In the grand spectrum across the Subjective v. Objectivist divide, I guess I am somewhere out there in the middle. I believe that measurements are very important and can tell us a good bit about the efficacy of a particular design, but when it comes down brass tacks, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, or in the case of audio, in the listening. After all, in the end, we do have to listen to the product to ultimately decide whether it sounds good to us and whether we should spend our hard earned dollars or pounds or euros on it.
With that out of the way, we come to one of the thornier issues in the great audio divide, namely cables and in particular, power cords. We have all heard the many accolades about how great this power cord is and how it transformed a given system, usually at great expense. I think we can all agree that good, clean and consistent power is necessary for audio components to function at their best, but then again, one could assume that a given manufacturer would take that into consideration in designing their gadget and in particular, the power supply used in that product. After all, given how far electricity has to come down the line and into your home and through your home’s Romex to reach your rig, how can the last 6 feet or so of wire matter?
Well, frankly, I used to feel that way. I have had many different power cords in my systems over the years, from manufacturers as varied as Kimber, Synergistic Research, Transparent and Audioquest and others, as well as a few DIY designs from friends. Frankly, while I have heard differences, most were really minor and hard to really quantify. Therefore, I have used the same set of cables for years and was happy and never gave power cords a second thought. Until this December.
With the Covid lockdown, our local audio group discontinued our monthly in member home meetings. These meetings were a great way to socialize with long time as well as new friends and hear many different kinds of equipment and rooms. The systems in the group really run the gamut. In order to keep the group active we decided in addition to zoom meetings, to bring in virtually interesting movers and shakers in the high end audio world to talk about their products as well as the audio world in general and even, heaven forbid, music! We were even fortunate enough to have the world’s foremost expert on Japanese Jazz, some guy named Chris Connaker address the group. And yes, it was epic.
In early December the group was fortunate enough to host renown audio engineer Jim Anderson who is well known in audiophile circles for his work as the engineer for numerous Patricia Barber recordings as well as many other artists. Of course, one of the questions Jim was asked was how he felt about power cords. After all, we have heard numerous times how the pros and recording studios don’t use all these fancy expensive cables and cords, so why should we, snake oil and all. However, to my great surprise, Jim extolled the virtues of power cords and conditioners from one manufacturer in particular. He was so impressed with how these cords sounded, he had his entire studio wired with them as well as his home stereo and home theater system. He swore by these cables from Essential Sound Products, a pro audio company, and in particular their Music Cord Pro ES line. In fact, the highly regarded latest Patricia Barber album, Higher, was recorded using these very same power cords. I was intrigued and asked Jim for his contact, the president of the company, Michael Griffin. I emailed Michael and he called me in a few days and we discussed my interest, my system and room and he sent me three of the cables to try in my system. They were out of stock on their reference series power strip which incorporates one of these cords in an 8 outlet configuration and advised me that would come later.
The cords arrived in a week or so from Michigan. As you can see from the picture that these are solidly built cords. They are rather stiff and rugged and built to be taken on the road. In fact, Michael started his company by making power cords for guitar amps, which had to hold up to many uses, including being walked and rolled over in set ups and take downs, over and over. They are very well built but if you are looking for audio bling, look elsewhere. Interesting though, the Pro ES cords are not their most expensive. However, they do tick many of the audiophile boxes. They consist of a patented multi-conductor cable design with OFHC copper line and neutral conductors, maximum coverage braided copper shielding, hand soldered terminations and hospital grade plugs and construction. The cords are even subject to deep cryogenic processing down to minus 300 degrees F. More details and technical information is available on their website, www.essentialsound.com, for those wanting to take a deep dive on those particulars. I will say again that the cables are solid and very well made and should last a lifetime. The only drawback is how stiff they are. You many want to remove a piece of kit from your rack to attach the cord and snake it to your outlets.
