Saturday, 1 February 2014

MEASUREMENTS: Power Cable Redux. The Synergistic Research Tesla T2 SE, T3 SE and PowerCell 4.

As promised over the last months, I've been wanting to borrow some expensive cables to measure to see for myself if I can both objectively and subjectively experience a difference. I've measured power cables before with my ASUS Essence One DAC's output but it just so happened that recently a friend decided to "go deep" into the world of audiophilia and purchased a little "family" of Synergistic power cables to try out:

What we're looking at here is a "tree" of Synergistic gear :-). Plugged into the wall is a "Tesla T3 SE" cable connected to a "PowerCell 4" (basically functions as a 4-outlet power bar). Coming out of the PowerCell on top are 2 "Tesla T2 SE" cables and an Audience power cable (not evaluated here). The blue lights come from the "Enigma Bullets" which I'll address a little later. My friend has been listening with them for >6 months so there's no issue with new cable "break-in".

As has been expressed by others, it's hard to make a case for power cords... The AC in our homes are connected through tens/hundreds of miles of cabling of various gauge. Within one's abode, it's interconnected with multiple outlets (unless of course you hire an electrician for a dedicated line) usually through 14AWG copper wires for most 15A circuit breakers here in Canada. Could the last few feet be significant?! Does running fancy cables like those above really improve sound quality? Here's a chance to have a look and listen...

I. A Look at the Synergistic Tesla T2 SE (5'), T3 SE (5'), and PowerCell 4

For the purpose of these measurements, I wanted to keep it convenient for my friend - the way it's configured as already attached to the Oppo player:
Oppo BDP-105 <-- Tesla T2 SE <-- PowerCell 4 <-- Tesla T3 SE <-- Wall outlet

I'll spend some time talking about the T2 SE since it's the cable directly connected to the Oppo. You can have a look at the manufacturer's information at their website if unfamiliar with this cable. Although not the "top of the line" AC cord, this unit has most of the "headline features" which supposedly provides benefits. It's got some kind of silver & copper conductor construction, "Tricon" and "T2" (?) geometry, high quality "G 07" IEC plugs... Then there's the "Quantum Tunneling" - some kind of 2 megaV pulsatile "treatment" that transforms "the entire cable at a molecular level" (what molecule(s) they did not say...). Check out some more pictures here.

Finally, we have the well advertised "Active Shielding". The claim here seems to be that using an electrically active (DC current) shield improves noise level and some how "greater frequency extension from top to bottom." We are of course not graced with any charts/graphs/details as to how this was determined.

To make things even more "enigmatic", we have these "Enigma Bullets" a.k.a. "Active Shielding Modules" capable of "tuning" the sound! They screw into the pigtails hanging off the male ends of the power cables. Silver = "open and airy", Black = "warm and rich", Grey = kinda in between. Hopefully the pictures below clarify the description:
Despite the huge calibre of the T2 SE cable, it actually feels rather hollow so it's hard to tell what wire gauge is being used inside.

Here they are, the "Bullets":
Cute, solid-feeling metal pieces with an electrical connector on one end and a little LED (the blue light shown in the 1st picture) on the other. They get warm plugged in to the DC source so I whipped out the multimeter and got 1400-ohms resistance for the black one, and curiously 1200-ohms for BOTH the silver and gray ones - not sure if this is supposed to be the case.

The "DC power" end of the "Active Shielding" is connected to what basically is a wallwart ("Mini Power Coupler") - here's a picture of them (2 for T2 SE, 1 for T3 SE) connected to the power bar:
Notice the $399 MSRP Synergistic "Quantum Line Strip" QLS-6 - power bar, no surge suppression - also "Quantum Tunneled"!

Of interest, you'll notice that one of the wallwarts had a sticker that fell off over time! Here's a close up of the label underneath:
A basic wall plug AC adaptor, 24V 300mA switching power supply you can order bulk from ENG Electric in China or Taiwan. Unless I'm mistaken, asking price for one of these is $125 (here)!

Here's the manufacturer's page on the PowerCell 4. It functions as a 4-outlet power bar. I don't think there's any surge suppression on it. It felt surprisingly light weight to me. I have no idea what they mean by a "magnetic cell" or what benefit that affords (?are there magnets in there?). Also, the comment about "The PowerCell 4 also improves picture quality on any display, with darker black levels, better color saturation and a more 3 dimensional picture, simply amazing" should be objectively assessable.

