Golden hour :
Update: After a decade of experimentation with power cables and conditioners I have sold all my Shunyata gear in favor of Oyaide Electric Company. Building power cables, outlet wiring, and distribution has led me down the path of passive power conditioning. Read more here
My personal experience involving after market power cables came at a young age. While playing my electric guitar at friend’s studio I noticed some curious looking power cables and inquired. We quickly decided that an evaluation must commence. After I plugged my amp into the AC socket with a high current power cable the rest was history. The first note I picked rang out of the tube amp with a greater sense of responsiveness that startled me. It was as though the efficient delivery of power allowed my amp to react more quickly/accurately when picking a guitar string. I felt a greater connection to my guitar because the amp was now able to mirror my playing movements with better accuracy and ease. I was hooked!
Getting hi-fidelity sound starts at the source. Whether you play musical instruments that are electric, record audio, or just listen on the Hi-Fi, proper power delivery is essential. In essence, all the sound these devices reproduce comes from alternating current. More specifically, the AC from your outlet is converted to DC by the audio equipment’s power supply. This direct current is the electrical force that drives loudspeakers and powers audio circuits. Providing the cleanest and most unhindered flow of electrical current will allow your audio gear to sound its best.
A few design principles seem to be shared by various high end cable manufacturers. Larger gauge conductors are used to maximize current flow, while radio frequency interference and electro-magnetic interference are addressed by the shielding or geometry of the conductors. Treating the conductors with cryogenics or using specially extruded copper are also known to improve conductor integrity. After listening and evaluating a variety of power cables, I was most impressed with those produced by Shunyata Research of Poulsbo, WA.
No, It’s not a substation on the television series Lost. The Hydra 2 is Shunyata’s smallest power conditioning unit. With special filter networks to remove noise produced by equipment sharing an AC circuit, the Hydra furthers improvements brought by specialty power cables alone. This device excels at current delivery, noise suppression, and even has special surge protection. Small systems will only require one Hydra 2*, while larger audio/video systems may want a 6 outlet Hydra.
I experimented with two Hydra units in order to separate my digital and analog equipment. My system’s background noise was greatly reduced and sound emited from a black back drop. Micro dynamics and the full extension of bass notes were rendered clearer. Even as I turned the volume up, the resolution maintained. The strain I associated with my sound system was removed once efficient power delivery was introduced. Be prepared to hear a clearer, wider, and deeper soundstage – you can’t help but be fully immersed in the music!
Shunyata does not recommend placing their power conditioners directly on carpet. While special carpet piecing spike can also isolate the Hydra 2, a solid rack shelf is prefered. In order to isolate my Hydra units from external vibrations, I use Black Diamond Racing support systems. These carbon fiber cones and disks reduce the transference of mechanical vibrations. The resin/carbon cone coupled into the cabon fiber disc is a great starting point for those wanting to experement with this improvement.*Hydra 2 has been replaced with a new version called the “Hydra-a or alpha.” These newer Hydra power distributors only provide spike protection on the larger Hyrda Alpha 4 or 6 outlet units. All photos by: Vahan Baladouni
Pleasing modern aesthetics isn’t always associated with audiophile gear. In fact, finding Hi-Fi equipment that blends sonic delight with great design is something to be applauded. French audio firms Focal and Devialet are no slouches in this department. Devialet, in particular, produces an integrated amplifier that incorporates unique and compact audio circuits with a clean industrial design to match.
The D-Premier ($15,995USD) is an integrated amplifier with onboard digital-to-analog conversion for various digital music sources (digital coax, optical, & AES/it also has analog inputs) as well as a hybrid power amplifier section capable of driving a variety of speakers. Devialet seems to favor short signal paths while harnessing the strengths of class A and class D amplifier topologies. It is my understanding that the D-Premier incorporates a class A input section with a digital switching amp for power output. I am certainly oversimplifying this design, but proof is in the listening. Technically speaking, the D-Premier achieves very low distortion (THD+N (harmonic distortion) at full power: 0.001%) while providing 240 watts of power into 8 ohms. This power can be increased (2×400 watts and THD+N lowered to 0.00025%!) by using two separate D-Premier’s in a mono block configuration. That’s lots of power in a relatively small/thin footprint! – eloquent dual mono setup.
