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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Rotel RCD-971 CD player modified with IEC jack instead of captive AC cord, Shanling CD-T100C CD player [in for review], Audio Zone DAC [in for review], Pro-Ject 1 Xpression turntable w/AT95E cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Zone AMP-STi [in for review], Manley Labs Stingray, Unison Research Unico, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage.
Speakers: Meadowlark Kestrel 2, Omega Super 3R [in for review]
Cables: DH Labs Q10 loudspeaker cables, DH Labs Revelation and Air Matrix interconnects, DH Labs D-75 digital interconnect, Audience Maestro interconnects and speaker cables (in for review), Audience powerChord AC cables [in for review], GutWire C Clef & Power Clef SE power cables [in for review]
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow, GutWire MaxCon Line Conditioner [in for review]
Sundry accessories: Pro-Ject Speed Box, Grand Prix Audio APEX footers (under Kestrels), Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Audience Auric Illuminator, GutWire Notepads, AudioPrism Isobearings (under turntable), dedicated AC line with Hubbell outlets, homebrew acoustic treatment.
Room size: 13' x17' x 8'
Review Component Retail: Gutwire Power Clef2 AC cable: $999/5.5ft, SoundPad: $149/3; Duende Criatura Tube Rings: approx $17/ring; Gingko Audio Cloud 11 Platform: $379; Isoclean ICP-002 duplex outlet: $180, Isoclean 106-4P-RF power strip: $980; CryoClear Silver-1 and Silver-2 power cables: CDN$270/6ft and CDN$395/6ft.

There have been several products that have passed my way in the last few months that for one reason or another, I haven't gotten around to putting pen to paper about. Er, make that fingers to keyboard. Think of this as a fall yard cleanup before the snow hits.

Last year I had obtained positive results with GutWire's NotePad resonance control product and thought it to be worthwhile to add to one's arsenal of tweaks to combat the negative effects of resonance. These dense pillows can be placed on or under components. I preferred them resting on top. When GutWire discovered many customers were using two NotePads on each component, a larger pad was developed. Like the NotePad, the new SoundPad contains a thick viscous fluid in a black nylon bag. However, the SoundPad contains nearly twice the amount of goo and has an attractive circular shape. As useful as the Note
Pads were, the larger SoundPad was more effective in controlling resonance. Like its smaller sibling, the greatest benefit was on disc players. I noted across-the-board improvements in overall coherence along with an attendant decrease in excessive brightness. The bottom end firmed up and the midrange was more intelligible. The newer pads also performed admirably on loudspeakers, having much the same effect as on CD players and amps. While my Kestrels' tops were too narrow for the SoundPads, they worked well on top of the Omega Super 3R.

Mind you, these were not enormous improvements but as with the Notepads, the benefits were indeed worthwhile. The SoundPads are not the be-all and end-all of resonance control, but they would be a valuable tool for audiophiles to keep handy. And they are inexpensive. Retailing at $150/3, the GutWire SoundPad offers good value.

Just as I was penning my review of GutWire's C Clef and Power Clef SE cables, I was informed that the latter had been updated. Thus I was sent a Power Clef 2 to compare against the original. GutWire obviously felt strongly about their new design - they are currently revamping their entire lineup. The Power Clef 2 is similar in appearance to the Power Clef SE except for the white outer sleeve. The hospital grade connections at both ends remain identical. To the touch, the newer cable was slightly lighter and more flexible. GutWire's Herbert Wong informed me that the primary difference was in the dielectric. Not only was there a change in the material used but also in the amount. The effect of all this? Music playback was noticeably more transparent and cleaner compared to its predecessor. The soundstage was slightly more open and three-dimensional. Otherwise, the newer cable had essentially the same effect as its predecessor: a clearly
lower noise floor, a quieter, blacker background, greater delineation between performers and enhanced weight and scale. I wouldn't say the degree of improvement over the Power Clef SE was huge but it was noticeable whether I used it on amplifiers, or digital gear. All that from changing the insulation? Cool. Of all the power cables I have tried over this past year, this one and the $449 Audience powerChord were my favorites, albeit for different reasons.

After my review of Isoclean's power conditioning system, Barnaby Ng, the Canadian distributor, gave me Isoclean's gorgeous ICP-002 duplex wall outlet and 106-4P-RF power bar. While I've previously had doubts regarding audiophile wall outlets, I have had good success with Hubbell hospital-grade devices which I installed on a dedicated AC line for my system. I am not sure if I have ever noticed a sonic improvement but it does allow me to sleep soundly at night knowing I have an AC supply fully sanctioned by the Audiophile Polizei.