Finally, between the wall outlet and PowerCell 4 is the hefty Tesla T3 SE power cable. Again, here's the manufacturer information page. Looks to me that the main difference is the higher number of conductors (ie. thicker overall effective wire gauge) compared to the T2 SE above. You can read more about this PowerCell & T3 SE combination in this subjective review.
T3 SE cable plugged into wall. Notice its own lit "Enigma Bullet" and you can see the "Active Shielding" winding wrapped around the main power cable.
I could not find a price list all in one place... But the MSRP is something like this as of January 2014:
- Tesla T2 SE cable - $650/5ft (here)
- PowerCell 4 (North American) - $1,250 (here)
- Tesla T3 SE cable - $900/5ft (here)
----- Total MSRP for the set = $2800 USD

 

II. The Test

My friend lives in a multilevel condo and I figured that if indeed an expensive AC cable system is capable of cleaning up the noise coming through the outlet, then this is the kind of environment to demonstrate an advantage!

Of course, the comparison must be to a generic IEC cable, but lets make the generic AC cord even more disadvantaged - I'm going to add a 12' length of inexpensive extension cord to it. Measurements will be taken off the RCA output from an Oppo BDP-105 which he uses (the Oppo is an excellent USB DAC based on previous tests a year ago). This also gives me an opportunity to show a few measurements beyond my usual ASUS Essence One / Transporter / TEAC UD-501 trio of DACs.

Here then are your test "subjects":

A. Synergistic Research Tesla T2 SE to PowerCell 4 to Tesla T3 SE plugged into the condo wall plug:

B. Generic 6' 18AWG IEC AC cable I got 'free' in the box with something (black) + Generic 12' extension cable (white) into condo wall plug:


Test Setup:
Win 8.1 i5 Ultrabook --> shielded USB --> Oppo BDP-105 (powered with either A or B above into outlet) --> shielded (Tributaries) RCA --> EMU 0404USB --> shielded USB --> Win8 AMD X4 measurement laptop

- Newest Oppo USB driver (1.61)
- Latest RightMark Audio Analyzer (6.3.0)

 

III. Results

As usual, I'll measure at 16/44 to make sure the results cover standard CD-quality output. Then I measured 24/96 to get an idea of "high-res" performance. The tests were run under 3 conditions: Synergistic system without Active Shielding (wallwarts unplugged), Synergistic system with Active Shielding using Gray "Bullets", and finally the generic IEC cable + extender. (Note that in the labels I used "T2SE" but in fact the whole Synergistic chain was measured including PowerCell 4 and T3SE.)

16/44 (standard CD resolution):

Frequency Response
Noise Level
IMD + N
24/96 (high-resolution):
Frequency Response
Noise Level
IMD + N
As you can see... The expensive Synergistic power cords + PowerCell made absolutely no difference to the Oppo's analogue output compared to an absolutely generic power cable attached to extension cable for both standard resolution 16/44 and hi-res 24/96 test signals. Inter-test results were essentially exactly the same in all 3 conditions. No evidence here that the Active Shielding made any difference either.

For those who might wonder about jitter...

Again, no different. (Of course one cannot expect a power cable to affect jitter nor J-Test to be too anomalous through an asynchronous USB DAC.)

IV. Conclusion

Within the limits of the testing equipment - the EMU USB0404 as ADC - there is no difference using the Synergistic power cords with the Oppo BDP-105 compared to a generic 18AWG IEC power cable with extension cable in a multilevel condo building near the heart of the city.

Although the USB0404 isn't to be used professionally as test gear, as previously shown, it is a capable "measurement" device able to demonstrate very tiny effects like the -90.3dB LSB test, effect of digital filters, and slight differences between similar SPDIF digital transports; all of which I believe would be below the threshold of hearing for the vast majority of people. As such, I do believe the results above to be accurate and reflect reality when it indicates there is zero difference.

Could these fancy cables improve the sound from other devices like power amps or older technology like tube gear? I don't know... Remember though that tube equipment have much higher noise floor in general so even if this cable could lower it, the difference would likely be irrelevant. As usual, if power cables could substantially improve sound quality, why has there not been good evidence after all these years? I've often wondered why cables like these are not subjected to objective measurements like speakers, DACs, pre-amps, etc. in magazines like Stereophile using their fancy measurement devices? (Heck, many of these cables cost substantially more than good components!) Furthermore, right on Synergistic's web page, we are told that the "Active Shielding" lowers conventional parameters like noise floor and frequency response ("this closed circuit design not only improved subjective performance, but also made our cables measureably (sic) quieter, thus improving detail with greater frequency extension from top to bottom..."). So where are those measurements, and under what conditions? Peripherally, gimmicky marketing terms like "Quantum Tunneling" as it refers to the process they use really should be better explained (seriously, any time a company starts referring to Quantum-anything in the macroscopic world, it's best to be cautious). Finally, if sonic improvements can be made with a cable, did Oppo not bundle one they've tested to be optimal despite all their other engineering efforts?

