Herb's Day One in Chicago

Most readers don't know this, but I am measurer. I own oscilloscopes and distortion analyzers and have been measuring amps and speakers for nigh on 30 years. But when I hear some audiophiles say that all cables—and especially AC power cords—sound the same, it makes me reach for the Tequila and pistols. Folks, ya gotta relax, breath air, and listen—the effects are not subtle. And that's what I did in the MoFi Distribution room, where Jonathan Derda (the nicest guy in audio) was demonstrating two power conditioners from IsoTek, the $995 Corvus and the $4995 Titan, and one IsoTek AC cord, the $995 Sequel C15 Link.

Notice in the picture how soft, thin, and coiled-up those Sequel power cables appear to be. Most manufacturers' power cables are thick and stiff—and I hate thick and stiff audio cables. IsoTek's are soft and pliant.

We listened first to Chris Jones, using the Primare Digital transport ($1495) driving the Primare Integrated amplifier ($1995), connected to the Home Depot plastic plug strip and the $1 power cords—and Chris Jones sounded richly toned, fresh, and enjoyably alive. Then we switched to the Sequel power cords, then the Corvus conditioner, and then the Corvus conditioner plus Sequel cords. Then, Jonathan went all out and inserted the $4495 Titan power conditioner. Finally, he reversed the process. Each step of the way up, the sound got clearer, more distinct, more lens-focused, and less fuzzy-noisy. Never harder. And most important of all, with the IsoTek products, the music was never staid, sterile, or mechanical. Quite the opposite: Music become more intimate and free-flowing.

At every show where he's exhibiting, I stop in and visit Scot Markwell of Elite Audio/Visual Distribution, just because I want to listen to some fine vinyl—this year on the Kuzma Stabi M turntable ($19,225) and 4Point 9 tonearm ($3995). At AXPONA 2018, Scot was also using the $5895 Kuzma CAR-50 moving-coil cartridge (reviewed by Michael Fremer in the March 2018 Stereophile) driving a Plinius Koru SS phono stage ($3450), feeding a Manley Labs Jumbo Shrimp tube line preamplifier. The power amplifier was the Plinius Audio SA-201 200Wpc stereo ($6545.) This year, Elite AV had eight stacked pairs ($650/pair) of the HRT Stage speakers, with two REL S/3 powered subwoofers ($1999/each). Cables were by Furutech. Scot asked me, "So Herb, what do you think?" I told him it sounded big, but didn't overload the room (Scot is an expert at setup), and I loved the Jumbo Shrimp! (I also loved the Analogue Productions LP reissue of Masterpieces by Ellington!)

Mark Audio-SOTA's flagship two-way, stand-mount Viotti One loudspeakers ($2495 with stands) are described as combining "Italian style with British engineering." Their company's slogan/philosophy is Hear Our Difference—and when the elegant MarkAudio Viotti Ones are playing, I always listen closely and I do hear the wholeness and continuity created by the combined small and large full-range drivers (one acts as a tweeter, the other as a mid-bass driver, with a simple crossover between them). No glare, blare, no edginess—just full, open, and relaxing sound.

The Vioti Ones—the speakers with the black baffles in the photo above—were powered by a PS Audio S300 power amp ($1499) and an AR music player, with cables by Zantara.

D Digital describe themselves as "Chicagoland's Sound & Vision Experts," and they had a hero of mine, Kevin Voecks (who once worked for Snell, a company I have venerated forever), playing Anne Bisson and Yello via the Voecks-designed Revel PerformaBE F2288BE floorstanding speakers ($10,000/pair). Bass scale and quality were off the charts. Punch and purity were provided by a Mark Levinson No.585 integrated amplifier ($12,000) sourced by an Auralic Aries G2 wireless streamer ($3900) and WireWorld cables. If I were a different reporter, I might say the midrange was hard and somewhat colorless. But I am a fanboy and I doubt the legendary Voecks would allow that to happen.

According to Bricasti Design's Brian Zolner, the new polished nickel and brass Bricasti Platinum Series M21 digital to analog converter "represents a new level of polish both inside and out." The feature-rich Platinum M21 can switch between three independent and user-selectable D-to-A signal paths: either delta sigma or a ladder DAC for PCM conversion, and, for DSD playback, true direct DSD.

