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Shunyata Venom PS8 Power Distributor, Venom Defender, and Venom HC Power Cords

My history with AC power-distribution and line-conditioning products is a fairly spotty one. Sonically, they give and they take away, and I generally put them aside after a few weeks. Nowadays I just grab a power cord and head for the nearest available outlet, avoiding power-surge-protection strips for critical components. I’ve come to view such “convenience” strips as a hangover from the days of tower computers, forty-meg hard drives, and 14″ monochrome displays, when the fear of a brownout sent shivers down the spine. My listening room isn’t blessed with a dedicated circuit, either. I’ve considered remedying this but just haven’t gotten around to hiring an electrical contractor. The truth is that I’m a little skeptical of monkeying with power and conditioning products. My room is quiet with a seemingly low noise floor. Basically what I’m admitting is that my listening space is probably a lot like yours. Sensible but nothing fancy.

Shunyata must’ve seen me coming. It has designed a system that takes the existing AC power entering a listening room to the next step without engaging the services of an electrical contractor. There are three basic components to its entry-level Venom Series of power products, starting with a Venom PS8 power strip. Nicely constructed of heavy, brushed steel, the PS8 is 20-amp rated to cover even the most demanding high-current components, provides eight Hubbell outlets that are cryogenically treated using Shunyata’s Alpha process, and a tough Carling Hydraulic Electro-magnetic breaker. It sits on thick rubber feet, but steel spiked-footers with floor protectors are also offered as a $195 option.

The second component is the Venom Defender—a tidy little plug-and-play power conditioner. Chassis-free, it’s a plug-in module that incorporates the MPDA (multi-phase-differential-array), thirty-element parallel filters found in Shunyata’s flagship Hydra models. Ruggedly built, Defender is equipped with 20,000 amps of surge protection and its own LED fault-detector. It can be plugged directly into the PS8 or, ideally, into the same wall outlet.

The final link in Shunyata’s power chain are the Venom HC power cords. Big brothers to the original Venom cords (still a steal), they use heavier 10-gauge conductors, and employ hand-soldered contacts that are crimped to improve the metal-to-metal contact integrity.

All Shunyata components are cryogenically treated. Each can be purchased individually, but these three have been designed and priced to perform in trio. With three Venom HC cords, the complete Venom system Shunyata set me up with retails for under $1800.

Shunyata’s Grant Samuelson filled me in on Venom system particulars. He reiterated that “all home electronics are extremely peak-current-sensitive. Their power supplies draw current dynamically off the peak and trough of the sinewave. Any break or open contact in the electrical chain represents a loss that can affect system performance.”

Shunyata, he says, “views current delivery as a high-frequency event, not a low-frequency event because systems draw current at a high-frequency and they output high-frequency noise. It all starts and ends with junction integrity, material quality, material manipulation—all aimed to lower the insertion-loss of the device. The overriding design goal of this system is to minimize peak-current loss at every junction.

“The Defender builds upon the foundation the PS8 establishes. Its filters are computer-modeled to capture and filter the high-frequency noise that exists on any line and prevent it from re-circulating within the system. All of this is accomplished without any added connections and with no loss of peak current integrity—which is our baseline for performance.”

 

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

Venom PS8
Number of outlets: 8
Price: $695

Defender
Price: $195

Venom HC Power Cord
Price: $295/1.75m

Shunyata Research
26273 Twelve Trees Lane, Ste D
Poulsbo, WA 98370
(360) 598-9935

By Neil Gader

Writer

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