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February 2003
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Powersnake Anaconda vX And Taipan Power Cords
A Systems Approach
Review by Todd Warnke
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  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 Players

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.

Meanwhile, the Taipan, until last month was the top model in the Pace-Setter category, with the just introduced Anaconda vX-Alpha taking over that spot, slotting the Taipan to second. At $649 the Taipan is about a third of the cost of the Anaconda vX, but is no less obsessive a design. One significant reason for the price difference is that the Taipan, like the rest of the Pace-Setters, eschews use of FeSi-1000, instead with this design Shunyata focuses on low impedance designs to reach the goal of, "improv(ing) the pace and timing elements in sound that infuse music with a captivating energy and dynamic pace" (italics, again, Shunyata's). The suggestion by Shunyata is that the Pace-Setters are best used on analog sources, tubed pre and power amplifiers, power conditioners, video projectors and powered subwoofers.

This horses for courses approach to power cord design seems to make a lot of sense, at least to me. If you have set your system up properly - paying attention to component matching, room treatments, cables, power conditioning and vibration control - then it is time to address power cords. And since you may need to tighten up a bit here or add a bit more texture there, the choice of cords with a range of character from a single source is as brilliant an idea as multiple size paper towels, if a bit more expensive.

 

The System

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.

 

The Sounds

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.

To begin with, the sound of the two different cords was… well… different. Startlingly so. And for that I have to applaud the folks at Shunyata Research as they have obviously taken the time to do more than create a catchy marketing campaign. Even more, the labels they have chosen for their categories are spot on as the Anaconda vX was amazingly quiet while the Taipan had a driven, propulsive personality. But the two power cords are also obviously from the same the designer as they share many traits in common, most importantly a very detailed harmonic texture and laid-back but not soft character. Rather than alternate sentences between these two sounds, let us make it easy for me and discuss about the Taipan first. We will get to the Anaconda afterwards.

 

Taipan

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.

Now I am not the guy to explain wiring physics and so I cannot say if the reason the Taipan sounds fast is due to the low impedance design approach, specialized geometry or the phase of the moon, but I can tell you this, from the deepest bass to the highest treble the Taipan is pure Mercury. Musical wave fronts have an immediate and natural sounding launch while simultaneously retaining tonal color. Bass is tight from first impact to final decay while treble is clear, defined and equally well resolved. The all-important midrange is likewise, well delineated, speedy and accurate. If there is a tonal issue with the Taipan, it is that the apparent speed seems to, on occasion, slightly thin the harmonic overtones in a manner similar to if much lower in scale than that of solid-state amplifiers.

Of course, speed like this gives the Taipan a lively and dynamic character, but what it does not impart is an in-your-face aggressive tone. In common with other Shunyata Research products I have heard, the Taipan offers up a stage that sits at or just behind the speaker plane, and rather than cramming the musicians into your room, it opens a window into the recording space. It does this regardless of partnering components, but I need to offer a word or two of caution here about system synergy.

First, take the Shunyata Research marketing at close to face value. The Taipan is not for every system; most especially it is not a good fit in overly solid-stateish setups. There the speed of the Taipan seems to run right past overtones with a resultant wispy harmonic palette. The sound never veers into edgy, grainy or outright bright, unless the system itself is already too far to that side, so it seems to me that the Taipan is not so much adding to the sound as much as it is revealing the sound.

Second, and flowing from the above paragraph, the Taipan seems most comfortable powering tube based components. I tried it with Manley, Conrad-Johnson, Joule Electra, Cary and Zanden tubed amplifiers and with First Sound and Cary pre-amplifiers, all with superb results. As for sources, the Cary CD-308T, a 308 with a tubed output stage, liked it, but somewhat surprisingly, so did my old and highly customized Assemblage DAC-2. In each case the Taipan seemed to reveal the goodness and character of each component rather than to add a signature of its own.

 

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.

When placed on a source such as the Cary 303/200 or Ayre CX-7, the vX lowered the noise floor dramatically and also seemed to add a touch of harmonic richness that added realism without edging too far into editorializing. For example, Ralph Towner's solo guitar on Ana [ECM 1611] revealed more wood and resonance, and in a manner that was more consistent with live music, while the lowered noise level allowed very subtle detail to flow into my listening room.