While I listened, Brian switched back and forth from ladder DAC to delta sigma DAC—and that felt a little like switching from analog to digital versions of the same recordings. Very interesting.

COMMENTS
mrkaic's picture

It is jolly good, that you measure. That suggests that it will be very easy for you to explain the following issue to me.

How do these, apparently not so subtle, effects of power cables reach our ears? For example -- you change the power cord in a system and keep everything else the same. Will the new power cord change the sound waves (air pressure variation over time) that leave the speakers and reach our ears?

Thanks in advance for your answer.

Numbers_Wonk's picture

Well, how does tuning your radio to the exact station frequency differ from having it a few hertz off?

Cables better at filtering out hash/grunge/electrical noise allow you to hear more low level detail and ambient cues. Or in the case of ICs, those that present a better impedance match with the electronics.

Joe8423's picture

Battery powered sources and preamps would be the norm past a pretty moderate price point. It would mean 100% isolation from the power grid during playback.

I have a 7 or 8 year old cell phone that still has the original battery and it still charges fine. It gets worked 100 times harder than any stereo component would be. Clearly, reliable, durable rechargeable batteries are available for a modest price.

"High-end" power cords are clearly not performance oriented products. They're a luxury product, like a luxury watch, that has a lot of talking points and tells time no better than a $10 one.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Cables better at filtering out hash/grunge/electrical noise allow you to hear more low level detail and ambient cues. Or in the case of ICs, those that present a better impedance match with the electronics.

If that is so, there should be measurements of the filter and impedance characteristics to support it.

Anton's picture

You know, what this topic needs is a measurer. Perhaps one who owns oscilloscopes and distortion analyzers and has been measuring amps and speakers for nigh on 30 years.

That would be of great interest!

ok's picture

..is another man's pleasure?

Numbers_Wonk's picture

Maybe. I'm no EE,so I'm just spitballing.

But from the cable's perspective, it's simply passing a signal. If that signal has parasitic electrical noise riding along with the music, would it be measurable?

How would the measuring instrument parse the "unwanted" content from the "wanted?" Or identify the presence or absence of spurious noise in the same frequency range as the music?

The best instrument to use on this question would be one's ears, IMO.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I am no EE either and this may not be the place to debate this but, basically, the first question is whether there is any difference between what goes in and what goes out.

mrkaic's picture

I agree with you.

The reply is really to the colleague who posted second. I think this is not really about cables. Just think about the sound that cones out of the speakers. It is variations in air pressure. How does that variation change, when you change the power cord?

ok's picture

..someone dies for no apparent reason; is this man dead or what?

mrkaic's picture

The propagation of signals through cables has been studied for some, say 100, years. I can recommend some good books, if you’re interested.

Allen Fant's picture

Excellent! HR
good to see the ML No. 585 integrated amp.

RH's picture

Herb wrote:

"But when I hear some audiophiles say that all cables—and especially AC power cords—sound the same, it makes me reach for the Tequila and pistols. Folks, ya gotta relax, breath air, and listen—the effects are not subtle."

Herb, I have indeed listened to different cables. I've listened to speakers I own cabled with the highest end Nordost, and with simple Belden cable. No, I don't hear obvious differences. (And I care about sonic differences...been in this hobby for much of my life).

And when I *really* only listened, instead of used my eyes, the differences were even less obvious. In blind tests I could not reliably detect ANY sonic difference between a very expensive Shunyata power Cord and a $15 AC cable.

So, some of us are bringing our own experiences to the table, sincere and just as interested as you are, from which we've arrived at our skepticism.

Further, you said that you love measuring things.

Have you measured the output of an audio system, or of, say, a CD player, with a high end AC cord vs a competently designed cheap AC cable?

I ask because the claim isn't simply that an AC cable alters the electricity the source equipment receives, but that this results through the chain in objective changes in the signal that are audible. Therefore, if you love measuring...this should be measurable, is that not right?

If you have measurements showing the change in a source component, or pre-amps, or amplifier's output using a high end AC cable vs an appropriately rated/constructed cheaper cable, I think many of us would be very interested in seeing this.

