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Positive Feedback ISSUE 67
DFPC AC Cables
as reviewed by Danny Kaey
"It's quite all right; I get it. You don't hear it. If you paid some more attention…" Such is the life of a Hi-Fi scribe at times when it comes to demoing the stuff we review to non-philes. Sometimes "getting" it and "hearing" it are, in fact, quite difficult to convey to someone who simply has limited to no experience when it comes to actually listening to music. Add a twist to it, in the form of a cable review, and you nearly have the perfect storm—but I digress.
Louis Motek has been an audio dude since the ripe age of who-knows-when, though probably quite a bit more involved than most of us. In fact, if you check his page at www.lessloss.com, you'll find quite a bit of back ground info on Louis that if anything, simply isn't your cookie cutter Hi-Fi background. Now then: I met Louis sometime around 2005 I'd wager, what with a simple query sent to his email inbox requesting further information on his then still young and mostly unknown company's attempt at a world class DAC (the DAC 2004 Mk II). Not even minutes passed and I promptly received a reply in fluent, perfect English (the website indicated at the time that he was in Lithuania): "Would love to give you more information, where in the US are you and when can we meet?" Wowsa. Say what?
Sure enough, not a week passed and Mr. Motek appeared on my door step in Long Beach with DAC and cables in tow. How's that for "reviewer's service"? Fascinated by his story and background, I couldn't help but take note of his wares at the time, said DAC and—to my surprise—his power cables. While the DAC proved exceptional (I reviewed it for my other site, www.sonicflare.com at the time), it was the cables that somehow managed to stand out quite a bit: a weaving pattern terminated in ne-plus-ultra Japanese sourced, Oyaide plugs (to date, I haven't see anything better: back then these were about as revelatory as the Audi Quattro was to rallying).
Fast forward to 2013, and a recent work trip to San Francisco resulted in me meeting up with Louis yet again (one of his new residences—I guess he's successful!) to simply catch up and connect. Not looking a day older than when I met him last, Louis immediately began to inform me of the quite dramatic growth he has seen since our last adventure. The cables started to take off (at a price point of $535, who could blame them) and he now has several full time employees (still in Vilnius, Lithuania) working on even more cables, now also including the interconnect, and speaker variants, as well as proprietary, nay, exotic power line conditioners, ambient field conditioners, and a revolutionary new secure digital (SD) source device, the Laminar Streamer (yet to be launched, though almost imminent).
Moreover, LessLoss is now featured and continuously discussed at the highest echelons of audio: Stereophile, The Absolute Sound, and many other European and Asian magazines alike. For the past 2 years, he's been exhibiting his systems in none other than the New York Audio Show on Park and Lexington Avenues, and many others. Not bad for a guy who started his shop out of his basement in Lithuania, not even a decade ago. We quickly circled the loop around—what else—Hi-Fi and the current state of my system, etc. Without even hesitating a second, an offer was on the table to spend some time with his latest power cable generation, the DFPC Signature series—a market improvement over the cables I had back then. "Sure thing, why not."
Not that reviewing cables is my favorite thing to do: unlike many in this beloved hobby, I'm simply not a tweaker, nor do I really subscribe to some fanatical notion that swapping cables every 22 days following a power reset at your typical nearby power station does anything to truly improve your system (wait a second, you haven't hear that one yet…?). Nope. When it comes to cables, I'm—I guess—a good ol' simpleton, preferring to stick to basics rather than all out system tweaks. Now don't get me wrong, I do very much subscribe to the notion that cables have a dramatic impact on the sonic virtues of your Hi-Fi.
As such, I have quite a few stablemates in my system—depending on what components come and go, moods change, etc., I keep looms of EINSTEIN, Kubala-Sosna, Nordost, and Zu cables around the library as those have proven time and again to simply just "work". Having just recently received Nordost's latest Tyr 2 line of interconnects and speaker cables, as well as their latest line up of power distribution devices and accessories, the QB-8, QX-4 and QV-2, I was quite smitten. Particularly the dramatic improvements the power distribution system has produced, was something that caught me quite off guard.
But wait, if you call in the next… Yep, sure, we've all heard that one before. Alas, as smitten as I was, curiosity did pique my interest when I received LessLoss's newest line of DFPC Signature power cables. "Plug them in, let the system settle for around 7 days and you should hear the cable's true resolving powers". All right. Sounds good. Having become clever from many years of reviewing, swapping cables at casa Kaey is actually quite simple these days: all cables, rather than being tucked far and away, are easily accessible, and all power cables are routed to each side of the shrine, er, rack. Fair enough. Thusly, I switched out power line cables on my trusted Brinkmann tube power supply (feeding the LaGrange), the mighty Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD/USB-X/DAC, the darTZeel integrated, and the EINSTEIN phono stage, while also using the 5th DFPC to power Nordost's QB-8 power distribution 8-way hub. Power off, unplug, replug; power on, silence for a few minutes, press play.
