POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE
- ISSUE 46
Wireworld's AC Power
Cords: a Review
Wireworld's CEO and chief designer, David Salz, has done it again. He has managed an audio problem very neatly and delivered a range of products at various price points, from the ridiculous to the sublime, to clean up unwanted AC noise. The problem is getting rid of the hash and grit that comes out of your wall socket, even if you have (as I have in one of my obsessive moments) taken great pains to install a separate, high-quality (as in, foil and braided-shield grounds, audiophile-quality insulated, 15 amp rated) dedicated AC line from my circuit breaker box to my sound system, ending with a pricy hospital-grade AC socket.
All Homes as Antennae?
Unfortunately, it is undeniably true that the wiring in my entire barn-like 125-year-old, eleven drafty rooms, five-point roof, wooden Victorian house (not unlike what you often see in San Francisco), has some electrical outlets remaining from the knob and tube period, although I have completely re-wired my "office," kitchen, laundry room, main "listening room," and "home theater" room. As such, and varying in wire lengths (owing to a common ground buss at the breaker box), the wiring system at my house (and likely at yours, too), serves as something like a variable wave-length Yagi antenna to all the micro-wave stuff going on 24/7 (medical info, insurance and banking info, etc), which most city dwellers experience as high-frequency hash. Even my wonderful Monster HTPS 7000 current-conditioner doesn't get it all isolated and eliminated, though it does a great (98-99%?) job.
Short of re-wiring—egad—my entire home (which would be a very messy, very expensive job, and oh, the wife factor with plaster dust hanging around for weeks), I was hoping to find something that would put me out of my misery. I've lived with a hand-full of Wireworld's AC Power Cords for some months now, and I can honestly say, I've never had such great sound. I wouldn't bring this up at a cocktail party with non-audiophile civilians; because they wouldn't believe the silly lengths I've gone to; or the amount of cash I've dropped on—not home theater TV, nor audio gear, nor music-software—but only on dedicated AC wiring and sockets, AC current conditioners, and AC power cords. They already think I'm nuts. But to you, oh my brothers, I will now confess the truth. I think Wireworld's AC power cords do a great job, their second-highest performers yielding more improvement than all the stocking stuffers you'll be temped to buy this Xmas season put together! Even the least expensive ones are capable of doing the most remarkable job they're designed for in terms of bang for the buck.
All AC Cables as Compromises?
There are a lot of cable designers who think the most important function of the AC cord is to deliver high levels of current from the wall to the sound system. "More is better," they'd have us believe, and their design responsibility stops there. Well, that's the easy part. Crank up the gauge of the cable (an easy enough engineering task), and you'll be able to deliver lots of current, like battery cables. I knew a guy who did "an experimental listening test" I attended; he actually used heavy automotive battery cables with the required fittings to make them useful. While these home-brew AC cables did allow the system to play loudly enough to induce nosebleed, the sound was nearly unlistenable: harsh and peaky. It was the first time I heard what a difference a mere AC cord could make. You could actually hear the music to go from "acceptable" to "doggie doo" with increases in volume. But it's unfair to consider a cable not designed for audio purposes. Well, maybe not so unfair, because that's what a number of manufacturers seem to use.
Then there are some guys who are savvy enough to make as their design goal the reduction, as tastefully as possible, of high frequency hash and noise. "Roll off the highs," would be their motto. And, by a series of trials and errors (mostly errors), I knew one guy who wound up with a perhaps 8 gauge, tinned copper, PVC insulated AC cord he ear-tuned as having rolled off the highs just enough to appeal to buyers who liked "sweet, musical" (but what I'd term veiled, out-of-focus) sound. Incidentally, he rolled off the crud in the super-sonic realm of micro-wave broadcast noise, as well as much of the sonic noise of the harmonics from that out-of-band noise. Lots of guys really "loved" this sound, the sonic equivalent of the Doris Day fountain-of-youth filter, and didn't mind the trade-off of high-resolution for sweetness. Maybe they each had harsh-sounding amps, or dirty AC, or overly bright speakers, and never from day one heard what their systems were supposed to be doing.
