I remain conflicted about my Vault subscription with Third Man Records (TMR). Four times a year, TMR ships me a release for around $70 (all prices in USD). The title is generally announced a month or so before it’s shipped, so there’s never really a surprise when it arrives. The albums are beautifully pressed and of exceedingly high quality, and the packaging is truly deluxe. The package usually includes at least two LPs, often with a 7″ 45rpm bonus disc, and some sort of glossy booklet. For some inexplicable reason, TMR often includes a DVD of concert footage. Given that I haven’t had a DVD player hooked up for years now, I don’t get much satisfaction from this inclusion.
And more often than not, the Vault release is a Jack White–based album: the Raconteurs, the White Stripes, JW side projects, and the like. While they’re often a lot of fun to listen to, I think I’m Jack White–ed out. I originally signed on to TMR’s Vault subscription in order to get their reissue of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Several months later, I was amused to receive Sleep’s Live at Third Man Records four-LP set, recorded direct to disc to mark the band’s reformation. And last month, it was Johnny Cash’s A Night to Remember. But now we’re back to our regular JW programming with the upcoming White Stripes Greatest Hits. I’d like to see much more variety in their choice of titles.
That said, I’m going to keep my subscription active—I do enjoy TMR’s records, and I’d like to continue to support their business.
Audience frontRow powerChord AC cable
About 25 years ago, I tried out a full set of rather high-end power cords on my first real hi-fi system. The system comprised a Sonic Frontiers SFS-40 amp and SFL-1 preamp, with a Sonic Frontiers SFP-1 Signature phono stage fed by my Roksan Xerxes ’table equipped with a Sumiko Alchemist S cartridge. Speakers were, I think, Clements Little Ds.
I rotated those power cords (I forget the brand) in and out of that system a number of times, and I became quite frustrated with the process. For the life of me, I couldn’t hear any difference. I relayed my frustration to my buddy Phil Griffin, who was at the time an engineer with Sonic Frontiers.
“Try one on your turntable’s power supply,” Phil suggested.
The ’table was the only place I hadn’t tried the cords. After all, it was just a bloody motor, for crying out loud.
So I did as Phil suggested. I plugged one into its power supply, cued up an album, and sat back for a listen.
Well, the rest is history. I was quite astounded by the changes to the system’s sound. When I queried Phil about this, he explained his thinking: “Turntables and their power supplies are tricky things. A cartridge operates at the micron level, and anything you can do to smooth out the motor makes one heck of a difference.”
Well, blow me down. Here I am, a quarter century later, and I’ve just jammed an Audience frontRow powerChord up the butt of the motor that powers my VPI Industries Prime Signature turntable.
My system is supported by a robust power-delivery infrastructure. A dedicated line goes back to the electrical panel, and it’s fronted by a Furutech GTX-D NCF receptacle. That feeds a Nordost Quantum QBase QB8 Mk.II power distribution block, with a number of high-quality power cords feeding off its juice. But for some reason—an oversight on my part, really—I was still powering the VPI with an ugly, black power cord.
Back at the beginning of this year, I reviewed Audience’s Au24 SX speaker cables and interconnects, and was extremely pleased with how they integrated into my system. Seeing that nasty-looking cord powering my VPI, I spied an opportunity. After speaking with John McDonald at Audience, it was agreed that a ’table as serious as the VPI Prime Signature deserved a serious power cord.
The Audience frontRow powerChord AC cable—the top offering from Audience, retailing at $6700 for a 6′ length—is indeed a serious piece of kit. Over 3/4″ thick, beefy and beautifully constructed, the frontRow manages at the same time to be exceptionally manageable. I had no issues dressing the cable around the VPI’s feet and into the motor. As befits a turntable motor that could probably split logs, Audience supplied the 10AWG high-power version of the frontRow. Within its silky fishnet stocking, the frontRow packs six 13AWG wires, with two each for the hot, neutral, and ground conductors. According to Audience’s McDonald, each 13AWG wire consists of six 38-strand bundles of 99.9999% pure OCC copper in an ultra-high-quality cross-linked polypropylene dielectric, in a proprietary geometry with shielding on the hot leg only. The entire cord undergoes double cryogenic and extreme high-voltage treatment, and is burned in for 100 hours on a Audiodharma Cable Cooker.
The AC plug and IEC connectors are rhodium-plated copper in a carbon-fiber shell. The finish on the connectors is superb. Turning the frontRow cord over in my hands, I got the feeling that I was holding more than just a wire. This is a luxury product that transcends its destined usage. Is an Aston Martin Vantage just a mode of transportation? Do you wear a Richard Mille watch just to tell the time? A Honda Civic gets you from A to B, with better gas mileage. A cheap quartz watch tells you how long it took, more accurately. . . .
