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August 2013
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Triode Wire Labs Plus Power Cords
High-fidelity power cord without the prerequisite exotic pricing.
Review By Jonathan Lo

 

Triode Wire Labs Plus Power Cords  Cable evaluations and reviews are probably some of the least favorite activities for a reviewer. Power cord reviews in particular can test the patience and sanity of the most experienced reviewer. Aside from the major hassle of constantly plugging and unplugging cables on many components, one of the major difficulties is the fact cables can sound completely different depending on the component and system involved, and this effect seems to be magnified for power cords. It's not uncommon at all for a reviewer to find a cord that sounds magnificent on a component, say a DAC, that sounds absolutely wrong on another component, an amplifier for example. This is why when asked to recommend a power cord, one often has to answer "You have to try it in your system."

The upshot of all this hand waving comes down to this. The Triode Wire Labs Plus power cords come as close as metaphysically possible to a "universal" or "safe" power cord recommendation as there can be. Even better news is they are not just good sounding cords on many components; they are simply excellent sounding on seemingly anything one wishes to power up. When asked to describe how they sound, the imagery that keeps coming to mind is a gently sparkling crystal laying on a perfectly smooth piece of velvet under perfect lighting conditions at a jewelry store. There are cords that overdo the velvet side, sounding smooth and quiet but not detailed or clear enough, and there are cords that blind the eye with too much or uneven harsh light reflections as not to have a velvety smooth sound. These cords may still find a synergistic position in a system, nudging the sonic balance that was off in opposite direction perhaps, but they certainly also carry the risk of throwing off the system balance way too much if the system characteristics already veered towards the same direction.

 

The How
Being an avid DIY cable builder, I have built many DIY power cords over the years, some poor, many decent, some quite good, a few even great. I therefore know firsthand how extremely difficult it is to come up with a power cord that can pull off the seemingly impossible task of sounding both detailed and smooth, both fast and relaxed, and both neutral and warm. After seeing the TWL Plus power cords and hearing how they sound, I was naturally curious to find out how this balance was achieved. Being a startup cable company, Pete at TWL understandably does not give away detailed materials and recipes on his website, but some interesting elements of the design can be gathered.

"Experimenting with DIY power cables as well as interconnects, Pete constructed numerous variations and configurations with different metals as conductors, assorted construction techniques, various stranding sizes, different twist lengths and insulation, as well as grounding and shielding techniques. After all this experimentation, he found a material and construction combination that worked ‘best' for hi-fidelity audio applications that also could be assembled for affordable audiophile prices. One of Pete's philosophies as an engineer is Efficiency & Effectiveness; he believes that "AFFORDABLE" & "AUDIOPHILE" should not be an OXYMORON!

After finding the "best" materials for audiophile power cord applications, Pete determined that the "best" assembly technique for AC power signals and AC transmission was to utilize Litzendraht braiding. This technique was developed in the 1930s in Germany. This type of wire construction offers very wide bandwidth with excellent phase performance, especially for audio signal transmission. The great and famous Western Electric Company utilized Litzendraht construction in military applications during World War 2.

Pete found that his ‘hand braiding' techniques were not the ‘best'. However, he found that his wife and three daughters with their long, blonde hair were ‘expert' braiders and they currently ‘Litz-braid' all Triode Wire Labs power cord products by hand." Upon further investigation, it turns out TWL uses highly annealed oxygen-free copper conductors meant to be used in classic theater tube amplifiers and recording equipment, sourced from a company who shall remain nameless. The physical property of this wire and meticulous hand-braiding is what lends TWL cables unheard-of flexibility for cables of this heavy gauge, e.g. 7 gauge per signal leg for the 7 Plus! While this may be not on top of audiophiles' priorities when looking for power cords, there is no doubt that great flexibility certainly was a very welcome feature in actual use.

 

The Result
Form following function or function following form? Inevitably design and sound follow each other, and one important aspect of power cord design is the shielding. For TWL, completely passive noise reduction technique is said to be employed, but from this not too much specific information can be gathered. Often one finds thick cords to use perhaps too much shielding, possibly even incorrectly applied, resulting in overly dark sound signature with all life and sparkle sucked out from the top registers. Whatever shielding technique TWL utilizes, these are some of the quietest cords I have laid my ears on, but the real trick here is how noise is suppressed while life, sparkle, and air is allowed to fully blossom. The result is performers floating in their own rich pocket of light and air immersed in a sea of inky-quiet soundstage that permeates the listening space effortlessly. Many words were used to describe the effect, but one simply needs to hear it for himself, just for a moment, to fully appreciate these words.

Unlike many power cords out there, TWL power cords do not really sound similar to how they physically look. Going by prior experience, power cords that are built from large gauge conductors, often with liberal amount of shielding and filler material, usually appear thick and heavy. These cords inevitably also sound like how they look, thick and heavy with overblown, sloppy bass compared to the rest of the range, which makes them sound fat, plodding, and slow. While TWL cords appear quite substantial in their build and girth, especially the Seven Plus, their sound is not slow or fat, sounding as balanced and lithe as anything in audio can reasonably be. Not that powerful bass is necessarily a bad thing. Many listeners abhor a thin, light sound that has no foundation; however, TWL cords provide excellent and plenty of bass foundation while not allowing bass to veil the all-important midrange and treble, a real deal-breaker. TWL's bass is at once warm and solid, doing great justice to acoustic bass instruments as well as synthesized beats, being able to shock the unsuspecting listener with that sudden bass kick and rumble.

