Hydra V-Ray Version II and Model-8 Version II Power Conditioners
Aeros Stratos-IC Interconnects
Aeros Stratos-SP Speaker Cables
Python CX, King Cobra CX, and Anaconda CX Power Cords
The exigencies of nature wreak havoc on
the reproduction of recordings of music from todays high-end audio components.
Nowadays, you can get pretty far down the road of suspending your disbelief, but it turns
out that simply turning on your stereo cranks up an electromagnetic noise machine that
will inevitably perturb the very signals it is meant to convey. Noisewise, it is your
audio system, not your electric grid, that might comprise the biggest enemy of music
reproduction: switching power-supply rectifiers, high-speed digital clock circuits, and
transformers are only a few of the culprits. And until our stereos can deliver to our ears
music that sounds just as it does when we hear it at concerts, without wires or electrons,
we will remain separated from the audiophile dream.
This review is of a number of products from Shunyata
Research, a company that aims to reduce your systems tendency to propagate noise
while encouraging the uncorrupted transmission of AC power and audio signals. Included are
members of Shunyatas new Aeros line of signal cables, the Aeros Stratos-IC
interconnect ($5000 USD/meter pair) and Aeros Stratos-SP speaker cable ($6000/2.5m pair);
top-tier AC power cords from the CX series, the five-gauge King Cobra CX ($3495/2m),
seven-gauge Anaconda CX ($1995/2m), and nine-gauge Python CX ($1095/2m); and
representatives from Shunyatas latest thinking on power distribution, the Hydra
Model-8 Version II ($2995) and Hydra V-Ray Version II ($4995). Collectively, these cables,
cords, and conditioners formed, for the purposes of this review, an infrastructure for
delivering current and signal that Ill call, for short, the Shunyata system.
Shunyata Research is no stranger to regular readers of SoundStage!
The companys offerings have won multiple Reviewers Choice awards, along with
oodles of other accolades from a surprisingly broad spectrum of audio reviewers and
recording-industry luminaries. In the electron-moving business for over a decade, founder
and designer Caelin Gabriel has a background in electrical engineering and signal
processing for both the military and private industry.
A closer look
Shunyata Research takes a strictly passive approach to
delivering and shaping the flow of electrons. The Shunyata system uses no chokes,
transformers, or coils, and neither regenerates electrical power nor increases signal
gain. Shunyata states that they do not design electricity transports to act as tone
The products reviewed have much in common. Under their
skins and inside their cases, I discovered that these cables, cords, and power
distributors reflect a steady consistency of design philosophy and top-notch build
quality. Consistency may not be sexy, but its critical to a company that promises
peak performance from a wide variety of products that are used across an internationally
diverse array of components and electrical grids.
For starters, there is the consistency of the metal. All of
the conductors in Shunyatas interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords, and all
of the wiring, bus bars, and straps in the Hydras, are made from pure and papered ingots
of CDA 101 copper. To create wires, the copper ingots are either cast or pulled into the
desired form and gauge. As the wire cools from a molten or semi-molten state, the
molecules harden in a random manner relative to one another. As described to me by
the company, their proprietary Cohergenic Process creates an electrical alignment of the
molecules during the critical cooling stage of conductor production with the application
of a Shunyata-developed, proprietary electromagnet.
Cohergenic-Processed wire constitutes the primary
difference between the new Aeros line and Shunyatas earlier signal cables. Given
what I heard between the Stratos and Shunyatas earlier, non-Cohergenic,
top-of-the-line Antares ICs, I believe the Cohergenic effect is dramatically real.
Shunyata says the Process is proprietary and expensive, and is applied only to their
Shunyata further subjects all current-carrying metal
to their Alpha Cryo Process. No outsourcing here -- they do their freezing in-house. They
ramp down, soak at -320°F, and return to ambient temperature, the entire process
computer-controlled in 1-degree increments over a period of 72 hours. Gabriels
research also led him to develop his own cryo techniques; Shunyata augments the nominal
cryo-tank atmosphere by injecting new combinations of inert gases into the usual liquid
nitrogen. Why go to all this effort? Shunyata claims its Alpha Cryo Process tempers
conductive metals on the intra-molecular level, releasing the interlattice fissures and
stress zones caused during the conductors manufacture, thus returning the coppers
crystalline structure to a more ideal state.
