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 4For 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":
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.|
- 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 TestMy 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:
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. ResultsAs 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):
|IMD + N|
|IMD + N|
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. ConclusionWithin 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.