Slipstream AC cables
as reviewed by Art Shapiro, Dave Clark, and Larry Cox
The inquisitive mind has to be somewhat disquieted when contemplating the effects brought by different power cords in a system. Youve all heard the arguments posed by skeptics: "There are 47,000 miles of wire between the power generating station and your home. (In my case, that 47,000 miles encompasses a lot of aluminum!) How in the world could the last six feet make one whit of difference?" Yet, logical or not, differences are sometimes apparentthis from an audiophile who, while conscious of said differences, does not really consider them in the same sonic ballpark as the changes among various interconnects or digital cables.
So a box of power cords from the firm of Sahuaro Audio made its way to my home, and I dutifully agreed to see what they might do in The System. As there were two cords, my choice was pretty well obvious: Id put them on the Wadia transport, currently using a Marigo RMX Reference C cord, and on the EAD DAC, which sports an MIT Z Cord II. Thoughts of using one of the Sahuaros in my CAT preamp lasted only a few milliseconds, as the immensely irritating two-minute turn-on delay on that preamp makes realistic comparison in a normal lifetime a matter of wishful thinking. All power cords were plugged into my Power Wedge 116, sitting on a dedicated AC line.
Even by audiophile standards, these power cords qualify as oddball. Each consists of two discrete sections plugged together to form the cable. The bulk of the length is a rather typical stiff assembly, doubtlessly of solid-core wire, surrounded by a black braid. At the wall end is a nice yellow Eagle plug covered by black rubber, possibly heatshrink. At the other end is an Eagle female connector, its yellow body similarly covered by a rubber membrane. The two Eagle components are exactly what one might pick up at the Home Depot if making a homebrew extension cord for a heavy duty application. The second half of the equation is where the guts/magic/engineering savvy/you name it of the Sahuaros is ensconced. It consists of an Eagle male plug identical to that of the first half, and an IEC connector to plug into the equipment. In between is a large, bulbous black mesh assembly about 4 inches long, and big enough around so that I could just get both hands around it. A small wire comes out the front of the male plug near the ground prong, wraps back and goes externally around the mesh bag, disappearing into the IEC plug near its ground slot. The mesh bag is festooned with black plastic buttons, possibly resonance control devices. There doesnt appear to be much inside the meshthree circular rings, looking like bracelets, are offset from one another, and a big red solid wire goes about the inner surface of the bag.
From a logistical standpoint, these unusual power cords proved to be quite hostile to my particular system. My gear is housed in a big CWD rack which happens to have a back panel on each of the two halves, one rackmount half and one shelfmount half. The panels have slots (at inopportune places) to allow cables to go from shelf to shelf or from component to component. The mesh bags on the Sahuaros were bigger than the slots! There was no way to connect the power cords, and one couldnt go through the slot the other directionfrom front to backbecause the length of the bag exceeded the distance between the back of each unit and the back panel. My only solution, being the ever-faithful audioMUSINGS reviewer, was to grab a screw gun and remove the back panels from the rack. Even then, things were not rosy. Crouched behind the rack and trying to stick the IEC connectors into the equipment, the big mesh bags obscured my view of the back panels, making it tough to find their corresponding connectors. It was especially unwieldy with the DAC, as there is close clearance between shelves, and the DAC kept wanting to roll on the Iso Bearings on which it sits as I tried to "thread the needle" and push the IEC plug of the Sahuaro into the DACs input connector that I couldnt see because of the big mesh bag. To compound things, the Eagle-to-Eagle connection between the two halves of the Saguaro wasnt especially tight, causing it to come apart frequently by its own weight and stiffness, or via jostling as I struggled to extricate myself from behind the rack. Perhaps this is of less concern to the typical customer than to a reviewer switching back and forth scores of times when comparing power cords, but it was consistently frustrating to sit back in the listening couch and see that one unit or other hadnt lit up because the parts of the Sahuaro had come apart. I think, especially at this lofty price point, that some twist-lock connections between the two halves can be heartily recommended. The IEC connection, on the other hand, was satisfactorily tight; I never had a Sahuaro drop off of the transport or the DAC from the IEC plug. Our proletarian friends with their fifty-cent patch cords and two-buck 16-3 IEC power cords just dont know what theyre missing! One has to suffer to be an Audiophile.
Mechanical tribulations aside, the proof of the product is in the listening. So how did the Sahuaros perform? I decided to start with one of my favorite CDs, Beau Soir, a marvelous viola recital on the Tacet label. Going back and forth a number of times between power cords, the differences were not profound. There seemed to be a slightly enhanced prominence to the piano accompaniment when the Sahuaros were installed, with the lightly-hit left hand notes more pronounced than with my existing power cords. This seemed to enhance the melodic flow of the music, and was consequently a desirable difference. I was not able to discern any consistent difference in the tonality or musical bloom of the viola. I appreciated the improvement brought by the Sahuaros on this piece, although one could hardly categorize the differences as substantial. Being a piano afficianado in the extreme, I next turned to a recital on the Hyperion label, in which the Russian virtuoso Nikolai Demidenko plays music of Nikolai Medtner. I chose the "Sonata Tragica," going back and forth numerous times and observing: nothing. If there were any differences between the MIT/Marigo and the Sahuaro/Sahuaro, they were not consistent enough for me to pinpoint.
