"That doesnt make a lot of sense," I remember whispering to a friend as I sat patiently in a crowded listening room. We were at a demo at the 1990 CES in Las Vegas. Back then the tweak element of audiophile life was alive and well; however, the notion of after-market power cords was brand new. The tweak world hadnt really attacked the power lines yet.
This was the first demonstration I had ever seen of a high-end power cord. And just the thought that a power cord -- yes, a power cord -- could improve the sound of a component was, well, almost beyond belief. Today this may be a common thing, but only ten short years ago it certainly wasnt. Despite the fact that the CES demonstration seemed to show that there was a difference, I still wasnt sold. The cynic in me reasoned that perhaps there was some sleight of hand or something. After all, it simply doesnt make much sense that six or so feet of power cord could make a difference when there is who knows how much cable running through the wall!
Times have changed sort of
Power cords of all shapes, sizes and prices abound on the market these days. Today, for the privilege of simply plugging your component into the wall, you can spend anywhere from under $100 to many thousands of dollars. Still, while times have changed in the cable industry, they havent changed that much for me. Im still skeptical.
Call me old fashioned, but I just dont buy some of the claims of the power-cord proponents, even though I have heard some differences and come to accept that some power cords can make a difference. The main problem I have, I guess, comes from the magnitude of some of the claims made. The funny thing is that the most preposterous claims dont usually come from the manufacturers -- they come from reviewers instead. Ive heard some insinuate that power cords are more important than the components theyre used with! Yikes!
I may be a cynic, but I never close my ears. I have, in fact, earnestly listened to many power cords over the years. Truth be told, for the most part Ive been underwhelmed. Differences, most times, are slight. The most common thing I hear is what is seems to be a tiny lowering of the noise floor, which results in better imaging, improved resolution, and better dynamic contrasts. I first witnessed this with MITs Z-Cord some seven years ago. It seemed to be simply a well-shielded cord with a ferrite clamp on it. It worked amazingly well when I hooked it up to my Classé amplifier. In fact, it was significant enough for me to say, "Whoa, thats amazing," and for my incredibly skeptical, seen-it-all-done-it-all, lifelong-audiophile friend who only believes in sound engineering and proven principles to raise his eyebrows in astonishment and say, "I dont believe it." Dont get me wrong, though; the difference was not huge. But it was a great enough difference to warrant some amazement. Plus, this power cord sold for less than $200.
Since that time Ive heard plenty of cords make that sort of change, but not something Ill pay thousands for. Perhaps Id pay a few hundred bucks, but only if I were fairly flush with cash, just gotten a raise, or received a big tax refund. However, before I sign on the dotted line, I also want to know that this power cord is not some one-hit-wonder. It better work in the same way with a variety of components. Im hard-nosed, but the $449 Power AC from JPS Labs has softened me up.
This isnt the first time that the JPS Labs Power AC has been talked about in our pages. Mike Masztal reviewed it, along JPSs other power cords, when they were first introduced a couple years back. This follow-up review came about because the Power AC, once it found its way into my system, is the first power cord to satisfy four criteria that make it worth talking about: (1) it made me say "Whoa" the first time I heard it (something Ill expand on below); (2) its benefits seem consistent from product to product (and reviewer to reviewer -- see sidebar); (3) its been around long enough in my system to prove to me that it is not a flash in the pan and that Im not tricking myself with a short-term audition; and (4) it doesnt cost an arm and a leg.
The Power AC is intended for power amplifiers. There is nothing magical or mysterious about it. It is a very heavy and somewhat unwieldy cord that uses 8-gauge conductors. The connectors are very heavy duty and make firm connection to whatever theyre plugged into. The Power AC is not a looker. Its dark-gray jacket and industrial connectors make it far more functional than beautiful. If I had to hazard a guess on why it works so well I would say that its internal twisted design, which JPS Labs calls the "Optimized Field Matrix," definitely helps, but its likely the gauge of the cord that contributes most. If youre wondering how the Power AC makes out with other components besides amplifiers, Ill tell you up front that I dont know. Joe Skubinski, head of JPS Labs, says its for amplifiers, so thats where I use it.
The first time I used the Power AC was with the Simaudio I-5 integrated amplifier. With that outstanding integrated amplifier, the Power AC provided enough performance benefit for me to comment in the review that "The character of the amp was unchanged, but there was a little more blackness to the background, and transients were a smidgen sharper." The difference was by no means gigantic, but it was a small, incremental benefit that improved an already excellent system. Bass weight also seemed to improve, something Ill expand on since it is the most common trait I hear with this cord when used with different amplifiers. But is this improvement worth almost $500? If you are completely satisfied with your system already, then the money spent on the Power AC would likely be a good long-term investment in musical satisfaction. I would buy one for use with the I-5.
On the other side of the coin, the largest difference I heard with the Power AC came about when I reviewed the excellent $9800 Wyetech Labs Topaz single-ended amplifier. Nothing about this improvement could be called subtle. Furthermore, in terms of the price increment to add this cord, it is almost inconsequential when looking at the total price. The bass weight improved immensely -- it was as if the woofers grew an inch. Bass frequencies were not just deeper, they were tighter and detail improved to an impressive degree too. Overall dynamics were improved so that the music had better focus and slam. Instruments had better speed and precision, drums more visceral impact and guitar a slightly more razor-sharp feel. Soundstaging also improved, with an increase sense of spaciousness that contributed somewhat to depth, as well as an improvement in image specificity and solidity. It was as if the amplifier opened up a tad more. This is similar to what I heard with the I-5, but to a larger degree.
The improvement I heard with the Topaz was enough to add a paragraph to the review describing the Power AC's use. I even went on and told designer Roger Hebert that he should consider packaging the cord (or something very similar) with the amplifier. He told me he thought about it but knows that audiophiles are finicky and will still want to try other power cords even if he includes a very good one. I had to agree.
Despite the improvements I hear with the JPS Labs Power AC in use, $449 is still a lot for a power cord. For that reason alone, I don't recommend buying it or any power cord without an audition in your own system. That said, I encourage you to seek out and give the Power AC a try. No, I still dont quite understand why six feet of cord makes a difference when there is so much other cable in the wall, but it does. The JPS Power AC is a staple in my system and one component I at least try (and usually end up using) with virtually all amplifiers I get in for review. It may not be the very best cord you can buy, but its consistent performance benefits and overall good value make the Power AC the first power cord to receive a SoundStage! Reviewers Choice rating.
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