Just mention the word “audiophile power cord” in a group of seasoned audio enthusiasts and the resulting exchange will resemble the calm and collectiveness of someone throwing a firecracker in a chicken coop. In the audiophile world, there is no other subject as polarizing. Some scholars have even argued that the phrase “WTF?!!” was first introduced into our contemporary culture moments after some Neandertweak claimed that “premium power cords can make an audio system sound better!”
The details of the origins of the “audiophile” power cable are a little obscure. Perhaps long ago an energetic employee working for an audio cable manufacturer had the “Ah Ha moment?” He’d spent more than his share of quality time developing better sounding speaker cables, and one fateful day glanced over at his amp and thought: “Speakers get AC from the amp. Amps get AC from the wall. If this meaty cable works great for speakers, what would happen if I made a power cord out of the same stuff?” And so, he decided to cobble up a set. He approached the power cable with the same attention to detail as he did with his speaker cables, and after terminating each end with something that had a low likelihood of not catching the lab on fire, he plugged it in … and BEHOLD!!! To say he liked what he heard was an understatement. An alien craft landing in the designated employee parking area of his lab would not have left him with a more bewildered look on his face. But, unsure how to connect the dots from theory to reality,he developed a new audio vocabulary to extract a "believable" technical explanation of what he just heard. He polished up his demo a bit and invited a couple of colleagues over for a listen. With the world’s first premium power cord, newly formed technical vocabulary, and wll-recorded demo material on hand he convinced his colleagues they heard something pretty spectacular, too. Word got around. More auditions. More positive feedback. Then it hit him: “I gotta tell management about this!”
But not so fast. The technically inclined in Section B got wind of this. These were the modern-day equivalent of Nostradamus. They could analyze a handful of measurements and predict how something would sound in the future. So, the guys from Section B prepared to come at him with the full force of industry standard hand-held HP calculators, pocket protectors, Radio Shack SPL meters and electronic theory in their arsenals -- ready to humiliate the “power cord dude” in front of his pack of the “audiophile” power cord faithful. They were going to be a tough sell. Meticulous. Exacting. These were the guys that measured out precisely 5mm of Brylcreem™, when “just a little dab” would work just fine for the rest of us. The guys from Section B placed themselves between a pair of decent loudspeakers ready to pounce on any inkling of “better sound.” They were quite emphatic about not hearing anything different. Afterall, their Radio Shack SPL meters have never lied to them yet. Why would today be any different? Upper management observed stealthily from a distance.
It turned out to be more like a geeky version of “Rope a Dope” than dismantling “the cable dude” and send him scampering out of the room with his cable between his legs. The cable dude just stood there like a giant redwood taking blow after blow, carefully listening to their pleas for sanity and acknowledging their technical evaluations. Always countering with the same remark: “Yeh, I get that. But have you listened to it?” Exhausted, the “deniers” stomped off, knowing full well they had won the debate, but still frustrated that they couldn’t convince the power cord dude he that he possessed the mental agility of a small soap dish.
Management took notice and found themselves in the unfortunate position of being compromised regardless of what position they took. Do, we slap the cable dude in the face and ruin his ego (and, perhaps his productivity) for life? Or give the green light to a product that pegs the BS Meter of the guys in Section B? After careful consideration, management came to the only logic conclusion: “There’s money to be made here!” Section B was never the same.
The power cord dude was promoted to Power Products Designer and a finished prototype was only days away. Then, something interesting happened. They took their newly developed “audiophile” power cable to an international industry trade show and put it out there in front of some of the country’s best high end audio dealers for their feedback.
Music played. Heads nodded. Orders were placed. Shelves were stocked.
I’m certain the first “audiophile” power cable customer had to convince someone(s) that he just didn’t throw his hard-earned money away on something with no technical merit. He remembered his visit at the audio salon and the salesman’s pitch, who remembered the factory representative’s pitch, who remembered with district manager’s pitch, who remembered with factory trainer’s pitch, who remembered the power cord dude’s, eh, Power Products Designer’s pitch, and pulled off a flawless presentation. Well, to the surprise of everyone in the room (especially his wife) he managed to get his buddies so fired up that they HAD to go visit the dealer’s showroom and plead their case to snag a set on loan so they could audition them on their OWN systems.
Music played. Heads nodded. Wallets came out.
It didn’t take long for the audio dealer down the street to get word of the business he just lost to his competitor. A highly agitated dealer called HIS audiophile cable rep and asked why THEY are not in the audiophile cable business?! This quickly worked its way up the chain, and before you can say “Autocorrelation Sonic Holography Preamplifier”, there were not one but TWO cable companies offering “audiophile” power cables. Including the new industry standard at 2x the price of anything offered by the other guys.
Before long the news of this new product category reached the true connoisseurs of audio perfection – the respected high end audio reviewer -- the guy who could tell you what Joan Baez had for breakfast that morning just by listening to her sing Diamonds and Rust. This guy’s got ears, and a typewriter, and he’s not afraid to use them. And, yes, as predicted, he “heard something” and wrote nice things about it. Potential advertising revenue and saying nice things about a new product are, let’s say, not out of phase with each other. Like many others before him, he struggled to describe in industry-standard engineering terms WHY the power cord sounded like it sounded. But he was convinced that every existing high-end audio system was now demoted to mere mid-fi without them.
