February 2010

Shunyata Research:
Hydra V-Ray Version II and Model-8 Version II Power Conditioners
Aeros Stratos-IC Interconnects
Aeros Stratos-SP Speaker Cables
Python CX, King Cobra CX, and Anaconda CX Power Cords

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Reviewers' Choice LogoThe exigencies of nature wreak havoc on the reproduction of recordings of music from today’s high-end audio components. Nowadays, you can get pretty far down the road of suspending your disbelief, but it turns out that simply turning on your stereo cranks up an electromagnetic noise machine that will inevitably perturb the very signals it is meant to convey. Noisewise, it is your audio system, not your electric grid, that might comprise the biggest enemy of music reproduction: switching power-supply rectifiers, high-speed digital clock circuits, and transformers are only a few of the culprits. And until our stereos can deliver to our ears music that sounds just as it does when we hear it at concerts, without wires or electrons, we will remain separated from the audiophile dream.

This review is of a number of products from Shunyata Research, a company that aims to reduce your system’s tendency to propagate noise while encouraging the uncorrupted transmission of AC power and audio signals. Included are members of Shunyata’s new Aeros line of signal cables, the Aeros Stratos-IC interconnect ($5000 USD/meter pair) and Aeros Stratos-SP speaker cable ($6000/2.5m pair); top-tier AC power cords from the CX series, the five-gauge King Cobra CX ($3495/2m), seven-gauge Anaconda CX ($1995/2m), and nine-gauge Python CX ($1095/2m); and representatives from Shunyata’s latest thinking on power distribution, the Hydra Model-8 Version II ($2995) and Hydra V-Ray Version II ($4995). Collectively, these cables, cords, and conditioners formed, for the purposes of this review, an infrastructure for delivering current and signal that I’ll call, for short, the Shunyata system.

Shunyata Research is no stranger to regular readers of SoundStage! The company’s offerings have won multiple Reviewers’ Choice awards, along with oodles of other accolades from a surprisingly broad spectrum of audio reviewers and recording-industry luminaries. In the electron-moving business for over a decade, founder and designer Caelin Gabriel has a background in electrical engineering and signal processing for both the military and private industry.

A closer look

Shunyata Research takes a strictly passive approach to delivering and shaping the flow of electrons. The Shunyata system uses no chokes, transformers, or coils, and neither regenerates electrical power nor increases signal gain. Shunyata states that they do not design electricity transports to act as tone controls.

The products reviewed have much in common. Under their skins and inside their cases, I discovered that these cables, cords, and power distributors reflect a steady consistency of design philosophy and top-notch build quality. Consistency may not be sexy, but it’s critical to a company that promises peak performance from a wide variety of products that are used across an internationally diverse array of components and electrical grids.

For starters, there is the consistency of the metal. All of the conductors in Shunyata’s interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords, and all of the wiring, bus bars, and straps in the Hydras, are made from pure and papered ingots of CDA 101 copper. To create wires, the copper ingots are either cast or pulled into the desired form and gauge. As the wire cools from a molten or semi-molten state, the molecules harden in a random manner relative to one another. As described to me by the company, their proprietary Cohergenic Process creates an electrical alignment of the molecules during the critical cooling stage of conductor production with the application of a Shunyata-developed, proprietary electromagnet.

Cohergenic-Processed wire constitutes the primary difference between the new Aeros line and Shunyata’s earlier signal cables. Given what I heard between the Stratos and Shunyata’s earlier, non-Cohergenic, top-of-the-line Antares ICs, I believe the Cohergenic effect is dramatically real. Shunyata says the Process is proprietary and expensive, and is applied only to their signal-carrying wires.

