ESP Essence Reference II Power Cord and Essence Reference II Power Distributor
I have a good friend named Danny who has an excellent sounding system. In fact, Danny has one of the best sounding analog based systems of anyone I know. At AXPONA 2018, Danny tried to introduce me to Michael Griffin, President of Essential Sound Products to speak to him about his power cords. To my regret, when I tried to get a read on who Michael Griffin was and what Essential Sound Products does, part of my brain kept firing off “Essential Audio”, which was a local area dealership and obviously not the same thing. In the meantime, Danny had me over to hear his system which blew me away. He shared with me that he uses Essential Sound Products power cords in his system which no doubt had some influence on his wonderful sound. I felt compelled to find out more about these power cords. With that in mind, at the 2019 AXPONA, seeing Michael Griffin became (pardon the pun) essential.
I finally met Michael Griffin in a room he was sharing with Convergent Audio and others (talk about being in good company), and found him to be a very engaging and knowledgeable audiophile and cable designer. He showed me some of the power cords he bought with him to the show and that we were listening to. I shared with him my interest in reviewing his power cords and how a listening session at Danny’s house heightened my curiosity. We agreed to get together to discuss doing a review after the busy show season began to slow down and we’d have time to talk. But just a month or so after AXPONA I received a call from Michael and we were able to work out the details of what would be reviewed and when.
Soon, The Essence Reference II Power Cords (Ref II) and The Essence Reference II Power Distributor (Power Distributor) from Essential Sound arrived packed in two boxes. One box contained the Ref II power cords and the other held the Power Distributor. Upon initial inspection, I concluded that both were extremely well constructed. Other than feel and quality of construction, there is not a lot that meets the eye that the average audiophile can go by with which to judge power cords. But the Ref II’s easily pass the “eye test” and are particularly nice to handle. Their solidity was confidence inspiring.
The Ref II’s are not the most pliable of power cords, being a little stiff, but I never encountered any difficulty using them in any of the stands or platforms I had on-hand. The jacket is a black mesh with the company’s blue shrink wrap near the plug end. Both of the connectors used by the Ref II’s are Furutech and feel like high-quality components. Both possess that smooth but tight connectability without being laborious to insert and pull back out. Per the Essential Sound site, “We introduced the new “Reference-II” version of The Essence with high-quality Furutech plug and connectors. The Furutech connectors we use have copper line/neutral blades and ground pin with no plating. New internal terminals components are also employed. In summary, the entire current-carrying path through the Reference-II is pure copper and all components are cryogenically treated. Our epoxy fill process has been optimized to these new components. Epoxy fill serves several key performance objectives. First, the epoxy we use has similar dielectric properties to the PVC insulation on the current carrying conductors. This continuity of dielectric environment improves performance versus the conductors going in and out of different dielectric environments. Second, it hermetically seals the termination components to prevent performance degradation due to oxidation and corrosion. Third, the hardened epoxy provides superior strain relief to the conductor terminations. With most cable assemblies the connector termination points are typically the weakest or most fragile part of a cable assembly. With our power cords, the termination points are arguably the strongest. This attention to detail eliminates the last vestiges of phase anomalies to achieve a level of refinement and coherence that goes beyond simple technical performance descriptions.”
The Power Distributor looks like an eight-receptacle power strip on steroids. Its edges are rounded, and the sides have metal extrusions running the length of the unit. Plugging power cords, Ref II’s and cords from other manufacturers, fit very nicely. A major feature of the Power Distributor is the Ref II power cord that’s hard-wired to it. Hard-wiring a power cord to a conditioner can have its advantages and its disadvantages. I have heard conditioners that had cords hard-wired to them that I wish I could have used something different. In this instance, hardwiring the Power Distributor with a Ref II power cord is a definite advantage in that they’re mated to perform with one another. Per Michael Griffin, “The Essence Reference-II Power Distributor is the result of an interdisciplinary engineering approach that places great emphasis on the mechanical aspects of the assembly as well as the electrical circuitry. A power strip is typically placed on the floor where it is subjected to structural and airborne vibrations that can compromise performance. The Essence Reference-II Power Distributor combines an aluminum chassis with excellent RF shielding characteristics and high mechanical rigidity with numerous vibration isolation and damping techniques. The internal walls are coated and wiring harness encapsulated by a silicone damping material. The internal wiring is assembled from multi-conductor shielded cable that is new and unique to the Reference-II.” Also gleaned from the Essential Sound website, ”The distributor is wired in a “star’ or “home run” pattern where each duplex outlet is connected directly to the power cable, providing isolation from the other duplex outlets. The duplex outlets are custom manufactured by Leviton to our specifications. They are “hospital grade” and “isolated ground” with “line” and “neutral” contacts made from electrical grade bronze, which is 98% copper versus brass that is about 2/3 copper. The result is more natural warmth in the midrange. Note the bronze contacts are not plated as is the case with most other hospital grade receptacles.”