Thanks.

sideshow bob's picture

which i dont buy into, why should it sound better? ive taken apart and examined 100's of gear, mega dollar gear, and most use nothing special hook-up type wire from the power cord socket to the power switch or transformer or whatever. then most transformers, power cord sockets, power switches, fuse holders and such use plain nothing fancy wires or material. now consider that the wiring in your home uses the cheapest nastiest copper wire available, usually solid core and sometimes its even aluminum wire. and you probably have 50-100 feet of it running back to your homes service panel, which may have aluminum buss bars or plated copper. now consider the 1000's of feet or miles of again the cheapest most unpure copper wire running from your home to the service transfomer. how does interrupting those dirty 1000's of feet of garbage conductors and inserting 6 feet of high quality conductors make a difference? i cant sleep until i know. thanks bob

billmilosz's picture

To my knowledge, no properly designed double-blind test of interconnects, speaker cables, or power cords has **EVER** shown that **ANY** listeners can actually hear a difference. (Except of course where the cables contain intentional capacitance and / or inductance in order to form filter networks)

BELIEVING you hear a difference- no matter how fervent the belief -is not the same as ACTUALLY hearing a difference.

Now, there ARE power cords, interconnects and especially speaker cables that are actually designed as frequency-dependent devices - i.e., filters. Look for the telltale bulge or pod in a speaker cable - dissect that and you'll find among the epoxy potting compound some inductor capacitor or both. And, YES, when you insert an L-C element into the circuit it WILL sound different. In the old days they used to call this a TONE CONTROL, and instead of costing $1,000 per meter, they were put into preamps where they cost less than a dollar.

Tell you what, though - if I spent $4,000 on WIRE for SURE I would be telling my wife that it makes everything sound SOOOO MUCH BETTER and that if only she learned how to listen.... etc and so forth.

Objectivists trust reality and are skeptical of opinions

Subjectivists think their opinions are above reality

It's interesting that the magazines where these high-margin cabling products are advertised never conduct any actual science regarding objective audibility of these tweaks. I don't think that's a coincidence.

johnnythunder's picture

say that different power cables have no effect on sound quality are usually the same type of people who insist there's no difference in the performance of a car using 87 octane gasoline vs, using 92/3 octane gasoline. Or a $50 dollar bottle of red wine vs. a $10 dollar bottle. Or $50 denim from The Gap vs. $500 Japanese denim from Dior. It's the same argument over and over again and it's 99% not just the objectivist/subjectivist argument but an economic one.

mrkaic's picture

...you should prove the claim you make. How will you do that?

Wimbo's picture

Because you say so? Get real and go back to the sand.

Wimbo's picture

Because you say so? Get real and go back to the sand.

BeefSocket's picture

Except the only one of things that has been proven with science is octane-based performance. Higher octane fuel in your 1998 Corolla will net NO performance gains on a dynomometer. Now if you have a high compression engine, you need higher octane fuel. Run a performance car with a big turbo and high compression ratio on 85 octane and you're likely to have detonation/knock and destroy the engine.

Wine, denim, and power cables fall into 'personal taste' items. If someone presents evidence that expensive cables make a measurable aural difference, I'd be happy to have my mind changed.

Anton's picture

Mic drop.

Wimbo's picture

with that.

mrkaic's picture

Sir, very nicely put, especially the part about tone controls.

FredisDead's picture

And I say that as the happy new owner of an Isotek Synchro and Aquarius. They make my ARC Ref gear and DeVore 0/93's sound killer. More killer than before. I think it all comes down to this-the more dialed in a system is to begin with, the more cabling of all sorts matter. In the latest edition of your fine magazine, some jaded but obviously tongue in cheek (I think) reader suggested that the majority of our expenditures for non-essential auxiliary gear create lateral changes only. He's partly right. The better things get, we still get acclimated and take the [improved] sound for granted. I can live with that.

ChrisS's picture

Yet more clamoring for measurements...

RH's picture

Yes, how odd people would discuss the issue of measurements when Herb starts off his post telling us he is a measurer combined with the claim that AC cables make audible differences to a system.

