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January 2009
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Cables Galore - Part 3 - Power Chords
MIT Oracle AC1
Furutech Piezo Powerflux
Nordost Magus
Dynamic Design Lotus
Dynamic Design Spirit Digital
Generic Power Cord

The Final Frontier Installment By Phil Gold
Click here to e-mail reviewer

  Part 1 of this series dealt with end to end solutions, Part 2 covered interconnects in detail and now we tackle Power Cords. (Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2).

I requested two Power Cords from each manufacturer so I could power my digital source, the EMM Labs CDSA SE MkII and my recently serviced Perreaux R200i Radiance amp. Between these two boxes is a balanced Nordost Valhalla interconnect while a Nordost Thor Power Distribution System feeds the entire system. Wilson Benesch Act 1 speakers are hooked up by 2 meter lengths of Valhalla Triwire cable. Valhalla Power Cords act as reference and I have also included for comparison some generic power cord, fresh from powering my computers. Since not every manufacturer sent me two identical power cords, I ran most of my tests with a Valhalla Power Cord connecting the CDSA and the review samples powering the amplifier.

Will the choice of Power Cords make a significant difference?

 

What's Playing?
We have five wonderful tracks - three on SACD and two on CD - to cut our teeth on today, each testing different aspects of a cable's abilities.

Here's the play list:

 

·        "Improvisation" by KalmanOhla from A Night in Budapest [MA on SA]

·        Chopin "Berceuse" by Gabriella Käfer [MA on SA]

·        "Chant" by Coleman Hawkins from The Hawk Flies High [MFSL UDSACD 2030]

·        Chopin "Funeral March" Sonata played by Artur Rubinstein [JVC XRCD24]

·        "AnsaDiallo" by Lilison Di Kinara from Bambatulu [DEP MUS2-1119]

 

I hope you'll forgive me for picking two Chopin tracks, but they place very different stresses on the components and cables in the system and are both in their own ways very demanding.

 

The Scoring System
I'm going to give each power cable a score on each recording, for musical enjoyment. The basis for this score will be how well it compares with the Valhalla cable. So cables will score a 10 if they are as good as the Valhalla, or a total of 50 if they match its performance over all the musical selections.

 

Bring On The Cables!
MIT Oracle AC1MIT Oracle AC1

Unlike all the other cables in this review, I cannot attach these cables while my equipment is in its usual rack. It's not just the extra clearance I need behind the rack, or the need to place the network box on a flat surface. These cables are actually harder to accommodate than the speaker cables and unbalanced interconnects I tested in Part 1 and Part 2. The additional problem with the power cords is that they must be correctly oriented to allow the pins to connect into the sockets at both ends. These cables have virtually no rotational give at all making them all but unusable even with my equipment placed on a secondary rack well away from the wall. If the orientation is correct at the power outlet, it is wrong at the component end. Sorry, but I'm not buying this. MIT will need to rethink this aspect unless each cable is to be custom fitted to each application.

This is the most expensive cable in the review ($2495 for two meters) so I expect something special.

On "Improvisation" Oracle loses the spikiness, attack and wide dynamics Valhalla reveals. Instead we get a warm, lustrous sound and a more powerful but less focused bass. Imaging is strong and sustained harmonics float freely.  [7]

" offers the essence of elegance and beauty – hardly the truth but a beautiful conceit. The leading edge of each powerful note is lost in the process and with it much of the excitement of the playing from Gabriella Käfer, better known in audio circles as Gabi Van der Kley of Crystal cables. [5]

" brings more of the same. The deep bass is diffuse, the attack almost non-existent. Despite exemplary sustain and superb imaging, the level of detail sub optimal. But you do get is some very sexy sounding sax from The Hawk. The hot trumpet is very well served through the Oracles. [7]

The "Funeral March" is the toughest track here to nail and the Oracle presents an interesting picture. First of all the piano is now a very grand piano. The recording is presented with excellent depth and color, but lacks dynamic contrast. It sounds as if the music is being played in slow motion, although it never drags – just that time seems to be moving more slowly – a relativistic effect Einstein would have found interesting. The Oracle maximizes the contrast between first and second themes, a rare achievement. [7]

Lilison Di Kinara's vocals on "AnsaDjallo" sound excellent, warm, clear and well located, with a trace of the studio echo most cables miss. Once again a lovely but slow fat bass underpins the performance, to hypnotizing effect. The guitar sound is to die for. [7]

