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Product Review - A Tale of Four AC Power Cables: The PS Audio Lab Cable, Shunyata Sidewinder, Shunyata Black Mamba, and Shunyata Viper v2  -
January, 2001 - Revised June, 2001



Jason Serinus


 

PS Audio Lab Cable

Shunyata Sidewinder

Shunyata Black Mamba

Shunyata Viper v2

PS AUDIO LAB CABLE

$295.00 for a 3 foot terminated AC cable with full return privileges.

$335.00 for a 4 foot terminated AC cable with full return privileges.

$370.00 for a 5 foot terminated AC cable with full return privileges.

$400.00 for a 6 foot terminated AC cable with full return privileges.

$500.00 for a 9 foot terminated AC cable with full return privileges.

$600 for an 12 foot pair of terminated speaker cables with full return privileges.

Custom configurations

6 feet and under, $50 per foot plus a $125 termination charge. This can be configured as either an AC power cable or a loudspeaker pair.

Over 6 feet, $45 per foot plus a $125 termination charge.  Can be configured either as an AC cable or a loudspeaker pair.

No 30 day return privileges on custom cable lengths.

Power cables are terminated with a 120 volt hospital grade Marinco connector.

Loudspeaker cables are terminated with WBT spade connectors.

Only the AC cable was reviewed.

 

PS Audio

3050 Broadway

Boulder Colorado, 80304

Phone: 877-772-8340; Phone outside the US: 720-406-8946

Fax: 720-406-8967

E-Mail: sales@psaudio.com

Website: http://www.psaudio.com

SHUNYATA POWERSNAKES

 

SIDEWINDER

$280 for 5 ft. Additional lengths available at $36/foot.

Terminated with the Marinco IEC connector.

 

BLACK MAMBA

$700 for 6 ft. / 180cm

Additional lengths: $75/ft.

Cable diameter: 1.0"/ 25mm

Conductor diameter: .111"

Dielectric rating: 600V / +200şC

Terminated with IEC 60320 connectors and NEMA A.C. plugs.

Various termination options available for Europe, etc…

VIPER v2

$998 for 6 feet/ 180 cm

Additional lengths: $100/ft.

 

KING COBRA v2

Cable length.

$2,330

[Note: I did not obtain a King Cobra v2 for review only because I did not want to torture myself by listening to a cord I absolutely could not afford].

 

Shunyata Research Inc.

437 Camber Lane

Port Ludlow, WA 98365

Contact: Teya Gabriel

Phone: 360-437-5135

Fax: 360-437-0389

E-Mail: info@powersnakes.com

Website: http://www.powersnakes.com

For contacts outside the U.S. and Canada, see their website.

A First Hearing at CES 2000 

In the fall of 1999, as I was anticipating attending my first CES, I called my friend Bob Cohen of The Cable Company to ask what products he recommended I check out. In addition to several speakers and amps, Bob urged me to listen to the Shunyata power cables. These I added to a long list of “must visits” which included PS Audio, a company whose stellar Power Plant I had both reviewed and found essential to my system’s performance. [My assessment of the PS Audio Power Plant MultiWave upgrade is located in this site’s archives]. 

CES, as I was soon to learn, is hardly the best place to audition equipment. The high-end audio exhibits, located mainly in the Alexis Park and St. Tropez hotels, tend to become monopolized by wheeling and dealing dealers and distributors who often talk more than they listen. Even in the best sounding rooms, where exhibitors have made valiant attempts to turn unholy assemblages of glass, plaster and polyester into listenable spaces, music is often drowned out by voices of people who could care less. The more “hot” an item, the more dealers may be drawn to discuss it. The overused phrase, “It’s the music, stupid,” sometimes needs to be voiced many times before an audition is possible. 

Since I had already enjoyed many phone conversations with PS Audio’s Paul McGowan, I visited his exhibit early on. PS Audio was spread over two adjacent rooms. “Personed” by a radiant, calm, extremely energetic Paul McGowan, his wife and their four handsome offspring, the first room was filled with product, literature, displays, and scores of people. Tucked into a far corner stood a rack of components, from which several very thick, blue speaker cables led to the smaller listening room. All speaker cables and power cables were an early run of PS Audio Lab Cable reviewed below. 

