Dagogo.com, October 2007— Z Stabilizer III HG; Oracle AC1 power cord, Oracle AC2 power cord and Z Cord power cord


This review was originally published at http://www.dagogo.com/View-Article.asp?hArticle=277.
Read the review below or visit the reviewer's website.


Doug Schroeder's Dagogo Review of Z Stabilizer III HG, Oracle AC 1 power cord, Oracle AC 2 power cord, Z Cord AC power cord
Doug Schroeder in a full implementation of top power management devices from Music Interface Technologies:

Z Stabilizer III HG, Oracle AC 1 power cord, Oracle AC 2 power cord,
Z Cord AC power cord

October, 2007

Doug Schroeder's Dagogo Review of Z Stabilizer III HG, Oracle AC 1 power cord, Oracle AC 2 power cord, Z Cord AC power cord

MSRP's:
Oracle AC 2 Power Cord: $3,495
Oracle AC 1 Power Cord: $1,699
Z Cord AC Power Cord: $129
Z Stabilizer III HG: $699

A CONTINUATION

I was sent the above items from Music Interface Technologies (hereafter MIT) with the request of our editor to evaluate their effectiveness in my system. No problem, as I love audio gear as much as the audio listening experience! I have already written a thorough review of the MIT cable technology, which can be found here on Dagogo.com, so I will focus on the “worthiness” aspect of the power cords and power conditioning components before me.

I have several simple philosophies I apply to this hobby which I call “Audiophile Laws”. I observe that there are physical and moral laws which govern our universe. To run afoul of one of them is to invite a less than beneficial outcome. From my experiences in audiophilia, I have concluded that there are also simple “laws” (although not written in stone) regarding audio which is better served to obey rather than break.

‘… a potential upgrade component is only worthy of consideration if it produces an immediate discernable effect.’

One in particular is the “Worthiness” principle, whereby a potential upgrade component is only worthy of consideration if it produces an immediate discernable effect. The change in sound the component (in some cases the word tweak would apply, however I do not consider cables and power conditioning tweaks, I consider them proper components) produces should be immediately noticeable. Certainly it should be clearly heard in less than 30 seconds. If it takes several minutes, or even hours of listening to determine if there is a change, then why are you wasting your time with the change? One practical outcome of the Law of Worthiness is that if one does not like the sound of a component initially, it is highly unlikely that opinion will change drastically after break-in. What’s more likely to happen is that hopefulness regarding a change will set in, allowing one to put up with the less than expected performance. In the long run, the anticipated results never appear and dissatisfaction reappears. Some audiophiles have been through this cycle many times. If they would adhere to the Law of Worthiness, it would save them much angst.

‘… just because a sound strikes one as distinct doesn’t mean it will be the most pleasing alternative long term.’

Z Stabilizer III HG

I applied that principle here in the review of the MIT power products. I found every one of them produced an instantly discernable change to the sound. I also found the degree of distinction to roughly correlate to the product gradation that MIT has set. The “HG” (hospital grade) version of the Z Stabilizer III was clearly more thorough in it’s capabilities than the standard version, the Oracle power cords patently superior to the Z Cords, etc. However, just because a sound strikes one as distinct doesn’t mean it will be the most pleasing alternative long term. That’s where living with the change for a while allows the audiophile to judge its efficacy.

In this assessment, I had a distinct advantage in having lived with MIT products for years. I used them prior to reviewing (in fact, I wanted to secretly put MIT’s claims to the test in my first review of their cables; see my prior review of their products) and continue to use them in reviewing. It was relatively easy to mentally put the improvement of each piece into perspective.

My goal was less to see how well the basic Z Cord did and instead more to focus on the conditioning product, the Z Stabilizer, and the higher-end cords of the Oracle line. I stepped the introduction of these products into my system to see what the result would be. I started with the big momma, the Oracle AC 2, direct from wall to my Rega Saturn cdp. My Pathos Classic One MkII tube hybrid integrated’s were fed direct from the wall by two MIT Shotgun AC power cords. A rig doesn’t get much simpler than this – source into attenuated monoblocks. I have yet to find a superior scheme for economical, powerful class A tube performance.