Shunyatas approach to wire construction aims at
lowering the overall reactance of cords and cables. Reactance is the combined effect on a
circuit of capacitance and inductance, either of which can impede the flow of alternating
current. Gabriel describes the AC power cord as an extension of the primary winding of an
audio components power transformer -- it is the first 6 of a components
interface with the electrical grid. Rectifier noise and other component-generated noise
can pass through a cables return conductor back into the same delivery circuit used
by other components. A power cord that exhibits high impedance tends to reflect this noise
back to the component from whence it came.
The Aeros Stratos signal cables and CX power cords exhibit
a consistent construction aimed at reducing signal distortion and the propagation of noise
among components. Shunyata claims that the multiple, braided, counter-rotating conductors
in their patented Helix geometry minimizes overall cable reactance and self-induced
distortions. By crossing conductors at 90-degree angles and keeping them separated, the
Helix geometry also minimizes capacitance, and the counter-rotating braid creates
offsetting fields of electromagnetic flux to reduce inductance.
On the outside, the black-sheathed CX power cords look
almost identical to Shunyatas Alpha and VX models, but there the similarities end.
As you move up the CX line, the various models include significantly more conductors in
braid patterns of increasing complexity. Consider the Anaconda: the previous Alpha model
had 17 insulated hand-braided conductors; the Anaconda CX comprises a whopping 480
insulation-free conductors, and is machine-wound in a new, complex, rope-like geometry.
Shunyatas listening tests have found this layout to sound better than the open
hollow braid of the original models; it "proves an exceptional barrier to radiated
and internally generated HF noise." The CX cords are terminated in Shunyatas
own AC and IEC connectors, and these new power snakes dont hiss -- absent from the
CX series is Shunyatas patented FeSI noise-reduction compound, which slithered
inside earlier VX models.
The Stratos-IC interconnect -- the
middle sibling of the Aeros family -- gets a new, semitransparent sheath that reveals its
14AWG aggregate Helix braid, comprising eight polyethylene-insulated conductors handwoven
in a 4x4 matrix. The Stratos-IC is terminated in either Shunyatas own XLR or WBT
NextGen locking RCA connectors (the latter, in my experience, make a much surer connection
than the Eichmann RCAs Shunyata previously used). Unlike earlier Shunyata interconnects,
the new models are not fully jacketed up to their connectors; the Stratoses tails
emerge from a nonmetal ferrule. The result is still somewhat stiff, but easier than
earlier models to manipulate and position.
The Stratos-SP speaker cable has 12 conductors hand-braided
into a 6x6 Helix matrix whose 9AWG aggregate gauge is similar to that of Shunyatas
earlier Andromeda cable. The Stratos-SP, too, gets a see-through wrapper, and beefier
The Hydra Model-8 and Hydra V-Ray power distributors are at
the heart of Shunyatas fight against the spread of noise. The Version IIs look
nearly identical to the originals, but inside are significant upgrades. Like the VX power
cords, earlier iterations of the Hydra Model-8 and V-Ray had chambers filled with
Shunyatas FeSi-1000 noise-reduction compound, which according to the patent uses a
ferroelectric compound designed to dissipate high-frequency EMF as heat. According to
Shunyata, their own advances in the design of connectors, geometry, and materials made it
clear to them that while FeSi-1000 reduced noise and made edgy digital systems sound more
like analog, it could also constrain dynamic range, and slightly decrease the amount of
high-frequency information conveyed.
Shunyata Research developed a new noise-reduction
formulation, ZrCa-2000, for use in the Version II Hydra Model-8 and V-Ray that it says
doesnt cause the HF rolloff, and is more effective at reducing noise.