Overall the Oracle produces a very lush sound, worlds apart from the dynamic, pure sound of the reference Valhalla. Music sounds more beautiful with these cables in the system, especially piano and percussion. It also sounds romantic, smooth, warm and refined. The image fills the space between and behind the speakers. The Oracle is particularly effective with classical chamber music. The other side of the coin is a noticeable reduction in the precise attack and passion of the Valhallas. While the bass is full and tuneful, if somewhat slower than ideal, the extreme treble is not as open and transparent as I would like and expect at this price. The Oracle may suit an overly bright system, and will also be effective in taming some more aggressive recordings or blunting that digital edge many older (and some current) CD players possess. While I don't usually advocate using cables as tone controls to correct imperfections elsewhere in the system, the Oracle AC1 may work well in some systems where the Valhalla is simply too revealing for comfort.

 

Furutech Piezo Powerflux
Furutech Piezo PowerfluxThese cables use Alpha conductors throughout. Alpha conductors are fine OCC wires treated with Furutech's Alpha Cryogenic and Demagnetizing process. The big story here is the stunning new series of Piezo Ceramic connectors. The FI-50(R) IEC and FI-50M(R) connector housings are made of multiple layers of carbon fiber in a damping and insulating acetal copolymer, surrounded by nonmagnetic stainless steel bands. The connector bodies combine two "active" materials: nano-sized ceramic particles and powdered carbon. Nylon and fiberglass are incorporated as well forming mechanically and electrically non-resonant connector body. The pure copper conductors are equipped with Furutech's advanced earth/ground jumper System. Metal cable clamps improve grip and reduce distortion and the connectors also feature specially engineered pressure plates. The conductors are 68-strand Alpha OCC twisted around μ–conductor strands with a special-grade PE dielectric. The dielectric is surrounded by an inner sheath of RoHS-compliant PVC incorporating carbon powder that enhances damping, and that in turn is covered by a full Alpha conductor wire braid shield. Another flexible black PVC outer sheath and a Nylon braid jacket surround the cable.

This cable is so new Furutech did not have two to send me, so I had to test this one on each component in turn to see how it compared to the reference.

" reveals a very clean open cable with a surprisingly warm presentation. There's a lot to like here, bags of details and a very spacious image. The Valhalla is harder hitting, particularly on the leading edge and more resolved in the bass. Top marks for the beautiful instrumental color and a fast tuneful bass, but the cable does seem a touch bass-shy. [9]

Like the Oracle, the Furutech offers a most beautiful piano tone on "Berceuse" with even greater openness and speed. There's a great deal of resolution here but rather less presence than the reference reflecting a shelved down bass response. Due to the slight softening of the leading edges, the music lacks the impact and sweeping grandeur of the reference.  [7]

" confirms the character of this cable. The open detailed top is not matched by a commensurate attack in the midrange and bass, detracting from the sheer dynamics of the playing. Despite erring on the polite side there's a lot to enjoy here, particularly in terms of instrumental color and detail. [8]

The difficult to reproduce "Funeral March" reveals this cable's Achilles' heel. The softening of leading edges dulls the attack and fails to bring to life Rubinstein's magnificent scale and piano timbre, while the second subject does not show the necessary life and contrast to successfully balance the first subject. [5]

"fares better. The imaging is particularly fine, allowing the music to expand and seduce the listener with its fine rhythms and delicious instrumental textures. But switching to the Valhalla reveals a lot more drive and energy from this stand out recording. [8]

Overall this is a very successful cable, well priced at $1800 for six foot lengths, but it doesn't quite match the state-of-the-art in authority and impact. It has the best upper frequencies of any cable on show here, and it's also a beautifully constructed component in its own right.

 

Nordost Magus
Best Audiohpile Products Of 2009 Blue Note AwardI was very interested to see how the new Magus cable from Nordost's Wyre Wizard series would compare to its illustrious big brother, Valhalla. From looks alone, it's hard to see the family resemblance. While the Valhalla looks like a muscular silver rope wrapped in a clear skin, the Magus is a thinner, more flexible cable wrapped in a blue nylon skin with a substantial male Wattgate connector at one end a low profile IEC connector with gold plating at the other. But internally the Magus borrows the same mono-filament design from Nordost's top of the line cables, incorporating three high-strand-count 99.99999 percent OFC copper conductors. Nordost's own spiral spacing and extruded Teflon construction provides a virtual air dielectric. Nordost claim a very fast propagation speed and a low level of signal coloration for the Magus.

