POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 27
Purist Audio Anniversary AC cable
as reviewed by Karl Lozier
AC power cords have seemingly created an almost love/hate relationship with audiophiles. It is probably more of a hate relationship with many music lovers. They do not like to be bothered with or by equipment. "Only a nut would like to find out that AC power cords can affect audio quality and musical enjoyment" is the feeling of most, if not all music lovers. I should agree; I would be very contented and a bit wealthier if I did not hear the definite effects different power cords bestow on my beloved music. If you do not believe that AC power cords can and do make a noticeable and usually significant difference, then let me spin a short tale and you can decide. First, let me make a few things crystal clear, that means no haze, cloudiness, or covering effect that can mask or hide some part of one of our basic senses—the visual sense. True, we are mainly interested in our hearing sense but definite analogies exist. For many people, the visual sense seems to be far more acute than the audible sense—to which PFO is mainly dedicated.
Quite a few years ago while working for one of the audio print magazines, my editor committed my efforts to reviewing all the cable products made by one of the very respected companies in the audio cable specialty field. Things were very different then. Most experienced reviewers hated the job of reviewing cables because of the so-called "snake oil" type of hard-sell pitches and gross over hyping of the products in general. Claims were usually unsubstantiated or greatly exaggerated (we may have arrived full circle in that regard lately). Few companies seemed to be doing any genuine research to try to understand what factors were of significant importance. If my memory still serves me as needed, two qualities were often promoted as automatically being better for any cable (though at that time, few companies were actually promoting their AC power cables). The promoted qualities were either a lower resistance or impedance and the purity of the copper used in cables. The quote "the more nines" the greater the purity—99.999% pure was typically called five nines. Just recently, I saw the first mention in a long time of how many "nines" noted in a review article. A very nearly meaningless term, because the implication of the higher the number then the greater the purity can not be proven and depends on what technique might be used for measurement of the purity and so on (one of the infamous numbers can lie situations). Now, most reputable companies simply claim or quote "high purity" or "ultra fine" or some other impressive wording rather than an exact number.
I have been around so long now that history is repeating itself and perhaps so am I. The cable company's products that I committed to reviewing many years ago, is none other than the manufacturer of the AC power cables reviewed here—Jim Aud's Purist Audio Design. Jim had specifically requested that I review all of his various top line Dominus series cables together. In other words, I removed all of my usual cables from my system: interconnect, loudspeaker, and AC power cables. Then I replaced every one with Purist Audio's at the time new Dominus series cables and logically titled the review, "A System of Cables". I did no specific or individual cable comparisons, simply a comparison with my usual cables versus the new Dominus series cables. The result was outstandingly positive and so reported in my published review. A few weeks later, Jonathan Valin published a similarly voiced review in The Absolute Sound magazine by. *Footnote at the end of this review is to explain why mystery writer Jonathan Valin is so important in the arenas of music and audio.
When my listening sessions were finished and the review written, I packed the cables for return (this was years ago). I discovered a leftover AC power cable. It was connected to the then just released P S Audio's Power Plant power regenerator - also being reviewed by me at that time. I listened a few minutes with my system's usual cables, along with the Purist Audio AC cord connecting the PS Audio Power Plant to the wall outlet. Then I listened and listened again after changing that one power cord to the original cord supplied by PS Audio. The result being an easily noticeable difference in favor of the Purist Audio power cord. Rightfully, the Dominus series remains still available, and after all these years, it is competitive with the top offerings from many if not most top line offerings by competitors. It was late in the evening and my wife Pat was getting ready to go to bed. At this point, I need to stress that she is not an audiophile in any sense of the word. In actuality, she is not really a music lover though she finds background music to be relaxing. I asked her to come into the listening room and simply told her that I wanted her to listen to a couple of two-minute passages of music. She did so and then I said, "I am making a little change" (simply and quickly swapping the AC power cord) and repeated the two musical passages. I asked if she heard any difference from the immediately preceding listening. She simply replied "of course". Tale told and perhaps case closed with a one-time very casual comparison. She later described the differences as the same as what I heard, though choosing different words. Those listeners that claim to hear no difference between AC power cords need to figure out why they are seemingly unable to hear the differences. Might some power cords sound or affect the sound very similarly? Of course, but only a few of them, not most of them—unless.…?
