November 2000Audio Magic Clairvoyant Power Cord
by Grant Samuelsen
Since their arrival on the high-end-audio scene, after-market power cords have been saddled with virtually insurmountable image problems. Boxless in stature, they dont look the part of a high-performance audio necessity. Nor do they, upon cursory inspection, appear to offer good return on the dollar as a music-system investment. Adding insult to circumstance, some AC cords perform little or no service for their asking prices, while still others merely color, rather than compliment, sound and music. Hobbyists intent on getting something tangible for their money often turn to one of the multi-outlet filters, regenerators, or conditioners on the market when looking to upgrade power delivery. These heat-throwing, filtrating behemoths are both convenient and economical, but often use a sledgehammer approach to AC refinement that can compromise sound and are not as adept at improving the music-listening experience as are some of the best power cords. Seem implausible? I used to think so too.
Despite their lack of social standing and diminutive presence, there are select power-cord lines that have become popular among audio explorers -- and no, not because of the politics, payoffs, or consumer naiveté to which skeptics ascribe their success. The most competently engineered power cords on the market will audibly reduce AC-borne noise in a system. They will breath dynamic life and energy into music and preserve, rather than skew, the musics delicate harmonic structure. Not all power cords can perform these magic tricks; in fact, there are very few that I would recommend without qualification. But they are out there -- and even here in the text of this review.
A little background
Before evaluating the relative merits of an up-market power cord such as the Audio Magic Clairvoyant, its worth touching on the anticipated performance and intended application of a power cord at its lofty $1500 price point.
The performance expectation of any power-line product in the Clairvoyants class is deservedly quite high. Easily discernable gains should be apparent in virtually every area of reproduced sound. Any AC cord that drills a consumers bank account for 1500 clams should offer all the audible benefits of multi-outlet filtration or regeneration without the side effects that some, including myself, detect when these "all into one" products are in line. And no, you shouldnt have to plunk down for a system full of $1500 cords to hear a difference. One on a source component should give an idea of what these cords are capable of.
After-market power cords such as the Clairvoyant were designed to improve and flesh out the potential of an already excellent system or component. They are not intended to be a quick fix for a poorly synergized system or to be grabbed up as a carelessly chosen AC sidekick. People with entry-level or modest systems would, of course, be better served by exploring component upgrades before pursuing accessories of this type and cost. Conversely, a hobbyist with an upgrade bug who owns a moderate to upscale music or home-theater system would be remiss not to explore select high-performance power cords before shelling out big bills for a new component or power-line box. My experience has been that power-cord tinkering can improve the listening experience to a degree that makes expensive component swapping obsolete.
Jerry Ramsey of Audio Magic has been offering sound cable values at a variety of price points for years. His line includes a pure silver power cord priced at $69, confirming that he is as interested in offering cost-conscious products as he is those that push the envelope of power-line performance.
The Clairvoyant is an attractive, slender, and flexible power cord that should have no problems fitting into any system configuration. It is constructed using pure silver ribbon conductors that have been modified, damped, and polished to maximize conductivity and eliminate vibration. The ribbons are surrounded by what Ramsey refers to as an "air-core dielectric," alleviating what many feel is a significant source of sound degradation. Audio Magics QL shielding is used to prevent noise infiltration. Ramsey has strategically placed Shakti Audios On-Line passive devices under the shrink at both ends of the Clairvoyant to further inhibit RFI and EMI fields, so if youre wondering what those rectangular bumps are on the ends of the Clairvoyant, there ya go. The popular and expensive Wattagate IEC and male plug terminate the Clairvoyant at either end. I had no functional or handling problems during the Clairvoyants stay here, which is rare for a ribbon power cord. Most ribbon AC cords are fairly delicate and difficult to bend side to side; this is less of an issue with Audio Magics best. Ramsey classed the Clairvoyants power rating up to 15 amps, so it should have no problem passing current to all but the highest-power-draw components. I recommend checking with Audio Magic if there are any questions about this. As with other top power-cord designers, Ramsey is attempting to accomplish noise rejection and speedy power transmission without impeding or interfering with the natural flow of AC current from the source.
