Absolute Fidelity Power Interfaces
Not another exotic power cord!
It’s difficult for most of us to get terribly excited by power cables, other than to feel our pulse start to race at the prices some companies charge, but in my experience, the effects of power cable swaps can be hard to deny. The question of value raises its head pretty quickly and you are left to ponder for yourself if these often subtle differences matter sufficiently for you to pay the price. The trouble with many cable discussions online is that if some folks do not think the value is there, they want to dismiss or ridicule the views of those who do.
My own history with power cords has involved a slow step up from the stock wire of components, through various dips into the used market, all the way to new purchases based on home trials. Along the way I’ve gone through various cords from PS Audio, MAC, Pangea, Virtual Dynamics and Elrod, and heard numerous review samples from Wywires, Grover Huffman and others. When Steve McCormack mentioned that he’d tried and enjoyed on his own preamp Gary Koh’s new wires marketed under the name Absolute Fidelity, I paid attention. Steve is not a man to make idle recommendations, so I contacted Gary about a sample.
After a bit of back and forth, Gary and I managed to connect last summer and he kindly sent a selection of three power cords, or as Absolute Fidelity likes to term them, “power interfaces”: two for amplifiers, one specifically designed for front-end components, and a 1m XLR interconnect. Curiously, and unlike most cable manufacturers, Gary was open enough to suggest that perhaps given the quality of my other gear, I may not notice much impact with his wire and that if so, it would be no problem, he’d live with the result. How many times have you ever heard that from a manufacturer? Unfortunately, since my rig won’t easily enable a 1m interconnect to be used without a major shift of layout, which I could not enable, that wire did not form part of this review. However, I’ve used the power cords in various parts of my rig since they arrived and I am here to tell you that these expensive power “interfaces” actually make a positive difference in my rig. How much of a difference? Well, you’ll have to read on.
The Absolute Fidelity approach
You can learn about Gary’s design approach on the Absolute Fidelity website so I won’t repeat the party line here. Suffice to say the cords are silver-plated copper wires with an extruded PTFE insulation, likely good enough to last you “the rest of your life” according to the company. The types of power interface cord on offer are distinguished, according to Gary, by the differences between standing current and delta current draw, and between the ground/neutral balance. As Gary told me, the cords “are designed to be ‘interfaces’, and they do nothing other than this properly. No filtering, no conditioning, or quantum effects. They properly interface a power outlet to the power inlet of a power supply, and up to the power supply itself.” As he notes, the match between his cords and the power supplies of certain components is not simple to predict and you really have to try them with your equipment to know how well they will work. As he explained to me, the capacitance between Earth, Neutral and Live pins on the inlet is different for each model, as is the loop inductance.
The impetus to go down the cable-manufacturing path came to Gary from building cables and amps to showcase Genesis loudspeakers (Gary’s main gig), which customers and dealers heard and started demanding for themselves. So far, the launch of Absolute Fidelity wire has been low-key, and without prompting from others, I doubt I’d have known about them. As far as I can tell, there is no major advertising campaign and there’s been little real discussion of them on the various audio forums I monitor. That said, word of mouth has spread and these are now sold direct from the Absolute Fidelity website, along with accompanying interconnects and speaker cables.
I also won’t try to convince you that a power cord can make a difference, sitting as it does a few feet between wall and component, some miles of copper after the power generator to your house. You have to try these accessories (if I may use such a term) yourself to determine how much value they add in your room. I cannot convincingly explain why any cord design might sound different either. I’m all for explanation and hope that out there somewhere, a scientific basis for understanding the impact of wires on music reproduction is being properly studied, but what matters most to me is what I hear.
Set up and use
My room has decent basic supply, a dedicated 20A circuit installed a couple of years back from which I power only my audio components. To complement this circuit, I feed all my components with the exception of my power amps through a PS Audio P5 regenerator, and the amps themselves by an excellent Audience AR2-T conditioner, both of which render the music more cleanly than when the components are fed directly from the wall. Since I am pretty settled on the wiring loom I currently use, and because I actually rate changing wire at the back of my racks among the least enjoyable tasks in life (after ironing shirts) I need to hear something quite special from any new wire to be impressed enough to consider the change worthwhile.