A word about the Oracle power cords: Fabulous. I think that’s the term to summarize them. Why are they so fabulous? I certainly wouldn’t think myself to call any power cord fabulous had I not been convinced of its worthiness. I placed several different branded power cords on my Saturn previously in an attempt to juice its performance. Not that the performance was shoddy; it’s one of the finest players I’ve heard in its price range. But there is always room for improvement, so on went the Oracle.

AUDITIONING

What can be said about the mental health of an individual who places a power cable worth $3,500.00 on a cdp worth $2,400? I’m sure you could find some clever phrases. I’ll stick with the term innovative, as I don’t prefer the word delusional! I did, however, sit back and listen to what the Oracle AC 2 has done to the sound and shake my head. I never would have thought that so much more finesse, delicacy, and emotion could be drawn out of the Saturn!

In my previous review I presented the MIT cables with their Terminator boxes as being similar to equalizers from yesteryear. Boosting the signal, yet streaming fully the magnified signal, they really do seem to swell the presentation far more than almost any other cable I’ve used, not only enlarging or expanding the soundstage, but innocuously cleaning it. An even higher expression of my mental instability was the utilization of the Oracle 2 power cord ($3,500) into a Z Stabilizer III HG ($699), from there outbound via the Oracle 1 ($1,695) to the Rega Saturn ($2,400). Right, that means I had $5,894 worth of cables on a $2,400 player! Consider that this power scheme was slightly over 60% more costly than the source.

Of course, such things don’t happen in real life. But should they? Just the other day as I perused the audiophile forums, this very question was posed in different words to the effect, “Should I spend more on cdp and less on power cord for it, or about 50/50?” Distilled down to its essence, the question asked the justification for upgraded power cords. Very few would second guess whether moving up the line in a player would yield improvement. But many secretly wonder if moving up the line in power cabling and conditioning can yield worthwhile improvement.

‘The primary lesson I learned was that in the case of MIT cables and conditioners the sky seems to be the limit.’

Should a person go to the point of spending as much on power cabling and conditioning as they have for their cdp? Or even more? While this is a question designed to stimulate thought and without a defined answer, my experience was eye opening. The primary lesson I learned was that in the case of MIT cables and conditioners the sky seems to be the limit. I found none of the MIT additions to detract from the detail or add superfluously to the experience. Every one of the additions moved me closer to the heart of whatever piece I was hearing. On vocals, I could visualize the microphone’s placement advancing toward the mouth of the singer with each piece added.

What I didn’t necessarily expect was a smoother ride. I was preparing myself to hear stiletto-like treble out of the Legacy Focus HD’s twin ribbon tweeters. I was under the impression that if the signal was passively treated too much by the Terminator boxes, the result would be harshness, which I knew could be revealed by the Focus HD’s. Instead, I heard the high-end actually soften. Across the spectrum, the microphonic gaps of digital music seemed to be filled deftly.

Lately I’ve been enjoying the laid back vocals of India Aire, this generation’s equivalent to Tracy Chapman. One of the most exquisite demonstrations of MIT’s power technology came on her introspectively titled Testimony: vol.1, Life & Relationship, track 12 “Great Grandmother”, which is a snippet of an old recording of…India Aire’s grandma. As it seemed useless for the purposes of reviewing equipment, I was tempted to ignore it as I passed from song to song. Yet, I couldn’t ignore it since it exemplified the effect the MIT power components had. Like a plane doing a flyover, I made three passes with three increases in MIT products in the power chain. Initially, I used only two Shotgun AC cords. Next go round I added one Z Stabilizer HG. Lastly, I went full blown by adding the second Oracle cord and a Z Stabilizer HG to the Saturn.

