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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
August 2001

Mad About Power Cords

The amount of e-mail we get is inspiring, and the diversity of the subjects keeps us on our toes. Of course, much of the e-mail we get pertains to our reviews, with readers asking questions or expressing their views on this or that review component. But some of our e-mail takes us to task, like this passage about our reviews of power cords:

"I'm here to tell you, a power cord (assuming the conductors are properly sized to handle the current) will make absolutely no difference to the sonic quality of music."

You like our reviews of power cords. In fact, reviews of power cords follow only those of speakers in terms of interest -- our e-mail proves it. My theory for this has to do with the ease of auditioning power cords -- most dealers will loan them more quickly than electronics -- as well as the sense that they are often the finishing touches for an audio system. I haven't yet come across an audiophile who began his system with power cords, but I guess it's possible.

However, in regard to the reader's assertion that power cords "make no difference," I have to disagree. My ears tell me that power cords can improve the sound of my system, and there are a number of theories behind this. Caelin Gabriel at Shunyata Research, who has built a reputation and company on his theories about power, says, in a nutshell, that power cords work because:

"The component sits between two power conductors: the hot and neutral…Power does not pour into a component at all. The component's power supply is within a complex network of wire and connectors…The power cord is not the last six feet; it is the first six feet from the perspective component."

SoundStager John Potis was a power-cord skeptic, although he wanted to experiment. I sent him a pair of JPS Labs Power AC cords, which we've named a Reviewers' Choice. He was surprised by the improvement they brought to his Herron Audio M150 monoblocks. Then the amps were updated to improve their rejection of radio-frequency interference. John said the power cords had no effect. He surmised:

"The moral of the story is that, yes, the power cords made a difference, but it was nothing to do with crystalline structure, hospital-grade plugs or any such nonsense. It was a simple case of RF rejection."

Attributing the sonic abilities of power cords to one variable doesn't make sense to me, and for one simple reason: I hear differences among the power cords I've had in my system, and most of them have used different materials and construction techniques -- and often aimed at addressing different aspects the of power-delivery issue. Listen to an ESP The Essence power cord and then a Shunyata PowerSnakes Viper v2. You'll hear what I mean.

But with all due respect to Caelin Gabriel, I think the main reason power cords affect the sound of audio equipment is a matter of proximity. Think about it: there they are, immediately between components and wall sockets, filtering out RFI, EMI and CRUD before it gets to the equipment. They're rather like the ferrite rings I've used on the downstream ends of interconnects, speaker cables and even power cords: they do their thing right before the signal (or power) reaches the equipment.

But no matter -- my ears, and the ears of other listeners I trust, tell me that power cords work. Are their effects as great as a new pair of speakers? Not even close -- and perhaps this will lead to another editorial. Are the reasons power cords work relevant? Of course! I wish I knew all the answers, but they're not vital to enjoyment of my audio system and favorite music. Case closed, for me at least.

But this just in on digital cables:

"Please explain the process whereby all those ones and zeros are changed to 'sound smoother and less like digital.' Is information added to the datastream? Are bits changed by the cables? By the way, are you one of those folks that demagnetizes CDs? Digital information either arrives intact or it doesn't."

More to come, I'm sure.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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