With three Absolute Fidelity power cords to try, I spent a few months with the wires in each of various parts of my system, alone and then in concert. I have 9 changeable cords in my system (the Audience conditioner uses a dedicated connector which I cannot swap out) and I cannot say that I tried them in every possible combination, life is just too short. However, since receiving them, I tried to be systematic and the cords did get to interface with all major components (front-end, preamp, power amps and phono stage) and they even spent a little time in my secondary rig. If I had to sum the results up it would be as follows: these cords are as good as I’ve heard in some parts of my rig and are the outright best I’ve tried on two components. Let’s unpack this a little by walking through my experiences.
It’s a basic process of familiarization but I almost always try new components first in a secondary rig. Depending on what’s around, this usually means a combination of integrated amps, older speakers, and decent if dated digital gear. When the Absolute Fidelity cords arrived this meant using them with a Denon 2900 SACD player, and Parasound DC 2000 Ultra DAC, with the various amps on hand not accepting aftermarket cords (my Naim Nait II or Elekit DIY tube integrated both having captive power cords). What’s the point of putting a $2k cable in a rig that combined would not fetch $1k now? Well, maybe to just get a sense of how much performance one can wring from a cheaper set-up. I won’t say the cords made a massive difference but they cleaned up the sonics, particularly in the extreme frequencies, certainly enough to hear but definitely not enough for me to imagine using them there full time.
From here it was onward to my main rig and the start of a series of cord additions and movements that lasted several months. My regular set up has my digital front-end components (the excellent PS Audio PWT/PWDII combo) fed by Wywires cords, which I found to be a great match. My preamp (the SMcAudio VRE-1) is fed by an Elrod Signature cord on its external power supply, and my Spectron Monos have dedicated Spectron Thunderbolts. These latter cords were the first power cords that had me writing a check as soon as I heard them: they went in, they opened up the amps like nothing that I’ve ever tried and have stayed there since (that is, barring a silly wiring error I made which necessitated one of them being returned to Spectron for repair, a service the company performed with aplomb, no fuss and amazingly no charge to this distraught owner!). Finally, the last component involved was my phono stage (Whest 30RDT).
Where it matters most
Without doubt, the best results came from putting an Absolute Fidelity amplifier cord on the external power supply of the SMcAudio VRE-1. As happy as I had been with the Elrod Signature as the power cord, chosen over time after comparisons with alternatives I had from Wywires, MAC, PS Audio and Virtual Dynamics, the Absolute Fidelity made such an instant impact on the sound that I almost doubted what I was hearing. Yes, it was that dramatic. In one fell swoop, the music took on such a significant change in clarity that I began to wonder what I had heard on the Elrod to make me so confident no further cable experimentation was required on the preamp.
This effect was not subtle. The day after making the change, my wife asked me what I had done, remarking that everything just seemed to have come out clearer and further into the room from the speakers. She said this without prompting, and seemed a little bemused by my response that I’d only swapped a power cord, so noticeable was the effect. “Are you sure it’s only a cord you changed?” was her next question, perhaps suspecting that I was trying to sneak some new component into my rig. That she noticed the change several tracks into one of her favorite recordings, Tord Gustavsen’s Being There, confirmed my own views on the impact: this was not a slight difference but a major shift in sonic presentation that is noticeable without prompting.
Articulating what changed is not simple. The usual audiophile clichés of veils being lifted are true here but they are insufficient. Everything snapped into sharper focus and there was more resolution of notes and the spaces between the notes. Across the board, beyond Tord and into all other musical genres I tried, from solo cello such as Starker’s marvelous Kodaly on Period’s CD reissue to remastered 70’s rock classics, small details came into relief, percussion had more snap, and the fade and decay of piano keys, strings, or cymbals was just so much clearer. Claims for night and day differences between components or wires should always be taken with a pinch of salt but in my recent memory of cables I’ve tried, nothing strikes me as being so clearly distinctive and recognizable an improvement as the use of this cord on the VRE-1.
