Krakow Sonic Society - Meeting No. 90: Acrolink 7N-PC9500
Photos: Wojciech Pacuła, Translation: Andrzej Dziadowiec/Janusz A. Szorc
Power cords from Acrolink have been the KSS reference point for many a year. First it was the 7N-PC9100, followed by the 7N-PC-9300. We have been waiting for the successor of the latter, the 7N-PC9500, with a great interest - wondering what the magicians from Japan cooked up this time. And we were not disappointed.
Often asked if we have good time during our KSS meetings, I answer that we have absolutely splendid time. We meet with people we like, we are interested in each other and in new records as well as old album reissues, we like wine which we strive to consume regularly. The music we listen to is played on top notch audio equipment. It would be very ungrateful to claim otherwise and equally unfair to say that I have some kind of issues with the KSS.
The other thing is that each one of us uses the opportunity and makes their own deals—deals associated with music and audio gear, of course. A significant proportion of our joint auditions are devoted to things that aspire to be integrated into our own audio systems, to the records that have the ambition to replace the old editions in our collections. Pure self-interest. But because the comparisons and auditions are conducted by the book and it is important to us that the conclusions were of more general character than "I kind'a like it" or "I don't give a flying…" we hope that more people can benefit from this, people of mutual interest. For the rest it might just be an interesting reading, maybe even amusing. The important thing is not to leave anybody indifferent.
And it works, so it seems. Our meetings generate money flow between banks, stimulate handing it over, in one word they improve economy. And it's the economy (one would like to add "stupid" but in the context of what we are doing more appropriate is to say "friend" or "comrade") that is most important. Or, to be more serious, the meetings shape our own audio systems and music collections. Their outcome influences us directly, not only our wallets and bank accounts, although that is what it eventually leads to, but also the way we perceive music and equipment. We learn a lot.
To prove the point, let me provide several examples. The easiest one relates to new record releases. I feel for those who are fed up with all of this, all the zoo as they say, and are not waiting anymore for the hundred fiftieth version of Miles Davis' *Kind of Blue** and hundred thousandth remastered version of Mike Oldfield's *Tubular Bells**—I do understand them very well. But I still got kicks out of it. I am curious about what can be made better, how the new technology translates into better sound quality. Besides, if I like any given album I would like to listen to it in the best possible quality. Even though I own every single of the 192 former editions. That is also the reason that every new album I buy is a SHM-CD version, whenever possible. Although there are gold-CD editions with even better quality, the average is high and I am all in, no problems here. This is an easy example and not very expensive one. Things get more serious when we start talking about audio components, cables and so-called accessories. After the meeting with Paweł Skulimowski and his Franz Audio Accessories anti-vibration products, all the present simply HAD to buy Ceramic Disc Classic which we now have installed under our CD players, preamplifiers and amplifiers (see HERE). After listening to Siltech cables from the Double Crown series we had no other choice—Janusz and I bought interconnects, still dreaming about speaker cables (see HERE). During the last KSS meeting you are reading about Rysiek officially unpacked my pair (see the photos). After the meeting with Mr. Ken Ishiguro we made an order from Japan that would have satisfied several audio shops. My whole system uses accessories from Acoustic Revive and Janusz and Rysiek have just received their equipment including something I do not have—acoustic panels. Now we have six such panels between us in KSS so we are going to have another meeting devoted to them used in a full (recommended by the manufacturer) combination (see HERE). These are only some of the examples from the last two years.
Power cords - not so "hot" a subject anymore (although none the less actual)
This is a much, much older issue which roots go as far back as the year 2008 (at least). I am talking about Acrolink cables from Japan here (see HERE and HERE). It was then that we came across the top high-end power cords from this manufacturer and it was then that we spent first serious money for this kind of cable. While both Janusz, Rysiek and I had owned in our systems the cheaper 7N-PC6100 from Acrolink, the quality leap (as well as price jump) to the ‘9100' was stunning, indeed. The next shocking surprise was waiting for us two years later when we received for a review its successor, the Mexcel 7N-PC9300. In this case the changes was so profound and multidimensional that me and Janusz replaced most of our power cords with the new ones. Our friends followed and in such a way Kraków suddenly boasted a world's year supply of Acrolink cables. The 7N-PC9500, announced for 2012, due to time shifts related to its production, arrived here in the middle of 2013. Another KSS meeting was just a matter of time.
