“You’re comparing power cords…?” a respected friend of 20+ years asked with a palpable disbelief in his voice.
“Yes.” I answered flatly.
“Power cords… the things delivering electricity from the wall to your gear?”
“Yes… well designed and purposefully engineered A/C power cords will deliver cleaner and purer electrical current. Cleaner A/C current allows sensitive audio circuits to perform better; and sound better.”
He shook his head, sighed, and gazed at me with pity. He probably thought I should be transported in a rubber-lined ambulance to a Bedlam-style psychiatric ward. In his mind, I was no longer a sane or rational man of science, reason, and method. Nope. Instead, I’d lost my mind and become a sad, insane, lunatic who could no longer be reasoned with.
“But power’s power… isn’t it?” he interjected.
“Yes… power is power; but any wire carrying an electrical current can act like an antennae and attract radio frequencies, radio frequency interference, EMI, EMF, and distort the Heaven and heck out of ultra-sensitive audio signals.” I explained.
He laughed at me– not with me… but at me—shook his head, and calmly stated: “I’m out.”
And this is where audiophiles lose a lot of their friends. To the skeptical and cynical, the very idea that audible differences in A/C power cords can be heard seems comical; and, at some level, sad… and pathetic.
In 2014, many audiophile cable OEMs are pricing their interconnects, speaker cables, and A/C cords at obscenely high retail prices. At TAVES 2013, for example, most of the higher-end 2-channel systems proudly being shown in the various hotel rooms used “cost no object” $10,000+ speaker cables, $5,000+ interconnects, and $2,000 to $5,000+ A/C cables. Even as a CE audio insider, the idea of having to spend $30,000 to $40,000 dollars to get a 2-channel system wired-up with “reference level” cabling is rather depressing.
Enter Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility
Steven Huang is a man of science and engineering. He holds a Bachelor of Engineer Science (BES) in Chemical Engineering and also a Master of Science (MSc) in Mechanical Engineering / Robotics. And while he has a deep appreciation for the theoretical ideas of science, he admits to preferring the practical aspects of “hands on” engineering.
Steven’s father emigrated from Taiwan to Toronto in the late 1950s. In the 1960s, his Dad matriculated through a PhD in polymer chemistry. During his doctorate research at U of T, Steven’s father came into contact with Atsumi Ohno; the man who patented the Ohno Continuous Casting process. Through his dad’s connection with Doctor Ohno, Steven has developed many important contacts in the metallurgical industry.
Ohno Continuous Casting:
Although continuous casting has been used in the production of metals like copper (Cu) and silver (Ag) since the 1950s, Ohno Continuous Casting (OCC) was first patented in 1986.
Conceived by Doctor Atsumi Ohno, the OCC process reduces the impurities and imperfections in metals by a significant magnitude. How significant…? Regardless of the cable’s gauge, OCC copper (Cu) has 1 crystal per every 125 meters of wire. Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) has about 5,000 crystals per 1 meter. The greater the number of grain boundaries that electrons encounter as they flow through wire, the greater the degradation in sound quality. Audio Sensibility’s website claims:
“Cross Crystal Distortion (CCD) occurs when the electron flow passes through metal crystal boundaries and produces audible side-effects like sonic harshness and masking of spatial information.”
Steven Huang also offers cryogenic treatment for all of his cables. This cryo-freezing is done at a facility located about 2 hours west of Toronto. Near-sourcing this cryogenic process to a local vendor means closer scrutiny and a higher level of quality control.
All 4 of the A/C power cords were burned-in for me prior to my taking delivery of them. “Cable cooking” is another service that Steven provides. Audio Sensibility offers a 30-day full money back guarantee so that you can audition their cables in your own home.
Eschewing the standard retail-sales business model, Audio Sensibility uses a direct sales approach to selling their cables. As there are no wholesalers and no retailers within their distribution chain, in theory, Steven’s products can be brought to market at 1/3rd to ¼ the retail price points that his competitors are selling at.
Germane to the ‘direct sales’ business model that AS sells their cables through, I felt it only sporting to compare AS’ power cords with A/C cords from their competitors priced at 3 to 5 times as much.
1.5m Impact SE 15 Amp A/C power cord (MSRP $139 CDN):
The Impact SE is a 12 gauge cable made out of OFC copper. This is Audio Sensibility’s “entry level” power cable. The stock version is terminated with a 15 Amp Furutech female IEC plug and a 3-prong 15 Amp WattGate male A/C plug. These plugs provide a much tighter connection than cheaper alternatives. The cable’s about ¾” in diameter and is reasonably flexible. You’ll need about 6” of space behind your gear to install it. A custom-made cord with a right-angled IEC plug can also be ordered.
