DH Labs Red Wave Power Cord
by Howard Kneller
I have never been much for
strangely colored stuff. It is therefore not surprising that I have stayed away from
things such as green beer and blue hair. As a kid, my neighbor had a dog with a black
tongue. I avoided that dog like the plague.
||"A very neutral,
lively and forward sound that brought excitement to the music." "Nothing was unduly
highlighted or underemphasized with the Red Wave cords in my system." There was "a
substantial lowering of the noise floor," and cymbals were "energetic, crisp and
shimmering, displaying extended decay." "Despite the general liveliness of the highs
on all of the recordings I played, they were always delicate and free of brightness and
||"The Red Wave
contains three beefy 10-gauge conductors, each comprising 462 strands of silver-coated OFHC
copper. Each of the conductors is tightly spiraled in order to reduce inductance" and
"they are separated from each other by cotton fibers." "Above the conductors
rests a copolymer dialectic that helps to reduce incoming differential-mode noise.... On top
of the dialectic sits two shields that reduce external noise." "Over the outer
shield rests a binder wrap that's followed by the Red Waves distinctive red
||"I can foresee uses
for each cord with particular components -- especially high-current power amps for the DH Labs
||"Like the other DH
Labs products I have auditioned, the Red Wave provides top-notch sound at a reasonable price,
particularly when compared to the prices charged by the companys competitors."
In light of this, I viewed the DH Labs Red Wave
power cords, complete with red cable and connectors, with some suspicion. Much to my
surprise, however, I found their appearance to be unobjectionable and [gulp] even
attractive. But no matter what they looked like, the Red Wave cords would still have to
live up to the DH Labs reputation for high-end performance at prices that dont come
close to breaking the bank. Indeed, one thing that I have always admired about the company
is that many of its products are so reasonably priced that you could actually recommend
them to non-audiophiles without their thinking you are mentally unsound.
At a base retail price of $700 USD per meter
cord, with $100 for each additional meter, the Red Wave joins the companys Power
Plus Studio Reference power cord, which retails for $220 for a meter length. While not
chump change, the Red Wave's price is low enough that there is certainly no shortage of
power cords that sell for two to three times more.
Pimp my power cord!
The first thing you will notice about the Red
Wave, other than its color, is that it is relatively light and flexible. I say
"relatively" because you must consider that the Red Wave contains three beefy
10-gauge conductors, each comprising 462 strands of silver-coated OFHC copper. Each of the
conductors is tightly spiraled in order to reduce inductance -- the conductors
resistance to rapid changes in current level. They are separated from each other by cotton
Above the conductors rests a copolymer dialectic
that helps to reduce incoming differential-mode noise. This type of noise enters the cord
through the power line, perhaps from the electric company or your neighbors hair
dryer or refrigerator. On top of the dialectic sits two shields that reduce external
noise. This includes airborne radio frequency interference (RFI) that is radiated into the
cord from, for example, other cables that sit close by. The first shield consists of a
dense braid of tin and copper. The second shield consists of a layer of conductive foil
and a drain wire. Over the outer shield rests a binder wrap that's followed by the Red
Waves distinctive red jacket.
The Red Wave cords I received for review were
outfitted with optional Oyaide 079 plugs and IEC connectors, which add $50 to the price of
each cord. Standard are the gold-plated Wattgate 330i plug and 350i IEC connectors. The
Oyaide 079 conductors contain male prongs and female IEC connections that are made of
deoxidized phosphorus bronze. This metal, unlike pure copper, is corrosion resistant and
is said to maintain its natural hardness over thousands of insertions. To increase
conductivity, the connections are polished several times and electroplated with two
microns of 24k gold. They are then polished two additional times. This, according to
Oyaide, increases contact and decreases microarcing and vibration, which can cause noise
and signal smear.
The bodies of the connectors are made from
polybutylene terephthalate that is 30% glass filled. This material provides rigidity as
well as resonance and thermal stability. It also absorbs unwanted high frequencies. The
glass fill further strengthens the material. The outer red barrels are made from
polycarbonate, a material that is extremely sturdy and difficult to break. As such, it is
used in a variety of applications, including eyeglasses and bulletproof windows. I know
what you are thinking. Dont try it!