The subjective amount of bass energy and "growl" progressively increases as one goes from TWL 12 Plus, to 10 Plus, and then to 7 Plus, with the number representing the gauge of conductor per signal leg. It's not that 12 Plus does not have excellent bass foundation and pop; it certainly does. Only when one conducts careful volume-matched A-B comparisons between two different TWL cords will he notice the differences readily, not just the overall bass amount but the more generous tonal girth and lower-midrange presence of the more dear cord. Below photo shows how the three TWL cords compare in size, with Seven Plus on top, Ten Plus in the middle, and Twelve Plus on bottom.

Triode Wire Labs Plus Power CordsOf course, the most impressive bass in the world would not mean a thing if the rest of the sound disappoints. Oh, and what midrange and treble these cords possess! During the tedious review process of pulling one set of cords for another, it was becoming more and more difficult to pull out the TWL cords, especially after they had "settled" into my system for a period of time. While sitting in my listening chair with some of my favorite tunes playing, asking myself why I did not want to get up and change out the TWL cords, it struck me. The critical midrange simply sounded deliciously correct. It wasn't simply a matter of sounding smooth or detailed or even rich, etc. Instrumental and vocal timbres and tones did not require my brain to filter out anomalies in order to believe they were how real life sounds like.

Most audiophiles have experienced something like this. While listening to one's favorite female singer, one part of the brain has to work hard to filter out that hardening and thin upper midrange in order to believe and enjoy the performance. While listening to Miles Davis, especially the so-so quality recordings, one's mind has to constantly battle the brittle trumpet notes in order to imagine the tones surely must have been sweet and powerful in real life. While nothing can cure a truly bad recording, TWL cords do not exacerbate the poor recordings and bring out their best qualities. TWL cords' naturally "right" tone and timbre provide an abundant buffer of believability to give less-than-great recordings a fighting chance.

One very important aspect of TWL cords' attraction is the rock-solid center "lock." Singers and instruments hover and lock strongly in center with seemingly 3-D density, without images shifting as pitch goes up or down. And when someone belts out a note, the sonic energy explodes into the room toward the listener, but all without the actual center-lock being disturbed or distorted. There are highly-praised cords out there that "sound" transparent with lots of sparkle, air, and blistering speed that fail to satisfy long-term due to having ghost-like insubstantial center fill. If one ever tried one of those cords and thought "Oh, only if these fast cords had a solid and juicy midrange!" well the TWL cords may well fit that bill.

The other spectrum of power cords include those that are known as forgiving, warm, and perhaps even rich. While all that may sound very inviting, what many of them lack is killer detail resolution. We are not talking about false detail achieved by highlighting low-treble or by implementing bottom-shy frequency balance, a trait often found in poorly-designed silver or silver-plated cabling, for example. A good test of resolution and low-level detail is to listen to favorite music with system volume turned down, below what one would normally listen to. Most of the so-called forgiving cords simply fail to convey fine detail and transparency, an effect magnified by lower volume levels. The TWL Plus cords are exceptional when volume goes down, showing off immense clarity without harshness or spikiness. The big TWL trick is that when volume is turned up, even way up, resolution seems to increase without unduly increasing ear fatigue. This improved transparency and resolution is the main area of improvement the newer TWL "Plus" cords exhibit over the original TWL cords, which were excellent cords already but perhaps leaning slightly towards the warmer and smoother side of dead neutral. Whatever design changes TWL made with the newer Plus cords, they hit one out of the park as overall transparency and resolution improved without sacrificing an iota of the original's richness, tonality, and musicality.

 

Finale And The Choice
So are TWL power cords that mythical perfect power cord every audiophile has been dreaming of, able to leap tall buildings and rescue a poor-sounding system to greatness? Normally, audiophiles will dismiss such a loaded question, but in this case, the answer may be "closer to yes than dreamt possible." For that billionaire audiophile, would he best be served by simply ordering a Seven Plus for each and every component and be done with it? It's possible, but it's also possible his system may sound even better with strategically placed mix of different gauge TWL's, so nothing replaces an audition in one's own system after all.

So which TWL cords should one choose? If one owned one of those monster class-A amps that thrive on unlimited juice, then fitting a Seven Plus on it and smaller cords on smaller components would be a sensible way to maximize the different cords' potential. On the other hand, if your power amps barely sip electricity, a good strategy is to fit the "best" cord right at the front, the source, then maybe use less expensive cords downstream. As a general rule, the power cord (or cable) right at the source is the one that has relatively the most impact on the overall system sound. I would have normally thought Seven Plus was way overkill for my DACs; however, I must admit it brought out Wizard of Oz level of tonal density, richness, and bass foundation from my DAC's. Since many complain their digital sources lack in these areas, not sounding "analogue" enough, this strategy is worth considering.

Whichever TWL power cords are chosen, the listener can rest assured that he is getting the most bang for his buck in the audiophile power cable land. I can easily see these cords selling for multiples of their current prices if marketed by one of the more famous, exotic brand names. And people would still think they got their money's worth.

 

 

Specifications
Type: A/C power cable
Twelve Plus 
Price: $249 (up to 5 foot)

Ten Plus
Price: $329

Seven Plus
Price: $499
 

Company Information
Triode Wire Labs
E-mail: triodewirelabs@outlook.com 
Website: www.TriodeWireLabs.com


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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