Aftermarket power cables are a variety of audio product that generally raises the eyebrows of many a hobbyist. I can't offer any technical proof of how a power cable could have any effect on music (although I could list several reasons why they possibly can't) but in my experience, they can and do have an enormous impact, good or bad, depending on one's system and/or sonic preferences. It fact I'll go as far as stating that such cords are as important as any other cabling in one's system. Perhaps even the most important. Even the lowly AC outlet makes a difference. It does all begin at the wall as they say.
On the other hand if you think all this power cable stuff is pure bunk, you can save yourself not only a good deal of money but also perhaps your sanity. It's far too easy to upset a system's synergy with the wrong cable or outlet. But every time I get that nagging feeling that I'm imagining all this, I'll swap back my stock cables and within a short spell I can't wait to rip them out. For me the trials and tribulations of messing with cables and outlets are worth it. This is what separates the men from the boys in this hobby—the continuous inquisitiveness and perseverance (or obsessive-compulsive behaviors) to try just about anything to obtain that perfect sound or the ideal balance in one's system. Over the years I have tried or reviewed so many power cables, I often can't recall them all unless I re-read my old articles. Today I have another power cable for you that I think is worthy of consideration.
cruzeFirst is a Florida based audio retailer that has recently started to offer its own products such as the Maestro Duplex Outlet (which I reviewed previously at 6moons.com) and recently a line of power cables. Today's subject is the Maestro M1 Power Cable.
The 1.5m Maestro power cord features 3 conductors of fine stranded silver-plated and tinned copper strands. AC and IEC connectors are pure silver. Conductors and connectors undergo a professional microprocessor controlled cryogenic treatment. The Maestro is double shielded by aluminum-laminated foil and tinned copper braid although both shields are not tied to ground as I discovered during the review process. When reviewing supposedly shielded power cables I run a voltage tester along the length of the cable including the connectors to determine effectiveness of shielding. With the Maestro my tester buzzed along the entire length thus indicating either there was no shielding material or that it was not connected to ground. For a shield to function properly, at least one end must be tied to ground. When I enquired about this, cruzeFirst's Fernando Cruz explained that floating the shields was done for strictly sonic reasons. While somewhat unusual, this isn't exactly new in high-end audio. Cable outfit Gut Wire comes to mind as many of their power cable designs feature several layers of shielding with optional grounding of the outermost shield via an alligator clip lead. It is believed that the materials in a cable, be they dielectric, jacket or shielding, all have an audible effect on music playback. In the Maestro's case it was determined that the cable sounded superior to its designer with the shields floated rather than grounded.
For this review, I replaced all the aftermarket power cables in my system with the stock ones and swapped my Maestro loaner from component to component to get a sense of its effect if any.
I tested the Maestro on my Audiomat integrated amp, CEC transport and Audiomat DAC and while I observed similar effects on music playback I thought the largest impact was on my amp. Over stock cables, the Maestro offered a slightly quieter, blacker background, a more open and dimensional soundscape, greater focus and an overall smoother balance with far less of that grainy hash that stock cables seem to overlay on top of music. The Maestro was also certainly more revealing of musical nuance and micro-dynamics.
On a well recorded album such as Doug McLeod's There's a Time the sound was dazzling with the Maestro. Every subtle inflection was more clearly rendered and instead of the guitar just accompanying McLeod the two were perfected meshed together. More importantly this was done without any sonic element grossly highlighted. The balance between voice and guitar was spot on.
The feeling of transient speed and sustain on Doug McLeod's acoustic guitar was exhilarating. McLeod's voice had a more natural live tone and his guitar was gorgeous over its entire range and I could easily hear its lovely resonance.
McLeod's voice was clearer, richer more present and visceral. I could better feel the emotion and power of his songs which the stock cables obscured. In other words I had to focus harder to listen past the layers of sonic crud to get at the heart of these songs whereas with the Maestro I could relax into them.
Bass was taught and well delineated if lacking the weight and scale of other power cables, usually more expensive ones, I have tried but miles ahead of stock cables.
With the Maestro there also was a lightness and clarity that was refreshing and devoid of undue coloration. MacLeod's voice came through with wonderful presence and the timbre of his voice was startlingly lifelike. While the Maestro strayed ever so slightly on the coolish side of the spectrum, music was never overly bright, edgy or harmonically threadbare. Warm and cozy this cable wasn't. If you looking to richen up the balance of your system, the Maestro may not be the optimum choice.
Listening to more complex material the Maestro M1 better revealed the interplay between musicians on Peter Erskine's Aurora, a great jazz album on the now defunct Denon label I have loved since picking it up back in the early nineties. Peter Erskine's drum kit and Buell Neidlinger's bass in particular came across with greater weight and presence but were also more delineated and nimble. The Maestro allowed for a greater sense of occasion and underscored the clever subtle twists and turns of this off-the-beaten-trail classic. Aurora might be a tricky album to track down these days but well worth doing so if modern jazz, exceedingly well played and captured, floats your boat.
I compared the Maestro to a current favorite similarly priced power cable, Sablon Audio's Petite Corona which was a completely different animal. MacLeod's guitar and voice was weightier, more robust and powerful yet wonderfully smooth with the Corona. Aurora also saw a more harmonically rich and textured touch yet the Maestro's lighter, tauter balance often impressed and better displayed the whip-like leading edge attack and decays while still maintaining much of the Corona's suave demeanor. And while I noted quieter, blacker backgrounds with the Maestro, the level of apparent noise reduction was not quite as extensive as the Petite Corona. Repeatedly during my time with the Maestro I kept thinking neutral, incisive, tight and slightly coolish... but always invigorating and far more revealing of musical nuance and intent than the generic stuff. It was not even close.
Which one is right for you? Hard to say. Power cables, heck, cables in general are very much a suck-it-and-see product category and I'd be suspicious of anyone offering a blanket endorsement. Furthermore, I am convinced it is best to equip an entire system with the same power cable or at least models from the same firm. Start with one component at a time and add more as funds permit. Maintaining system coherency is quite often under appreciated by audio hobbyists. Suffice it say, I found the Maestro to be good value and worthy of further investigation. I can envision a system wired up with Maestro power cables and perhaps the matching Maestro wall outlet would offer a huge jolt of adrenaline, far greater clarity, pleasing smoothness and sense of scale than any stock cable and outlet. Paul Candy
Maestro M1 Power Cable