The result was a resurrection from the dead! Well, not entirely – that would be news, wouldn’t it! But, the flat, lifeless recording of grandma Aire took on flesh and bones, an actual umbra of three-dimensionality as MIT reanimated her. It was almost a religious experience to hear the resonance return to her voice reverberating in the room – something completely lacking in the experience prior to the MIT additions. That 30 second monophonic clip proved that manipulating the power enhances a rig’s ability to breathe life into recordings. I would compare what I was hearing to my experience as a young boy playing with a “Light Bright.” When I was a wee little lad, this was advanced toy technology – a “flat screen” which accommodated Christmas minilight sized pixels of infinitely variable color combinations! SWEET! It was… Fabulous! Each bulb added to the overall sensation of a glowing masterpiece.

‘That is what I experience when I hear MIT products, more pixels of sound filling the air to create a glowing 3-D image.’ Now, think acoustically about air space being filled with pixels of sound. How many pixels does your system produce - can you mentally imagine an amount? Further, imagine that with power cords and conditioning you can fill in missing pixels in 3-D to make the sound fuller, richer, more glowing. That is what I experience when I hear MIT products, more pixels of sound filling the air to create a glowing 3-D image. Sonically, more pixels put out more solidity to the acoustic image. MIT cables and conditioners fill the pixels in the air thoroughly.

IN PERSPECTIVES

There are some physical drawbacks to the MIT line of cables which must be considered. In a word, they’re bulky and stiffer than average. With not so subtle passive component boxes affixed (metal boxes on the Oracle series cords) to them and less flexible cables, it becomes something of a challenge at times to position them perfectly. Even the $129 Z Cord power cable puts up a good fight against being twisted. One has to be aware of the potential for stress on the back of a component’s IEC receptacle. Wrestling the Oracle cord into position the first time, I was unsatisfied with how much tangential stress was being applied from the cord to the back of the unit. The Rega Saturn’s plastic (Why plastic? Shouldn’t be on a $2,400 player!) back was being stressed so as to pull away slightly from the metal chassis. Repositioning resolved the issue, but one needs to force these cables into submission. In one or two cases I have used twist ties to cinch the cables at critical points to my audio rack in order to make them comply with my determined positioning. This is, though, an inexpensive fix and once the cables are in place their stiffness will be forgotten. Care should be taken not to let the heavy passive electronics boxes hang freely so as to stress connectors.

(Tip on using stiff cables: The secret to using a bendable stiff cable, thin or thick, lies in bending the mid-sections and areas near its AC connector and IEC plug into form, to exert only straight, inward pressure into the AC outlet and equipment. When bent accordingly at the two ends, stiff cables, especially power cables, exert no extraneous pressure on the contact points, and become an ultra-stable conduit between the AC outlet and the equipment. –Ed.)

Z Cord

How much quality differential do the two highest power cables in the MIT line make? To examine this, I simply reversed the order, and placed the Oracle AC 1 (2nd to top) at the outlet, then the Z Stabilizer III HG, followed by the Oracle AC 2 (top model) just prior to the Saturn. One might be tempted to think, “What’s the possible advantage to reversing their order? It will sound the same.” No, not even close. I was hoping that the deletion of the Oracle 1 from the chain and keeping the Stabilizer HG and the higher level Oracle 2 in the chain with a lower level Z Cord at the wall would be good enough. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, they both sounded heavenly. But when one is transported to the Seventh Heaven, and has to return to the Fifth Heaven it just doesn’t cut it. The sheer expansiveness and completeness in the music while using both cables was not easy to live without.

I have just recently brought the Legacy Focus HD speakers into the listening room. These are very substantial 185lb pieces, each wielding twin 12” bass drivers. One of the most enjoyable aspects of testing the MIT cables and Z Stabilizers involved hearing the volume of air inside drums expand and bass notes plump as the power scheme was improved. ‘It’s one thing to hear a bass note, to realize it is present. It’s another to hear the fullness of the note, to sense its depth and low frequency vibrations.’