Each of the four duplex outlets in the Hydra Model-8 II and
Hydra V-Ray II is individually isolated from noise and protected from surges by
Shunyatas proprietary passive filter network of capacitors and TMOV devices.
Expensive Carling electromagnetic circuit breakers offer further overcurrent protection.
Although reluctant to name proprietary parts, Shunyata said that the Hydra V-Ray II
includes a larger, revamped system of copper buses and major upgrades of its filter
All wired up
The components I cabled and plugged into the Shunyata
system included the Esoteric A-03 solid-state power amp (review forthcoming) and the
delightful Lamm LL2.1 line stage, along with my reference Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk.III
monoblock amps and MP-1 Mk.III full-function preamp. Digital sources were an Ayre
Acoustics C-5xeMP universal player and an Audio Research Corp. CD5 CD player.
Analog playback came from my cocobolo-wood Teres 320 turntable with Verus rim drive, SME-V
tonearm, and the glorious Transfiguration Orpheus moving-coil cartridge. Phono
amplification happened in the MP-1s phono stage, or via an ARC PH7 into the
MP-1s line section.
Earlier Shunyata products comprised my reference wiring
scheme: Antares interconnects from preamps to amp(s), Altair or Antares interconnects from
digital sources, and Orion speaker cables. I also occasionally used an FMS Zero speaker
cable. My tonearm cable is a Silver Audio Silver Breeze.
I have one each of the first versions of the Hydra Model-8
and Hydra V-Ray power distributors, plugged into the wall with Shunyata Python Alpha and
Anaconda Alpha AC cords. Additional power cords included Shunyatas Taipan Alpha and
VX, Python Alphas, and Black Mamba.
Then theres break-in -- hate it,
gotta do it. Lucky me, Shunyata had already put some run time on the signal cables and
power cords before I got them. The Hydra IIs have capacitors in them and, if nothing else,
those need time to form up. I plugged my computer stuff into the Hydra Model-8 II, a bunch
of table lamps into the Hydra V-Ray II, and let em run for a few weeks. When I
finally put everything in my system, I heard no caterpillar-to-butterfly effects, but if
your dealer doesnt cook your wires for you, give them at least 100 hours before
judging their performance.
Lets listen to some music
I wanted to install everything and go for the whole
enchilada -- after all, this is a full-system review. Instead, I began with a single meter
pair of Stratos-ICs between the ARC CD5 CD player and Lamm LL2.1 line stage.
First up was my favorite John Williams soundtrack, E.T.:
The Extra-Terrestrial (LP, MCA MCA-6109). This richly romantic score has lots of
percussion, interior woodwinds, and a full complement of orchestral strings. If you get it
on CD, try to find an original -- Spielberg changed the soundtrack for the films 20th
Anniversary Edition and accompanying soundtrack disc, and several tracks have gone
missing. My first take on the Stratos-IC didnt take long. As my eyebrows rose, I
reached for my notebook and focused on certain passages.
There it was, from the back of the hall: a xylophone
bloomed gently, cutting across the entire orchestra -- not a little plink plink, as
expected, but fully fleshed-out notes, each with its own harmonics and decay. Not
overwhelming but distinctly discernible, here was a new level of clarity from this
recording. A few previously unheard wrong notes from the horn section and a newly
discovered mistimed entrance of a clarinet failed to prepare me for the wonderful timbral
rightness I heard from a celesta outside my left speaker -- not too lush or caramelized,
its fundamentals were strong, yet with those special overtones that make this
instruments sound unmistakable. I heard how the celestist used the sustain pedal on
her instrument -- the marriage of a piano and glockenspiel -- for just a few ethereal
notes, yet long enough to understand why this instruments name means heavenly in
French. Trumpets and horns issued forth with properly brassy attack, their notes
resounding above the cellos and basses. Hmmm -- all that from a 1m interconnect.
