The Science Of Cables?
Of course, cables have branched out to include optical applications in the last 30+ years. Photons from a laser or diode replace the electrons mentioned above and can carry significantly more information (density) per moment of space/time than there metal counterparts. This is incredible when it comes to shuttling data across the internet at nearly the speed of light and for billions of users. But, in the beginning (and also the end), all that computer gear (and your audio system) still needs to plug into an AC wall outlet for power. And that still requires a power cord made of metal and insulation in order to pass power safely and at usable amperage.
Clearly, the quality of the power cord has become of some interest in high-end audio circles, over the many years, as well. Audio engineers, however, continue to roll there eyes and contend that such window dressing as so called "audiophile" power cables are still in the realm of the imagination when it comes to audible or measurable results; frequently sizing them up as snake oil. Yet I have been making comparisons of actual performance based on changing power cords since 1980. In fact, one of the first cases where I intentionally utilized an AudioQuest Ruby speaker cable as an AC cord (versus the stock unspecified "lamp cord" cable) produced some fascinating and surprising improvements that were indeed both audible and measurable! Read on, if you dare!
Continuity Experimenting And Exploring
As my years of research continued, we recorded many more projects down the street at RCA / BMG Studios. And it became clear how important the purity of AC power could be when dealing in matters of high end audio recording. Notwithstanding the taunts of the engineering staff, I experimented with power cords made of or by companies like Mapleshade, Monster, Sony, BIS, Straight Wire, and found that several things were effected sonically, which could be also be recorded and compared when doing a live session with single microphone feed or when remastering from analog source tapes that could be replayed. For one thing, timbre or the quality of sound that makes each instrument or human voice distinctive in its own right changed a bit. And there was a reduction or increase in the volume and size of the recording's spatial rendering, like using a different camera lens to get closer or farther away from a subject. Lastly, dynamics could be squashed particularly at the loud end or open up to become clear and unimpeded; given the right balance of cord and component.
Solution Purity, Simplicity, Old School Hand-Built
Wherever possible, simple seems to be better at revealing subtle and intricate details where an audio circuit or power supply is concerned. And this extends to using simple transformers, chokes, and the highest quality hand-picked parts in a power supply. Yet, even with all this, the AC cord still makes a fundamental performance difference; giving its own audible character (though very subtle) to the presentation. And I confess to having made recordings of these various power cord's effect on audio (and video) over the decades, so as to have an objective and measurable version of my experiments to refer to in the future. It still surprises me to bring out an old war horse (like the first Cardas power cord) and run it up against newer designs. Such was the case when I first reviewed Skogrand interconnects and speaker cables, back in 2013; they distinguished themselves from my regular stable of high-end cables by not exhibiting any real sound of their own, and therefore not changing the sound being sent through them. In this way, audio (and video cables) add or subtract a certain amount of information, thus changing the quality of the signal when used with very high-end sources; these sources becoming slightly distorted in the process the cables acting essential like tone controls!
Well, my review routine this time, as in the past, was to play well known pieces of music from my well-worn library and to see and hear whatever the effects of changing a cable in my various systems would have on fidelity. Now analog interconnects are one kind of cable carrying a low voltage signal while speaker cables are another needing to handle larger currents and voltages to drive most speakers to loud volumes. Digital audio and balanced analog are also different and are built to their own required standards. So why should power cords be any different? And this is another reason why Knut Skogrand did not stop with his existing line-up of cables and in 2016 first began marketing his WAGNER Power cords; developed using the same method of listening to familiar music (as a musician, himself) and reworking the physical layout and material choices involved to produce the cords. With AC wall power, the signal is either 50 or 60 Hz at 100, 120, or 240 Volts; depending upon where you live in the world. These factors along with endless experiments in the deep woodland laboratory of Skogrand in Norway are at the heart of my observations regarding this new frontier in power cords.
Power Cords That I've Listened To For Decades
AudioQuest (Ruby Speaker Cable) My first try at hearing a difference with power cords came as an accessory to a Tripplite Voltage regulator I purchased way back in 1990. Separating this cord and terminating it with a proper Hubbel IEC connector on both ends brought this cord into practical use with much gear in the last 28 years. And it's astonishing how substituting this simple, well voiced, stranded speaker cable can pick-up the sound of any system, substantially, when used as a power cord. It's as though the flood gates suddenly opened and your music begins to take flight; soaring to new dynamic and imaging heights vs. either of the Unspecified (thin or thick) cords that come with your gear, which I've listed (and described) at the end. Quite frankly, I think the Audio Advisor (from whom I originally purchased this power cable option) made the right choice in selecting it as an upgrade. Amps benefited the most when I used the AudioQuest power cord, likely because of the increased gauge vs. the Unspecified cords. But it is fair to say even a small DAC, Pre-Amp, or Surround Sound Processor benefited from a better choice of materials to convey power from the wall to the gear. And if it sounds obviously better, time and again when you make a swap... then it probably is better.