I started with various A/C cords with MSRPs between $250 CDN and $500 CDN. Listening to U2’s Achtung Baby, the Impact SE was much quieter, had far better low-level detail retrieval, and was faster in the transients than all of the A/C cords I compared it to. It also delivered better Pace, Rhythm, and Timing (PRaT). While some of the power cords added more weight in the lower registers, this extra bass came at the cost of losing a lot of low-level detail and transient speed within the mid-range and upper frequency ranges.
Climbing up the ladder, I next compared the Impact SE to power cords from a half-dozen manufacturers priced in the $550 CDN to $850 CDN level. Listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Kiss the Sky CD (Polydor 823704-2) with A/C cords in this price range plugged into my headphone amp revealed similar soundstaging, dynamics, low-level detail retrieval, PRaT, and transient speed. Most of these power cables unveiled a fair bit of the audiophile sound quality that Eddie Kramer created in recording Hendrix’s guitar virtuosity on this disc.
At $139 CDN, Audio Sensibility’s Impact SE is now my ‘bang-for-the-buck’ entry level champion. It punches way above its weight class and offers a good balance between warmth and detail. It sounds significantly better than many A/C cords which retail for twice as much and has nearly identical sonics as power cords costing 4 to 6 times as much.
1.5m Testament 15 Amp A/C power cord (MSRP: $269 CDN):
This is a 12.8 gauge A/C power cable that’s made out of OCC copper (Cu) and comes standard with tight fitting Furutech male and female IEC 15 Amp plugs. This cord is thinner and, therefore, more flexible than the Impact SE.
Comparing the $269 CDN Testament to the $139 CDN Impact SE by repeatedly listening to Tony Bennett’s Steppin’ Out (Columbia: CCK 57424 758599T) album on CD revealed that the Testament is a quieter A/C cable. The richness of Tony Bennett’s voice, the dynamics, and the groove of the bass on the songs on this disc were all clearer with the Testament. In terms of reconciling the size and weight of the piano on this recording, the attack, decay, and reverberation of the piano notes were all considerably more audible—with superior spatial imaging—with the Testament powering the components in my 2-channel systems.
I conducted dozens of double-blind A/B comparisons between the $269 CDN Testament and different A/C cords priced in the $750 CDN to $1,250 CDN range. The Testament had a fuller midrange and a more organic and natural sound across the frequency spectrum than most of the cables I compared it to; especially in the mid-bass and low bass registers.
I found that the Testament worked particularly well with CD players and outboard DACs. It tamed the harshness of digital gear and brought forth better separation of instruments, timbral accuracy, and spatial resolution; with zero addition of edge, glare, or digital artifice to the music. Given the quality (and prices) of the power cords that I compared the Testament to, this came as a pleasant surprise.
1.5m Statement 15 Amp A/C power cord (MSRP: $499 CDN):
The Statement is an 11 gauge A/C power cord that’s made out of cryogenically frozen OCC copper. It comes standard with a 15 Amp Furutech IEC plug on the female end and a 3-prong Furutech male A/C plug housed in a custom-fabricated 303 stainless steel shell. These plugs offer air-tight connections and, in theory, superior electron flow.
Instead of using 2 screws and an internal plastic piece inside of the cylindrical shell to hold the cable in place by squishing the 3 wires down, the male plug’s proprietary design has a locking “collet mechanism” to hold the cord tight without crushing the internal wires. Audio Sensibility claims better energy transfer with this custom-made collet in place.
The Statement is 5/8” in diameter and, although reasonably flexible length-wise, is fairly stiff along its rotational axis. A user will need about 6” of clearance behind any component to comfortably fit the female end into the IEC plug on any unit.
In A/B comparison tests of the $269 Testament versus the $499 Statement, the Statement consistently sounded fuller; especially in the lower registers. Using the Statement with current-hungry pre amps, power amps, and even headphone amps brought the best sound out of my systems.
To borrow an old audiophile cliché, the big difference between the $499 CDN Statement and AS’s lower priced A/C cords is that: “There’s more there… there.” The Statement has a bigger macro soundstage, with more precise placement of micro instruments within that soundstage. Especially noticeable in the lower frequency registers, the bass response of the Statement extended deeper; with greater clarity, physical weight, and accuracy down into the lowest octave.
There’s a synergy on Live at Leeds that very few live rock albums have. In 1968, The Who played with a vomit choking honesty, at sternum belting volume levels, and with a ‘go for broke’ hotel room destroying intensity that only a half-dozen other bands through the history of rock ever achieved. In the late 1960s, there was nothing—absolutely nothing—fake, phony, or pretentious about the way The Who played their music.
Listening to Live at Leeds with the Statement A/C cord plugged into my headphone amp, I could close my eyes and imagine being there; transported back in time to witness the live performance of one of the greatest rock albums ever made. Achieving that kind of emotional and spiritual connection with recorded music is rare; and magical.
