[SoundStage!]Planet Hi-Fi
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April 2003

Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC-10 Power Cord

Trading Spaces? Yeah, I’ve seen that show. Whatever.

Nothing beats moving into a new home and finding out that your new listening room (yeah, we all know it’s really the living room) just happens to contribute to fantastic sound. Of course, this rarely happens, and a dozen tube traps later, you find yourself surrounded by guests asking, "Is that something left over from your old apartment? It’s kinda interesting, but you know, it doesn’t really work with the décor."

Next to the speakers themselves, I believe the room itself and the placement of the speakers within the listening environment are the greatest determining factors in achieving good -- and hopefully superb -- sound. It took me almost a year to finally find the sweet spot for my current loudspeakers. The Merlin VSM-Ms enjoyed the extra breathing room away from my hard-surfaced walls, and my ears applauded the catty-cornered position, helping angle much of the first reflections away from my seat on the sofa. After squeezing a couple of homemade bass traps into the corners and using the walk-in closet located in the rear corner as a bass sink, I was able to generate a pretty flat frequency-response curve along the bottom part of the spectrum, as determined with the Radio Shack SPL meter.

Unfortunately, the Rat Shack meter is not terribly precise, but for hobbyists, it works quite well alongside the Stereophile Test CD 1 or any other disc with test tones. But be advised that the Test CD 1 only provides 12 center frequencies starting with 1kHz and ending at 20Hz, so if you want to plot upper-midrange and high frequencies, you’ll have to grab another source disc like the comprehensive Rives Audio Test CD 2. My room measured within +/- 4dB from 120Hz through 1kHz, with some 6-8dB peaks around the lower 60-100Hz range -- not bad considering acoustic properties were not high on our requirements list when we moved in, falling somewhere below having good water pressure and above having a door bell.

The nice thing about living in the same home for a while is the consistency, the sense of familiarity that makes you perk up when even the slightest unusual noise or sound comes up. This baseline proves extremely valuable when evaluating audio equipment, as even minute changes in the quality of sound can be heard. So, as this will be the last column written from my current sonic womb, I’m fighting daily fits of anxiety, not knowing what our new home will bring in terms of acoustic compatibility and performance.

Therefore, over the course of this year, you’ll be seeing me wrestle with quite a bit of equipment, with the majority designed to improve the look, feel, and ultimately the sound quality of my listening room. And because my wife and I are not 22 anymore and our home has to entertain guests as much as my beer-can collection, everything’s going to have to look cool too. So brace yourselves for both audiophile and non-audiophile products going forward. This is the year we redesign the "Planet Hi-Fi" living -- uh, listening -- room!

I’m back with old friends, and things haven’t changed

A few of my friends have asked me to recommend mid-priced cables for their systems. These guys are not audiophiles in the usual sense of the word. They don’t lust over hi-fi machinery, stress out over barely audible hissing, and have never once used the A-B or track-repeat function on their CD players. My friends just enjoy good music and occasionally would like reassurance that they’re spending their hard-earned cash on something well made, well designed, and audibly appreciated.

I ask, "Have you heard of Harmonic Technology?" I get nothing but silence back. I say, "You know, they make the cables with Single Crystal conductors. You borrowed a pair of their speaker cables from me last year. I think you still have them." Nothing. It was like addressing the National Human Statue Club.

Frustrated after two hours of modifying the case-fan assemblies of my Powerware 9125 UPS and now feeling the pain of an overzealous George Foreman Grille recipe, I huffed over to my system and cued up No Doubt’s "Start The Fire" from Rock Steady [Interscope 0694931582]. My buddies walked over to the sofa and put their lazy rumps in position with, of course, their feet up on the coffee table and their maws surrounding some form of off-the-deli-shelf sugar bomb. Overall, it sounded pretty good, considering the higher noise floor and peculiar harmonics that accompany the sound of crumpled plastic wrappers, smacking lips, real-time weight gain, and dirty sleeves run across one’s face.

We switched to another song, something more rhythmically powerful and fun. I didn’t want the Lards of the Dance to fall asleep in my living room, and they didn’t. A few minutes of "By The Way," title cut off the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ latest album [Warner 9 481-40-2], was enough for them to perk up from their caloric stupor and comment on the sound before them. Collectively, they all seemed to enjoy the quickness of the bass, the "cleariness" (they didn’t break any records on the SAT) of the vocals, and the "BIG sound of everything." I mostly agreed with them. On "Dosed," I found the high frequencies to be natural-sounding without any significant glare or edge to the individual notes. Vocals were especially crisp and clear, with a soundfield position well up front from the rest of the instruments. In addition, the bass was much more pronounced, filling out the music’s foundation and successfully expanding the overall soundscape. It also helped balance out the slightly lean character of the system, although ultimately a good subwoofer would accomplish this task best. But given limited budget and current space restrictions, the solution at hand seemed to add just enough oomph to distract me from wanting a sub at this very moment.

