Reviewer: Jim Bosha
Source: VPI Scout/JMW Memorial 9 with Grado Reference Master cartridge, HHB CDP/R-800 Pro, Sherwood S-3000II mono tuner, Audio by Van Alstine Transcendence 6 hybrid phono stage with Telefunken smooth plate 12AX7s
Integrated Amplifier: Antique Sound Lab MG-SI15 DT integrated with Genalex Gold Monarch KT-88s and Telefunken smooth plate 12AX7s
Loudspeakers: Omega Grande 8-R ; Vance Dickason Titanic Mk III sub
Cables: VPI/Discovery and Signal Cable Analog 2 interconnects with Eichman Bullet Plugs; AudioQuest Mammoth speaker cable
Sundry Accessories: Vibrapods, Mapleshade Conepoints and Finite-Elemente Ceraballs used throughout
Stands: Sand-and-shot filled Lovan Classic racks, shot-filled Sound Organisation Hi Mass speaker stands
Power Delivery: Dedicated AC runs with Chris Ven Haus cryo'd Pass & Seymour Industrial Grade outlets, AudioPrism wall warts throughout residence
Room Size: Dedi
Review Component Retail: $750/6f Source, $900/6ft Gain
Okay. You recognize it. The secret writing called Steganographia by Johannes Trithemius, ad 1500. And so you know how Alchemists have been ridiculed throughout time, usually for the supposed goal of turning base metals into gold. But you and I know -- har-har -- that what these fellas were really about was turning common men into Gods. They leaked the gold thing as a red herring to PR management. After all, the officers of the Church would have been more than happy to turn a base metal like, say molten lead into a nasal spray for anyone suspected of a hobby like God-making. But as most of us have found, alchemy is about what audiohemy sounds like when we're trying to explain to a civilian why you're willing to pay the cost of a serviceable used car for a power cord. Bearing in mind that what we of the audio esoteric call a power cord is known among the uninitiated as a 'plug'; a 'thingy' that comes free with purchase; a 'wire' to be hidden behind the box and under the carpet; as Johannes himself might have said, est thingus non thoughtworthyus maximus.
But after all, we're trying to turn base recordings into music. And the methods of that magick can appear, on occasion, as madness. I'll freely confess that I was, for several years, agnostic on the aftermarket AC cord issue. But that's changed and that change has been naught but solidified by my extended review of the Carbon Wolff power cords. Yesterday's mystic suppositions always -- and Bosh sez always -- become today's science. There are so many examples of available, accepted measurements lagging behind genuine discoveries that I could, at the slightest provocation, bore you half to death with a most unscholarly and stilted dissertation on the topic. But I won't. In fact, I'm going to start with my findings, cover the mechanics of my review process after that and close with the technical muz-muz on the Way of The Wolffs. Sort of an upside-down review. This way, if the boss walks in while you're hard at work, you can switch back over to that mind-numbing spreadsheet already having gotten the lowdown. The lowdown: Wolff cords are different and they made my system sound different. Here's how it sounded different and how quickly those various differences impressed themselves on me:
|Wolff Gain for amplifiers
Blackness. Immediate notice: the Wolff Gain was hash and grain-free; no hum, no tizz, just silence as deep as my ear could hear both with and without an active signal.
This took a little time to figure out: the immediate notice aspect here was more of a "Hmmmm... now what the hell is going on here?" sort of deal. Weird and not an expected thing from an AC cord swap but familiar music took on a multi-layered effect with the Wolff, as though the musicians were playing still together but on separate planes. This had a bit of a HiFi aspect to it, yet to my ears it was not a holographic, reach-out-and-touch-it layering. It was more of a soft fracture.
Immediate notice: there was less of it. In a most apparent way, no
|golden ear chin scratching required. My most familiar music seemed to lose an easy 1/3 octave down there. But note that I'm a bass slut. To me, the London Philharmonic would be more complete if they had ole' Bill Laswell up there with a Marshall stack so take that into consideration. But even with my bias plain there was, simply, less on the bottom. Of course what was there, it must be said, was tightly drawn and well behaved.
PRaT (just shoot me)
Immediate notice: truth is I've never had much use for this mainly British preoccupation and even less use for that obnoxiously catchy acronym, but with the Wolff products in place, everything I played seemed to slow down and kick back. With complex music, specifically large-scale classical works and soundtracks aspiring to that description, this had the effect of "opening" the piece for inspection and was, frankly, a listening aid when trying to squeeze that sort of stuff through my low-power SET and single-driver loudspeakers (where that sort of stuff doesn't belong in the first place). With about anything else in play (rock, jazz and college radio power folk being my usual vices,) it made me want to kick the damn amp to wake it up.
Now use of the word "slow" will come off more harshly than is intended here. So let me riff a bit on this one. A deeper explanation of the Wolff effect on my system -- in my room; think usual boiler plate qualifiers -- would feature the word deliberate. The rhythm and timing of every disc spun took on an almost thoughtful quality. Short of ponderous, mind you, but nowhere near excitable. The music I most listen to seemed to lose its sense of spontaneity and propulsion. I'm not a thundering guru and my reference system is certainly not the stuff of audiophile fantasy; I can only report my own experiences and those bristling with all the usual caveats. However, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a trial of the Wolff Gain to anyone with a system -- solid-state probably -- that might display a little too much zip, gallop and enthusiasm for its own good (I know equipment like that exists but I'm not going to naim names).
