Will a Power Regenerator/Conditioner or Digital Power Cable Benefit the Chord DAVE?

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Most audiophiles would suggest picking out a pair of speaker or headphones first and then subsequently moving onto source, etc.

I’m going to have to go against the grain on this one. If I were to do this again, I would start with quality power. Granted the wiring in this house was probably done in the 70s and I’m located in a big city, probably far from a utility transformer. I also don’t have a dedicated line or any fancy, hospital-grade receptacles. Needless to say, I’m quite certain my mains are dirty.

At first, the thought of using a power regenerator and placing a power cord in front of it sounded a bit absurd. Isn’t the signal going to be regenerated anyway? The impact of RFI/EMI and the importance of a good power infrastructure is heavily overlooked. After some time experimenting with different cables and A/B’ing cheap Belkin surge protectors…it became quite obvious what a quality power cord and regenerator/conditioner is capable of. Generally you get a tighter sound, blacker background, and a much more expansive soundstage. From my experience, the quality of power affected the audio quality more than ICs or even headphone cables. IMO, a worthy and high-priority investment.

For those who don’t know, digital power cords handle about 50 watts max and are supposedly better at handling rapid current transients inherent in most DACs/streamers/music servers.

The 4 digital cables used in this test:

  • A cheap power cord I had laying around (FREE!)
  • JPS Labs X-AC Digital Power Cord ($399)
  • Shunyata Research Alpha Digital Zitron Power Cord ($995)
  • Dynamic Design Heritage Challenger AE15 Digital Power Cord w/~50 hours of break in ($4,000)

Power:

  • Panamax M5300 Clean Power
  • PS Audio P10 Powerer Plant
  • DIRTY Wall outlet

Findings

What I’ve found is that the P10 improved the sound enormously. Plugging directly into the wall outlet degraded to the soundstage and dynamics to unlistenable levels, no digital cable could save it.

  • Unsurprisingly, the cheap computer power cord was horrendous. For the love of analog, stay the hell away.
  • The Panamax M5300 helped a bit but nothing close to the performance of the P10.
  • The JPS digital cable sounded not much better than a cheap cable without the P10. Soundstage completely collapses and resolution and refinement is lost.
  • The Shunyata sounded decent with a flatter soundstage and less refinement even without a P10.
  • The AE15 maintained most of it’s depth and dynamics and is a very special cable.
  • The JPS sounds good but requires a power conditioner for a better soundstage. The other two could do without and still sound good but a power conditioner/regenerator helps.
  • This could be due to a the AE15 not being fully broken in yet but it’s brighter than the JPS.
  • The Shunyata just sounds “right” with no huge faults I could find. It’s less resolving than the AE15 but I need to revisit this comparison when I get a new power conditioner.
  • The AE15 is an X-ray into the music but comes off a bit bright. I will need another month to figure out if this is just due to the lack of break-in as there’s about 50 hours on this cable already.
  • The AE15 has a MUCH darker background and more dynamic than the other two. The ONLY flaw I hear is a the tiny lack of warmth to chocolate coat and give the vocals and instruments a warm body to go with it. Don’t think this will be a problem with a the HE-1000s.

If for whatever reason you don’t have a power regen/conditioner yet but opt to go for a digital cable first, the AE15 is a no-brainer as the active RF shield gives you a good taste of what a cleaner signal gives you (more holographic sound). It’s the only one from the group that didn’t sound flat without a separate regen/conditioner.

In the end, the quality of power and type of digital cable going into the Chord DAVE drastically changes the sound. Digital cables won’t save you from dirty mains without a regen/conditioner but the Challenger AE15 does a decent job with its battery-operated active RF shield.

With a warmer headphone I would highly recommend the AE15 as it’s a bit a brighter. For the Abyss…the Shunyata may be a better fit but I’m not drawing any conclusions yet. I’m going to have to revisit this comparison when I obtain a balanced power supply. I’m not sure the AE15 is completely broken in but the Shunyata has a more natural tonality overall.

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Raw Notes

Dave Brubeck Quartet – St. Louis Blues (16/44)

With P10:

Shunyata:

  • vs. Stock
    • Piano sounds a lot flatter with stock cable. Instruments don’t have that roundedness. Not a lot of air, pretty crappy.
    • A bit thinner, lifeless. Shunyata is much warmer but in realistic fashion.
    • Much less drum impact. Stock does have a quieter background though.
    • Doesn’t have that visceral sound
    • FLAT
  • vs. JPS
    • More transparent than the stock by far, more much fluid presentation.
    • Very clean, very nice.
    • Great impact.
    • head bobber
    • Leaner than the Shunyata for sure.
    • Amazing resolution, great detail, good pace, very clean.
    • I like it! Delicate but good.

The Shunyata has a much more organic sound to it. More like a real live performance with warm bodies. Piano sounds more realistic. Sounds like the real thing. JPS sounds much better than stock but still doesn’t have that live music sound. The Shunyata is much better overall.

Patricia Barber – The Trill is Gone (24/192)

  • vs. Stock
    • Much thinner, but didn’t sound too bad. detail is still there. For this quiet passage song, wasn’t too bad. Lacks warmth.
    • Still flat
    • A bit of grain
  • vs. JPS
    • instant sense of depth against the stock, don’t get stock at all.
    • more warmth than stock cheap cable.

