The Shunyata Research Hydra AC Power Distribution Center

The Shunyata Research Hydra AC Power Distribution Center
Clement Perry
3 December 2001


Dimensions: 10" x 5.75" x 14"
Weight: 35 lbs.
AC input voltage: 110-125V/50-60hz
Amperage: 20A
AC Outlet voltage: 110-125V/50-60hz Unregulated

Shunyata Research Inc.
P.O. Box 27740
Las Vegas, NV 89126
Phone (608) 850-6752
Fax (425) 671-0648
Price: $2,495 MSRP

Hy - dra n1.Gk. Myth. A many headed serpent that was slain by Hercules. 2. A constellation in the equatorial region of the southern sky near Cancer, Libra and Centaurus. 3. An AC line distribution Center that is used only by the most serious of audiophiles and music lovers. [ME Idra < Lat. Hydra<Gk. Hudra, Hydra, a water serpent. See wed-1*.]

The Shunyata PowerSnakes Hydra Distribution Center is a long name that makes short work of the competition. Had the many headed Hydra, slain by Hercules, performed, or even looked, anything remotely like the Shunyata PowerSnakes Hydra I have, Hercules’ ass would have been in trouble in the first round. As a kid, there was nothing more entertaining than watching Godzilla stomp the life out of the mythical monster Hydra on television every Saturday afternoon. Had Godzilla fought the Shunyata PowerSnakes Hydra I envision it would have been a different story. Mr.Godzilla’s career on the silver screen would have been all of one 90-minute episode. Does this give you a clue of how impressed I am by what the Hydra is doing in my system?

Godzilla and Hercules both ought to thank their lucky stars that this Shunyata PowerSnakes Hydra resides under definition number 3 above, as its destiny is rooted in an entirely different battlefield. That battlefield is your A/V listening room and the enemies, Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) and Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), have themselves deeply interwoven in our expensive hardware’s very fabric.

Caelin Gabriel, Shunyata PowerSnakes’ founder, designed the Hydra. Gabriel was trained as a physicist by the U.S. government and took special interest in the mysterious study of Quantum Physics (ala Jack Bybee) - yikes another Mr. Peabody Awards recipient? A background check reveals that after spending nearly a decade working for the NSA (National Security Agency) developing low-level signal acquisition devices, followed by some time spent in various high-level positions as chief designer, Gabriel decided to take good advantage of his multi-versed disciplines in the field of Electromagnetic studies. With a textbook full of know-how in AC and power supplies, Gabriel formed Shunyata Research PowerSnakes Inc. Gabriel’s PowerSnakes AC power cords are considered by many people I know to be the best of the best. And that’s only a small fraction of the many accolades he’s received elsewhere in the press.

Exempting its six outlets, the Hydra doesn’t resemble a line conditioner at all. If looks alone could kill there would be a lot of dead competition lying about. When you get your first look and feel of the Hydra, you can’t help but think of those corny Chevy commercials, "… Like A Rock!" Its high gloss Corian finish, punctuated by unadulterated granite sides (go ahead and give this the knuckle rap test), along with its thirty-five pound curb weight, should help it substantially to ward off vibration-induced distortions. The Hydra’s front panel has an accented Hydra logo engraved handsomely alongside its trademark PowerSnakes Cobra emblem. All this, by the way, is done on a wood inlay that gives this AC distribution center its most eye-catching features. Gabriel is a firm believer that high performance AC line enhancers should be constructed with the same purist ideals that are implemented in the world’s finest components and loudspeakers. The Hydra is indeed the obvious beneficiary of such ideals.

The rear of the Hydra sports an array of 6 high-grade outlets, with 3 independent circuits capable of handling 1875-watts total, which makes it compatible with nearly ALL components in your audio rig simultaneously. A 15-amp NEMA twistlock IEC connector for Shunyata’s own PowerSnakes Sidewinder power cord (a $390 value included free) and the fuse holder completes the Hydra. A 10-year transferable warranty comes standard with each purchase.