As noted, I asked for three of the power cords, one for my amp, pre amp and DAC. I figured the best way to evaluate the cords was to try them first with the amp, then adding one to the pre amp and listening for a week or so then plugging one into the DAC and listening again for a week. I plugged the cord into my rebuilt McCormack DNA 1 amp which I have written about here before. Needless to say, I am very familiar with how this amp sounds with my Vandersteen 3A Signature speakers. Once I made sure all connections were good, I turned the amp on to make sure it worked and played music at a low level and went downstairs for dinner. After a couple of hours I sat down to listen. When Jim Anderson talked about what he heard these cords do in his studio, he used the word energize. He was shocked at what he heard and I would agree. These cords energized the sound of my amp. The amp while not louder per se had a much more impactful sound, across the frequency spectrum. Bass was rock solid and much more impactful. My oh my that bass. I could also hear more of the room where the recording was made, especially live recordings. The amp sounded like it had a lower noise floor. You could hear more of the low level details in the recording, some things I didn’t even notice were there. There was more space between the instruments which had a rounder character, much more three dimensional. With recordings that I knew had a wide soundstage, the soundstage was even wider as there was more space between the instruments. The same was true of recordings with great depth. The soundstage was wider and deeper but not unnaturally so or exaggerated. I also noticed that pianos had a rounder sound, more like the real thing, the same with a drum kit. The kick drum has more punch, cymbals and high hats more of a natural metallic sound, a greater sense of attack. I was now getting the most realistic drum kit sound I have ever heard in my home. Yeah, I know, I am sounding too much like an audiophile equipment reviewer, but these cords improved the sound of my amp in every way imaginable. Shocking really. I don’t know why as I am not an engineer, but Jim Anderson was spot on with what he heard. I told him what I heard and all he could say was I told you so. Indeed he did.
After a week, it was time to put a cord in the pre amp. I had another more expensive cord in for evaluation which I really liked but I felt I was getting similar results with the ES Pro cord for a lot less money. After another week it was time for the DAC, a Schiit Yggdrasil 2, to get the new cord. I heard further improvements along the lines of what I heard with the amp, just to a much lesser degree. I would classify the improvements I heard with the pre amp and DAC as more marginal than those I heard with the amp. However, the amp was plugged into the wall with a dedicated 20 amp circuit whereas the pre amp and DAC were plugged into a dedicated circuit via older isolation transformer and power conditioner. Michael Griffin thought that the power conditioner was chocking off the power to the pre amp and DAC and that their reference line power strip would help with that. And boy was he right. The Reference Line Power strip pictured below incorporates the same Pro ES cord and feeds all 8 outlets with the same level of current that comes out of the wall. I plugged the strip into the wall and the the pre amp and DAC and let things warm up a bit. After a couple of hours I came back up to listen. This time, I heard the same level of improvement with the power strip powering the front end of the system that I heard with the amp. The system was even more dynamic, impactful, yet quieter with a fuller but not bloated sound. What really shocked me was the sound of the piano. With the strip in place, piano recordings sounded even more like the real thing, especially the upper registers which had a purer smoother sound. To me, listening to a system fully powered by these Essential Sound Products, you are more fully able to hear what your individual components and system are capable of producing. You get a clearer, smoother yet more detailed and dynamic sound, much more like the real thing, at least as far as I could imagine from my system and room. There is no fatigue listening to my system even at higher sound levels. These products will really energize your system. They do sell direct and while not cheap, are lower priced and perform, at least for me, at a much higher level than much more expensive audio bling cords that we are all familiar with. The ES Pro power cords retail for $795.00 and the Reference 8 outlet power strip $1,795.00. I can’t really believe I am writing this, but these products are worth every penny. As I am typing out this article, I am listening to the Jim Anderson engineered Blue Note recording Greens featuring Benny Green on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Carl Allen on drums. All three of these musicians sound like they are right here in the room with me. In the age of Covid, does it really get any better? I highly recommend that you audition these cords. They are well worth your consideration.
Be well everyone.