The Red Wave is said to be appropriate for the
"most demanding" audio components and video displays. Indeed, the cord would
likely be a nice addition for almost any audio component. Nonetheless, based on its thick
conductors and low inductance, it would seem to particularly benefit power amplifiers,
which often require high current and do not contain regulated power supplies, as do
After experimenting a bit, I used one Red Wave
power cord with each of my MartinLogan Vantage electrostatic speakers. This is typically
the place, along with my amplifier, that benefits the most from a good power cord. The
third Red Wave cord was assigned to my Halcro MC50 power amp, occasionally rotating to my
Nuforce P-9 preamp and Marantz DV9600 digital player. In order to excise any break-in
demons, I ran the cords for about 150 hours before doing any critical listening.
Riding the Wave
Connectors are such an important part of a power
cord that their sonic signature is hard to repress. If a connector sounds warm, the power
cord stands a good chance of sounding warm too. This is true even where, as here, the
conductors are plated in a metal that often imparts a cooler sound. From my experience,
the Oyaide 079 connectors typically sound very warm, soft and fairly laid-back. In fact, I
can state that listening through the 079s is a bit like looking at the world through
In light of this, I expected that the Red Wave
would display a decidedly warmish bias and a laid-back perspective. However, it
didnt take very long to discover that the tendency of these power cords is the
opposite -- a very neutral, lively and forward sound that brought excitement to the music.
First up was Jorma Kaukonen's Blue Country
Heart SACD (Columbia CS 86394). The album, which features such bluegrass legends as
Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Byron House, is a collection of rural blues hits
from the 1920s and 1930s. Vintage acoustic instruments were used for the recording, some
of which were almost 100 years old. On every track of this album, from the highest notes
of Sam Bushs mandolin, Jerry Douglass Dobro, and Béla Flecks banjo, to
the lowest cords of Byron Houses string bass, nothing was unduly highlighted or
underemphasized with the Red Wave cords in my system. This tonal neutrality was
particularly evident on Kaukonen's earthy vocal, much of which is located in the lower
part of the midrange. I have heard some power cords that go a bit too far in
overemphasizing this area, causing the voice to sound a bit muddy, sometimes even boomy.
The Red Wave beautifully exposed the rich, crackly warmth of Kaukonen's voice,
particularly highlighted on the track "Big River Blues," while still maintaining
grace and definition.
Loudspeakers MartinLogan Vantage with Descent
Power amplifier Halcro MC50.
Preamplifier Nuforce P-9.
Source Marantz DV-9600 universal
Interconnects DIY, made from DH
Labs cable and Bocchino Audio RCA connectors.
Speaker cables Synergistic Research
Power cords Synergistic Research
Tesla (various), Shunyata Research Python Helix Alpha.
Power conditioners Synergistic
Research Powercell, PS Audio Noise Harvesters, DIY parallel filter.
Accessories DIY isolation rack,
Bright Star Audio and Black Diamond Racing isolation devices, Shakti stones.
Also, much to my surprise, the Red Wave didn't
help create a laid-back perspective at all. It brought the musicians to me, maybe two to
three feet closer to my listening chair than I was accustomed. I am not talking about
soundstage depth, although the size and dimensionality of the soundstage were not at all
lacking and were about what I expected. It was more that the rear of the presentation
followed the front and took a few steps forward, thus providing a first-row listening
Of course, tonal balance and soundstage placement
are matters of personal taste and system matching. But could the Red Wave bring home the
sonic bacon when it came to far more objective criteria, such as dynamic prowess, noise
reduction, detail retrieval and transient handling? Blue Country Heart again, this
time "Prohibition Blues," which features Byron Houses upright string bass.
This instrument reaches not only into the lower bass area but can go as far down as 35Hz,
where the sub bass begins. Frequencies in this area are felt more then heard and high
current is required to reproduce them. With the burly Red Wave cords pumping current into
my system, it was now able to produce exceptionally deep bass, and I felt the strong,
penetrating energy of Houses notes.
I then focused on the region around 40-160Hz,
where notes can easily become cluttered and ill-defined. On "Prohibition Blues,"
the Red Wave cords were detailed and clear, uncovering the leading edge of bass notes with
great clarity. The notes were also afforded more tonal individuality, thus contributing to
the increased musicality of the recording. These improvements were brought about by a
substantial lowering of the noise floor, something that was easy to discern with
well-recorded acoustic music.