Isoclean's outlet looks just like any other wall socket with the exception of the heavy non-magnetic wall plate and the gold-plated, hand-polished prongs and mounting strap. Mounting the outlet, as you can see in the photos, is no more difficult than any other receptacle. The only difference? The enclosed lugs are crimped or cold-welded onto the bare wire ends. It took all of 15 minutes to install. If you are not comfortable with such tasks, call an electrician.

Upon powering up my system and selecting a track, I was positively stunned to hear the improvement. My system sounded louder and more dynamic. Bass extension increased and was tauter. I also noticed slightly less grain and line hash. I have no explanation how a mere outlet could have such an influence on sonics. I realize $180 may be a ridiculous sum for a mere wall socket and it is not the kind of product your local dealer can lend out for a weekend but trust me, the infernal thing really works.

I should point out that our editor recently tried the Isoclean outlet in his system with less stupefying results. Mind you, Srajan already used WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell outlets. Or perhaps our fearless leader has been partaking in too much peyote out there in the high desert and become stone deaf in the process? Be it as it may, I cannot tell you greater results would be impossible with other audiophile-grade outlets but I echo his recommendation to toss out whatever sockets your builder installed and replace them with something like the Isoclean. Think about it, music reproduced by your system starts with the AC current in your home. Anything you can do to improve it should reap rewards. The power begins at the wall, so start there and work your way downstream to your components. You could start with an outlet or two, then aftermarket power cords and possibly a line conditioner - which brings us to the next item in this month's goodie bag.

The Isoclean 106-4P-RF power strip is a smaller, less expensive version of the 60A3 I reviewed last month. Build quality is nothing less than stellar, all solid copper panels and a pair of those same wonderful ICP-002 outlets mentioned above. The encapsulated filter is smaller than that of the 60A3 and there is no separate digital and analog circuitry either. No details were forthcoming about the nature of the filter but I suspect it's some sort of Pi circuit or ferrous material. Incoming power connection to the wall is via an IEC inlet and as in all Isoclean power products, there is no surge protection or fancy LEDs.

Sonically, the 106-4P-RF was similar to the more expensive 60A3 but not to the same extent. However, it did make an immediate and obvious improvement. Previously obscured musical details were now more audible. Sibilance and line hash was also reduced but not quite to the same degree as the three times as expensive 60A3. In the past, I have complained of stunted dynamics and unwanted tonal aberrations on lesser conditioners, particularly the Monster Power products. That was not the case here. If anything, playback was a little more lively and incisive without any overt tonal spotlighting. I'm not sure if the sockets or the filter were predominantly responsible but the results were certainly greater than just plugging components directly into the wall via the ICP-002 outlet.

At $980, the 106-4P-RF resides in the same price range as the GutWire MaxCon. To my ears, the Isoclean handily beat the MaxCon in dynamics and focus, not to mention build and appearance. The GutWire had a warmer, slightly smoother effect in comparison. The MaxCon did an admirable job in reducing AC nasties but it just couldn't compete with the Isoclean.

The 106-4P-RF is a gorgeous and effective power strip yet not too expensive Recommended!

I first met Gingko Audio's Vinh Vu and Norm Ginsberg at the 2004 Le Festival Son & Image in Montreal and later again at HE2004. As I had mentioned in my show reports, Norm and Vinh are great ambassadors of this hobby and gave entertaining and convincing demonstrations of how their unique vibration control platforms function. Not only could one hear the improvement their Cloud 10 Platform wrought, Gingko's claims were backed up by computer graphs and solid science unlike the questionable assertions made by some firms.

I've been living with Gingko's new Cloud 11 platform for several months now and have used it under a variety of products. The Cloud 11 is similar to the Cloud 10 that fellow moonie Ken Micallef reviewed but with the following added features:
  • "Its bottom plate is designed with deeper wells to provide an added level of safety in use. The ball stays in the well and rests squarely on the dimple thus preventing accidental rolling off of the bottom plate.
  • The top plate features a thicker skirt that makes the platform more rigid to withstand heavier components and minimize deformation.
  • The regular size of the top plate is 18 x 16 to accommodate components with larger footprints.
  • The extra thickness of the bottom plate and the top plate skirt improve vibration reduction performance to an average of 99% of the vibration from 5Hz to 500 Hz, with a resonance frequency of around 13 Hz.
  • The Cloud 11 comes standard with five black balls to match the black acrylic finish in an elegant package. Since each ball has an optimal weight load of 10lbs, a standard Cloud 11 with 5 balls is matched perfectly with components of up to 50-60 lbs."