Though this Audio Magic power cord is very straightforward in its use, like most other AC products, it will undergo changes in sound for three to five days after its application to a component. Judging the absolute merits of any AC product within this "settling period" will most often prove misleading. As always, I compared the Clairvoyant at length to the stock AC cord before comparing directly and indirectly to other in-house AC cords such as the JPS Kaptovator, my reference Shunyata King Cobra V2 and Sahuaros Jet Stream. Anyone choosing an AC product from this elite group will not come away disappointed.
So does the Clairvoyant earn its wings at this lofty price point? Does it meet the performance expectations outlined at the outset of this review? Well, Ive been laying in the weeds, waiting for an AC pretender to come along, one that can be pointed to as a poor value, thus earning me the coveted "calls em as he hears em, not afraid to tell it like it is" reputation. Thanks to Audio Magic, Im still waiting for the straggler in the AC herd. The trouble with the Claivoyant was, it was just too damn fast for me to catch.
The lifelike timing and pace the Clairvoyant brings to music will startle some listeners. This AC cord dramatically improves the immediacy of a transients inception, allowing for an incredible expanse of harmonic information and musical envelopment to follow. With the Clairvoyant handling AC, music leapt out of the speakers and created a see-through window into the recording that held me rapt throughout the review period. This AC cord takes music from zero to sixty, quiet to loud, and hard to soft faster than any power product Ive encountered. A favorite jazz recording that showcases the Clairvoyants aptitude is The Essence [DMP CD-480], bringing together jazz legends Billy Higgins, Hank Jones, and Ray Drummond. The Clairvoyants ability to recapture the subtle dynamic shades of each musicians instrument highlighted the nearly telepathic interplay among this amazing trio on the track "Whisper Not." Adding to this, complete and dimensional sound portraits appeared and were gone with such suddenness that this ushered in newly perceived harmonic detail and dynamic contrast, bringing the event into the room. Anyone who doesnt believe power cords can substantially improve sound should listen with the Clairvoyant. There is absolutely nothing subtle about the positive impact this AC cord makes over a stock Belden, or for that matter, most other power-line products.
The Clairvoyants signature is engaging, energetic, and bristling with light and microdynamic life. If youre looking to add color to music, fix an existing sound problem or you prefer dark and lovely tones, this AC cord may not be for you. The Clairvoyants overall tonal balance fell just on the lighter, but not brighter, side of neutral, accounting in part for recordings sounding more exposed, with copious amount of micro detail and recorded ambience apparent. The ability of this power cord to improve and solidify instrumental and vocal performances within the soundstage is yet another of its strong suits. Some may find imaging and soundstage presentation passé and of little importance to music. In fact, these traits in a product directly relate to other facets of the musics presentation and are critical to virtual listening pleasure. If you havent yet experienced a virtual soundfield, the Clairvoyant will introduce you to one.
An excellent comparison for the Audio Magic power cord is the sublime, understated JPS Labs Kaptovator. Its suave, languid signatures, natural frequency balance, and slightly warm tonal hues are the yin to the Clairvoyants yang. The JPS Labs cord fleshes out detail in a more lush, full-bodied manner, doles out superb bass response, and imbues music with decent but not Herculean extension up top. The Clairvoyant takes a different tack. Instrumental lines are drawn more tightly, more precisely. Transient edges seem to whiz by at the speed of light, and there was an incredible buoyancy, energy, and exactness in its presentation that absorbed me in a performance or recording rather than induce a more laid-back state. These differences were most apparent on music with a lot of activity and dynamic content, such as Dizzy Gillespies Bird Songs on Telarc [CD-83421]. On the track "Ornithology," the Clairvoyant conveyed the complicated timing and dynamic elements so dramatically, so realistically, that it drew a visceral response. Name any concert behavior and I was acting it out with the Clairvoyant piloting the ship, foot tapping and, yes, even the dreaded singing along.
In past reviews, Ive described how the best power cords on the market provide a strong low-frequency foundation that is beyond the capability of other power-line products. Well, the Audio Magic Clairvoyant shocked me with the clarity, definition, lithe touch, and articulation throughout the lower registers. The Clairvoyant delivers simply inspiring, true-to-life bass response. Many hobbyists dont realize how much skillful bass reproduction frees up the rest of the frequency ranges to do their thing. Any time spent with the Clairvoyant will explicate my point. A great example is outlined on Stanley Clarkes If This Bass Could Only Talk [Portrait RK 40923]. Listening to the track "Taps," which features the recorded footwork of Gregory Hines, it was noteworthy how much the definition and control of Clarkes bass line freed up listening access to the fleet Hines tapping out his notes in seemingly limitless space. Clarkes bass was so tight and under control it gave the illusion of going a half octave lower and had a pulsating power that Ive yet to hear using any other AC cord.
