I go way back with Shunyata Research, and fondly remember the days of The World’s Best Audio System (TWBAS) events -- gatherings of manufacturers at my home for which I’d chosen and assembled into amazing systems the best audio components then available -- and the sense of discovery we all felt. My first TWBAS, in 2004, included products from Wilson Audio Specialties, EMM Labs, and Shunyata Research. TWBAS 2004 was a watershed for me -- at the time, it was, by far, the best sound I had ever attained in my home. Although that system’s sound would be greatly surpassed by subsequent TWBAS systems, the bar set by that first one was already very high. Shunyata was represented in TWBAS 2004 by their Hydra Model-8 power conditioner ($1995 at the time; all prices USD), various models of power cord from their Anaconda and Diamondback lines, and their Constellation Aries and Andromeda signal cables (these models were discontinued long ago; see archived articles for cable prices).
In TWBAS 2009, almost everything was different. This time the speakers were from Rockport Technologies and most of the electronics from Behold, with other additions and subtractions. The sound was even better, partly because I’d assembled this system in my newly constructed, dedicated listening room, the Music Vault. The only brand carried over from TWBAS 2004 was Shunyata Research: a Hydra V-Ray II power conditioner ($4999) and Anaconda and King Cobra power cords.
But after TWBAS 2009, I didn’t keep up with Shunyata’s products, and I’m not sure why. It was a decade before I revisited the company -- and I’m so glad I did.
The current Shunyata Research
Those who’ve followed my writing over the years have seen a number of changes in my approach to audio gear. The most obvious was when I stopped assembling such cost-no-object stereo systems as the TWBAS arrays. Other refinements in my thinking have been necessitated by my experience with many subpar components over the years. Like many of you, I now know, without question, that high price does not necessarily mean high performance. You can easily pay in the high five or even six figures and still get under-engineered, poorly built and tested audio gear.
These days, I have several criteria a product must meet before I give it my stamp of highest approval: buying it myself. First and foremost, of course, the product must exhibit the absolute best sound quality, without qualification. Second, it must be built to the very highest standard -- I look very closely at products’ parts quality and how those parts are assembled. Third, I very much like to see measurements of the product, as a way of vetting its engineering and to provide some peace of mind that it will reliably perform for a long time under a variety of operating conditions. In the years since TWBAS 2009, I’ve noticed that Shunyata Research has increasingly focused on providing demonstrations of their products in which they also present measurements. Whether videos or white papers, Shunyata wants you not only to listen, but to pay attention to the science behind their products. I appreciate this. High-end audio has never been short on cable and power products that seem to be based on voodoo engineering. Shunyata wants you to know that they’re different, and they’ve gone to great expense to prove it.
Another thing that I like about the current iteration of Shunyata Research is that you can buy some of their best technologies at prices that are not absurdly high. It was this that convinced me that it was time to revisit the brand. Grant Samuelsen, who’s long been Shunyata’s director of marketing and sales, had sent me an e-mail asking if a SoundStage! writer would like to try their newest products, the Hydra Alpha A12 power conditioner ($4498) and Venom NR-V10 power cord ($498/1.75m). It took me only a few moments to decide to take them on myself.
Mine is a simple system
I’ve made some very intentional choices with respect to my current audio system. A reader from France recently wrote a letter in which he described my approach perhaps better than I have: “I’d like to build a system that’s like this bottle of wine that you open, and it’s directly enjoyable and pleasant and not this fussy-elusive wine that has to have the right temperature, the right glasses, and you have to concentrate to find the notes.”
Since my system is so minimal, there’s limited application for power conditioners and cords -- it was fully accommodated by the contents of just two small shipping cartons from Shunyata Research. In one box were three Venom NR-V10 power cords: one with a custom 32A connector, to fit my Boulder Amplifiers 2060 stereo power amplifier; one for the Hegel Music Systems HD30 digital-to-analog converter with integral volume control; and one for what was in the other box, Shunyata’s Hydra Alpha A12 power conditioner. The Hegel plugged into the Hydra Alpha A12, and the Boulder directly into the wall. The loudspeakers were my references, the Vimberg Tondas from German manufacturer Tidal Audio, and interconnects and speaker cables were Siltech Explorers. The electronics, including the Hydra Alpha A12, sat on an SGR Audio Model III Symphony rack.