Of course there were guys who made as their design goal the cleanest, widest bandwidth of frequencies they could get out of their customers' systems. And if there was hash in their wideband signal, well it was incumbent upon the buyers to understand that their deal with the devil was to accept the hash and super-sonic noise as part of the signal delivered by their CD software, just as we all had come to accept the idea that we had to "listen through" LP's ticks and pops, as well as turntable's wow and rumble, to get to our favorite music. So, for most of us, the situation was this: All of the AC cables on the market could eventually handle lots of current. Beyond that, we seemed to have the choice of rolled-off highs, or no roll-off but the cleanest possible reproduction of high frequency noise. That's like the old Roman choice: "Would you prefer to drink the hemlock or fall on your sword?"
Hi-Rez and Sweetness Too?
Wireworld breaks down the usual conundrum of less highs or cleaner noise. According to Salz, "… an ideal power cord would pass only the 50Hz or 60Hz AC power, while blocking all other frequencies, to prevent power line noise and harmonics from degrading the sound and imaging quality of the system." I have found by my primitive test methods (observing by eye instead of ear) that my video images clean up with any of Wireworld's cables, compared with the stock cord, after I kludged together a receptacle for the IEA plug that terminates all Wireworld's AC cords. With Salz-designed AC cords powering my Sony Bravia video monitor, the results are less-fuzzy, cleaner, more three dimensional (spectacularly, even in black and white) images with clarity in proportion to the sophistication of the metallurgy employed in selecting the conductors.
From the standard Oxygen Free Copper "Stratus" OFC ($99.95), to the silver–clad OFC "Aurora" ($189.95), to the Ohno Continuous Cast "Electra" (OCC) copper ($359.95), to the silver-clad OCC copper "Silver Electra" ($695.95), to the OCC solid silver "Gold Electra" ($2199.95), each filament's conductivity is measurably improved. The AC cord's physical chemistry and geometry remain the same with an identical insulation package and the same "lay" of the wires. Not surprisingly, with the purer conductors the video images are subtly improved as one goes up the price ladder. Used as audio-only cables, there is the Wireworld "house sound," that makes it so popular; with the silences becoming inkier, the spaces between the instruments becoming airier, and the sonic signatures of the individual instruments becoming truer; with each incremental step from very respectable Oxygen Free Copper to the wonderful Ohno Continuous Cast solid-silver. The differences between the top and bottom of the price ladder are real and noticeable: but not as noticeable as the differences between Wireworld's AC cords and similarly priced AC cords of many competing manufacturers. That's why the Wireworld AC cords are another of my POTY (product of the year) winners for 2009.
Along came Salz. His idea was to design a cable that was a high pass filter somewhere above 50-60Hz. All the current would be funneled into this bandwidth by a combination of proprietary decisions about how the filaments would be bundled and insulated. This gets down to the gauge of the individual filaments, the number of filaments in a cluster, the number of clusters, and how they would be wound into an AC cable. Once the handful of variables had been isolated and measured, it would be an exercise in number crunching to come up with the desired current-handling capability, impedance, and most importantly, bandwidth. Then, the cable could be somewhat more finely tuned, using various polymers and combinations of polymers in a manner similar to determining what the capacitive values of various loudspeaker cables are. I'm guessing he selected the insulating material that best suited his purpose to act as a low-frequency blocking capacitor, or a high-pass filter (which is the inverse of designing a wide-band loudspeaker cable).
Now what remained was to determine the optimal lay of all this wire. With this determined by delicate measurements of the key variables, and some well-informed trial and error, Salz then fabricated models using the best audio metals and the best audio insulation: Oxygen Free Copper (OFC), Silver-plated OFC, Ohno Continuous Cast Copper (OCCC), Silver-plated OCCC, and Ohno Continuous Cast solid-silver, all in his proprietary polymer cocktail insulation. Each of these five metals, with identical insulation and geometry, amounted to a stepwise improvement in conductivity and performance depending on the metallurgical quality that happened to correlate with purer metal, more expensive extrusion technique, hence more and more expensive to manufacture; but demonstrating more and more of the best qualities of Wireworld's "house sound," and in this way more and more asymptotically approaching the ideal AC cord.