I heard this amplifier powering Focal Stella Utopia speakers while playing source material from a Sooloos digital music server. Music was reproduced with precision, clarity and control. When over limited recordings were played (Adele’s 21), all the vocal distortions came through with obvious detail. This amplifier is very accurate, and provides the listener with all the sonic layers while providing precision and control to speaker drivers.
The Stella Utopia incorporate an active Electro-magnetic speaker technology which of course requires power and some serious floor space! I would have really liked to see how the Devialet-D and the Focal speakers sounded with vinyl playback, but with the demo provided I could be easily persuaded to do further listening.
For blending with room decor, the Devialet -D integrated amplifier may be hung on the wall. This allows all wiring to be done through the wall, thus eliminating unsightly audiophile cables. A video demonstrating the chrome finish, and how it reflects the rooms colors can be seen at the Devialet website homepage. Ergonomically, the D-Premier’s wireless remote provides a luxurious dial for adjusting volume level,audio inputs, and even a phase invert button. Right now, it is only available in chrome, black, and white finishes. I am told (by the US distributor) that other colors will eventually become available.
This integrated amplification system combines powerful fidelity, flexibility, ease of control and graceful design. Getting to the heart of music seems to be a priority with the D-Premier, and I for one welcome this approach.
Most audiophiles will not be familiar with the brand Crane Song. That’s because David Hill, the chief designer,is known more in the pro audio world for producing quality compressors, EQ’s, AD/DA’s, and mic pre amps. He even tackled transparent audio monitoring with a Class A studio controller named the Avocet. Although other pre amps and monitor switchers exist, the Avocet provides accuracy and features that truly set it apart from other stereo monitor/DAC devices.
The DAC provided on the Avocet accepts sample rates up to 192Khz. This type of DAC locks to an incoming PCM signal and upsamples the data to reduce jitter while then running through a class A output path. The quality and sheer resolving power of the Avocet’s DAC is quite an achievement at this price point. You would have to spend considerably more to surpass the digital conversion contained onboard.
The Avocet ($2,800USD) comes in two pieces. A 2U mainframe houses all the physical inputs and outputs; 3 XLR analog, 3 AES/dual wire,1 RCA digital, 3 XLR analog outputs, and a headphone jack.. The RS232 compliant remote contains square buttons that are color coded. Speaker selection buttons are provided (expandable for surround), while other features include; dim, mute, phase, mono, and 16 bit truncation functions, even a talkback function. The highly accurate volume level is achieved through remote-controlled relays within the main chassis. A large green rotary knob on the remote has 24 LEDs and 2 dB level markings surrounding its perimeter. Even though only 24 LEDs surround the knob, 48 dB of level range is displayed by one or two LEDs being illuminated at a time. All in all, you are given a 48 dB range in 1 dB increments.
All the six inputs buttons serve a dual purpose. Pressing the button once selects that input. When you press and hold that button again, it begins to flash. This indicates level offset mode. Adjusting the level of that input is available in 0.5 dB steps. This is especially useful when comparing various sources. The way a mix sounded prior to the mastered (version) output with levels matched allows a mastering engineer to make qualitative assessments on his or her work. More so, this is a way audiophiles could compare various hardware and software sources. By level matching the two sources, you can easily switch between them and hear possible sonic differences. This is a great way to level match and assess various outboard DACs, SACD players, speakers, even different versions of the same recording.
Whether you work professionally with audio or use various sources to enjoy music, the Crane Song Avocet will provide you with original inventive features while always maintaining sonic integrity. This pre amp/monitor selector truly stands out with features that bring the user closer to the original recording.
-My highest recommendation!