A U D I O... P A P E R


The whole deal with power cords
October 2005
by Steve Deckert

 

When I read in our support forum a thread called: "Decware power cords... you've got to be kidding."  I realized I would have to write this paper.

I have for a long time been a realist when it comes to system tweaks.  I've heard dozens of $1000 power cords over the years, most were courtesy of local audiophiles who like to drop by and see me from time to time.  What happens is this: They buy one, take it home, are amazed and have to show somebody.  "You've got to hear this..." and so it goes.  They bring their new prize cord over and demo it on my own gear until I falsely agree, "yea it's amazing" just to get them to finally leave and still shaking my head after I've closed the door.  Why?  Because I can usually find at least several ways to spend a grand in a given system that far exceed the benefit of that cord.  Oh did I forget to mention most of the cords that make it over here cost $1000 for a 6 foot cable?

One of my favorites is a guy who's been on a power cord roll for about 6 months and every time he comes over his new cables have gotten thicker.  Last visit he had interconnects that were 1.5 inches in diameter to match with the 2 inch diameter power cords!  He actually said "I've noticed that the bigger diameter my cables get, the bigger my sound stage becomes!"  (He listens in an untreated room with speakers only a foot or two from the wall and has no sound stage)

Another gentlemen was into making his own D.I.Y. cords because he acquired a secret recipe from some audio designer and now was "in the know about how to make them", as he put it.  He actually came over one day with power cords that he had made into extension cords.  He actually connected these onto the ends of stock power cords and amazed himself for at least an hour at my expense.

So you can see why my room treatment section of the site starts with the following cartoon:

    

So am I saying power cords don't make a difference?  Absolutely not.  I've heard some actually make the sound worse for whatever reason?  Perhaps the stress of knowing there is a power cord in the system that cost more than some of the components is what does it.  Or it might be the fact that the designers have come up with the most complicated way in the world to do such a simple thing in an effort to justify the stupid high prices they charge.  Perhaps it's knowing that the stress on my amplifiers IEC connector is so great from the stiff and heavy power cord that it's going to eventually fail!

Having got that off my chest, is there ever a time when I thought a power cord made things sound better?  Yes.  In fact most of the time - provided it's the right cord and the cord it's replacing is a typical stock power cord.  And all of these times I realized that if you could get the price down to a couple hundred bucks or less it would be more than a very justifiable tweak to many systems.

How can a power cord make any difference?  I mean after all, even when plugged into a wall outlet with 70 feet of Romex going to your breaker box, they can make an improvement.  We've all wondered how this can be, myself included.  I've pondered it for many years and read manufactures explanations.  Many of them should have just come out and said "We have no idea why it works, but it does"...  Instead you read about electrons, skin effects, strand interactions and on and on.  Something you can almost digest when applied to speaker wires or interconnects, but a power cord?

I have come to the following conclusions that I think many people overlook.  My first one is that a single 10 AWG solid copper conductor that is not repeatablely bent into different shapes is simply a lot better than we all think.  That's what Romex (house wiring) is.

From this perspective it is easy to see the flexible power cord (and sometimes the wall outlet) being the weak link in that chain.  Connections are of utmost important's.  The blades of the cord and contact with the receptacle are just a couple examples and so it goes, lots of possibilities for less than perfect connections.

A good power cord makes things sound better not by some magical topology of wire that improves midrange, but by simply working to eliminate itself.  In other words, If you could eliminate the power cord altogether, you've corrected another weak link and consequently your going to hear better sound.

My articles on power, starting with the Magic Hour are a discovery process of just how important clean power is to good audio gear.  To really make a big difference you should consider the following approach with regards to power cords:

Only plug them directly into the wall outlet if the amplifier draws massive amounts of current.  In all other cases purchase an isolation transformer with good hospital grade receptacles and plug that into your wall outlet.  Then plug your gear into that using good after market power cords.  This way you have killed two birds with one stone in that you have isolated yourself from the harmonics and noise in your local power grid and eliminated the weak link between your amp and that clean power source.  Beware of power conditioner's, they are usually not isolation transformers and can often make your system sound worse.

I can recommend even a simple isolation transformer by Tripp Lite such as their IS-1000. Available for less than $250.00 with a 10 amp capacity.  Smaller units are available for near half that price.  Use that in combination with a great power cord such as ours and you have something that actually makes a very noticeable improvement across the board.  Something you can easily hear and won't want to loose once you've had it.  

If you have really great electronics and haven't done this yet because you're still wondering how a power cord can make a difference then I would suggest the difference will be similar to what you experienced when you purchased your first pair of great interconnects.

For myself, I have always made my own (go figure) out of 10 AWG Silver/Teflon stranded wire in a simple braid with good quality IEC connectors.  I had often thought of marketing them for the same reason we make interconnects for our customers... to help eliminate weak links in the chain so that they could hear how good our amplifiers really are.  Problem is, just not enough hours in a day to hand make so many products and I'm not willing to resell machine built mass produced "high end" cords just to say we offer them.

Interestingly enough I crossed paths with the owner of MAC (My Audio Cables) who turned out to be a customer of ours.  We talked and I discovered that here was a man who has specifically focused his energies on making sense of the whole hi-end cable mess and has taken the time and money to systematically listen to even more than I have and for at least as long.  His findings were similar to mine to the degree that we were clearly on the same page.  Someone with real experience who's just as annoyed with over priced cables as we are - a man after my own heart.  What a great opportunity to help each other out.  He sent me a power cord to try one day and to my surprise, no delight... it was almost exactly like the ones I make for myself.  

I thought... well, he is already making the cord I would sell if I were selling one so why not contract MAC to build ours!  This cable design is getting rave reviews against over priced competitors, some by as much as 10 times the price.  It clearly fits into the Decware value for the dollar theme that has made our business grow to what it is.

Around here there is two places to listen to music, one is the reference listening room for serious listening, the other is in the build room where we make our amplifiers.  In the build room, the noise floor is relatively high, the speakers are set up for testing amps, and mounted on the ceilings and walls.  It makes for listenable background music while we work and serves to test amplifiers rather well.  However, if you plan on hearing the difference between one brand part vs. another, it almost always requires a trip into the reference room.  With this in mind, you can understand what a great test bed the build room becomes, because if you can hear a obvious difference in components and parts out there, the difference is for real.  I didn't even have to take the power cord MAC sent me into the reference room, it was clearly noticed right on the bench.

You can find our new power cord here.  

-Steve Deckert

 

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