For audio reviewers who labor each day over razor-honed amplifier heatsinks, hoist 125-pound speakers into position, and go cross-eyed adjusting the azimuth of a “nude” cartridge, moments of audio epiphany are depressingly rare. But for every component in a system, we’ve all experienced revelatory moments. In the world of power cords my “moment” occurred with TAS colleague Dan Schwartz, when we experienced Kimber Kable’s Palladian power cord. No power cord since has made enough difference to make me consider retiring the Kimber.
Expensive, yes, and unwieldy in the extreme, the Virtual Dynamics Master Series power cord, however, presents a conundrum. Each of its three, 10-gauge, Mylar-treated, solid-core copper conductors is thicker than Kate Moss’ wrist. Just plugging the cords in is a little like mud-wrestling a python. They feature six dielectric layers; magnetic flux lines are laid over the conductors (said to promote the flow of electricity and reduce inductance). Finished cords are cryogenically treated, cooked-in, and conditioned prior to shipment.
Comparing the Master Series cords with the mid-priced cords I had on hand was a little like running Seabiscuit in a pony race. Where the other cables were midrange-oriented and cloudy at the extremes, with indistinct imaging and comparatively brittle treble, the Master Series expanded the dynamic envelope (prompting me to turn down the volume a notch), extended and tightened up the bass, and threw the door on the treble wide open.
The Master Series was articulate, but even more important it was sparklingly “clean.” When Dianne Reeves sings “One For My Baby” from the Good Night And Good Luck soundtrack [Concord Jazz], there’s a noticeable lack of extraneous noise between her and the standup bass—the notes of which seemed to hang in the air just a breath longer than with most power cords. The microdynamics of these instruments had the air jumping with energy. Reeves’ voice lost any peaky artifacts and simply opened up and bloomed.
This particular horserace tightened up considerably with the substitution of the Kimber Palladian. The Master Series has a character that is tonally more outspoken— bigger bass and a hint more lower treble—whereas the Kimber had the fuller mids, airier highs, and more fully realized dimensionality. Lyle Lovett’s vocal on Joshua Judges Ruth’s “South Dakota” [MCA] defined the crucial difference: The Master Series made his voice sound slightly higher and more forward in his throat; the Palladian dropped the timbre down a shade with a more distant placement. On “Night On Bald Mountain,” from Reference Recordings’ Mephisto & Co, the Master cords enlivened the horns and violin sections in a way that shed more light on inner details without added edginess. Likewise the ominous rumble of the bass drums seemed to emerge from a quieter space on stage and propel its way towards the audience.
At the end of the day, the differences between these two stellar cords don’t rule out using one or the other. The Master seems more detailed and extended and marginally faster and more dynamic; the Palladian (while certainly no slouch in the speed and extension sectors) has an effortless musicality and imparts the body and soul of complex acoustic environments with almost eerie palpability.
Two grand is serious money for a power cord—a lot of money, period. Even in a minimalist system (source and integrated amp) you’ll still need two of these stubborn snakes to gain the full effect. And candidly, if I were assembling a system from scratch, I wouldn’t compromise loudspeakers or a CD player to squeeze in a great set of cords. That said, the Master Series power cords from Virtual Dynamics would still be on my wish list for one very simple reason— they’re unforgettable.