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Positive Feedback ISSUE 6
signal cable MagicPower AC cords
as reviewed by Thomas Campbell
I've always had a problem with power cords. Actually, my problem is with the idea of power cordsor, more specifically, the idea of paying a whole bunch of money for thembut until recently I'd never tried an aftermarket power cord in my system.
Over the past five years, I've put together a system that satisfies my goal of high performance at a more or less realistic price: Harbeth Compact 7 loudspeakers, electronics from Marsh, a VPI turntable with Grado Sonata cartridge, and a Sony SACD 333-ES player (plus my secret weapon, the E.A.R. 834P phono preamp, a truly marvelous little black box that couples beautifully with the Marsh tube line stage). This collection of components has been in place for close to two years now.
I was very hesitant to jump on the wire bandwagon. For quite a while, I convinced myself that my $50 interconnects were "good enough." I read the frequent mumblings in the audio press about the cable industry being a bastion of dubious engineering and obscene profit, and considered myself a savvy consumer for not buying into the essentially un-provable idea that a $5000 interconnect can do what a $50 interconnect can't. Of course, I also read all those reviews that spoke of cables as if they were one of the keys to audio transcendence, and there were enough of them to finally convince me that there was something to this wire business. Over time, I also came to the nagging conclusion that my system, though it delivered a beautiful midrange, lacked the dynamics and extension that I'd heard in other rigs, and of which I knew my components were capable.
So I finally took the plunge. I took several steps up within the Audioquest line of cables, marveling every time at the indisputable musical improvements that each upgrade brought. After another year or so of experimentation with different brands, I settled in for the long haul with Siltech ST-48 interconnects and Analysis Plus Silver Oval speaker cables. I won't go into their strengths here, but suffice it to say, I was amazed at the extent to which these products liberated my components, allowing them to perform at close to the best of their abilities (note the use of the word close). There was a quantitative and qualitative improvement in every area, but there was a missing link. All of my power cords were still the cheap stock ones that came with the components. You know, the ones that equipment manufacturers just assume you'll replace. I couldn't deny that there was still a touch of hardness, smear, and dynamic congestion in my system that I knew was not due to the limitations of the equipment. I started shopping around for power cords, and to my surprise found that the $250 to $400 price range was the entry level from most well regarded manufacturers.
Now, I'm not an audio neophyte. The idea of spending hundreds of dollars for quality wire does not shock, bemuse, or bewilder me. In other words, I'm not normal. But I had just sunk a good chunk of change into high quality interconnects and speaker cables and I needed a quite a few power cords. And they're just cords, for God's sake. So I kept looking around, unable to pull the trigger, until I saw an advertisement on Audiogon.com that piqued my curiosity. It said "THE BEST AFFORDABLE POWER CORD BY FAR! SEE PHOTOS!" With more than a bit of apprehensiveness, I clicked through.
A person of sense should be more than a bit apprehensive of DIY cable manufacturers. Anyone within driving distance of a Home Depot can put together five bucks worth of parts and call themselves a cable manufacturer. Nevertheless, after going to the Signal Cable company's website, I liked what I saw. They offer a full line of cables that feature high quality materials and design. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. I saw dozens of convincingly written testimonials from happy customers. Best of all, I saw astoundingly reasonable price points on all itemsinterconnects, speaker cables, power cords, power strips.
Frank Dai, owner of Signal Cable, writes:
Please keep in mind that it is not the name brand or a magazine review that should justify paying for a cable that's shooting for an 800% profit margin. It is (and should be) the product's ability to outperform more expensive peers, and more importantly, not being matched by less expensive rivals . I have started marketing my designs and could easily price them 3x higher and still call them "a good value" as they often say, but there is something that needs to be proven: you don't need to empty your wallet to get good-sounding audio cables.
When I contacted him by phone, Dai elaborated on the genesis of his company: "I just got sick of paying ridiculous amounts for quality cable. The industry has really pushed prices through the roof in recent years. There are many $400 speakers that have way more invested in craft and materials and engineering than these $6000 interconnects. As an audio hobbyist, I wanted to offer fellow hobbyists cables that give nothing up in performance to the best and most expensive, at an affordable price." Possessing degrees in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics, and more recently in finance, Frank appears to be successfully employing all three in his new venture. Signal Cable has sold a thousand MagicPower power cords since Dai started the business in May 2002, as well as several thousand pairs of speaker cables and interconnects (the biggest seller). From the beginning, word of mouth was strong.
Frank Dai says all the right things but do his power cords measure up? I decided to find out. I plunked down a grand total of $213.95, including shipping, for three of em. Dai sells each 3-foot run of cord for $59, plus $4 for each additional foot. He uses a twisted design of 99.9% pure stranded copper, and ultra-high-quality Marinco hospital grade plugs and IECs, typically seen on much more expensive designs. Within two weeks, I was in receipt of my cords and proceeded to hook them up to my power amp, preamp and phono stage. Doing this was no easy taskthese are thick, bulky cables, and they're so heavy that they can actually fall out of your component's sockets from the pull of gravity. They're also quite stiff, but can be bent easily enough into whatever shape your installation requires.
