The most naive and pedestrian view of power cords and their use in high-end audio systems is what I will forever label "the last six feet fallacy." This asserts that between your amplifier and power company there are miles and miles of power lines, so why on earth would the last six feet, which is what the power cord represents, make any sonic difference?
While this may make some kind of sense to our human minds, let's look at the issue from the perspective of the amplifier. The power cord is actually the first six feet between the amp and the power coming through those miles and miles of wire. It's the power gatekeeper. If I had to bet on why power cords work, therefore, I would put my money on simple proximity. The power cord acts as an AC conduit and conditioner right before the power enters the component. I know there are nay-sayers who simply reject the efficacy of power cords out of hand, but I have heard differences among many cords and obvious betterment with some. That power cords do something is indisputable as far as my ears are concerned. That some do very positive things to the sound is equally indisputable.
Among the power cords that produce obvious improvement are those from Shunyata Research. Earlier this year I wrote about the Python Helix Alpha and Python Helix Vx, hinting at that time that I'd discuss those cords' bigger brothers from Shunyata's Anaconda line later on. After many months of use with many different pieces of audio gear, the Anaconda Helix's time in the review spotlight has come.
The Anaconda Helix is a rotund 8-gauge power cord with 13 counter-rotating conductors braided into Shunyata's patented Helix geometry, which reportedly "dramatically reduces self-induced AC reactance while also providing exceptional immunity to RFI/EMI noise components." The Helix geometry is so complex that it has to be braided by hand. This, I am sure, accounts for the Anaconda's substantial cost: $1995 or $2195 USD. Why two prices? Shunyata is unique because it makes two variations of each power-cord model. The Vx cords use Shunyata's well-known patented FeSI-1000 compound inside the large-diameter outer sheath to reduce noise beyond the capabilities of the Helix geometry alone. They are the more costly of the two and recommended for digital sources -- CD players and transports -- only, as it is in these applications that their noise-killing properties are best utilized. The Alpha power cords are the same as the Vx cords, but without the compound. They are recommended for use with preamps, amps, analog gear, DACs -- anything that doesnt spin a CD, DVD or SACD.
All Shunyata Helix conductors are drawn from certified CDA-101 copper, which is considered the purest copper available. Connectors are the Shunyata-designed custom-made Venom IEC and plug, whose conductive parts feature a proprietary silver-and-rhodium co-plating process. Shunyata cryogenically treats all conductors and connectors to -310 Fahrenheit; this is done onsite, instead of at an outside facility. Paying close attention to details that lead to better sonics is something Caelin Gabriel, the design mind behind all Shunyata Research products, does as a matter of course. I'll just call him picky; those who know him better may use other words!
One of the most interesting things about using the Python Helix power cords was figuring out where they worked best. In this regard, I not only used Vx and Alpha cords with gear from many manufacturers, but every kind of component I had on hand as well -- DACs and CD players to preamps and power amps. Keeping the cost of both the Python and Anaconda cords in mind, I was able to discover a best-bang-for-the-buck configuration: the point at which mixing and matching both cords produced the best sound. Yes, depending on your system, you may be better off with a few of the less expensive Python Helix cords than all Anaconda Helix.
I went even further, stating that the Python offered 80% of the Anaconda's performance at half the price. I continue to stand by that, even as that 20% seems more than worth the extra cost with an Audio Research Reference 3 preamp or a pair of Lamm M1.2 Reference mono amps. I also preferred the Anaconda Helix with Conrad-Johnson's wonderful Premier 350 amp, and Audio Research's Reference 110, both of which have 20-amp IEC inlets. In all of these cases, the choice between Vx and Alpha was clear: Alpha was the cord to buy because none of these was a digital product. With the Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP, which is a CD player, DAC and analog preamp, the choice was a bit more obscure. The Alpha cord won out sonically, sounding more open and fast-paced than the Vx. In my system, the only place I preferred the Vx cord was with the Esoteric P-03 CD/SACD transport, where the FeSI-1000 compound seemed to sweep away what little digital debris there was.
Both the Python Helix and Anaconda Helix cords seem to extend the bandwidth of the products with which they are used, making the treble especially go up, up, up until it trails off into nothingness. This is highly seductive. Any sense of electronic haze is gone, and with it there is no reduced sense of rhythm or pace because the power is somehow being constricted. There is neither an obvious light nor dark character; the essence of the music is simply conveyed better.
What, then, accounts for that 20% improvement with the Anaconda Helix cords? Slightly greater richness and body from the midrange into the bass, which has increased authority. This is not a matter of addition past neutrality, though, but rather a greater sense of real neutrality, not the hi-fi sort of neutrality that ultimately sounds far thinner and more bleached than reality. However, it is this richness and body that may make the Python Helix the better choice for certain pieces of equipment. I preferred the Python Helix Alpha with my Lamm ML2.1s mono amps, for instance, though I won't say it's simply better with tube amps, low-powered or not. Even if you have the money for an Anaconda, hearing a Python is a wise thing to do.
Still, there is something to be said for the Anaconda Helix's consummate performance. It is exceedingly rare in the reviewing game, especially given the gear I get to hear, for a product to be clearly the best of its type -- no second thoughts or reservations. However, it does happen. The Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2s are easily the best speakers I've heard, and Siltech's Generation 6 Signature interconnects and speaker cables are also the best I've encountered. The Anaconda Helix Alpha and Vx join this select group as the best power cords I've used. Borrow a couple from a dealer and see if you don't agree -- those miles and miles of wire to your house be damned!
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