Under this decorative armor exists high purity CDA-101 copper buss bars complement with high quality Silver and Teflon insulated wiring employing short signal paths. Designed using none of the AC altering capacitors, coils or chokes that are infamous for limiting current demands, the Hydra is outfitted with a proprietary passive noise-reduction technology based upon the exclusive FeSi-1000 formula (patents pending). The whole thing is smartly designed in an electromagnetic chamber that essentially serves as a Venus flytrap for high-frequency AC noise. FeSi-1000 is a chemical blend of different formulas operating on different frequency bands and are specially selected for this desired purpose which operate in similar fashion to Ferrite beads. FeSi-1000, as its Website literature purports:

"When FeSi-1000 is used within power distribution devices and power supplies, it demonstrates the ability to reduce the apparent noise level of the applied device. It does so without the "compressive" sonic effects that many audio enthusiasts ascribe to the use of ferrite materials. Shunyata Research products that utilize this compound are currently being used by high-end recording studios and are being evaluated in scientific applications that involve data or signal acquisition of very low-level emissions. Additionally, further research into the effects of these substances is in process with the engineering labs of a major university."

In the past year or so, I along with many here at ST, have been smitten by a few popular AC line enhancers and have published reports on each (see archives). In all, we were duly impressed, particularly by the high level performance of the PS Audio Power Plant P300 AC line regenerator, those little boxes from Quantum Symphony, and Audio Line Source’s Richard Gray’s 400S (which just so happens to be my favorite). I currently still employ each in my two reference systems so my comparisons were inevitable.

Setup in my reference listening room upstairs consisted of the new Talon Khorus X’es, strapped to two-pair of Bel Canto eVo amplifiers. Digital playback is the wonderful sounding Electrocompaniet EMC-1 24/192 CD Player plugged directly into the Tact Audio 2.2 room correction/preamp via a balanced set of Acoustic Zen’s newest Zero Crystal interconnects and speaker cables under review. Accessories include the Ortho Spectrum Analogue Reconstructor 2000, while all electronics rest upon the Sistrum Platforms and Isolation rack. Four Richard Gray’s RGP400’s, three Quantum Symphony Pros, and a single PS Audio 300 were removed and placed back at the end of this review for comparison’s sake only.

Burn in was typically done in about 100 hours using various dynamic CD’s with an occasional round with the Purist Burnin CD. I chose to only listen for short takes every other day for the first ten days nearing the 100-hour mark, and noted some improvements with each visit. After burn in, the sound began to invite me in, so what better time to begin the reviewing process?

Your Silence Speaks Loudly

I love all styles and forms of music, from the down home dirty Blues to 17th century Classical, and my CD rack is a standing testimonial. However, it’s my predilection for Jazz that seems to keep my toes tapping more often at my favorite CD haunts. That said, right out of its packaging was the first track, "I’ll write a song for you" taken from bassist Christian McBride’s latest CD entitled Family Affair [Verve 3145575542].

Instantly upon hitting the play button on the Electrocompaniet’s remote, I heard the Hydra doing something quite special. This version of the song, written by Earth Wind and Fire, is fabulously redone using only acoustic guitar and bass. What struck me immediately was the delightfully rich and resonant character wrought from McBride’s bow on his upright - a direct byproduct of the Hydra’s amazing resolving capability I think. Further, precise recognition of recording location became obvious as never before. Using the mind’s eye, a smart and nifty tool, I could literally see McBride standing to the right of the microphone, to the left of center on my imaginary stage. To my amazement, this level of resolution, I thought, was only to be had from products like my eVo digital amplifiers, EC 24/192 CD Player, Tact preamplifier and the Jota Art Audio SET’s. Well, this still may be true, but it’ll take the Hydra to bring these qualities out to their fullest potential.

Want to discuss harmonic richness? Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth[Impulse 5659], sounded as if the Hydra had tightened up the high-hat pedal on Roy Haynes’ drum kit while at the same time place more saliva down Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet. On "Stolen Moments," instrument overtones became refreshingly clearer and noise surprisingly took a serendipitous nosedive. With the Hydra, this famous track sounded so good and sweet sounding that I have officially renamed the CD "Blues and the Abscessed Tooth!" All of my ‘60’s Impulse and Blue Note recordings (and we all know how infamous they are in the noise department), sounded noticeably improved upon sonically. There was Monk dancing on the keys, Mingus shouting on bass, and Miles slurring notes with new intensity – all compliments of the Hydra, I might add.

