AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 Power Conductor
|AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 Power Conductor|
Worthy of its Title
26 December 2002
"Some months back, Mark Levinson contacted me about reviewing his Red Rose SACDs. Though I'm still awaiting an affordable SACD unit whose playback can do justice to Mark's recordings, I took advantage of the contact with Mark to explore some of the power products in the AudioPrism line now owned by Levinson's Red Rose Music, Inc. of New York City. Within a few weeks, AudioPrism's signature power conductor, the SuperNatural S2, had joined a complement of high-end cords in the $1000-$1500 range that included the Shunyata Python, Elrod EPS, and Custom Power Company Top Gun HC (currently withdrawn pending release of an eagerly anticipated revised line of Custom Power Company cords).
As a reviewer, I try to remain disciplined in my explorations, evaluating only one component at a time. As a result, the SuperNatural S2 lay coiled on my living room floor for some time while I sampled an upgrade to the Bruce Moore Companion III preamp and reviewed CDs for Stereo Times and The Absolute Sound. My discipline was short-lived, however, as I fantasized what improvements a $1500 power conductor might make to my system. Before long, like a kid in a candy store, I impetuously grabbed the cable and stuck it on my preamp. After all, rationalized I, if this cord costs over twice the price of the Nordost power cable currently on the preamp, certainly it's going to enhance my evaluations of the preamp upgrade and the hundreds of CDs demanding my attention.
First Impressions/Technical Details
Thankfully, my conjecture proved correct. On went the SuperNatural, and boom, up went the bass response. Actually, BOOM was more like it. The marked increase in size and weight of voices and instruments, the deepening of bass formerly hinted at and a concomitant increase in depth and resonance were so dramatic that I could not convince myself to remove the SuperNatural S2.
During my initial listening period, which was far more one of enjoyment than of critical evaluation, I lay in the dark about the various attributes of this cord. It was only months later, after interviewing the SuperNatural S2's designer Victor Tiscareno, that I learned about the cord's unique construction.
Each AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 three-prong power conductor contains three legs: a positive, negative, and ground. For the positive and negative legs, AudioPrism bundles together approximately eight 18 AWG primary conductors. These 18 AWG primary conductors are in turn made up of very fine bare Oxygen Free Copper stranded wire bundled together; each of these fine strands is around 46 AWG. Approximately 650 strands of this 46 AWG wire make up each of the 18 AWG Teflon insulated legs. The ground contains two 18 AWG primary conductors. The cord is terminated with 24K Gold Audio Grade WattGate 330 and 350 connectors.
To prevent scratching equipment while moving the cord around, each end is covered with removable yellow webbing. Beneath the webbing at either end lies an on/off switch. Secured to the cord by little Velcro strips, each switch adjusts the tuning of the cord's shielding. AudioPrism explains that turning the switch on serves to suppress noise without compromising the cord's ability to create a safe ground.
There is no "correct" setting for these switches. The listener flips the switches to get the sound they want. AudioPrism reports that their effect is especially noticeable when the cord is used to power solid-state equipment. Some audiophiles, however, may experience diminished high frequency energy when both switches are turned on. According to Tiscareno, a good balance is to turn on the switch at the plug end (flip to red) and turn the other switch off at the equipment end (flip to blue). Whatever makes the listener happiest.
Two great attributes of this cord are that it is quite flexible and that it does not require days to settle in and build up a charge (as do many other high-end power cords) before it sounds its best. After trying this cord in a variety of applications in three different systems, I can report that, while its effects will become more profound with the passage of a short amount of time, what you hear initially is pretty much what you'll hear days later.
Extended Listening Experiments
Eventually it was time to get to work. Happily, I was supplied a second SuperNatural S2, which made possible moving the cord between components and noting its effects while the initial S2 remained on my preamp.
I first tried the second SuperNatural S2 in my PS Audio P600 Power Plant (which powers everything save the amp), next in the Monolithic power supply for my Perpetual Technologies P-1A, and finally in my Audio Alchemy transport. While I found the bass response, midrange weight and depth, and overall size of images wonderful no matter where the cord was placed, I experienced a darkening effect with the cord on the Power Plant. The shift was not major, but it was enough to dim the shine on the leading edge of voices, as well as the brightness of the triangles, cymbals, horns and violins that are mainstays of classical orchestras. It was as though my listening seat had shifted from premium orchestra in San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall (which I usually receive as a reviewer) to a distant position where highs naturally roll off. Had my equipment been bright to begin with, this would have been a welcome occurrence, but since my tube equipment at the time erred toward the dark rather than the light, this darkening effect was not ideal.