The situation demands some serious thinking. In what way and how can a typical reasonably made AC power cable affect the sound projected by the loudspeakers? No ridiculous presumptions please, such as in using thin 20 gauge poor quality wire strands and/or poorly constructed connector plugs—be serious and think. To follow up on that question I want to pose the following to you, if you were provided with a reasonably good AC power cable, say a typical one priced around $150 and were challenged to improve it, what would you do?
If you have had a few years of playing around with some cheap radios or small television sets, then think about the following. Remember the printed hints sheet that may have come with the set, stating something like "straighten the attached power cord and move it around a bit for best sound or picture as it acts as a built-in antenna"? What do you think those long pieces of cable that we refer to as AC power cables were actually doing? They were acting as an antenna, and the type of signal picked up by the cable/antenna is referred to as RFI! Problem is, there is no information in most instruction sheets to tell us how to prevent the cables from doing what simply comes naturally!
In trying to explain what is happening with AC power cords and their ability to significantly affect sound quality, consider my following comments. First, audio amplifier designers have come to acknowledge that the power supply is extremely important (more so than previously thought years ago). The power supply is modulated by the amplifier's active circuitry design and therefore its quality is all-important. Now add the information that the power supply begins with the AC power cable. What the power cable does, or does not do, such as picking up unwanted interferences while acting as an "antenna" can be critically important as it feeds the power supply that in turn is modulated by circuitry and its signal.
I thought Purist Audio Design had taken AC power cables about as far as possible with the Dominus series, but in the Anniversary series, Jim has managed a number of upgraded tweaks/modifications including a higher percentage/purity of copper—though no exacting number is given. But the most important change is simply, or perhaps not so simply, the thick Contego layer inside the outer shielding and protective layers/coverings. It is easy to believe that that layer is in essence holding everything intimately together. It is also mechanically damping and as such prevents any hint of mechanical resonance from becoming a reality. Taking years to develop, the Contego layer goes beyond the unique fluid plus layer of the Dominus model, by being both heavier and denser by its semi-fluid combination of doped silicone and a proprietary fluid combined with their ferrox shielding Together, this addresses RF suppression (remember my previous mention of radio and small television power cords acting as antennas?). Well the RF suppression in my location is quite simply the best yet. Its electrical shielding properties for EMI rejection (electro-motive, self-generated by the components) are also top notch. My Gauss meter shows a rather consistent level of between 0.4 and 0.5 mG around my components, rising nearer the floor and dropping significantly around 5 feet or more above the floor. To give an idea of the massive solid construction of these Purist AC power cables, their shipping weight was a staggering 110 pounds for the thirteen cables. A red-faced FedEx deliveryman will attest to the weight. Is all that weight necessary? Maybe not directly, but what it does do is simply outstanding, and is unequaled in my experience.
What it does do is simply let my reference audio system sound noticeably and significantly better than ever. Jim Aud was not surprised with my findings, though I was. I asked him why his 20th Anniversary Purist AC power cables allow my system to sound so good. Fortunately, as a well-educated and trained former NASA engineer, his answers are straightforward and refreshingly to the point—unlike those from many new cable companies. No smoke and mirrors or snake-oil here! Substitute five years of research, untold hours on the computer, hard work, and extensive experimentation and tweaking for this one product. This in comparison to other companies who announce newly designed over-hyped products with great regularity. The AC power cables are also cryogenically treated three times and while that slightly reduces the resistance in a thousand meter roll, it significantly reduces the noise in the same roll.
I suggested to Jim "that even in the deep bass range, they present a more powerful, full and detailed bass range and just more 'there' there in the entire audible spectrum." That is, with the VSEI level 5 modifications of the model DVP-S9000ES the deep bass response extended cleanly and solidly and into the very bottom octave with great clarity and detail throughout the entire bass range. Additionally, in the middle and upper bass range of the superb heavyweight model SCD-777ES with VSEI level 5+ modifications was still superior in the feeling of substantial palpable power and richness. Jim's response was that the main or overriding factor is simply the superb signal to noise ratio (lack of background noise), bettering any AC power cable they have tested! He said clarity and unforced detail, over the entire range, was consistent and usually beneficial. As you would guess, if the treble range was poorly recorded the results were a more revealing edge of hardness or even brightness to the sound.
If my guesswork and interpretation of what is happening is correct, listeners with multiple loudspeakers, or with multiple woofers driven by multiple amplifiers each covering at least part of the bass range, may reap the most benefit from these superb AC power cables! This deduction is a result of finding that the Purist Audio 20-amp power cable was only subtly superior to the Python model 20-amp AC power cable supplied with my Shunyata Hydra power center (all other cables reviewed here are 15-amp models), whereas the greatest improvement was heard with my amplifiers. Allen Wright's superbly modified Sony SACD players benefited to a slighter greater extent than the power center did, but still not to the extent that I had calculated they might. This suggests replacing AC cables in two steps, starting first with any amplifiers used any where in the bass range, and then moving down the chain. The entire audio spectrum is affected by a beautiful layered sense of detailed depth and dimensionality, and addictively so.