How It Sounds
I did the majority of my listening, initially, with the Ref II power cords plugged into my Blue Circle Audio BC60X1 and a Nordost QBASE AC Distribution Bar. The latter part of my listening was done with the Power Distributor, which I will expound upon later in the review. I decided to gradually introduce the Ref II power cords into my system placing one on my Marantz SA-7S1 CD player to start and listened to it for the first couple of days, followed by placing one on my first Blue Circle Audio NOS DAC. The next Ref II’s were put on my VAC Renaissance Mk V preamp, which became more revealing and involving, my VAC Signature 200 iQ mono-amplifiers and my Klyne SK-5A preamplifier. Each time I inserted a Ref II’s into the system, I spent 2-3 days listening to changes in my system the power cords brought. Initially, I was very pleasantly surprised at what I was hearing. There appeared to be more sound, or information, coming from my speakers. I don’t mean in terms of being loud at all, but for the sonic quality of the music that was coming through. I felt closer to the music as though I was immersed into the performance and all of its subtleties. More notably, there was more air, more micro and macro detail, more tremulous deep bass, and mallet strikes on the vibraphone were more pronounced while notes seemingly lingered in the air for longer amounts of time. There was, overall, a greater sense of realism and harmonic correctness with the Ref II’s inserted into my system. Dynamics were much improved as was the transient response.
The more subtle, more nuanced parts of performance began to be revealed. With the Ref II’s in place, the perception of my stage dimensions began to expand, becoming wider, deeper and more layered, the barely perceptible tapping of the feet in opening bars of music as the performers get their timing on point, or the subtle turning of pages as instrumentalists read their sheet music. Some of my albums that I had given up for being sedate or boring now had life and jump factor with the Ref II’s in the system. I felt that this was due, in some measure, to the lively bass lines that were being laid down because the music became alive and exciting. At this point in my listening, I had to take a step back and assess whether the mere change in power cords was causing the improvement in how my system was performing or if my listening ability had somehow taken a jolt. I went back to my Archon Blue power cords, themselves a bargain, for half an evening and noted a slight declination of sound, that was wiped away when I went back to the Ref II’s. “These are some serious power cords” I remembered writing in my notes. It appears every piece of equipment I plug them into is able to perform at a much higher level, as though the Ref II’s unleashes some extra bit of power and control.
Let’s talk about some of the music references used for this review. An album that I’ve been enjoying quite a bit of late is the Bill Charlap Trio’s, Notes From New York [Verve]. This one of those albums I mentioned above that I found boring and uninvolving at first, then gained a new appreciation for it once I inserted the Ref II’s into my system. Instead of thinking Mr. Charlap was playing just for the heck of it, I could tell he was playing with a sense of verve and intensity, especially on the tracks, “I’ll Remember April”, “Tiny’s Tempo” and “Too Late Now.” I believe what happened was the Ref II’s allowed more of the musical information to come through and I was able to experience the attack off the piano and the excitement that Kenny Washington played the drums with better. Also, Peter Washington’s bass lines were easier to follow and feel, especially on “Not a Care In The World.”