BIS Audio AC Aamp
Cardas (5-9N Golden Ratio Multi-Core Stranded) Back in 1990, when I first began working for Chesky Records, I instituted a long research project to improve our sound quality through use of better cables. And George Cardas was among the first to offer David Chesky whatever he needed. Throughout 1991, various prototypes were tested and eventually turned into a commercially viable power cord by 1993; as terminated by Kip Doppler. Using these cords in place of the stock Unspecified cords made an immediate difference to both recording and playback gear no matter how new or old. Improvements included:
1) Soundstage specificity increasing, resulting in much more palpable detail with clearly defined instrumental outlines...
2) Dynamics opened up at the loudest end, now sounding much more alive and unrecorded...
3) Micro dynamics now yielded much more minute inner detail in quiet elements such as room ambience, vocal embouchure, finger noise on guitar, and percussion licks on the snare drum and high-hat. The Cardas power cord presented more detail than the AudioQuest Ruby above but was not as laid-back or forgiving as the BIS, being a bit more neutral sounding overall.
Furutech 5-9N Cryogenically Treated
Hi-Fi Tuning Silver
Kimber (Copper Stranded, Magnetically Balanced Geometry) Utilizing a specially formulated copper that is wound to form a capacitive filter around a central inert core produces exceptionally low coloration from this family of much heralded products by founder Ray Kimber. The combination produces noticeably quitter backgrounds that project tightly focused images into a much wider and deeper soundstage than 90% of the high-end power cables for sale in world, today. Given a demonstration, most will find true satisfaction in the improved sonic renderings, especially given the price points. And extremely long lengths of up to 25 feet are available with Watt Gate Chroma-free IEC connectors perfect for audiophile systems with a pre-amp on the opposite side of the room from the amp(s) and speakers.
LessLoss Solid Rectangular Core
Monster Multi Core, Multi Strand
Sony Stranded OFCC
Skogrand (Stranded) And now that moment you've all been waiting for ... When I substitute Knut's new power cord in place of any of the one's heard in this list (so far, March 2018) there is a tangible level of sonic detail that is revealed in all the most astonishing places. I hear turns of dynamic flourish, space that breaths and changes from piece to piece and album to album. There is the subtle impression of live music coming from real people, individual instrumental contributions that can be counted by number, and an overall gestalt that is reminiscent of what the most expensive systems in the world can create. If you stop and just listen to your favorite tunes, and then swap in the Wagner in place of whatever you currently have, you'll find yourself suddenly in a different world of sonic beauty with lots of passion and vibrancy revealed in just about every track. Please read my Sound Impressions, below, for a more precise listening description.
Unspecified 1 (Thin)
Unspecified 2 (Thick)
Skogrand Wagner Power Cord Sound Impressions
So, that long list of twelve different brands of power cords, some home-made by me and many actual products made over the last 40 odd years, has provided considerable experimentation and comparison opportunities using a wide range of AV gear. Here is what I found out: Amplifiers performed differently than Pre-Amps and DACs or different types of Projectors, for that matter; depending upon their power supply design as well as the quality of the power feed from the road or even from a dedicated AC line generator. And the qualities heard changed as more and more gear was brought together, especially if I was listening in a controlled acoustic environment with an exceptionally quiet ambient noise floor ~ < 20dB / SPL = recording studio quiet and below. Your results at home may be different, so please experiment with your own system to see and hear if anything I'm saying resonates with you and your listening habits.
Well, given both analog and digital sources, including first generation master tapes in both types of formats, and many of the commercially successful albums and songs of all genres available in the known Universe and in my library, here are my impressions of listening to Skogrand Wagner Power Cords versus the other eleven (and/or your choice of brands) power cords: You have yet to listen to your music collection completely until you've heard it through these Wagner power cables. I'll describe a few of my favorite albums which I auditioned to reach this conclusion.
A) Duke Ellington Original Album Classics: First Time Meeting Count Basie on Columbia Records (2007 Remaster): CD 5 / Track 10 "Take The A Train" Rehearsal & Alternate Take
Because this is a fairly early Stereo recording (1961), the whole album is great, but particularly this track (10) which offers up a wealth of sound coming from the whole orchestra, all over the soundstage. It is what we as audiophile producers and engineers dream of capturing; and to be able to hear it released in such amazing sound quality is an unbelievable opportunity to stumble upon. Yet it is fair to say that when heard in a good sounding tuned system utilizing nothing but Skogrand Wagner power cords (on DAC and AMP in the simplest version) simply made the music come alive in a way the other cables on hand didn't. A certain directness of sound (lack of veil?) that offered up sound which seemed to come from a much larger recording space than any of my listening rooms was immediately and palpably apparent. And this striking holographic audio picture lured me into listening all the way through to the end of the album nothing but alternate takes and unedited rehearsal coverage that revealed boundless degrees of sumptuous musical and sonic detail.
