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Positive Feedback ISSUE 47
january/february 2010


Audio Ramblings - Tel Wire HC AC cords, Über Buss from Pi Audio, more on USB Diverter from Sonicweld, and a brief bit on the DACPort from Centrance
by Dave Clark


Way, way back in a previous Ramblings I wrote about how one can 'season' their system to shift just ever so much its overall sound or presence to something that is spot on. You know, a little bit of this to get a little bit more of that sort of thing… but never anything to deviate too far from what you have found to be 'right'. Love it, but it could use just a wee bit more this and a tad less of that… and so while there are lots of ways to do this just so, clearly one of the better is your choice in AC cords.

Now I am not saying that AC cords should be used as tone controls in the extreme—or cables in general for that matter—but let's be honest, we all know that cables do 'tend' to possess some sonic characteristic that sets them apart from that of other cables. No way around this as years of experience has shown that cables do impart a 'sound' of their own—though obviously some more so than others. Whether it is the materials used, the design/geometry, and/or the electrical characteristics (and no doubt—to varying degrees—a combination of all three with how they interact with everything else in the system component wise) all cables impart to some degree a sonic signature onto (or is that into) the music.

So where does this lead me? Oh, to the Tel Wire HC Cord which features custom 10awg ultra pure ohno continuous cast conductors and Oyaide's 004 beryllium copper, platinum and palladium plated AC/IEC plugs. The HC cord uses the same self-shielding geometry and special sleeving found in the standard Tel Wire Cord to address noise and reduce micro-vibrations. I wrote about the standard Tel Wire cord way back in Issue 36 where I said…

…they maintain a nice neutral perspective and can best be described as not really imparting any character of their own into or onto the music. The Tel Wire will not light up your system or make up for any need of this or that, they just send electricity to a component and do so without adding much, if any, any sonic signature to the mix. If that is what you are after, then give them a listen.

So while 'other' cables can be used as 'tone controls', I ended by concluding that the Tel Wire cords have very little of this quality; which should not be construed that they did not make things 'better”, that they did… which I realize sounds like a contradiction, but well… hear me out. The Tel Wire cords clearly did make things better when compared against stock “Belden-type' cords in that the sound was 'better' in all respects, but just not to the same degree as heard with my JPS Aluminatas. And here was the key thing, they did not drastically shift the sound in any one direction 'tonally' —perceived by me at least—they simply made 'things' better overall by accentuating the strengths of the Claytons while mitigating to various degrees their shortfalls; more of this and less of that in terms of openness, presence, noise, etc.

Now I did realize at the time that the Tel Wires were at a clear disadvantage when used with the Claytons since they are very high current class-A amplifiers (200 watts pure class-A) and as such the Tel Wires might be 'constricting' things a wee bit as I heard less slam and dynamics as opposed to what the WAY bigger gauge-wise Aluminatas can do musically, so what does Chris Kline do? He comes out with the HC version (high current) to address any potential flow issues with said current—sort of like opening the flood gates to musical nirvana. Chris also sent me the standard cord to try again, and I am glad he did… but more on that in a minute.

Flash to the present and the new HCs ($995) sound much more like the Aluminatas now then the 'standard Tel Wires did then—better dynamics and slam, better control and all the good stuff we want from our music. Any sense of constriction is gone! They also have a very 'organic' and liquid sound to them—well not 'to them' per se as, once again, cords don't have a sound in as much as it is the sound they impart into/onto the music that possessed these qualities in spades. Music just flowed with a wonderful sense of pace and real-ness to it… very nice indeed. And pretty much tonally spot on with no sonic aberrations to shift it this way or that… well for the most part, so read on.

See, the music did not have quite the bass impact or better yet, the overall quality of the bass as heard with the Aluminatas. Specifically, with the HC on the Claytons, the upper bass became a bit fuller, woollier, and rounder. So I wondered if this to be a characteristic of the cord or simply in how it interacted with the Claytons as other comments on the cords never mentioned this added fullness; though in reading various reviews people did say that the bass became deeper and to varying degrees a bit more pronounced. But woollier, rounder…? Nah, nothing of the sorts. I also heard this quality when using them on my Playback Design MPS-5, though it was considerably way, way less so then heard on the amps. Which then leads me to conclude that yes perhaps an interaction of sorts is at play with the Claytons, but then again, well… yeah, it is there to some degree with the MPS-5—and with the standard version as well—so obviously then this is a characteristic of the cords as well. Meaning the Tel Wire cords will pump up the bottom-end in some fashion, but, I tend to believe that how this is presented will dovetail with not only the specific component it is used on, but also the overall system's ability to present this quality. That is it needs to resolving and full-range to make it become an issue, though for Carol and a few others, well… they preferred the added fullness, so go figure! Not an issue really… they liked it… a matter of preference and taste then. Seasoning anyone?