Another disc that I didn’t appreciate when I first received it was Patricia Barber’s Higher [Artishare]. I thought that the album was uninspired and boring the first couple of times I listened to it and wondered what the hype was about. After being urged to give it another listen, by no less Michael Griffin after I inserted the Ref II’s, I developed a greater appreciation for what I was hearing. I could hear more of Ms. Barber’s slowly spoken vocalizations and they had more feeling and meaning to them. Tracks like “Muse” and “Pallid Angel” took on a more inspired tone after listening to them the first couple of times and are more enjoyable. A stunningly good recording is Sinne Eeg & Thomas Fonnesbaek’s collaboration Eeg-Fonnesbaek [Stunt]. Ms. Eeg is a compelling, highly listenable vocalist that I have been enjoying listening to from since she was first bought to my attention and Mr. Fonnesbaek is a bass player, playing the upright bass on this recording. The perspective on the microphone is so up close that the listening room is the studio and it’s as if the listener pulled up a chair and turned this duo into a trio. This recording is about as close as I’ve heard to having the proverbial “performers in the room.” When I inserted the Ref II’s into my system, I felt that there was a pureness of tone to Sinne Eeg’s voice and Thomas Fonnesbaek bass playing came across as more visceral and palpable. This was especially true on tracks, “Willow Weep for Me,” “Taking it Slow” and “Body and Soul.”
A Few More Thoughts
The Essence Reference II pieces are definitely “game changers.” To me, a game changer is a component that once you add it into your system, it changes the sonic character in a way that music becomes much more satisfying. The Power Distributor was a joy to use. It allowed every power cord I used it with to perform better. There were slight but noticeable improvements in detail retrieval, dynamics, bass impact and dimensionality. When used in conjunction with the Ref II power cords, the improvements were much more obvious and more entertaining. As mentioned before, the build quality and parts used are all top notch. They plug into other pieces of equipment smoothly and without any hassle. Above all, they perform every bit as well as Essential Sound says they will. My friend Danny is using Essential Sound Products power cords that are a generation or two older than the ones I’m reviewing, and I must confess that they still sound pretty good and better than what I’m currently using. The Ref II’s are very good performers on amplifiers and preamplifiers, no doubt about it, but even better at enhancing the performance of source components. In every instance where I used a Ref II on my sources (Marantz CD player and Blue Circle Audio DAC) the sonic performance stepped up a level or two. Brass instruments sounded brassier, music sounded as though there was more upper end extension and air, performers became more present, there were distinctly more tonal colors. There was the sense of feeling that I could hear the air more readily moving through the instruments or vibrations coming off strings and cords. I hate using clichés, but this is one time that saying, “there is more there there”, would be appropriate. More musical information.
Here is an illustrative example. I’ve been working on a Nordost Frey 2 cable review, with a full loom of Nordost being used throughout my system. The Frey 2 elevated the performance of my entire system and even helped me to point out where cables I have been using were a detriment, i.e., need to be replaced. I try to be as thorough as I can be doing reviews, especially when I have several different pieces of gear to compare. The sound of the Frey 2 throughout my system was a revelation and was quite good and even much better than I had imagined they would be. Putting one Ref II cords on my Marantz, and then on my Blue Circle DAC, in place of the Frey 2 cords bought about an improvement to the sound of my entire system. I noted how just changing one power cord affected how music became more present, open, detailed, dynamic, bass became deeper and tighter. Next, I did the opposite and had Ref II’s on every piece of electronics in the system and substituted a Frey 2 for a Ref II power cord on my source and noted a slight change as the music was not quite as engaging as it had been. I don’t want this to be a negative outlook on the Frey 2 power cords because they are very good and I like them, but the Ref II power cords performed better.
Time and time again, I came away from listening sessions feeling I was hearing more from my music collection and enjoying it more than I could recall. The performance of the Ref II’s was consistent performing equally as well, with similar results, on my VAC preamp, which became more revealing and involving, and my VAC mono-amplifiers seemingly gained more power and spoke more authoritatively. Simply put, you can put a Ref II on one of your source components, the one you listen to the most, and it can elevate the sonic performance of your whole system. I’m sure Michael Griffin would like for you to purchase more than one Ref II, but I would say try at least one and put it on the front-end component. I feel it will be an appreciable improvement. For the easily identifiable improvements the Essential Sound The Essence Reference II Power Cords bring to a system, I would say they are “Most Highly Recommended.” Whether you get one or several of them, these cords will enhance the sonic presentation of your system.
Essential Sound Essence Reference II Power Cords and Power Distributor
The Essence Reference II Power Cords – $2,499 (1.5 meter length)
The Essence Reference II Power Distributor – $3,999
Essential Sound Products, Inc.
Tel: 248-375-2655 Fax: 248-375-2701
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