How weird is that? ;-)

vclements's picture

As soon as cables are mentioned, the hair stands up on the backs of the necks of the cable naysayers.
It was a known FACT that the world was flat...hmmm...turns out after a while us dumb humans found that FACT to be false.
So...do we as humans now know everything and every possible way to measure everything? No..of course we don't.
So, just because we can't measure a phenomenon doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Different systems and different environments will produce different results with cable swapping. If you can't hear a difference with your system in your environment, does that mean no-one can hear a difference with different equipment and environments?
So naysaying flatlanders...just have fun with audio and music and stop obsessing with trying to debunk every little tweak that comes along.

Anton's picture

I didn't see a 'naysayer' start anything. I think it was the 'daily affirmation of cable differences' prayer and genuflection that caught the attention of some agnostics that started the day.

;-D

That, and the perhaps unperceived irony in the "I'm a measurer. I've been measuring stuff with my measuring gear for 30 years, but never a cable" thing.

You gotta admit that's a little bit funny.

On the subject, I am pragmatic. People are gonna hear what they are gonna hear. Hearers are gonna hear, non-hearers ain't. Both sides will fight.

RH's picture

The sentiment expressed by vclements that those of us asking about measured confirmation for the effects of AC cables etc, are akin to "flatlanders" is ironic.

The flat earth movement is predicated upon a rejection of the objective methods of science, going to a pre-scientific approach of emphasizing subjective impressions as being the supreme form of veracity. This has been made explicit by flat earthers: I don't care about what science says...I trust my senses and it's obvious to my eyes and anyone else the earth is flat!"

This is exactly what happens when one abandons the hard won lessons of science, and how it councils skepticism about our own perceptions and tendency toward bias and dubious inferences. As Feynman said of science: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.

When this is not taken seriously, when the guard is let down...monsters flourish. The earth is flat because that's what we perceive. Anything and everything you add or change in a high end audio system changes the sound...because that's what we perceive and...our sense can't be WRONG can they? We aren't fallible, are we???!!

It's those who are trying to maintain a healthy empirical skepticism, who say "I could be wrong in what I perceive, you could be wrong in what you perceive, that's just being human, and let's introduce some methods to get around possible errors" who are actually being rebuffed by the flat-earthers/subjectivist audiophiles, who refuse to doubt "the evidence of their senses."

ChrisS's picture

Did you smell that?

RH's picture

No, but I certainly hear the familiar buzzing of a flea ;-)

ChrisS's picture

But not a Shunyata cable...

Kal Rubinson's picture

As soon as cables are mentioned, the hair stands up on the backs of the necks of the cable naysayers.

My response was not to a statement that cables sound different but to the assertion of physical mechanisms for the differences. Those physical mechanisms can be measured to determine if they are correlated with the perceived audible differences.

John Atkinson's picture
Scroll down the page at www.stereophile.com/content/2011-richard-c-heyser-memorial-lecture-where-did-negative-frequencies-go-case-study-4-amplif to find some of this measurer's thoughts on cables.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

"I will pass over the thorny topic of signal cables having an effect on sound quality that is due to anything other than the usual electrical parameters of resistance, inductance, and capacitance."

I think that's likely a correct statement!

avanti1960's picture

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bymLrAXm5Qk

But seriously- I believe the industry should work to rate / quantify / measure/ report the sonic benefits (not electrical benefits) of power devices and interconnect cables- and to standardize the metrics.
If the effects are not subtle, this idea should be achievable.
Unfortunately this will likely never happen because there are too many variables and ambiguities in the application including-

*Device being connected. Many audio devices are already relatively immune to electrical borne noises by virtue of their design, e.g. circuit design, power delivery and isolation as well as integrated power filtering. As such blanket statements of sonic benefits in across the board application will not be possible.

*Environment. Many modern homes have clean, stable power delivery and are not subjected to significant RFI as well as circuit overload, noise generating devices, etc. You cannot quantify the benefits without considering the environment.

*Sonic benefit quantification. The industry currently does not specify standard metrics for the subtle sonic attributes that an interconnect cable (for example) may influence- beyond the typical frequency response, signal to noise, etc. Standardizing and rating subtle sonic attributes (e.g. transparency, clarity, warmth, extension, typical reviewer's terminology) will be nearly impossible.