Gingko contends that the Cloud 11 will eliminate 99% of vibrations between 5Hz and 500Hz compared to the 98% of the Cloud 10. The Cloud 11 also sports a lower resonant frequency of 13Hz compared to the 10's 17Hz. Since the included balls have an optimal load rating of ten pounds, my Rotel CD player required a pair of ten pound weights to properly mass-load the platform on three balls. On the other hand, my 30 lbs Manley Labs Stingray did not require any additional help for optimum effectiveness.

Unlike most cones and footers I've tried, the Cloud 11 did not highlight portions of the frequency spectrum. Instead, I noticed a quieter aural canvas where instruments and voices emerged from a blacker backdrop with greater focus and definition. Bass was tighter and music had a slightly more dynamic snap to it. The upper midrange and highs were also sweeter, with less sibilance and glare. However, I thought the improvement was greatest under the Stingray. This surprised me since the Stinger is one solid, heavy piece of kit. I suspect the microphonic nature of vacuum tubes was responsible for the increased effect. The Cloud 11 is a decent vibration control platform. It offers excellent value and for me, rewarded with more pronounced and uniform improvements than most of the cones and footers I've tried to date. And the Cloud 11 looks cool, too!

Courtesy of Divergent's Tash Goka, I've been experimenting over the last few months with these nifty little tube dampers from Holland called Duende Criatura. We all know that vacuum tubes are vulnerable to air and structure-borne vibrations which can have negative effects on music playback. Duende Criatura's Tube Rings are simple Teflon rings that are slit to expand slightly while slipping over a tube. There's a groove around the outer portion which contains a Titanium retainer clamp to ensure a tensioned fit. Lightweight and flexible, the manufacturer (who makes jewelry in his non-audiophile life) claims that Titanium will not induce eddy currents into sensitive tube circuitry. You simply slide these dampers over the tube and seat them at the top portion roughly where the getter resides. The Teflon can withstand temperatures up to 260 degrees and will not melt or stick to the tubes (hey, it's Teflon!). Nor will it accumulate any dust or alter color. Providing you position the ring correctly, it will not affect the tube's ability to dissipate heat nor alter its operating temperature. According to the manufacturer, the Tube Ring's vibration control properties will actually extend tube life.

Just sliding the rings on the input and phase splitter tubes of my Stingray created immediate benefits. The soundstage was slightly wider and deeper and gained sharper focus and greater separation between performers. It was easier to pick out subtle details in the music to offering a more involving listening experience. These effects were immediately audible even during A/B/A comparisons. The result was magnified yet again when I slipped these thermionic prophylactics on the Manray's EL84s, with the added bonus of deeper, more powerful bass and a greater sense of dynamic agility.

After several days of experimentation, I placed my condomized amp on the Gingko Cloud 11 platform. Yikes. What happened? All of a sudden, music became sluggish and closed in. Synergy was definitely not happening here. I suspect this was simply a case of too much of a good thing. However, synergy was restored when I removed the Teflon rings from the power tubes and kept the Stingray perched atop the Cloud 11. I obtained optimal results in this setup and have left it his way to date. All the sonic traits I mentioned earlier were now more explicit. The Tube Rings are nifty little guys and worthy of investigation by anyone who owns tube gear. Try 'em out on your signal tubes first, then perhaps even your power bottles. The Tube Rings are available in eight sizes and cost starts at roughly $17 per ring. [I too have experimented with these tube dampers on my Audiopax Model 88s and noticed the same effects - a slight step-up in resolution and clarity. My initial results on the KT88s were negative as though I'd induced overdamping. The music lost some sparkle and flow and felt constricted. However, subsequent changes elsewhere in the system now allow me to use the dampers also on the power tubes with good results but my gut instinct is that unlike the seemingly universal recommendability on small-signal tubes, output power tubes require one-on-one experimentation. - Ed.]

I shall end my audio smorgasbord with yet another power cable mention. In the last several months, I have somehow accumulated a veritable snake pit of power cables and as a result, I am rapidly approaching burn-out. At last count, I have commented on at least eight AC cords in the past year. Make that ten with the following two entries. I have swapped back and forth so many of these snakes that I'm starting to dream about them at night. As of this moment, I'm officially on a well-deserved cable vacation for the foreseeable future. Except of course if those new Nordost power cables come my way. Truthfully and regardless of price, aftermarket power cables sound more alike than different to me. If you want to split hairs over every one of them, go ahead and knock yourself out. I have more important things to do - such as sending nasty anonymous letters to the NHL and the player's union, demanding an end to this accursed hockey lockout in the US. In a nutshell, after-market power cords all worked for me and clearly obliterated any stock cord I had on hand. Amongst the former, it's not necessarily a case of one being better than the other but more of what flavor you are after. And don't think price has anything to do with performance either. For example, a 6 foot length of DH Labs Power Plus positively blows away any stock cable for a mere $200. You can even buy it in bulk and terminate one yourself for less than $100.

