Sunday, April 14, 2013

AC Outlet and Plug Shoot Out (Work in Progress)

I've had a sufficient breather since the pain of my capacitor shoot-out, so the time is ripe for another round-up, this time of AC receptacles and plugs. Now, this is almost as fun as watching mould grow on walls - yippee !

A generic aluminium distributor chassis will be the unfortunate test platform for AC receptacles (installed one at a time only), while two spare Acrolink 7N-4020 power cables will be used to try out the AC plugs. The 7N-4020 was chosen as its wire gauge is relatively thin, and plugs can be removed and replaced in less than 10 minutes. It is also useful to be able to switch back between two sets of cables for comparison purposes.

All outlets and plugs will be burnt-in for at least 200 hours prior to testing. Some of the test subjects have been in use in my system for a few years. For receptacles which allow split wiring, only the "direct" wired outlet will be used.

The participants for this slug-fest will be the following,

AC Receptacles

1. ATL ETP-1000RH
2. Furutech FT-D20A(R)
3. Furutech GTX-D Gold
4. Furutech GTX-D Rhodium
5. Hubbell 8300H
6. Hubbell 5362i
7. Maestro Outlet
8. Orb HP-2GB
9. Oyaide SWO-XXX
10. Oyaide R0
11. Oyaide R1
12. Synergistic Research Teslaplex

AC Plugs

1. Furutech FI-28 R / M(R)
2. Furutech FI-11(Cu) / M(Cu)
3. Furutech FI-50M(R) / 50R
4. Iego Ti-2000 8085 Gold
5. Oyaide P/C 046
6. Oyaide P/C 004
7. Oyaide M1 / F1 (New)
8. Wattgate 320i / 5266i

A word of thanks to TC for his loan of the ATL, Furutech GTX-D Gold and Synergistic Research receptacles for the shootout.

Do also bear in mind that voltage in Singapore is 230V. Some of the comments left by visitors were marked different from my own impressions. Does voltage have an effect on the sound ?

AC Receptacles


ATL Power describes the ETP-1000RH as having pure copper contacts with silver, gold and rhodium plating. Like the Furutech GTX-D, the contacts are said to be designed not to mar the finish of mating plugs. Sound wise, the ATL sounds quite similar to the Maestro with close soundstaging and a degree of forward projection. It has a prominent midrange which is weighty and smooth. It is not as neutral as the Maestro, with an emphasis on the upper treble. This gives it a bit of zing on higher pitched percussion work. Lower treble is dry and dull in comparison. Things get slightly messy when mixes get busy.

Furutech FT-D20A(R)

The FT-D20 catches your attention first with its midrange which is relatively prominent. Bass is nice and tight with the right amount of extension, bloom and control. This is a very "black" outlet, with very quiet silence. Spatially it is a a bit flat sounding, with a lack of soundstage depth. The FT-D20 trades off a bit of air and microdetail compared to the Oyaide R-1. It is by no means rolled-off though, the high frequencies are all there, but are not quite as prominent as the R-1.

Furutech GTX-D Gold

The Furutech GTX-D is Furutech's top of the range outlet. It is available in both Rhodium and Gold plating, the latter which is on test here. It promises pure copper contacts and a special clamping system that will not mar the finish of AC plugs. The GTX-D sounds totally different from the FT-D20A(R), which was comfortably left in the dust. Soundstaging is more distant and imaging is very precise, similar to the Oyaide.  The GTX-D has more tonal density than the Oyaide and has more bloom in the bass and midrange. The midrange in particular has a light golden and honeyed hue to it. Comparisons with the Oyaide reveals that this comes at the expense of some resolution which is smoothed over. On the plus side, sibilance is less obvious on the GTX-D. High frequency extension is good but is outperformed by the Oyaide. Maybe the Rhodium plated sibling could perform better in comparison ? Praise should also be given for the GTX-D's excellent control and refinement. Although I enjoyed the GTX-D, I felt that its level of performance was not good enough for its hefty price tag - it is easily the most expensive outlet on test !

