Despite a family name that could linguistically be traced all the way back to archangel Gabriel -- prince of fire and spirit and heavenly messenger --
Caelin Gabriel of Shunyata Research would probably dispute any glorious bloodlines with the same disdain he accords $35,000 speaker cables. However, once you accompany Caelin on his explanations about audiophile power delivery and cable manufacture, this tie-in with antiquity and the days of heroic combat against the evil forces of zip cord and molded Belden wire appears less far-fetched.

Do today's angelics listen to Shunyata Research cables? If Caelin's barely contained enthusiasm for his newest crop of signal cables is any indication -- heavily supported by a huge cast of beta testers comprised of fellow manufacturers and recording studio professionals no less -- the celestials may need to look at his aptly named Constellation Series. Especially if they happen to congregate in the Aries, Andromeda or Lyra galaxies.

Caelin, how did you end up in High-End audio, and particularly, in charge of a company that until recently specialized in power delivery products exclusively?
Well, I remember being 12, hanging out in our backyard, staring up at the firmament with its stars and wondering. Why? How had the universe come into being? What did it mean to be here? I looked at flowers and noticed their geometric shapes. I looked at snails and the shape of their shells. I was fascinated by the world around me. Then my parent got me a scientific Encyclopedia in 12-or-so volumes. I used to sit in my room and devour these tomes. This would terrorize my teachers who, of course, were diligently following their straight-ahead lesson plans. I asked all kinds of questions they couldn't answer. I developed a scientific bend to pursue the important questions that staring at the night sky had opened up. Naturally, when you follow such rational questions to their logical conclusions, you realize you won't find answers. Instead, you find more questions. You realize how relative it all is. Soon you discover that everything is a religion. Science is merely one of them. It has its own high priest and choir...
... and ten commandments?
(Chuckles) I was physical sciences major in college but couldn't quite finish my degree. Money issues. I then entered the military. They don't care about credentials at all. They just test you - thoroughly. They were duly impressed with my abilities and decided to send me to a secret Navy cadre. I obtained the equivalent of an electronics engineering degree and was assigned to a military division of the National Security Agency. The NSA is the governmental information-gathering agency, with the world's most elaborate high-speed computers and signal decoding equipment. We were involved with intense R&D of ultra-sensitive data acquisition systems.
Caelin with prototype
[Hover mouse for photo credits]

We could lock onto correlated signal virtually obscured by random noise, a feat believed impossible by engineers using commercial electronics of the day. Working on these projects and with other NSA engineers taught me that 'impossible' is a relative term - and one that is not acceptable to overachievers.

Subsequent to my military career, I became involved in the computer industry during the early Internet days under DARPA, working on network architecture. Later I became involved with the development of high-speed networking devices like the 1GB/s fibre-channel interface and the present 100MB/s and 1GB/s Ethernet devices. Working with super-high-speed circuits wreaks havoc with textbook engineering school truisms. You cannot assume that wire had zero resistance, inductance or relative capacitance. In fact, whether a circuit works at all may well have depended on your connectors, interface and the buss system architecture.

Is that how you transitioned into audio?
Over the years, I had spent lots of hard-earned income on audio equipment only to remain frustrated by a remaining electronic signature that separated the sound of live music from the reproduced event. I became obsessed to discover why. What was the weakest link? I soon determined that, at the time, residential power distribution was the most overlooked aspect, with the greatest potential for technological advances.
The power utility companies behind the curve ball?
Vinnie working on a Black Mamba v2
Actually no. Unless you live in a large metro area like New York or Los Angeles, what a power analyzer will usually reveal is that the power company supplies good clean power with relatively little noise. This is the first great misunderstanding - that audiophiles need to protect their equipment from the horribly polluted world "out there". Our research demonstrates that the primary culprit of power line noise and disturbance is generated within the household - from high-current devices like air conditioning, electric heating and refrigerators to high-noise devices like fluorescent lights, dimmers and digital electronics.

But the primary cause of noise and interference that degrades audio and video reproduction is the A/V equipment itself. Radiation of high-frequency noise from digital processors and switching noise from power supply rectifiers are the primary culprits.

The enemy within.
Yes, absolutely. Many parameters of residential power can be readily measured -- voltage, current, power factor, harmonics, transients and noise components -- but correlation of such measurements with human perception has been sorely lacking. Of what use is a specific measurement if you don't know whether there is a correlation to what people hear or see? When we develop, for instance, a new connector, I'll build 10 or 20 different versions into a custom jig that allows instantaneous A/B insertions into a circuit so that a listening panel can evaluate the sonic differences. I seek to generate a database of repetitive empirical results, which we then use in the development and design of our products. Like any other scientific endeavor, the process is observation, recording of the observations, repeatability of observations, then the subsequent attempts of linking these observations to specific variables in the experiment.
The old subjectivity versus objectivity debate.
It's vital to grasp that all science is based on human perception All observations must first pass through our perceptional bio-computer. There is no such thing as absolute objectivity. Let's take the example of an oscilloscope. The scope circuitry responds to a voltage input by deflecting an electron beam upon a phosphor screen, allowing our human eye to detect an event that it cannot normally perceive. Now let's repeat the experiment for a blind person. Let's create a test device that responds to a voltage input by varying a tone played by a speaker - allowing our human ear to detect an event that it cannot normally perceive.