My reference Shunyata King Cobra Version 2 is also a stellar performer down low, but it does not quite recapture the lightning touch and control of the Clairvoyant. Rather than catapulting out notes, the King Cobra reproduces more of the body and air exchange within an acoustic bass, drum, piano, or voice. There exists a natural sense of space and timbral truth using the King Cobra that will serve some music better, or sound a smidgen more true to the event or instrument than the Clairvoyant -- but only just. Neither cord on its own is anything short of remarkable below 200Hz and should, without exception, noticeably improve the bass response of any system.
The Clairvoyants musical, energetic signature traveled seamlessly from the bass to the midrange and up through the treble with nary a bump, peak, or dip, meeting yet another criteria for a statement product: balanced performance. This Magic cord was the first silver cable Ive encountered that did not seem brittle, hyped, or highlighted in the upper frequencies. The Clairvoyant does, however, instill midrange and low-treble information with slightly lighter tonal shading than other power cords in its class, and as a result, it didnt quite equal the virtually limitless palette of tones and timbral shades of the King Cobra V2. Haydens Symphony No. 31 on Telarc [CD-80156] has a potpourri of brass and string instruments that will challenge the timbral acuity of any product. The opening Allegro begins with forceful massed horns interwoven with a demanding, intricate violin section. The Clairvoyant was supreme at delivering the vibrancy and detail of the upper registers, particularly the violins, but couldnt quite match the King Cobra V2s ability to flesh out the resonant character and exact timbre of each instrument within the recording. Apples and oranges really; the Clairvoyant on its own possessed one of the most convincing and balanced presentations of any AC product Ive encountered.
Id go out on any limb, twist arms, and take out an ad to emphasize how realistic and alive music sounds in the topmost frequencies with the Clairvoyant in line. From the mid treble through the top octave, this AC cord is about as good as it gets. The top octaves are what most power-line boxes have trouble recapturing with truth, or natural dynamic extension and contrast. Not so with the Clairvoyant. This AC cord resolves treble information you may not have realized was there, yet does so without artifice. Tony Williams Life Time, a Blue Note RVG edition [7243 4 99004 2 4], is one of the late drummers finest works. The Audio Magic cord preserved the brilliance and definition of Williams cymbal work so completely that not only were the temporal elements of his performance perfectly preserved, but the timbral signature was evident to a degree that it almost seemed possible to discern the brand of cymbals he was using. The Clairvoyant possesses a more upfront perspective with this information, so if a system is balanced forward in the upper frequencies, the Clairvoyant wont fix a pre-existing problem in this area. The King Cobra V2 resolved all of the critical timing and timbral elements as well, but laid the information further back in the soundfield, drawing the listener into the detail rather than bringing detail to the listener. The top PowerSnake recaptured the acoustic space and wall-to-wall ambience of this recording slightly better than the Clairvoyant, layering the sound canvas before me with reverberant decay and musically relevant detail. Both power cords are, without question, state of the art in the top octaves, with one cueing into the instrument more directly and the other capturing the big picture in a more panoramic fashion.
The ultimate note reader?
The ultimate in any product category is that component or ancillary that leap-frogs us closer to the connection with music that we all seek. Within the power-line ranks, the Clairvoyant is one of less than a handful of products Ive encountered that is capable of creating such a connection and is in the elite class of the best Ive ever used. The Clairvoyant naturally preserves musics delicate structure of timing, rhythm, and pace. The engaging, ebullient signature it possesses, coupled with a convincing portrayal of musics dynamic contrasts, redefines what can be expected from a power-line product at its price point. If there were a foible to dissect, I could say only that the Clairvoyant does not apologize for lesser recordings or equipment and does not have the richness of tone and varied hues through the midband when compared to my more expensive reference power cord.
If you are a power-line fence-sitter and wonder if reference power cords could do for your system what theyve done for mine, the Clairvoyant is a must-audition product.
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