Magus is light footed on "Improvisation" and also lighter in weight than the reference. The attack is excellent but Magus cannot match the dynamics of the best cables, nor the black background. The imaging is strong but lacks the depth revealed by the Valhalla. Unlike most rivals, it preserves the all important spiky sound that conveys the musical essence of the track.  [7]

Nordost Magus"Berceuse" sounds more like a real piano than most cables here. The clarity of line and rhythmic sensitivity makes the various strands of the music easier to follow. Detail retrieval could be higher and the image depth improved but this is a very satisfying cable in this music. [7]

"Just skips along with abundant energy and the sax has an impressive rasp and brilliance. Both bass and percussion are a little thin, taming the excitement level down a notch. [7]

Magus is not really up to the task in the "Funeral March". While the weight of the piano is good we don't get the power and strength the Valhalla brings to pull you to the front of your seat. The scale and dynamics are not up to the task, and this track demands these qualities for Rubinstein's incredible sonorities to overwhelm the listener. The Magus does well with the soaring second theme which goes some way to redeem its performance. [5]

There's a slight veil on "AnsaDjallo" with the Magus, reducing the clarity and layered image that Vahalla achieves. Mid bass drive is lower here but in the higher frequencies Magus does very well with the percussion, really bringing the music to life. [6]

It took me a while to warm up to these very inexpensive cables ($199 for two meters) since they needed longer than the other cables in this group to burn in, improving dramatically over an extended period. Once burned in, the family resemblance is unmistakable. The purity and low distortion so much a trademark of the Valhalla are both on display here. So why would anyone pay more than ten times the price for the Valhalla? Well Valhalla boasts lightening reflexes, a deep black background, a very wide bandwidth and stunning resolution. Magus runs well behind on all of these traits. As a result, you don't get that bold dynamic soundscape the big bucks provide. Magus won't bring the grand piano alive in your living room, and it smoothes over the fine detail such as the precise string tone that separates an Amati from a Guarneri violin. What you will get is the highest level of truth I've heard so far from a cable in this price range and you'll be paying a lot more I you want seriously better sound.

 

Dynamic Design Lotus
Dynamic Design LotusThe Lotus power cord features a special high temperature / low storage insulation system claiming very low dielectric absorption, high tensile strength and high current capability, resulting in reduced levels of smearing and improved clarity. Lotus™ HPBM™ conductors offer high conductivity and minimal distortion for high resolution performance. A low impedance braided shields is applied for high shielding effectiveness, immunity from noise / interference and wide bandwidth performance. This technology is similar to the Lotus interconnect cables seen in Part 2 of Cables Galore. (link please). The cable has an attractive silvery blue finish, is relatively thick but impressively flexible in use. Substantial rubber clad Furutech connectors are used, FI-IIM at the male end and FI-II at the other.

Lotus is a well balanced power cord, revealing a strong midrange presence on "Improvisation", well maintained to the mid bass area but becoming quite loose in the deep bass. One significant shortcoming is the inability to maintain sustained harmonics. Dynamics are fair and imaging quite strong. [7]

On "Berceuse" the piano sound is good with a cool but open perspective. Detail runs quit high but not in the same class as the reference. Leading edges are rounded off, so the excitement level is not ideally maintained. [7]

I am quite happy with the midrangeon "Chant" which allows the recording's swagger to get your toes tapping, but the bass lacks precision and focus, failing to give full support to the raspy sax solo. [7]

We hear more prominent hiss than usual in the "Funeral March" and a reduction in deep bass impact which gives us an altogether lighter piano sound. It lacks both clarity and that ominous feel that the best cables portray. On the plus side, the sound is well balanced and the second theme really sings. [6]

"opens with a bold confident vocal leading to a well balanced but low key instrumental mix. Percussion is neither quick nor particularly realistic and the deep bass is soft, so the party never really gets going. [4]

Overall this cable lacks the boogie factor that makes a live performance exciting and the low level resolution that makes instrumental timbre convincing.

 

Dynamic Design Spirit Digital
Dynamic Design Spirit DigitalDynamic also sent me this specialized cable, best suited for digital components like my SACD player. This Spirit Digital cable is a new design just reaching the market now. I tested this one on the EMM Labs CDSA SE and put a Valhalla Power Cord onto the amp.
The technology is similar to the Lotus interconnect cables but further refined and optimized for the lower power consumption of digital equipment. It uses the same connectors but in its prototype form is thicker but still quite flexible. It comes covered in a soft black mesh.