I have made the switch. Now, hand me that Twinkie.

After a few more minutes of toe tapping and head bobbing, I cut off the tunes and made an adjustment to the system’s configuration. "A little tug here, replace this, plug that in there." I was talking to myself, a bit of habit I picked up while in school. It seemed to help me concentrate while studying, or apparently while balancing myself precariously on one foot behind my equipment rack while trying to avoid toppling a vase perched innocently close by.

Back in front of the system, remote in hand, I cued up "By The Way" again and glanced over at my friends to catch their reaction. We all knew something was going to happen -- I wasn’t doing equipment-swapping gymnastics back there for nothing. But what I had changed (if anything -- I could have been kidding them and not changed a thing) and what effect it would have on the sound were in question.

Immediately, I knew what they thought of the change. Of course, because they don’t speak much, you have to be trained in the movements and behavioral ways of my friends in order to determine what they thought of the present situation. Here’s a quick lesson.

Friend #1

Physical reaction: Eyebrows turn in towards the center, body posture becomes exceedingly worse, high-degree of slouching, legs and knees turn outward, one large bite of present junk-food source, loud sigh though nose (larynx blocked by food).

Interpreted words: "What’s going on? This doesn’t sound that good anymore. What did you do? I liked it better the other way."

Friend #2

Physical reaction: Vacuous stare straight ahead followed by distraught upward gaze and anxious movement of legs side to side.

Interpreted words: "Sounds like crap. Dude, can you turn it back? You know what -- just flip on ESPN."

Not much help from my eloquent sofa brothers, but in general I got the gist of their concerns. Whatever I had changed had an audible effect on the perceived sound quality of the system, and in their opinions for the worse. I agreed.

Aw crap, I can’t keep a secret, especially a good one

So what was the change? Ha, I’m not going to tell you! You’ll have to wait until my next column to find out.

Just kidding. It was a lowly AC power cord, the bottom man on the cable totem pole. I removed a Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC-10 power cord and replaced it with the unit’s stock cord. Not only did the Fun Bunch notice a change in the sound, but they also preferred the up-market AC-10 cord over the generic piece of cable that comes with the component. Personally, I was impressed, not only with the sonic performance of the AC-10, but also with the power cord’s ability to communicate its sonic benefits to what are essentially non-audiophiles and average consumers.

In terms of sonic influence, most people think speaker cables lie at the peak, with analog interconnects just below them, and digital interconnects hovering around base camp. Somewhere in the earth’s crust lies the power cord, surrounded by evil nay-sayers questioning the validity of claims for improved sonic performance. Personally, I believe in power cords. They have increased the performance of my system when used with almost any and every component I have owned or auditioned. In general, AC cords are no joke, and in particular the Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC-10 should be taken very seriously.

Again, using their patented Single Crystal wire, Harmonic Technology incorporated 6N-purity copper and double shielding throughout, with a Single Crystal IEC to maintain the high-purity connection all the way to the component. Holding out the opposite end of the cord is a high-quality Hubbell three-prong plug. And finishing the look is a black nylon mesh sheath to guard the guts against scuffs.

The AC-10 worked equally well when connected to my line-conditioned DAC, anti-jitter box, or transport. But this fairly stiff and innocuous-looking cable seemed to really perk up when feeding AC to my naked (direct-to-AC-outlet) integrated amp. I suspect that the AC-10 and my line conditioner provide some overlapping performance enhancements. When the two are used in combination, the perceived sonic benefits of the AC-10 are less pronounced than when the AC-10 connects a component directly to the wall outlet on its own, without influence from any form of line conditioning.

I would like to invest in a mid-cap value fund

In terms of pricing, the Fantasy AC-10 falls right in the middle of Harmonic Technology’s power-cord lineup, just under the Magic power cord and right above the Pro-AC11. At $400 USD per two-meter cord, the AC-10 is a lot more affordable than the Magic at $2000, but it's 75% more than the Pro-AC11 at $240.

Given my inexperience with either the Magic or the Pro-AC11, I can’t provide insight on the value of this product compared to the rest of Harmonic Technology’s power cords. But I can say that on its own merits, the Fantasy AC-10 is an excellent-sounding power cord with superb bottom-end slam and extension and an excitingly open, unrestricted midrange. And consistent with all previous products I’ve used from Harmonic Technology, the quality of construction and choice of materials are both solidly high end. This one’s worth checking out!

...Greg Kong

Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC-10 Power Cord
Price: $400 USD per two-meter length.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Harmonic Technology
13200 Kirkham Way, Unit 100
Poway, CA 92064
Phone: (858) 486-8386
Fax: (858) 486-6633

E-mail: info@harmonictech.com
Website: www.harmonictech.com


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