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A Tale of 2 Tweaks

Tweak 1

Suitably inspired by Kah Heng's article on DIY cords, I popped into Sim Lim Tower to have a look at the stuff there. I was looking to buy a length of wire for use as a power cord and to rewire the insides of my power distribution strip. Unfortunately, the cables there didn't meet my personal criteria. For a power cord, I wanted something reassuringly thick, even though I wasn't going to use it with high-current equipment.

Wandering here and there, I noticed something mentioned in a tweaking article in TNT Hi-Fi (a non-commercial hi-fi website) - a RF filtered IEC connector. Basically, you use it to replace the IEC connector in your equipment, and you get the benefits of RF filtration. But its about 1.5" longer due to the filter and fitting it into equipment (or a power distribution strip) would be a major hassle. Also, after major surgery, there's no guarantee that it'll sound better.(of course, I won't rule out using it when I need to make a power strip with an IEC connector)

I then stumbled upon a shop (3rd floor, after the escalator, on the left, with loads of stuff just outside the shop laid out on the floor) selling TDK plug-in EMI filters (ANF-106U) - according to the sign, its on sale at $8.80 usual $18.80 -- like that, how to resist buying one? If you check TDK's website, you know that besides selling cassette tapes, they're big on RF/EMI filtration. TDK RF ferrite clamps are a Stereophile recommended component, but thats another matter... Anyway, the EMI filter is a black cubelike thing that plugs into the socket, and theres a socket on top of it for you to plug in your appliance [3A max current].

    Important note: the connections are all US type, so you unless you have a Winstar/Wonpro power distribution strip with universal outlets, you have to get an adaptor. And I do not like those 'travel adaptors' as  they usually fit loosely.

The prime candidate would be my CD player. It has a standard 2 pin plug so I had to get a 'wide 2 pin to narrow 2 pin' adaptor - i.e., one of those black things that your TV set has to convert narrow 2 pin to wide 2 pin. More importantly, it fits more tightly than the travel adaptor (which costs more anyway).

After conducting listening tests using the following:

      Nancy Bryan, Lay Me Down
      Mary Black, No Frontiers
      Julia Fordham, Porcelain
      Sarah MacLachlan, Surfacing

I was unhappy.

Even though I could hear a tiny improvement in the separation of instruments, this was offset (or was perhaps a result of), significant high-pass filtering which caused a loss of top-end air and detail. These are the tiny nuances in the recording; singer taking a breath, some extraneous knocking sound. They became less noticeable. Listening to the wonderful opening in Nancy Bryan's Blood Song [which can also illustrate power cord differences], where there is a lot of high frequency percussion in sharp focus on the right, I also noticed the sound becoming 'deader' in the treble.

So the EMI filter has the unfortunate effect of being a tone control. However, I can see it working well in systems with hashy treble or severe EMI problems. I will definitely use it for my LD player (but that means I'll have to buy another one because...)

Well, I then listened to the system without the EMI filter in again, then I plugged the EMI filter into my subwoofer. The subwoofer is now in the first socket in my Winstar power strip nearest the power cord, and the CD player is in the 2nd. Listening again, I noticed improvements in the sound. The bass seemed to tighten up a bit and there was an increase in detail. All very subtle, but I did the A/B tests and did notice the difference. In this case, I preferred the improvement.

I have no idea what happened, but I could speculate (and I am not an engineer :))

  • My subwoofer has more RF/EMI problems as the wire from amp to subwoofer is long, also, the power cord from power strip to subwoofer is also long.
  • The EMI filter is also working as a sort of parallel filtration. It doesn't only affect the component thats plugged directly into it but also affects components downstream as well. And somehow, as the CD player is not plugged into the filter, no high-pass filtering takes place. (I'm guessing that its filtration is similar to the Audioprism quietlines, which work on that basis, but I don't have the proper tool to open it to look -- it requires one of those hexagonal screwdrivers or something).

This is of course idle speculation, and the truth is probably still out there :) Still, I like it, and its a worthwhile addition to my home theatre equipment. At $8.80, its cheaper than a ferrite clamp, and I'm still not sure whether I hear a difference with ferrite clamps (see my main tweaks page).

