Verastarr Audio Grand Illusion AC cords
Verastarr Audio Grand Illusion AC cords
Many are called but fewer are chosen....
I am proud to relate that my reference stereo system has remained essentially unchanged since the summer of 2007. Ralf Ballmann's sophisticated Behold series became my quintessential choice in electronics in 2005. Mark Porzilli's digital wizardry as embodied in the Nova Physics Memory Player followed suit later that year. Then in the summer of 2007, Sunny Technology’s Majestic horn loudspeakers were my last major upgrade. The synergy of this system have afforded me the highest level of musical enjoyment over the next four years, though, as I’ve noted elsewhere, these components were virtually unknown in the audiophile community.
Behind the scenes and not nearly as obvious was the introduction of Bybee's Golden Goddess products, including his speaker cables, Super Effect Speaker Bullets, Golden Goddess AC cords and AC conditioner. From stem to stern, my system's circulatory system benefitted from the ingenious products of one man, Jack Bybee. My downstairs rig is a less expensive, more modest and real-world system. The Behold Gentile serves as a reference integrated while a variety of speakers, cables and CD players make their way in and out for review purposes.
Then opportunity presented itself at CES 2011 when I ran into Mike Powell, president and designer for Verastarr Audio...again. Mike and I had talked in the past about doing a review of his impressively built line of AC cords. Powell is your typical audiophile/designer who grew up with his nose to electronic circuit boards. As a kid, he admits to "...taking everything apart and attempting to put it back together." Intrigued by the "wide differences heard through the various types of wire," Powell’s pursuits led to many years of research and development and ultimately to the founding of Verastarr Audio. Based in Atlanta, GA, Powell officially launched Verastarr in 2001.
Verastarr Grand Illusion AC cords are specifically designed to avoid anomalies that plague standard round wires. Powell employs copper-based foils instead of standard wire in manufacturing his flat-geometry Grand Illusion AC cords. Efficient electron flow and low noise level were the goals, and Powell says he achieved them by "thinking outside the box." The Grand Illusion is also manufactured in a “Signature” version built around pure silver. It costs twice as much, is Verastarr’s top of the line AC cord and comes with an unheard-of ten year warranty.
Powell handed me a pair of his very flexible Grand Illusion AC cords to take home for audition. I, in turn, already having my hands full of review gear, gave them to my trusted friend and fellow reviewer Dennis Parham (DP).
Upon my return from CES, I drove to his house which is only a stone's throw from my home in Jersey City. DP's system (photo above), very much as my upstairs rig, has gone largely untouched and I’m accustomed to its high level of play. Visits such as this with exciting new equipment to test invariably are a cause for celebration. Because I had only a pair of the Grand Illusion cords, I felt they would be perfectly suited for the two electronic components in DP's setup: the Beyond Frontiers Tulip integrated and the Nova Physics Memory Player.
DP's reference AC cords are the same as mine: Bybee Golden Goddess. At $3500, they're quite expensive but they do suppress AC noise to vanishingly low levels. The Bybee Golden Goddess AC cords have been compared against some stiff competition over the years and in each case, won us over for their sonic elegance, natural ease and flow and startling dynamics. I thought the best the Verastarr Grand Illusion would do is, at just over half the asking price ($1800) of the Bybee, would be to put up a good fight and go down gracefully.
I was wrong!
The Grand Illusion demonstrated a remarkably open and dynamic window into the music. One of its major attributes lies in its expression of dynamics and how this impacts the bass in particular. Low level bass came across more taut, expressive and nimble-footed. And there was a sense of aliveness: bass notes breathed more freely and effortlessly. One of the first things I said to DP, echoing the cry of Dr. Frankenstein, was, "It's Alive! It's Alive!"
Accuracy of tonality helps create the illusion that you are listening to the real thing and it’s difficult to find this in AC cords, no matter how dynamic they may be. The Grand Illusion seems to have accurate timbre miraculously woven into its very design. Percussive instruments, for example, when struck even gently, display abundant amounts of ambient cues. Cymbals and drum kits in particular, are presented with a more "flesh and bone" sense of soul and character. Depth and width, however, seemed ever so slightly truncated with respect to the overall sense of hall space and front-to-back layering (kudos to the Bybee). Strange then how the Grand Illusion did impart a greater or inflated sense of hall and stage, at the same time improving on the authenticity aspect. Also, in the areas of dynamic headroom, openness and transparency, both DP and I were taken aback to hear very clear improvements over our reference cords. The question I inevitably asked myself was, Could the Grand Illusion duplicate the same splendid results in my own big rig?
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I called Mike Powell and told him that I my requirements had changed and I needed four more of his AC cords in order to test them with my reference system. In less than a month, four additional Grand Illusion AC cords arrived.
I replaced the Bybee cords on my Behold preamplifier, power amplifiers (2), and Memory Player in ten minutes. Rebooting the system and getting my music together took nearly as long. I called up the music on the Memory Player's playlist, I took my position in the sweet spot and without even giving these AC cords proper burn-in listened for any noticeable differences.
My respect for the very talented, female bassist Me'shell Ndegeocello's funk-based tune Papillion from her CD "The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidels" increases each time I listen. What I so admire is how Ndegeocello intersperses addictive funky bass lines over smooth jazz chords to create a sound that in many ways is reminiscent of Miles Davis' “Bitches Brew”. The musicians featured are amazing: Cassandra Wilson, Lalah Hathaway, Jack DeJohnette, Oran Coltrane (yep, son of the great one) and Kenny Garrett. Because I haven't changed my AC cords in over four-years, it was easy to note the sonic differences between these two formidable wires. The Bybee has a slower rhythmic tempo and an ever-so slightly more laid back feel. The Grand Illusion feels more alert and alive with greater transparency and dynamics (amazing considering how dynamic the Bybees proved when comparing them to other AC cords). Much of the characteristics heard in DP's system were heard here...to an even greater degree. Horn-loaded drivers are dynamic by their very nature. My Sunny Supremes are incredibly large at 900 lbs per side, and dynamically speaking, they're among the most alive sounding loudspeakers I've heard. They're remarkable in areas of coherency and bass control. But with the addition of the Grand Illusion AC cords, dynamics and bass control improved to a degree I would have not believed possible.
The dynamic scale from top to bottom increased, giving a new sense of life to recordings. Papillion is a smooth sounding jazz track with ample bass play and special sound effects. The improved dynamics translate into even quieter passages where the special effects seem to soar while the bass digs deeper into music's very foundation. I sat there shaking my head trying to make sense of the situation. At the end of the evening, I had loaded up enough songs on the Memory Player to allow for days worth of music to help burn-in.
A couple of days later, I returned to hear any differences at the 100-hour mark. In a word: richer. The Grand Illusion remained dynamic, but with an enhanced sense of "flesh and bones" richness to the human voice. Because this AC cord sounds so dynamic, energetic and alive, it illuminates the human voice bouncing off the walls of the recording studio. These added ambient cues produce a sound that is less "here" in the living room and more "there" in the studio. If I had to choose which is the more accurate, I’d go with "there" in the studio. For me, that's where the perfect illusion is created.
What is most surprising about the Verastarr Grand Illusion AC cord is that it lives up to its name perfectly. It has created a series of positive aural sensations I have not been able to fully understand nor fully explain in this review. That the Grand Illusion is half the asking price of my reference Bybees makes it even more impressive. The natural ebb and flow of live music that the Grand Illusion imparts is its greatest asset. My Publisher's Choice Award for 2011 goes to Mike Powell of Verastarr Audio and the Grand Illusion AC cords: my new reference standard in the here and now. Need I say more?
Price: $1700 per 4-ft.
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