On Dido’s No Angel, her piece “Isobel” can be an exercise in distortion, as there are several levels of extremely low-bass and drums running throughout. She uses what might be called “bass-ment” accompaniment. Even with excellent equipment, the lowest of frequencies can be frustratingly indistinct. It wasn’t until I put together the above MIT set up for cdp that I was able to get what I would consider full resolution of the lowest notes. It’s one thing to hear a bass note, to realize it is present. It’s another to hear the fullness of the note, to sense its depth and low frequency vibrations. Once the MIT products are heard it becomes clear how much of the music is left inside of the source and amplification if the cables don’t tease it out.

My casual observation is that whatever MIT cord feeds, the Z Stabilizer should be the lower end one than the downstream cable exiting it. Don’t read this wrong, but the Oracle 1, as good as it is, when placed ahead of the higher end cable actually restricted the performance of the Oracle 2. With MIT cables, always build from the least at the outlet to the greatest at the component. I would also recommend utilizing the higher grade “HG” Z Stabilizer III at the front-end of the system as opposed to the system downstream. While each of the Stabilizers have one IEC feeding them and only 2 exiting outlets, it’s very likely that you will need more than one Z Stabilizer HG to outfit your system. If you have a mixture of regular and “HG” Z Stabilizers, get the better ones up front at your source.

REFLECTIONS

Would the greatest gains system-wide be attained at the front-end, preamp or amplification? I suspect it would be most advantageous to load the front-end with “Big Gun” cables as opposed to trying to make up for lost ground by using them only to juice the amps. I did not have two identical Oracle cables to test this on my twin Pathos amps, but I suspect it to be true. After all, how can amplification recapture what’s not been sent? If the source is lacking I'm doubtful the amps can more than compensate for it.

The experiment has reinforced one thing incontrovertibly: High performance cables are worth as much glory as any other component in an audiophile’s system. Case in point, the Oracle power cords on the Rega Saturn now make it sound nothing like a Rega Saturn. It sounds like Rega’s next generation of players – the ones that haven’t been created yet! When power cables can make cdp’s sound more advanced with its yesterday technology, those cables are doing very good things! Consider also that with superior firepower in cabling, one is assured that any source or amp change will at least be given a chance to have its utmost innards exposed, its soul laid bare. If you want to really hear what X cdp sounds like, feed it serious power from serious power cabling and conditioning. If you don’t do that, you’ll never hear the true potential of the player.

Just today while wandering through an electronics store, I saw a video display on a wide screen showing direct comparison between standard DVD and Blue Ray. A white line demarked the two presentations in real time. The Blue Ray made the standard DVD side look impoverished. The upgrades with MIT products made the acoustic experience on my equipment seem just as dramatically improved. I have no doubts that with virtually any cdp brought into my system, I will be able to instantly hear critical distinctions in presentation. My ability to judge the virtue of a cdp, pre or amp has been heightened immeasurably. I’m not sure any reasonable person would want to spend prodigious amounts in an effort to save a mediocre system. However, my experiment confirms as the cabling quality increases, one can rest assured that any component change will bring about a more satisfying experience. I used to think many years ago that one could effectively “skip” cables as a serious component. I thought that somehow one could spend 95% on the source, amp and speakers etc. and toss 5% or so at wiring. Oh, what a mistake that can be today when wonders are being wrought by manufacturers like MIT!

A lot of hot air on the street says that cables are a waste of time and that there are diminishing returns as the pricing increases. I’m clearly stating that in the case of MIT cables it’s simply not true. From my analysis, you’ll get improved performance as you move up the line and the cumulative effect of their cords on a system can be revelatory. Steve Holt at MIT has been generous with time and wires; from my experience, I would think that any system specific questions as to cable and conditioning selection would be competently and courteously answered. I have no claims against these products. Solidly built, appealing to the eye, and performance enhancing in a distinctive way, they prove an excellent argument for upscaling power components.