Subjectively, I have heard my friend's system with the Synergistic cabling and with the generic power cable (as well as other systems with fancy cables but not to this degree of testing). To be honest, there's really not much to say subjectively with any certainty doing a tedious A/B/A trial. Do I think the Synergistics make the sound better? I'll go with the objective results and say this is most unlikely... Without a special setup, it's essentially impossible to do an accurate A/B comparison since there would be too much delay between cable switches, Oppo boot up, then start playing a song to really make any reliable comparison based on auditory memory of mental markers for high-fidelity. If audio qualitative differences were big enough, of course this could be a trivial task, but for at best tiny differences as in this case (if any), I do not believe this is possible based on research into the limitations of echoic memory. Good to see the measurements at least did not show any worsening using the exotic cables. All I can factually say is that the Oppo BDP-105 sounds great (and measurements demonstrate this high fidelity) through his system irrespective of which power cable(s)!

When it comes to power cables in my home system, my internal wiring is standard 14AWG copper and that's the "best" it's ever going to get in terms of power distribution. I don't see how passive wires can do anything for noise floor or "control resonance" or such beliefs. I'm quite happy with generic shielded 18AWG IEC cables for low power devices like the DAC, pre-amp, DSP equalizer. For higher power devices like the monoblock Emotiva XPA-1L and Onkyo AV receiver I have 16AWG shielded generic cables. I do not believe I hear a difference between the 18 and 16 gauge cables with the amps (in fact at one point I had an 18AWG cable on one monoblock and 16AWG the other and notice no stereo imbalance, noise, etc... even at high volumes) but I guess at least it makes me feel good that I did a little more to feed the neurosis :-).

As usual, please feel free to drop a link if you come across other tests on cables such as these; especially tests which have shown significant differences.

Recommendations:

- I've been listening to Eric Bibb's Blues, Ballads & Work Songs (2011) recently and I'm enjoying this Opus 3 SACD (was listening to the PCM layer on my friend's system the night of the Synergistic testing in fact). Easily accessible and great resolution!

- Mark Waldrep (aka "Dr. AIX") runs a nice blog at Real HD-Audio. Opinions and insights from a respected figure in the high-fidelity/audiophile world who clearly "keeps it real". If you haven't, I would highly recommend having a listen to some of AIX's recordings; especially in multichannel and the samplers provide a taste of his work. He posted an amusing recent anecdote on the use of a standard 75-ohm cable for digital audio at CES 2014. Also calling out the snakeoil on these "treatment" products sold through Blue Coast Records  - I wonder if they work better in PCM vs. DSD :-) (Dr. AIX's blog post). Respect.

Enjoy the music... And keep it real, folks :-).

PS: A big thanks to my friend for offering and helping with the testing - he has of course reviewed this write up for accuracy.


20 comments:

  1. You should have used sanitary pads errrm... 'Miracle wraps' with those power cords.
    That would most likely have made all the difference:
    http://www.referencetweaks.com/products/
    http://www.referencetweaks.com/t-t-l-english-info/

    Oh wait... I believe I 'tested' some of their claims.
    http://www.mediafire.com/view/1npdbpscb0fr836/Miracle%20wrap%20measurements.pdf


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    1. Wow, is that for real!?... Now that's a bit disturbing!

      I hope they're not somehow used... errr... pre-treated. At 50Eur each for AC cords, that's audacious pricing as well.

      Nice test :-). Amazed that your wife will do the wrapping for you for that blind test! When did you conduct this "study"?

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    2. Man, I'm really in the wrong business.

      Delete
  2. The sad thing is that some audiophiles support the scam and fraud. The markups on such cables easily exceed 1,000% to 10,000%, but once you delude yourself using uncontrolled, sighted testing you will hear differences.
    :-(

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  3. The test was done Dec 2011... and yes, they are very serious.
    The inventor, Nenno de Zoete (a.k.a. Swami Amano Subhauti) is heavily into spiritual meditation and has no technical background.