I made my way to the listening room by weaving through at least 15 bodies. Once through the archway, which offered neither door nor draperies for sound insulation, I discovered two large, imposing Revel speakers facing three or four chairs. There was precious little space between speakers and listeners, let alone between the speakers themselves. 

Of the music in my CD evaluation pile, only the forté passages of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 stood a chance of being heard over the din. Paul cued up the music in the other room, and turned around to deal with five other people as his wife and I did our best to listen. 

What we heard through the noise was mighty impressive. In that small, narrow space, we experienced solid, convincing reproduction of a symphony orchestra in miniature. Every instrument was in its place, every note surrounded by air; timbre, weight, and depth seemed right on. It was clear that everything in the chain was doing an amazingly fine job. I knew immediately that, as soon as the Lab Cable was available for review, I wanted to try it. 

I next journeyed to the Shunyata room. The men were warm and welcoming, but the room itself was a claustrophobic, sonically impossible triangular closet next to the stairs. I didn’t understand why my hosts only wanted to let me hear a recording of an unaccompanied female vocalist until I succeeded in convincing them to also play one of my own, far more complex-sounding CDs. It was then that I discovered that the room was so bad that only that single female voice had a chance of being heard to some advantage. The only way to get a sense of what the Shunyata PowerSnakes sounded like was to try them at home. 

It was at this point that I determined to do a future comparison of the Lab Cable and the Shunyata power cables. 

The Review Samples Slowly Arrive 

Skip ahead many months. When it came time to procure review samples, dealing with PS Audio was simple. The mini-Lab Cable had not yet become available, so I had a choice between a 6 ft. $400 Lab Cable and a 6 ft. $400 Lab Cable. Alas, a “world-wide copper shortage” delayed production by many months, so the actual choice ended up between putting myself on the waiting list or throwing in the towel. I chose to wait and wait and wait. 

Shunyata had all of its power cables available, but left it to me to choose which ones to review. As much as I wished to hear their top-of-the-line, $2330 - $225/ft. King Cobra v2 cables, I decided to spare myself the torture of auditioning a cable I could not possibly afford. I therefore chose to listen to the entry level $280 -$36/ft. Sidewinder, quite popular $700 - $75/ft. Black Mamba, and the $998 -$166.67/ft. Viper v2. 

Shunyata’ fabulous Caelin Gabriel, who wanted to afford me a sense of what an all-Shunyatad system would sound like, promptly sent me four broken-in Sidewinders and two broken-in Black Mambas. Later on, when I wanted to conduct further tests, two more Black Mambas and the Viper v2 were supplied. Then Caelin patiently waited and waited and waited,

first ‘til the Lab Cable arrived,

then ‘til a second Lab Cable arrived,

then ‘til my system settled in,

then ‘til my Power Plant went from a beta P300 to an overheating MultiWaved P300 to an overburdened and internal fuse-destroying MultiWaved P300 to a fabulous blessed MultiWaved P600 [see review on this website],

then ‘til my computer’s hard drive was reinitialized after five crashes in succession,

then ‘til enough of my CD review deadlines had been met to allow me some serious listening time,

and finally,

until many months after the initial version of this review was posted,

I had the opportunity to try the cables on both tube and solid state gear. 

What you will read, then, is the product of living for many, many months with a system powered by combination of Lab Cable, Sidewinder, Black Mamba, and Viper v2 power cables. Cables were moved from one component to another countless times until I determined which power cables sounded best in which location(s). I tried various combinations of cables on both my Bruce Moore Companion III preamp and the McCormack preamp that was here for review [see my separate reviews of these preamps when they appear]. I also played with the power cables on a number of power amps, both solid state and tube: the Pass Aleph 5, Pass Aleph 30, McCormack DNA-225, Art Audio Concerto, and Bruce Moore Dual 70. I also tried different tubes in the tube amps, again noting differences. Finally, I loaned cables to my friend Joey, AKA my partner in high-end crime, who lives in San Francisco, and traveled back and forth between the City by the Bay and Oakland so I could hear the cables on two very different systems. 

