The weather has recently improved significantly here in the UK after a mostly wet May. The garden is growing fast, and walks in the great outdoors beckon. So why is this Hifi system of mine sounding so good, or at least so much better?
Well, I did recently change a mains cable. More on that later. But they surely can make no difference, can they, when the electricity has already travelled hundreds of miles to get to my home, and nobody cares about what those cables are made of? Perhaps it’s the warm weather. Am I feeling more relaxed? Have a few seasonal aches melted away in the warmth?
I know when I was a much more frequent user of records - LPs, vinyls, whatever you want to call them - they seemed to sound best on the warmer days. I always put that down to the slightly better tracking from my cartridge. You know, the one I’d carefully aligned, checked the tracking weight, played the test album with. Some days it seemed to sail through everything, suffusing me in the glow of great musicians playing out of their skins, uninhibited by any Hi-Fi system, just sounding great.
It’s not always like that though, is it? What about the days when it just sounds a bit ‘off’. Is that because we have had a bad night’s sleep. Or a grumpy workmate has spoiled our day? Or your credit card statement arrived and you at last have to actually pay for that late night eBay purchase? It makes you realise that our mood can be affected by lots of external things. As well as internal things, like a cool beer or a glass of wine.
Yes, okay, it was a bit misleading to call a few warm days climate change. I get that. But I was quite shocked to read recently that using computers to search the internet uses a quantifiable amount of electricity. At least it does when you realise how many people Google, Bing or Yahoo for something every second. Some folks are saying that streaming millions of tracks of music a day - not me, mate! - is actually using a lot of electricity too. Well, cooling the data centres is using the juice, or server farms as I think they’re now called. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
I had somehow thought that having factories stamping out CDs, packing them in fragile jewel cases, wrapping them in cellophane, and shipping them all over the world might not be great for the environment. Not much in that supply chain is sustainable or recyclable is it? But it turns out that never actually buying or owning a recording might not be so good for the environment either. It’s just so frustrating how hard it is to get a meaningful measurement that tells you how ‘green’ or environmentally friendly something is. It’s a bit like we can’t get anything measurable to tell us how some bits of Hifi are going to sound. Well, not often, anyway.
We have got traditional audio measurements, though these are less easy to find these days. Some manufacturers publish interesting looking diagrams or images that purport to reveal how much better their product is than their typical rivals. But I get nervous when these are accompanied by words like quantum or cryogenic. Not that those don’t have a meaning. Though I think they’re sometimes appropriated to give scientific credibility where it might not be merited. Long-established magazines like the US’s Stereophile, and the UK’s Hifi News still publish test data with all their reviews. Kudos to them, I say. But there are any number of journals, blogs and websites without a measurement in sight. Many audiophiles are completely content to rely on their own ears. Like I was earlier when I told you with such certainty about how much better my system was sounding.
What about that new mains cable then? The ones that make no difference, you remember? Well this one did. I think.
It’s from Puritan. Or Puritan Audio Laboratories to give their full title. It’s a small British business that I’ve seen a few times at various shows. I noticed that a dealer I respect recommended their power conditioners a few months ago. It turns out he uses their mains cables in his demo room too, even though he carries far more expensive and widely advertised brands as well.
A unique, or at least rare quality that Puritan cables possess is flexibility. Have you ever had power cable so stiff that they need dressing in a huge loop even to reach your kit? Or once connected to your lightweight DAC or phono stage they almost lift it off your rack or stand? Well that doesn’t happen here, and that characteristic has the added benefit that you can order shorter lengths, and they take up less room. They really are floppy! If you hold the cable itself, the plug takes over thanks to gravity. And it just relaxes.
I bought a couple of their least expensive model, the Classic. It’s just £75 for a one metre length here in the UK, complete with plugs of your choice. It doesn’t come in a fancy box or a silk-lined case. And now after about three weeks attached to my power amp it’s sounding great. Not strikingly different to my previous mains cable, but that was a shielded Chord Cable that retails at well over twice the price. So to my mind that makes this Puritan a bit of a bargain. Puritan do make a couple of more costly models too, though the creation of these seems to have been prompted by some overseas dealers who were surprised how good the basic model was. They wanted to see if something even better was achievable. Apparently it was, but I’ve not seen or heard these ones myself. They’re called Classic +, and Ultimate, so I guess that’s pretty self-explanatory.
Next, I should try the other cable to power a source, shouldn’t I? I’ve just got to decide if it goes on the Marantz SACD player or the Linn DS streamer. But first, I’ve got to see if I feel just the same about the sound when the weather changes. It’s bound to rain soon.