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Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 45
Power Cords

Article by Bill Gaw

 

  Hello fellow Audiolics! Welcome to another meeting of Audiolics Anonymous, our support group for the insatiably tweaked. Have we done any listening this month, or have you been spending most of your time tweaking as usual?

In last month's AA article I discussed the past problems with AC line noise and its detrimental effects on audio and video reproduction, and what I consider to be the two best pieces of equipment for control of the situation. Namely, the Sound Applications CF-X12 by James Weil, and the Velociter by Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio. Since then I have found (at least in my system using the NBS Signature AC cables) that the Velociter was the best at cleaning up the AC, giving me the most accurate sound stage, liquid midrange,e and most natural reproduction of the music. The CF-X12, on the other hand, gave the quietest sound stage, tightest bass, and the crispest reproduction of sound. If you wish an analogy or two, the Velociter was more analog and tube-like while the CF-X12 was more digital and transistory, all in the good senses of the words. And that's all the adjectives and explanation I am going to give.

Still in my tweaking mode, I did something stupid for a person who wishes to give firm opinions on equipment: I started playing with power cords for each piece. During the recent CES I met David Elrod for the first time. Several years ago I had purchased my Walker Proscenium Turntable from him and just wanted to meet him and thank him for one of the best pieces of audio equipment I have ever had in my hands. He is now producing his own Elrod Power Systems power cords so I asked him for a couple for trial. He most graciously sent me two of his EPS - 3 Signature cables for review. 

Then, Lloyd Walker called and suggested (with devilish glee) that I also try the Silent Source Power Cords that he has found to work optimally with the Velociter units. Finally, I received an offer from our Fearless Leader, Steven R. Rochlin, to review the DH Labs Power Plus Power Cords. They have still not arrived so I'll report on them at a later date. So here I am stuck with a chore that I swore I'd never do again, reviewing multiple power cords. DAMN!!! If its one thing I hate doing, its power cord reviews. "Why, you ask?" Because there are too many variables!

"How can there be variables" you ask? Isn't a power cord a power cord? It simply carries the AC from the wall to the equipment, right? As long as it does not add significant resistance or capacitance, all cords should do the same job. After all, electricity travels over miles of cheap aluminum wire, and through multiple cheaply built transformers from the power company. So you ask "How can three to six feet of cord between the wall and piece of equipment make a difference?"

Well, years ago I was also a skeptic but I have seen, um, heard the light. In some ways I wish I had not. There are twenty inexpensive Belden IEC power cords that came with my equipment hanging in my cellar... and several thousand dollars worth of high-end cords in my system. I am here to say that they do make a difference. (Unhappily, after this review, I may have some of my old expensive cords hanging there also.) When built properly, they can act as filters of unwanted noise traveling along with the AC. Interestingly, there are multiple ways of doing this and each company has it own proprietary method. These include the use of LCR filters, multi-strand interweaved networks, copper or silver coated copper or fine silver wire of varying gauges. From round to square to flat ribbons, with different dielectric coatings consisting of anything from cheap plastics to Teflon, to air, and with various filler materials to damp vibrations, EMF force, etc. Disadvantages of these specialty cords, in addition to their cost, are (usually) their increased stiffness and their weight on the equipment's' IEC plug plus their inability to be coiled and hidden. 

Interestingly, if all they did was act as AC noise filters each manufacturer's cord should sound the same on different pieces of equipment. But that is where the big problem comes in. Each cord can sound different on each type of equipment they are used on. Thus, each manufacturer has different cords for different purposes and each manufacturer can tune their cords. How? I haven't the foggiest idea. I am a doctor, not an electrical engineer. As far as I am concerned most of what they do is alchemy, but I have to admit it quite often works.

On the other hand, have also seen some pretty underhanded stuff going on in high-end audio, with power cords on the top of the list. Have actually seen a couple of very expensive cords that were nothing but doubled up Belden wire with fancy coverings and plugs, which were exorbitantly priced. A departed old friend, Sal Demicco (probably the father of specialty AC cords), told me stories about some of the super expensive products that were nothing less than snake oil. And that was fifteen years ago when an expensive power cord ran a few hundred dollars, not the several thousand of today's. So caveat emptor. Also caveat what I have to say regarding how cords sound in my system with my equipment. What I hear on my system, on my equipment, may be completely different from what will happen in your system. Thus take all comments from reviewers on power cords with a grain of salt, as they may be the most sensitive of all components to system differences.

I love some of the write-ups with multiple adjectives on sound quality with power cords. Remember, that is what the reviewer hears on his equipment with his set-up off of his AC power from his electricity producer, not yours. I will probably be brought to task from one of the readers with an e-mail asking why I didn't do a better job of describing the effect the cord has on the music. All I can say is, with power cords, what I get won't necessarily be what you do, and all adjectives I could use probably will not be exactly what you hear. 