All this took a very long time. The energy involved, I believe, was worth it. Among other things, I discovered that Shunyata cables sound different with different electronics. 

All power cables were auditioned chez Serinus with a single Shakti On-Line velcro strapped to its middle. I find these little guys, just a few inches long and even fewer ounces in weight, great for reducing ring and glare, widening the soundstage and increasing depth. Caelin Gabriel of Shunyata initially balked when I said I wanted to use them, and asked me to review his cables without them. But when I called him back to assure him that every cable I tried them on sounded better, including his own, he said it would be okay if I positioned them right in the middle of his power cables. Out came my tape measure, and on were strapped the Shakti On-Lines. (Shakti On-Lines were not used on my friend Joey’s San Francisco system). 

The PS Audio Lab Cable 

The Lab Cable is one big, thick, surprisingly heavy cable. (It weighs over 1 lb. per foot)! It’s a great cable, but it’s not one that you can bend around corners. In fact, if you can’t comfortably extend it from outlet to component without needing to bend it a lot, you will discover its tendency to yank lighter components off their support and into another position. Because of its inflexibility, I only tried the Lab Cable on the two heavy components to which it would comfortably extend: my P600 Power Plant and succession of amps. 

The heart of the cable consists of 6 gauge copper arranged in a stranded Litz configuration. When the cable was first being designed, PS Audio was unable to find a single power cable with copper heavier than 10 gauge. At 6 gauge, each strand measures .25 inches thick. This thickness, PS Audio feels, allows information to pass unencumbered. 

To shield such a huge conductor from RF and airborne noise, a variation of triaxial shielding was employed. In triaxial shielding, aluminum foil is wrapped around a jacketed conductor, a copper braid woven over that, and then a third copper braid woven over that one. PS Audio took this one step farther, double shielding each of the two conductors, then placed a single braid over both double shielded conductors. Everything was then wrapped with the outer blue Sonex. PS Audio claims that, by providing extremely low DC resistance and extremely high surface area for electron flow, the Lab Cable transmits the entire sonic envelope, from lows to highs, “perhaps better than any cable in the world.” 

The Lab Cable has attached to one end a grounding wire that can be used to ground the cable should you need to use a cheater plug. This insures that the shielding, ungrounded when a cheater plug is used, will not serve as an antenna to amplify noise. If you don’t use a cheater plug, you plug the wire into itself so that it doesn’t dangle loose from the cable. 

PS Audio use as Marinco hospital grade male plug for the US version of the cable. A European version (German standard) male plug is available for Europe and Asia. Kimber Kable's Wattagate brand IEC, manufactured by Marinco and designed by Kimber, is used for the female termination. 

Lab Cable can also be used as WBT-terminated loudspeaker cable. Other than hearing how good it sounded at CES, I did not audition it. For more technical information, and additional photos, please consult the PS Audio website. 

Listening to the Lab Cable 

I found the Lab Cable ideal for my Power Plant. On that unit, it offered tonal neutrality, an assuring solidity, and far more color than either the Shunyata Sidewinder or any of the other cables (XLO Purple. Synergistic Master Coupler, MIT ZII, Harmonic Technology, Cardas Hexlink 5, and the original PS Audio power cable) that I had previously used in my system. On the Power Plant, the Lab Cable’s combination of neutrality and signal transference ability also led me to prefer it to the Black Mamba. The reasons for this will become clear below as I discuss the special properties of the Mamba and Viper v2 cables. 

When I tried the Lab Cable on the Pass Aleph 5 solid state amp, I thought that it muddied up the midrange a bit. Perhaps this was because the Aleph 5’s input impedance of 10K ohm was a poor match for my Bruce Moore Companion III tube preamp, and the Lab Cable, a better conductor than any of my previous cables, let me hear more of the muddiness that resulted from this mismatch. Regardless, I decided to keep the Lab Cable on the Power Plant, where it sounded super, and to try the Shunyata cables on the Aleph 5. 