Shunyata further subjects all current-carrying metal to their Alpha Cryo Process. No outsourcing here -- they do their freezing in-house. They ramp down, soak at -320°F, and return to ambient temperature, the entire process computer-controlled in 1-degree increments over a period of 72 hours. Gabriel’s research also led him to develop his own cryo techniques; Shunyata augments the nominal cryo-tank atmosphere by injecting new combinations of inert gases into the usual liquid nitrogen. Why go to all this effort? Shunyata claims its Alpha Cryo Process tempers conductive metals on the intra-molecular level, releasing the interlattice fissures and stress zones caused during the conductors manufacture, thus returning the copper’s crystalline structure to a more ideal state.

Shunyata’s approach to wire construction aims at lowering the overall reactance of cords and cables. Reactance is the combined effect on a circuit of capacitance and inductance, either of which can impede the flow of alternating current. Gabriel describes the AC power cord as an extension of the primary winding of an audio component’s power transformer -- it is the first 6’ of a component’s interface with the electrical grid. Rectifier noise and other component-generated noise can pass through a cable’s return conductor back into the same delivery circuit used by other components. A power cord that exhibits high impedance tends to reflect this noise back to the component from whence it came.

The Aeros Stratos signal cables and CX power cords exhibit a consistent construction aimed at reducing signal distortion and the propagation of noise among components. Shunyata claims that the multiple, braided, counter-rotating conductors in their patented Helix geometry minimizes overall cable reactance and self-induced distortions. By crossing conductors at 90-degree angles and keeping them separated, the Helix geometry also minimizes capacitance, and the counter-rotating braid creates offsetting fields of electromagnetic flux to reduce inductance.

On the outside, the black-sheathed CX power cords look almost identical to Shunyata’s Alpha and VX models, but there the similarities end. As you move up the CX line, the various models include significantly more conductors in braid patterns of increasing complexity. Consider the Anaconda: the previous Alpha model had 17 insulated hand-braided conductors; the Anaconda CX comprises a whopping 480 insulation-free conductors, and is machine-wound in a new, complex, rope-like geometry. Shunyata’s listening tests have found this layout to sound better than the open hollow braid of the original models; it "proves an exceptional barrier to radiated and internally generated HF noise." The CX cords are terminated in Shunyata’s own AC and IEC connectors, and these new power snakes don’t hiss -- absent from the CX series is Shunyata’s patented FeSI noise-reduction compound, which slithered inside earlier VX models.

The Stratos-IC interconnect -- the middle sibling of the Aeros family -- gets a new, semitransparent sheath that reveals its 14AWG aggregate Helix braid, comprising eight polyethylene-insulated conductors handwoven in a 4x4 matrix. The Stratos-IC is terminated in either Shunyata’s own XLR or WBT NextGen locking RCA connectors (the latter, in my experience, make a much surer connection than the Eichmann RCAs Shunyata previously used). Unlike earlier Shunyata interconnects, the new models are not fully jacketed up to their connectors; the Stratoses’ tails emerge from a nonmetal ferrule. The result is still somewhat stiff, but easier than earlier models to manipulate and position.

The Stratos-SP speaker cable has 12 conductors hand-braided into a 6x6 Helix matrix whose 9AWG aggregate gauge is similar to that of Shunyata’s earlier Andromeda cable. The Stratos-SP, too, gets a see-through wrapper, and beefier spade connectors.

The Hydra Model-8 and Hydra V-Ray power distributors are at the heart of Shunyata’s fight against the spread of noise. The Version IIs look nearly identical to the originals, but inside are significant upgrades. Like the VX power cords, earlier iterations of the Hydra Model-8 and V-Ray had chambers filled with Shunyata’s FeSi-1000 noise-reduction compound, which according to the patent uses a ferroelectric compound designed to dissipate high-frequency EMF as heat. According to Shunyata, their own advances in the design of connectors, geometry, and materials made it clear to them that while FeSi-1000 reduced noise and made edgy digital systems sound more like analog, it could also constrain dynamic range, and slightly decrease the amount of high-frequency information conveyed.

Shunyata Research developed a new noise-reduction formulation, ZrCa-2000, for use in the Version II Hydra Model-8 and V-Ray that it says doesn’t cause the HF rolloff, and is more effective at reducing noise.