Next I tried the SuperNatural S2 on my Monolithic power supply/P-1A. Here I found the darkening effect minimal, and the increase in midrange and bass response most impressive. Putting the cord on the AA transport, however, resulted in more darkening than I wished.
I also tried flipping the switches at either end of the cord. I had already gone to great lengths to diminish noise on the power line; all my equipment except my amp was plugged into a PS Audio P600, and both the P600 and the amp were plugged into an Ultimate Outlet which is hard wired to the wall outlet. As such, I did not experience significant noise reductions benefits from turning the switches to the on position. Rather, I experienced a further darkening of sound.
Because my amp and preamp are both tube products, with all the glories and shortcomings associated with such creatures, I felt it essential to try the cord in other systems before I made a final assessment. These trials proved most enlightening, making me aware of how good this cord really is.
System Number Two
My first visit was to fellow Bay Area Audiophile Society member Lynn Bailiff's home in Oakland's Montclair district. Lynn's system consists of a Bryston 3BST power amp with removable cord, Audible Illusions Modulus 3A preamp with removable cord, Naim CD 3.5 with captured cord, huge Dunlavy SC IVa spaced very far apart, Basis 2000 turntable with Rega RB 600 arm and Clearaudio Aurum Beta S cartridge, Synergistic Research Phase 2 Kaleidescope interconnects, SR Signature 2 speaker cables for the bass, SR Signature 3 speaker cables for treble and midrange, and stock power cords on everything.
My initial impression of this system was disappointing. With Reference Recording's Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances [RR-96CD]featuring the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Eiji Oue - a marvelous sounding disc that deserves its two TAS 2001 Golden Ear awards - I heard dismayingly huge gaps of space between instruments, as though Lynn's Dunlavy speakers were too far apart to create a coherent, seamless soundstage. Equally disappointing was the absence of both midrange and true bass timbre; instead I heard a uniform, monotonous treble glare to the tone, extending from violins and cymbals all the way down to thunderous but unrealistically sharp and bright sounding timpani and double bass. The Minnesota Orchestra's instruments sounded nothing like those played by the San Francisco Symphony; the recording seemed a far cry from one that deserved a coveted Golden Ear.
Then I put the SuperNatural S2 on Lynn's $1500 Bryston amp. The transformation was miraculous; it was as though I was listening to another system entirely! First of all, the timbre of the entire orchestra changed for the better, with the initial uniform reddish glare replaced by realistic treble, decent midrange and far more controlled, even more impactful bass. Secondly, there was a lot more there there. The gaps I had experienced in the soundstage filled in with previously unheard sound, as though the orchestra had doubled in size. The problem, it turned out, was not with the positioning of the speakers, but rather with the stock power cord on the Bryston amp. The amp, and by consequence the entire system, had not been delivering anywhere near its full potential.
The easiest way to describe the effect of the SuperNatural S2 on Lynn's Bryston amp is to describe what it does to timpani reproduction. When a system such as Lynn's (and at least two others I've heard equipped with upgraded McCormack DNA-1 solid state amps) has a monochromatic treble glare, lack of midrange resonance, and compensatory dramatic bass, the sharp, bright attack one hears when the timpani is struck sounds as though someone has hit a hard, metallic, two-dimensional surface. There is no sense of a huge, hollow three-dimensional expanse that resounds when the skin of the timpani is struck during actual concert. With the SuperNatural S2 in place, however, the initial sharp attack not only sounds realistically more lower pitched and full, but is accompanied by the same three-dimensional undertones and overtones that are heard from the timpani during actual performance. This same transformation can be heard on instruments throughout the range: undertones and overtones emerge, flat sounds become round and a huge expanse of color, previously suppressed, emerges.
I also brought several lower priced cords to Lynn's, including the Shunyata Sidewinder and another from Jack Bybee. When I put any of these other cords on his Modulus 3A preamp, the system's accuracy became even more impressive. But it was clear that the SuperNatural S2 on the amp was the major cause of the transformation. Lest you think using a $1500 power conductor on a $1500 amp is excessive, be assured that I am not guilty of hyperbole when I say that the $1500 Bryston powered by the $1500 SuperNatural S2 sounded far better than many of the $3000 amps I have auditioned powered by stock power cord.
