Back Issue Article

May 2004

Shunyata Research Hydra Model-2 Power Conditioner

Multichannel Pick of the Month

Seal: Seal IV
DVD-Audio, Warner Bros. DVDA-101295

A great test for your center-channel speaker’s dialogue-producing talent, not to mention how well it blends sonically with the rest of your system, is Seal IV. This is the first Seal album in six years, and his fourth effort overall. It doesn’t disappoint. This DVD-Audio disc is enjoyable and well recorded. The vocals are like butter -- smooth and inviting. The music is generally upbeat pop with a touch of blues and R&B in select spots, though the reggae influence is unmistakable.

If you’ve got Seal [Warner Bros. 9 45415-2] in your collection and have used "Kiss from a Rose" to test the midrange performance of your system, you’ll cotton to "Love’s Divine" and "Touch." These ballads contain all of the emotion and soulful melodies Seal fans have come to expect. "Get it Together" is perhaps the best demonstration track on the disc, and is the one that’ll show off your surround system best: crowd noises as well as ample bass exercise the full 5.1 channels. Included on the disc are Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo tracks, as well as MLP 5.1 and stereo versions. There’s plenty to compare and contrast if you’re in audio-experimentation mode.

If you’ve been a Seal fan in waiting, you’ll love Seal IV. It doesn’t break a lot of new ground for the British-born artist, but it does travel some roads worth revisiting, this time in multichannel sound.

...Jeff Fritz

Face it: Multichannel audio can be inconvenient. There’s no getting around the added space you’ll need for more speakers, more electronics, more wiring, more, more, more. The complexity and expense are obstacles enough, but when you run out of room, or are shoehorning equipment into locations that aren’t really capable of handling audio components, the compromises can become unacceptable.

But all is not lost. The industry has found ways to achieve more channels and greater performance with less space. The multichannel amplifier has been one of the most successful components of recent memory. Whether you need five channels, seven channels, or 12 channels of power, you can buy one box that’ll fit your needs. This is an example of the industry thinking on its feet. There’s no free lunch, however -- the best-performing amps are still of the mono and two-channel variety. But cramming more power into a single box of realistic size has been a boon for those wishing, or needing, to do more with less space.

The trend, as home-entertainment systems have become more complex, has been toward fewer boxes. Preamp/processors combine multiple functions within one component, and receivers take that philosophy even further by joining amplifiers, a tuner, and audio and video switching and processing.

So if putting more within a single box is the wave of the future, why am I so jazzed about Shunyata Research dividing the Hydra Model-8 into four Hydra Model-2s? There are so many reasons.

Why a Hydra Model-2?

When it comes to power conditioning and surge suppression, Shunyata Research has been thinking outside the box for years. The Hydra Model-8 has garnered numerous accolades, including the SoundStage! Network’s Reviewers’ Choice, and is owned as a personal reference by a number of Network reviewers. Somewhere along the line, though, Caelin Gabriel, head honcho at Shunyata, realized that the Model-8 wouldn’t work in all system configurations. In other words, he foresaw the limitations of having a single power conditioner feed a whole system’s worth of gear, especially in multichannel-audio and home-theater installations where boxes can be placed all over the room.

So in order to simplify your life, Shunyata Research decided to offer you more boxes for your money, even though that bucks the trend of putting more stuff in less space. Before you start looking for more shelf space, though, consider that you may not need a shelf at all. Let me explain an even more likely scenario with which you just might identify.

Let’s say you were considering a Hydra Model-8 at $1995 USD, figuring it would power your entire home theater. You’ll plug your DVD player in, as well as your multichannel amp and processor, and that’s not even mentioning your satellite receiver. And yes, there are enough outlets for those and more. But what happens when you look up at the ceiling and see your projector, and then at the back of the room where your subwoofer is placed? What do you plug those into? And let’s just say you have five monoblock amps placed around the room at each speaker. Or what if you have "powered-tower" speakers that have integral powered subwoofers in each cabinet -- those have to be plugged into something. And what if your home-theater controller and source are on one wall and your power amps on another? You’re gonna need a bunch of long power cords to make it from all of those components back to your Hydra Model-8.

Unless, instead of buying that single Hydra Model-8, you just get a handful of Model-2s -- for the same money.

What is a Hydra Model-2?

The Hydra Model-2 is a diminutive black box measuring just 5"W x 3"H x 5"D and weighing two pounds. The chassis is made of 14-gauge metal and can easily fit in the palm of your hand, or behind a small plant on the floor. The device is passive in nature -- there are no power switches or LEDs, so accessing it to turn it on or off is not an issue; it’s a set-it-and-forget-it device once plugged into the wall outlet via one of five Shunyata Research "Pacesetter" power cords.

On one side of the Hydra Model-2 you’ll find two "Venom silver-plated outlets that are hard-wired with Shunyata’s own high-purity CDA-101 cryogenic copper conductors." On the opposite side is a 20-amp detachable power inlet. The Model-2 functions as both a power-line filter and a surge-suppression device. The protection aspect, deemed the Trident Defense System by Shunyata, is capable of squelching 10,000 amps/6000 volts via "next-generation TMOVs" (Thermally protected Metal Oxide Varistors). The 3600W, 30-amp (both continuously rated) power capability is suitable for current-hungry amplifiers as well as components such as DVD players and preamp/processors. The filtration itself, according to Shunyata, is effective in battling "line- and component-borne noise." Threaded footers suitable for aftermarket spikes and cones are available on the chassis for those inclined to tweak these little guys.

