy his music.

Conclusion #2
If you want to get closer to the sound stored on your discs and files, its force and body—if you want to "see" farther into those recordings—then you'll need the AudioQuest Tornado or its equivalent. But if all you want is to connect with and enjoy those ballads, hymns, and work songs, you're probably okay without a length of fancy wire.

At this point in my experiments, I remembered that music is beholden to pace and rhythm for its powers of seduction. I listened for extended periods with the Tornado cord connecting my amp directly to the wall, hearing no such negatives as loss of rhythmic mojo or fractures in the music's internal coherence. Actually, all of music's core strengths—rhythm, melody, tone—were enhanced.

Greedy for more insight—and more of what I was beginning to perceive as A Good Thing—I connected the Pass Labs XA25 to the AudioQuest Niagara 1000 with one Tornado, and the Niagara to the wall outlet with the other. That's $2900 worth of wire and power conditioning between a $4000 solid-state amp and a Lutron duplex outlet with verified ground and polarity.

"Sweet Roseanne," sung and played by the Bright Light Quartet on Southern Journey, Volume 1, was perfect for this comparison between the $7.99 and $2900 connections. But before I explain why, I must demand that if you are one o' them ABX/double-blind-can't-measure-it-can't-hear-it cable deniers, please don't waste your time demanding "proof" of what I'm about to say. Just repeat my own simple experiments.

I ask you to do this because I believe that anyone would hear—and probably appreciate—the dramatic increase in presence, density, and musical textures I heard when I replaced the generic cord with the Tornado-Niagara-Tornado combination. The full-tilt AQ combo clarified and strengthened the music in ways I have never before experienced with a change in components. For example, changing from a $3000 DAC to a $10,000 DAC would likely not effect as radical a change in the sound as I heard with the Tornado-Niagara-Tornado.

I like to hear microphones, and clean vibrating air between the mikes and the musicians. Well, that's exactly what I heard through all of Southern Journey, Volume 1. Vocal and instrumental textures were more vibrant and corporeal. I could count the voices in each choir. But there was something strange, something difficult to discern, that made me uncomfortable with what I was experiencing. I loved all those individual voices a lot—they hypnotized me. But now something was missing from these intimate, simply miked recordings made by Alan Lomax in the late 1950s and early '60s. Beat and boogie were full and present, but, after wrestling with my feelings and watching my mind as I listened to song after song, it hit me: The Tornado-Niagara-Tornado combo sounded too mechanical for my taste. It lacked blood and soul.

I unhooked the Pass Labs XA25 from the Niagara 1000 conditioner and returned to what I'd liked better: the Storm Tornado plugged into the amp and directly into the wall. It was a Goldilocks moment. Well, actually, it was a "Sweet Roseanne" and "Po' Lazarus" moment. The Bright Light Quartet once again appeared solid as life in front of me. The Pass XA25, always forceful and transparent, sounded even more so.

In audio playback, presence = essence, and essence = music + truth. But you tell me: How could a few short lengths of wire twisted together so dramatically increase corporeality?

Conclusion #3
AudioQuest's Storm Tornado/High-Current power cord revealed so much force and dense three-dimensional life in the sound of the Pass Labs XA25 that it would be sad to live without it.

A little foreplay
Sometime in the late 1970s, an engineer named Richard Marsh was bench-testing audio capacitors. He discovered that capacitors of equal value and voltage rating, but made of different materials, could sound different when inserted in the same audio circuit. I remember how outraged American audiophiles were. That some were willing to pay more for boutique capacitors claimed to sound better was proof to others that perfectionist hi-fi was nothing but snake oil designed to liberate fools from their money.


Anton's picture

That's some dog you got!

I've had a few dogs that were startled by an unexpected sound here and there emanating from the Hi Fi, but none to a degree that an AC power cord ever produced such audible improvement that the change would startle them. I keep déclassé dogs, I guess.

Kudos to your uncannily clever and critical canine compatriot! That is one perceptive perspicacious percipient pooch who can perceive the pulchritude of a properly prepared power cord!


I heard that Herb's dog is so perceptive that it stands and barks at the space between the speakers when listening to The Beatles' "All My Loving" in mono, and then barks at only the right speaker when listening to the stereo version.


Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Now think about this. Herb's comment is an exercise in gestalt therapy. You are his dog, and you are barking.

latinaudio's picture

Jajajajaja! well said, Jason!
straight to the point to one of the usual commenters who never think that there could be differences that they are totally incapable of perceiving... only his "truth".

Anton's picture

It was a sleeping dog joke.

If Jason could discern 'gestalt' from 'John Galt,' he'd have been able to overcome his unblinking reflexive affirmative head nodding exhortations and chest beating over the subject and and let the hyperbole be discussed as hyperbole.