When we were starting listening to power cables our awareness of changes that they introduce to the sound was rather unimpressive. We were going through a learning process ourselves, regularly laughed at both by some readers and Jarek Waszczyszyn (Ancient Audio) who did not take our cable experiments all that seriously. He could not find any satisfactory explanation for an audible difference between various power cords. They did not teach this at universities, anyway. But because Jarek has an open mind, he does not resist it if something convinces him, even if he does not entirely understands the mechanism behind it. He will continue to be troubled by it because taking something on faith is quite traumatic for his scientific mind, but he is a tough guy. It was no different with power cords. When he heard the Acrolink 7N-PC9100 for the first time, he was "bought and sold". Not only him—convincing someone to something that has rather weak theoretical foundation requires multiple auditions and comparisons in various systems; trials and experiments. After some time and effort devoted to the task there is no turning back, though. If someone is not convinced, my experience tells me that the experiments were not conducted properly. Generally speaking, more and more people start to pay attention to this part of their audio systems and appreciate the improvement a good power cord brings, without being stingy about the cost. Same here.
The arrival of the new Acrolinks to Krakow electrified the whole "company" and we quickly arranged a meeting. This time, we wanted to compare not a single power cord but the entire system—six cords in all. One to power the First Generator Ancient Audio mains conditioner, one to power the CD transport, another two to feed the CD Lektor Grand SE mono D/A converters from the same manufacturer, and two more to power the Ancient Audio Silver Grand Mono power amps, featuring 300B triodes from Takatsuki power amplifiers.
The starting point was the Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, from which we started the audition. Let me remind you that it made such a change in our systems that it took us a long time to absorb everything it offered. Let me also remind you that the system at Janusz's is powered from a Furutech mains wall socket which is fed from a dedicated power line on an Acrolink power cord and an audiophile fuse in the fuse junction panel (see HERE). To keep it simple, I will use the term ‘9500' when referring to the Mexcel 7N-PC9500 and ‘9300' for the Mexcel 7N-PC9300. The audition is divided into several sessions; in each one we were comparing one track—or more—from the given album.
Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra, cond. Zubin Mehta, K2HD, LIM
I have no doubts—the 9500 is definitely a better cable. With it you can hear things that weren't—and I'm sure of it!—audible before. I have a feeling that the sound was much sharper with the 9300, as if there were some little needles, while everything was so smooth here. It can be heard in a split second, right?
I've got to say that I don't like having breaks between the tracks to compare because it's harder for me to concentrate on the differences. But I understand that there is no way around it when you're comparing power cords, and it's clear that you have to unplug them, turn the system off, and then turn it on, wait for the tubes to warm up; and that takes time. But in this case I had no doubts that the 9500 is a better cord and that I like it more. I agree with the observation made about the treble, but the bottom end sounded better, too. The recording we listened to suddenly became 10 years younger. And those warm high tones… The choice is clear for me—the 9500.
I liked both cables; I mean, the system sounded excellent with either of the cords. I understand that the guys know their stuff better and the worse simply sounds worse to them, but to me, such top class system is something completely new and I really love both sets of cords! But if I were to delve into this, I'd have to say that the 9500 revealed more information from the speakers, so I was able to experience more music emotions.
I preferred the 9300 with the first track. I'm used to this sound and I like it. But now I see that I may have outran myself with criticism :) I preferred the 9500 on the second track and it helped me look at the previous track in a new light, with hindsight. The new cord has a wider frequency range, greater dynamics, and better tonal differentiation—these are things you can hear straight away, without any need to analyze.
I don't know if we're all listening to the same system, but I find the 9300 to be far better, and the 9500 to be a huge step backwards! Alright—I'm kidding ;) But the loud "shiiiii-" at the start probably gave me away… I'm very impressed by how much has changed. I remember the comparison of the 9100 and 9300 very well, and if my memory serves me right, the difference between those two cords wasn't as great as that between the 9300 and the 9500. It was particularly audible with quieter material, which the new cord handles much more easily—it shows more information while sounding freer, softer, without unnecessary strain.
Yes, I agree with Ryszard. The better resolution they bring into the system certainly speaks in favor of the new power cords. The bass resolution improvement is particularly surprising to me. Now you can hear that there are six double basses and organs playing, much better than before. It was good there, too, but when you hear something so much better, the previous becomes much worse in this light. Sad. But a few things have to be said and paid attention to. Firstly, nobody should think that using a power conditioner—not a panel and filter, but an actual conditioner—"gets the job done" and power cords really have little more to say. Such people are painfully wrong. I designed the First Generator after listening to the previous Acrolink series, angry that they're capable of such an influence on sound. I thought that providing the components with perfect sine wave will allow me to worm my way out of using power cords, and decreasing their "importance". Now I can see that it just doesn't work that way, which really hurts my engineer's heart. The First Generator improves the sound, but good power cords do the job equally well. Together, they give you something unique, but wasn't the conditioner meant to do everything? And second of all—with all their advantages, these Acrolinks expose any system flaws. Once again, I can hear what I've got to improve in this system. Will this ever end?
