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The Minotaur and the Zyklop AC Power Cords
as reviewed by Marshall Nack
Sometimes things are just what they seem to be. For months the distributor of Stage III Concepts has been emailing me short messages punctuated with lots of exclamation marks, along with photos of undressed power cords—power cords in the nude, if you will. Each round of pictures revealed another intimate detail. His strategy was obvious, because he knows no one manufactures cords at this level: to cultivate that variety of desire peculiar to our mutual interest—audio lust. It worked.
Take a look at these:
This is the new Hyperion AC connector used in all Stage III power cords. Everything is made in house by hand.
These are the silicone molds used to make the AC plugs.
Here you have the Hyperion IEC connectors.
These are the silicone molds for the IEC connectors.
These are the metal parts for the AC plug. They are made from high-purity silver, copper and palladium.
Did you ever see anything like that?
The original plan was to have me check out the Vortex Prime, a power cord in the middle of the Stage III line up, at $2400 MSRP. A sample was sent over. In the flesh, it was something to behold, almost jewelry-grade. Parts quality doesn't automatically translate to superior performance, as you know. In this case, when I did an A/B, the Vortex Prime was equal to my best power cord at that price point—excellent performance, if not groundbreaking. But the Vortex Prime was just for tasting; in short order, it had to be rerouted for use at RMAF. So we changed course and a few months later the top-of-the-line Zyklop ($6000 MSRP) and the Minotaur cords ($4000 MSRP) arrived.
The peculiar attacks of the fortepiano and the whines of the Baroque violin
Let's begin with W.A. Mozart Complete Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin Volume 2 (Channel Classics SACD CCS SA 22805) with Gary Cooper, fortepiano, and Rachel Podger, violin.
Admittedly, this CD will not be everyone's cup of tea. I'm not especially fond of these sonatas either, but I like this recording because of the enthusiasm and energy displayed by these young players. The period instrument angle also gives these works added points for entertainment value.
Stage III wires
And I find my enjoyment maximized when the Zyklop is on my mbl 6010D preamp and a pair of Minotaurs are on my mbl 1521A transport and 1511F DAC. Principally, this is because these cords unravel what makes these instruments idiosyncratic: the relative dullness of attacks as the hammer strikes the fortepiano's skinny strings; the short decay due to the lack of case resonances. These cords bring out the piano's percussive element. They put you in the near field.
Most of the above is true for the violin as well. Again, you have terrific focus and separation—the instruments image is locked in the center and unwavering. Each note is clearly demarcated. Decay trails are a little clipped and control is unrelenting.
There are many PCs that can do what I'm describing above. What makes the Stage III PCs different is they combine these analytical strengths with musical virtues: I don't feel like any part of the musical content is being shorted. Timbre is excellent. The baroque violin has an abundance of high overtones, which gives it a strident top end—not exactly pleasant but necessary. Body is VERY fulsome. Timing is A+. These Stage III PCs manage to cover all fronts. They will satisfy both the analytical enthusiast and the music lovers among us.
Minotaur & The One AC
Minotaur & The One IEC
TARA Labs wires
Swapping out the Stage III PCs, the presentation becomes more forgiving, cooler and lighter in tone. The violin sound is more homogeneous; it's hard to tell which string is being played. The piano is more like a modern instrument, maybe an upright. I can hear it emphasizing the transient, not that it's faster or more coherent, just that it is given more emphasis. Decay trails may last longer, but notes rapidly lose tonal density. Finally, I don't hear as much texture. The peculiar attacks and whine of the antique instruments are not there.
Here's a terrific CD set that just came in: Mozart Symphonies, with James Levine conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO Classics 1001/02 SACD). (I told you I'm not especially fond of Mozart, right?) I believe this is the first issue on the BSO label.
No doubt you've read some of the glowing press reports about this pairing—they're true. Levine manages near perfect section balances and his interpretation is unfailingly tasteful. The orchestra displays great subtlety in the quiet passages and controlled power when called for. Dynamics are always in motion, with continual ebb and flow. And the recording quality is to die for. To think, this is a live recording!
Swapping back to my reference PCs, bass is boomier, depth layering is hazier and instrumental sections tend to blend more. Overall, it is too smooth and lacking texture. Oh, dear!
Normally, I have the TARA Cobalt (MSRP $5400) on the transport and a TARA Gold (MSRP $3600) on the DAC. With the Stage III wires, I liked the Minotaur on both the transport and DAC. The big Zyklop proved too much for the transport. The tone of the Zyklop is deep and saturated, a bit darker than the already dark and immensely weighty TARA Cobalt PC. The same relationship applies to the Minotaur and the TARA Gold.
Build Quality and Construction
The Zyklop is well suited to handle the current demands of big power amplifiers. It has 8 palladium/silver alloy conductors for each polarity. These are solid-core and flat like a ribbon (2.5mm x 0.55mm) and have tapered or rounded edges. They are formed by a slow extrusion process and given a deep, extended cryogenic treatment. Stage III refers to the conductor alloy as AeroStrand Ultra™.
The conductors are positioned within an FEP Teflon air-tube, the purest and most expensive Teflon available. They are wound around a spiral core in tubular helix geometry. Because they are flat and the edges are tapered, only 3% of the conductor comes in contact with the dielectric.
All eight positive conductors are in one large tube, ditto for the negative and ground wires—each has its own large tube.
The cables' shielding is purported to be 100% impermeable to radiation. It uses three layers. The innermost is H.D.A. (High Density Alloy), a unique solid foil material developed for medical and military use to shield sensitive equipment from EMI/RFI. Next is a silver-plated copper braid surrounding the HDA layer. On top of this is a layer of silica/ceramic/ferrite that has been ground to a powder.
The Hyperion AC and IEC plugs have a handmade carbon fiber/polymer composite exterior housing. Within the housing, the body of the plug is ceramic, formed by the silica molds. The metal electrical contacts are a silver/copper alloy with a palladium plating and also cryo-treated.
In most respects, what's true of the Zyklop applies the Minotaur. The main differences are the number of conductors (it uses 6 of those AeroStrand Ultra™ conductors) and the geometry. Slightly more compact and flexible, it is designed for less demanding power requirements.
A central, shielded core contains the ground. Wrapped around the core are alternating tubules of segregated positive and negative conductors. The positive and negative tubes are spiraled around the central core, like a braid, forming twisted-pair windings.
The Zyklop and the Minotaur are a pair of world-class power products. These Stage III power cords up the ante on every score. For those of us with an analytical bent, you will hear more detail, better imaging, and less noise. For those who don't give a rat's tail about analysis and just want to hear music, you will hear more of it as well. These two cords clean up the signal without stripping off any musical content. Both types of listeners will find their listening pleasure enhanced. The Stage III Zyklop and the Minotaur get my top recommendation. Marshall Nack
Zyklop Power Cord
Minotaur Power Cord
Stage III Concepts