So basically we as audio consumers are left with "It sounds better- buy it" mind set. I would be happy to "buy it" if there were some way to anticipate the sonic benefits in advance of the purchase, as it applies to my system and environment- as well as to be able to compare quantified metrics among the power delivery and interconnect devices on the market.
What exactly am I paying for in terms of sonic benefits?
Until then my system sounds pefectly fine with good quality interconnects and standard power cables plugged into a good quality power strip on a dedicated circuit- and some smoke and mirrors demo is not going to convince me otherwise.

ChrisS's picture

Why would anyone feel compelled to do anything (ie. measuring, etc.) that is being asked here?

Because you've been asking?

Politely?

retro's picture

Herb,
great show report!
I'm really interested in your extended opinion of the stacked HRT Stage system that Scot Markwell has demoed on many shows now. Reason for interest is that I'm planning to do a 4- or 8-stack myself..:)
I know how a single Stage setup sounds, have one myself. As for output, I'm sure the stack excells, but how about other virtues..imaging, depth, 3-d etc..?

Would be happy to hear your input..:)

Thanks,
Retro

tonykaz's picture

Hmm, where is old HP's girl reviewer ??? ( Enid Lumley, I think )

MQA is pretty much settled as a done deal!

Class D has achieved A+ Recommended component levels !

We need a brave Soul to step forward and grab "Wires" for their own. "Wired Planet" could be their Logo and Branding, it'd be the ultimate "Audiophile" click Bait attraction.

And, of course, we need a proper Smart Phone Reviewer, maybe John Grandberg , considering that we finally have Audiophile level Smart Phones grabbing more of "Center Stage".

Tony in Michigan

rschryer's picture

...with your "Wired Planet" idea. Imagine the length of the comments sections and the commensurate ad revenue!! May I take your idea (or we can partner up, partner) for "Wired Planet" and pitch it to the new owners? I think they'll love it!

tonykaz's picture

It's all yours.

There are plenty of Serious Players in the Wire world.

Just Karen Sumner alone could make the New Owners listen.

I started Selling Monster Cable in the mid 1980s, it and Wire became my biggest Product Category, it carried my Store of Slowwwwwwwww selling High End Gear.

I reluctantly ( I'm an EE ) carried Brisson MIT 750 Speaker Cable, the stuff sold like crazy. I hear that Transparent Cable stuff sells very well.

rschyryer would be the "SparkPlug" for Stereophile.

Be careful here, there's no turning back. You'll get swarmed at every Show ( you'll be a Headliner at RMAF's Seminar Series ) as well as a critical consultant for everyone setting up a Room.

The Big Time in the World of Audiophiles. Hmm, I'll be say'n that I knew you before you got so BIG !

Noel Lee is not a Small player in the world of Audio. ( even before Beats )

Tony in Michigan

rschryer's picture

Hmmm, as editor of wiredplanet.com, I may need a bodyguard or two...

Anton's picture

It seems a great way to keep people from getting too close is to wear your interconnects like a scarf.

Plus, more people could ooh and ahh at them that way!

rschryer's picture

"It seems a great way to keep people from getting too close is to wear your interconnects like a scarf." Or, it might get me strangled by the cranky cable crowd.

tonykaz's picture

You'll probably have a few Ladies surrounding you, they'll fend off your admiring hoards.

The Audio World will follow you everywhere.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Of course, you'll have to do France and Paris. Is your Language in order? ( Canadians speak a kind of French that is unique, isn't it?, still far better than us Yanks that have no interest in learning franco stuff, except for uhh la la kind of silliness )

rschryer's picture

Yep, it's called bad French. (Je blague!!)

"You'll probably have a few Ladies surrounding you, they'll fend off your admiring hoards."

Are you saying my admiring hoards will include no ladies?? This "Wired Planet" business is suddenly sounding a lot less appealing...

tonykaz's picture

Well, Karen Sumner is Transparent Wire. She's accessible if you wanted to get your gig going. I think she's near the Golf Course in Maine ( just across the Seaway from ya'll ). She's the one that got Bruce Brisson at MIT Cable started at Selling to us Stereophiles.

Tony in Michigan

ChrisS's picture

How about "Pretty Please"?

