Saturday, October 26, 2013

Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7500 and 7N-PC9500 power cords

I was at the local dealer's showroom looking at a new shipment of power cords from Acrolink of Japan. The dealer had a large smile on his face as his enthused over the virtues of the new Mexcel range.

I cautiously asked about the pricing, and the dealer nonchalantly rattled of some mind boggling numbers. Either audiophiles have become very rich over the years, or the dealer had serious mis-estimates about the state of affairs of my bank account.

He invited me to listen to the 7N-PC7500 which was currently being run-in, and had on hand the much older model, the 7N-PC 7100. He disconnected the 7500 and hooked up the 7100 for a quick listen - smart move. Mentally, I was hoping that both cables would sound the same. I already had the PC7100 at home, and spending even more money was not at the top of my wish list.

I listened to a few familiar tracks through the wonderful setup for the day, the beautiful Vivid Giya G3s powered by amplification from Technical Brain, and fronted by a digital source from Accustic Arts.

"Hate it, hate it, hate it.....crap, No!  I love it, love it, love it" - resistance was futile. I had fallen in love with the system in front of me. I mentally ran through the cost of the system in front of me, and luckily, my mental calculator ran out of digits. My wallet was safe - at least from the electronics in front of me.

The dealer switched the cables, and like a Cheshire cat, his grin became wider and wider, until his body slowly faded and disappeared into the background, leaving nothing but his grin. OK, that never happened - after his grin, he went back into his personal office to leave me alone with the system.

To cut the long story short - I bought the cables on the spot. At that point of time, the PC9500 had not yet been released. I would later go back to buy those too some months later, the result of some egging on from a particularly mischevious individual from Poland (Marcin, this is your fault !)

Carbon fibre plugs with blades made from Beryllium copper and double plated

The PC9500 on the left, and PC7500 on the left. Both have similar diameters
To be very frank, the comparison between the 7100 and 7500 was absolutely crushing (apologies to all other 7100 owners out there). The 7500 had far greater incisiveness, drive and dynamics. The human mind is an interesting thing. The 7100 was already highly regarded and regarded by some as the best thing since sliced bread (with the exception of the 9100 of course). Then two generations later, the 7500 convinced the audiophile's mind that the 7100 was actually broken all along.

The 7100 in comparison sounds grey - music is presented in many pastel shades of a watercolour painting. The 7500 is oil on canvas - bright, vivid and bold strokes, but never to the point of looking like garish technicolour.

Physically, both the 7500 and 9500 are of similar gauge and flexibility. Relative stiffness requires fairly large turning radiuses. This could cause issues with tight setups and lightweight equipment. Acrolink has also dropped the beautiful wooden box that accompanied it's older models in favour of a more eco friendly cardboard box. I had grown rather fond of the wooden display box very much and will miss it, but compromises have to be made to save some trees.

Sonics wise, the 7500 and 9500 sound more alike than different. The notable gains moving from the 7500 to the 9500 are a greater sense of immediacy, incisiveness and low end authority. However, I am not convinced that the 9500 is the perfect power cord for all. My Calyx Femto preferred the 7500 to the 9500, while the converse was true for my Conrad Johnson preamp.

Before moving on to the sonics of the dynamic duo here, I would like to take some time to address the pricing of these cables and the general trend of the industry. These cables are not cheap. Here in Singapore, they go for a discounted price of about USD 3,000 and USD 4,200 each. Power cables in this price range would have been mostly unheard of 10 years ago. Today, these figures may not even raise an eyebrow. There is an active discussion ongoing in the local forum at the moment on power cords that carry price tags close to USD 10,000. In some cases, they are being paired in systems where the single power cord outprices the cost of some of the equipment.

The value proposition is a personal one - and best left to the purchaser. On one hand, I question the wisdom of spending a disproportionate amount of one's budget on cabling. On the other hand, I know better than to dismiss the importance of cabling. My own experience is that as you move up the ladder, the importance of carefully matching cabling (which is not always related to price tag) increases.

The 7500 is a cable with good drive and dynamics. Unlike some of the lower end Acrolink offerings, which have slightly polite bass and a subjectively "slower" sound, the 7500 is tight, fast and tuneful. It combines the traditional Acrolink strengths - extended and refined highs and supreme control over staging, imaging and separation with considerable energy, intensity and drive.

The 9500 goes even lower, with slightly more slam. The extra money also earns you even more quietness and control - staging and imaging are even more precise than the 7500. The 9500 has a slightly snappier sound to it. Ride cymbals still crash and fade gracefully with the 7500. The 9500 has slightly more emphasis and a warmer tone of the initial strike. This degree of extra energy present in the 9500 is most obvious in percussion instruments including the piano, where the hammer strikes and soundboard resonance are more vibrant and dynamic.

You can comfortably tick off all the other boxes regardless of which model you choose :- resolution, staging, imaging, presence, dynamics, etc - you get it all. These are very serious power cords for equally serious money.

I feel a bit guilty waxing lyrically about something so expensive, but I really like these power cords ! I highly recommend that you have a listen to them if you are looking for power cords in that price range. 

DIY AC Power Cables

A short round up of some popular (and well, not so popular) AC Power Cables available off the reel for DIY projects.

1. Acoustic Revive Powermax 5000

This is a nice purple cable and is reasonably easy to handle in terms of flexibility, stripping the insulation, etc.

Otherwise identical to the Power Max Standard offered by Acoustic Revive, the Powermax 5000 lacks the carbon infused mesh used in the retail offering. Wire gauge is 3.5 square mm per conductor, and the sheath is infused with tourmaline.

This is a very smooth and inoffensive cable. It has a laidback and very refined sound that makes it perfect for countering digital and/or solid state glare. The level of detail is quite good but this cable lacks dynamic snap and drive.

