Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Rotel RCD-971 CD player, Sony SCD-XE670 SACD player (both modified with IEC jacks instead of captive AC cords); HIT Audio/Cayin CD-22 CD player [in for review]; Pro-ject 1Xpression turntable with Speed Box and AT-95E Cartridge [in for review]
Preamp/Integrated: Bryston B60 integrated; Audio Zone AMP-1; Underwood Hifi Level 2 Mambo ([in for review]; Manley Labs Stingray [in for review]; Vasant-K GA-120S [in for review]; Antique Sound Labs AQ-1003DT [in for review]; Pro-ject Tube Box phono preamp [in for review]
Amp: n/a
Speakers: Meadowlark Kestrel 2; Reference 3A Dulcet [in for review]
Cables: DH Labs Q10 loudspeaker cables, DH Labs Revelation and Air Matrix interconnects, DH Labs Power Plus power cords, Audience Maestro interconnects & loudspeaker cables and powerChord AC cables [in for review]
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow.
Sundry accessories: Grand Prix Audio Apex footers [in for review]; Walker Audio SST contact enhancer; Walker Audio Vivid CD treatment; Audience Auric Illuminator; GutWire Notepads; AudioPrism Isobearings; Vibrapods; dedicated AC line with Hubbell outlets; homebrew acoustic treatments
Room size: 13' x17' x 8', long-wall setup.
Review Component Retail: MaxCon $859; C Clef Power Cable $609/5.5ft, Power Clef SE $859/5.5ft

Few components cause as much heated discussion among audiophiles as cables - especially power cords. "How can a mere six feet of wire possibly remove the grunge that's traveled through hundreds of miles of Romex and hydro lines?" is a common refrain of many 'philes and even certain manufacturers. The problem with that analogy is the false assumption that electrons flow through cable like water through a pipe. That's simply not true. Unlike water, US-based electricity alternates back and forth sixty times a second. From the perspective of your audio component, that six foot power cable is the first and last six feet it sees. In essence, the power cable becomes part of the power supply of whatever component it connects to. [Differing voltage potentials between components additionally cause compensation currents that travel on the outer shields of signal and power cables in an automatic equalization attempt - Ed.] Depending on the design of the cable, there are many interactions that occur to alter perceived playback quality. I admit there is much going on which I don't completely understand. Still, before you snort at or deride anyone claiming sonic benefits from after-market power cables, borrow a couple from a friend or dealer and listen for yourself. While I have appreciated the improvement better speaker and interconnect cables can offer, I've had doubts over outrageous claims made about overpriced AC cables. That is, until I tried a few. I have now experimented with several different brands over the past few years. All of them made a difference that was clearly audible not just to me but all who cared to stop by and listen. In fact, I'd even go so far as to suggest power cables have just as great an impact on a system as signal and loudspeaker cables. Possibly even more so. Did I say audiophilia was kind on your wallet?

While fairly well-know in Canada, GutWire Audio isn't exactly a household name elsewhere but has offered an extensive line of cabling for several years and recently expanded their product range to include power line conditioning and vibration control. I reviewed the NotePad last year and found it to be a worthwhile and cost-effective product. Having struck gold the first time 'round, I was curious to investigate the firm's power-related products. After exchanging emails with owner Herbert Wong, he sent over a care package consisting of the MaxCon power conditioner and a pair each of his C Clef and Power Clef SE power cables.

The C Clef with its loosely wrapped and woven black jacket is just under an inch in diameter and terminated with a hospital- grade Hubbell 15A plug and Wattgate 15A IEC. All connections are hand-crimped rather than soldered since GutWire found crimped connections to sound superior to soldered ones during critical product tests. GutWire also found lightly wrapped sleeves to offer performance enhancements over tighter wraps, hence the loose outer jacket.