Of course, there was greater resolution, new details never heard before could be deciphered on old familiars such as Ronnie Earl’s Grateful Heart or Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue. On recording after recording I heard deeper bass, higher highs, you name it, the Absolute Fidelity cord brought it. On more than one old familiar CD I actually experienced a change that had me imagining I must just not have listened properly to the music before, the recording now was so distinctive.
It is important to note here that it was the amplifier cord, not the component cord that gave me the best improvement. I am not sure why but this interface just worked a bit better: with the VRE-1’s ability to truly mute output, I could make simple wire changes between the two quickly and while the differences were subtle, I felt the amplifier cord just gave the midrange more body and put noticeably more meat on Ronnie Earl’s strat/tube-amp combo that to this guitarist’s ears produced a more lifelike sound. The component interface seemed to have a lighter touch and perhaps a little more upper frequency extension that some might prefer but to me, the amplifier component interface was the winner.
The next biggest improvement was obtained when the component cord was used with my Whest phono stage. While perhaps not quite offering the magnitude of improvement noticed with the VRE-1 preamp, the results were similar. Music just seemed to flow forth with more of everything: more detail, more timbral accuracy, more separation and space between instrumental lines, just more fun all round. And as with the preamp, this was a change that you just did not have to hear a couple of times to be sure of it, the impact was obvious from the outset.
When I made this change I had a copy of Howard Roberts’ Mr Roberts plays Guitar on the table. While I love Howard’s playing, the music is a bit of a mixed bag, with hardcore jazz chops sometimes melded to cheesy backing for the easy listening brigade. With the Whest fed by the Absolute Fidelity cord, all such concerns are thrown out the window as Roberts illuminates even the easiest of listening with dazzling lines that come alive in the room. Even those lazy backing arrangements come with a bit more punch and life than before, which made me instantly realize that I’d never heard that LP sound so good. Record after record followed, Van Morrison’s Avalon Sunset opening track with Cliff Richard duetting on ‘Wherever God Shines his Light’ is always a track I listen to when checking my vinyl rig or setting up a cartridge. It has enough frequency and dynamic range, soundstaging, instrumental variability and percussive drive to allow for a decent review of changes in the rig. Here it never sounded better, the soundstage width seemingly moving easily beyond the outside of the speakers on this recording, Van and Cliff separated in space but both inside the speakers, the rhythm section moving the song forward with greater snap and control. I spent the weekend after making this cord change on a mammoth vinyl-only extended session, so enjoyable were the results. I almost hate to say it but whatever Gary is building into these cables, he’s nailed something vital that really works a treat with these two front-end components.
A third component to benefit from the Absolute Fidelity component cord, though to a slightly lesser extent, was the PS Audio PWD. When replacing the far more affordable Wywires cord (see review in March 2012 issue), I felt the music seemed to gain a little more clarity and body, particularly on acoustic instruments, and the timbre seemed more pleasantly accurate across the board. There was a little more space and articulation at the upper frequency extremes which gave some music a pleasing sense of air. There was also, in places, what I can only describe as a slightly cleaner bass, not more, just a little more delineation between bass guitar and drum, and more transient clarity on fast passages. However, these differences were subtler than I experienced on the preamp and phono stage and had to be listened for rather than leaping out at you when the cords were changed. This is still a positive result as I rate the Wywires a particularly synergistic match with the PS Audio PWT/PWD pairing, but clearly, the Absolute Fidelity would be my preferred choice if cost were not a factor.