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    1. Fascinating 'concrete' overlap between faith and audio pseudoscience. I find this very disturbing...

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. I'd like to say thanks for all this information and all of your time, I'm sure I speak for many people who really appreciate your in-depth and well constructed reviews. Personally, I wonder how much you've saved of people's time and money. Good job. PS. Keeping each of your emphasis consistent, either italics, black or blue throughout, would be better form.

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    Replies
    1. Appreciate the feedback Unknown.

      Hope the information helps those looking for answers using empirical means and alternate viewpoints.

      Delete
  6. Hi Archimago.

    

Congratulations on your blog, and sorry for grammar & spelling ;)
    
Just so you know you are read far away in Croatia (EU)
    It is great to be able to read similar thoughts written by a man thousand miles away, supported by exact science, and with audiophile background. Priceless!

    Your blog was presented to me by an diy/constructor/audiophile friend http://drzlab.com/ that participated in your High Bit-Rate MP3 Survey back in 2012/2013.

    

About quantum tunneling…..I will just say I almost got banned from croatian "audiophile" forum in a topic called "Synergistic Research Quantum Fuse" . Polarity of a fuse was too much for me, and how a FUSE and its POLARITY!? may influence the sound!? Even if it was on signal path, which is NOT! 
IT IS A FUSE!! 



    About these power cables, what I don't understand is the "bullets" blue LED light. It is a nice touch, but I don't understand why they did not make them in different colors?
Doesn't blue light represents "open and airy", red is I suppose "warm and rich", and finally "kinda in between" should be represented in white, so the proud owner at all moments knows exactly what kind of sound coloration he is listening without having to check behind the components. 
How about different combinations of "bullets"? Red on source, blue amp, white pre…. Maybe not…. Is it some kind of a mumbojumbo equalizer? 
I could go on and on, no sense……you said it all!

    

People that have a grain of common sense will recognize your good will to open there eyes (ears) and consequently save them some money.

    

PS…one request or a wish if I may ;)
    
My good friend from the "dark side" (ultra golden platinum diamond ears :) use STILLPOINTS ULTRA SS with Wilson Audio Sophia 3 speakers. I offered to buy him yet another set of 8 unreasonably priced (250USD/piece) pieces of metal if he can hear the difference on blind test. Of course it is impossible to conduct ABX test due to technical reasons and audio memory, but for me it will be enough just to see his face when he wont be able to detect his (250 x 8) 2.000$ audio upgrade.
So if you have the will and technology to "investigate"…. of course ill notice you if my "dark side" friend accepts the challenge.

    You probably know there is even more expensive variation of STILLPOINTS - ULTRA 5 - 700USD/piece!??
There must be something really wrong with the component to justify 2.000 or even worse 5.600$ tweak.

    Have to go.
    
Trying to finish my Philips Golden Ears Challenge on AKG K 612 PRO / mac mini. Everything went smooth until Boost/Cut Identification. Have to concentrate ;)

    
Keep up the good work.
    
Best regards from Croatia.

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    Replies
    1. Nice to hear form you Marin. Your english is great... Much better than my croatian :-)

      Great to see the international participation in the MP3 test last year. And interesting to hear of the audiophile "beliefs" around the world.

      Yeah, probably not a good idea to challenge the firm believers in those "Synergistic Quantum Fuses"; bound to get into very ugly heated discussions! I sometimes wonder if the company itself hires people to comb the message boards to put in positive remarks when it's quite plainly obvious that it makes no sense at all.

      I'll keep my eyes open for an opportunity to test the Stillpoints... At this time I don't know of anyone who has/swears by them around here. I watched that video on the website tonight - wow... 100ns vibrations are "the most harmful vibrations" eh? That's 10MHz; not sure how that affects the audible range and of course the video doesn't get into details (they never do).