What about the darkening effect I experienced on some of my equipment? While there perhaps was a shade of darkening to Lynn's highs, the result was to tame them, rendering them far more natural sounding and pleasing. The SuperNatural S2's impact on Lynn's system was entirely positive.
I also tried engaging the switches at either end of the cord. Turning one on at the source equipment produced a somewhat blacker background, and seemed a good thing; turning both on dulled the highs. The positioning of these switches is definitely a case ofchacun a son gout.
System Number Three
I next took the SuperNatural S2 to the home of Alexander Peychev, a gifted Bay Area audiophile designer whose equipment, not yet available on the market, has impressed a plethora of Bay Area Audiophile Society members. I was joined by Jim Volpatti, a BAAS member and owner of San Francisco's Silent Lucidity dealership.
Alex has designed a quite expensive tube/solid state hybrid amp, tube monoblocks, a combined DAC/preamp, a modified transport, and unique speakers with ribbon tweeters. Alas, his only power conditioning to speak of is stock power cords he has modified for RF suppression. Mid-level Audioquest Midnight speaker cable and interconnects complete the system.
I was quite impressed with the air and depth I heard from Alex's hybrid amp. But the sound, although nowhere near as monochromatic as on Lynn's system, was still far too marked by the treble glare associated with systems the use stock power cords and lack adequate power conditioning or power regeneration. I also felt instruments lacked sufficient weight, size, and overtones, a case in point being the sound Anne Sophie Mutter's violin on her new recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto. (My review of this recording is slated for Issue 140 of The Absolute Sound).
I immediately put the SuperNatural S2 on Alex's hybrid amp. Voila, lots more weight to instruments, significantly more depth, far more color, and a much fatter sound on the violin, much closer to the kind of big sound I recently heard from Maxim Vengerov's Stradivarius when I set in a prime orchestra seat for his recent Davies Symphony Hall solo recital.
Because time was limited at Alex's I was not able to experiment with the shield tuning switches at either end of the cord. I did, however, leave the SuperNatural S2 with him for further experimentation. Though I was not present to vouch for Alex's conclusions, he reported that further tests with his hybrid amp convinced him that the SuperNatural S2's impact was entirely positive. On his tube monoblocks, however, he thought the cord too dark.
Back at the Ranch
Returning to chez Serinus, I engaged in further experimentation with the SuperNatural S2. Fist, to help me hear even more into the heart of the music at hand, I added eight of AudioPrism's Quiet Lines to the mix ($225). These little boxes plug into empty outlets around the house, suppressing noise that mechanical equipment contributes to the power line. Given that I live in an 80 year old, nine-unit, fuse box-equipped apartment building, complete with nine refrigerators, nine computers, nine televisions, and Lord only knows what else; that my grounding consists of a copper wire to my third floor cold water pipe; and that I have no ability to run a dedicated power line to my equipment, I figure I can use all the quieting I can get. I am happy to report that my system sounds noticeably smoother and more liquid since installing the Quiet Lines.
After further experimentation with the SuperNatural S2, I confirmed that it works best on the Monolithic Power Supply to my P-1A. Most recently I listened to Nonesuch-supplied CD-Rs of Joni Mitchell's new two-disc Travelogue, and marveled at the warmth, fullness, and timbral correctness of the sound. It was delicious.
The AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 power conductor certainly belongs in the top echelon of power cords. I have no hesitation in recommending the conductor to anyone with equipment that errs on the side of brightness, glare, shallowness, flatness or monochromatic sound. What this cord provides in terms of midrange fullness and bass response is nothing short of amazing.
The SuperNatural S2's effects, like most products, are system dependent. The same period of auditioning that any expensive piece of equipment warrants - dealers and organizations such as The Cable Company offer in-home trials - will reveal whether the SuperNatural S2 is right for you. One thing is certain; you will most assuredly hear a major difference with this cord in your system, one that in some cases may generate a sonic improvement in resolution, timbral accuracy, and image size and depth equivalent to buying new equipment retailing over twice the price of what you currently own.
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