I added in the rest of the Stratos-ICs and listened again
to the E.T. soundtrack. The Stratos-ICs delivered a sense of pure timbre, clarity,
and openness. Notable was a heightened sense of venue, as if the entire concert hall were
larger, as if its ceiling had been raised to allow the music to expand, blooming upward
and outward, the sounds of individual sections hovering over their performers. I hear this
kind of bloom in live concerts at our local Overture Center. Its rare to hear
familiar recordings so much further resolved beyond the occasional, minor new tinkly bit.
Here the effect was like listening to an old favorite that had been subjected to a
thorough and excellent remastering. I consistently heard more of those sonic cues that let
us imagine that we are sharing the performance space with the musicians.
With the Stratos-SP speaker cables in place, Sir John
Barbirollis rendition of Sibeliuss Symphony No.2, with the Royal Philharmonic
(LP, Chesky CR3), took on a raw, visceral quality. Dont get me wrong -- there was no
edginess or glare; in fact, strings, especially those wonderful Sibelian cellos, evinced a
nicely rosiny attack, and the firmly plucked double basses showed weight and harmonic
depth. Flutes and clarinets were spot on, their pitch and dynamic envelope exactly so.
Close listening brought a delightful perception of upper-register micro-rhythms in the
violins -- tiny changes in bowing speed laid out the string sections as collections of
real people in time and space. No, this sort of rawness was a sense of proximity, a
sense of the humanity and fragility of the enterprise of making music, with far more ways
to get it wrong than right -- for a reed to squeak or a horn to honk or a gut string to
snap. Here were 60-some people in a 44-minute slice of time from 48 years ago, conjuring
musical magic in my listening room. Ill wager youve had those nights, those
all-too-brief transcendent experiences, with your own music -- its why we do this.
For me, on that night, the Stratos-SPs brought it all home.
This all brought to mind the first time I heard the
transparency of Atma-Spheres OTL amplifiers, their tubes coupled directly to
speakers without intervening output transformers. (OTL stands for output-transformerless.)
The Stratoses seemed to couple the musics signals directly to my speakers without
intervening noise or distortion. Was I hearing the effect of Shunyatas Cohergenic
treatment? I cant say. I can say that, with the Stratoses in place, I not only heard
deeper into the nuances of recordings, I heard music made with a natural flow and vivacity
that belied the fact it came from recordings at all.
Enter the CX power cords: Anaconda CX on the Atma-Sphere
amps, a Python CX each for the PH7 phono stage and Atma-Sphere preamp, and King Cobra CX
mostly with the ARC CD5 or Ayre C-5xeMP. Preamps and front-end components,
including the Verus motor controller, took turns on the new Hydra Model-8 II and Hydra
I went back and forth, running the Atma-Sphere and Esoteric
amps with and without the Model-8 II and V-Ray II. With the amps on either power
distributor, there was a tradeoff. The Model-8 II and V-Ray II reduced noise, and
delivered slightly richer tonality and firmer bass, but they also reduced ambient air,
with a faint rounding of transients in quiet passages. The amps, sans Hydras, presented
slightly better dynamics, if slightly more grain. There was no obvious right choice for my
stereo; I found myself more often feeding the amps power from the CX cords plugged
directly into the wall.
My Audio Physic speakers deliver a superb soundstage with
precise placement of performers and instruments; however, their images tend to be less
three-dimensional than Ive heard from other speakers. It was therefore surprising to
hear a distinct improvement in overall fleshed-outness with the CX cords in place. The
Esoteric amp responded eagerly to the CXes, unfolding musical lines with liquid authority
and exhibiting less of the dimensional flatness Ive sometimes heard from solid-state
amps. As I moved up the CX line, from Python to Anaconda to King, noise was further
reduced, and the sound gained solidity and weight. In the Letter Duet, "Che soave
zeffiretto," from a disc of highlights from Mozarts Le nozze di Figaro,
with Sir Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic (CD, London 417 395-2), the A-03
delivered Kiri Te Kanawa and Lucia Popp as clearly dimensional performers moving about the
As I continue my midlife exploration of classical music, I
keep returning to pianist Evgeny Kissins thoughtful and impetuous performance of
Schumanns Kreisleriana (CD, RCA 59412-2). Its themes are both ecstatic and
idyllic in tempo as this lyrical music takes us from the dervish to the rapture. Enabled
by the Shunyata power cords, my system laid a foundation of quietude, a near-silent base
from which notes were born, bloomed, and died. With the entire Shunyata system in place, I
learned just how well RCA had produced this "generic" Red Seal album from 2004.