Each of the four duplex outlets in the Hydra Model-8 II and Hydra V-Ray II is individually isolated from noise and protected from surges by Shunyata’s proprietary passive filter network of capacitors and TMOV devices. Expensive Carling electromagnetic circuit breakers offer further overcurrent protection. Although reluctant to name proprietary parts, Shunyata said that the Hydra V-Ray II includes a larger, revamped system of copper buses and major upgrades of its filter network.

All wired up

The components I cabled and plugged into the Shunyata system included the Esoteric A-03 solid-state power amp (review forthcoming) and the delightful Lamm LL2.1 line stage, along with my reference Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk.III monoblock amps and MP-1 Mk.III full-function preamp. Digital sources were an Ayre Acoustics C-5xeMP universal player and an Audio Research Corp. CD5 CD player. Analog playback came from my cocobolo-wood Teres 320 turntable with Verus rim drive, SME-V tonearm, and the glorious Transfiguration Orpheus moving-coil cartridge. Phono amplification happened in the MP-1’s phono stage, or via an ARC PH7 into the MP-1’s line section.

Earlier Shunyata products comprised my reference wiring scheme: Antares interconnects from preamps to amp(s), Altair or Antares interconnects from digital sources, and Orion speaker cables. I also occasionally used an FMS Zero speaker cable. My tonearm cable is a Silver Audio Silver Breeze.

I have one each of the first versions of the Hydra Model-8 and Hydra V-Ray power distributors, plugged into the wall with Shunyata Python Alpha and Anaconda Alpha AC cords. Additional power cords included Shunyata’s Taipan Alpha and VX, Python Alphas, and Black Mamba.

Then there’s break-in -- hate it, gotta do it. Lucky me, Shunyata had already put some run time on the signal cables and power cords before I got them. The Hydra IIs have capacitors in them and, if nothing else, those need time to form up. I plugged my computer stuff into the Hydra Model-8 II, a bunch of table lamps into the Hydra V-Ray II, and let ’em run for a few weeks. When I finally put everything in my system, I heard no caterpillar-to-butterfly effects, but if your dealer doesn’t cook your wires for you, give them at least 100 hours before judging their performance.

Let’s listen to some music

I wanted to install everything and go for the whole enchilada -- after all, this is a full-system review. Instead, I began with a single meter pair of Stratos-ICs between the ARC CD5 CD player and Lamm LL2.1 line stage.

First up was my favorite John Williams soundtrack, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (LP, MCA MCA-6109). This richly romantic score has lots of percussion, interior woodwinds, and a full complement of orchestral strings. If you get it on CD, try to find an original -- Spielberg changed the soundtrack for the film’s 20th Anniversary Edition and accompanying soundtrack disc, and several tracks have gone missing. My first take on the Stratos-IC didn’t take long. As my eyebrows rose, I reached for my notebook and focused on certain passages.

There it was, from the back of the hall: a xylophone bloomed gently, cutting across the entire orchestra -- not a little plink plink, as expected, but fully fleshed-out notes, each with its own harmonics and decay. Not overwhelming but distinctly discernible, here was a new level of clarity from this recording. A few previously unheard wrong notes from the horn section and a newly discovered mistimed entrance of a clarinet failed to prepare me for the wonderful timbral rightness I heard from a celesta outside my left speaker -- not too lush or caramelized, its fundamentals were strong, yet with those special overtones that make this instrument’s sound unmistakable. I heard how the celestist used the sustain pedal on her instrument -- the marriage of a piano and glockenspiel -- for just a few ethereal notes, yet long enough to understand why this instrument’s name means heavenly in French. Trumpets and horns issued forth with properly brassy attack, their notes resounding above the cellos and basses. Hmmm -- all that from a 1m interconnect.