When placed on a solid-state amplifier, even a very good one such as my Blue Circle BC6, the noise floor was, again, quite audibly lowered. This allowed subtle detail through without adding hype or artificial edge definition. Taking my experiment further, and disregarding the general guidelines offered up by Shunyata Research, I tried a pair of the xV cords on my First Sound Presence Statement pre-amplifiers. There the noise floor also dropped, again, drawing out subtle details. But adding the xV to the First Sound pre-amplifiers, or to any of the tubed amplifiers I had on hand, also added a touch of mid-bass to lower-midrange warmth that left male vocalists with the gentle remains of a cold. Additionally, I detected a very slight loss of top-end air. Please remember that Shunyata suggests that the Noise-Reduction line is not a perfect fit with all tubed components, and that solid-state and high-current situations may be the better match for this cord.

So, with that as background, I was surprised how well the vX and the tubed Zanden 600 integrated amplifier paired. The Zanden is a tonal beauty, and yet keeps perfect rhythm as well. In spite of that my thought was that the Taipan would add a touch to the dynamics and so would be the better fit, and while it did, it also seemed to thin out the tonal palette of the Zanden while the vX offered me all gain. What I perceived was a lowering of the noise floor and added detail without touching the tonal purity of the Model 600 a single bit.

 

Family Bloodlines

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.

For its part, the Anaconda vX drops the noise floor appreciably, carefully ushering low-level detail past previously blocked thresholds of electrical grunge. Like the Taipan, it does this with but a small cost, namely a slightly thickened region centered on the transition between bass and midrange, and a very slight loss of air. When placed on gear such as a digital source or solid-state amplifiers, these losses were usually turned to benefits.

I applaud the fact that Shunyata Research offers two such excellent power cords, and with such contrasting strengths. Whenever I reconfigured the system I found a combination of Shunyata Research power cords that teased out either the best performance from my system, or at worst, needed the addition of but one or two cords from some other maker to sound the best. Since some configurations included six power cords, using at least four out of six Shunyata Research power cords is a pretty fine performance. At times, such as with the Zanden, the pairings were counter-intuitive, but they generally followed form, with tubes taking to the Taipan and sources and solid-state preferring the Anaconda vX.

 

The Field

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.

The system was the Zanden Model 600 and a Cary 303/200 CD player, playing through a pair of Silverline Audio Panatella III loudspeakers, and I swapped power cords on the Zanden only, keeping a Shunyata Research Anaconda vX on the Cary CD player. Through this setup the vX was amazing. Listening the solo guitar was as close to recreating live as I've heard in my room. Piano was the same. The Taipan gave nearly the same level of performance, but with a slight thinning of harmonics and a concomitant emphasis on the treble. The Audio Magic power cord split the difference, but with a slightly higher noise floor than that offered by the vX. The Acoustic Zen was very neutral sounding, landing somewhere between the Audio Magic and the vX, but also added a slight layer of emotional distance to recordings. Other trials with other system setups yielded similar results.

 

Errata

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.

 

Goodbye

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.

 

Taipan

Tonality

93

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

95

Mid-bass (80 Hz - 200 Hz)

95

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

92

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

93

Attack

99

Decay

99

Inner Resolution

98

Soundscape width front

95

Soundscape width rear

95

Soundscape depth behind speakers

95

Soundscape extension into the room

90

Imaging

96

Fit and Finish

100

Self Noise

100

Value for the Money

100

 

Anaconda vX

Tonality

96

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

97

Mid-bass (80 Hz - 200 Hz)

97

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

97

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

94

Attack

93

Decay

95

Inner Resolution

97

Soundscape width front

95

Soundscape width rear

95

Soundscape depth behind speakers

95

Soundscape extension into the room

90

Imaging

95

Fit and Finish

95

Self Noise

100

Value for the Money

98

 

Specifications

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

 

Company Information

Shunyata Research
25218 Chris Lane
Kingston, Washington 98346

Voice: (608) 850 6752
E-mail: grant@powersnakes.com
Website: www.powersnakes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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