I then went to the rack and pulled out one of my auditioning standards: a Dorian recording of Bach secular cantatas, selecting certain bands from the Coffee Cantata. Here, certain differences were apparent. The background basso continuo seemed more prominent when the Sahuaros were installed, analogous to the manner in which the background piano had been slightly enhanced in the Beau Soir. Once again I appreciated this difference. On the other hand, a lovely track with soprano and flute diminished the very slight female sibilance that I knowhaving heard this track on literally scores of different audio systemsis on the recording. Similarly, the flute was slightly duller and less airy than expected when the Sahuaros were in place. In a well-balanced system, these gorgeous flute strains waft melodiously throughout the room. In this respect, the Sahuaros were a modest disappointment.
One night I started the auditioning process having absolutely no idea which set of power cords were in place from the previous evenings listening. I decided to put on the Bach and see if I could identify the power cords just by listening to this particular track. The flute melodies seemed to float delicately in my audio room, and I consequently hypothesized that I was listening to my normal Marigo and MIT power cords. Uneasily walking around to the back of the rack, it was a pleasure to observe that my guess was correct. Further auditioning of this CD led me to believe that the baritone vocalist was a smidgen richer with the Sahuaros, again a laudable aspect of these power cords. It began to appear to me as if the slight differences between the two sets of power cords were the result of a slight tonal shift toward the bass end when using the Sahuaros. To confirm, I pulled out a Propius CD entitled Antiphone Blues, featuring a saxophone and pipe organ recital. Playing the opening track, "Almighty God," my suspicions seemed to be confirmed. The deep pedal notes on the organ were more striking when the Sahuaros were in place. Conversely, using the Marigo and MIT cords, the sax seemed reedier and more aggressive, which is more in keeping with the character of that instrument.
This seemed to be an excellent time to try a problematic CD on the Dorian label: a Chopin recital by Ivan Moravec with a marginally acceptable rolled-off treble. If a system is excessively dull, this CD has proven to be somewhat irritating; consequently it makes an excellent auditioning vehicle. Playing the system with the Sahuaros, I was somewhat surprised to find a trace more subtlety than before, with the piano a little bit richer, rounder and more resonant. (Recall that on the previous Medtner piano CD there had been no observed difference.) On the other hand, as feared, the highs were slightly more muted when using the Sahuaros, although not to a degree that offended my tastes. The CD was still listenable, but the original power cords gave a better presentation with respect to the rather polite treble on this recording.
It was time to let the system hang out a little, so I pulled out the Bela Fleck Flight of the Cosmic Hippo CD and went to the opening track, "Blu-Bop." As expected, there was better bass definition and impact with the Sahuaros. And to my surprise, there seemed to be a more realistic tonality to the various instruments?if one can use the term "realistic" with electrically amplified instrumentsmaking the presentation somewhat flatter and more lifeless when returning to the original power cords. Of all the auditioned pieces for this review, the Bela Fleck best showed off the characteristics of the Sahuaro product.
I decided to terminate with a large orchestral work, selecting a Chandos recording of the Prokofiev Cinderella ballet suite with Neeme Jarvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The results were not surprising. I perceived a more prominent bass foundation using the Sahuaros, with an enhanced sense of spaciousness and resonance in the overall presentation, which enhanced the beauty of the Suite. On the other hand, Prokofievs trademark sweeping upper string passages were somewhat muted, and thus simply not as breathtaking as with my existing power cords. Once again this pointed to a slight downward shift in the frequency balance when the Sahuaros were in place.
So lets sum up my observations on the Sahuaro power cords:
A. Ergonomic considerations dictate use of these cords only in systems with unconstrained access to the components power connectors?an open rack or the top plate of a cabinet.
B. Differences were not perceived with all musical selections, but were consistent when they were observed.
C. There seemed to be a slight emphasis in the bass region, whereas the higher parts of the frequency spectrum were slightly abated.
