Review by Rick Becker
This is the power cord your mother warned you about. You know--the kind of power cord who will drag your reputation down into the mean streets of High End Audio and teach you more than you probably ever wanted to know about your music. Not that you won't love every minute of it. She will rip the slippers off your feet, smash your pipe into the fireplace, spill the wine on your leather listening chair, shred your silk bathrobe, leaving you bare-chested to face the music and suffer the goose bumps that will dance on your spine. But she is
not the kind of power cord you will take home to mom.
A few years back, a friend turned me on to mil spec cable, and my system took a major leap forward with interconnects made up with 18 gauge wire and Apature locking RCA connectors. Fourteen and 10 gauge twisted pairs were used with my Von Schweikert VR-4 loudspeakers at a cost of about $34 for a bi-wire 12-foot run. With the Coincident Speaker Technology Partial Eclipse II becoming my new reference, I settled on a single run of 16 gauge twisted pair of this mil spec wire, using bare ends. The smaller gauge toned down the bass and refined the midrange and treble, giving better overall tonal balance. Waiting in the wings are more locking RCA's and a spool of 24 gauge, but from the buzz on a forum on the net, I might forego the 24 for even smaller 30 gauge, possibly even pure silver.
What is Mil Spec Wire?
Perhaps it is trickle-down technology from the War Machine or Heaven sent from NASA. I don't know its history. But I do know that it is composed of silver plated, very fine strands of high purity copper, housed in an extruded Teflon dielectric. The gauge and number of the fine strands varies with the total gauge of the wire. It is sold at wire supply companies that service industry, and is available in a variety of solid colors. The supply companies may sometimes offer it with a colored stripe on white housing to make it easier to keep track of the various circuits in a piece of equipment. And while it costs mere pennies per foot, it may be somewhat difficult to obtain, because industrial suppliers are geared for selling wire by the pallet-full, rather than a small spool over the counter. When my local supplier tells me that the minimum order is 100' of a given gauge, I don't flinch because I don't want to loose access to this stuff. It always pays to be a humble consumer when walking into their office. For the person looking for a good, cheap cable to use while upgrading the main components of their system, or the person needing exceptionally long runs for a home theater installation, this is the stuff you want to check out.
Power Cords--The Missing Link
Being very reluctant to spend big bucks for power cords, I often wondered what improvements might be wrought from a power cord made of heavy gauge mil spec wire. At audio shows, the fancy, expensive IEC connectors and power plugs offered by high-end cable companies dampened my enthusiasm for building my own. I continued with a variety of industrial grade and hospital grade shielded power cords until I surfed a wave that landed me at the website of Balanced Power Technologies, where I discovered their affordable Clarity C-10 and C-7 power cords utilizing mil spec wire. I knew I had to try these out and Chris Huff graciously supplied me with a trio of C-10s and a C-7 for comparison on my Plinius power amp.
After a modest burn-in of several listening sessions at breakfast, it was clear that these cords were bringing a major improvement to my system--and this was before I had my morning coffee. Transparency took a modest step forward, brightening the soundstage a bit, and focus took a major step forward with sharper attack and faster decay. Lyrics that had previously given me problems were now clearly understood--somewhat to my dismay when a young friend brought over some rap music with urban lyrics that previously had been a mystery to me. The treble, at first seemed to be somewhat lacking, but I quickly learned that the high frequencies were being handled more accurately, and what was actually missing was the upper harmonic distortion and over-ringing of the treble. Tonal balance, consequently, seemed to have shifted--not only from the increased
clarity of the treble, but from the increased presence or energy in the treble. The experience was similar to when I first introduced mil spec interconnects and then again, when I added the mil spec speaker cables to the rig. Sitting in my listening chair, the music became impossible to ignore, drawing me in with nuances and detail I had never heard in my most familiar music, giving me goose bumps with my favorite songs. Now, goose bumps are not an absolute indicator, as I also experienced them watching James Taylor perform at the Grammy Awards on a hospital room television at my mother's bedside. They do indicate, however, that one is either having an emotional reaction, or chilling out.
My ordinary cords included an 18 gauge SVT shielded cord for the DAC, a Belden 18-3 SJT hospital grade cord for the preamp, and an SJT 14-3 Hsing for the power amp. Clearly, there is room for improvement in these ordinary cables, but the results suggest that the smart money might best be spent on a dedicated line of 20, or preferably 30 amps, before playing the power cord upgrading game. On the 15-Amp line, I could live happily with either my ordinary cables or the BPT Clarities. On the 20-Amp and 30-Amp lines the pendulum swings in favor of the upgraded cords.
On More Humble Equipment
Swapping out my CAT preamplifier for my beloved Musical Designs SP-1 with its generic 18-3 power cord, I was surprised how little I was giving up. Keep in mind that my system is treated with Symposium Acoustics products and the SP-1 is blessed with the superb HAL-O tube dampers from Herbies Audio Lab. Switching over to the BPT C-10 power cord, and warming it up with some Stevie Ray Vaughn, I then moved to the Burmester 3 CD and played Hugh Masekela's "Stimela" and the following Japanese drum cut. The SP-1 did not embarrass my reference system at all, playing way above any expectation. I could not pinpoint the exact location of each drum, or experience the full timbre of the drums as I could with the CAT preamplifier, but I could certainly figure out what was going on and enjoy the music. The C-10 power cord was making a definite contribution to this modest pre-amplifier.
Reexamining The System
Swapping the Musical Design SP-1 pre-amplifier in and out of the system reminded me that a playback system is just that -- a system. With the improvement wrought by the BPT power cords, and the synergy with the other mil spec cable in the system, I wondered how things might sound with the tungsten carbide upgrade ball in the Symposium Acoustics Rollerblock Series 2 under the CAT preamplifier. Heretofore, they had hardened the music to the point of irritation with some of my music. I popped them in and replayed the usual suspects, including violin and cello music from Music For A Glass Bead Game. The music became even more focused and more compelling, revealing every nuance of the bows on the violin and cello. Before I knew it, I was late for Sunday dinner at my sister's house.
Summary: Some Mary!
The Balanced Power Technology Clarity C-10 and C-7 power cords took my system to a new peak in terms of resolution and the ability of music to command my attention. I heard more, and my attention was arrested by music that was way too familiar to me--as long as I was on my cleaner, dedicated AC lines. In combination with my Mil-Spec interconnects and loudspeaker cables, there seemed to be a synergy that not only let most of the music through, but did so in a most economical way--say a few hundred dollars to wire the entire system--power cords, interconnects and loudspeaker cable. But she isn't perfect, and for $69/$99, you shouldn't expect a debutant to take home to mother. If, however, you're in this game for the music, and you'd rather dance with the devil in the blue dress, check this babe out.
At this point I would like to thank the boys in the band, without whose contribution, this review would not have been possible:
JPS Labs Power AC In-Wall cable and power outlet
Clarity C-10 power cord (10 gauge, 105 strands of 30 gauge wire) $69/6 ft; $99/12 ft.