"Even my blind mother in law could have seen that," to put it in gestalt terms that Jason might pick up on. ;-P

I do say, though, that the sleeping dog thing is a new step upward from, "Even my non-audiophile spouse commented on the improved sound from two rooms away" routine we've become accustomed to.

Heck, I didn't even go there regarding the "one o' them ABX/double-blind-can't-measure-it-can't-hear-it cable deniers" stuff. It smacks of defensiveness and an an agenda that is not even part of the review. Same with a header titled "The Outrage Began." Those are geslaty sounding to you? How?

I say all this as an avid Audioquest "loom" owner, by the way.

Latinaudio: There is no "truth" involved with either the article or my post, by the way.

Your ululating aside.

Side note: Jason, why aren't you berating Herb for this: "For the record, I have yet to hear musically satisfying sound from any power amplifier connected to any power conditioner or isolation transformer—I always sense some amount of dynamic repression or current strangulation."

Does his gestalt match yours?

It matches mine quite well.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

AARRRFFF AAAAAARRRRRRRRFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!! at 120 dB, and unsquashable by any power conditioner.

Anton's picture

It's OK, work out the grudge.

I agree with Herb, especially at 120 dB...your power conditioner will limit the dynamics and musicality of your ferocious bark!

120 dB, eh? Even us old guys can likely hear that. ;-D

"AARRRFFF AAAAAARRRRRRRRFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!!" Sounds like someone had too much scotch!

Lee Clayton's picture

Are you implying that Jason is an alcoholic? That is libel

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

He's referring to my pedigree as a Scottish Terrier mix. I've got some Irish Setter as well, and probably a dollop of varnish remover.

Anton's picture

Second, just the opposite! Jason took umbrage at a review and a reply that implied alcohol could be a pleasurable thing, even when listening to Hi Fi.

So, the "implication" and libel you so trenchantly mention are just the opposite of your assumption.

I admire your legal skills, though!

I make no presumption about Jason and his personal relationship to alcohol.

bglenn's picture

That's because you have never herd a Spiritual Audio power conditioner. No power limiting plus awesome sounding!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be there is a "Poltergeist" there :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"The Connection" ............ Emmylou Harris :-) ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Dogs can hear up to 45-60 KHz :-) ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Cats can hear up to 85 KHz :-) ............

Anton's picture

It's downright extra-sensory!

RH's picture

"Before I spin this 23rd edition of "Gramophone Dreams," I must ask: How many of you are using zip-cord as your speaker cables? RadioShack interconnects? Those black universal 18/3 power cords that come standard with virtually every audio amplifier?"

I'm using Belden speaker cable, a selection of modestly-priced interconnects, and every power cord that came with any piece of gear.

It's ok, I'll hand in my audiophile club membership card as I'm shown out the door ;-)

(I've tried expensive, well known power cables, and could explain why they left and the cheap ones stayed...but that's another can of worms....)

Anton's picture

I know an interconnect maker who sells 5K range interconnects. he uses Radio Shack "magnet wire" as his speaker cable and swears by it. He's obviously a great and discerning listener, but I haven't been able to bring myself to do it.

I was a bad audiophile. I went to get some, saw it, and couldn't get myself to go for it.

Herb Reichert's picture

decades ago, I hard-soldered Radio Shack magnet wire to the tube amp''s output transformer and to the loudspeaker binding posts. A few days later I took it out.

During the late 1960s, the big debate in audio magizines was wheather to use solid core or stranded wire for speaker cable. Up until I met Kondo of Audio Note Japan I always preferred thin solid core wire (ideally, with an air dialectric) for both loudpeakers and interconnect. Now, I am less set in my preferences. I reported on these massive accessery power cords because the effect of their insertion was not subtle and I felt readers needed to be alerted to these radical new inventions. More will be revealed....after I figure out how to stop the birds from eating my tomatos. hr

Allen Fant's picture

Nice 23rd edition- HR.
Cabling is my fave aspect of our hobby. It is the forgotten or forsaken component. Good to read that you were able to mix-and-match between AQ and TWL power cords(PC). Sometimes, if we are lucky, mixing/matching different brands works.

Nanook's picture

Near the beginning of my audio adventures (about 30 years ago), a friend suggested that using the best AC power cord in a good power strip or power distribution block (or whatever this was called then) to go from the power strip/distribution block to the wall outlet was a way to bring a very significant upgrade to all connected equipment if you couldn't afford a power conditioner or good dedicated AC cables for each component. 30 years later, what is the cash strapped folks supposed to do now?

Naim purists have long sang the praises of the Wiremold Industrial power strips (6' 12 AC outlets, CAD $113 or USD$85.55). Buy one and a good IEC power inlet. Take the strip apart and install the IEC power inlet and then get whatever (best) quality AC cable you can afford (even if just a lowly Hubbel hospital grade one). As you can afford more good AC cables, the basic Wiremold/AC Hubbel (or whatever) cable will serve you well.

