Late last year, I wrote about Shunyata Research's Antares Helix interconnects and Orion Helix speaker cables. Since that time, I've used the Antares and Orion almost exclusively, and both have become the cables I turn to when I want to hear what's going on with a review product, or when I have time to listen for pleasure. If you're an audiophile, you can't ask for anything more than that.
Also late last year, Shunyata Research debuted new versions of its upper-end power cords. The Python Helix under consideration here is a 10-gauge power cord with nine counter-rotating conductors braided into Shunyata's patented Helix geometry, which, according to the company, "dramatically reduces self-induced AC reactance while also providing exceptional immunity to RFI/EMI noise components." This geometry is so complex that it can only be created by hand. All Shunyata Helix conductors are drawn from certified CDA-101 copper, which is considered the purest copper available on earth (or any other planet, I am confident in saying). Connectors are the Shunyata-designed custom-made Venom IEC and plug, whose conductive parts feature Shunyata's proprietary silver-and-rhodium co-plating process. Shunyata cryogenically treats all conductors and connectors to -310 Fahrenheit; this is done onsite, instead of at an outside facility. I've had various talks with Caelin Gabriel, the president and design mind of Shunyata Research, and he's one detail-oriented fellow. I'm sure he considers an in-house cryogenic lab mandatory to achieving finished products to his standards.
Shunyata is unique among power-cord manufacturers in that it makes two different types of each model. The Vx cords use Shunyata's well-known patented FeSI-1000 compound inside the large-diameter outer sheath to reduce noise beyond the capabilities of the Helix geometry alone. The Vx cords are recommended for digital sources -- CD players and transports -- only, as it is in these applications that their noise-killing properties are best utilized. The Alpha variants are the same as the Vx cords, but without the compound. They are recommended for use with preamps, amps, analog gear, DACs -- anything that doesnt spin a CD, DVD or SACD.
The Python Alpha costs $995 USD per six-foot length, with the matching Vx version costing $1095. Shunyata's top-of-the-line Anaconda Helix uses 13 conductors to create an 8-gauge cord, while the least-expensive 10-gauge Taipan Helix uses five conductors. The Anaconda Helix Alpha costs $1995, and the Vx version $2195; the Taipan Alpha costs $695, with the Vx version running $795.
Middle audio products, like middle children, can have a hard time finding their place in the world. They are overshadowed by the company's top-of-the-line offering, especially among reviewers, and they don't achieve the same bang for the buck of the least-costly product in the same line. However, both Python Helix power cords may change this. Their sound is so accomplished, so consummate from the highest highs to the lowest lows, that they will better many top-of-the-line cords, including Shunyata's previous kingpin, the non-Helix Anaconda, which I used and loved. Comparing full systems of older Anaconda and new Python Helix cords, or individual cords used on certain components, produced the same results. The Python Helix offered a consistently clearer, more vivid view of the music -- one that's more about the music and less about the sound. Putting this another way, the Python Helix has less of a signature than the older Anaconda, sounding more transparent and simply better on every CD I played.
In the Audio Research room at THE Show in January, I heard a cut from Jessica Williams' Live at Yoshi's Volume Two [MaxJazz MXJ 214], some great piano-trio jazz served up in superlative sound. Williams' piano work defined what the Python Helix does so well. There is transient agility, with the leading edge of each note materializing without blurring or undue snap, and tonal honesty, neither an obvious light nor dark character. The music simply is, resisting attempts to explain it. In contrast, the older non-Helix Anaconda sounded slightly less energetic, a touch veiled.
"But what about the Anaconda Helix?" I can hear you asking. Well, Shunyata's new top-of-the-line power cord is magnificent, offering everything the Python Helix does and sounding a little more rich and weighty from the midrange on down to boot. Take that away, however, and the two cords are pretty much sonically identical, the Python Helix getting about 80% of the way to the Anaconda Helix for half the price.
In my mind, the bigger question than which Helix cord to buy is which type of cord, Alpha or Vx, to use where. With earlier cords, Shunyata's own recommendation was spot-on: Vx for digital gear (except DACs) and Alpha for everything else. However, with the new Helix geometry, the difference between Alpha and Vx is reduced to the point that, in my system, Vx was right only for digital transports, like the Esoteric P-03, and the Alpha for CD players. I used both variations with an Ayre C-5xe universal player and Audio Research Reference CD7 CD player and preferred the Python Helix Alpha. More than the twice-the-price Anaconda Helix Alpha? Unfortunately, no. However, with the Ayre and Audio Research players, the Vx versions of either cord slowed the music's pace a little and sounded somewhat like the older Anaconda.
Furthermore, in terms of outfitting your entire system, I'm not sure that simply buying Anaconda Helix cords all around is the best approach. Through much experimentation, I preferred a combination: Anaconda Helix Alpha with the Audio Research Reference 3 preamp, Anaconda Helix Alpha with Lamm M1.2 Reference amps, Python Helix Alpha with Lamm ML2.1 amps, Anaconda Helix Alpha with the Ayre C-5xe universal player or Audio Research Reference CD7 CD player, Anaconda Helix Alpha with the Esoteric D-03 DAC, and Python Helix Vx with the Esoteric P-03 transport. None of the cords sounds wrong with any of the products I mention, but one of them certainly sounds most right, and if it happens to be a Python Helix instead of an Anaconda Helix, you'll save yourself some serious money.
Caelin Gabriel began manufacturing and selling his power cords back in 1998, and since that time he has refined his products to an astonishing degree. As much as I like his Helix interconnects and speaker cables, I think his latest power cords are even more significant -- and vital to getting the most from audio electronics. The Python Helix may not be the very best power cord that Shunyata Research makes, but it is certainly among the very best you can buy.
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