Wolff Source for source components
I would also call these cords, especially the Source, to the attention of analog fans living a time-starved, real-world digital life. My most satisfying experience here has been with the Wolff Source cord powering my CD player. Behind my player (basically a pro-modded Pioneer Elite whose sound I quite like), the Wolf has managed to tame a good deal of the exhausting bing-zingy-ping-ping effect that I associate with all but the very finest digital playback schemes (and summa dem too, rich boy). It hasn't turned my silver discs into mint German Deccas, but the same attributes I didn't really appreciate at the pump end I really like at the front end. And I like it to the degree that, should I find a fat crumpled wad of hundred dollar bills in my jeans pockets (or anybody else's jeans pockets) next laundry day, I plan to dry, iron and send them to Michael Wolff.
|The Review Process
Let me put it this way: I will never, ever do a power cord review again. It was a fantastic learning experience, but like many a true learning experience it is not something I care to repeat. How many of this readership -- ye among the most dedicated in a pastime that takes dedication to religious heights -- how many of you have really, truly sat through an extended (very extended, sorry again, Michael) comparison test of several power cords? If you have, great. If you have and do it regularly, you're one sick pup.
It's a power cord, for goodness sake. That means everything is stopped. Powered down. Then up again. Bootstrap fashion, naturally. And do it with a tube amp, doc. That'll put hair on your chest. Allowing for shut down, cool down, cord swap, power up, warm up to proper bias and the 'play' button, the best I could do -- even with my tough and un-fussy little ASL integrated as the furnace -- was about 20 minutes between cords. And aural memory being basically an oxymoron, that time gap makes for challenging comparisons. Forget A/B; this was more like A/W.
|Thankfully, the differences between the various cords at hand were for the most part startlingly (and unexpectedly) obvious. Comparison power cables of similar pricing to the Wolffs included the original Virtual Dynamics Basic Power (my reference and a now unavailable bargain), Harmonic Technology's Fantasy AC10, the Audio Magic Silver Ribbon AC and the particularly poised and talented Energia S from HMS. What about those other cables our esteemed chief was sadistic enough to send to chez Bosh? I'd have to grant the title of polar opposite [to the Wolffs] to the Audio Magic silver ribbon. That thing is all "Zing! Zowie! Hey Ma look'it me!" forward and fast and as eager as a large breed puppy. This silver ribbon puts the high in HiFi. And just like the more stoic Wolffs, depending on your rig, that ain't necessarily a bad thing at all. Louis Conchos of Omega Loudspeakers likes to - uh, hint that perhaps my sub (a Dayton Audio Titanic, lovingly home-assembled by yours truly) isn't quite fast enough to keep pace with my Omega TS-1Rs. So I slid the Audio Magic into that socket and guess what? Srajan may be waiting by the mailbox a while before he sees that cord again.
The HMS, the Harmonic Tech and my own Virtual Dynamics Basic were very close - like don't try to tell a sane civilian there's any close difference. However, I liked both the HMS and the HT for reasons of neutrality and cleanliness, and along with the VD (did they consider that acronym before they named the company?) they provided plenty of unstrained coverage across the bandwidth and noise-free operation without any additional presence by way of tone control or personality.
Among those three close uns, I'd give the edge to the HMS because it brought --and this is gonna sound weird but in case you haven't figured it out, I'm the moons' village spiritualist --because it brought a noticeable degree of panache to the sound. Without fiddling with tone or manner within the music itself, this cord contributed a sonic attitude I can best describe as elegance - the truth, as a famous adman once said, well told. Now that I think about it, let's make that no more cord reviews of any kind. Ever. Okay, maybe speaker cables. But that's it. I swear.
What is it with HiFi products designed by engineering types with resumes that let slip, probably in cipher, some former association with top-secret government projects? And better yet, why do those products keep ending up at my house? Forget UPS, I half wonder if my next review subject won't arrive by Black Helicopter. Like our good friend Ben Piazza of Shakti Designs, Mike Wolff has a scientific background and has taken some heretofore classified lessons from the playpen of The Men in Black.
A most un-standard carbon -- not metal no matter how educated or otherwise fancified -- is the conductor underneath that standard mesh jacket. Unique, I believe, to the category. Along with this material's apparent unflappability in high-power load transfer comes a friendly flexibility; in fact you can tease a 360 degree turn out of just three feet. The cords have an almost ribonesque flatness to them, with small, mysterious lumps to be felt under the jacket along the cable's length. Standard runs start at one and go to five feet, but custom lengths can be specified as required by the customer. Connectors at both ends are the extremely clean, glossy and reassuring Furutech Rhodium (on Source) and Gold (on Gain). The cords are finished in black mesh sheathing ringed by a two-inch, slide-able collar on which one finds the Wolff logo. Overall, as should be demanded in this price range, a solidly constructed and visually inoffensive package. For the depth of technical details, I refer the reader to the designer himself and the company's website.
|Michael Wolff replies:
Since sending the power cords to Jim, I have gone into partnership with a designer in California. We have brought out some ICs and speaker cables which incorporate some of the characteristics of the power cords. Physically, they are silver ribbons with carbon shields. So far, they have been very well accepted. They are very reasonably priced, too. A 1m RCA is $350 and speaker cables are $60/ft/pr. Perhaps Jim would like to listen to these in conjunction with the power cords?
I greatly appreciate the time that Jim put into doing his review. And yes, the Gain probably does work better with higher current draws and SS amps. But I see that he as many others have found the Source cord to be my best product to date.