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Positive Feedback ISSUE11
Upgrading a table - T.G. Audio Silver Power Cord
What do you say when something that you thought would just be another change turns out to be mind-boggling? Do you keep your mouth shut, thinking others will call you daft? Do you tell only the people you THINK will believe you? "Raggersnatchers," I say, in frontier gibberish (see Blazing Saddles), "tell the entire world!" All I did was change the power cord on my VPI HW19 Mk. IV! Why oh why would a manufacturer use the equivalent of lamp cord to power a turntable? You’d think that the designers would at least use heavy duty lamp cord, but every turntable I’d ever seen or owned, the exception being the gorgeous work of art by Lloyd Walker (never owned, just drooled over), has had lamp cord delivering power to its motor! While there may be turntables with robust power cords out there, I ain’t seen ‘em!
I thought this about my Thorens TD160, my first HW19 (the Mk. I), and about the HW19 Mk. IV I now own. I am sure that Harry Weisfield feels that the first upgrade anyone would make to his table would be the SAMA (Stand Alone Motor Assembly), which has an IEC connection, but I’ve always done the most with what I had. Of course, that was (and is) because I have never had much disposable income to blow! So when I began a colloquy with Robert Crump of T.G. Audio Lab at Audio Asylum, and he said, "Be a Nike," I decided to Just Do It. (He really didn’t say "Be a Nike"—I thought that would be cute. You are all using barf bags, right?)
Crump sent his $500 T.G. Silver Power Cord and a little jumper with a female plug at one end and an IEC connection at the other. He told me to first use only the jumper with the VPI, just to hear if there was a difference. He also sent a silver-plated IEC connector from ACME for the mod, which I used, as Bob said that nickel-plated stock IECs could be "bright as the devil." I decided to call two friends, one a staunch believer in the sonic differences of wire, and the other a staunch non-believer and a damned Brit besides. (They’re SO damned proper and pompous!) I was lucky that the non-believer showed up, because I expected subtle differences at best, NOT the stunning ear candy that was delivered. The believer never showed!
My friend, Reginald Whittingham, is a retired engineer, and has been a horn man his entire life (he owns a self-designed set of speakers with Emilar drivers). He has no desire to hear anything but classical music, and can be quite boorish about it. We’ve had long, knockdown, dragged out fistfights about jazz and blues (well, maybe not fistfights, but you get the idea). He is a remarkable artist—the paintings and ship models throughout his home are designed by him, and stunning works they are! His business, in semi-retirement, is designing and building small steam engines. You see him sitting behind a few of them here, with one of his ship models over his right shoulder. I hope you all know I wrote this to yank on Reg’s leg!
Reg can build anything. He was a research engineer for Grove Manufacturing (hydraulic cranes), and has a firm understanding of more design principles than I have LPs in my record room. He has over thirty patents to his name with the companies that have been lucky enough to employ him. I invited him over to listen as well as to watch over me as I made the modifications shown in these photos. You’ll notice how professional the job looks. I wish I could say that I did it, but if you believe that, I have some tropical land in Greenland I’d love to sell you.
Reg chose the music—I felt that was only fitting, as I was stealing him away from his shop for the day. I wasn’t at all concerned about listening to unfamiliar music, as this was going be an A-B type of listening session. (Sorry, you scientific types, not a blind test, but it turned out that way!) He chose a Ravel piece, Daphnis et Chloe with Monteux and the London Symphony on London Treasury. This LP sounds glorious! I had never listened to it before, but it is now high on my list of repeats!
We listened to the record with the captive cord the turntable comes with. As I said earlier, this cord is a lamp cord. We then attached the jumper Bob Crump had sent, connected the T.G. Silver cord, and listened again. We looked at each other in awe! I asked Reg if he’d touched the volume knob on the preamp. He answered no, that he thought I did. I knew that I hadn’t. There is a passage toward the end of side one, perhaps only one or two seconds long, in which a double bass is being bowed, and it sounded as if it was in the room! I screamed, "Did you hear that?!" Reg nodded, still with that "This can’t be happening" look on his face. We stopped the record, took the Silver cord off, and listened again. We listened for that double bass, and never heard it! We reattached the jumper and the Silver cord. The massed voices in the recording became more lifelike—individuals singing together rather than a simple wall of sound. The sounds of the string section were far less homogenized—once again, individual instruments rather than a mass of strings. I wish I could tell you soundstage freaks that the stage became wider, but sorry! What did happen was that the distant edges of the stage became more defined instead of simply fading into nothingness. On the other hand, the soundstage was far deeper with the Silver cord than without, and its dimensions were more sharply defined. My Infinity speakers are soundstage and image champs, so when I hear improvements of any kind within that sphere, I am duly impressed!