D. Some selections showed an improvement in ambiance and bloom.
I enjoyed my time
with the Sahuaros, but felt that, in balance, my existing AC cabling was a better match
with my audio system. I am curious if the observed effects were similar in my
I have a confession to make: I continue to review despite growing sort of bored listening to gear. It is not that I dont notice differences between components so much as Id prefer to listen to music, go to a movie, go rock climbing, or do something else besides wrestle with differences in sound. No doubt some of this has occurred because I recently got engaged, and there are all kinds of places to be right now. Sitting and listening to music is great, but sitting and listening critically to provide a fair assessment of someones hard work is not so great. With that in mind, my reaction upon seeing the Sahuaro Slipstream Power Cords was that they were a joke. The possibility that a sonic improvement would outweigh the horror of their appearance and the difficulty of working with them seemed remote. Saying that these things are big and bulky is a bit like saying redwood trees are kind of large. Moreover, I didnt really want to sit down to listen to hear the subtle, although real, changes that power cords can create.
Cutting to the quick, though, these power cords are frigging amazing. This is one accessory about which I have nothing negative to say. They seem to make music sound a little louder as well as clearer. The sound is simply clear as a bell. Small tonal shadings are easily communicated. Tonally, the sound from the lower midbass up is simply more liquid and clear, without a hint of grain or thinning of sound. Lower midbass seemed less full, but also revealed timbre more clearly and easily. This is good stuff, but like a lot of good stuff, it is expensive. The only problem I have with recommending that you drop your socks and go buy a set of these is that they cost dearly for what is "just" a power cord. Six hundred dollars per cord is a little hard to swallow. Plus, continuing the bummer aspect of this review, my system sounded better with two than with just one. That means at least $1200 for some power cords. Ahhh! Help!
Having said that, the improvement gained with these power cords was equivalent to upgrading my amplifier, which may well cost more. Sonically, the Sahuaro Slipstream power cords are easily recommendable. They were simply a great addition to my system. I only have a problem with the cost. Recommended, if you can afford it. Me, Im paying for a wedding. Larry Cox
Reviewing AC cords poses an interesting dilemma. While there are many audiophiles who welcome the brave new world of AC cables with open arms, there are numerous audiophilesand certainly many outside the audio worldwho find it hard to understand how AC cords can affect a components performance. After all, miles and miles of crummy wire are used to send AC into our homes, so how can a few feet of upscale cord make a difference? As to the how or why, I refer you to Mike VansEvers articles on the subject, which pretty much say it all (www.vansevers.com), though I will make a suggestion or two of my own. A "good" AC cord allows "good" AC to reach your components power supply, causing it to behave in a manner that can and will affect the sound. However, this AC may also carry noise or resonances that adversely affect the power supplygarbage in, garbage out.
I am not here to convert you. All I can say is that AC cords have the potential to make substantial improvements, but can also give extremely unpredictable results. Finding the right one can be very problematic. What works best with component A may not work best with component B, let alone from system to system or house to house. This was true for me until the Sahuaro Slipstreams came along. Quite simply, these power cords transformed our system into something really special, unlike any of the numerous AC cords we had previously tried. The Sahuaros allowed each of our components to perform at a higher level. What that means for you I cannot say, because as good as the Sahuaros are for us, your mileage may vary.
How can I put this as simply as possible? BUY THESE NOW. Thats all you need to know. Too easy, you say? Okay, there are a few points to consider. One, the Slipstreams are not inexpensive at $599, though without them I am not sure you have ever heard what your system truly sounds like. Two, with the Sahuaros, what you hear will be limited by your systems ability to reveal improvements. The Sahuaros cant turn a sows ear into a silk purse. The limiting factors will not only be your individual components (loudspeakers, electronics, AC, interconnects, and speaker cables), but how they interface. Finally, the Sahuaros may not significantly outperform a manufacturers own AC cord, designed for a specific product. The Sahuaros were better than either the Blue Circle or the Clayton cords, as used on the BC2 preamp and M70 amps respectively, but the differences were subtle, and may not warrant a purchase, especially when price differences are considered. However, for some of us, price is not the issue?getting the most out of what we have is the goal!
I have recently been able to listen to cords from several designers. They all made differences, some to the betterment of music, some not. Some imparted a sonic character upon the music or component, some just sounded right. While all of them bettered stock cords, using the proverbial sonic checklist, all had specific characteristics that may limit their universality. The Magnan cords (review pending), as heard on the Muse amplifiers, digital sources, and my own power line conditioner, had a smooth, rich sound that was somewhat more euphonic than we prefer. Offering deep, powerful bass, a liquid midrange, and a soft, delicate treble, these are the cords to relax with after a very stressful day, but are they true to the music? Perhaps not. Glorious, yes, but too polite for our tastes. When compared to the Sahuaros, the Magnans removed too much life and excitement, causing our music to become ho hum. The Magnans are the cords to use on a bright-sounding system, or one where there may be lots of noise on the AC line. The Sahuaros are for those who want to hear whats on the disc.
The Nordost El Dorado cords, used on the Muse amps and our digital sources, possessed an amazing speed and clarity, but at the expense of warmth and "naturalness." As with the Magnans, the bass was deep and powerful, though much more tactile and detailed. The treble was very fast and clean. The El Dorados have the classic Nordost sound that one hears in their SPM and Quattro linesneutrality and speed, in spades. Perfect for a system or component that is too laid back or dull sounding. The Sahuaros, while just as fast and clean, returned the missing warmth and naturalness to the music, without being as overly ripe as the Magnans, and thus were more in balance with the musics character.