I added in the rest of the Stratos-ICs and listened again to the E.T. soundtrack. The Stratos-ICs delivered a sense of pure timbre, clarity, and openness. Notable was a heightened sense of venue, as if the entire concert hall were larger, as if its ceiling had been raised to allow the music to expand, blooming upward and outward, the sounds of individual sections hovering over their performers. I hear this kind of bloom in live concerts at our local Overture Center. It’s rare to hear familiar recordings so much further resolved beyond the occasional, minor new tinkly bit. Here the effect was like listening to an old favorite that had been subjected to a thorough and excellent remastering. I consistently heard more of those sonic cues that let us imagine that we are sharing the performance space with the musicians.

With the Stratos-SP speaker cables in place, Sir John Barbirolli’s rendition of Sibelius’s Symphony No.2, with the Royal Philharmonic (LP, Chesky CR3), took on a raw, visceral quality. Don’t get me wrong -- there was no edginess or glare; in fact, strings, especially those wonderful Sibelian cellos, evinced a nicely rosiny attack, and the firmly plucked double basses showed weight and harmonic depth. Flutes and clarinets were spot on, their pitch and dynamic envelope exactly so. Close listening brought a delightful perception of upper-register micro-rhythms in the violins -- tiny changes in bowing speed laid out the string sections as collections of real people in time and space. No, this sort of rawness was a sense of proximity, a sense of the humanity and fragility of the enterprise of making music, with far more ways to get it wrong than right -- for a reed to squeak or a horn to honk or a gut string to snap. Here were 60-some people in a 44-minute slice of time from 48 years ago, conjuring musical magic in my listening room. I’ll wager you’ve had those nights, those all-too-brief transcendent experiences, with your own music -- it’s why we do this. For me, on that night, the Stratos-SPs brought it all home.

This all brought to mind the first time I heard the transparency of Atma-Sphere’s OTL amplifiers, their tubes coupled directly to speakers without intervening output transformers. (OTL stands for output-transformerless.) The Stratoses seemed to couple the music’s signals directly to my speakers without intervening noise or distortion. Was I hearing the effect of Shunyata’s Cohergenic treatment? I can’t say. I can say that, with the Stratoses in place, I not only heard deeper into the nuances of recordings, I heard music made with a natural flow and vivacity that belied the fact it came from recordings at all.

Enter the CX power cords: Anaconda CX on the Atma-Sphere amps, a Python CX each for the PH7 phono stage and Atma-Sphere preamp, and King Cobra CX mostly with the ARC CD5 or Ayre C-5xeMP. Preamps and front-end components, including the Verus motor controller, took turns on the new Hydra Model-8 II and Hydra V-Ray II.

I went back and forth, running the Atma-Sphere and Esoteric amps with and without the Model-8 II and V-Ray II. With the amps on either power distributor, there was a tradeoff. The Model-8 II and V-Ray II reduced noise, and delivered slightly richer tonality and firmer bass, but they also reduced ambient air, with a faint rounding of transients in quiet passages. The amps, sans Hydras, presented slightly better dynamics, if slightly more grain. There was no obvious right choice for my stereo; I found myself more often feeding the amps power from the CX cords plugged directly into the wall.

My Audio Physic speakers deliver a superb soundstage with precise placement of performers and instruments; however, their images tend to be less three-dimensional than I’ve heard from other speakers. It was therefore surprising to hear a distinct improvement in overall fleshed-outness with the CX cords in place. The Esoteric amp responded eagerly to the CXes, unfolding musical lines with liquid authority and exhibiting less of the dimensional flatness I’ve sometimes heard from solid-state amps. As I moved up the CX line, from Python to Anaconda to King, noise was further reduced, and the sound gained solidity and weight. In the Letter Duet, "Che soave zeffiretto," from a disc of highlights from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, with Sir Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic (CD, London 417 395-2), the A-03 delivered Kiri Te Kanawa and Lucia Popp as clearly dimensional performers moving about the stage.