After I received a second Lab Cable, I kept the first one on the Power Plant (where it has remained ever since), and tried the new one on the Bruce Moore Dual 70 equipped with Svetlana KT-88 output tubes. [My one gripe with Dual 70 at the time I reviewed it -- see archives -- was that its timbre was not true. This objection vanished when Svetlana KT-88 tubes replaced the Sovtek 6550’s with which it was initially equipped. With the Svetlana KT-88’s, I found the Dual 70 irresistible, as well as a perfect match for the Bruce Moore preamp. I ended up buying it, and trading in the Pass Aleph 5]. 

The Lab Cable rendered the sound of the Bruce Moore amp very clear and solid. But there was a special quality to the Black Mamba [discussed below] that I preferred on the Bruce Moore as well as on the Pass Aleph 5. I might have reacted differently had either of those amps been connected to the P600 Power Plant, but they both require so much current that they sound best plugged directly into the wall. 

Since the Lab Cable has a 30-day money back guarantee, I suggest trying more than one in your system. By all means use the Lab Cable on the Power Plant; there you will find its combination of silence, solidity, current transference and neutrality ideal. 

The Shunyata Sidewinder and Black Mamba 

The wire in these cables is custom extruded from the highest quality materials, including high-purity copper and silver conductors, with insulation that has the lowest power dissipation coefficients. Shunyata’s power wiring is not available from any other manufacturer, and is not used for speaker cabling or other applications. 

The Sidewinder is a somewhat thin, flexible, lavender-colored cable. It does not require special handling, and, once broken-in, settles into a system without much fuss or bother. 

The Black Mamba may appear close to the Lab Cable in thickness, but it is far lighter and far more flexible. While the Sidewinder looks and feels like a “regular” power cable, the Black Mamba contains a special material called “FeSi-1000” which causes it to hiss when moved. (Hence the term “PowerSnake”). The FeSi-1000 accounts for its special sonic qualities. 

When power cables containing FeSi-1000 are first uncoiled from a shipping carton and connected to components, it can take up to five days for them to settle in. Until then, they can sound somewhat dark and lifeless. They must be broken in using a high current source; you will never break them in sufficiently by connecting them to your transport or preamp. If your amp is a 7-watt single-ended triode, break in the cables by connecting them to a household fan that draws high current. When the cable is all “there,” you’ll know it. 

Because technical information about PowerSnakes is available at the Shunyata website, I refer you there rather than parroting more information. What I can do best here is convey my own experiences. 

Initial Listening and Comparisons 

I only received the Viper v2 after the January 2001 CES. The first part of this discussion, therefore, is limited to my experiences with the initial shipment of four Sidewinders and two Black Mambas. As you’ll read several miles below, the subsequent addition of two more Black Mambas and the Viper v2 presented several new challenges and opportunities. 

Caelin Gabriel urges PowerSnake users not to connect his cables to power conditioners. However, because the PS Audio Power Plant regenerates power rather than “conditioning” it, I discovered no problem when plugging PowerSnakes into that unit. 

Caelin also suggests that owners of more than one PowerSnake put their best Shunyata cables, i.e. most expensive, on their source components. The transport, he insists, is the priority. I therefore put my first Black Mamba on my Audio Alchemy DDS-Pro transport. Subsequent experimentation confirmed the correctness of Caelin’s suggestion. 

Having only two Black Mambas, I experimented with the best place to put the second one. I tried it on the Monolithic power supply for the P-1A, my Theta DAC, my Bruce Moore preamp, the Power Plant, and the various amps I had available. I found the second Black Mamba made the most difference when powering the amps. Perhaps because I plugged those amps directly into the wall, they seemed to benefit most from the Black Mamba’s unique “FeSi-1000” noise reduction properties (see below). 

As soon as the Black Mambas had settled in, I discovered that instruments had grown in size, weight, dynamics and believability. Everyone who had previously heard my system was immediately impressed by the differences. Everything sounded more solid, three dimensional and “real.” This transformation was most noticeable on orchestral music, where instruments sounded larger, fuller, rounder, and more convincing. 

This was a major improvement. My system had sounded wonderful to begin with, but with the Black Mambas on the transport and amp, it began to sound like a system I never thought I could afford. It was as though my speakers and my amp had grown in size, signal handling capacity, and price. Once the Power Snakes had wrought their magic, I knew that I could not continue using my previous assortment of power cables. The Shunyata cables were here to stay. 

