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.

hugo2001's picture

the cabling makes a great difference, in hi-end systems at last. I was auditioning for a quality blu-ray player, listening in stereo (CD and DVD) on Pioneer Elite flagship Blu ray player on a very expensive system consisting of Ayre KX-R preamp, MX-R monoblocs, B&W 802D.
The sales person let me hear the Pioneer player with his stock power cord and with Shunyata Anaconda CX power cord. in both cases, it was plugged directly in the wall outlet.
The difference was astonishing, it was so obvious, i did not make any effort to notice it. It was like i would have a higher end player or a better preamplifier. I heard much more detail, more information, more smoothness.
The only issue: the cord was as expensive as the player, i was asking myself if i would get better sound with a more expensive player with his stock power cord.

tmsorosk's picture

Plugging power amps into power conditioners ? Art bad .

IronMan's picture

Power cords don't make any difference people. It is just the placebo effect. You think you heard a difference because you subconsciously believe you heard it. It would not pass a double blind test.

dumbo's picture

If you can't hear the difference between a proper high end power cord and the one you get in the box with your equipment or from the home depot then please have your hearing checked.

Granted, if you haven't at least took the time to install a dedicated AC line for your precise high end audio to the breaker box in your home then certainly don't bother wasting your money on a fancy power cord. Polishing a turd can only get you so far!

John Atkinson's picture
"Power cords don't make any difference people. It is just the placebo effect."

Take care not to let the hint of a doubt cross the smooth countenance of your mind, IronMan. :-)

kevon27's picture

Where are the hard raw numbers which show these 'high' end cables make any real difference? Show me HOW these cables do their magic to make music sound better and compare them to a good quality heavy gauge power cable you buy at Home Depot.
When I read reviews like this, I have to ask myself, is this reviewer really honest? Are they getting some kinda kick back from the cable companies for giving a very positive review?
Reviews like this makes me think of an ugly woman who believes by putting on a large amount of expensive makeup will make her beautiful. See, she just spent $1500 on a make up kit and for that price her brain will manufacture some type of improvement in her looks. Even though reality states 'you still ugly', that women will swear she now looks like Harley Berry or something.
To the reviewer :"Stop the yapping and get some precision measuring tools AND SHOW us the numbers (honestly)."
In the mean time, I think I'll stick to www.AUDIOHOLICS.COM to get the TRUTH.

dumbo's picture

Setting aside for the moment the cost of a high end power cord, say your buddy gave you one that he had lying around; would you then be able to sit down and listen with a clear head to what major differences these cables can offer to a system capable of accurately reproducing this change?

In regards to the fat lady, if you were stranded on an island with her and her new $1500 makeup case can you really tell me that she wouldn't look better, or at least smell better with it on then not when the time comes to "Do The Deed"?

tmsorosk's picture

The only people that doubt the improvements of power cords are the ones hat have not tried them . I thought this debate was put to sleep long ago . I guess there will always be newbees , lets hope .

mrplankton2u's picture

Anyone who actually knows what's inside an amplifier, preamplifier, or other audio device in the signal chain understands that one of the core functions within such devices is converting A/C power to DC power for use in audio circuits. If the product is designed and built with consistent quality, the quality of the power supply should match the quality of the rest of the circuitry in terms of signal processing and fidelity. In my exprerience, if the final stage of an amp is substandard and the power supply is substandard, "conditioning" the A/C coming into the power supply isn't going to do anything to help. It is after all, a  signal "chain". The end result is controlled by the weakest link in the chain.

Any decent design anticipates minor anomalies in the supply of electricity at the plug and accounts for it. These absurd power conditioners are the equivalent of wrapping a large seatbelt around the roof and underside of an automobile to add "improved" security to the passengers inside that are already protected by airbags and seatbelts. 

Also of note, practically every marketing company that produces these sham "power conditioners" is up to their ear lobes in other sham products that form the crux of their business. Shame on Stereophile for peddling this snake oil. If readers knew how much advertising money Stereophile is making off of this crooked enterprise, they would cancel their subscriptions.

sear's picture

I have never tried a cable or power device I have never heard a difference with. I usually test power cords with my video equipment because a difference in video quality is clearly seen but sound can be effected by many things including the brain like one poster noted. I tried a basic high end power cord on my blu-ray player and then a very high end power cord and the difference was night and day. I found going from a basic wall outlet to a audiophile one also makes a huge difference on video.

SERIOUS7's picture

I can see purchasing a cable like this if i was running it straight from the wall outlet to my amp but i use a "very good line conditioner" that works very well for me killing all noise in the signal path..