These power strips have gas tight receptacles, and the Hubbel hospital grade AC cables have a gas tight plug. I've bought these AC cables for under CDN $5 each. YMMV.

I do use a Monster HDP1800 AC distribution conditioner, but mainly as protection for my equipment from lightening strikes. I'd prefer not to use it, but do need some surge protection. If none is needed, the Wiremold/Hubbel set up will give you good quality, basic AC distribution that most will find a use for even if they end up with a good conditioner.

Ortofan's picture

... then he should apply Stabilant 22 (aka Sumiko Tweek) to the contacts of the line cords and sockets.

Herb Reichert's picture

now I use DeoxIT

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This explains everything...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Detox? :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Clean Up" ........... The Canton Spirituals :-) ..........

ok's picture

would have been startled by way much less a difference than by those derived from some gross audio power cable swap.

audiodoctornj's picture

Herb I have known you for a very long time, I have to completely disagree with the line that you and many audiophiles talk about current limiting in power conditioners vs going directly into the wall.

In our shop we have tested most of the major brands of power conditioners: Synergistic, Shunyata, Audience, Audioquest, Isotek, Running Springs, Audio Magic, Silver Circle, Exact Power, to name a few.

In our reference rig the difference in running the power amplifiers into the wall directly vs a power conditioner are very audible.

Now we are running a dedicated 20 amp circuit directly to the breakbox with a Furutech outlet so you could claim that the amps directly into the wall should sound better they don't.

Our test amplifiers were all big powerful 300 watt tube monoblocks and big solid state.

The better power conditioners gave you much greater soundstage depth, a more 3d image, tighter bass, and greater macro dynamics.

If you would like to come for a visit we can demonstrate to you catagorically that a good power conditioner will dramatically improve a big power amplifier, only the wrong power conditioner will limit current and restrict the power amplifier.


Dave Lalin, Audio Doctor

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Google has several articles and videos about "dirty electricity" and "Stetzer Units" and "GS units" ..........

nick n's picture

Herb another great entry here. Really enjoyed this one.
Interesting results seems a bit of "more ideal" synergy between setups there.

Have a friend overseas who is hassling me here and there to also try out things of this nature.
He's gotten into fuses as well.
I've gone beefier gauge power cables, made sure to get shielded, and was looking at the SurgeX SA-1810 units again tonight.

Thanks for the timely reminder, and as usual I'm never going to know unless I try it out firsthand, with my setup, with my ears. I'm on the fence still, but like with a few other audio related things had I not actually tried them ...

Speaking of setups and power conditioning /treatment, within your realm of affordability of excellent sonics, I really feel that the Teddy Pardo stuff would fit your modus operandi quite well.
Sound to me seems to be smack dab in the sweetspot between the ( sterotypical = no pun intended ) solid state and tubed area.
Why I specifically bring this up is that he uses multiple SuperTeddyRegs power treatment in each unit, which he has released to the DIY community assuming they do not use it for profit.
So power treatment is integral to his units therefore no real need to go extra unless one wants to.
SuperTeddyReg is a power regulator as he states : "It is not a linear regulator, it is not based on feedback, and IMHO is superior to linear regulators, even discrete..."

All I know is they look classy ( have the MB100 Monoblocks and large PRE, DAC and HP Amp ), different levels of affordability, he said power rating is nearly double the specs=something to that effect = , this sounds top notch with a nice black background, and have so far cured upgradeitis on this end. At least for ampage. Which is a VERY welcome sign.

Now you've got me looking into this other stuff. I had best send an email to that pal overseas...

Jason I do really appreciate the excellent music posts as well.

bglenn's picture

Hey Herb you need to try out one of the non limiting Spiritual Audio VX-12 power conditioners. Plug any high-power amps right into them with no power loss, plus good sounding to boot. Nice job and Thanks


invaderzim's picture

"Immediately, I felt uncomfortable. After only two CDs, I became impatient. "That's enough of that!""

I once saw a metal worker bending iron rod into a pattern. They said they keep bending it until it doesn't make them anxious when they look at it.
There are things our brains like and don't like. We can't always say why they do or don't like something but it is there.
I believe this applies to sound too. Just like the metal working artist where nobody could say 'oh, you bent that leg a little to the left so it made it pleasing to my brain because the angle is...' one can't always say 'oh you changed the way this frequency sounds when played right after this other frequency so it is so much better now.
Some changes can be so small that you don't really notice the change but it is there and with more changes they will add to each other.
As I changed and tweaked my system there were times I'd listen to music for 10-15 minutes and feel on edge so I'd turn it off and go do something else. As I settled on the right tubes, right DAC and right speaker height and angles, etc. I found myself relaxing when the music was playing. I knew I had it right when I drifted off while listening to it fairly loudly and also found myself going 'just one more song and then I'll go do such and such' whenever listening to music.