Then, quicker than a toddler can modify the structural integrity of a Clearaudiio stylus, audiophile power cables were an adopted component in any NOTE-worthy audio system. Manufacturers developed real business plans with real business strategizers and got to work setting up distributors, field reps, product trainers, marketing plans, “key customer” dealer events -- complete with their own recommended playlist, suggested wines, and catering via White Castle.
The Dupeologists (individuals highly effective in the art of duping people) were embedded at every level in every crook and cranny. The Power Products Designers got bigger offices, entire power cable product lineups were developed and every company that had the ability to wrap strands of high purity copper with a jacket and attach plugs on each end was in the “audiophile” power cable business. On the consumer level, it was quickly reaching a level of respectability that demanded involvement by serious music lovers at some level. The audiophile power cable that was installed on the power amp, was now joined by one for the preamp, CD player -- even the Samsung sound bar. An entire product category had developed and didn’t just take the industry by storm. The number of audiophile power cable enthusiasts reached thousands worldwide, eventually exceeding the number of consumers who enjoy the convenience of single-cup Keurig coffee makers in their motorhomes.
Oh, the humanity!!
You have to ask the question: “Where were those consumer advocates hiding? How could they let this happen?” You know who were talking about. Those guys who parachute out of the sky in a moment’s notice to protect the rest of us from bad decisions. If these guys could time travel, they’d go back and lock elbows with Ralph Nader to reinforce the position that the Corvair’s rear suspension could fold in on itself. They’d ALSO prove that the Corvair didn’t have air bags, AND would have failed miserably in a rollover test, AND didn’t have a catalytic converter! I could have used these guys when I was a young lad waiting in line to make my first purchase at a hifi store. An intervention, including full body takedown, would have been entirely justified for saving me from spending $7 on a glorified lint brush wrapped around a walnut handle peddled as a “record cleaning system.”
But, alias, it appears to be too little, too late. The avalanche has started. We’ve got guys out there that claim to not only hear the differences between an OEM cable and an audiophile cable but claim … wait … here it comes … the differences between different brands and price levels of audiophile cables!! Then there’s they selected group of Techomutants out there that build their own stuff from scratch, claiming that home-made cables sound better than … get this … FACTORY-built OEM cables! This makes about as much sense to “Section B types” as adding a Paragraphic Frequalizer to your system.
It’s (finally) time to jump into the meaty part of the discussion – The Conspiracy. I have a theory about conspiracy theories (if there is such a thing). Here goes:
“The shelf life and voracity of a conspiracy theory is entirely dependent on who controls the information, not the validity of the claims.”
Which brings us to the question of WHO is controlling the information? What entity (or entities) could have this level of penetration to reach the ENTIRE globe and endure the constant barrage of debunkmenship of dozens of Section Bs working in unison? <whisper> It’s rumored that it could be The Deep Stasis? A secret organization of all-knowing, all-reaching, infinitely powerful group of individuals who can make anyone believe anything related to audio performance. We could appoint a special council of the most proficient AudioGon members (the guys with the highest number of razor-sharp, one-sentence stinging rebuttals in the forums) and aggressively go after them. But how do you go after an organization that “doesn’t exist?” Great question. And, since we’ll never get the answers the audio world and ancient astronaut theorists are looking for, The Deep Stasis theory appears to be a dead end. So, it looks like it’s on to Plan B.
We’ll have to drill down so deep and extract so much useful data that even a biochemist working for Exxon would be proud of our accomplishments. So, outside of The Deep Stasis, we need to look at some “plausible” answers to that powerful question.
“Audiophile” Power Cable NIERS (the opposite of DE-NIERS):
- Were DUPED!!
- Someone put LSD in their oatmeal.
- Have seriously degrading hearing but THINK they are just fine. Or, better than fine. They ARE audiophiles, you know.
- Work for, or in, a business enterprise that financially benefits from the successful market penetration of audiophile power cables. Follow the money?
- Have confirmation biases and just imagining they are hearing a difference. Only their shrink knows for sure and HEPA rules won’t allow us to speak to them about it. So, like The Deep Stasis, it just another dead end, and we’ll never know for sure.
- Those who claim to hear differences in audiophile power cables vs OEM are highly-preceptive, intelligent individuals (many with advanced degrees) who have spent many decades engaged with the critical listening and evaluation of state-of-the-art high-fidelity components, source materials, adjustment & calibration, room acoustics and other factors contributing an elevated musical experience. They also possess an excellent control of vocabulary, are highly articulate, and masters at successfully communicating those observations to others.
As the author of a serious piece of investigative work, I need to maintain my neutrality. Therefore, I can’t offer an opinion.
I’ll just leave you with one final question:
Does anyone have any idea how to hide 5 pairs of Audioquest NGR Thunders behind an equipment rack setting just inches away from the wall?