Daddy's little helper
If the person hears the offset, this is as valid and scientific a result as watching a trace move on an oscilloscope. Both results are filtered through our human perception. The only difference is which sense you used. Isn't it interesting that many people are willing to accept "measurements" or "tests" that are visually based, but will reject those that are aurally based?

It is my view that our audio systems are really windows or "test instruments" that allow us to peer into the behavioral quantum world of electrons and their electromagnetic propagation through the wire, transformers, caps, coils and other devices that make up our electronic components. I find that color-blind charts demonstrate an interesting point. They make it clear that the perception of color and acuity of sight varies from individual to individual. Watching people walk around with glasses of various corrective prescriptions is another reminder how vision is not equal among people. Ditto for sound. Hearing acuity tests simply happen to be very rudimentary when compared to even basic vision impairment tests. While hearing tests involve only frequency-to-amplitude changes -- an area where human perception is relatively tolerant -- the far more critical arena of time arrival differentials is ignored. However, it is here where humans are extraordinarily sensitive. Call it a clear carry-over from our prehistoric days as hunters and gatherers. Localization of a sound source -- direction, distance, what caused the sound -- was paramount to survival.

That's truly an incredible feat, to be able to hear a cracking branch for less than a second and tell where it came from, how far away and even to approximate the weight of whatever caused the branch to snap. When we talk about futuristic virtual reality machines, we tend to overlook that the first stereo already was a virtual reality machine: 2 speakers created a 3-D sonic environment with height, width and depth, peopled by phantom performers in precise spatial relationships to one another, all re-generated by our aural acuity that assessed arrival time delays to form a visual likeness of the event in our mind.
Audio is made up of incredible subtlety, isn't it?
Absolutely. Toward the end of my career in the computer industry, I was working out of my home. I had a lab with very sophisticated equipment to test low-level noise pollution phenomena in high-speed circuits. Applying this test gear to my audio system, something became quickly apparent. The differences that audiophiles perceive are, from a measurement perspective, not gross errors but rather very minuscule deviations. In many cases, these still eluded very expensive test gear.

Already in the mid 90s, I had concluded that it was in the power delivery arena where the biggest gains relative to the current state were feasible. What eventually became the Hydra started life as a box I built for myself back then to remove power line noise generated by the components themselves. You see, the two kinds of power supplies used in audio -- linear FWBR supplies and switch-mode supplies -- turn on and off constantly like somebody throwing a light switch or banging a metal pan with a spoon. That noise has to be filtered in the power supply itself to prevent contaminating the actual signal. It should also be filtered at the back door so it doesn't leak into the power line where it can affect other components.

Naturally, the closer these other components are to these sources of noise, the more pronounced the problem becomes. Far more so than the refrigerator in the kitchen, this makes the other audio components -- merely separated by a shelf or, perchance, piled one atop the other -- the worst offenders. Hence it's important to think of power as a system. After all, every audio component connects to the same power source in parallel. This common nexus becomes communication central. In the early days of the CD player, it was common knowledge that playing your turntable sounded far better than a CD player - but what is interesting is that the turntable sounded better when the CDP was actually powered off.

Tapain wire
I built the original Hydra for my personal use until a dealer friend came across it. At the time, he was selling Synergistic Research's Master Coupler, one of the first -- very expensive -- High-End power cords marketed. The power cord paradigm was just starting to be written. Before Linn, it was utter lunacy to consider that vibration damping on a turntable could make a difference. Now you wonder how it could be otherwise. Zip cord was the name of the game until Noel Lee appeared on the scene. Now the importance of cable is accepted though there remain distinct degrees of acceptance - from using wire of sufficient gauge to $35,000 insanities. So this dealer friend wondered whether I could stuff this material I had inside my box into a power cord instead. We always referred to this compound as StarDust, simply as a matter of humor. When we discovered that audiophiles confused such light-heartedness with snake oil, we began using the chemical product name FeSi -1000 - try saying that three times fast.
How did you discover this mysterious "flooby dust"?
(Laughs) By accident! I worked with a derivative of this material for an application unrelated to audio. I unwittingly parked a bag of it next to a component and noticed how the audio system suddenly sounded better. To avoid mechanical vibration damping from interfering with the compound's effects, I then built suspension jigs so I could research these proximity results by floating bags of the substance above components without touching them.
Humor aside for the moment - the compounds are not magic or voodoo science. Their principles of operation are deeply rooted in well-known, conventional physics concepts. Actually, FeSi-1000 is a term for patent-pending compounds that, like ferrites, absorb electromagnetic fields by proximitiy, by converting them into heat withint the molecular structure.

Wherever there was a strong electromagnetic field -- above power transformers for example -- the improvements of this absorptive shielding were pronounced. Of course eventually pouring optimized FeSi-1000 into a power cord also acted as a mass damper to yield secondary benefits. Our commercial product debut? The King Cobra, perhaps the first high-performance power cord ever made. It garnered phenomenal word-of-mouth notoriety. We sold about 20/month for a good year. Eventually the demand began to outstrip my ability to supply it in a mere part-time fashion.