The Clayton cords, auditioned on the Clayton M70 amps (the Muses being long gone) and our digital sources, offered a very well-balanced presentation, though they were a bit rolled-off at the very lowest bass frequencies and a touch closed-in spatially. This was only in evidence when compared to the Sahuaros. The Clayton cords were designed by Wilson Chen to get the most out of his amps, and that they do, coming second only to the Sahuaros, and by a nose hair at best! Definitely a cord to consider when purchasing any of the Clayton amps. On digital sources the differences were similar, though of slightly larger magnitude. I found the Claytons to be a very nice match with the HRS and Taddeo Digital antidote II units. A great cord by any measure, though bettered by the Sahuaro Slipstreams at the frequency extremes. Since they were designed around the Clayton amps, their use may be limited to products that share a similar electrical design, or are cut from the same sonic "cloth."
Mike VansEvers Double Pandora power cords (see review in Issue 7), as heard on the Blue Circle BC3 preamp, offered the ability to tune for cable/wire resonances, thereby allowing the listener to change the tonal qualities of the music. Really cool! Want to adjust the treble? Turn the thumbscrew at the IEC connector. Want to tune for bass resonance? Slide the two tuning blocks up or down the cord. Unfortunately, the Double Pandoras tended to be slightly grainy, and thus not sonic earthshakers. With the Sahuaros, one cannot tune for resonance, but the Slipstreams deal with this by synergistically combining materials and construction, thereby resulting in a musically "tuned" cord.
The Harmonic Technology cords (see review in Issue 8) were auditioned on both the Muse and the Clayton amps, and on our line conditioner. These cords offered quite a bit of promise, but while they do most things very well, there was a bump in the upper mids to lower treble, which resulted in the music sounding more like hi-fi than music. This could be mitigated with some modifications (see review), but is that what one wants to do with an expensive AC cord? The Sahuaros have no such tonal shifts or aberrations. They are extremely neutralno frequency range is emphasized over another. After modifying the HT cords, I found them to work extremely well on my line conditioner (which makes sense, since the wiring in the conditioner is the same as that used in the HT cord). Even so, the when the Sahuaro was substituted for the HT, there was no competition. The Sahuaro Slipstreams win again! The Blue Circle cord, as used on the Blue Circle preamp, offered a synergistic match, much as the Clayton cord did on the M70s. This cord allowed the BC3 preamp to perform at a higher level, with sonic improvements realized across the board. Here again we have a manufacturer designing a cord to maximize the performance of their own product, so what else would you expect? This cord is very, very nice, but again, switching to the Sahuaro Slipstreams resulted in improvements. More openness, greater bass extension, and a stronger sense of musical bloom, though to a degree that was more subtle than revelatory, and that may not warrant the purchase of one over the another. Whether the BCs performance carries over to other products, I cant say, but I am using it on the BC3, and its smaller sibling on an E.A.R. 834P phono stage, to very good effect.
I have really only hinted at the Sahuaros true character. Quite literally, they have no inherent sonic characteristics to get in the way of the music. The Sahuaros in many ways act as an AC supercharger for your components. Music just flows, and opens up out into the room! While other cords were much better than stock Beldens, all brought faults and weaknesses to the table. The Sahuaros simply didnt. Unequivocally, the Sahuaro Slipstreams are better than the cords discussed above at allowing our system to reproduce music at a higher level. We have four Slipstreams in our system. Adding each one wrought substantial improvements in our musical enjoymentkinda like in the movie Forbidden Planet, where the Krell (ha ha) built a reactor that, when powered from one stage to the next, caused an increase in power on a scale of 10 times 10 times 10 to infinity! Why dont we use Slipstreams on all of our components? As I said, they are not inexpensive, and four is all we could afford. Second, since the improvements over the Clayton and Blue Circle cords are marginal when used on their products, we stuck with those, and they work just fine, thank you. If I was Bill Gates, I would replace these cords with the Slipstreams, thereby squeezing the last few drops of musical nirvana from our system.
Without sounding cliched, listening to music sans Sahuaros is like being removed from the event. Imagine being outside your house while your system is playing a favorite selection. Yes, you can still hear the music, but there is no bass impact, no soundstage dimensionality, no life. Images and musical lines come across without any sense of scale or presence. You simply cant feel the music. Adding the Sahuaros will transport you into the room, where you can now hear and touch the music. The experience becomes much more visceral. The Sahuaros bring life and beauty to your system, as the Sahuaro cactus does to the barren desert. A universal AC cord? Perhaps not, but try planting one in your system! Dave Clark