This was the stuff of major component replacement! I had expected to hear subtle changes, NOT a wakeup slap in the face! Reg said, "Why bother listening any more, I’m convinced! Let’s do it!" We tore apart the turntable, Reg constantly exclaiming how great it was to work on something that was obviously designed to be worked on. "Great engineering makes it easy to fix things when things go wrong!" We removed the platter and plinth, leaving only the wooden chassis that holds the motor assembly. Turning it upside down on my kitchen table/work bench (I’m so lucky I have a wife who isn’t the House Beautiful type!). Removing the bottom plate of the housing revealed the connections and capacitors shown in the photo. Reg looked at those connections and realized that the one small cap across the power cord would never fit through the hole drilled into the housing. Snip, snip, and that was taken care of! "I’ll take this home, cut a hole in the side, and put in the IEC connector." And that, as they say, was that!
I speculated about why the changes we had heard were so much greater than expected. Was the noise floor lowered so that, hearing less background noise, we perceived it as an increase in volume? I emailed Bob Crump, asking "Why, after infinite miles of electric line, would six feet of cord make such a difference?" He said not to think of it as the last six, but the first six feet! That made it simpler for me to understand.
The method I had chosen precluded any possibility of doing A-B tests, so I relied on my listening notes from past reviews and my impeccable memory (I can’t remember to wipe my nose!) to assist in the after-mod listening sessions—not very scientific, but what you see is what you get! The first post-mod LP I listened to was Pure Audiophile’s Soular Energy by the Ray Brown Trio. I remembered the sound of Brown’s bass being subterranean. It was now every bit that and more. It was earth shattering! Allowing for memory, I heard a startling improvement compared to the stock cord. I didn’t remember hearing all of Garryck King’s stick work—he’s working at wizard level on this LP! On side C, pianist Gene Harris hits a high note so hard on "Sweet Georgia Brown" that it would break the finger of a lesser man. I got a feeling of clarity and ease the entire time I listened to the LP. I could chase Harris’ fingers up and down the keyboard! I was able to easily reestablish the correct twist on the JMW’s tonearm wire, so that the center image was incredibly solid and unwavering. This was pretty solid proof of the improvement a good power cord makes, as I’m NEVER completely happy with any center image with any gear, mine or anyone else’s!
I know Ella Fitzgerald’s Let No Man Write My Epitaph (the Classic reissue) as well or better than any of my 10,000 records. Ella’s voice is beautifully captured in this recording, and I often use it as an evaluation tool, as well as playing it to impress friends. As with the Ray Brown Trio LP, I heard things that had never caught my attention in any other listening session. Put me on the stand, my life in jeopardy, and I will swear I heard those improvements! Paul Smith’s piano sounded lively and fresh, Ella’s voice clear and beautiful. I hate saying this, but I thought I heard mistracking on a particularly loud vocal peak. I checked, and there was a hair (probably one of the cats’) clinging to the stylus. Clarity isn’t a blessing at all times!
Would I recommend this mod to a friend? I’d recommend this mod to my mother! As I said, I never expected the degree of change that I heard. It was worth the effort, worth the expense. If you’re still not sure, chuck the entire thing and get the SAMA! Of course, the mod costs almost nothing, except for the power cord, and the silver IEC connector (about five bucks!), and a SAMA is $400.
To further test the mod, I connected one of the MIT power cords that I use throughout my system (less than $200) to the HW19, and put the T.G. Silver on my CD player. I got exactly what I’d expected this time! The sound of my player is warm and full with the MIT ZII power cord, with good but not top-notch detail, though I’ve always liked the sound. Replacing the Z cord with the T.G. silver gave me a bit more resolution within the midrange. "Leaner and meaner" is what went through my mind. Details like Wasserman’s bowing of his bass in Trios—the "hows and whys" of his sound—were a bit more easily discerned. (He IS a different kind of bass man!). In the song, "Zillionaire," Edie Brickell’s voice seemed a bit cleaner, but with a bit less of the power she is capable of in her alto range, and which I hear with the Z cord.
I then listened to the Z cord hooked up to the VPI. This was very revealing, the winner being the T.G. Silver. The MIT cord widened the soundstage at the cost of flattening it slightly. The bass was deeper with the Silver, too! While the MIT cord wasn’t "as good" as the T.G. cord, I know that the sound was still far better than with the stock cord. I’d love to have those separate voices and strings that the Silver brought out in the Daphnis et Chloe, the MIT failing somewhat in that respect, but still, the sound with the less expensive ZII was incredibly good. Listening to Ry Cooder’s Jazz (a promo copy), the attack from Cooder’s fingers on the guitar strings was, for lack of any other description, powerful! The highs were beautifully extended, and I kept moaning in awe!
I am confident to recommend this tweak, whatever cord one may end up using. If I eventually get a Stand Alone Motor Assembly from VPI, that will just be another bonus!