The inner conductors are stranded high-purity OFC copper encased in a quadruple shield. Internal cable damping materials combat physical resonance. The C Clef further incorporates "GutWire Electron Rectification Processing" or GERP. Based on the terminology, it sounds like some sort of ferrous material for rejection/filtration of line noise but no further information on the exact details of this technique was forth-coming. While rather thick, the C Clef is relatively easy to manipulate. However, due to its strain relief, it requires several inches of clearance behind your components. An interesting feature of GutWire's power cables is their Shield-Grounding System. A short alligator-clip-terminated lead near the IEC connector either floats or grounds the outer shield. GutWire believes that some equipment will perform better when the outer shield is grounded to the component's chassis. I preferred playback without attaching the clip to any of my components. Sonics were slightly cleaner and smoother. I thought the difference was minor and not something I'd lose sleep over but I do appreciate this flexibility on offer.

The thicker Power Clef SE is encased in a woven blue jacket with similar connectors to the C Clef. Unlike the C Clef however, each HP-OFC conductor bundle is triple-shielded and insulated before a forth shield is wrapped over the entire array for increased RFI/EMI rejection. As with the C Clef, the outermost shield can be floated but the mysterious GERP process is absent since the Power Clef SE is designed predominately for amplifiers.

The MaxCon plc offers two Hubbell hospital-grade duplexes in a nicely milled and well-damped block of aircraft-grade aluminum. The power inlet is Furutech's 15A gold-plated IEC. Internal wiring is a double run of shielded 16-gauge high- purity OFC copper. The MaxCon eschews transformers, inductors and caps but utilizes the same GERP substance as the C Clef to filter incoming AC. This filter is said to run parallel to the power line and should not interfere with current delivery. I opened the casing to view what GERP might be but couldn't see a thing - the interior is completely filled with a caulk-like damping compound. There are no circuit protection, fancy lights or switches to impede current flow or adversely affect sonics. All in all, this is one solidly built, well-damped and attractively minimalist power bar. With your choice of GutWire power cords, the MaxCon is available at different price points. [From experience, your best power cord should go between the conditioner/outlet multiplier and wall outlet where it will benefit every single component that draws its power from the plc - Ed.] While the MaxCon is ultimately limited by its four outlets, Herbert informed me that a far larger unit with several more outlets is already in the works.

All cables and the MaxCon spent several weeks in my TV system before any serious auditioning. At Herbert's suggestion, I even vacuumed the house on several occasions with the MaxCon and a power cable to assist break-in. Vacuums apparently draw large amounts of current [as do electric heaters; but not during the summer - Ed.]. Now there's a sight: A $300 Hoover sucking juice from nearly $2000 of power conditioning. Fer Chrissakes, if you try this at home, don't tell anyone unless you wish to be committed! I compared each pair of GutWire cables as a complete system against my affordable DH Labs Power Plus reference and the Audience powerChords in for review. I didn't mix'n'match different brands so don't expect a blow-by-blow account. I frankly do not see the point of such an exercise and would rather spend that time watching paint dry. Furthermore, I firmly believe that mixing and matching brands of cables not only adversely affects system synergy but is indeed a cry for psychiatric help (or a life)! I started out with one C Clef/ Power Clef SE on one of my integrated amps and the other on a digital source.

Occasionally, you just don't notice something until it's gone. In this case, that was noise. With just one C Clef in my system, it was readily obvious that this cable went miles beyond $3 stock cables. The noise floor dropped like a rock. Line hash and haze all but disappeared. Music playback had more weight, authority, presence and image density. The soundstage opened up in all three dimensions and images exhibited greater definition. Bass seemed to go deeper but was also more controlled and tauter. Best of all, this cable imparted a sense of ease and enhanced musicality that made listening sessions more relaxing and enjoyable. On Holly Cole's cover of Tom Waits "Temptation" [Alert Z2-81026], the acoustic bass was more defined and articulate. A previously unnoticed smearing of individual notes was now absent. I could literally feel fingers sliding up and done the fret board plus enjoy the distinctive plonk of fingers plucking the strings. The piano was cleaner and crisper, with less glare. Cole's voice too was clearer and exhibited reduced haze and sibilance. It was as if a previously unnoticed thin curtain of haze had been lifted.