Well, at first, not much changed. I recognized a somewhat more recessed image, with slightly wider dimensions, and an apparently more upfront swing in the dynamics department. Not your typical, "A-ha, this is so much better" moment we all instinctively hope for. Alas, Louis did say that it would take a few days for the system to stabilize, thus I wasn't really expecting miracles on Quincy Avenue either. Well, what can I say: sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do in order to get to where you want to go. Following a few day's worth of play-in time, my second sound check proved that much more dramatic.
Now, I'll say this: whereas you will find many a reviewer out there who claims the upper hand in scientific knowledge (what is that anyway…) and thus injecting their sense or nonsense into a review component, I usually make no such claims. Neither am I an engineer, nor do I—shock, gasp, awe—have the requisite inherent knowledge to know why a component does this or that. Sure, I sort-of-kind-of have a rough idea, alas, well you get my point. When I looked at the spec sheet for the DFPC, I sorta-kinda got the idea of what LessLoss is up to: inherent to the name, this dynamic filtering power cable employs some clever "skin" filtering which is supposed to minimize, if not outright eliminate, HF contamination of the incoming power. Naturally, you would assume—correctly—that most, nay, all power supplies in components already do most of that work. The devil, as they say, lies in the details… thus, if, as LessLoss claims, the DFPC Signature power cables enhance the power signal's quality, then the power supply would seem to have less work to do. Following is an email exchange I had with Louis regarding my initial, penultimate, findings of the cables:
Danny Kaey: I've been using the DFPC Signature power cables for about a week now, and there's definitely increased clarity of the audio. But the part that's perhaps most intriguing is that wonderful calmness of the stereo image. There's a certain sense of ease that I just don't get with other power cables on the market, and believe me, I've tried so many of them (can't possibly list them all). I'm talking a huge spectrum of the market, ranging from some of the most affordable to some of the most exotic. And very few (costing multiples of the DFPC!) seem to provide what this LessLoss DFPC Signature cable is presenting me with—this ease of listening and calmness of the image. What is it about your cables, Louis? How did you achieve this undoubtedly special performance at such an attractive price point?
Louis Motek: The secret to our performance lies in the Skin-filtering technology we developed at LessLoss. Because, through the physics of signal conduction, we know for sure exactly where the noise is located (which is exactly on the so-called Skin of the conductor and nowhere else), we can go in very meticulously and treat the conductor at the very place we need. We want the cable NOT to conduct those invasive noise signals. Because the world is penetrated by these noise signals, it is no easy task. We developed a unique method of utilizing pigments in a specialized in-house prepreg process. After curing and special post-processing (it takes a week), this achieves more attenuation of wide-bandwidth HF noise and results in an even cleaner sound than is possible when one uses conductors of the typical sort. The true nature of the signal is better revealed above an even lower noise floor when spurious noise cannot even enter the wire in the first place.
Danny Kaey: But every piece of gear on the market these days has power filtering built in. If it is already built in, and there's no secret about how to filter out noise, why should it matter how much noise is in the power cable? You'd think the engineers of the components themselves would have known how to deal with this noise to enable the use of a $2.95 power cable from Home Depot.
Louis Motek: The problem with typical industry standard noise filtering design is that the designers allow noise to travel along the wire, and then try to handle it in a so-called "filter element". This is typically an off-the-shelf filter network made of caps and coils. All of these filter elements color the sound because they are based on theories of resonance, and are not immediate in their method of functionality. Filters which use caps and coils always filter only a limited bandwidth of noise and let other frequencies through. They are not effective across the board at all frequencies because they are not designed to be so.
Danny Kaey: So your solution takes care of things not taken care of in the gear?
Louis Motek: With our power cable's Skin-filtering solution, since we don't introduce the problem into your gear, your gear doesn't have to fix it. Indeed, the higher the frequency of noise, the less chance it has at getting into and through our power cables, and never winds up entering your gear in the first place. So this noise never affect s your audio signals, and the result is sort of like listening to music in the 50's and 60's when there was a LOT less radio noise in the atmosphere than today. This is a solution whose time has come, because today, the need is there. If you connected our power cables to your gear in the early 60's, you probably would not have heard any difference at all.
Danny Kaey: I live in a populous environment. Surely, your solution has no effect in a rural environment?
Louis Motek: To date, we have sent out well over three thousand DFPCs to customers all over the world. We have a large pool of statistics based on user feedback. Many of these customers live in rural areas, and they all report the immediate impact the lowering of the noise floor has on the sound quality. They also all own mobile phones and email me using the internet, regardless of where they are from. Noise is here to stay. Because audio is a real-time event, it is not error checking that is our handy partner here, it is real-time noise evasion. Real-time means we have no time to wait until a filter resonance successfully diverts some noise from the power. We need instantaneous delivery of the power and at the same time we need the power to be noise-free. All this is valid in the smallest village just as well as on Park Avenue in New York City, and has the same effect on the sound quality.