On the other hand, one can speak in generalities on how the cord improves the sound from a system or particular piece of equipment compared to other cords. The strengths or weakness of each cord relate to the noise riding along with the 60Hz wave and gained from RF from the air not being filtered out by the power supply. Plus, there are some who suggest there is something going on at the quantum physics level that some power cords affect. Thus, instead of a perfect DC flat line, the junk riding along modulates with the signal leading to soundstage anomalies. This usually manifests itself as a loss of width or depth, loss of clarity clouding up the space between instruments, harshness or stridency of sound, and above all, noise in the form of hiss. With video, the image loses its punch, becoming flattened, and dull with noise decreasing the resolution. Basically the same effects as with audio. Also make sure that the reviewer states how long they broke in the cords or other equipment before the review. Some power cords take a very long time to break in, and need current running through them continuously to sound their best. 

Now why have I wasted your time with the above? Because I was amazed at the differences each of the above power cords made being used as the source for the CF-X12 and Velociter. Each reacted differently with the two components, and am still experimenting on which I prefer with each. The cords have also changed somewhat my thinking on the two units. Before this review, my favorite cords had been the NBS Signature. While 1-inch thick with an iridescent blue coating and moderately stiff, thus standing out in a room, they have been for me the best all-around cable I have owned… sounding good in just about any place I have had them in my system. They have held up beautifully compared to other newer cords used, and wish I could afford more. Unhappily, at $3,000 each will not be purchasing many of them soon. They mated beautifully with the Velociter, maximizing that unit's strengths, while not detracting from the CF-X12. 

My second best were the Electraglide Fatboys. These are black, two-inch thick lightweight, extremely stiff monsters made of silver foil with Teflon tube-air dielectric. They have worked well on just about every piece of equipment owned, being especially good on amplifiers. Unhappily, for some unknown reason they did not mate well with either the Velociter, where it dulled the reproduction, erasing some of the soundstage information and slowing transients. The CF-X12 did the same, but not to as great an extent.

 

The Elrod EPS-3 Signature Cables are about 1.5 inches wide, with a black weaved coating and what appears to be three tubes inside of some dielectric-electric. David won't divulge what the dielectric is. The wire is high purity copper foil and supplied with Fururtech ends. He also uses material in the cords, the name of which he wil not discuss, to dampen mechanical and electrical vibrations and names the process EDCF (Electron Density Containment Field). He makes an EPS-2 cable for low power and the EPS-3 for high power equipment for $995 each, and a signature line for $1,600 each. Naturally I asked for the best and received two EPS-3 Signatures for review.

First the negatives; this is one of the stiffest cords I have used. It even comes through UPS in a round tube package the full length of the cord. So forget coiling up these babies. Second, it takes forever to break in. I have had the things for over a month, and they are still changing. Also, the cord has to be plugged in at all times or it loses some of its effect. Happily, it does not need to be running any equipment so it will not add to your electric bill. Finally, it did not mate well with the Velociter. I do not know why, but like with the Electraglide the soundstage dulled up. David says that that will change as the cord matures. Expect to read more about this in a forthcoming article. So I called Lloyd Walker, explained what I heard and he stated that he had found the same thing. That is when he offered to send me the Silent Source Cables, which he discovered when he shared a room with the manufacturer at a CES.

Now the positives of the Elrod's: This is by far the best AC cable I have ever had in my system for amplifiers. With my 300B Electraprint DRD amplifiers, the soundstage is superb, clear and open, even more so that with the NBS cords. The midrange is luscious, harmonically rich, and alive. With my Plinius bass amplifiers, the mid-bass from my horns is the tightest and cleanest I have heard from my system, with chest compression and thrill almost like a live performance. The synergy with the Plinius was wonderful to behold. As an experiment, I jury-rigged the EPS to go between the outlet and the Synergistics Research cord I have hot-wired to my Crown Macro-Reference Amp for my subwoofers. Again, the deep bass took on added strength and seemed to reach even deeper with more pitch definition. Why adding a power cord to another power cord would do this I have no idea, but I do trust my ears on this.

Finally I tried it on the Sound Application CF-X12 units, and lo and behold the cord markedly improved what those units did to audio compared to using the cords that came from Sound Applications… including the NBS. While the CF-X12 still did not have the soundstage of the Velociter, it came much closer than with any of the other power cords. And with video, HDTV HBO and Showtime from DirecTV, OTA HDTV, and Superbit DVD's run at 1280 x 720 through my Electrohome 9500LC projector actually looked almost three-dimensional in places. The combination produced the best video I have ever seen from a CRT projector. The combination actually looked better than the Velociter, with any of the cables available, for video. I am truly a happy man right now. 

I did not try it on source equipment as David recommends his EPS-2 cables for them. Maybe I will experiment with that at another time. But with amplifiers, the EPS-3 Sig. significantly beat my NBS Sig. cable at half the price. As the NBS cost $3,000 new five years ago, and the Electraglide Fatboy is $2200, the EPS is a steal at $1,600 list now. On the other hand, the Silent Source Power Cords mate superbly with the Velociter. Of all the cords tried with the unit, these maximized the Velociter's effect on the system, even beating out the NBS Sigs. Lloyd Walker recommends them to be used with the Velociter when one is running more than 900 watts through one unit. Otherwise he recommends his Omega Micro cables. I heard the Micro's years ago at Clark Johnsen now defunct Listening Studio in Boston, and they were very good, but have not been able to get a pair to try in my system.