It was easy to follow Kissins left and right hands, two musical lines simultaneously
emerging from one deft musician and one instrument. The dynamics of each note, the
solidity of Kissins attacks, the pitch perfection of dying low-register pianissimos
painted on a canvas of black air -- it was all good, and the best Ive heard from my
|Why a System Approach
Ive used the Shunyata Research products that Tim Aucremann
reviews here ever since their introduction, and, like Tim, also used their previous
versions. In fact, for the past six years Ive consistently had Shunyata products in
my system, and have been consistently thrilled with their performance. I think part of the
reason I chose Shunyata is that their "system" approach makes sense to me. I
equate the strategy of assembling a cablesnconditioning system to that of
designing a loudspeaker: youd never swap out a midrange driver just to hear what it
might do to the sound without also considering how the new driver interacts with the other
drivers in the speaker (not to mention the cabinet and crossover). But audiophiles do that
all the time: exchange an interconnect here or a power conditioner there, and hope for
Hopefully, a system approach means that the hard work has
already been done for you: you can buy one set of cables and a power conditioner and be
confident that they were designed to work together and that youll hear exactly what
the company wanted you to hear. In that sense, I look at a cablesnconditioning
system as a single component; therefore, if I were to compare another setup with the
Shunyata rig I have here, Id do it in one big swap-out. Other companies offer
complete systems of power conditioning and cables -- weve positively written about
Nordost and Audience products on the SoundStage! Network -- but Shunyata Research has the
distinction of being one of the first, if not the first, and were now several
generations into their products -- an advantage.
And what I hear from these latest iterations is a definite
improvement. Ive heard much the same results that Tim describes in his review --
more detail, more transparency -- and those attributes have taken my system in the
direction that I seek. Note that detail and transparency arent tonal
alterations -- which brings me to my final point: using cables as tone controls.
I dont think approaching cables as tone controls is a
good idea. Does it really make sense to buy an interconnect because its more open in
the highs, and then a speaker cable to warm up the midrange? Not to me. If there are tonal
aberrations in your audio system, you should address the root of that problem: your
speakers, your room, and their interface. The cablesnconditioning system you
use should simply allow you to hear exactly what the other components in your system are
doing, and thats where Shunyatas products shine. What I hear from Caelin
Gabriels latest work is greater transparency; ultimately, that means theyve
gotten out of the way of the music -- which is what its all about.
. . . Jeff Fritz
Hearing the full effect of the Shunyata system, I no longer
had a sense of apparent localized improvement, a there I could point to. The result
was like a game of Telephone in reverse, the message being made clearer by the act
of its communication from one component to the next. The interplay among musical voices
became more intelligible. I hadnt realized what Id been missing: As layers of
hash and grain faded into black, details of the touch, timbre, and dynamic shading of
low-level sounds became obvious. I gained new insights into performances and scores. I
wasnt hearing wires; I was hearing more of the stereo Id paid for. Heightened
resolution, weighty and articulated bass, clear extended highs, a sense of poise and ease
in musical flow -- across the board from source to speakers, each component seemed to
speak with its own true voice.
I compared the new Shunyata products with the previous
generation: Taipan Alpha and VX, Alpha Python and Anaconda power cords; Orion Helix
speaker cables, XLR- and RCA-terminated Antares Helix and Altair interconnects; and the
first versions of the Hydra Model-8 and V-Ray. (For prices of the earlier models, see this
review for interconnects and cables, this
review for power distributors.)