I next tried Sidewinders on the other components in my system. First I tried only two Sidewinders, moving them around while keeping what I thought were the best of my former power cables on other components. I loaned the two remaining Sidewinders, plus the cables that they had just replaced, to my friend Joey in San Francisco. Joey had until that moment only used stock power cables in his high-end system. The addition of dedicated power cables came as a huge revelation to him. To put it simply, he was awed by the differences he heard. 

As weeks went by, Joey and I traded power cables back and forth. When Joey had all of my old powercables plus one Sidewinder, I extracted my reward by deputizing him to compare the sound of the cables in his possession. Joey moved them from component to component, adding, subtracting, and noting the differences. (I have done this more than once, and can attest that the process is both revelatory and exhausting). After many days and nights, and more than a few trips between Oakland and San Francisco, Joey and I concluded that that the Sidewinder definitely offered deeper bass and a smoother top than any of the cables I had previously used. 

I eventually left one Sidewinder with Joey, and continued experimenting chez Serinus. Because I had already discovered that the Lab Cable worked best on the Power Plant, and the Black Mambas on the transport and amp, the Sidewinders ended up on my P-1A’s Monolithic power supply, Theta DAC, and Bruce Moore preamp. I loved what I was hearing. 

Around this time, a fellow Bay Area Audiophile Society member visited Chez Serinus for the first time. [For information on the Bay Area Audiophile Society – BAAS -- write Dennis Davis [bluedeer@value.net]. When this BAAS member remarked how different my system sounded from his, he said, “But you’ve spent years systematically matching components and cables to achieve such a good sound.” 

“No,” I replied. “You are wrong. All the power cables you hear, save for those to the subs, are PS Audio and Shunyata review samples that have been here for only a short time. All of the interconnects and speaker cables, save for those connected to the subs, are Nordost Quatro Fils, Silver Shadow and SPM loaners, and have only been here for a few months. None of these cables was auditioned prior to arrival. I just plopped them all in, and the system sounded so much better than before that, months later, I don’t want to take any of them out.” 

PowerSnake Noise Reduction 

When Bob Cohen of The Cable Company initially told me about the Shunyata cables, he said there was a special noise reduction magic to the Black Mamba and its more expensive cousins. He didn’t know how Caelin had done it, but Bob felt that the FeSi-1000 noise reduction component of the PowerSnakes – the stuff inside them that makes a hissing sound when they are moved around -- lowered the noise floor and increased soundstage depth like few other cables he had heard. 

Caelin claims that the noise reduction capacity of FeSi-1000 is so great that if, rather than connecting a Black Mamba or one of its cousins to your components, you simply plug the cable into an outlet on the same circuit as that which powers your system, you will hear a significant lowering of the noise floor. 

A series of unexpected occurrences enabled me to put these claims to the test. 

First, some history is in order. Way back in 1994, after reading many reports about the necessity of power conditioning, I bought a new Power Wedge 116. I bought it on faith, without prior audition. It remained in my system for five years, conditioning power to all components save my amp. In the years that followed, as I slowly upgraded my system’s components, I neither compared the Power Wedge with other power conditioners, nor returned to listening to all my components plugged directly into the wall. 

Then, in 1999, I became the first online reviewer to obtain a Power Plant beta P300 for review. When I compared the Power Plant to the Power Wedge, I discovered that, while the Power Wedge had in fact reduced the noise floor, it had also bleached some of the color out of my system. (As Caelin Gabriel says on his excellent Shunyata website, “Conditioners may soften the dynamics of the music, robbing it of the life and realism that we are seeking. In exchange, there may be a lower noise floor and a slightly lower level of grit and grudge. You should evaluate each component separately. Some of the components may benefit from the conditioner and others may be degraded by it”). I immediately sold the Power Wedge, and plugged all my components except my amp into the beta P300. 

A few months later, I discovered one of those P300 design flaws that beta testers are supposed to look for. After the smoke had cleared, I sent the unit back for repair. (The problem I experienced was corrected before the P300 hit the market). Devoid of both Power Wedge power conditioning and Plant Plant regeneration, I was forced to plug all my components into a cheap power strip, which was plugged directly into the wall. 

