All entries for Wednesday 07 January 2009

January 07, 2009

Do Hi–Fi Mains Cables Make Much of a Difference?

Do Hi-Fi Mains Cables Make Much of a Difference?

Nordost Valhalla Mains cable

Magic or Myth?

Can Nordost Power Cable at around £1,000 per metre transform your Hi-Fi?

Cable companies are offering a range of power cables to the market place with prices seeming to go from about £35 for a QED one with Nordost Valhalla 2 metre mains cable coming in at just under £2,000!!! Here I've researched the Web to try and find out whther there are any reasonably objctive comments out there because I'm sceptical of such highly priced products. Added togther they would buy some expensive kit with presumably much better results in terms of improved sound quality. For my own system I would expect a much better return on investment by buying better amplification over my Quad 77 than by splashing out on several mains cables at over £100 each say.

The Case Against

The webliography contains several links to Guardian correspondent Dr. Goldacre and his column "Bad Science" which launches a lot of sceptical arguments and includes challenges to th hi-fi community around th issue of double blind testing. Below The KZone makes the following point:

The music you listen to will probably have been created in a recording studio. Even if it hasn't -- it's a live performance perhaps -- by definition it will have been recorded using electrical equipment of some sort. This equipment will have been mains powered. Now, I've spent time in recording studios, and I can't say that I ever saw one that used `audiophile mains cable' to power its mixing and amplification equipment. In fact, I've seen mains leads scavenged from kettles and toasters to power the mixing desk. As a matter of principle, your sound reproduction can never be any more accurate than the original recording. So if you spend more on your cables (mains or otherwise) than the studio does, you're wasting your money.

The Case For

The January 2009 issue carries a story about Paul undr its "Readers Systems" series. Paul has a system worth many thousands of pounds including MF amplification and SACD player as well as a Townshend TA565 Univrsal Player and a highly modifid Linn turntable. He comments that he preferred different types of music on the different digital players however when he discovered the Silvermann Clarity 3 mains cable at around £150 this improved the Townshend even with its separate power supply.

Townshend Universal Player

Apparently a £150 Silverman mains cable improved the sound of this nearly £3,500 player

Paul in Hi News said:

It was one of those fortunate moments when, for a comparatively small outlay, a real improvement in sound was obtained. The Townshend lost none of its strengths, but became much more involving . Indeed Max later said that he had noticed the same effect - due to interference from other parts of the system affecting the player. A very worthwhile upgrade then. (Hi Fi News Jan 2009 p94)


Van den Hul lower amperage mains cable

Chord power cable

Chord is another cable company with a power chord in their portfolio

Overall I still maintain a strong feling of scepticism. I guess if your system already cost many thousands of pounds then the odd couple of hundred quid as an experimnt is fine, however, for those of us in more real world situations I think getting better equipment after careful auditioning is the most sensible route to improved sound quality.


As you will see in the comments box a correspondent has (possibly) got a Kimber PK14 mains cable which he feels does the business.

Kimber PK Palladian

Kimber PK14 Palladian Mains Cable


Guardian article on the Russ Andrews Power Cable

Ben Goldacre's Bad Science Blog on Kettle Leads

Follow Up Guardian Article on Hi-Fi Power Cables

Original Russ Andrews article from Guardian in blog format with many comments

The KZone: Snake Oil and Hi-Fi Mains Cables

This I Like Jam Blog entry on "Audiophile" products in general including some fine comments on cables

Vinyl Revival: Who Needs It?

Vinyl Revival: Who Needs It?

I really don't understand this vinyl rvival business which seems to be strong in both the world of expensive hi-fi as well as making a come-back in the 7 inch single market. Records operate at a severe disadvantage to digital media. They are prone to dust, scratchs and other general wear and tear. The record decks are frequently like thoroughbred horses - difficult to predict. The set up needs constant attention and getting good isolation from people walking past was often very difficult. Trying to find specific tracks on records was tricky, with a danger of dropping the tone-arm down too hard. Records themslves had to be turned over half way through - a pain when listening to longer classical pieces. There seems to be more than a touch of romance involved in all this. Below I have looked at the review of the Avid Diva II turntable reviewed in the January Hi-FI News and then compared it with a review of the latest Arcam CD / SACD player along with an integrated amplifier.

Avid Diva II Turntable Review: Hi-Fi News Jan 2009

Avid Diva II

The Avid Diva II Turntable

The Diva II is an 'entry levl' model for around £1,000. On top of that you need to buy a tonearm and cartridge. The Hi-News review had a tone-arm and cartridge combination for £840. On top of that there is an isolation mat on offer for £190 which I would have thought essential. Keeping the dust off is essential and this will cost a further £70 or £350 for a full acrylic cover. With the necssary 'accessories' we are talking a minumum of £2,100. Not exactly 'entry level' to my mind.

When it came to assessing the sound of the Avid the reviewer pointed out that there was a weakness in the deep bass:

But to complain about the lack of very low bass would be churlish, given that the Diva II cost £1,000 and as such is designed to be partnered with modest amplification and speakers. (John Bamford Hi-Fi News Jan 2009 p 76)

Well hang on a second I don't expect a functioning front end of a hi-fi costing over £2,000 to be partnered with weak amplification and tiny little stand mounted speakers with no bass extension. The review doesn't mention the amplification in the review set up although the speakers were Revel Ultima Studio 2 Floorstanders.

Revel Studio 2 speakers

Revel Ultima Studio 2 Floorstanding Speakers

Well I get deep bass out of my cheap Denon DVD player and the one before as well as the Teac VDRS 10 CD player feeding a pair of Monitor Audio Studio 12 Floorstanders. This seems to me a significant weakness in the Avid Diva so I don't know how the sound scored an 82% on the Hi-Fi News Pie-Chart. By comparison over the page there was a review of the latest Arcam CD/SACD and integrated amp which come in at £2,100 for both!

Arcam CD37 CD Player / Arcam A38 Integrated Amplifier

Arcam CD 37

The Arcam CD37 - It is also an SACD Player

The CD37 is now the flagship CD player in the Arcam stable replacing the CD36. Not only is it significantly cheaper than the CD36 it has the important capability to play SACDs. Here I repeat the Steve Harris comments on the bass quality of the player which one can compare with the Avid Diva record deck:

With Easy Money from Rickie Lee Jones the CD37 produced a bass sound that was big and warm... (Hi-Fi News Jan 2009 p 80)

When it came to SACD replay the machine gaind very favourable comments:

...the player clearly showed the finer detail available from the SACD layer...The whole stage seemed much bigger and everything became a little more relaxed. (Ibid)

Listening to the player and the amplifier in combination elicited the comment that:

...the player really did have an exceptional ability to extract detail and space from CD recordings....(Ibid)

The SACD sounded even better although little was said about this sadly! This is because I'm a recent convert to SACD. It seems to me weighing up both reviews that the Arcam SACD /CD player easily beats the Avid deck plus one gets a free amplifier thrown in for the same money as the AVID if you want to look at it like that.

QArcam A38 integrated

Arcam A38 Integrated Amplifier

Choice between pair of Arcams or the Avid: A No-Brainer!

Well guess how I would spend my £2,200 on the basis of these reviews? I should say here that the review didn't mention what speakers were being used.

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