Acoustic Zen's ABSOLUTE Power Cord
The last time I reviewed an Acoustic Zen power cord, the Gargantua, I'd received it at Christmas time. Here we are at Christmas a few years later and a new power cord, the Absolute, has arrived. Will miracles ever cease?
Acoustic Zen has grown into one of the major players in the field of hi-end audio cable makers. Robert Lee, its chief designer, has an insatiable appetite for perfection in the design of his cables. He wants to bring the listener the full impact of the music listening experience by removing as many impediments and distortions from reaching your ears. No matter how good his products are, and they have garnered extremely good reviews throughout the audiophile press, he continues his research and pushes the limits of the envelope of cable design. So, when I saw Lee at the 2004 CES and he told me he was developing a new line of cables, my ears perked up. It was to be called the Absolute line and was to be Acoustic Zen's new benchmark. I asked when they will be available for review and how fast he could get them to me.
Almost a year passed by. Finally, the first of the Absolute line was ready and the power cord arrived. At that time, I had just finished my review of Innersound's excellent iPower 330 amplifier. I used the opportunity to plug the Absolute for burn-in and to check out the initial sound via the Innersound. The amp had performed so well with the Gargantua II power cord that I wasn't expecting any really significant improvement. I was wrong.
The Absolute power cord is as stiff and perhaps a hair or three thicker than the Gargantua II. The look is similar. The Absolute is a 9AWG, 6N Zero Crystal Silver/Copper hybrid, 6.0/FT in length, using Teflon air tube insulation with a ratio of copper to silver of approximately 70% copper to 30% silver. When asked what the precise ratio of copper to silver was, Lee would go no further than to give me the stated approximation. Methinks Robert is keeping his cards close to the vest.
It is widely known in the audio/video community how badly RFI and EMI based distortions can detrimentally affect what we hear and see. Details can be obscured, soundstages flattened, dynamics restricted, timbre affected, all sucking the life out of the presentation and limiting both our enjoyment of the music and reducing the performance of our dearly prized equipment. A power cord has the ability to shield against these gremlins significantly. I was hoping the Absolute could do the job on the electrons from the Con Ed grid. A power cord cannot address dirty line current or power fluctuations. For that you'll need a power conditioner/regenerator.
The usual hundred hour burn-in was performed with a variety of sources before any critical listening began. The testing was set up plugging the power cord directly into the wall outlet -- the Acme Audio Labs outlet -- without any power conditioning. As I hinted earlier, something very special was taking place with this power cord plugged into the Innersound iPower 330 amplifier. Before I continue, I had to re-read my April 2002 review of the Gargantua power cord. After all, the Gargantua and its updated version have been my reference power cords for all my equipment since the review's completion. That review extolled its virtues and finished with a very high recommendation to serious audiophiles. After all, it's not everyone who is going to spend US$1500.00 on a power cord.
Back to the Absolute. Here comes Lee with a US$2,500.00 power cord and says it's worth every penny. At a grand more, can the Absolute be worth it and will the sonic improvements, if any, reflect the cost?
Time to spin some discs. My first reaction was anything but subtle. Wow, in fact! I'll try to define that in more traditional, audiophile approved language. My first and most immediate realization were the improvements in the growth of the soundstage. Rather than describing the usual soundstage parameters such as width, depth, and height, I'd describe what I heard as an increase in the perception of the performance volume. A concomitant increase in spatial ambience and natural sonic decay accompanied this volumetric expansion. Air flowed around the instruments and performers to a degree that had not been there before. The musical notes seemed to possess greater validity and with more visceral impact. When Keith Ganz, on his release Music for People, played his guitars, the room in which they were played was more clearly perceived and one could sense his location and body movement as he played. The illusion of a live guitar presentation was greatly enhanced. .
Classical live performances music benefited most from this new power cord. Studio, multi-miked performances, where spatial cues are artificially created, were improved but could not compare to live sets such as Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio or more recently, If and When the Stars, by the Noel Jewkes Quartet. Both of these CDs exhibit great artistry in playing and in recording. The club atmosphere on both recordings is captured with striking reality and the playing is vivid with an almost surround-like quality. The feeling of being part of a live performance experience is what you get with the Absolute.
Another major improvement occurred with the awareness of increased inner detail and textures; the subtle textures and nuances that voices and instruments have that give them their lifelike sound. I believe that is achieved here by the lowering of the noise floor which provides a quieter background, allowing the musical treats to come forth. Whatever the reason, the resultant increase in musical information was clearly evident and appreciated.
The Absolute shone in replicating wide dynamic contrasts. I would say that it's been my experience that one of the major strengths of Lee's designs, in general, is endowing his cables with the ability to allow the dynamics of the music to arrive unimpeded -- the Absolute truly accomplishes this. Playing a Reference Recording of Respighi's Pines of Rome performed Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra brought that fact home in a big way. The power and the glory exploded from the speakers. The legions marching and grandeur of the Roman Empire were on full display, here. Definitely not for the timid. Hail Caesar! Or, should I say Robert Lee?
I should mention timbral accuracy. Gains were made here as well. Instrumental timbres were more accurately portrayed and were more fully realized than I had previously heard. It's not that my reference Acoustic Zen Gargantua didn't do a very good job in this area, but as well as it did perform, the Absolute bettered it.
No part of the frequency response was emphasized in favor of another, or at least that I noticed. There seemed to be openness to the sound, with greater clarity across the board. In all areas, from the lowest double bass notes of the orchestra, to the triangle strikes from the rear of the stage, there was more clarification of the instrumentation of the orchestra which made it easier to determine one instrument from another, even in the same family. English horns from oboes, Bb clarinets from Eb's, can be very difficult to distinguish from one another, but with this power cord in place, the differentiation became clearer.
I've been at this business for many years and I've tried to be as objective as I can at reporting about what I hear. Sometimes a piece will come my way that really excites me and improves the listening experience chez Appel so dramatically that it's hard to put a rein on the hyperbole. As such, and as good as the Gargantua is, the Absolute exceeds it in all performance parameters. It brings one closer to that never ending goal of the live musical experience. For those of you who can afford it, don't hesitate. For the rest of us mere mortals, audition it at your own peril. Once you've had it in your system you may never want to let it go. I know I can't.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the Acoustic Zen Absolute Power Cord. Congratulations! - Ed]
INNERSOUND i POWER 330 AMPLIFIER
KORA ECLIPSE PREAMPLIFIER; INNERSOUND i CONTROL PREAMPLIFIER
BIRDLAND AUDIO SILVER AG w/UPDATED CLOCK; MELIOR MUSEATEX CD-D TRANSPORT by ED MEITNER TOTAL MEDIA SYSTEMS (TMS) ADAIBAT 8.5's (a ribbon cone hybrid customized by the designer-no longer in production)
SUNFIRE TRUE EQ SUBWOOFER
ACOUSTIC ZEN SILVER REF. II and ABSOLUTE interconnects. GARGANTUA II and ABSOLUTE power cords, HOLOGRAM II speaker cables; WASATCH 'ULTAMA' speaker cables and interconnects
THORENS TD 115 MKII TURNTABLE; SHURE V-15 TYPE IV CARTRIDGE; LEHMANN BLACK CUBE ACME AUDIO LABS WALL OUTLETS; MONSTER HTS 2000 LINE CONDITIONER; SOUNDCARE SUPERSPIKE PRODUCTS; VIBRAPODS
Absolute Power Cord
Manufactured by Acoustic Zen Technologies
16736 West Bernardo Drive San Diego Ca. 92127
Tel: 858-487-1988 Fax: 858-487-4088
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan
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