Tweak 2

One (t)week later, I resolved to buy a soldering iron and start working on power cables. But first, I need to find a multipurpose cable. My wanderings brought my back to Kingsley, which recently started selling Van den Hul. VdH, and at about the same time (give or take a few months), Klas stopped selling VdH. Ok, can I stop and tell a story?
    Some time back, someone from Van den Hul stumbled upon my website and actually e-mailed me [I can't remember whether it was VdH himself], and he told me about VdH cables. I promptly wrote back a note telling him that VdH cables did not have a big following in Singapore because the main shop selling it (guess who) was selling so many other brands of cables that it was not really pushing VdH. I can't remember if I mentioned the ridiculous pound exchange rate, but if he read my cables article, he would know what I think [and maybe he read the part about 0.5m interconnects too] Lo and behold, Kingsley takes over and starts selling VdH at a sane exchange rate and also sells 0.6m interconnects! Coincidence? Dunno :)

Anyway, theres a large variety of VdH cable available by the reel (check out my cables page for more detail). Browsing around, I settled on a 2 m length of CS -122 cable (S$19.80/m - UK list 12 pounds) silver plated copper with carbon shield. Later (after I completed listening tests), I found out that Hi-Fi Choice called it 'smooth and articulate with superb focus and control' [can I pick them or what? 8^) -- and no, the fact that it was the only one in a funky green colour had nothing to do with my pick]

The first thing I did was to cut up some small pieces to use as new biwire jumpers to replace my existing Audioquest type 4s (a steal at $6.90/m). Perhaps my listening tests are still preliminary as the wires have to break in, but my impressions are very positive. There was more detail and a fuller sound. What is curious is that using the CS-122 as jumpers, I had to turn up the volume by 1 notch to get about the same volume. Is there something going on with inductance/resistance etc? In any event, now that I have a Radio Shack SPL meter (can detect 1 Db volume changes - confirmed by my Denon test CD), I'm sure that any 'fuller' sound I hear is not caused by volume changes.

I'll be rewiring my power strip and changing the power cord on my power strip, and/or I might make a new power cord to compare with my $100 5 ft AFA. We'll see if the CS-122 is the answer to the prayers of those who can afford more than the Audioquest type 4 (which is still, the best budget 'do everything' cable).

Follow-up : CS-122 power cord

 The bottom line first: the CS-122 as power cord equals or exceeds my $100 AFA. Now, down to the nitty gritty on how to build one. It seems pretty simple, but I hope to encourage people who wouldn't otherwise dream of tweaking to pick up the screwdriver.

First, the parts list (cable from Kingsley, other stuff from Sim Lim Tower):

  • 2 m of CS-122 at $19.80/m = $39.60
  • 2 m of cheap speaker cable = $3.00
  • IEC female connector = $3.00
  • 3 pin plug = $1.80

My power cord is only 1.6 m long, so that leaves 0.4 m to be used as biwire jumpers.
Basically, you're using 1 lead of the CS-122 as live and 1 lead of the CS-122 as neutral. One lead of the cheap speaker cable is used as earth (so that leaves another 2 m for another power cord). When you choose the IEC connector, get a new and shiny one (can't actually tell because the metal contacts are inside the connector, but if the plastic looks new and the male connectors they sell are in good condition, its a safe bet).

Some surgery has to be done to the IEC connector to enable the CS-122 leads to enter. From my old hobby of building scale models, I have an X-Acto handle saw, a motor drill with engraving bits etc if I really wanted to make a neat cut, but for this, I just took a wire cutter and ripped a new hole. :) Inside, wrap the wires round the screws. The cable was a bit thick so I cut a tiny bit off to make it easier to wrap around.

Major surgery has to be done to the 3 pin plug. Why don't we have the plugs like the US hubbell plugs which can take enormous cables?

After this, double check your connections and plug it in to some cheap appliance like an electric kettle. Since an electric kettle is a high wattage item, if nothing happens, it should be ok for hi-fi. :) There you go, for under $50, you get a power cord that sounds as good as, if not better than a $100 power cord. And also, with the funky green colour, its looks far cooler IMHO. 8^)

Listening Tests
It sounds very similar to my AFA power cord. Perhaps there was a bit more air and space with the CS-122. I wouldn't call it the added harshness of silver plated copper as when I used the CS-122 as biwire jumpers, there was no move towards harshness. Actually, VdH cables are traditionally smooth. VdH is against 'fizzles & sizzles' (his words) that other cables add to the sound.

Other things to try
Though its a bit thick, I could seperate the 2 leads completely (they run in parallel joined by a narrow spacer between them) and then wind them in a figure 8 configuration.

If you can't even afford the CS-122, you could try the clearwater, a smaller silver plated copper cable without the carbon shield at $10.80/m. (list 7 pounds - don't yah just love Kingsley? :))