Record players, and the systems within which they operate, verge on alchemy. The sound of my system seems to change almost daily, according to the humidity (or the lack thereof, come wintertime), temperature, how much the lighting is dimmed. What I’m wearing. Everything seems to change how my system sounds from day to day.
Well, that’s the way it seems to me, anyway. With a mechanical, friction-based system such as the LP record and ’table, it's hard—nearly impossible, really—to achieve any degree of consistency. I’ve come to accept that, but the sheer fragility of this Rube Goldberg conglomeration is also a magnificent test bed for component changes, ripe for experimentation.
So something as innocuous as changing a damn power cord on the turntable motor turns out to be a planet-smashing event. Swapping in the frontRow cord made an immediate, obvious change for the better. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to Pink Floyd’s “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” from the reissue of Animals (LP, Pink Floyd Records PFRLP10), and the effects of the frontRow cord are everywhere. Most notable is the leading edges of transients. There’s an increased sense of transient attack—David Gilmour’s snapping Stratocaster, the instant-on crackle. I never really paid attention to the guitar work on “Pigs.” Oh, sure, I listened to it and loved it, but it never occurred to me to contemplate the Stratocaster-ness of that guitar until I had swapped in the frontRow. It’s the rhythm guitar that makes this track, and the frontRow brings it to the forefront.
The same transient snap is evident on Nick Mason’s drumming. The drums on Animals aren’t recorded with the best ambience or fidelity, but with the frontRow cord on point, I get more of Mason’s intent. His snare on “Pigs” has more authority, more three-dimensionality. Not, I’d like to make clear, due to better imaging, or any change in tonal balance. No, it’s more to do with the coherence of the entire event of a stick meeting drumhead—the initial crack, the rise in harmonic overtones, and the decay of those overtones. Via the frontRow cord I hear more focus, more acceleration, of those events.
Having spiraled down a Pink Floyd rabbit hole, I’d like to tell you what happened when frontRow met the Roger Waters solo album Radio K.A.O.S. (LP, Columbia Records FC 40795). I recall, in my youth when this record came out, how the Red Dawn Wolverines-meet-Armageddon vibe of “The Powers That Be” resonated with me. It’s a powerful song, both in the driving kick drum and the well-crafted imagery. That kick drum got—once again—a generous helping of attack on the leading edge. Radio K.A.O.S is wonderfully recorded. It’s a Roger Waters extravaganza, and it’s easy to hear on this album how the Audience AC cable helps smooth out the highs and remove some grain that I hadn’t really noticed. Take Waters’s almost holographically highlighted vocals in “Home.” There’s a ton of texture added to his voice, with the result being an almost fruitcake richness. Via the frontRow, I could sense more depth in those overtones; more of a sense of the individual layers that went to build up the finished product
I’d like to make it clear that the changes I experienced when swapping in the frontRow cable on the VPI were not subtle. However, they’re not even remotely similar to the effects from swapping out speaker cables or interconnects.
A comprehensive swap of interconnects or speaker cables is more akin to a component change. It affects nearly every aspect of a system’s sound—bass response is altered, as is imaging and mids and highs. Slamming the frontRow power cable into the VPI was a change of an utterly different sort. The frontRow cable endowed the VPI with crisper dynamics and a tighter focus while leaving the rest of the system’s sound unaltered.
Beyond that, I found that, just generally, my system’s sound was more relaxed. This one is hard to quantify, as it was a sort of holistic feeling of overall smoothness that played itself out over all music. However, this effect was really clear on “Monk’s Dream” from the magnificent 2016 Music On Vinyl reissue of The Thelonious Monk Quartet’s Monk’s Dream (LP, MOVLP842). The frontRow cable accentuated the flow of the music, the rhythmic bounce of Frankie Dunlop’s drums, the acoustic launch of John Ore’s bass, Monk’s loping atonal fumbles that recover at the last second into brilliance—this recording is already an exercise in rhythmic complexity, and the frontRow cable just set it alight.
I’ve had the Audience frontRow cable in my system for a number of months now, and have greatly enjoyed it. Along with the frontRow, Audience also supplied me with one of their Forte F3 power cords. The Forte F3 is at the opposite end of Audience’s product line—retailing for $199, which is an order of magnitude less expensive than the frontRow. I’m going to get back to you in the next installment of this column to let you know if you can get close to the same results as I achieved with the frontRow for significantly less coin. Here’s hoping.
. . . Jason Thorpe
Audience frontRow powerChord Power Cord
Price: $6700 USD per 6′ length.
120 N. Pacific Street, K-9
San Marcos, CA 92069
Phone: (800) 565-4390, (760) 471-0202