What I heard was awful. Everything sounded bright and flat. Bass control was gone, the midrange was shallow, voices and instruments were edgy, and individual sounds seemed congealed into one unholy, sonically unattractive mass. I hated it. Until my P300 was repaired, I found myself unable to either accurately evaluate sound quality of CDs or enjoy what I was hearing. 

Eventually the Power Plant returned home, and all was right in Serinusland. But not for long. 

In the fall of 1999, Joey came over for yet another power cable shootout, and we begin to plug and unplug power cables in rapid succession, moving as fast we could so that my equipment would not cool down in between. This placed extreme demands on my P300 Power Plant, which was not designed to sustain repeated current surges from the two subwoofer amps I insisted on connecting to it despite Paul McGowan’s protestations that the P300 was not designed to handle amps. Result: I damaged the Power Plant, and I was again left with all my components plugged directly into the wall. 

The difference, however, was that this time, I had two Black Mambas and three Sidewinders in my system. 

The Shunyata cables made all the difference in the world. The system was far more than “just” listenable. Everything retained an acceptable semblance of air, color, and depth. The music flowed. While air and depth were nothing like those heard with a MultiWaved Power Plant, the Shunyata cables enabled my system to sound musical. 

Yes, the Shunyatas definitely do reduce noise in one’s system. For this reason, I recommend auditioning the Black Mamba, or either of its superiors, on any amp that is plugged directly into the wall. I believe it will make a real difference. And if for some unfathomable reason you’ve decided to live without a power regenerator or conditioner, by all means try a number of PowerSnakes in your system. 

Caelin claims that FeSi-1000 mainly accomplishes noise reduction. But I discover a greater difference in the sound of these cables than simply a lower noise floor. With both the Black Mamba and Viper v2 (see below), I experience a great increase in color, air, size, weight, midrange warmth and fullness, and dynamic impact. The stuff is quite amazing. 

Doing the Black Mamba 

Then the third Black Mamba arrived. It sat unused while I spent many weeks drinking in the sonic improvements wrought by the cables already discussed. Given the imminent CD review deadlines I was facing, I took lots of time to drink. 

Finally, I tried the third Black Mamba on both my Theta DAC and Bruce Moore Companion III preamp. It wrought changes in sound from both pieces, but in a different way. On the Theta, sounds became bigger, and there was far more complexity to them. For example, when I played Leontyne Price’s glorious 1965 recording of “Depuis le jour” from Charpentier’s Louise, I for the first time heard that silken, airy hiss on an orchestra’s strings that is audible when one sits at close range. Of greater significance, the orchestra finally filled in behind Price’s voice. There was greater body to the sound, with a stunning increase in size and weight to the lower midrange and bass. 

The same effect was heard when I played the opening of Boulez’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. The drums were bigger than before, the midrange stunningly full, the magnanimity of the experience more like what I hear when I attend orchestral concerts in Davies Symphony Hall. On both recordings I also discovered that an irritating resonance I’ve often heard in the upper midrange and treble – a brightness that would irritate my ears, and that originates from room geometry -- were gone. 

But all was not perfect. The downside was that I felt that some of the treble edge and range color that I had grown accustomed to were no longer present. Everything seemed a little flat and bleached out. 

I then tried the third Black Mamba on my preamp. While the sound was not as big as on the Theta, ALL of the midrange and bass were now in control; gone was the booming that had long plagued my system. Even my Hsu subs, which I have to turn down real low because the room has trouble supporting them, sounded in control. Especially remarkable were the rapid, clear drum rolls in the Mahler, which previously had sounded like a blur of sound. And while the disturbing bleaching effect was still there, it was less noticeable than when the Black Mamba was attached to the Theta. 

At this point, I contacted Caelin about the bleaching problem. Below is the unedited content of our e-mail exchange. 

Jason: “I have let the Black Mamba settle onto my Theta for many days. What I hear is very smooth and filled with air. But the sound has whitened considerably, as though it is bleached out. I did not experience this with the Black Mamba on either the transport or the amp. Do you have an explanation?” 