Experience has shown the EMM Labs CDSA is just as sensitive to the choice of power cable as any amplifier. Spirit begins this test in grand style with a bright, bold, dynamic sound on "Improvisation". The rhythmic quirkiness is up to the standard of the reference and the explosive bass comes through loud and clear. I very much like the balance between the instruments here. Transient snap is strong, and Spirit has no problem maintaining those lingering harmonics. On this track, we finally have a cable to top the reference.  [11]

On "Berceuse" it is very hard to choose between Spirit and Valhalla. Both are clean and show beautiful piano tone while preserving dynamics and a stable image. I'm calling this a tie. [10]

" sounds fast paced and energetic – as it should. Percussion is a touch brighter than the reference but without revealing quite so much inner detail. While the swing is strong, the rasp on the sax lacks bite. Dynamics are slightly reduced because the bass is not quite as fast and precise as the Valhalla. [8]

The "Funeral March" sounds suitably solemn and weighty but without the treble clarity of the reference which is a hallmark of Rubinstein's touch. Leading edges are slightly softened and resolution is slightly reduced. Dynamics are strong and the second theme floats gloriously above the first. [8]

After an excellent start with the vocals on "AnsaDjallo" the guitarlead lacks sufficient impact to get juices going. Low bass is soft, which coupled with a small blurring of transient attack makes the music feel slower and hence less exciting than through the reference. [7]

This is a very promising cable which stands well above its stable-mate. It has speed, accurate timbre and a good balance, being held back a bit by softness in the extreme highs and lows. Midrange is superb. I'm wondering if its sound might be further improved with more exotic termination like the carbon fiber Furutech connectors featured on the Powerflux.

 

Generic Power Cord
Generic Power CordThis slim black cable is extremely flexible and costs next to nothing. Forget about image depth, deep bass resolution and instrumental color. Generic saps the life out of the music to such an extent that anyone who believes power cords make no significant difference should have an instant epiphany. I find them completely unlistenable and will waste no further words. I'll rate them, generously, with a two on each track.

 

How Much Do They Cost?

MIT Oracle AC1    $2495 for two meter
Furutech Piezo Powerflux $1800 for six feet
Nordost Magus  $199 for two meter
Dynamic Design Lotus $900 for six feet ($1050 for eight or $750 for four feet)
Dynamic Design Spirit Digital $900 for six feet ($1050 for eight or $750 for four feet)
Generic Power Cord $2 for four feet (generally free with equipment)

 

 

Let Me Put These Cables Into Order Of Merit

For Digital Components Only  
Dynamic Design Spirit (Digital Components) 44 points
 
For All Components  
Furutech Piezo Powerflux 37 points
MIT Oracle AC1 33 points
Nordost Magus 32 points
Dynamic Design Lotus 31 points
Generic Power Cord  10 points

 

So What Does All This Mean?
When you take price into account you see that performance lines up quite differently this time, unlike the interconnect cables in Part 2. For digital components, the Dynamic Design Spirit performs very well and I am happy to recommend it. It is the only cable to top the Valhalla on any single track. Yet no power cable here can match the reference Nordost Valhalla overall. Valhalla is more expensive (at $3000 for two meters) than all the review cables. Valhalla power cords perform spectacularly well across all applications. The closest approach among the challengers here is the new Furutech Piezo Powerflux, which pulls well ahead of the MIT Oracle AC1, Nordost Magus and Dynamic Design Lotus, all tightly bunched together.

The best value for money here by a long way is the Nordost Magus and it's also the most flexible of all those on offer bar the generic cord. In fact I've never met a power cord to touch its performance below the three times as expensive Piccolo from Crystal Cables, reviewed back in August 2007.

When it's time to hand out the awards for Product of the Year, Magus just has to be in the running. And if you're still using the cables that came in the boxes with your components, you too should be running, straight to your nearest Nordost dealer.

 

Manufacturer's Comment
Furutech Canadian Distributor Simon Au of Audiyo writes:
Hi Phil,

Furutech would like you to mention that the Piezo FI-50 series was awarded the BEST of INNOVATIONS CES 2009 Audio Accessories. I also noticed that the new Supreme Reference Nordost ODIN power is using our Furutech FI-50 plugs.

Thanks Phil,

Simon

 

 

Company Information
MIT Cables - Music Interface Technologies
4130 Citrus Ave. #9
Rocklin, California 95677

 

Furutech Co
ToshiMorino
3F 7-11-1 Nishi Gotanda
Shinagawa-Ku
Tokyo
Japan

 

Dynamic Design Audio Visual
5341 North Sawyer Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

 

Nordost Corporation
200 Homer Avenue
Ashland, MA 01721

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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