And that’s what high-end gear and cabling within a 2-channel system should do: it should move a listener on an emotional and spiritual level. The sound should make you feel… something. Whether this ‘something’ is happiness or sadness, heart-felt joy or heart-broken sorrow, spiritual connection or emotional catastrophe, or just like swinging your hips around the room, music should move your soul.
I conducted a dozen double-blind A/B tests between the $499 CDN Statement and A/C cords priced in the $1,000 CDN to $1,750 CDN MSRP range. The Statement consistently delivered a similar soundstage width and depth, comparable dynamics, and a fuller sounding ‘bloom’ in the mid-range than most of the cables I compared it to.
Listening to Aerosmith’s 1975 Rocks (Columbia: CK 57363) on CD, the amount of detail brought forth by the Statement was unexpected at this price point. Purposefully recorded sounds like the galloping horse’s hooves heard on ‘Back in the Saddle’ which a lot of power cords leave as indistinct background noise, came through as clearly and articulately as I’ve ever heard them. The riveting power of Joe Perry’s over-driven guitar and Steven Tyler’s raspy, shrieking, cocaine-coated vocals were all evident; and undeniable in their purpose.
Long before they’d burned out and become a sober and radio friendly band, in 1975 / 76, Aerosmith were a cocaine-fueled musical force to be reckoned with. On their 1975 album Rocks, there was no sign of a ‘If this band doesn’t work out, we’ll try doing something else’ attitude. In that mid-1970s era, fueled by enough middle-American marching dust to sustain the narco-economies of several Latin American nations, Aerosmith strode into the studio with a swaggering ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. And you should be able to hear that attitude on Rocks; because it’s there.
By the mid-1970s, Aerosmith weren’t experimenting. They weren’t trying to find their sound. Come heck or high water, they were going to succeed. Failure wasn’t an option. And this swaggering attitude comes through loud and clear when using the Statement.
I could buy three—count ‘em… 3— of Audio Sensibility’s $499 CDN Statement A/C cords for the price of one cable from most other companies. And, in the process, not feel like I was missing much of anything with the sound quality of any of my 2-channel systems. Simply stated, the Statement is a remarkable over-achiever. At the $500 CDN retail price point, it delivers more sound than any other A/C power cord I’ve ever heard.
1.5m Signature V2 – 15 Amp A/C power cord (MSRP $999 CDN):
The 1.5m Signature V2 A/C power cord is made out of the same 11 gauge OCC copper conductors, is terminated with the same ultra tight 15 Amp Furutech male and female plugs, and comes standard with the same custom fabricated 303 stainless-steel collet mechanism as the $499 Statement. The difference with the $999 CDN Signature V2 is that it has one Bybee line filter attached to the live wire and a second Bybee filter on the return wire. The ground wire remains unfiltered.
Designed by American physicist Jack Bybee for cold-war era military electronics, Bybee filters claim to lower the noise-floor by reducing “flicker noise” and “quantum noise” on any A/C power line.
Comparing the $499 CDN Statement to the $999 CDN Signature V2, soundstage width and depth, PRaT, speed, and dynamics were nearly identical; as I expected them to be. Other than the inclusion of the Bybee filters, these 2 power cords are constructed of the exact same conductors, di-electrics, shielding, and Furutech plugs.
In blind A/B tests, the Signature V2 was quieter, and, more than likely because of this sonic characteristic, had superior low-level detail retrieval and better separation of instruments. Especially when plugged into current-draining tube power amps and tube pre amps, the Signature V2 also had superior “bloom” in the midrange and mid-bass registers.
On U2’s introspective 1981 CD October (Island CCID-111: 552364T), Bono’s vocals have a desperation that is haunting. The way in which producer Steve Lilywhite layered the Edge’s echo-laden guitar lines in and around the rest of the instruments is amazing to listen to. Guitar, piano, bass, and percussive instruments all echo across the soundstage. At times, these sounds lurk in the weeds behind Bono’s soaring voice. At other moments, these instruments punch a listener in the face with a directness that should startle a listener.
I say “should” because, with many A/C cords, the intricate tapestry of sounds on this CD is buried in a muddy sonic marsh of missing detail and murky confusion. With the V2 feeding my Presence Audio tube pre amp, all of the instruments can be heard precisely within a 3-dimensional layered soundstage. Few… very few… A/C power cords I’ve heard have ever revealed such an incisive layering of the sonic details that are contained on this disc.
I next compared the $999 CDN Signature V2 to several A/C cords with MSRPs in the $2,500 CDN to $3,000 CDN range. Repeatedly listening to Peter Gabriel’s Shaking the Tree, (Universal 069-493-628-2 SACD), the rich African textures and warm melodies captured on this compilation SACD are a joy to hear.