Luke Zitterkopf's picture

offered by a loudspeaker manufacturer. And I am talking about myself here. I have listened to many speaker cables, internal wire, interconnects and power cables. They all sound different. Sometimes the sound differences are minor. Other times, the improvement in sound is great enough to make it difficult to return to using the old cable or wire. Every cable, wire, or anything conductive will alter the original signal(electricity) by the time that signal leaves the conductive wire or material.

For those who do not think cables or wire have unique and individual sound signatures, I would ask them if all amplifiers sound the same. Also, do all CD players sound the same. My point is that some listeners perceive no difference in sound and think anyone who does hear the difference is a lunatic. Which makes me a lunatic with a great sounding stereo! Seriously, I wish everyone happy listening no matter what wires and cables they prefer. Music is for enjoyment and happier lives. I think.

Anton's picture

1) When you design your speakers, do you audition different internal wires and does your use change depending on the drivers from speaker to speaker?

2) Do you find a certain brand of speaker cable seems to work best for your line, or is it more amplifier dependent than speaker dependent?

3) Do you, as a designer, ever recommend amp pairings or tell people what gear you use to voice your speakers?

I find it endlessly interesting, not meaning to pry.

Luke Zitterkopf's picture

1) Yes and yes.We have used internal wire of many designs from Shunyata Research, Cardas, Nordost and experimental home brewed variety. Each design of wire has strengths and weaknesses in sound for the driver and as part of the attached crossover parts. We will often use different internal wire for the tweeter than wire used for midrange and subwoofers. One interesting note from our testing involves the wire jacketing/insulation. Softer jacketing that is more flexible sounds better. Why? I have no way to know but the sound improvement was noteworthy.
2) A combination of the two. We have had great results with Shunyata Research speaker cables. We have used their speaker cables with Pass Labs, BAT, Constellation and Aesthetix with outstanding results. Any further improvements are likely found with source equipment and precise loudspeaker positioning. Cannot overemphasize the critical nature of speaker placement in the room. Many systems out there are not placed very well due to misconceptions about room acoustics and from measuring tape approaches that ignore the 3 dimensional nature of room response.
3) Absolutely. Pass Labs amplification is possibly the best sound we have heard. And also one of the best values in high end amplification. Also great sound from BAT, Constellation and Aesthetix. Hard to choose a personal favorite. Would recommend using any of those amps without hesitation. In fact, try each of them and decide for yourself if possible. Each system is unique, and so is each room. A lot of the fun is trying out the equipment to determine which works best for your system.

Happy to help anyone with questions. Feel free to contact us anytime. Luke Z, Aluminous Audio.

ok's picture

What really accounts for measureable or audible difference anyway? And what makes that difference count?

iListen's picture

i won't disagree that a wire "could/can" make a difference, but if the power cable is So important to the sound, why don't more companies at LEAST give something better than a $8 Radio Shack cable WITH the unit?
I'm not rich so I've never bought a $10,000 amp. So maybe they Do with those units. But, with stuff like $1600 Parasound hitting Class A recommended, why does it and Cambridge, Heed, Naim, Rogue all come with a $8, stiff, cheap, power cord?
Even at $1700, couldn't they give some equal to AudioQuest NRG-X2. You know, braided, shielded etc.? At least make me 'feel' like that cable mattered.

Joe8423's picture

It'd be a huge competitive advantage if power cords actually mattered.

hb72's picture

Naim equipement comes with a non-standard PC, and offers upgrade to their "Power-Line" PC:
https://www.naimaudio.com/product/power-line-0

Naim (and their founder) were onces also on the 'non-beleiver' side, until they actually tried it out, and heard the impact to SQ.

hb72's picture

there is actually also (white paper level) theory about that:
https://www.fidelity-magazin.de/2016/03/26/alles-voodoo-oder-was-teil-1/

Sure, you guys might look at such material with the critical eyes of keen Bielefeld conspirators* when they happen to encounter a suspicious individual that actually claims to have been in Bielefeld.

I personally think of all tweaks and accessories, the SQ differences resulting from PCs (1$ or xxx$ and specilized for audio) when used to feed an amplifier are likely those most difficult to ignore.

*) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bielefeld_Conspiracy

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