All Amped Up
My approach to evaluating power strips, power cords, and line conditioners pretty much comes down to the same tried-and-true methodology. After concluding a period of extended listening with the current reference system, I unplug the entire rig, substitute the electricals under evaluation, and let ’er rip. Electronics in this instance were the Parasound JC 3 phonostage, the mbl Corona C11 preamp, and the mbl C21 stereo amplifier in rotation with the Aragon 8008 amp (review to come)—a system requiring three power cords. A Meridian Director USB DAC decoded computer-sourced files.
My first impression of the Venom system flat-out caught me off-guard, largely because my expectations were built on previous encounters with power distribution products, some good, some not so good. I began by cueing up The Wasps Overture [RCA] followed by the third and fourth movements of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony [Decca]. In each instance I heard the same thing, which arrived in the form of newly discovered orchestral weight and a more rigidly grounded soundstage. The system revealed a density change in the way I perceived ambient information. At first I thought I was hearing a tonal shift downward, as if a darker palette of colors were being applied to the performance. But in truth this was more about system or line noise being reduced to the extent that significantly more ambient information and harmonic minutiae from venue and orchestra were freely emerging.
Celli and bass viols exhibited more pitch precision and less bloat. The individual voices of a chorus were unwavering in space and could be more easily pinpointed, almost visualized. String section layering was better defined in depth. The Venom system was not just quieting the system down; it was also allowing resolution within those silences of the acoustic/reverberant life that exists between notes or during musical pauses, but which is so often obscured. It was like the air was fueled with a different mixture of energy and harmonics. I listened closely to Copland’s Fanfare For The Common Man and its near overpowering dynamic swings.
Thankfully, what I didn’t hear was a softening or smoothing over of transient detail and contrasts. The textures of music, from the reedy and bristly to the buttery, were fully represented. Compression of dynamics—the bane of many conditioning products–was non-existent on either the micro or macro scale.
Weirder still was that when I took out the Venom system the individual artists of St Martin’s in the Fields, performing excerpts from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, seemed somewhat abandoned, as if they were separated by acoustic dead zones rather than joined as a contiguous ensemble. With the PS8 out of the system, the air and dimensionslity, the swirl of ambient activity became spotty. The impression of a single soundspace unbroken from one end of the proscenium to the other, upstage and down, sounded more thread-bare, like an unframed musical canvas. Reinserting the Shunyata into the system, the fully framed picture rematerialized.
When I turned to pop vocals like Shelby Lynne’s “Just A Little Lovin’,” I encountered the same enriched ambient quality that I had with symphonic recordings. In this instance it was the distinctive, heavily damped, reverb-washed character of the recording studio. Imaging on this disc was truly stunning. Drums, bass, acoustic guitar cues were so clean, quick, and stable that it was as if someone had applied a squeegee to a grimy window. Even the title track’s metronomic hi-hat had more drive and a thicker, less tinny quality. The Shunyata found more sustain in the instrument, while the slight smearing that collected in the wake of certain of its transients all but vanished. Bass response was further defined in character and timbre. For example, the bass vamp that kicks off the intro to Holly Cole’s “I Can See Clearly” didn’t come off as more deeply extended per se but as considerably tightened up, with more rhythmic bounce and melodic character.
In as little time as it takes to plug in a couple power cords, I’ve gone from skeptic to believer. The Shunyata Venom system refined the voicing of my system to an extent I never would have predicted at the outset. And I never felt the music was being compromised. To be clear, Shunyata doesn’t promise a seismic shift in system performance, but a subtle clarification of previously hidden musicality. Don’t look at me to pull the plug anytime soon. For the dedicated among us (without a dedicated line) the Venom system represents a cost-effective, plug-and-play, real-world solution to power issues. Another way of saying that I guess I better tell my electrical contractor not to wait up for my call.
SPECS & PRICING
Number of outlets: 8
Venom HC Power Cord
26273 Twelve Trees Lane, Ste D
Poulsbo, WA 98370