December 2003DH Labs Power Plus Power Cord
by Doug Blackburn
The Power Plus is designed for low resistance and low inductance, and the conductors are woven together to reduce the electromagnetic field around the cord itself. It has three 12-gauge high-purity copper conductors, the plug housings on both ends are clear plastic that you can see through, and the insulation materials and outer jacket are per DH Labs' custom specifications. The black mesh outer jacket has a white dual-spiral pattern -- perhaps to dress things up. The Power Plus looks just as impressive as any number of more expensive power cords that use similarly large plugs, conductors, and mesh outer jacket. As with all DH Labs products, you dont get a lot of sales fluff attempting to build a mystique around the product to justify too-high prices.
The Power Plus is relatively flexible, making it easy to route the cord around equipment and racks. However, it is beefy, but not so heavy that it will cause big problems with the stability of equipment on shelves with various footers replacing stock feet. If the Power Plus is suspended in the air in the back of the equipment rack, it might be difficult to keep lightweight components on the shelf without some extra weight on the top to counteract the weight of the power cord.
System and methodology
My review system includes a modified Pioneer DV-525 used as a transport, an Assemblage D2D-1 jitter-remover/upsampler/interpolator to clean up the bitstream and output 24-bit/96kHz data, a modified MSB Technologies Link DAC with P-1000 outboard power supply, a Belles 20A preamp, a Belles 350A solid-state amplifier, and Vandersteen 3A Signature loudspeakers with a pair of Vandersteen 2Wq powered subwoofers. Extensive power conditioning and power-correction hardware used in the reference system included components from Monster Power, Equi=Tech, Exact Power, Vans Evers, Quantum Life, and Richard Grays Power Company. My listening room is treated to reduce the rooms contribution to the sound using 14 of Michael Greens Pressure Zone Controllers, four Argent Room Lenses, and a Vans Evers Spatial Lens and Window system.
DH Labs provided three Power Plus cords for the review. Evaluations were performed with one cord, a pair, and with all three in use at the same time. I used the power cords to connect the power-conditioning equipment to the AC source, usually the Monster Power automatic voltage stabilizer, then from the power-conditioning equipment to various audio components. I spent most of the evaluation period exploring the performance of the Power Plus on the Belles 350A amp, Belles 20A preamp, and Pioneer DV-525 DVD player/transport. Using more than one Power Plus cord multiplied the sonic thumbprint on the overall system sound.
Sonic performance and some comparisons
Auditioned on its own without direct comparisons to other power cords, the Power Plus provided the kind of sound Ive come to expect from better-sounding power cords: an open, transparent sound that let me hear the space and detail of the recording without turning aggressive. It offered quiet backgrounds and excellent top-to-bottom coherence. The overall character of the sound was ever so slightly on the warm side of neutral -- a characteristic many audiophiles prefer to total neutrality and one that will work better with some components than others.
John McEuens String Wizards [Vanguard VCD79462] is some excellent atmospheric progressive bluegrass. The Power Plus helped produce the right amount of bottom-end fullness for this slightly lean-sounding recording. The sparkle of the upper registers of McEuens beautiful vintage flattop Gibson Mastertone banjo cuts right through everything -- just as the live instrument does. The Mastertones lowest octaves are produced with the right weight and the appropriate percussive punch from the stretched Mylar head of the banjo. The sweet mandolin tone is never harsh, and you hear all of the changes in mood -- from sweet and wistful to hard-charging and frenetic.
Lesser power cords remove, truncate or veil detail so that only microscopic listening reveals all the detail in the recording. With good power cords like the Power Plus, listening is much easier. You dont have to work hard to hear the detail and nuance of the recording and performance.
The Power Plus was off to a very strong start, so I decided to compare it to the nearly $400 Audience powerChord. I queued up Willie Nelsons The Great Divide [Lost Highway 314586231-2] and listened to it all the way through using both power cords. Then several tracks were singled out for comparison while changing the power cords for back-to-back audition. In direct comparison, the Power Plus held its own. It didn't sound identical to the powerChord -- if cost were no object, Id pick the powerChord -- but its deficits were very small. The Power Plus's soundstage was a little more compact, giving the performances more intimacy, and a slight upper-bass emphasis gave the Power Plus a very slightly warm character compared to the more neutral powerChord.
Interestingly, in longer listening sessions with the Power Plus but without direct comparisons to other power cords, the size-of-soundstage deficit disappeared. Was it because I was simply adjusting to the sound of the Power Plus? Was it listener break-in? I dont know, but Id swear that after two or three days, Id wonder why I ever thought the Power Plus's soundstage was smaller -- until Id return the powerChord to the system again. Interestingly, it was always the powerChord that had the bigger soundstage, even if Id been listening to the Power Plus for a few days before switching to the powerChord.
If someone changed the two power cords for me and I didn't know which one was in use, I could not reliably identify the power cord being used with music that I had not previously heard with both. But I could identify the two power cords reliably when using two of the tracks on The Great Divide that had been used numerous times with each cord. On those two familiar tracks, I could reliably hear the difference in bass presentation and soundstage size between the Power Plus and powerChord. If you live for incremental small improvements in recordings you listen to many times and know every intimate detail about their sound, perhaps you would prefer the more expensive Audience power cord. But if you cycle through hundreds of recordings before returning to a favorite, you may never notice the subtle differences.
The second comparison was intended to see how the Power Plus dealt with higher-current applications. I started with one Power Plus connected to the Monster Power automatic voltage stabilizer (equipped with a captive Monster Power AC cord of its own) feeding the Exact Power EP15A power conditioner that powered the entire system. This single power cord juices the entire system and has the most current flowing through it. The comparison cord was JPS Labs' Power AC+, the company's $500 high-current power cord. Following this single-cord comparison, I replaced a second JPS Power AC+ with a second DH Labs Power Plus. This time, the power cord went from the Exact Power EP15A power conditioner to the Belles/Power Modules 350A amplifier. This is the second-highest-current cord in the system. Results were sonically about the same with one and two power cords, although the pair did not double the sonic signature of a single Power Plus cord.
The first sonic details I noticed were the slight bass warmth and the slightly smaller soundstage of the Power Plus. More listening revealed that the JPS Power AC+ produced somewhat tighter and stronger (not louder) bass -- not a big difference, but it could be heard with all material with any significant bass content. The Power Pluss bottom octave was almost the equal of the Power AC+'s and better than that of some more expensive power cords. The JPS Power AC+ was also slightly better on big transients, retaining more detail and having a slight advantage in speed and power. But again, the Power Plus was close -- surprisingly close given the differences in price.
A fine showing
The DH Labs Power Plus AC cord is an excellent value given potentially much higher power-cord prices. Your money will get you a well-made product that gives you a large measure of the sound quality of much more expensive products. The Power Pluss sonic performance is equal to that of expensive power cords in regard to transparency, top-to-bottom coherence, musicality, and tonality. The Power Plus is very slightly warmer-sounding than truly neutral-sounding power cords, and its soundstage size is slightly less large than that of the very best cords. In high-current applications, purpose-built high-current power cords like the JPS Labs Power AC+ can deliver a little more detail and impact than the DH Labs Power Plus.
But in the end, it was easy over a day or two of use to forget that the Power Plus was a relatively inexpensive power cord. This power cord is another winning budget-priced product from DH Labs.
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