Monday, August 6, 2007

Thoughts on Exotic Power Cables

We'll start with the obvious. We live miles from the local power generator and are connected via a transformer buried in a vault down the street 50 years ago. Most of the house was rewired 30 years ago in conduit, some left as knob and tube, and the power ground is best described as "floating". In other words, the power into our home is crap.

We did spend $21,000 in our last home completely rewiring the panel, ground, and all the circuits (the wife loves old houses). The process took many weeks and was painful even on the personal level- tearing up walls and floors for access, repainting, the lot.

Upgrading the power in the old house did almost nothing to improve the sound. We've tried power conditioners (both balanced power and filters) to some avail. The balanced power stuff absolutely lowered the self noise (how it sounds turned up with no signal) of the system connected, yet overall the difference was minimal. We have one of those Monster Power centers in our bedroom with a big voltmeter, and our voltage varies from 110 to 126 VAC depending on the local usage, the season, and the tidal pull of the moon. The bright LEDs used to keep me up at night until I saw there was a dimmer control on the front panel some weeks after installation.

We have three audio systems in our home. The "early morning" system consists of a Sony ES series CD player, unmodified Quad 34/FM4/306 electronics, and Quad 988 electrostatic speakers. The speakers changed a few years ago (from Quad 63's) but the system has pretty much been static for years. It's called the early morning system because once the neighborhood wakes up there's so much hash and noise with the power it becomes unlistenable.

So yesterday I installed three "exotic" power cables from Knowledge Resources Corporation, a firm frankly I know nothing about and wondered why they sent three cables to me. They'd been sitting in a box for three months while I tried to figure out how to test them analytically. I never did really figure it out other than scoping them, but felt guilty for not having even given the cables a go and decided to hook them up.

These things look like black garden hoses with IEC connectors on the end. I was tempted to take one apart to prove to myself they were some off the shelf industrial wiring cable in a gussied up sleeve but resisted the temptation.

I figured a hot August Sunday afternoon would be about the best time to test a power cable. It was close to a 100 degrees yesterday, so you know all the local air conditioners are cycling, pool pumps running, and lots of stuff generally making the power meter discs spin like a gyroscope.

Each of the electrostatic speakers needs mains power to keep it's polarizing charge, so two of the cables went there. The guy from Knowledge Resources said try them any way I wanted- what possible difference would changing these cables make over the stock Quad power cables?

The third cable went to the Quad 34 preamplifier, which has a switched power outlet to the 306 amplifier. I wondered how could changing the last six feet in a distribution channel going back miles make, especially hooked up to an ungrounded plugstrip?

So what happened? At two in the afternoon (peak air conditioner cycling time locally) I put on one of my favorite CD's- one I've listened to on this system many times over the years. No clicks, not pops, no hash, no nothing. There were details in the music I've never heard before.

I picked up a magazine and read it cover to cover waiting to hear the inevitable hash and grunge start up. The system sounded excellent without a single issue from track one to track twelve with greater resolution than I could remember.

That had never happened before with this system. Ever. It was if your old high school girlfriend showed up years later, looking svelte, single, and loaded with money and your wife welcoming her into your home.

I'm willing to credit the new diet for having lost a little weight, or perhaps the new Q-tips, or the kids being out of the house- but certainly not these silly cables.

I will be listening again today. Closer, and trying to figure out what's going on this time instead of just enjoying the music.

Something is going on with these cables, and I like it.