I found break-in to follow the golden rule of cables. Within two days, they seemed to be giving 80 to 90% of their best. After about a month, they had fully opened up, but what a difference that 10 to 20% makes! Since then, the MagicPower cords have proven themselves the most satisfying and cost-effective audio purchase I've ever made. I do not automatically praise the effect an equipment change inevitably bringsI have bought or auditioned numerous components that sounded different, but not necessarily better. They may have imparted a cooler or warmer character, or a subjectively better soundstage, but they didn't necessarily improve dynamics, frequency response, or other objective standards of measure. The MagicPower cords did all that and more. It sometimes sounds like a copout when a reviewer calls something "musical" isn't every audio product supposed to sound musical? but it's the best adjective I can think of to describe the effect these cords had. Every LP and CD sounded less like an electronic medium and more like live music. CDs, which often sound hard, bright, and strident, were miraculously improved.
A quick laundry list of attributes: blacker backgrounds, lower noise floor, measurably airier highs, deeper lows, more natural dynamics, both micro and macro, better stereo separation, improved soundstage, both width and depth. Most importantly to me, every acoustic instrument simply sounded more acoustic. Tone and timbre were warmer, sweeter, and more accurate. Not warm as in colored, just warm as in real. Dai claims that in a test he conducted with several top-shelf cords, his was delivering as much voltage to the power amp as the most expensive competitor, and more than all the others. Based on my listening, I'm willing to believe that this tonal sweetness is not a coloration, and that the MagicPower is indeed simply a superior messenger of current, helping my amplification to perform at its best.
Harbeths do vocals better than any other speakers I've heard, and Kelly Willis' Easy and Allison Moorer's Miss Fortune sounded superb even before the MagicPowers were in my system, but with them in, they were breathtaking. Both women have achingly pure, pitch-perfect voices (no "digital correction" necessary, as a sticker on Moorer's CD proudly states), and they are both beautifully recorded. Their voices were in the room, palpable, gorgeous. Like almost all non-classical recordings these days, these discs, especially the Moorer, are noticeably compressed, but otherwise they're exceptionally fine sounding and highly recommended.
On the new SACD issue of the Police's Outlandos D'Amour, Stewart Copeland's drums had genuine thwack and Sting's bass lines were deeper, more distinct, and more tuneful. The JVC/XRCD of Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet Suite, with Charles Munch conducting my hometown Boston Symphony, was most instructive in displaying the MagicPower cords' abilities. To use a timeworn but appropriate analogy, a previously blurry picture was rendered in vivid focus. The individual sections of the orchestra were distinct and spatial separation crystal clear, with air around each section. The BSO's strings were sweeter and silkier, the brass richer and more powerful. Most spectacularly, dynamic climaxes did not hit a ceiling and start to congest, but held together in stunning fashion. My mid-tier equipment was giving me a smaller-scale facsimile of an orchestra to be sure, but an otherwise near-perfect facsimile, a sharply focused picture that placed the whole orchestra right in front of me. This XRCD is one of the best test discs I owna great recording of a great performance of a masterfully orchestrated work.
With LPs, the improvements were not quite as spectacular, but the notable refinement in sound served to further my belief in analog's inherent superiority. The Sea and Cake's new One Bedroom, an excellent recording and a superb pressing, proved to be a perfect illustration of what vinyl still does incomparably well. There was a three-dimensionality and lifelike presence to the entire sound, not just the sharp spotlighting of individual voices and instruments, as digital tends to do.
To those of you who are hesitant to wire your systems commensurate to your components, like I was, let me give you a piece of advice: do it. The introduction of truly high quality cables and, finally, the MagicPower power cords, has improved my system so much that I honestly cannot imagine it sounding better, given its inherent limitations. Frequency response at top and bottom is completely natural. Bass is tight and tuneful, highs extended and not harsh. Tonality is warm and accurate. Dynamics have the so-called "breath of life."
My case may be slightly undercut by the lack of comparison, as I am only comparing these cords to the stock items. However, I do not get review products for free, and dealers typically do not allow you to audition power cords. (Boston-area dealers are extraordinarily difficult when it comes to letting you audition anything.) I can only repeat my strong belief that I cannot imagine my current system sounding any better than it does now. Different maybe, but not better. The MagicPower power cord is a product available at a price only made possible by the fact that there is no dealer or distributor markup, and that it is manufactured by a company dedicated to giving its customers the most bang for the buck. This has to be one of the greatest bargains in all of audio. I highly recommend you to take advantage. Thomas Campbell