My rather extensive experience with various cables over the years did not fully prepare me for what was happening. Often in the high-end audio field it seems as though the greatest degree of improvements come from the components early in the chain; such was not the case here. Years ago my defining moment with AC power cords came at the beginning of the audio chain. That comparison involved a typical AC power cord versus possibly the best then available, the Dominus. My current AC power cords are certainly not "chopped liver" and almost all retail for over $1000 each. Within the next few weeks, I need to consider replacing some of these for the purposes of reviewing with the best and my for own personal listening pleasure. I can visualize Purist Audio's Anniversary AC power cords boldly taking up residence.
Along with that, I have reached the point where only a few cable companies will send me product for review. Why? Well, I am known for telling it like it is and do not fall for excuses of why their cables "are not a good match for my system or components." Let me make something perfectly clear dear readers. When top audio designers get together to discuss various audio components (though this is not as common as you might think) the idea of products having any sense of limitations or needing to be carefully matched with various other components is non-existent. Really good, is simply really good! Of course, at a lower level of performance, audiophiles often run around trying to match complementary faults in attempts to improve their overall quality. This is okay if one is really not out to set up a reasonably neutral system or one that approximates the natural sound quality of non-amplified musical instruments in a well-recorded acoustical setting. Avoidance of being neutral with all the components will backfire if you eventually want to upgrade!
Though burn in time is rated at 75 hours, my experience indicates extremely little if any improvement after 20 to 25 hours. The overall appearance is best described as businesslike or professional appearing. A I mentioned before, the cable is downright heavy, as well as being a bit bulky, and rather balky with respect to being bent. To address this issue, each end has an extra 10 inches or so of length that is narrower in diameter and is fairly amenable to bending. These more flexible "added end sections" (simply not as thickly covered minus the unique Contego layer) are added lengths for necessary convenience and are included at no extra charge! This might be a first in this competitive field and Jim realizes most users need the flexibility of that extra length. Remember Ray Kimber's often quoted phrase about the number one requirement of any cable is to completely reach from the source to the other components. The ordered or listed length of these unique high-performance cables is available in almost any length, but the two-meter lengths as supplied to me measured a full 8 feet long! Keep that in mind when ordering. Sure, logical reasoning rightly anticipates even further audible improvement if those flexible ending sections "were not added". However user convenience would be only a fond memory of days past. I must repeat that the main body length of these power cables is extremely difficult to handle even to the extent of being almost impossible to use in some tight installation areas.
My experience indicates that these new 20th Anniversary Purist Audio AC power cords are well worth the time, effort, and expense to use them in a top-notch high-end audio system. Used in my system, the degree of improvement was truly unexpected. Feel free to use your own pet phrases of hyperbole to describe that. Pure and simple, I am just reporting what I am hearing. They must receive my highest recommendation. Karl Lozier
*Jonathan Valin is more than just a mystery writer (definitely try his book THE MUSIC LOVERS with audio and music subjects involved). His great compendium book The RCA Bible second edition has evidently become a genuine collectors item and rarely seen as owners refer to it again with the latest SACD versions of superbly covered releases still valid after a half century! His musical knowledge has me envious and his ability to dissect Telarc releases of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is unique (he lives in Cincinnati) and his reviews of high-end high performance loudspeakers are amazingly plentiful in number and seemingly unbiased and enjoyable.
At CES 2 or 3 years ago, Jim Aud mentioned a new AC power cable to me and wondered if I might like to review it. He mentioned that it was very competitive with the Dominus though it possessed a different sound. I agreed but never heard anything back from him. I have now found out why. Not long after that conversation he had a breakthrough with the above titled and reviewed cable and realized its potential as a "good as a product can be design, aided greatly by his computer" and so he waited a couple more years to finalize this ultimate "cost no object" product and get them to me and our readers before the rest of the world. Total time to final product - five years! Our readers now have a good idea of how well designed and engineered products come into being and why developmental time and costs affect a design that is probably going to be a competitive target for many many years to come. Only time can tell.
Click here to see a short video of Jim Aud talking about this and other PAD products.
Anniversary AC cable