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Positive Feedback ISSUE 51
Extreme Series of Power Cords
as reviewed byMarshall Nack
Consider the Inuit (also known as the Eskimo). It is very important to be precise regarding the weather up north. Rumor has it they have twenty-odd words to our one to describe the same atmospheric event: snow. In the same way, we audiophiles have developed a rich, specialized vernacular to describe reproduced sound. Why? Because it's important to us. Ordinary folk couldn't be bothered with it.
However, our language is a work in progress and it sometimes comes up short. Part of the problem arose from an early fissure within our ranks. IMHO, we spent way too much time letting the objectivists hold sway. If a listening panel can reliably hear a difference, what does it matter if lab tools can measure it? Decades were lost denying what our ears could plainly perceive but our machines couldn't detect. The latest, great boondoggle was "perfect sound forever." Twenty years after that pronouncement, every manufacturer is scrambling to make digital sound like analog. Go figure.
The task at hand is to employ audio vernacular to describe a power cable that is good and then gets better—four times over. I already made the leap to TARA Labs' The One; I've been using it as a reference for years. Now TARA has introduced four levels above the current model taking it as the jumping off point.
We must have listened to the first two minutes of the Mahler: Symphony No.4 seven times in a thirty-minute span. I had a new recording with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO 07003) and it is stunning, definitely a Fourth for the ages.
Haitink was always a great conductor, going back to the 1960's. The trouble was his performances on LP seemed too good to be true. Philips, a label notorious for heavy-handed post-processing, produced them. I suspected that was the case with these LPs. For that reason, I always avoided them. But Haitink has only gotten better over time and he no longer records for Philips. For those who might be curious, I consider him and Mariss Jansons to tie for the crème de la crème of the contemporary conducting art, especially when they're at the helm of the RCO.
With each iteration we upgraded a power cord and were granted more insight into the performance in terms of information and musicality. I don't need to tell ya, when you're making strides on both fronts it is like having your cake and eating it, too. With each iteration our involvement grew, finally peaking on the seventh go 'round. One would have thought we'd be bored silly by then.
The One The Cobalt Power Cord
Let me take you back to square one with the Mahler Fourth via the reference system outrigged with The One PCs. I am really enjoying the sound. It may be slightly dark on top but it pushes all the right buttons; there are no faults to report. As mentioned, The One is a reference level power cord.
What happens when I swap a pair of Tara's top-of-the-line The Cobalt PCs onto the mbl 1511 transport and 1521 DAC?
"It opens up the top," one listener observed.
Another listener chimes in, "Really? I thought it was the middle that opened up."
The truth is, it does both, but the second listener was more accurate: the effects are more noticeable in the midrange. And in the low-end.
First the Assumptions
The comparison of The One to The Cobalt is rather like comparing a tune played on a fine country music fiddle and then switching to a rare instrument made three centuries ago at the height of the violinmaker's craft.
On the "fine fiddle," the notes are focused and narrow, and the instruments are rendered in reduced scale. When you move to the antique instrument, it's as if all the overtones, which were present but folded into the primary note, and thus hidden, open up and spread out in a glorious rainbow of natural color. Along with the glorious tone, there are dynamic nuances you probably never experienced before.
Let's sample a recent disc from my favorite string quartet, the Leipzig, to inventory the Extreme Power Cords: Robert Schumann's String Quartet Opus 41, number 1 (MDG 307 1610-2). In this comparison, I'll step up a single cord—the PC on the mbl transport.
With the introduction of The Edge, the knot of the fundamental note begins to unravel. The hard edge begins to soften; it's not as compact. Like a fresh cut flower the day after you purchased it, it begins to unfurl. There is more definition and dimension. This first step up is considerable.
With the Onyx, sounds come out of a deeper silence; it has a really quiet background. Diminuendos softly build with subtle dynamic gradations. Sound expands and becomes flexible; it has give and take and starts to breathe; it becomes round and opens further; it is becoming pristine. This is the third day for the bud. The seduction begins.
The Gold is much like the Onyx, but more refined. Now there are no more clumps of tone. The knot has dissolved and all of the overtone parts are exposed.
Voices within a group of similar instruments are becoming distinct. You get to hear their interplay and you can tell who is making a contribution at any given moment—the violin, the viola or the cello. Previously there weren't enough minutiae to make this discrimination.
With The Cobalt, soft passagework becomes caressing, rich tone becomes luxurious. The bud is open. And now you can securely identify the first and second violins separately.