2. Acrolink 7N-4030

A personal favourite of mine, the 7N version of the 4030 is far superior to its 6N predecessor. Apart from tighter bass and better dynamics, the 7N version has superior high frequency extension and control.

High frequency extension and air is almost a given for an Acrolink product, so no real surprises there. Rythmically, the timing gang may still find this cable subjectively slow sounding. The high frequencies are extended in a natural way and slightly wet sounding, which makes for a less fatiguing presentation.

3. Furutech FP-Alpha 3

A sweet cable that is otherwise quite neutral. It lacks the bass slam and deep extension of the Oyaide Tunami and the high frequency extension of the Acrolink 7N 4030. Otherwise, this is quite a neutral cable with very little attention being called to any particular frequency.

It lacks a bit of bloom on the mid-bass and transients are slightly soft. I think it sounds better with bigger sounding plugs like Furutech, as compared to Oyaide.

4. Nanotec Golden Strada #305

Any cable skeptic should listen to this cable. Infused with gold and silver particles in oil from liver of a deep sea shark, this should leave both the electrical engineers (who mostly don't believe in cabling anyway) and animal conservationists shaking their heads in dismay.The #305 has a distinctive signature which is readily discernible whether used on my power amp, preamp or Mac mini.This cable imparts sweetness, liquidity and smoothness to the most stubborn of systems.

I personally find it too heavy handed, making most music sound similar in presentation. I don't mind my vocal tracks or chamber music presented this way, but it is a bit too much when Meatloaf sounds too sweet and nice.

5. Oyaide PA-23

This is the thinnest cable of the lot and is easy to terminate, even into a standard UK mains plug. Technically, this is similar to the Tunami with PCOCC-A conductors, carbon impregnated damping and a copper foil shield. The PA-23 uses 2 square mm conductors.

Sonics wise, the PA-23 is day, while the Tunami is night. The PA-23 sounds faster and more extended than the Tunami but lacks bottom heft. It's thinner midrange and lack of control over high frequencies (it has a tendency to become slightly messy when the track mix gets heavy) require careful matching.

6. Oyaide Tunami

This is the only cable in the group which I really hate to terminate - the conductors are far bigger than anything else here, at 5.5 square mm conductors.

The Tunami has powerful and extended bass. The rest of the frequencies are very quiet, but a bit dark sounding. I prefer to use this on amplifiers compared to source equipment, where it sounds too dull. However, it sounded quite dead on the Calyx Femti amplifier, which sounded far better with the Acrolink 7N-4030.


An interesting round-up - some of the cables performed quite well on specific equipment, but fared badly on others. The plug used can be quite critical in tuning the balance of the cable to your exact liking. It may be useful to have a look at my shoot-out of AC receptacles and plugs too - click here.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Entreq Tellus and Eartha Silver Cables

The Entreq Tellus is the big and badder brother of the Minimus. It is almost as big as a typical hi-fi component and will take up a complete shelf on your hi-fi rack.

The Tellus is really heavy and is fashioned out of wood, including the binding post caps. The latter are made from aged beech from an old farmhouse belonging to Entreq's owner. It is heavier than most of my equipment, including my preamp and CD player. On the rear of the Tellus, three binding posts are provided.According to Entreq, the Minimus can be used to treat two source equipment, while the Tellus can treat a whole system.

The Eartha silver cables get special mention for their clever spade design. As they say, a picture says a thousand words.

The Tellus is a ground conditioner, which promises a clean earth in order to enhance the sound of your hi-fi system. Hook-up is simple, with the user hooking up the Tellus to various possible ground points in the system, such as the negative binding post of your speakers,  the outer ring of RCA sockets, or the chassis screw or ground post of your equipment.

For readers not familiar with Singapore's electrical wiring, our household AC sockets are polarized and earthed. Entreq's ground system is therefore used in conjunction with the protective earth already in place. As a matter of clarification, the Tellus does NOT connect to the protective earth point of the household AC socket.

I used Entreq's Eartha silver cables to hook up the Tellus to my preamp, as well as both of my speakers. My Minimus remained hooked up to my Entreq USB cable. I tried connecting the USB cable to the Tellus instead together with the rest of the system, but performance was better with the Minimus dedicated to the USB cable.

One of my dealer friends (who does not distribute Entreq products) happened to hear the Entreq in action. I did not explain how it worked, what it does, or how much it cost. He listened to my setup for a while, before I disconnected the Entreq Tellus (leaving the Minimus connected to the USB cable). He was wowed, and likened the effect to reducing a good projection system to a normal widescreen LCD TV.

The effect of the Entreq can best be described as a tightening of imaging and soundstaging, with clearer definition between instruments. The most obvious change is the change in depth perception, with the soundstage moving back at least a few rows. The second most obvious change is the pinpoint accuracy of imaging. Although image sizes are smaller, they are clearly defined in space.

Initially, there seemed to be a loss in immediacy and dynamics, but further introspection suggested that this was due to a reduction in harshness and tighter bass control. After adjusting for the generally calmer and quieter presentation of the Tellus, there is a realisation of the improved quality of microdetail, treble and bass extension, and a generally lower noise floor.

It is also worthwhile to note that the effect of the Entreq depends very much on other ground control / enhancers in use in the system. Adding the very popular Acoustic Revive RGC-24 still makes a difference, but to a lesser extent than if the RGC-24 was used alone.

Assuming that you do not prefer a more intimate presentation (some audiophiles I know demand that their favourite female vocalist appears a few feet before them, rather than a few meters away on stage), there is little not to like about the Tellus. Well, there is of course, the issue of price (the Tellus with Eartha Silver Cables costs as much as nice component), and bulk. In perspective, the eye popping price tags of current high end equipment suggests that pricing may be reasonable after all, assuming that your system price tag justifies it.