Venoms and a Hydra
Shunyata’s Venom power-cord models are inexpensive by high-end standards, and I like that you get a generous amount of tech for your money. The Venom NR-V10 is a ten-gauge cord with conductors of oxygen-free electrolytic (OFE) copper and is shielded against RFI/EMI. The metal contacts are cryogenically treated, and the cord includes Shunyata’s Component-to-Component Interference (CCI) filter, to keep powerline noise from entering the connected audio component. Yes, these cords are claimed to reduce noise, not just provide a clean pathway for power. Shunyata also states that their Kinetic Phase Inversion Process (KPIP) reduces burn-in time and accounts for wire directionality for overall better cord performance. The standard Venom NR-V10 is terminated with EF-C15 CopperCONN connectors.
The Hydra Alpha A12 power conditioner has six pairs of Hubbell outlets, each pair surrounded by one of Shunyata’s Cable Cradles, to support the terminations of the cords plugged into them -- no strained and sagging connectors here. The Alpha A12 can be used with high-current devices, due to its use of Shunyata’s Dynamic Transient Current Delivery (DTCD) system. The Alpha A12 uses several Shunyata noise-reducing technologies, including the CCI filter, the Noise Isolation Chamber (NIC), and Ground Plane Noise Reduction (GP-NR). I won’t try to describe what each of these do -- you can read more about them here -- but briefly, each is included to ensure that your components are fed the cleanest power possible, for better sound. The Alpha A12’s case has been treated with vibration-absorbing and -damping compounds and materials, and its footers are designed to minimize the transmission of resonances from the support platform to the component. Overcurrent protection is provided by a hydraulic electromagnetic circuit breaker, a type superior to thermal breakers or fuses. Even the Alpha A12’s internal wiring, for which Shunyata used their own ArNi conductors, incorporates several of the company’s technologies. All in all, the Alpha A12 seems to have been thoroughly engineered, from inputs to outputs.
The main purpose of this section of a review is to describe what I hear when I’ve inserted the device under test (DUT) in my system. However, it’s also useful to know where the DUT fits in the greater scheme of things -- is it really good in comparison with its peers, and is it a good value for money? A reviewer who wants to make such assessments must begin by understanding the manufacturer’s intended purpose for the product -- in layman’s terms, What’s this thing all about? But once you know that, you can decide if that purpose fits with your audiophile worldview, and whether or not the product is worth an audition.
Shunyata’s ethos definitely aligns with what I think power products should be all about: reducing or eliminating noise interference. If you browse their website and read what founder Caelin Gabriel has to say, it all seems to add up to just that. Of course, this is good for the audiophile: remove noise, and you hear more of your music. Shunyata’s ethos is not about tuning your system a certain way, or adding this or that coloration to somehow enhance certain aspects of the music, or to counteract colorations caused elsewhere in the system. Shunyata’s products are about maximizing current delivery and reducing noise, and not much else.
The first thing I did was to check the steady-state noise floor of my system, which was already plenty low. With the Hegel HD30 DAC connected to the Hydra Alpha A12, one Venom NR-V10 cord on the Hegel and another on the Boulder, all electronics turned on, and one ear pressed against the tweeter screen of a Vimberg Tonda, I could hear only the faintest wisp of noise. This was a slight reduction of the level of noise I hear without the Shunyatas, so this quickly established that they had indeed lowered my system’s noise floor. With the Hegel turned off and only the Boulder on I heard nothing at all, the same as with no Shunyata products in the power chain -- you can’t improve on dead silence. Along with Devialet’s integrated amplifier-DACs, the Boulder 2060 is as good as it gets in terms of self-noise: it has none. Music will emerge from the starting point of completely “black” silence. But most important was to hear what sort of noise, if any, was audible with tunes.
I began with “Lament and Wake,” from the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s LAGQ’s Guitar Heroes (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC, Telarc). Noise can ride along the top of string sounds, and this 2004 track is very revealing of such artifacts. No such problems here -- with the Shunyata products in my system I heard only clean acoustic-guitar playing. The finger picking and plucking at 2:51 sounded pure -- just the guitar notes -- with crisp, sharply defined transient snap and no hint of noise or distortion to flatten the dynamics or fill the spaces between notes. I cranked up the volume and the sound in my room swelled, culminating in the ramping up of this track’s energy between 5:40 and 5:50. And the Shunyatas supported this recording’s wide dynamic range -- current delivery was not a problem. I was sure pleased with what I was hearing.