With each step up, more sound pixels are exposed. Finally, with The Cobalt, the entire host of audiophile virtues achieves SOTA levels, foremost among them stunning timbre conjoined with massive body and weight. I don't think it's necessary to enumerate point by point: Once you experience The Cobalt, you'll have a woeful case of audiophile lust.
The Goal Post
These PCs give a strong indication of Matthew Bonds' vision, of TARA's take on "the absolute sound." Each model in the Extreme series brings you closer to TARA's goal post. It's not as if a Cobalt PC sounds radically different from The One; you just get a lot more of the same. By the same token, The Cobalt PC doesn't sound radically different from other wires in the Extreme series, like The Zero Gold interconnect.
Certainly, these new PCs effect dramatic changes. And the more cords you put in, the more widespread and powerful this "Zero Effect" becomes. Now, to the extent that an audio "component" introduces a sonic transformation, it must have a signature, right?
But then, everything has a signature. The thing is, the signature of the Extreme series sounds so good and seems so appropriate to the program material that it doesn't appear to be a fabrication manufactured by the wire. To me, their voicing is eminently realistic; actually, close to ideal.
But what's real? About a year ago, I heard the Afiara String Quartet in concert, a rather fine, young group in residence at the Julliard School. I was greatly impressed with their technical finesse and sheer exuberance. However, I was not as taken with their tone quality. Theirs was the sound of "fine fiddles."
While this took away from my enjoyment and I would subtract points if I were reviewing them, it didn't bother some other listeners I spoke with afterwards as much. The take-away is this: the focused sound of "fine fiddles" is encountered in reality just as often as the rich, warm, open "ideal" sound.
Real-world sound comes in a spectrum ranging from downright unpleasant to warm and beautiful. TARAs Extreme Series takes you to the "ideal" side of the fulcrum. Compared to existing TARA cables such as The One, the Extreme Series are both more realistic and more beautiful.
The One PC now has small cosmetic changes. The dielectric covering the plugs is matte black and the sheaths are longer. The banding with the "The One" label is also black and the plugs have changed. But the important stuff—conductor material and gauge, overall girth and the dielectric covering the length of it—remains the same.
The One plugs, old and new version.
Speaking of conductors, all of these wires use Rectangular Solid Core Gen 2 geometry and are made from SA-OF8N copper. (The Super Annealed™, Oxygen-Free Eight Nines process creates one long, unbroken single crystal, or mono-crystal, structure.)
The Edge, The Onyx and The Gold look like The One, with increasing girth as you go up. The banding indicates the model. The Cobalt, on the other hand, is distinctive in every way—from the blue color to the heavier girth to the banding.
The One and The Cobalt PC
Design and Construction
The Edge is like The One, but with additional shielding and a single FAST ground. The Onyx has double shielding and a single FAST ground. It is the same gauge as The One. The Gold has two shields and FAST grounds, additional live and neutral runs, and is heavier (18 gauge). The Cobalt has even greater conductor mass (16 gauge), extra shielding and FAST grounding working in parallel with the shield. It uses expensive Oyaide plugs and has a special ingredient… the Secret Ingredient: Ceralex.
You can feel a lump protruding near the AC plug on The Cobalt. This is a sleeve of Ceralex, a proprietary noise absorption and RFI / EMI dissipation material developed by TARA Labs. Ceralex is a tuned, bandwidth-controlled and absorption-limited form of ceramic/metallic oxide. It is shaped into sleeves, which fit around the neutral wire.
To sum up, the Extreme Series of power cords from TARA Labs is a knockout. There's nothing to criticize in these power cords. Starting with The Edge, every performance aspect improves.
The biggest jolt may well be the first cord you add. That'll be an eye-opener. This gives you a sampling of what we dubbed the Zero Effect. As you add additional cords, it just keeps getting better… and better. Going up the line is the same: with each move up the sound moves closer towards the same goal post: TARA's take on ideal sound. And note that each cable in the Extreme series, whether it's a PC or a Zero Gold IC, brings you more of the same.
The Edge, for $300 more than The One, gives you a significant improvement and a lot of bang for the buck. That's the sweet spot. The top-of-the-line Cobalt is certainly the best power cord I've heard, but at 3½ times The One—is it 3½ times better? Of course not: the law of diminishing returns applies here. The Gold, at a little over two times The One, comes close to the Cobalt's performance for a lot less and represents another sweet spot.
For the utmost in refinement and verisimilitude, the Extreme Series of power cords from TARA Labs set a new benchmark. Marshall Nack
The One power cord
The Edge power cord
The Onyx power cord
The Gold PC