Furutech GTX-D Rhodium

I have long since returned the GTX-D Gold to TC. So, any comparisons I noted were based on memory for what it’s worth. The GTX-D Rhodium presents the soundstage slightly closer to the listener. It is also far more impactful and incisive. At the same time, it is supremely confident and controlled. Detail is delivered up with precision and yet is utterly glare-free. This outlet also has very tight and deep bass, and very good dynamics. Any reservations I may have had with its gold plated sibling in respect of “softness” and loss of detail are laid to rest here. This is an excellent outlet with a correspondingly high but justifiable price tag.
Any drawbacks ? If you have sibilant recordings, it comes through loud, clear and nasty. The tone may be a bit too analytical and unforgiving for some, but it definitely floats my boat. Even when paired with a humble Wattgate 320i AC plug, it’s sonic signature is clearly identifiable.

Hubbell 8300H

The Hubbell 8300H turned out to be a surprise. I was not expecting much out of it, given the far more exotic and sexier models on test here. It has good tone with vibrancy and a neutral tone. It manages to project a very deep soundstage with a slightly distant presentation. It has good high frequency extension but lacks the refinement and control of the Oyaide outlets, with a tendency to sound a bit hashy during busy mixes. It has a warmer tone in the midrange and high frequencies, with female voices having more body and less sibilance. On the downside, the outlet sounds slightly soft, with less snap and definition. Microdetail is not as good as the exotic outlets on test here. For the money, it does more things right than wrong. As an upgrade from an old and corroded outlet, this Hubbell makes a lot of sense both from the perspective of both budget and performance.

Hubbell 5362i 

The 5362i sounds more vibrant than the 8300H. It has a less deep soundstage with an overall "closer" presentation. It's midrange is clearer than the 8300H but still remains on the full and warm side of the spectrum. Music has more incisive snap to it. Other than that, most of the other comments on the 8300H apply here as well. Between the two, I prefer the 5362i.

Maestro Outlet

Visually underwhelming, the Maestro outlet looks like a plain vanilla Hubbell outlet. The manufacturer claims unplated copper-brass alloy contacts, cryogenic treatment, a special coating for RFI / EMI rejection and mechanical resonance treatment.  That's a mouthful for a plain jane looking outlet ! It's backstrap, mounting tabs and screws are magnetic, which is odd given the amount of thought given to the design. Right off the bat, let me state that this is an excellent outlet for the cost. The Maestro has a neutral balance with excellent resolution. Like good organic food, this is a healthy product without genetic modification or nasty chemicals. Soundstaging is closer compared to the Oyaide outlets, and all instruments have a prominence that make it easy to follow individual lines. This is a very natural sounding outlet and highly recommended if you want an outlet that does not alter the tone of your system. This Maestro should be particularly commended for lack of glare and control over the busiest of mixes. To nitpick, it has slightly less high frequency extension, and soundstage width compared to the Oyaide outlets. I like the Maestro very much. It is close to my taste in women - wholesome goodness in every bite !

Orb HP-2GB

This outlet really got the better of me. Physically the shape of this outlet differs slightly from the rest, and regardless of the amount of filing of the cut-outs on my distributor, this outlet stubbornly refuses to fit. Any evaluation of this outlet is put on hold until this problem is overcome.

Oyaide R-0

The R-0 is a special version of the R-1 which omits any plating. Like the R-1, long burn in required. The R-0 trades off some resolution and high frequency extension in favour of slightly more bloom and bigger image sizes. Users who found the R-1 too bright or thin should be quite comfortable with the R-0. Although I think the R-1 is a better outlet, the R-0 should fit into more systems without issue. As an added bonus, the R-0 is packed with Oyaide MWA-EC outlet covers.