Where I heard less obvious impact from the Absolute Fidelity cords was on the power amps. Here I use the Spectron Thunderbolts that are superb with these monoblocks. To say the new cords are deficient here would be wrong. I’ll admit that with them feeding the power amps the music sounded very good, sometimes it seemed cleaner, other times not. At one point, after making a change back to the Thunderbolts, I was wondering if in fact the latter were perhaps too bass heavy and that maybe the music was better served with the Absolute Fidelities. This was particularly when I played new music that I had only heard with the review cables on the amps. I went back and forth over a couple of sessions with old familiar reference tracks before concluding that the differences were really not replicable to my ears, both sounded good and I’d not back my chances to tell them apart consistently in a blind test. That said, it is worth noting that the Thunderbolts are no longer in production so you might conclude that if you want something as good, then the Absolute Fidelity amplifier cords get you there.
I did not hear noticeable or worthwhile differences with the amplifier cords feeding my P5 line conditioner or the built-in conditioning stage of the PS Audio PowerBase currently in for review. These are supposed to be somewhat cord sensitive but I’ve not ever concluded so from my own listening with various decent cords.
Leaving aside the price for now, let me state that these power interface cables made a greater positive impact on key aspects of my rig than I would ever have expected to come from a power cord change. I consider my SMcAudio VRE-1 a state of the art preamp and likely the only component in my rig that I look at and imagine as my last stop. It transformed my system positively when I added it a couple of years back, but I must admit now that I really did not fully appreciate its capabilities until I added an Absolute Fidelity Amplifier power cord. I would unhesitatingly recommend this match for other owners. The component cord also contributed to getting the best vinyl sound from my rig that I’ve experienced when I used it to feed the Whest 30RDT phono stage. Obviously these are very fine components, and not cheap, but the Absolute Fidelity wires take them to the next level of refinement—difficult to give up once you have experienced it. If I had the choice, I’d run one on my DAC too.
Facing up to price, many people get annoyed, justifiably, at the costs of such cords and the apparent lack of any scientific basis for the differences people report hearing. Believe it or not, I am in the same camp, I too find this state of affairs frustrating and wish the industry could do better. Gary seems to have thought through some of the issue in terms of current draw and ground/neutral balance but I confess, I do not understand how well this explains the sonics of his cords. However, the evidence of my own ears is sufficiently compelling to convince me that these “power interfaces” add something very important to the ultimate quality of my rig. I hate the cop out that says you must try them yourself but if you have components that are sensitive to cord changes, the Absolute Fidelity cables can be taken for test drive in your home by contacting the company. Removing them from my rig proved to be a deflating experience. Yes, the system still sounds good but knowing how much better it can sound, I find myself thinking my next upgrades have to be Absolute Fidelity cords on a couple of components, and this from a man who’d rather buy more music than more electronics. Need I say more?
- PS Audio PWT/PWD digital front end combo, Denon 2900 into Parasound DAC 2000
- SME 20/2 w/ SMEV arm, Dynavector 10×5 cartridge, Whest PS.30RDT phono stage
- SMcAudio VRE-1
- Spectron Musician III Mk 2 bridged monos with Bybee Upgrade
- Von Schweikert VR5SE, VR22,
- Elrod custom-made single runs, Spitz AntCables,
- Grover Huffman interconnects, Harmonic Technology HDMI and interconnects, High Fidelity I/C 1 interconnects, Pangea AWG9, PS Audio Prelude, Huffman, and Virtual Dynamic David power cords
- 3 pin USA 3-pin and 15 Amp IEC (20 Amp IEC as an option)
- Outside diameter 12mm (1/2″)
- Construction: 1 X 12 AWG silver plated copper with PTFE dielectric, 2 X 14 AWG OFC copper with PVC dielectric
- Shielding: Metallized polypropylene with 24 AWG solid silver drain wire, static shield with high carbon polyamide
Manufacturer: Absolute Fidelity
Retail pricing: USD2,200 for a 1.5 meter length or USD2,900 for a 2.5 meter length, USD700 per additional meter