One of the oldest audiophile catch-22’s has been the question of musicality versus accuracy. I’ve seen many talk of using various Rx’s like tube line stages strapped to solid state amplifiers, tube amplifiers that imitate solid state and vise versa, a potpourri of different cabling, etc, etc, ad nauseum. The Hydra, and this ain’t no hyperbole, possesses such an astoundingly high level of signal purification to the components that I plugged into it, that it blurs the line between accuracy and musicality, thus rendering the topic moot. Moreover, this is achieved without censoring the music in any way. Many noise shapers disguised as black boxes and AC regenerators do precisely this in some vain; attempt to banish high frequency hash. Not the Hydra. What it actually does, surprisingly enough to these ears, seems to further enhance the shimmer of such metal instruments as cymbals, bells and triangles, further enabling air, ambiance and decay to unfurl in all their glory. Ouch!

One thing that I am certain of is that there’s no redundancy things happening here. The Hydra appears to exact a musical truthfulness from the signal that the previous top AC contenders could not. Harder to comprehend is how four Richard Gray 400’s, (located at each amplifier), a PS Audio 300 (stationed at the digital front end), along with a couple of Quantum Symphony’s thrown in for good measure, could not, I repeat, could not reproduce the level of musicality and reduce the level of background hash to the extraordinary degree of only one Hydra?

I do not wish to diminish the performance of any of these other AC line enhancers. Hopefully, I am not. The RGP400’s are excellent devices that still do what I had originally penned. They still are among the best line conditioners on the market and were certainly the best I had used on the Bel Canto EVo’s. Their paired performance with the PS Audio P300 took them a sonic step forward and my system never sounded better…that is until the Hydra’s arrival.

The RGP400’s, unbelievably, still actually performed well in conjunction with the Hydra (thanks to the Hydra’s non-reactive elements), adding an increased sense of ease to each CD I played. Therefore, the Hydra did not render my four RGP400s completely useless. Nevertheless, there’s that double-edged sword cliché again. Yes, while the sound has gained dividends in the overall sense of ease and buoyancy, what I originally called "the big easy", there was also that very pleasing "fabric softening" sonic effect as well. Simply put, with the RGP400’s engaged, the sound takes on too polite an appearance that may not be to everyone’s liking. Experiment and try it out for yourself. The important thing is that they are not a mismatch.

The PS Audio P300 did not fare well in this mix at all. It only made the sound stoic; strings sounded more astringent, lacking life and three-dimensionality. Regardless of where I had the settings placed, 60 Hz, 70 Hz or even 90 Hz, the problem never really went away. Rhythm and pace was somehow slowed or weakened while the upper frequencies took on a sharp ascent. The life and very heartbeat of the music had somehow taken a back seat to all this added transparency that cheated the performance like bad advertisement. These observations, however critical they seem, were never as blatantly apparent before the Hydra arrived on the scene. I was surprised by how much my own views had changed so suddenly, but it wasn’t the first time this occurred, and as long as there are great minds like Gabriel’s out there, I doubt very much that it will be the last. Sonic improvement on this level often brings incongruity into question.

The Quantum Symphony’s stood up well with the Hydra. They did not impart any noticeable differences whatsoever on the sound when they were reinstalled. Unfortunately, because I couldn’t detect a difference at any time, I don’t how I could recommend them with the Hydra. They sure as hell worked when the Hydra wasn’t around. Maybe it’s too much of that Quantum thing going on.

I know of no flawless electronics and know of fewer serious audiophiles who claim that they do. So to protect my neck, so to speak, I’ve been trying really hard to find a fault with the Hydra. Sonically, I simply am not able to. For me, it represents the best of what is possible today in AC line conditioning when done right. At nearly $2,500 I would not call the Hydra cheap, but there are less effective products out there that cost more. This makes the Hydra a bargain. If I had to go out and pick nits, what would be that one thing I could fault it on? I know. I would like to see my upstairs system possess all the three-dimensionality I get from my downstairs one. The Art Audio Jota, located downstairs partnered with the Rosinante Dulcinea, sports that inherent special effects KR 32 tube, so it can do that 3-D thing in a closet. So yes, if there were something I could want more of, it would be that. Perhaps one day Gabriel will devise an AC line enhancer made of tubes? Dream on. Until then, I’m enjoying myself silly.

