In case you didn’t know, I have an obsession with audiophile cables.
Once I’ve realized how a single cable could make or break a HiFi system – I went down the rabbit hole. It made the difference between enjoying a system – and being annoyed with it.
I’ve spent the past five years auditioning and experimenting with over 1,000 audiophile cables. These included interconnects, speaker cables, and digital cables. But by far, the most daunting audiophile cable to explore – is the power cable.
Audiophiles need power cables. Lots of them.
Depending on which power cables you use on which components – that could decide the balance of a sound system. At this point, I’m sure we could all agree that different power cords sound different. Even among generic cords. This is due to the variations in shielding, geometry, and materials.
Power Cable Design
The goal of a power cord is to act as a medium for delivering current – and isolating noise. Generally, the lower the resistance, the better. But, as always, there are trade-offs. You can’t just build a 2-AWG power cord and wrap it in a blanket of copper shielding. Aside from practical (and legal) considerations, there’s also the type of solder, connectors, materials, and even technique used. All of these will determine the sound of a power cord.
Blind tests are pointless for the same reason why the skeptics request them – your mind is always playing tricks on you. – Audio Bacon
I feel like all of these power cables are designed properly and supply sufficient current – especially to my near-field monitors. As always, I’ll be focusing on subjective impressions. As to the why they sound different – I’m sure their LCR values play a part. But that’s for another day.
Update 12/26/209: For what it’s worth, at the time of this update, the majority of listeners were able to hear the difference between a $5 power cable and a $5,000 power cord in this experiment:
Is a Natural Sound the Best Sound?
You get a glimpse into the designer’s ear when you listen to these power cables. For some, it’s obvious they actually listen to live music. For others, they seem to use their measurement devices more – or base it on their reference of what’s enjoyable. Or they just hire a “wire chef.”
I’ve heard over 100 audiophile power cables – and they all sound different in their own ways. Most of which, don’t sound natural (to me) at all. One thing to keep in mind is, some people don’t want natural. They’re looking for a more surreal experience.
And I’ve met plenty of these audiophiles. They know it’s fantasy, but they enjoy the sound more. Come to think of it – that was me at some point. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
A Year of Listening
This survey of power cables has taken me about a year. I’ve postponed this evaluation due to the sheer amount of work and time it required. Testing ICs, speaker cables, and USB cables are a breeze in comparison.
Power cables are a different beast. And only the most enthusiastic (insane) are willing to review 27 of them – at the same time.
Power cables involve:
- keeping all cables constant and changing one. I’ve used the seven Furutech DPS-4 power cords as my control.
- testing the effects on multiple components
- system stress: powering up and down properly
- experimenting with different amplifiers and speakers
- experimenting with various volume levels
- trying out the different permutations and combinations
- multiple listening sessions due to break-in and settling time
It’s All Relative
An audiophile’s opinion is relative to what he has heard.
There were times where I’ll discuss a product with a fellow audiophile and he’ll say “Oh yeah, that amp is dead neutral.” But to my ears, that amp was as dark as night. To which I ask “So, which amps have you compared it to?”
“Oh, this old Furman and this other one from Schiit Audio.”
My Listening Experience
This was one of the reasons why I’ve indulged myself in so many listening sessions over the past few years. Not just from shows, but dealerships and other personal systems. Most importantly, I make it a point to listen to a lot of live music (We’re spoiled in Los Angeles). That’s because I enjoy listening to music more than I do eating, traveling, or watching movies.
The point is, the value of a reviewer really depends on how much shit he has heard (aka “experience”). So in regards to what’s included or missing, he’ll be able to relay more accurate information.
Now, I haven’t heard it all and there’s always more to learn – but I’m confident I have a good grasp of on “the big picture.” So when I say something is dark, natural, or neutral – it’s only after I’ve put in the listening hours.
Approach & Findings
After hundreds of hours of listening and percolating through over 200 pages of notes, there were a few themes that came forth.
First, there isn’t a “best” power cable for everyone. You’ll most likely have to combine a bunch of different ones to get the right balance in a system. So I’ve found it best to consider the power cord as an ingredient rather than a component. Use these impressions as a guide on selecting the power cable that provides the best synergy for your system.
Secondly, power cords tend to sound pretty consistent across different systems. I’ve determined this by analyzing subjective notes taken on cables that were tested months apart. I mention this because many find cable reviews pointless due to system dependence. My findings suggest there’s more predictability than we think.
For that reason, I’ve included a “Notes” section for each cable which contains the descriptors that were gathered from a word counter on my notes. The top descriptors I used over the year (across multiple systems) will be listed for each power cable.
Lastly, I have to mention break-in and settling time. Yeah, I wasn’t a believer either. A few of these cables sounded very different after a few hundred hours. Interestingly enough, it’s only for those first hours. After more subsequent listens – and my notes were consistent again. For what it’s worth, most of these power cables sounded the same out the gate and never changed. Nevertheless, you can’t rush judgments in the first few sessions.
Now, I’ve reviewed many of these cables individually throughout the year. So this survey is meant to provide a holistic impression of where each power cable stands relative to each other. I’ve focused primarily on sound and kept it concise.
As a reviewer, my system is in constant flux. I’ve gone through dozens of amplifiers, speakers, and other electronics. These are just too much equipment to list. I did, however, have almost all these cables here during the entire review process. Every time there’s a change in the system, I’ll test the power cords – and write my notes.
If there were any inconsistencies or revaluations needed, I always had the power cables on hand. Occasionally, I’ll even swap in a generic power cord for a sanity check. 🙂
In a way, this survey acts more as a personal journal entry for me. That way, I could reference this later and make recommendations. As such, a 10-point scale didn’t make much sense to me. For me, describing the sound is more akin to describing the taste of wine or coffee.
Alas, let’s get on with it! Since high-end cables get pretty expensive – I want to first explore a few DIY options first. Let’s start with the Neotech NEP-3200.