Danny Kaey: Amazing stuff, Louis. Anything new waiting on the horizon?
Louis Motek: We never rest on our laurels.
Danny Kaey: Come on, Louis. What's pending?
Louis Motek: We continue to strive to make better and better sound quality available to more and more people.
Danny Kaey: Ok... And when can we expect it?
Louis Motek: Always.
I get it. The number one rule of high-end audio is that there always seems to be something better just around the corner. Fair enough. Going back to my listening impressions following a week's worth of the system settling in, my auditory information banks seem to indicate that there appears to be less of a loss whilst running these DFPC Signature cables. Cueing up my favorite cuts of filet-o-music, DFPC Signature inserted a sense of calm to the system that was quite a bit more than just ordinary. Heavy duty electronica benefited from this value-add just as much as really any kind of music; while I shy away from using the word "taming", I did hear a sense of Gemütlichkeit that I wasn't expecting.
Perhaps most fascinating was that this level of synthesis wasn't a product of a component, rather merely the substitution of one very good power cord for another. I laughingly recall the movie My Cousin Vinny: in one of the—many—funny court room scenes, Joe Pesci, "Vinny", interrogating an eye witness proclaims "Are we to believe that the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove…" referring to the apparently false timeline the witness just testified to. Well I don't know if these LessLoss power cables change, or bend, or otherwise infect the laws of physics—I sincerely doubt it—but, I do have to say that they appear to increase the musical enjoyment by lowering the apparent incoming noise. Often times—whilst listening to harsh and bright music—a new component can "tame" that musical characteristic to where you perceive that rendition to sound better. Most of the times that I have heard a component do that, however, it achieved said results by taming just about everything else too, thus whilst offering a benefit on one end, it introduced a new set of problems elsewhere.
Apparently the DFPC Signature cables don't have that effect. Last year's stroll through Belgrade's vinyl selection of her yesteryears proved quite beneficial in the form of a box of records I brought home. The old world says hello. 7 Mladih (on ex-Yugoslavia's famed RTS label) is an early 70's pressing of memorable Serbian folk music which I thoroughly enjoy listening to. Having cleaned it—several times—via the stupendously amazing Audio Desk ultrasonic vinyl cleaner, my trusted Brinkmann LaGrange / 12.1" Brinkmann / Dynavector XV-1 / EINSTEIN Phono portray said music in a magnificent, grand sort of way.
When I swapped the power cord for the Brinkmann's tube power supply to the DFPC, something quite amazing (and unexpected) happened: that very same record sounded more dynamic, more palpable, more fantastic. Placebo? Homesick? A case of missing the old world? Doubt it—a friend, not familiar with the record (LOL, really?), noticed the same. A more quiet background produced a more relaxed, more open sound while at the same time not adversely affecting any other musical patterns. To play it safe, I swapped the cords back and forth and heard the same with each swap. Interesting.
Most everyone—that is all four of you—who read my warez know that one of my most favorite pieces of music ever put on a notepad is Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Having just received Martha Argerich's 70's reading of said piece on Clearaudio's (can you believe it!) vinyl reissue (available at Acoustic Sounds) I was immediately struck by the newly discovered peace, calm, and calamity that I simply don't recall from previous listening sessions of this grand performance. Whereas Argerich's piano brought to life the beauty and ecstasy of each keystroke, the accompanied orchestra conducted by Abbado came hammering down—yet, none of it seemed to have been guided as if by force. What could the DFPC Signature be doing to the Brinkmann's tube power supply? Is there even a sound explanation? Perhaps.
Curiously, running my gear straight through the DFPCs, i.e. removing Nordost's otherwise stupendously good power filtering products, retained quite a bit of what I was hearing the cables do with these Nordost systems in place. Gone was that majestic sense of drive and grandeur that the system was capable of producing—perhaps the explanation being that the Nordost system's claim to fame seems to be rooted in similar science as the DFPC story: removing and mitigating unwanted HF noise from entering each component's power supply.
Be that as it may, the price of each DFPC cable is still what I consider to be a bargain, given the auditory results it produces. At $1149 per cable (customers receive stacked multi-order preferred pricing when ordering at least 2 cables), you get ridiculously good performance that is absolutely a value add to your system. With LessLoss receiving accolades from a global perspective, the daunting Hi-Fi formula of sense or nonsense seems to be in favor of the investment. Obviously your mileage may vary—given the notoriously infamous state of the US power grid (just talk to an engineer who operates on a global scale) I think investing in these power cables is at least as recommended as some sort of power filtration system. HF noise pollution be damned. If you can do both, even better. Curiosity killed the cat. I wonder what LessLoss has up their sleeve with Firewall and Tunnelbridge. A+++. Danny Kaey