I am just as sick and tired reading all the mouthwatering descriptions such as midrange airiness, pitch black velvety backgrounds and 3-D soundstage depth that all border on hyperbole we reviewers create, then recreate as each new product passes our way. Let me reiterate that the scientific implications of this Hydra’s design are real and not some Fig Newton of my listening skills, system synergy or Gabriel’s imagination. The only way I could characterize the sound of the Hydra would be to say that it took my system to new, unfettered, system-less performance. I simply hear more music and less electronics. I recognized the Hydra’s strengths almost immediately and knew I hadn’t heard anything like it from any of the other AC line enhancers I’ve used to date. It is easily the best one to have graced my listening room. A must have for the audiophile who thinks he has heard it all. A definite 2001 Stereo Times Most Wanted Component!

Dedicated to my friend Charles Lesperance, who lost his life saving others on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center. You will never be forgotten.

Shunyata PowerSnakes Hydra AC Distribution Center…A Second Opinion

Leon Rivkin

I will never forget my first encounter with the Shunyata PowerSnakes Hydra AC conditioner at Clement’s place. Accompanied by Bill "The Brass Ear" Brassington, we decided to pay Perry a little visit one gorgeous Saturday evening. You know, the typical audiophile get-together that customarily starts off with shooting-the-s**t, the telling of corny jokes and some light dining. Clement’s listening sessions, however - replete with the No Walking, Talking, Gum Chewing, Slurping Coffee, and Heavy Breathing, rules in FULL affect, are taken quite serious.

I had heard his system a week earlier without the Hydra and even then was totally enamored with the sound. What could another line conditioner do? Well, as soon as Clement turned the system on, both The Brass Ear and I realized a major change had taken place. I can’t speak for Bill, but I heard much more resolution coming out of this glorious system than on my previous visit. The level of micro details became phenomenally more apparent even for this already unusually transparent system. The soundstage had also become much wider, while all instruments appeared even more defined in their separate space.

As I started to tell Clement my findings, Bill, as usual, interrupted with a quick summary that took all of three words. "It’s much blacker," was all he said. I was stunned by Bill’s quick and accurate assessment which, by the way, he’s quite famous for. Now my wheels were spinning (don’t you just hate when that happens?). I began whispering to myself very quietly, "If you significantly drop noise floor Leon, you get bigger micro and macro dynamics, more detail, better transparency, and a more naturally defined soundstage. You also pickup a greater sense of the natural ambiance in the recording. All this can be achieved by the simple rejection of background nose?"

After hearing what this product did in his system I did not call the manufacturer and request a review sample, I went further; I gave the Shunyata my highest vote of confidence and simply purchased one. After living with Hydra for two weeks I became slightly disappointed with it, so I went and bought one more! You see my disappointment was rather simple. I needed 12 outlets to fully power my system and a single Hydra only provided 6.

Every so often you find component that changes your perception of what a stereo system is capable of. It’s like a revelation. In recent years, I’ve only had a few of such revelations. One good example of such a revelation would be my wonderful VAC Renaiscence Signature 70 Monoblocks MK V. That wondrous 300B tube design has fully changed my perception of what amplification devices could be capable of. Fed by a Koetsu Onyx Platinum cartridge and the Manley Steelhead phono-stage, it fully destroyed my previous opinion of how long vinyl would stand as the reference format with SACD, DVD-Audio, and 24/192 looming on the horizon.

In fact, before the Hydra’s introduction, listening to CD’s and SACD’s on my rather elaborate digital front-end consisting of the Audio Logic DAC and Forsell Air Reference CD transport had become quite humdrum. Astonishingly, the Hydra provided me with the same level "religious" experience that my analogue front end provides in abundant dosages. For me, the Hydra proved what clever AC power conditioning can do. One of the very interesting commonalties with all of the previous examples is that I own quite a number of AC components, and before this change, never felt that I could achieved such sonic improvement in the areas that I noted as I had I heard at Clement’s.

I couldn’t have been more wrong! Merely swapping one Hydra for the PS Audio 300 and numerous RGP400’s was that dramatic. I will not let go of my Hydras, at least not until something superior emerges on the AC power-conditioning scene. In my book the Shunyata Hydra deserves the highest mark of appreciation.

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