For me, the 9500 is the clear winner of this showdown. I'm actually curious how anyone can not hear the differences between these two power cords… But let's not diverge. The 9500 is superior and I actually didn't expect such a wide gap between these two cords. Although I really liked the 9300, and I still do, in this direct comparison you can hear exactly what they "don't do". For example—with the 9300 I didn't have the feeling that the recorded planes "enter" the room. They were really well-shown, and precisely drawn, but the 9500 did all of that, and did it more "here"—more naturally, as if it were a live performance. And bass control—the difference here was really unbelievable, in my opinion. I remember when we compared the 9300 and the 9100 we talked about how the older cord made the bottom end sound more controlled, although its tonality was inferior. And now you can hear this difference even more clearly, because the 9500 does it wonderfully. Everything in the bottom range is shown with the kind of energy that can't be simulated by simply raising the volume.
What struck me most in this change—and it was obvious—was the way the kettle drums sounded. With the 9500, their attack was quick, open, and incredibly energetic. They were just spectacular—fast and powerful, very natural, as if at a live performance. And we're merely using stand mount speakers! Sound attacks and decays were fantastic! I never heard anything like it. And I'm not just throwing these words around—this aspect is important to me. Their energy—unbelievable! I started by mentioning the kettle drums, but it is in classical music recordings that they create something like a base for other things, they "make" the sound scale. With the new Acrolink everything opened up, not only them, and there were definitely more details in the midrange. Not in treble, since that could disrupt the tonal balance, but in the dense, full midrange. With the new cord everything got in order. Now the sound is "correct" and distinguished. And hellishly dynamic, at that. An unbelievable upgrade to the already wonderful 9300!!!
Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus, XRCD, JVC
It's basically the same story as before, although obviously the accents are arranged slightly differently, since we're dealing with different instruments here. The saxophone sounded lower, fuller, and more "substantial" than before, with the 9300. Everything on the soundstage seemed a little closer up, not through some warming up but through more sound energy in all ranges. Yeah, it's great!
I second the fact that the whole soundstage moved up closer, but I turned my attention to something else. Despite a more energetic sound with the 9500, the saxophone was better communicating with the other instruments, and blended in with them a bit; but in a good way. It was more isolated with the 9300—it may have sounded more effective, but also less natural, as if it were "artificially made". The newer cord made the intro livelier, clearer, and more "normal", and less "recorded". The saxophone itself was more consistent and smoother. But also deeper—much like the other instruments.
It's my second time listening to it, and again I had the feeling of participating in a live performance with the 9500. Incredible musicality. The grand piano was marvelous—resounding, big and normal. And the saxophone was really more consistent, deeper and smoother. To me, it's world-class brilliance. I know that this is exactly what we said about the 9300, back in the day, but I guess this is what learning is all about. Now I can hear that drum cymbals can be even thicker and more physical. But the most important change to me was the double bass that was set lower. It's what Janusz mentioned before, while talking about the kettle drums—adding energy in the bottom-range isn't just turning up a slider on a mixer; that would be crude. More energy means more sounds coordinated together in time, without any blurring. And that's how the double bass sounded now—much better. The resolution of the lowest sounds was also much better.
I confirm everything that the guys have said before me, and I'll just add that what struck me most was the double bass longer and deeper reverb. It's as if the higher resolution and energy brought it out from the background. The cymbals were also better integrated with the rest of the instruments, although they usually play quite "separately".
I think the changes weren't as huge as with the previous recording. Don't get me wrong—they were definitely there, and I agree with everybody, but they were less impressive than with classical music—they were jaw-dropping before!
I don't want to repeat what Jarek has just said, but the difference really seemed smaller this time, and the changes weren't as spectacular. Although if I hadn't listened to anything beforehand, I would've been greatly impressed. The hierarchy of sound for any given instrument has improved with the 9500. Before there was a slight accent on the mouthpiece, you could hear the air flowing in, and something in the treble, but now what I heard was a fuller, deeper bell and its precise mouth. Second of all—the impact and attack of the grand piano. It now shone bright as an independent instrument, not only a saxophone background, which is what it sounded like previously.
Personally, I think that the new cord's most important characteristic in this comparison was the saturation of the sound—truly deeper. Although the 9300 is already masterwork in this regard—I remember what I said about it when we compared it with the 9100 which suddenly seemed so "thin". To me, this one little difference is something colossal, and a massive change in the sound's character. These aren't some small details, instrument mouths, grand pianos and double basses—with all due respect—but a complete paradigm shift, and a change of point of view. Not some crap—pardon my language again—but a "thick" and punchy sound. Sometimes a tiny drop can tip the scale in favor of something—in this case, new things have been added to the wonderful 9300 that take us into a whole new world.