Oyaide R-1

The R-1 is Oyaide's top of the range outlet. Contacts are made out of Beryllium Copper alloy with Platinum and Palladium plating. Contact force is especially strong. One word of caution - do not make any quick impressions of this outlet. Long burn in time is not just recommended, but mandatory. Failure to do so results in a slightly thin and very bright tone. Coming back after two weeks of use, the R-1 is much calmer and refined compared to initial evaluations carried out after just 24 hours of use. Much of my comments on the SWO-XXX apply except that the R-1 has a higher degree of control and focus. The R-1 is also slight quieter and more resolving. A drawback of the R-1 is its ruthlessly revealing nature - any change upstream or downstream is immediately noticeable.

Oyaide SWO-XXX

The SWO-XXX was formerly Oyaide's flagship product but has since been supplanted by the R-1. Contacts are phosphor bronze with Gold and Palladium plating. Tonally, the Oyaide is lighter and brighter than the Furutech FT-D20A(R). Soundstaging is also quite laidback but has good spatial projection and depth. The Oyaide sounds tight and focused with crisp and controlled transients, and fine microdetail. Image sizes are precise but quite small. It does not have the ultimate control and focus of the Oyaide R-1, but other than that, the two outlets are more similar than they are different. One common trait between the two is seemingly limitless high frequency extension.

Synergistic Research Teslaplex 

The Teslaplex is closer in balance to the Hubbells and the Maestro. Perhaps this is something in common with unplated outlets ? The Teslaplex is a Leviton outlet that has been zapped with Synergistic Research's Tesla coil. The outlet is non-magnetic, including the backstrap. However, the mounting screws supplied are magnetic.The first thing you notice about the Teslaplex is the close soundstaging it projects. In fact it is so close that you could do hand combat with the musicians in the recording. Bass is on the warm and rounded side. Midrange is smooth and laidback, sacrificing some detail for a pleasing and non-offensive presentation. High frequencies are extended though and quite well controlled. The Teslaplex has a good amount of detail, but lacks the very fine microdetail of the Oyaide outlets. Overall, the presentation is slightly soft and lacks a bit of crispness. If you like the sound of unplated outlets, I would recommend the Maestro or Hubbell 5362i instead unless you need to tame some midrange forwardness in your system.

AC Plugs

Furutech FI-11(M)Cu / FI-11 Cu

The Furutech FI-11 (M)Cu / 11 Cu is a midrange priced AC / IEC plug set. It utilizes a star shaped clamp like Oyaide, and the build quality is quite and reassuring. Contact blades are made out of Furutech’s alpha treated copper for the male plug, while the female plug uses phosphor bronze. Sonically, this is an excellent plug for the price. It has good neutrality and does not appear to call attention to itself in any part of the frequency range. Despite the dissimilarity in metals used, the FI-11 Cu is a great match for the GTX-D (R). Consider this a very cost effective step-up from the Wattgate 320i/5266, and a baseline reference for premium plugs.
Furutech FI-50M(R) / 50R

Visually stunning, this is Furutech's top of the range AC plugs, boasting technology such as Furutech's earth ground jumper system, nano ceramic and carbon particles, with a steel and carbon fiber housing. Connectors are rhodium plated copper. It handles like a Swiss watch, with smooth screw action and close tolerance fit. In terms of looks and feel, this is easily the top of the heap. Enough said - this is love at first sight.

These plugs are dominated by a deep and powerful bassline. High frequencies are prominent and extended. Where it all falls down is the midrange, which sounds mechanical and slightly nasal. Frankly, this plug sounded quite unpleasant plugged into my Oyaide MTB-6 R1, where it sounded thin and nervous with brittle highs. Luckily for me, it was a lot better paired with my Acoustic Revive RTP-6. Nevertheless, I found the presentation too hi-fi like, etched and artificial, with prominent bass and highs, but with a lack of fluidity and bloom. For all its virtues, it is simply too expensive for its performance. Maybe it could perform with careful matching ? It sounded significantly better paired with the Acoustic Revive Powermax 5000 AC cable, but the midrange nasality and and mechanical sound remained.