Even so, the music was still as captivating and as involving as heard with the Aluminatas, just with a fuller and rounder bottom-end. Which in some systems could be the perfect thing… so maybe the Tel Wires can be used to season your music to get it just so? I liked them and found the added fullness to be rather cool on some tracks and perhaps a wee bit too much on others… again all a matter of taste and preference, but never a distraction or annoyance. The fact that I have been using the Aluminatas for so many years means that I am pretty much set in my ways with how the system should sound and so yeah, that is the baseline to draw any comparisons with; yeah, they are just tighter and more controlled, but then they are like $4500 a meter!

Which brings me back to the standard Tel Wires ($799); I find that this cord can be quite magical on either the Ayre QB9 or the Playback MPS-5 where it makes the two players sing quite musically right. Not that either require the additional bloom in at the bottom end as either are quite fine in this respect, but the sense of organic rightness with the Tel Wire is very engaging. It is perhaps a better fit overall with the Ayre as I still prefer—in terms of absolute 'rightness'—the Dynamic Design Spirit Digital AC cord on the MPS-5. Yeah, the Spirit is a killer cord and does more of the things I want 'better' than the Tel Wire, but only when push comes to shove. Either cord is as musical as all get out, so one can't go wrong in either direction. But, sheesh man, with the Tel Wire on the QB9 being feed tunes from my MacBook… wow, simply too many times dancing around and not getting my work done—this setup/combo really makes music! Of course that is what it's all about… isn't it?

So yeah, I guess the Tel Wire can be used as way to season your system and as a way to maximize what you already got musically—and it won't deviate too much in any one direction, except perhaps in the bass. With that in mind I now find myself wrestling with the issue of how tonally neutral they really are. I mean, after all when I first heard them I thought they were spot on and yet now I find them to be a way of adding a bit more at the bottom-end while keeping everything else straight to the cuff. So perhaps then, other than its fuller bottom-end, they are quite right on right. Of course one could argue that they are right and the other cords are wrong in that they are might make the music too lean and mean, but then that plays into the hand of finding what works best to get the sound you want with your music. It is all a matter of balance and for me the cords I use here work for me quite fine. Even so, the Tel Wire cords do impart a wonderful sense of organic flow and feel to the music… any sense of artificiality and hardness becomes faint musical artifacts of the past. Which is not to suggest that the Tel Wire cords will soften the sound or whatever, no they just allow the music to possess more of what makes our music so engaging… so right… so like what we want it to sound like… like music. Highly recommended.

Tel Wire


Which takes me to the Über Buss by Pi Audio Group. Headed by David Elledge, the Über Buss is an extension of his popular Majik Buss. Both units have garnered much praise and following on the internet and when David asked about us reviewing the Über Buss, I thought why not?

Using passive parallel technology combined with his innovative EMI module to address incoming RFI, EMI, and other distortions David says that there is absolutely no current limiting at the output. This is realized through the use of oversized conductors and the absence of series elements to get in the way of the current. The Über Buss also provides Power Factor Correction to make the incoming electrical current more efficient to further enhance the performance of your equipment. David says he is using very good capacitors and other things exclusive to his design to get the noise down to levels where it ain't an issue anymore. While the Über Buss isn't beauty to the eyes, it certainly is beauty to the ears. This 'generic looking black box thing' is quite wonderful in making the music simply, well… wonderful. No grain, grit, glare, whatever… clean and articulate, easy and organic, liquid and natural, warm and rich, palpable and 3-dimensional… the Über Buss does it all without really imparting itself into the music.

Yeah, some might find it too easy going in that is does not hype the details or push the music out at you. No, the Über Buss is more about drawing you into a more 'natural' real perspective or presentation than adding anything to the music to make it 'seem' more detailed or whatever—like, can you say puffed up?

Puffed up in the sense of adding more shimmer or sparkle or decay or ringing or harmonics that really ain't there… sort of synthesizing what is going on to make it more dramatic or impressive by turning it into something it ain't. I find this in too many AC products where 'things' in the music are magnified in an artificial way; impressive at first, but tiring after a while. The Über Buss is all about getting rid of the noise and letting what is there to shine through… it will not make your music sound the same nor will it turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. But you will like what you hear if you give it a chance.

