If sliced bread remains the number one kitchen invention of all time, then number two has to be the "select-a-size" paper towel. Old-style paper towels were always just a bit larger than you needed to wipe up that glob of bacon grease by the stove, but were never quite big enough to mop up the orange juice you dropped on the way back to the refrigerator, so being able to pick just the right amount of paper towel is an altogether brilliant idea. Still, what amazes me most about the new size paper towels is not that they finally came along, but that it took so long for someone to see such an obvious thing, which is the exact same reaction I had when Grant Samuelson of Shunyata Research explained the Powersnake power cord line-up to me. In place of the one-size-fits-all, "all our stuff sounds better than any of their stuff, and our more expensive stuff sounds better than our more affordable stuff" approach, Shunyata has divided their line into two broad styles, PaceSetter and Noise-Reduction, and readily admit that their most expensive power cord is not the right fit for every system. And that is refreshing candor that deserves marketplace recognition, as well testing by nay-saying nitpickers such as yours truly. So after a quick call to Mr. Samuelson I had several Anaconda vX power cords as well as a brace of Tiapan power cords on the way.
The Anaconda vX occupies the top rung on the Noise-Reduction power cord ladder and at a retail of
$1,995, is not for the feint of heart or the light of wallet. Like the other Noise-Reduction cables, the Black Mamba v2 and the Python, the Anaconda vX makes extensive use of Shunyata's patent-pending FeSi-1000 passive noise isolating material in order to do its thing, which according to the Shunyata website is to "restore the
texture, dimension and spatial cues in sound and video that are often obscured by EMI and RFI noise" (italics
Shunyata's). The general recommendation for placement of the Noise-Reduction line is in front of source and noise-sensitive components as well as, depending on system balance, connected to, "certain amps and pre-amps that posses exceptional dynamics, timing and transient response". By this comment, as well as from other conversations with Mr Samuelson, Shunyata has found that Noise-Reduction power cords are best deployed in front of solid-state components and many sources.
Both sets of power cords saw extensive use, at times by themselves as well as in combination with each other as well as with power cords from other manufacturers. They were also paired with a wide variety of gear. Source components were CD players from Ayre and Cary, and DACs from Assemblage and Dodson. Amplification components included integrated amplifiers from Ayre, Redgum and Zanden, power amplifiers from Conrad-Johnson, Cary, Joule-Electra, Blue Circle and Manley, while pre-amplifiers were from First Sound and Cary. Speakers used were either my reference Merlin VSMs or Silverline Audio Panatella IIIs. I also used three different power conditioners with the Powersnakes, primarily a Shunyata Hydra, but they also commingled juice with a Bybee Signature and a VansEvers conditioner. Interconnects included Audio Magic, Acoustic Zen, Stereovox and Cardas, while speaker wire was exclusively Cardas (see, I can keep one thing constant!). Other power cords in the mix and as references came from Cardas, MIT, Audio Magic, Elrod, ElectraGlide and Acoustic Zen.
Once a system has had the core components optimized, pulling in a power cord or two at a time is probably a good thing, as you are or at least you should be attempting to make fairly small changes. By this I do not mean to imply that power cords are insignificant or that they make only barely perceptible differences. Rather, power cords, just as with other wire products, should not be used to counter-balance primary system flaws, cover-up component mismatches or compensate for poor room interactions. Much as a chef uses seasonings to enhance the main ingredients, a wise audiogeek uses wire to finish off an already quality system. That said, when reviewing power cords having enough on had to completely string up a system is darn near mandatory as only a system full of a particular wire will allow you to hear the sound of that wire cleanly and directly. So one of the very first things I did when the Shunyata PowerSnakes arrived was to strip the system down to an integrated amplifier and a single-box CD player. Then, after dialing this system in with my reference power cords I replaced all the cords with, first the
Taipan, and then the Anacondas. Then, just for kicks, I tried one of each. The experience was illuminating.
Of the two cords the Taipan is the flashy member of the clan. The hard, clear jacket allows you to see into the cord, an effect that never failed to get a reaction from visitors to the Warnke Snowshoe and Music Lodge. While interesting, a more important effect was the one it had on listeners ears. Whether placed singly or en masse in my system, the Taipan never failed to add energy to every part of the musical spectrum, and, significantly, it did this with a remarkably even hand. Remarkable because a great many other power cords reach for a similar effect but achieve it through frequency manipulation, most notably by tipping the highs, while the Taipan accomplishes it magic through top-to-bottom speed.
The Anaconda vX
The Anaconda vX shares certain sound qualities with the Taipan, characteristics that clearly mark it as a Shunyata Research product, but has almost the opposite system matching modes. To start with, the vX seems to enrich harmonics while taking just a touch of air and extension off the very highest treble. This, naturally, allows it to mate superbly with solid-state gear as well as with many digital sources. But, just as the Taipan surprised me by working well with my Assemblage DAC, the vX formed an unexpectedly splendid match with the Zanden 600 integrated amplifier. However, let's add some details first.
What these two different but superb power cords share is the ability to reveal more detail without adding bite, hype, edge or fatigue. But this they do through opposite means. Through sheer speed, the Taipan offers up a dynamic, clear and detailed window into the proceedings with only a small loss along the way. If placed in an already fast system the combination may thin out harmonics. Of course this is why Shunyata recommends that the Taipan be used with tubed components.
As you can see from my gear listing, I have quite a little nest of power cords in my basement, including some long time references in the Audio Magic and Acoustic Zen cords. A couple of months ago I related a story about subjecting a group of friends to a power cord swap session using the Audio Magic Illusion, Acoustic Zen Krakatoa and the two Shunyata Research power cords, a session that left my
non-audiogeeks baffled by the large differences they heard.
What we listen to all starts out on pro audio gear, where it is recorded, mixed, mastered and pressed. And pro audio is a fierce business. First, there is the stress and strain that pro gear goes through on a daily basis where failure is simply not an option. Second, music is not a pastime to a pro, so unlike you and me, if a piece of gear fails, the family does not eat. Third, pro audio is a place were verifiable performance is mandatory. These things combine to make for a relatively conservative community where taking risks with equipment is concerned, and this makes it hard for a new company to break in to the field. So, the fact that Astoria Studios (owned by David Gilmore of Pink Floyd) and Crest National (the only US based SACD mastering facility) have chosen to use Shunyata Research Powersnake components is notable. It is also notable that they used the Shunyata gear in the remastering of the SACD version of Dark Side of the Moon, due out in March, as well as being used in other SACD projects by Doug Sax and James Guthrie. Of course this does not mean that we should run out and all buy Powersnakes power cords, but it should help to finally and completely dispel the myth that power cords and power treatments do not matter.
The Shunyata Research power cords made a real difference in my system. Taken individually, the Anaconda vX and Taipan power cords are superb in providing cutting edge performance. With the Taipan, perhaps, having the price to performance edge. But as with any other component, one size does not fit all and so it was when they were employed as a team that the Shunyata Research PowerSnakes played to their strengths the best. Mixing and matching, cutting to size, allowed me to find a near perfect system balance, a balance that maximized each particular systems' capabilities. This I would not have been able to do with just a single power cord design. I highly encourage you to try these power cords, singly if you know exactly what your system needs, but together if at all possible.
10 gauge high-purity silver/copper conductors
Minimum power dissipation Teflon dielectric
Proprietary termination alloys
Triple shielded for RFI/EMI immunity
No reactive capacitors or inductors ensure reliability and component compatibility
Custom-designed VENOM connectors
Medical grade - clear construction
Price: Taipan $649
Anaconda vX $1,995