Oyaide P/C-004

This is the partnering plug to the Oyaide R-1 outlet and shares most of its characteristics. In a painful lesson in matching, the P/C-004 sounds bare and clinical with the Acrolink 7N-4020. Make sure that your cable has sufficient heft and bloom before using the P/C-004. Despite this, the P/C-004 is an excellent match with the bigger sounding Acrolink 7N-4030. Moral of the story ? Don't rush out to buy the P/C-004 throwing it at every cord you own. Consider how this will shift your system tonal balance before taking the plunge.

Oyaide P/C-046

The P/C-046 matches the SWO-XXX outlet and also utilises phosphor bronze connectors plated with Gold and Palladium.

Despite the similarity of tone, the P/C-046's slightly soft and more forgiving presentation compared to the laser focus of the P/C-004 proved to be a much better match with the Acrolink 7N-4020. I gladly gave up the focus for the more easy going sound of the P/C-046. I went back to this cable and plug connection after the traumatic experience of the Furutech FI-50. These plugs sounds so much more natural !

Oyaide M1 / F1

Stay tuned !

Wattgate 320i/5266i

The Wattgate is probably the baseline reference for audiophile AC plugs and IEC connectors. Easily available at a modest cost, you really should not consider anything less. Despite it's low cost, you get a solidly constructed plug with a polycarbonate rear shell, and cryogenic treatment.

Tonally, these plugs are middle of the road, without any undue emphasis on any part of the frequency range. Images are slightly larger and less focussed compared to the Oyaides. Soundstaging is also much closer. They lose a bit of resolution - the distinct differences in the shaker in Rebecca Pidgeon's Spanish Harlem were not obvious. They also lack deep bass extension and articulation. It's really not as bad as it sounds, and the Wattgate delivers solid performance for its modest price. However, those looking for the ultimate in performance and willing to pay for it should look elsewhere.

To be continued ...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Launch of the Raidho D1

Raidho has been getting a lot of good press lately, and deservedly so. Mr. Michael Borresen, President and Chief Designer of Raidho Acoustics was in town to showcase Raidho's flagship stand-mounted speaker, the D1, at the local dealer, AV Intelligence.

As I came towards the tail end of the event, I did not get to hear the earlier comparisons with the C1.1. During the demonstration, the D1 was paired with Devialet amplification and an Oppo Blu-ray player, which was a welcome change from extravagant pairings that only oil sheikhs could afford.

The D1 cast a wide and deep soundstage, with pinpoint imaging. Driver integration between its ribbon tweeter and diamond coated woofer was outstanding. Despite the small driver size, the woofer extends quite low - much lower than expected. Midrange is on the slightly warm and full side of things, while the top end is detailed and glare free. Despite the high level of detail, the D1 avoids an overly analytical presentation and scores high on the musicality scale. 

The D1 has startling dynamics with sudden progression from total silence to extremely loud. The young gentleman in front of me literally jumped out of his seat in shock at the explosive opening of one of the test tracks. 

By the end of a few tracks, it was quite obvious that we were facing a speaker that was clearly at the top of its class, which is reflected in its asking price - in excess of S$ 30,000 (stands included and with standard finish).

Some interesting points on the D1 were discussed including the manufacture of its state of the art drivers, and why Raidho chose to compromise on speaker sensitivity in designing its drivers. It was clear that Raidho had invested tremendous effort in examining speaker and driver design and innovating where possible to achieve their design goals. It was interesting to note that the D1 uses a series crossover and Sparkz technology in its wiring.

Michael mentioned that the D1 does need a certain amount of power, although they had experienced very successful pairings with push-pull tube amplifiers. From discussions with both AV Intelligence and Michael, they believed that a 60 watt tube amplifier could drive the D1 adequately depending on the acoustic space in question and typical listening volume.

The D1 is well worth checking out if you are seeking the finest stand-mounted speaker that money can buy. It is definitely beyond my budget, but it is nice to dream once in a while.