From this point I’m not going to compare the stock cable. You’re going to need a good digital cable for the DAVE.

Marta Gomez – Sies (16/44)

  • vs. JPS
    • Head bobber sounds really good.
    • A lot of clarity

Regina Spektor – Fidelity (16/44)

  • The Shunyata gives you goosebumps. Difference between listening to a good fun recording and getting a live performance in front of you.

Without P10

Dave Brubeck Quarter – Take Five (24/96)

  • JPS
    • Sounds pretty flat from the wall.
    • Lacks dynamics
    • Not engaging at all. Super flat.
    • No warmth at all.
    • No depth.
    • From the P10, it sounds a billion times better. Holographic sound, instruments have air, everything comes to life. Sad.
    • Similar tonality but you get rounded players and air.
    • Sadly unlistenable without the P10.
    • Beyond night and day difference.
  • Shunyata
    • The shunyata just brings you to the performance instead of a recording. warm bodies.
    • very musical on the p10
    • the JPS really isn’t too bad.
    • Golden hue
    • The biggest change without the P10 is just depth. It’s flat from the wall.
    • Tonality is similar, maybe less warm. Still sounds decent…unlike the JPS comparison.
      • Somewhat acceptable performance without a P10
    • With the P10 the Shunyata is
      • much smoother, less grain, less harsh
      • much more depth, more holographic
      • it does sound much better with the P10

All in Crossfeed 3, Chord Silverplus USB + Panamax M5300

Mike Posner – I Took a Pill in Ibiza (16/44)

  • That metallic sound…ugh.
  • Challenger vs JPS
    • JPS is a bit warmer than the AE15, sounds pretty good. AE15 sounds a bit bright in comparison (may not be broken in)
    • JPS is pretty smooth.
    • AE15 has a much much blacker background. More detailed and better clarity.
    • AE just layers so much better, sounds fantastic.

Sara Bareilles – Come Around Soon (Live, Tidal)

  • The JPS does sound pretty natural in comparison, not as harsh, warm. smooth. Better bass presentation.
  • JPS doesn’t have that metallic sound at the 5:00-5:15 mark. A bit irritating on the AE15. Break in?
  • wow much flatter sound without the battery op RF reducer on, but no brightness/harshness. Grey background.
  • Shunyata sounds very natural, when she escalates her voice, it sounds like her, warm body. The AE15 sounds a bit too lean and bright. I’m hoping this is due to break in.
  • Preferred Shunyata for this one but the Shunyata definitely sounds flatter…could be because of the lack of a power regen, the AE15 has an active RF remover.
  • Shunyata easier to listen to with the Abyss.

Priscilla Anh – Remember How I Broke Your Heart (Tidal)

  • Shunyata sounds super natural and real. I really like this cable.
  • I’m going to have to revisit the Shunyata when the AE15 breaks in.
  • The AE15 comes off a little too bright and lean, lacks the warmth of the Shunyata
  • The warmth makes the shunyata sound more realistic…the AE15 has a lower noisefloor, quieter background…but doesn’t convey that realism as accurately. Especially the piano.
  • The harmony between the two female vocals was much better realized in the Shunyata

Kiesza – Cut Me Loose (Tidal)

  • The AE15 has a cleaner sound…brighter, lacks warmth.
  • Shunyata sounds more real.
  • Going to have to revisit when I get a new power conditioner.
  • AE15 is a little thin

James Bay – Let It Go (Tidal)

  • Shunyata sounds better than the AE15. Better atmospherics, etc. AE15 is just too lean.
  • AE15 has this harshness to the sound.
  • The Shunyata has this touch of warmth that makes all the difference, the human factor.,

Blubell & Black Tie – Those Were the Days (Tidal)

  • 2:00 mark
    • The AE15 has an amazing amount of clarity and separation.
    • The AE15 sounds better, more air, more transparent.

Lotte Kestner – A Way (Tidal)

  • I’ll admit, the Shunyata sounds more like how it’s supposed to be intended, down to earth, once again that warmth. I hope this comes back on the AE15 after some more break in.
  • You could hear her effort as she conveys her notes in a human way…the AE15 is still a little too lean but impressive as far as clarity, separation and detail.
  • Outside of that lack of warmth…the AE15 far outperforms the Shunyata. A bit torn what I would prefer though as I do enjoy a more natural presentation. The AE15 is just much more transparent and everything is just well delineated.

Marta Gomez – Seis (Tidal)

  • The Shunyata does sound more like her actual voice, more human, more atmospherics, but AE15 wins on everything else.
  • I have a feeling the AE15 is great for darker/warmer headphones liek the LCD-4 or HE-1000.
  • The JPS isn’t as dynamic as the other two, not as holographic, flatter. Vocals are a tad warmer/smoother than the AE15, but not as detailed.
  • At this point, I still prefer the smoothness of the vocals over the AE15.
  • JPS just isn’t as engaging as the other two. I think it’s worth the investment if you’re going with a DAVE.
  • JPS still sounds musical with no glaring faults. Requires a power conditioner to sound good.

Dave Brubeck Quartet – St. Louis Blues (Live at Carnegie Hall)

  • The AE15 really shines here, crystal and pristine image. Amazing sub-bass impact and detail. Just great.
  • Things get a bit smeared with the Shunyata but still has that cozy sound.

Now, how does the DAVE compare to other SotA DACs?


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