The Stockfisch DMM-CD/SACD. Vol. 1, CD, Stockfish
I waited for this album, because I was very curious of how it'd sound. It's very unique-sounding because of how its material is prepared [Ed. Note: see HERE]. On one hand the sound is extremely dynamic and natural, but on the other, it can sometimes cause some cringing in the top-range … Maybe that's why the 9300 was awful. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but that's how I perceive it. With the 9500 the top-range finally appeared, and it wasn't just uncomfortable pings. The vocals shortcomings were less audible, while their vitality and openness was emphasized. And the bass was much more dynamic, it had—if I can say so—a larger "diameter", but in the sense that it was more spacious; it was a bit small and dry with the 9300. Now it's possible to comfortably listen to this album. It's as if they were both water pipes, and the older cord had a much smaller diameter than the new one…
I'd like to say something more general—I have a feeling that both cords have a tendency to emphasize the mid- and bottom-ranges, while lowering the treble. It's one of the reasons why the record sounded so interesting. The guitar came out very well, particularly so with the 9500. It terrified me a bit with the 9300—there's something wrong with this album. The dynamics and energy are indeed phenomenal, but the tonal balance is totally off. If I had to listen to it, I'd listen to it with the 9500.
I preferred the male to the female vocals on the Stockfisch's album—the latter were a bit too bright. And that's regardless of the system; although the 9500 clearly shows as the better one. But it's with this cord, and on this CD, that the bottom-range irritated me. I'm trying not to exaggerate, since it was still a great playback, but it was the first time I had any negative critique for the cord. It was all about emphasizing the range, which I hadn't noticed before.
I'm listening to these cords—the 9500—for the second time, and I can now see that speaking favorably about them isn't a problem because they're just great. But they also bring out the recording imperfections, which isn't so great anymore. It shows polished mastering brilliantly, and with the Stockfisch album—which is pretty wackily produced—it came out very nicely. The vocals were much worse with the 9500; well, the vocals in general. And it's because they have a lot of sibilants. The 9300 covered it up and put it slightly out.
No, I don't see any weaker elements in here. It's a pretty troublesome record, yeah, but it's not the cord's problem. To me, even with this album, the 9500 is a big step forward compared to the 9300.
This audition confirmed what I said before—we get the sound with the whole benefit of inventory. If something is bad, it gets worse, and if it's good, then it just becomes wonderful. It's a cord that brilliantly differentiates recordings, which I understand as understanding the signal better.
I have to say I didn't hear that pumped-up bass Janusz was talking about. To me, these low frequencies have much better control with the 9500. The new cord is brilliant when it comes to "cleaning" the background—you can now clearly hear the bass behind the acoustic guitar. With the 9500 you could tell it was a separate instrument, while the 9300 made them sound similar. The difference was just colossal with the second track, as if somebody removed the limiter from the audio path.
The way the bottom range was pumped up on the 9500—you have to admit this cord has a strong bass—slightly threw off the album tonal balance. Despite that it's still so good that it's just a more effective presentation. I think it takes each aspect of the music presentation a notch or two higher. Why is it such a great cord? Because it shows "more" of everything while being insanely musical. It's the first time I hear and describe a power cord the way I did the best interconnect I know—the Siltech Double Crown. Not only is this Acrolink's best power cord thus far, it's also the best power cord I currently know, and the gap between it and its predecessor is larger than ever before. Now I can see that the transition from the 9100 to the 9300 brought merely cosmetic changes, no matter how much of an improvement it was. But now the change is just cosmic.
As far as I can remember, it's the first time my friends from the Krakow Sonic Society approached Acrolink's new power cord more enthusiastically than me. I think we all heard the same thing, and I confirm most of the main observations, however the 9300 is still so good that even the clearly superior 9500 didn't convince me into an immediate upgrade. It did happen eventually, as I have to move on (my whole system now uses the 9500), but it was an arranged marriage, not like when I fell in love with the 9300 when upgrading from the 9100. But regardless of my personal feelings, there are some solid facts: the new power cord from Acrolink sounds much denser and fuller. There's more of everything—I agree with Janusz on this one. The bass is bigger and more massive, which—paradoxically—doesn't throw off the tonality but rather completes it. The sound is darker, although there is more treble and more going on in terms of drum cymbals, woodwind instruments and violins. The midrange is deep and massive. The soundstage has an unbelievable size. It's all big and dense. And the cord is brilliant, although I'm saying it with clenched teeth. It's the best power cord I've heard so far.
The Lotus Group
Distribution in Poland
Price (in Poland): 19 900 PLN/1,5 m