What can you do with a Hydra Model-2?

You can tuck these little things all over the place, where they’re most needed. Mount one near your projector and one beside your powered subwoofer in the rear of the room. And if you want to get really crazy, buy one for each monoblock amp in your system. The sky’s the limit.

For me there’s an even better reason to use Hydra Model-2s: I have multiple dedicated 20-amp AC lines running into my listening room. These lines, terminated with hospital-grade Hubbell outlets, enable me to keep my power amplifiers electrically separated from the rest of the system’s circuit, while allowing each amp full access to my AC service. This means there are no other components drawing power off the same lines as the amps. I would only be able to utilize one of my dedicated lines with a single Hydra Model-8 powering my system.

So my solution, or rather Shunyata’s, was to have a Hydra Model-2 for each dedicated line. Well, with the exception of one line, on which I have a larger Hydra. I can therefore protect components running off each dedicated line with its own dedicated Hydra, and keep power cords going back to the wall shorter because I’m not spanning long distances. The Hydras do not limit current in any way, so they’re compatible with pretty much everything in an A/V system. Problem solved.

Although other components came and went during the course of my time with the Hydra Model-2s, the basic review system consisted of an Orpheus Laboratories Two multichannel preamp, Esoteric DV-50 universal A/V player, Coda Technologies amplification, and Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v.3 loudspeakers arranged in an ITU-standardized configuration.

How does a Hydra Model-2 sound?

Once the Hydra Model-2s were placed in my system, which was running naked beforehand, the improvement in sound quality was immediately apparent. Not only did the system’s noise floor drop, as you might expect from a properly designed power-line conditioner, but the musical presentation created by my multichannel system became more stable. Images stayed locked in space -- for instance, a vocalist placed between the right speaker and center-channel stayed put no matter what was going on in the other channels. Perhaps my impressions were due to less apparent grain, making the images of the performers that much more palpable. Whatever the reason, I could hear Diana Krall (SACD, The Look of Love [Verve 589 597-2]) clearly delineated in the soundstage while her piano played away.

Having my power amplifiers Hydra-ed made me, perhaps subconsciously, listen for reduced dynamics on peaks when the system was pulling serious power from the wall. I guess this comes from the longstanding "rule" that you can’t plug big amps into power conditioners. Many such devices can’t supply enough current, and in fact are just not designed for high-power applications. In the past my desire for surge suppression for my entire system led me to try anyway. With only a couple of exceptions I’ve experienced degraded sound quality as a result. Not so with the Hydras. My high-current Coda amplifiers were as dynamic and expressive as they were plugged directly into the wall, and even quieter in operation. A good example of the Hydras being able to deliver ample current was the peaks on Prokofiev: Ivan the Terrible on SACD (Leonard Slatkin, conductor; St. Louis Symphony [Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 4003]). This 1979 recording demands a lot from your system, with its dynamic expression and exuberant performance. The Hydras were up to the charge.

Classical music, recorded with little dynamic compression, is perhaps the best test for a product like the Hydra. The quiet moments, where the silence really does need to be silent so as to make the crescendos that much more dramatic, just beg for as little noise as possible. The Hydras can help give you this. But midrange performance on popular music such as Seal IV [Warner Bros. DVDA-101295] benefits appreciably, too. "Love’s Divine" showcases Seal’s typically soulful voice to great effect. He sounded even more expressive over my system powered by the Hydra Model-2s when singing this beautiful tune.

The Hydra Model-2s won’t make a noisy amplifier less noisy, or bright speakers less bright, but they will remove that grainy overlay that your AC line contributes to the sound of your system. They’ll also make your system more predictable: with the Model-2s, I didn’t get the impression that my system sounded better at certain times of the day than at others. To me that means my system’s sound was not quite as much at the mercy of the power company or the amount of traffic on the power grid.


As I was finishing this month’s installment of "Surrounded," it occurred to me that there may be another factor at work in my appreciation of the Hydra Model-2s: Does the peace of mind that comes with full-system power-line protection add to my enjoyment of the performance of my system? Hmmm. It’s kind of like the feeling you get driving a completely spotless car -- lots of folks will swear that a clean car drives better than a dirty one. Even if it doesn’t, can the impression make it so?

There are several tangible performance benefits to be gained by using the Hydra Model-2s -- they’ll simply make your system quieter, and images within the soundstage will be more stably rendered. These benefits are especially important for high-resolution multichannel music where everything seemingly makes a difference. But if there are some less-tangible qualities to go along with what I’ve described above, then I’m fine with those, too. Protection from your power company’s surges and spikes, or Mother Nature in the form of a lightning strike, is important to me. At the end of the day I’d hate to give these little guys up.

But what really sets the Hydra Model-2 apart is its flexibility. When used in a multichannel system with equipment seemingly everywhere, the Hydra Model-2s make things easier, not more complex and restrictive as with some devices. You can sprinkle Hydra Model-2s where they’re needed most -- just about anywhere.

...Jeff Fritz

Shunyata Research Hydra Model-2 Power Conditioner
$395 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Shunyata Research Inc.
5594 N.E. Minder Rd.
Poulsbo, WA 98370
Phone: (608) 850-6752

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


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