As I continue my midlife exploration of classical music, I keep returning to pianist Evgeny Kissin’s thoughtful and impetuous performance of Schumann’s Kreisleriana (CD, RCA 59412-2). Its themes are both ecstatic and idyllic in tempo as this lyrical music takes us from the dervish to the rapture. Enabled by the Shunyata power cords, my system laid a foundation of quietude, a near-silent base from which notes were born, bloomed, and died. With the entire Shunyata system in place, I learned just how well RCA had produced this "generic" Red Seal album from 2004. It was easy to follow Kissin’s left and right hands, two musical lines simultaneously emerging from one deft musician and one instrument. The dynamics of each note, the solidity of Kissin’s attacks, the pitch perfection of dying low-register pianissimos painted on a canvas of black air -- it was all good, and the best I’ve heard from my system.

Why a System Approach

I’ve used the Shunyata Research products that Tim Aucremann reviews here ever since their introduction, and, like Tim, also used their previous versions. In fact, for the past six years I’ve consistently had Shunyata products in my system, and have been consistently thrilled with their performance. I think part of the reason I chose Shunyata is that their "system" approach makes sense to me. I equate the strategy of assembling a cables’n’conditioning system to that of designing a loudspeaker: you’d never swap out a midrange driver just to hear what it might do to the sound without also considering how the new driver interacts with the other drivers in the speaker (not to mention the cabinet and crossover). But audiophiles do that all the time: exchange an interconnect here or a power conditioner there, and hope for good results.

Hopefully, a system approach means that the hard work has already been done for you: you can buy one set of cables and a power conditioner and be confident that they were designed to work together and that you’ll hear exactly what the company wanted you to hear. In that sense, I look at a cables’n’conditioning system as a single component; therefore, if I were to compare another setup with the Shunyata rig I have here, I’d do it in one big swap-out. Other companies offer complete systems of power conditioning and cables -- we’ve positively written about Nordost and Audience products on the SoundStage! Network -- but Shunyata Research has the distinction of being one of the first, if not the first, and we’re now several generations into their products -- an advantage.

And what I hear from these latest iterations is a definite improvement. I’ve heard much the same results that Tim describes in his review -- more detail, more transparency -- and those attributes have taken my system in the direction that I seek. Note that detail and transparency aren’t tonal alterations -- which brings me to my final point: using cables as tone controls.

I don’t think approaching cables as tone controls is a good idea. Does it really make sense to buy an interconnect because it’s more open in the highs, and then a speaker cable to warm up the midrange? Not to me. If there are tonal aberrations in your audio system, you should address the root of that problem: your speakers, your room, and their interface. The cables’n’conditioning system you use should simply allow you to hear exactly what the other components in your system are doing, and that’s where Shunyata’s products shine. What I hear from Caelin Gabriel’s latest work is greater transparency; ultimately, that means they’ve gotten out of the way of the music -- which is what it’s all about.

. . . Jeff Fritz

Hearing the full effect of the Shunyata system, I no longer had a sense of apparent localized improvement, a there I could point to. The result was like a game of Telephone in reverse, the message being made clearer by the act of its communication from one component to the next. The interplay among musical voices became more intelligible. I hadn’t realized what I’d been missing: As layers of hash and grain faded into black, details of the touch, timbre, and dynamic shading of low-level sounds became obvious. I gained new insights into performances and scores. I wasn’t hearing wires; I was hearing more of the stereo I’d paid for. Heightened resolution, weighty and articulated bass, clear extended highs, a sense of poise and ease in musical flow -- across the board from source to speakers, each component seemed to speak with its own true voice.


I compared the new Shunyata products with the previous generation: Taipan Alpha and VX, Alpha Python and Anaconda power cords; Orion Helix speaker cables, XLR- and RCA-terminated Antares Helix and Altair interconnects; and the first versions of the Hydra Model-8 and V-Ray. (For prices of the earlier models, see this review for interconnects and cables, this review for power distributors.)

Today’s Shunyata system uses the virtues of its predecessors as a starting block to take a huge leap beyond them in virtually every area of music reproduction. I caution those familiar with Shunyata products of only a few years ago: Prepare for a revelation. Today’s Caelin Gabriel is not your father’s herpetologist.