Caelin: “I have noticed this on new cables.  Try the following: Pull the plug from the wall and re-insert it - do this 3 or 4 times.  Do the same at the component end.  This will ensure that the electrical contacts have good connections.  If this helps, use some Caig Pro Gold on the contacts. 

The other possibility is that the cable is not completely burned-in.  It will go through different phases before completely stabilizing. 

The last possibility is that the cable IS burned-in.  When this happens you may hear a characteristic of the audio component that is not very attractive.  It have had several components from Theta, so I am familiar with it.  Try this: put a heavy weight on the component for dampening.  Next, try pulling the interconnects and re-seating them. 

The problem that you describe is usually associated with a contact connection that is slightly corroded (you can't see it visually), loose or needs to be re-seated. 

The last possibility is that one of the interconnects (especially digital) is too close to one of the power cables.  Move the cables and see if the sound changes.  Inches matter - you don't have to move them very far.” 

Since the Black Mambas had already been broken in by Caelin, I discounted the need to do more break-in. Instead, I ventured behind my components armed with both Caig De-Oxit and Pro Gold. I sprayed the former into preamp and DAC power cable receptacles, and onto both ends of the Black Mamba. (I unplugged the cable before doing this, of course). I used a pipe cleaner to swab the De-Oxit onto everything, and then followed up with Pro Gold. I also made sure my Nordost interconnects were seated firmly and lubricated with Pro Gold. Finally, I reinserted the 1 “ square pieces of styrofoam I use to separate cables and cables. Then I demagnetized, played a break-in disc, and let everything settle in for a day or two. 

While the bleaching effect disappeared temporarily, I discovered that it returned once the Black Mamba had settled in. More on this below. 

Adding the Viper v2 and Another Black Mamba to the Mix

After meeting the wonderful Gabriels at CES 2001, I obtained a single Viper v2 and a fourth Black Mamba for review. 

Caelin Gabriel explains that the Viper v2 is basically a Black Mamba with superior termination. As confirmed below, he claims that the Viper v2 offers higher resolution – more detail – than the Black Mamba. As long as the components one powers with it are excellent, this is a good thing. But if a component has flaws, increased resolution may highlight those flaws. 

I carefully and completely broke in the new cables as prescribed, and paid my electric bill with my eyes closed. Keeping the Lab Cable on the Power Plant, I put the Viper v2 on the transport, Black Mambas on everything else, and ran break in tones for four days. 

Before I had time to listen critically, I opened my apartment for a Bay Area Audiophile Society system-hopping afternoon. Maybe 10 people, most of whom I didn’t know, showed up at prescheduled times to audition my system. Most came equipped with piles of CDs. I had warned my downstairs neighbors in advance, and played the system real loud. 

What we heard blew us all away. For the first time, my system, with its two-way Chameleon III speakers, seemed to transmit the enormity of sound I had heard through huge fabled Duntechs, Grand Slams, Grand Utopias, and other such behemoths. The midrange and bass were simply astounding; they were also completely under control. Air was pretty unbelievable, and depth was stunning. Even at loud volumes, the highs were totally acceptable and pleasing. I had never heard anything remotely like it from my system. 

Two of the attendees declared mine the best system they had ever heard. These men subsequently contacted me, wanting to bring friends over to hear how great my system sounded. In addition, Bob Bergner, who sold me the Bruce Moore amp and preamp, said that he had never heard my system sound better. 

Yes, but . . .

Alas, the next day, playing the system for myself at levels that allowed my downstairs neighbor to hear her television, reservations surfaced. I discovered that, unless I played the system real loud, highs seemed to lose their sheen. Harpsichords no longer tingled, chimes sounded dull, pianos seemed to all have their lids down, etc…. The enormity and fullness in the midrange and bass remained startling, but the top was much too dark. 

Then began another prolonged period of experimentation. As before, I kept the Lab Cable on the Power Plant, and used the Sidewinders wherever I did not use the other Shunyata cables. I also temporarily replaced my tube Bruce Moore amp and preamp with the solid state McCormack DNA-225 power amp and McCormack RLD-1 preamp. These have a very different sound than my tube reference equipment, and afforded me an entirely different perspective on the pros and cons of the power cables under review. (The McCormack amp is brighter than the Bruce Moore amp, but lacks its midrange warmth and fullness. The McCormack amp’s bass is superb. The McCormack preamp, alas, is no match for the superb Bruce Moore Companion III preamp). 