Presentation-wise, it does this from more like the rear third of a hall (more distant with the soundstage further back than out into the room as heard with my Audio Magic Transcendence) so the music has that “being of a wee bit more laid-back quality” to it. Not a bad thing, just different than I am used to with the Transcendence, which I like said is more out into the room and perhaps more musically visceral. Which I really like.

On the other hand, the two units are quite similar in that both seem to impart so little of themselves into or onto the music—they simply both get the nasties out and let the music flow, which is what I, and I hope you too are after. Meaning that, I do not find either to be of the seasoning crowd… they clean the AC and do it well in that I hear more by hearing less; less noise and sonic artifacts that tonally hype the music or obstruct what is there for you to hear and enjoy. Tonally and timbrally they are both quite similar as well—well, not them per se but the music! And neither will curtail dynamics nor truncate the soundstage nor diminish the music's dimensional palpability—no, both units are quite stellar in this regard. But what sets the Über Buss apart from the Transcendence and other top-notch conditioners, is that it does all of this for only $995 (as configured for the 'standard' version—different outlets/inlet and such are available for additional coin). Now that is a steal.

All my music sounded extremely engaging with the Über Buss, but not necessarily more so than with my Transcendence… make that a 'different' so; a tad softer and more easy-going relaxed-ness, and a touch less sparkle and energy. But then that may be more about the silver used in the Transcendence as opposed to the copper used in the Über Buss, or it could be the choice in filtering components and parts, or whatever. These differences are more a matter of being slight degrees than anything to toss a squirrel at, but they were clearly audible and are certainly more reflective of taste and preference than anything else. I could easily live with a couple of Über Buss's with no regrets. I really liked what I heard from the Über Buss and so it is highly recommend to anyone who is after something quite wonderful at a very affordable price.

Pi Audio Group


Diverter part two… short and sweet. I now have the latest production version (all sold since November are reflective of the one I have here) and well… this thing is scary good. Not that the Diverter wasn't good before, but as it currently stands… wow. Take all that I wrote prior and turn it up a few notches on the stepped attenuator of overall musical enjoyment. What Josh has done in the latest version is to tweak a few circuits a bit (that relate to jitter, noise, and whatnot) resulting in an 'upgrade' where one experiences—over the previous version—a greater delineation of instruments and notes, more swing or pace, seemingly even deeper bass with more control, less upper bass bloat or clouding that was not evident unlit you hear the newest one, and to allow for the little subtle things to be treated with even more finesse and there-there-ness.

Resolution is improved upon, but not in a way that could be perceived as being analytical or hyped. No you just get more of what is there in a way that is oh so natural and musically right—the noise floor is way down and the jitter is even lower than before so you hear more music and less not-music. Digital via the MacBook to the Diverter and into the Playback MPS-5 is, well… really, really good now. Of course one could argue that with jitter being a moot point with the MPS-5, then why would lowering it further up the chain make any impact on the music at all? And well… I would respond with a simple… got me. All I know is that whatever Josh has done works in terms of getting 'better' bits to the MPS-5 in some shape or form to make a better difference. The Diverter was really good before, but now I guess it is really, REALLY, really good. This is as close to analog as I have heard from a computer and makes me spend way too much time exploring my music files than ever before. Gee… thanks guys! At $1200 this is a no-brainer.



And at $500, those in need of a headphone amp that will do 96/24 via USB and be powered via USB, and only takes up as much space as a decent cigar… look no further than the Centrance DACPort. This thing is killer and sounds very nice. With a ¼” jack for my phones and a mini USB input jack, this made in the USA class-A headphone amplifier makes listening to music on my computer a joy. Let's just say this for now (I will have a lot more to say on the Centrance DACPort in a future Ramblings), music through the Centrance DACPort is better in many ways to to that of my Benchmark DAC1 Pre; more organic and naturally right with less noise and artificiality. Not that the Benchmark DAC1 Pre is a poor headphone amplifier—that it ani't—but music through the Centrance DACPort is just more involving and closer to what I want it to sound like. The Benchmark is more lean and mean, more analytical and whatever as opposed to the warmer and richer DACPort.

And its specs are hard to believe: 10 ppm precision, 1 ps jitter, dynamic Range is 120 dB, frequency response is 20Hz to 40kHz +/-0.2dB, and THD+N is -97 dB (-0.5dBFS, 1kHz). All for $500. Downsides, yeah it gets warm to the touch, it is not something that is really mobile since it is USB powered, and… well… that is about it. More to come, but till then check out the Centrance site to learn more… and definitely visit the Tab on Design Philosophy. Good reading and while there is a lot there to stir the pot, in the end the proof is in the music, and that the Centrance DACPort clearly does rather well.