Quite amazing, really, how brass, percussion, and piano are so well balanced on this album (especially Track 12: B D B) in spite of their physical size differences, giving a surprising degree of immediacy and "you are there" tangibility that the other power cables, though close in the case of both the Kimber and Furutech, did not match when it came to the Skogrand challenge. This was especially true with the ghostly sounds of the band members as they call out to each other and the "control room" in the middle of a take... striking and a little frighteningly real!
B) The Doors Perception Records 6-CD Limited Edition Remastered (2006): CD 1 / Track 6 "Light My Fire"
Count on great oldies (1966-1969) to come through with super music and impeccable sound quality. No one who appreciates classic rock should be without a piece of this complete anthology of 12 CDs and DVDs. And to hear a wonder like this set revealed from the original master tapes and sensitively transferred and remastered, as here, takes you back like getting in a time machine. And once you are in that groove, almost quite literally one song follows another.
Have a listen to CD 2 / Track 1 "Strange Days", and you are treated to unusual electronic vocal textures, unearthly yet conspicuously late 1960's intonation and timbre, this and the tunes that follow are a kaleidoscope of musical and sonic landscapes that stroke your inner soul, especially when those subtle details are fully realized and released from the speakers. When judging enjoyment factor on a tune by tune basis, better power cords matter to me, make a difference in my work as well as my enjoyment. And with this new Wagner power cord, it seems obvious that something has been missing here, almost all along that is now coming through loud and clear. Toe tapping and head bobbing are occurring as we move onto Track 3 "Love Me Two Times", and I'm continuously intrigued by the see-through impression of the presentation; it's just spectacular and unusually seductive sounding.
C) Charles Gerhardt conducts film favorites & classical concerts Various Labels: RCA / BMG, Chesky Records (my remastering), Varese Sarabande, etc. (1959 1985)
Some may recognize the name while others fondly remember these many treasured recordings, most engineered by Decca recording master Kenneth Wilkinson. These two men together produced some of the greatest sounding recordings of symphony orchestras performing some of the finest contributions to that repertoire. When I first started working for Chesky Records in 1990, I was introduced to the many recordings they had created together for Reader's Digest magazine and contained in their many LP Box Sets from the late 1950's forward. These classic "Decca Tree" recordings (a technique created by Roy Wallace) use three Neumann M50 Omni-Directional large diaphragm microphones arranged on a mic stand that places them over the conductor along with two other M50 or M49 "outrigger" mics at the far edge of the stage, where the strings end. Along with some spot mics on brass, voice, and percussion, this combination of five to nine omni-tube mics was responsible for capturing some of the best known orchestral recordings in history.
A few favorite examples that you can easily find and enjoy include, 1) Sea Hawk The Classic Scores of Erich Korngold (RCA / BMG), 2) Captain From Castille - The Classic Scores of Alfred Newman (RCA/BMG), 3) Various Episodes of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi (RCA, Varese), 4) Light Classics, Vol. 1 & 2 (Chesky Records, Reader's Digest which I remastered), and many, many more. The key to these lively and engaging performances is that the sound of the orchestra is particularly lovely and inspiring; filled with tiny nuances of both orchestration and perfectly balanced with the hall's ambience. And as an avid devotee of live music as well as an audiophile recording engineer (and remastering engineer for the Reader's Digest / Chesky Records items), you get a really great sense of the orchestra's size and specificity. Here again, using the Skogrand Wagner power cord would be my first choice out of the 12 listed above. And I am willing to challenge any incoming power cords (in the future) to reveal more in the way of refined tonal color, spatial accuracy, dynamic explosiveness, and rhythmic propulsion. The Wagner simply let's more music and emotion through!
Expensive Yet Amazing
Well it's clear that several major brands above have spent time and money making pretty cables, while others have engineered products that they feel actually sound better. But then there are the Skogrand Wagner power cords, which like coveted products in any category of pursuit show off the full capability of whatever you plug them into by virtue of not limiting the reproduction in much of any perceivable way. Amps sounded bigger and louder with great dynamic shading and subtleties heard.
Pre-Amps seemed to disappear and add less apparent coloration to the sound. DACs became smoother with much greater tactility and volume of space presented out of the speakers. Turntables sounded more rock solid with quieter background noise allowing one to hear much deeper into each recording.
Blu-Ray players and 4K Video Projectors for Home and Pro Cinema showed noticeable improvements in their sound quality and the depth of field displayed in their images. Collectively put, as with his audio interconnects and speaker cables, Knut Skogrand's Wagner power cords will deliver the sound quality hidden inside your albums and allow your system to perform in a way that you are going to find very, very hard to resist.