 

 

The Silent Source AC cables, from Silent Source Audio Cables, are designed by Frank Dickens who is a former Air Force electronics guru. His goal is to produce cables of modest price with cost no object build quality. He states he uses no voodoo magic; just tried and true scientifically based methods. He feels the most important property for cables is their shielding and grounding. Therefore, he uses multiple shields, grounded in such a way that the shield is at a different potential to the signal return, thus shunting all RF and EMF to ground. He also uses solid OFC copper with precious metal plating and Teflon insulation, while the plugs are also made from OFC copper, and attached with a special copper rich solder. The cables are partially broken in before shipping and his Signature cables are all cryogenically treated. The AC cables are made for >20 Amps and he does make a thicker cable for 50 Amps. The shields are embedded in an un-named material for both electrical and mechanical damping. Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio is his main distributor in the US.

First, these are the most flexible and lightest high end cords that I have ever had. One can coil them like a snake into a very small area behind the equipment and don't need to be manhandled into shape. The 15 Amp AC input and IEC output plug are gold plated OFC copper, with the contacts slightly wider and thicker than standard plugs so they fit very tightly to their counterparts. They have a black braid mesh that allows a silver braid shield to partially show through, which really makes them quite attractive. 

The Signature model, three of which Lloyd sent me, are cryogenically treated. This is the first time I have been able to compare two types of power cords that have gone through this freeze-thaw process which I have found to be advantageous for tubes, interconnects and speaker wire. So now I guess it also works quite well for power cords. They can also be made up to any length you wish. At $650 for 6 feet, $950 for 12 feet, and $80 per each additional foot, they are very inexpensive for what they do.

What do they do? First, as above, they mate perfectly with the Velociter, doing even better than the NBS Sig., at one fourth the price. I am getting the most liquid, dead quiet soundstage from my system. I could live with this sound forever. The music comes out of blackness. On placing the Radio Shack Signal Strength meter directly in the mouth of my 110dB efficient horn I am getting 3dB less noise than with the NBS Signature wire, and that was the quietest till now. I do not know how, but even the normal tube rush from my preamps and amps, is significantly quieter. The only noise in my room now is the fans on the Crown amp, video projector and computer, which were hidden in background noise before. I have not as yet had time to test them on my other equipment, as I wanted to get the word out quickly, as they are working so superbly with the Velociter and I did not want to lose their effect on the whole system. Will leave that to one of my future columns as I am ordering more. 

So here is where I stand as far as power cords go. Power cords have certainly improved over the past several years, both in quality and cost. I can not tell whether the present NBS Signature is the same as mine, but the price for the same named cord has dropped from $3,000 to $650. On the other hand the top of the line NBS Omega is still costing $3,000. The Elrod and Silent Source cables are certainly cheaper than the old NBS Signatures and do at least as good a job, if not more in cleaning up AC grunge. 

I am using three Silent Source on my Velociters, two NBS Signatures on my Electraprint DRD 300B amps, and the Elrod EPS-3 Signatures on my Plinius solid-state bass amplifiers. The rest of the system is fitted out with Electraglide Silver Reference and Fatboy AC cords, and as soon as I have some more money, these will be replaced with more Elrod and Silent Source units. Price-wise, the Silent Source is the best value available while the Elrod appear to be the best for high amperage stuff. Maybe this will change as I experiment further, and if so, will let you know accordingly. Hopefully I will be able to talk Lloyd into letting me borrow a couple of his Omega Micro cables for review, and the DH Lab cables are still coming in. Guess I will be doing plenty of tweaking in the near future... and selling some of my older cords. Anybody want some inexpensive Electraglides?

 

Manufacturer's Reply

Your article on my power cords is interesting. From my prospective, taking into account my design goals as well as numerous dealer and customer reports, the cords accomplish the following:

1. Extreme flexibility, creating less strain on component's chassis IEC, and ease of handling.

2. By far, the most solid IEC connection available.

3. "Instant gratification" right out of the package.

4. Sound Characteristics

a. For the most part, not component or system dependant. Systems can be upgraded without having to start over getting it right again.

b. Neutral - brutally so.

c. Extremely quiet without that unnatural filtered sound associated with most cables producing a "black background".

d. Exceptional low level detail and focus. Highly resolved.

e. Tight, articulate bass and extended highs.

f. Exhibit a rightness in timing, attack and decay.

g. Fast. Very fast.

5. Display the character of recorded music, rather than playback qualities such as that "liquid sound" which are really appealing distortions.

6. The most profound changes come with inserting the first power cord and from removing the last Non-Silent Source Cord from the system. If using only one, the preamp usually shows the biggest change, followed by turntables, and other front end components with motors.

Regards,

Frank Dickens
Silent Source Audio Cables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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