Cable with an interesting build: thick but very supple and also a lot lighter than it appears to be. The conductors are braided in a counter rotating geometry, around what seems to be an air tube core, then surrounded by what seems to be light rubber, most likely for damping purposes. It does look impressive. Soundwise, connected to a Wadia 861 CD player, the cable is very different to what you might expect: articulate and precise but a bit thin in the bass and lacking some body and fullness that many other cables do offer. Shunyata cables are supposed to exell in micro dynamic contrasts but in context of this group I didn't find it exceptional. The cable was however very precise and fast in the bass, having absolutely no overhang, and as a result also some dryness at times. Surprisingly, soundstaging and focus were its weak points.
This is a very neat looking cable: sturdy, heavy, a bit stiff, but still supple enough to use easily. Soundwise, connected to a Wadia 861 CD player, the Kemp initially impresses with a very clean and open, yet fluid midrange and a high level of transparency and detail. All this resolution does not come with hard edges or brittleness. This is a highly communicative cable that lets you hear deep into the mix. Much, much different from the simpler LO and HI powercords from Kemp's early days. Still, after a few tracks I start to notice some tendencies that make the cable deviate from neutrality. First, the bass is strangely imprecise: it swaggers and is ill-defined and also lacks punch, especially compared to the very open and lively midrange. Second, there is a persistend shoutyness in the higher midrange that, while making for a very open and communicative sound, can also make for some listening fatigue. Still, this cable was liked a lot, and if ignoring the midrange (also a matter of taste and system synergy) only loses out to the other cables in the test in terms of bass solidity and articulation.
Isotek Premium Powercord
This cable was bought after repeated endorsements of readers of this site. Personally I always thought that it was simply a Lapp cable with a coloured sleeve instead of transparent and with Isotek writing on its sleeve. So, finally I decided to make a comparison to a real Lapp cable that matched its looks quite closely: comparable connectors, screening and geometry. Even though it looks much like a Lapp (even its conductors inside), still it sounds lots different. There was no Lapp-typical smooth, big, fat sound but instead an upbeat, lively and confident sound. The Isotek has very good bass solidity, speed and articulation yet isn't the most nimble cable of this test. Its midrange is ok: not shut in nor shouty but also lacking a little in resolution and smoothness. Finally its treble is also fine at the price: not exactly coarse, but many cables sound more more fluid and refined. Compared to a Lapp 110CY it has a more communicative quality but also more dryness and of coarse less creamy mids and treble. It probably does a nice job of opening up the sound in many midrange systems. Overall, at the price, still recommended, but not for me (and my open system).
CP Audio Ultimate Reference powercord
First I need to be clear that this cable is manufactured by CP-Audio, affiliated to this website. So, even though I would never endorse a product that I don't like or not tell things exactly like they are, feel free to draw your own conclusions. The CP Ultimate Reference wasn't originally part of the review but since we were testing anyway I figured why not test this one too. Surprisingly it held up really well even in this exotic company: compared to the Shunyata it was much more powerful, with deeper, more solid bass and a more colourful midrange. In fact, we preferred it to the Shunyata on all accounts. Compared to the Lapp is is of course less forgiving and creamy but never in an analytical or shouty manner. Comparing to the Kemp was very interesting: the Kemp had better focus and projection, and also its treble was slightly more extended, but it had this shoutyness in the midrange that we couldn't get used to. Also its focus and razor-sharp projection seemed to come at the expense of a wide and deep soundstage, at which the CP excells. Ultimately though mostly its ill-defined bass made us prefer the CP over the Kemp. It was just more foot-tappingly musical. The CP Ultimate Ref is, as becomes clearer and clearer everytime I compare it to new contestents, a very neutral yet lively and above all musical cable that just doesn't put a foot wrong. It can only be beaten in ultimate treble extension and air.
Calling an overall winner is not that easy, as this ties in with personal preference as well as system synergy. Nevertheless, there are clear and obvious differences between these cables and depending on your situation one may well prove a better match than another. In the situation that these cables were tested, we have a clear preference for cables that let you hear into the mix, while staying musical and entertaining. The openness of the Apogee speakers makes that we don't like losing detail but the other edge of that sword is that we also don't like it when the midrange jumps out of the speakers. In this light Lapp performs allright, making for a very smooth and forgiving sound with lots of drive in the bass and an emotional midrange, but it leaves lots to be desired in the detail department. Isotek was much better than anticipated and although it lacked the transparency and detailing that dearer cables are capable of, it still performed admirably, especially given its price tag. Shunyata was a bit of a let down for us. Maybe it works better with US power (litze installation wire and lower voltage/higher current power) but we couldn't find much to like in its sober, matter-of-fact sound. Nothing against neutrality but the cable also didn't sound very powerful and had restrained, lacklustre bass that could do with more incisiveness. Lastly, the CP Audio Ultimate Reference keeps surprising everyone who hears it, myself included, when comparing to other cables. Yes, it is my own product, but no, I wouldn't choose it over something else if that was better. It may not have the rich ripeness of an Harmonic Technology, or the finely layered transparency and utter treble liquidity of an Echole, but the first resides strictly in the relaxed and smooth camp, like a better Lapp, and the second is prohibitively expensive. The CP-Audio Ultimate Ref just remains one of the best neutral cables I have heard, even compared to cables twice its price.
This was the test setup: not my own system, but that of a friend who's system I'm intimately familiar with: Apogee Centaur Ribbon/dynamic hybrid speakers and all-Jeff Rowland amplification. Getting the Shunyata and Kemp in for a review was his idea, in an effort to beat the Lapp powercable he likes to use with the Wadia but strongly feels could be bettered in several areas. The system had been on for the entire day until we started testing in the evening and all cables were well-run in. We made sure that all cables had the same polarity and used the same outlet in the extensionblock for every cable.