The Signature V2 delivers about 90% of the sound that reference level A/C cables do. The V2 can be beaten, but you’ll need A/C cords priced north of the $3,000+ CDN MSRP level. With current-draining tube amps and tube pre amps, the Signature V2 has a fuller sound– especially in the mid-bass and the lower frequency registers– than most of the cables I compared it to.
The key here is the price. At $999 CDN, to even mention the Signature V2 in the same breath as any reference level $2,500 USD power cord is remarkable. Like all of Steven Huang’s A/C cables, the Signature V2 punches way above its sonic weight class.
Much to the bemusement of a lot of my cynical friends, I have now happily spent the better part of 8 months auditioning 4 of Audio Sensibility’s 15 Amp A/C power cords in a number of different 2-channel audio systems. So… what are my conclusions?
First, there is no doubt in my mind that using better quality A/C power cords in a properly set-up audio system will result in better sound. Real, measurable, and audible differences in the sound quality of higher-end 2-channel audio and multi-channel A/V systems can be heard when using different interconnects, speaker cables, and A/C cables.
Second, music should make a listener feel something. Through these past few months, I’ve found myself desperately looking forward to listening to music through my headphone system and main 2-channel rig. Even with CD and SACD recordings that I thought I knew to the core of my being, with Audio Sensibility’s power cords plugged into my systems, I’ve reached a deeper level—a far more intimate, emotional, and spiritual level—of understanding with the music I love.
Steven Huang’s A/C cords have uncovered a wealth of musical details hidden on my CDs. These low-level details were always there on the discs, but with lower quality A/C power cords plugged into my gear, they’d been washed away by A/C line hash, RFI, EMI, and a myriad of microscopic electrical distortions which degrade the true potential of 2-channel and H/T systems to produce stellar sound.
The $139 CDN Impact SE is my current ‘bang-for-the-buck’ champion. For the 2-channel newbie or the audiophile on a budget, the Impact SE delivers a staggering amount of sound at an affordable, real world price. If you’re using the stock 39 cent power cords that came with your 2-channel audio or multi-channel A/V gear, it’s a no brainer to try the Impact SE with your components. In 20+ years of trying different A/C cables, I have never heard any power cord deliver so much sound at anywhere near this price point.
With the $269 CDN Testament plugged into my CD players, upsamplers, and outboard DACs, my systems sounded more organic, natural, and life-like. With digital gear, it offers superior sonics; at, by audiophile standards, a bargain price.
If you own a high-level 2-channel system and aren’t already using A/C cords north of the $1,500+ CDN level, the $499 CDN Statement will bring you a bigger soundstage, better imaging, and more intimate micro-details across the entire frequency spectrum. Timbral accuracy and spatial resolution within the mid-bass and lower frequency registers are also especially strong with this cord. The Statement delivers an exquisite balance of harmonic warmth and textured detail with current-hungry components. For the performance it delivers, I consider the Statement’s $499 CDN price tag to be a phenomenal bargain.
While the $999 CDN Signature V2 offers a level of sound quality that equals A/C cords in the $2,000 CDN to $3,000 CDN range, its lofty price tag inherently means that it’s for serious audiophiles with tens of thousands of dollars invested in state-of-the-art audio equipment. If you’re trying to squeeze every last drop of sound out of a $25,000+ 2-channel system and you don’t already own multi-thousand dollar level A/C power cords, the V2 may be the A/C cable solution you’ve been searching for.
The Signature V2 offers an abundance of extra shape, texture, definition, and harmonic richness to individual instruments. The wealth of micro details revealed within the macro sonic picture is astonishing to hear. It has a smooth and intimate detailing within the mid-range and treble. In the lower registers it extends cleanly, and solidly, down to the lowest octave with amazing clarity. Across the entire frequency spectrum, the Signature V2’s textured layering, sonic richness, and timbral accuracy are superior to any other power cord I’ve yet heard at its $999 CDN retail price point. Can it be beaten? Yes. But only if you buy an A/C cord that’s 3 to 4 times as expensive.
As with many higher priced A/C power cords, trial and error is inherently necessary. What worked phenomenally well in my 2-channel tube systems, may not work as well in yours.
From the $139 CDN Impact SE right up to the flagship $999 CDN Signature V2, Audio Sensibility’s A/C cables easily compete with power cords from other companies that cost 3 to 4 times as much. Their “direct sales” business model means that there’s no middle-man doubling the price; and no retailer doubling (or even tripling) the price again. By eliminating these elements from the retail distribution chain, the prices of Steven Huang’s cables are at least 1/3rd to ¼ of what they would be in boutique retail audio stores. Hence why AS’ power cords deliver so much sound for, relatively speaking, so little money.
For more info about Audio Sensibility products, please visit www.audiosensibility.com