Toronto-based CryoClear is yet another newcomer to the already crowded field of power cable purveyors. Audio Zone's George Tordai turned me on to Steve Huang's cables while we were arranging a full system review featuring George's new STi integrated amp, non-oversampling filter-less DAC and Louis Chochos' Omega Super 3R single driver loudspeakers [below]. George was sufficiently impressed with Steve's cables; he suggested I use them for my review. While the CryoClear cables were indeed a sympathetic match with the Audio Zone gear, I thought they deserved comment outside of my forthcoming system piece.

Steve gave me a pair each of his hand-assembled Silver-1 [upper left] and Silver-2 [upper right] power cables. Both feature cryogenically treated mil spec silver-plated copper conductors, Teflon insulation and braided copper shielding. The construction details of both cables are as follows:

Silver-1 Power Cable CDN$270

  • Military grade 12AWG silver plated copper conductors with PTFE Teflon insulation. 4 conductors in a star quad configuration, effective 9.5AWG rating
  • 1 x 12 AWG silver-plated copper conductor for grounding spiraled in opposite direction of star quad rotation
  • Marinco 8215T hospital-grade 3 prong plug and Marinco 320 IEC connector
  • Wire and connectors cryogenically treated at -300F
  • Braided copper shield, grounded at plug end only
  • 5 discrete layers of Teflon dielectric
  • EMI/RFI attenuation layer
  • Black Polyester expandable sleeve for durability
  • Heatshrink on PC ends for additional strain relief.

Silver-2 Power Cable CDN$395

  • Military-grade 12AWG silver-plated copper conductors with PTFE Teflon insulation. 4 conductors in a star quad configuration, effective 9.5AWG rating
  • 1 x 12 AWG silver plated copper conductor for grounding spiraled in opposite direction of star quad rotation
  • Furutech Gold audio-grade 3 -prong plug and IEC connector
  • Wire and connectors cryogenically treated at -300F
  • Heavy-gauge braided copper shield with 100% coverage, grounded at plug end only
  • 7 discrete layers of Teflon dielectric
  • 2 EMI/RFI attenuation layers
  • Black (with white tracer) Polyester expandable sleeve for durability
  • Heatshrink on PC ends for additional strain relief.

Those of you who frequent Audio Asylum's Cable Forum will recognize similarities with some of the more common DIY cable designs, albeit with a few differences in implementation. While cryogenically treating cables and connectors is a relatively new process, cryogenics has been around for a long time, mostly in military/space applications and the manufacture of hard-wearing tools. Due to some phenomenon unknown to me, metals are altered on a molecular level which somehow strengthens them against warping and breaking. Those who offer cryogenically treated audio products claim greater current and signal flow efficiency. I don't fully understand how this process works and have no way of verifying these claims. However, I will say the most pronounced trait I recognized with the CryoClear cables was greater clarity particularly in the upper mids and treble region along with a quieter, less hashy backdrop. Perhaps the Big Chill was responsible?

Sonically, both cables sat between the lush, weighty mellifluous ease of the GutWire Power Clef 2 and the speedy, airy dimensionality of the Audience powerChords. The more expensive Silver-2 offered slightly cleaner and smoother sonics then its less expensive sibling. Soundstage depth and width also opened up with both cables. As a result of a significantly lowered noise floor, there was greater articulation and resolution of musical information. Bottom end extension was more robust and controlled. Both cables exhibited similar effects on every piece of gear I had in-house and should therefore be compatible with a wide range of equipment. CryoClear cables are very well constructed, attractive priced and relatively flexible power cables that will surely enhance music playback.

So there you have it: a wide assortment of affordable accessories worthy of consideration by cost-conscious audiophiles. Granted, there are no doubt far more expensive products that offer greater returns in power conditioning and resonance control. Isoclean's isolation transformers, Grand Prix Audio's APEX footers and the HRS M1R rack come to mind immediately but everything I mentioned above did have a positive effect and will give any moderately priced system like mine a worthwhile sonic boost.