Todays Shunyata system uses the virtues of its
predecessors as a starting block to take a huge leap beyond them in virtually every area
of music reproduction. I caution those familiar with Shunyata products of only a few years
ago: Prepare for a revelation. Todays Caelin Gabriel is not your fathers
A real, almost tangible reduction in noise, and
corresponding increases in clarity and transparency, let me hear more of what was on a
recording -- much more. Audiophiles sometimes make the case that one hallmark of a great
system is how well it reproduces bass. Heres another: how well a system handles
low-level information. On our discs and records are many reality cues of which we are
unaware -- until the sonic junk that has prevented us from hearing them is removed.
This clarity uncovered other virtues. From a notes
leading edge through its sustain and final decay, I heard purer timbres and more harmonic
nuance. Revealed vocal inflections and subtle bendings of notes took my ears more steps
closer to the real thing. Across the audioband, the Stratos-IC interconnect simply
delivered more information than the Antares. The Stratos-SP speaker cable sounded as
assured in the mids, more informed in the highs, and tighter in the bass than the Orion,
while adding lower-register heft and authority.
With the Shunyata system in place, it was enlightening to
hear Crowded Houses "Private Universe," from Recurring Dream: The Very
Best of Crowded House (CD, Capitol CDP 8 38250 2). What Id previously heard as a
mélange of odd noises at the tunes startup was now parsed into multiple automobiles
driving off in different directions. I listened to Mahlers Symphony No.1, performed
by the Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Rafael Kubelik (LP, Audite 80467): first with
the Python Alpha on the Hydra V-Ray, and then with the Python CX on the Hydra V-Ray II. My
stereo yielded better focus on interior instruments with the newer Shunyatas in place. I
heard how the clarinetist attacked his reed at the start of the third movement, more bite
and texture from strings, and improved tonal articulation from the cellos. Absent from the
upper mids and highs was any sense of the laid-back, slightly softer character of
transients I heard from the first-generation models. The older Hydras soundstage
seemed more recessed than the V-Ray IIs, in which kick-drums, timpani, and mass
brass attacks were rendered with greater explosive punch.
Perhaps most impressive about the Shunyata system was its
consistent evenhandedness, regardless of which of its components I used in which
combinations. This consistency means you can grow a system, perhaps starting with a couple
Pythons or a Hydra or a run of speaker cables, with the assurance that future additions
will not only work with what you have but will compound their benefits. You could be well
on your way to discovering more of what your stereo has to offer.
Am I really suggesting that, if you already own earlier
versions of these products from Shunyata Research, you replace them with these expensive
new ones? If you can afford it, yes. The positive differences between this latest set of
products and the last generation are extraordinary. Nonetheless, some audiophiles or
systems may need or prefer the slight softening effect of the VX cables and the first
version of the Hydra Model-8 or Hydra V-Ray. As for me, I always vote for beauty and
truth. The latest Shunyata system is worth an audition for no other reason than to learn
what is possible.
Much of high-end audio is about the control of spurious,
nonmusical vibrations. If I have one lesson to pass on from this review, it is that
audiophiles cannot overlook the profound role played in our systems by wiring and noise
suppression. Technology aside, I was awestruck at how much more enjoyment I got from my
stereo using this latest combination of Shunyata cords, cables, interconnects, and
conditioners. High-end audio is a threshold of moving expectations. As of now, Shunyata
Research has redefined the state of the art of audio power and signal delivery.
. . . Tim Aucremann
|Shunyata Research Hydra V-Ray Version II Power
Price: $4995 USD.
Hydra Model-8 Version II Power Conditioner
Price: $2995 USD.
Aeros Stratos-IC Interconnects
Price: $5000 USD per 1m pair.
Aeros Stratos-SP Speaker Cables
Price: $6000 USD per 2.5m pair.
Python CX Power Cords
Price: $1095 USD per 2m cord.
King Cobra CX Power Cords
Price: $3495 USD per 2m cord.
Anaconda CX Power Cords
Price: $1995 USD per 2m cord.
Warranty (all): Five years parts and labor.
26273 Twelve Trees Lane, Suite D
Poulsbo, WA 98370
Phone: (608) 850-6752