Speaking of dynamics -- often, when a system’s delivery of power is suboptimal, noise can subdue dynamics. In this regard I found the performance of the Shunyata power-delivery system exemplary. Arabella Steinbacher’s recording of the Winter concerto of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, with Clemens Schuldt leading the Munich Chamber Orchestra (24/96 FLAC, PentaTone/Qobuz), exploded from a backdrop of near silence. This gave the music real life -- that pop you hear from live music. The sound of Steinbacher’s violin was absolutely, pristinely clean at any volume I cared to play it. Not only did notes emerge from silence, they decayed back into silence naturally, with only the recording venue remaining audible to provide the sense of space around notes that gives them substance. In short, there was nothing in what I heard to jar me back into a different reality: the fact that I was sitting in my listening room at home, listening to a recording of music. In fact, I noted that the real limiting factor was my room -- and my room’s acoustics are good.
I conducted my next experiment on a Sunday morning, when all was quiet -- a rarity these days in our two-teen house. As I listened to the first volume of the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam’s cycle of Haydn’s String Quartets, Op.20 (24/96 FLAC, Resonus Classics/ZenneZ/Qobuz), the system was so quiet that I could hear other electronics in the room that weren’t connected to my main system. On the other side of my listening room is a small two-channel system I occasionally use when streaming Netflix or Amazon or Disney+. It comprises a Coda Model 11 stereo amplifier connected to a pair of Monitor Audio Studio stand-mounted loudspeakers and fed by an Oppo BDP-103 universal BD player, all connected with AmazonBasics interconnects and speaker cables. To hear the Dudok’s playing at its fullest, I had to unplug the Coda from the wall, and unplug the Panamax surge suppressor that feeds the Oppo and our Sony TV. Now my system sounded its absolute best -- the silence between notes was truly silent, at least in the context of the limitations of my own hearing. I was thrilled -- with all power-related artifacts removed, the sound that remained was as transparent as I’ve heard since moving into my new listening room a year and a half ago.
A question of value
In October 2019 I reviewed the GigaWatt PC-4 Evo+ power conditioner, which retails for $9999 with included LC-3HC power cord (1.5m) and, like Shunyata’s Hydra Alpha A12, has 12 outlets. In that review’s “Conclusion,” I wrote: “It improved the sound of my main audio system by washing away a subtle grain that I could again easily hear when the GigaWatt was then removed from the circuit.” The Hydra Alpha A12 costs $4498, and the Venom NR-V10 power cord (1.75m) that plugs it into the wall is $498. In my system, the Shunyatas accomplished the same thing as the GigaWatt, at well under half the price: It lowered the noise floor of my audio system, letting me experience cleaner sound with music that demands the absolute quietest background for proper reproduction (in my experience, mostly strings).
The three Venom NR-V10 power cords and one Hydra Alpha A12 brought the total cost of outfitting my system with these Shunyata products to $5992. When you consider that my stereo retails for a total of just under $95,000, the addition of a Shunyata power-conditioning system is a good -- no, a great -- value, and a must-have addition to a complete high-end stereo system.
As I write this, I’m somewhat amazed that, in the context of the gear usually reviewed on SoundStage! Ultra, my $95k stereo system would be considered a fairly modest one. But I’m just as amazed that the level of sound quality I now hear in my room can compete with virtually anything out there, with only the subtlest differences separating it from the state of the art. The fact that Shunyata Research’s Hydra Alpha A12 power conditioner and Venom NR-V10 power cords got me that much closer to the state of the art for only about 5% of the cost of my system is a testament to what Caelin Gabriel and his company have accomplished. That makes these products not only an easy recommendation from me, but one of the best values in high-end audio. If you buy them, you’ll be acting as a responsible steward of your stereo budget, and increase your enjoyment of your music as you get closer to true ultra-high fidelity.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Amplifier -- Boulder Amplifiers 2060
- Preamplifier-DAC -- Hegel Music Systems HD30
- Source -- Apple MacBook Pro computer running Mojave 10.14.5, Roon, Qobuz streaming service
- Cables -- Siltech Explorer interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
- Rack -- SGR Audio Model III Symphony
Shunyata Research Hydra Alpha A12 Power Conditioner
Price: $4498 USD.
Venom NR-V10 Power Cord
Price: $498 USD per 1.75m cord.
Warranty (all): Lifetime.
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