In a recent email exchange, Salz wrote, "Rather than loads of calculations, my development process revolved around an objective listening test, which compared the sound of systems running on storage batteries vs. conventional power supplies fed by various power cords. I was unable to create cords that replicate the pristine purity of battery power, but I did come much closer to that goal than anyone else has. That's my power cord story and I'm sticking to it."
The Wireworld House Sound
What does it sound like? You might well ask. As you might guess from what I've been saying, it sounds pretty damn good. It has incrementally removed all the bad shit; the veils, hash, grainy imprecision, loss of focus, colorations, all of which (on a good system) are noticeable by their absence. There are no higher highs, or lower lows, but I do hear sweeter highs and more textured lows. Human voices are not made more beautiful, but I hear them as if in a more relaxed mode. It's important to know the difference between a straining soprano recorded accurately on a CD, and a relaxed soprano appearing to strain through a "straining" audio playback system. The differences are subtle but real, like the differences in different vintages (1998 or 2002) of wine from the same winery, like aerated and non-aerated wine from the same bottle. (Wine lovers: see the Vinturi at the better wine shops! Through the Vinturi, I've never seen wines age faster.)
The Wireworld AC cord seems to have revealed the merits of my system's sound as having great clarity, freedom from annoying veils, hash, and subsequent colorations, which usually means greater ease of presentation with fewer moments of discomfort, as when a violinist gets to sawing away and scrapes too much causing that chalk on a blackboard moment. Along with that is the illusion of greater spatiality, like sounds arising from the rear of the symphony orchestra's inky blackness ("There! I've said it!"), or the distinct placement of various jazz instruments within the soundstage of a studio recording. To recognize these improvements requires of the listener some experience with looking for such differences, otherwise he/she will have no frame of reference or a shared vocabulary to talk about such things with an audio buddy. And each of these "improvements by subtraction" is to be found in increasing quantity as one goes up the price ladder. The differences are subtle but noticeable, maybe not so much as from step one to step two, but certainly from step two to step four or five. Right now I'm using in my reference system silver-plated copper, 6 nines purity, Ohno Continuous Cast AC cords on my Marantz 8260 SACD player, my Parasound JC-2 Halo preamp, and my pair of JC-1 Halo 400 Watt mono-blocks. I'm sure there might be a tad more clarity, perhaps sweetness I can get out of the system, but, I can't afford four solid-silver, OCC, Wireworld's best AC cords. This way madness lies.
The funny thing is, as I used more Wireworld interconnects, speaker cables, and AC cords, I found myself listening at a lower gain position on my preamp. I'm not sure exactly how it works, but I appear to be having less lossy connections between the components of my system. I know it's an illusion of sorts. I mean, I still like to listen at concert level facsimile levels. But I've been able to back off from 12 O'clock to 10 O'clock on my volume pot. So the evidence for my system's being less lossy is there, and all I've changed is the wiring. Q.E.D. Whatever.
I can tell you this: I thought I had pretty good sound before introducing Wireworld's second-best AC cords. You know what a Class A system sounds like from audio shows or boutiques, right? I must have had only a Class A-. I now get freedom from perhaps a half-dozen specific, if at a low-level of irritation, anomalies that irked me; glare, metallic female voice tone, imprecise imaging, less textured bass, excessively sibilant bowing sounds, and too sibilant pronunciation of dental consonant clusters. All of these I found were on some recordings, and not all the time. I figured they were faults in my home brew crossover networks, or of the drivers in my home-brew speakers, or of the level at which I like to listen. It turns out they were in my AC cords. Mind you, not in my interconnects, or loudspeaker cables (which I'd have guessed have a more direct input to my signal), not in my CD player or my LP player, but my AC cords were keeping me up at night—wondering.
So, if you want to move your system up a notch or more, consider Wireworld's AC cords. They are the only cords I know-of that have departed from the me-too mindset of the industry. I'm kinda-sorta certain they will be two notches better than any AC cords you'd get with most gear, and one notch better than most similarly priced after-market AC cords. If you're willing to take a flyer with even one $99 AC cord, go to the website (below) and surf to find their dealer list. If you are interested in their whole line, go to www.wireworldcable.com and read on. I believe David Salz is at the cutting edge of wire technology, and I endorse Wireworld products across the boards.
Of course, whichever dealer you go to, tell ‘em Max Dudious sent ya.