Next up was Carmina Burana, which is based
on a collection of 13th-century poems authored by of a group of renegade monks who
rebelled against the Church. As made clear in their poems, they were more interested in
debauchery than prayer. The performance that I had on hand was rendered by Donald
Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Telarc SACD-60575). Due in part
to the use of an explosive bass drum, there is perhaps no better piece of music --
and no better recording -- with which to test a power-cords ability to convey the
power necessary for rapid transients and current demands. Also, the works liberal
use of suspended and crash cymbals would provide me with an opportunity to hear what the
Red Wave could do in the very uppermost frequencies.
With the Red Wave cords, the jolting sounds of
the bass drum in "O Fortuna" was heavy, while at the same time it had fast and
forceful impact. In truth, I expected these types of improvements, given what I had heard
with upright bass. What I did not expect was the extent to which the Red Wave improved
bass-drum decay. Each reverberating ripple of the drums skin was now discernable,
the last of which faded into a background of complete darkness. Again, this was
undoubtedly made possible by an extremely low noise floor.
On the high end of the spectrum, cymbals in
"O Fortuna" were energetic, crisp and shimmering, displaying extended decay.
Despite the general liveliness of the highs on all of the recordings I played, they were
always delicate and free of brightness and glare. They really never called attention to
themselves for the wrong reasons.
The Red Wave brought "O Fortuna" right
to the middle of my listening area. But most of all, it added significant weight to
instruments, causing, for example, the bass drum to take on a rather imposing character.
This greatly contributed to my systems ability to "shock and awe," a
quality that is absolutely necessary to reproduce this piece of music faithfully. Also,
the chorus took on a focus and presence that were as substantial as those of any number of
high-end power cords that I have used.
All of the DH Labs products that I have tried in
the past have performed well above their pay grade. I therefore had no qualms about
comparing the Red Wave to the more expensive, well-regarded Shunyata Python Helix Alpha
power cord, which retails for $1100 for a six-foot length.
Each of the two cords displayed stellar
performance. However, most noticeably, the Python edged out the Red Wave in the area of
lower-bass control. It somehow managed to improve slightly on what was, by all accounts,
an excellent showing by the Red Wave on Byron Houses upright bass in
"Prohibition Blues." While the Red Wave beautifully rendered the notes of the
bass, the Python bettered it by a technical smidgen, displaying more control and
authority. This reminded me why the Python is so good. It provides an exceptional
low-level foundation for which to lay the midrange and high frequencies.
Note that while I would characterize both the Red
Wave and the Python as being primarily neutral in tone, the Python, unlike the Red Wave,
displayed very slight midrange richness. The Python was also less forward in its
presentation than the Red Wave. Does this mean that the Python is worth almost 30% more
than the Red Wave? Only you can answer that question in light of your system and budget. I
can foresee uses for each cord with particular components -- especially high-current power
amps for the DH Labs Red Wave.
They say that the apple does not fall far from
the tree, and that is certainly the case with the DH Labs Red Wave. Like the other DH Labs
products I have auditioned, the Red Wave provides top-notch sound at a reasonable price,
particularly when compared to the prices charged by the companys competitors. In
fact, considering all that the cord has to offer, I have no doubt that there are many
cable manufacturers that would place a substantial four-digit price tag on it and still be
able to proclaim that it was competitively priced.
Yes, the Red Wave hit all the audiophile marks.
It brought increased dynamic excitement and energy right to my listening chair, while also
decreasing noise and substantially improving focus and detail. These are not improvements
that are easy to achieve. But in simple terms, it just helped my system sound great,
making me want to play album after album, sometimes when I should have been doing other
things -- like sleeping. It is therefore without hesitation that I add the Red Wave to my
list of recommended power cords.
Now, pass me a green beer, will ya?
|DH Labs Red Wave Power Cord
Price: $700 USD per meter length, $750 per meter length with Oyaide
Warranty: Two years parts and labor
D.H. Labs, Inc.
9638 NW 153rd Terrace
Alachua, Florida 32615
Phone: (386) 418-0560
Fax: (386) 462-3162