      Good luck with the Golden Ears Challenge and let me know when you get it done! Should also make sure that Stillpoints friend check his own hearing... :-)

      Delete
  7. I've been asking mfg of cables, power conditioners, etc. to run tests on a variety of products (amps, pre amps, etc.) to see what specifications change with and without using their products. Unfortunately, I haven't seen anyone come back with test results. Now, with analog speaker and interconnect cables, there is a difference. If you want to test it, you have to run similar tests that MIT Cables run, but unfortunately, most people don't know what/how to run those tests. But they have a $50K speaker cables and $20K interconnects where you can change the filter network to produce a different frequency response (articulation) curve. So by changing the filters used in their cables, it WILL sound noticeably different and that's how THEY do it. Other companies have to play around with different types of metallurgy, strand thickness, different groupings of wire, flat ribbon, different windings, dielectrics, etc. to alter the LCR of the cable, and this changes how the cables "articulate" if you will and there is many times noticeable audible differences, plus there are different impedences, especially between the pre amp and amp and the cables need to have the right impedance to match correctly. This has been proven which is why MIT Cables impedance match their cables to the customer's pre amp/amp and some of their higher end models have switches to change this. Power cables? I'm still having a tough time with that. It wouldn't surprise me if some cables might work better for transients on power amps since there is a jump in power required by the amp, so that might be a test to look at. I think it's sitting down and trying to figure out what tests SHOULD be done when testing a particular product combination. I am not convinced that either side of the argument has examined everything when it comes to power cables. I mean, if a cable has a filter to filter how EMI noise, that might help for certain applications. Some cables do have filters in them for this reason. Again, I wish people would sit down and study the actually product and figure out what tests to run. In digital products, maybe there is less jitter with different power cables. Has anyone tested for jitter in a digital product with different cables? With power cables, has anyone run tests that will mimic power surges, since an amp will have surges when playing loud passages. Music certainly isn't a sine wave at one level.

    I do have a tough time buying into the power cable difference to a certain point. I think more audiophiles would be better off getting their room soundproofed and treated properly as that will improve the sonic performance of a system that's FAR more noticeable instead of just throwing gear to improve the sound. I personally am in the corner of using good absorption, diffusion, etc. first as that's the biggest bang for the buck.

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    1. Yes Oneness. No question, room/speaker interactions are of massive importance.

      Like you, I have not seen many objective test results of cables in all these years. I agree that LCR, impedance matching, etc. are important to look at but at the most basic level, the differences are not that much unless the electrical values are wildly different and I certainly find it hard to believe the folks who hear "night and day" differences! I certainly have not experienced such things with expensive speaker cables or interconnects compared to decent quality inexpensive cables.

      I personally have not heard/used MIT cables so cannot speak to the filter networks therein. However, those filter networks are not magic and the frequency response curves themselves can be understood... This seems quite different than the "alleged" reasons for how these Synergistics sound given the apparent lack of scientific evidence in something like the "Quantum Tunneling" they speak of or how the "Active Shield" is supposed to work (at least in this incarnation with the little power supply I photographed).

      Delete
    2. Thank you for the time you spend on this type of reviews. I have recently purchase the teac UD-501 based on your reviews and i'm very happy. The sound of my new system (ASUS VIVOPC, Teac UD-501 combo (flac)) has realy improved over my old systems (Musical Fidelity A2.5 CD player (CD's)) and even my wife has notice the diference and she usualy doesnt notice anything.

      Keep up the good work

      PS - A use a generic usb cable between the Pc and DAC just like you recomended.

      Delete
  8. very great article about wires and cables thanks for this by john here in the philippines

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for giving that type information.That information is so helpful to us.Will be visit again on your website.
    Regard
    stranded tin coated copper wire

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nice Post..!!
    Very informative post and please continue to adding new post....
    Thanks for sharing...

    Tin Coated copper wire

    ReplyDelete
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  12. A really good blind listening test was conducted with Nordost cables:
    http://hometheaterhifi.com/volume_11_4/feature-article-blind-test-power-cords-12-2004.html

    ReplyDelete
  13. So the company's claim that this power cord will measurably give an improved frequency response was a completely fraudulent claim, as there was no difference whatsoever. I suppose they can just argue that your system wasn't "good enough" to reveal anything. When you get to the level of a "good enough" system it would be at the price point that only people who already believe in the magic of power cords would be willing to pay, and we all know that those people are impossible to argue with.
    Nevertheless, I find it a bit sad that companies like this can get away with it (and just as sad that so many people are willing to pay for it and truly believe it does make an audible difference), when other people are convicted of fraud in similar cases. On another website someone mentioned ADE 651, which was a fake bomb detector that a British guy sold to several countries in the Middle East for up to 60,000 dollars each. Of course, using the device was more of an "art form", and non-believers would jinx its effectiveness and so on. All in all it seemed very similar to these magic power cords, and the manufacturer of those bomb detectors was convicted of fraud and received ten years in prison. Why is it that magic power cord manufacturers escape such a thing?
    Maybe I should just quote George Carlin:
    "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups"

    ReplyDelete