Final Shunyata Discoveries and Decisions

I fell in love with the Viper v2 on my transport. Regardless of amp and/or preamp employed, I found that the Viper v2 transmitted more information than the Black Mamba. It filled in the sound, brought out more of the midrange, was great on bass, and further highlighted the contrasting colors of voices and instruments. This was not a case of adding additional, unnecessary detail, but rather of letting me hear more of what I would normally hear in a live performance conducted in an acoustically superior venue. On my system, at least, the extra $300 outlay for this cable seemed justified. 

Powering the transport with the Viper v2, however, further affected how many Black Mambas I could use in the system before the sound turned too dark. This effect differed when listening to the Bruce Moore tube amp and the McCormack solid state amp. 

I therefore engaged in a final round of experimentation, switching between amps and cables. Here are my conclusions: 

With the Bruce Moore tube gear in place, and a Black Mamba on the transport, I preferred a second Black Mamba on the Monolithic Power Supply for the P-1A, and a third Black Mamba on the amp. The same configuration worked fine for the McCormack gear. 

However, with the Bruce Moore tube gear in place, and a Viper v2 on the transport, the only place that I could use a Black Mamba without significantly darkening my system’s highs was on the amp. When I added a Black Mamba to the Monolithic Power Supply for the P-1A, highs lost some of their convincing edge, and colors seemed a bit bleached out.

With the McCormack solid state amp in place, and a Viper v2 on the transport, I preferred a Black Mamba on the McCormack amp, and a second Black Mamba on the Monolithic Power Supply for the P-1A. This added enough additional midrange to enable the solid state McCormack amp to sound a bit more like the richer, smoother Bruce Moore tube amp.

With the McCormack solid state amp in place, and a Black Mamba on the transport, I also preferred a Black Mamba on the McCormack amp, and a second Black Mamba on the Monolithic Power Supply for the P-1A. But since I liked the Viper v2 the most on the transport, I stuck with it.

At the end of the review period, the Viper v2 remains on the transport, the Black Mamba on the Bruce Moore amp, the Lab Cable on the Power Plant, and Sidewinders on all the other equipment that allows for detachable power cables. I have retained two other Black Mambas for use on review equipment and future system modifications.

Conclusions

The PS Audio Lab Cable is a solid, superior transmitter of sound and color. It’s a great cable, and perfect with the Power Plant. Its suitability for other components depends entirely on their sonic characteristics, and on system synergy. In at least one system I have heard, the PS Audio demo system at CES 2000, Lab Cable used as both power cable and speaker cable made for amazingly convincing reproduction of a full symphony orchestra in a room that was too small to comfortably accommodate a live chamber quartet.

The Sidewinder’s bass transmission and control are superior to all other power cables I’ve heard in its price range. It also works synergistically with the significantly more expensive Shunyata cables. The Sidewinder may not transmit as much color as the Lab Cable, but it is easier to manipulate and has a different sound.

The Black Mambas are capable of injecting a magical level of air, silence, bass control, midrange richness, and overall veracity into a system. The Viper v2 takes this one capacity one step farther, adding significantly greater musical information and midrange fullness. While adding more of these FeSi-1000-equipped cables can cumulatively increase midrange richness and bass control, as well as overall size and impact of the sound, too many of them may have a darkening and bleaching effect. You are thus advised to add them one at a time. Give them plenty of time to settle in, and perform extensive comparison. The time spent will be worth it.

If all you want is a good hi-fi, plug everything into the wall, and be sure to use stock power cables, Radio Shack interconnects, and lamp cord for speaker cable.  But if you want truly hear what your High End components have to offer, clean up or regenerate your power, try some Lab Cables and/or PowerSnakes, get the best speaker cables and interconnects you can afford, and prepare for magic.

- Jason Serinus -

Note from Editor: To those of you who don't believe cables can make a difference, we sympathize, because it does seem a little like voodoo. So, in a later article, we will discuss why cables might indeed conduct in such a way as to make for better sound.

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