A real, almost tangible reduction in noise, and corresponding increases in clarity and transparency, let me hear more of what was on a recording -- much more. Audiophiles sometimes make the case that one hallmark of a great system is how well it reproduces bass. Here’s another: how well a system handles low-level information. On our discs and records are many reality cues of which we are unaware -- until the sonic junk that has prevented us from hearing them is removed.

This clarity uncovered other virtues. From a note’s leading edge through its sustain and final decay, I heard purer timbres and more harmonic nuance. Revealed vocal inflections and subtle bendings of notes took my ears more steps closer to the real thing. Across the audioband, the Stratos-IC interconnect simply delivered more information than the Antares. The Stratos-SP speaker cable sounded as assured in the mids, more informed in the highs, and tighter in the bass than the Orion, while adding lower-register heft and authority.

With the Shunyata system in place, it was enlightening to hear Crowded House’s "Private Universe," from Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House (CD, Capitol CDP 8 38250 2). What I’d previously heard as a mélange of odd noises at the tune’s startup was now parsed into multiple automobiles driving off in different directions. I listened to Mahler’s Symphony No.1, performed by the Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Rafael Kubelik (LP, Audite 80467): first with the Python Alpha on the Hydra V-Ray, and then with the Python CX on the Hydra V-Ray II. My stereo yielded better focus on interior instruments with the newer Shunyatas in place. I heard how the clarinetist attacked his reed at the start of the third movement, more bite and texture from strings, and improved tonal articulation from the cellos. Absent from the upper mids and highs was any sense of the laid-back, slightly softer character of transients I heard from the first-generation models. The older Hydra’s soundstage seemed more recessed than the V-Ray II’s, in which kick-drums, timpani, and mass brass attacks were rendered with greater explosive punch.

Perhaps most impressive about the Shunyata system was its consistent evenhandedness, regardless of which of its components I used in which combinations. This consistency means you can grow a system, perhaps starting with a couple Pythons or a Hydra or a run of speaker cables, with the assurance that future additions will not only work with what you have but will compound their benefits. You could be well on your way to discovering more of what your stereo has to offer.


Am I really suggesting that, if you already own earlier versions of these products from Shunyata Research, you replace them with these expensive new ones? If you can afford it, yes. The positive differences between this latest set of products and the last generation are extraordinary. Nonetheless, some audiophiles or systems may need or prefer the slight softening effect of the VX cables and the first version of the Hydra Model-8 or Hydra V-Ray. As for me, I always vote for beauty and truth. The latest Shunyata system is worth an audition for no other reason than to learn what is possible.

Much of high-end audio is about the control of spurious, nonmusical vibrations. If I have one lesson to pass on from this review, it is that audiophiles cannot overlook the profound role played in our systems by wiring and noise suppression. Technology aside, I was awestruck at how much more enjoyment I got from my stereo using this latest combination of Shunyata cords, cables, interconnects, and conditioners. High-end audio is a threshold of moving expectations. As of now, Shunyata Research has redefined the state of the art of audio power and signal delivery.

. . . Tim Aucremann

Shunyata Research Hydra V-Ray Version II Power Conditioner
Price: $4995 USD.
Hydra Model-8 Version II Power Conditioner
Price: $2995 USD.
Aeros Stratos-IC Interconnects
Price: $5000 USD per 1m pair.
Aeros Stratos-SP Speaker Cables
Price: $6000 USD per 2.5m pair.
Python CX Power Cords
Price: $1095 USD per 2m cord.
King Cobra CX Power Cords
Price: $3495 USD per 2m cord.
Anaconda CX Power Cords
Price: $1995 USD per 2m cord.
Warranty (all): Five years parts and labor.

Shunyata Research
26273 Twelve Trees Lane, Suite D
Poulsbo, WA 98370
Phone: (608) 850-6752

E-mail: info@shunyata.com
Website: www.shunyata.com