The glittering percussion and blazing brass that characterize much of the opening movement of Arnold's 5th Symphony [Chandos CHAN 9385] showed greater weight and definition. The soundstage was wider and deeper yet better focussed. Music emerged from a darker background. The tonality of my system wasn't altered - music was simply cleaner and more defined. Low-level resolution was obviously enhanced; I could make out previously obscured details. I noticed these qualities regardless of what component I tried the cable with. Tube amps, solid-state and digital all exhibited these characteristics. When the second cable was added, the effect was definitely cumulative, not necessarily doubled over the single C Clef but a substantial and worthwhile further improvement nonetheless.

The PowerClef SE evinced the same sonic signature of the cheaper C Clef but offered greater sonic riches: Additional weight, smoother highs, a more detailed midrange, less noise and a larger, more defined soundstage. There was definitely a family semblance with these cables and I suspect similar traits would be audible with each additional cable as you moved up the line. Like before, adding the second Power Clef SE pushed my system even higher. I thought I had reached the limit but I was wrong. How much farther could this go?

After I had spent considerable time with the power cables, I inserted the MaxCon into my system, connecting the amp with a Power Clef SE, the CD players via C Clefs. I then connected the MaxCon to the wall with the other Power Clef SE. In the past, I've had little luck with power conditioning. While I noticed less grunge and smearing, it usually came at the cost of dynamics and forward momentum, allied to a drier and thinned-out midrange. The only affordable AC device that's worked for me thus far is Blue Circle's BC86 Power Line Pillow which operates across the line rather than in series. It does an admirable job of reducing line gremlins without screwing up the sound. With the MaxCon, I was thus prepared to be disappointed. Well, all the sonic attributes already mentioned were significantly enhanced once again. The noise floor dropped even further to allow more musical information to flow forth. There was greater focus of individual images, bass was more articulated and
the midrange was fuller and smoother. Even the treble was cleaner, with less sibilance. That's not all, though. My system suddenly sounded louder as well, as if the volume had been turned up slightly. Immediacy, coherency, dynamics and transients all were enhanced. I should point out that this sonic goodness was noticeable with every component listed at the head of this review.

Comparing GutWire's cables to my affordable DH Labs Power Plus and Audience's powerChord was instructive - both designs tackle the problem of power delivery via a completely different methodology than GutWire. Both Power Plus and powerChord are unshielded. Their designers believe shielding is unnecessary due to geometry and even suggest that shielding would negatively impact sonics due to increased capacitance and impedance. Believe what you like but I found the unshielded cables to indeed be a little more open and dynamic while still effectively reducing some line noise. Notes were released a bit faster and soundstaging was slightly more airy and dimensional. Conversely, the GutWires delivered more weight and authority, with a significantly quieter and blacker background. There was also a slightly greater sense of ease. However, keep in mind that the GutWires were at least 2-to-4 times the cost of the DH Labs and Audience cables.

The GutWire C Clef, Power Clef SE and MaxCon are attractive, well-built power delivery components that significantly enhanced my music playback with a wide variety of equipment. While $4000 of AC hardware is hardly what I call budget- friendly (my wife has a far more scatological phrase in mind), I found that most of the benefits could be had at significantly reduced cost simply by connecting the MaxCon to the wall outlet via a single C Clef or Power Clef SE and plugging all components into the MaxCon via their stock cables. One could start with a power cable or MaxCon and work up the line as funds permit. The effect is certainly cumulative.

Spending several hundreds of dollars on a 5.5-foot length of mere wire may seem outrageous to many. While I can certainly sympathize, you may change your mind once you hear what a decent power cable can do. Suddenly those preconceived notions about what constitutes value slip away and I'm sure you'll be reaching for your wallet. I never thought I'd see the day when I would recommend a $900 or even $600 power cable plus a matching $900 power bar. Never say never, right? Do try these products. They really work.
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