Shaken and Stirred
How often are you shaken to the core by what you are hearing? How often is your preconception of what the ultimate might sound like shattered by the actuality?
You might think from some of my previous rantings that that is a common occurrence around here. But actually no. Not on this level. I will have to dig deep to describe what our latest addition is doing. What is humbling in this process is that we are not adding anything, rather we are attempting to remove that which we are not able to perceive until it is gone. We try not to self-censor before we start a new project. We try to allow our imagination to explore the farthest reaches of what is possible, not rejecting ideas that seem impractical. The whole venture is impractical from the start, but you knew that already.
Today I began reading a rant from a respected engineer who was leaving an online group because he could no longer countenance conversation that included "non-scientific” claims of any kind. It was pages long, too long for me to read to the end, and to be entirely fair to him he presented important and cogent scientific information. Look, I get it. To an engineer why should a connector matter when it comes to transmission of electricity. Either it does so safely and properly or it does not. From that perspective he is entirely right. I am not going to argue with him whether cables matter or not, whether all of these upgrades are worthwhile or not.
I am not interested in being right. I am interested in being moved. I want to feel like I can walk up to Johnny Hartman and thank him for all the beauty he brought into the world. I want to see John Coltrane standing there in his quiet dignity. I want to hear the last wisp of Hillary Hahn’s bow and feel the internal volume of Giovanni Hidalgo’s conga as its sound fills the stage. I want to see La Scala arrayed before me as the engineer in the recording session heard it in his headphones sixty years ago. I want to be able to understand from the sound why he placed the microphones where he did. That is why I am willing to go to crazy lengths to get there. For this we have to make our own roadmap as we are in uncharted territory. Arguing the merits of such a pursuit is for someone else. We don’t have the time. We do it because we are compelled by each little thing that brings us a step closer - following the carrot on that stick for as long as we are blessed with the ability to do so.
Elsewhere I have written, “Everything influences everything. There is no such thing as a vacuum, even in a vacuum. Signal does not travel through conductors like water through a hose; rather, signal in its relationship with the conductor unleashes a host of primary, secondary and tertiary interactions in both the conductor, the dielectric materials and the space surrounding the cable (or component) where it will interact with the fields surrounding other components and cables.
Cables generate their own autoimmune disease whereby stray signal may re-enter the signal path out of phase. Shields couple magnetically with conductors and each other. Materials interact triboelectrically, and generate static by the very fact that everything is always in motion and that charge imbalances are unavoidable. Nothing is at rest, even at rest. Noise permeates the ether, high frequency signals and pulses abound and conductors and traces are excellent antennas. In case you hadn’t noticed, the universe is conspiring to smear signal. Whew, I need to take a breath.”
We live in a sea of noise, now more than ever and tomorrow more than today. This is the march of “progress”. The way we know empirically that there is ultra-high frequency noise present is when we are able to diminish it using various techniques. Its absence is audible for reasons discussed previously, but is palpable nevertheless. One should never assume that signal in any location in a system is impervious to noise. This is why when people ask me which device is most important I always answer, “All of them.”
Our flagship stand-alone Super Enhanced Ground Plane Box, the Emerald, with its massive multilayered pure silver plate and Duelund cast silver capacitor has great potential to disarm noise throughout the system. It took a little time, however, to discover the best means of absorbing and delivering that noise to it to be dissipated as heat - which turned out not to be connecting the chassis of the component to it but by connecting the collector plates that we have invented that are designed to go on top of the component. Connecting the collector plates to the Emerald has been eye opening. We could certainly place them underneath the component, but it was important in this instance that the collector plate function as a vibration sink as well. To this end we have designed the PranaWire Annapurna Collector Platform. With the Annapurna, Everest and Meru Collector Platforms and our top mount Chakradar, K2 and Crown Chakra collector plates we have created a complete ecology of noise reduction that surrounds the system’s equipment top and bottom and brings its performance into entirely new territory. (Since this was first published we have tried taking a full sized platform and inverting it on top of the preamplifier with a set of fo.Q Hem-25 footer in between and the results were amazing.)
The top is of thick, heavily damped polished brass and composite material. Inside is our Super Enhanced Collector Plate that is connected electrically to the top. The internal collector plate is surrounded by powerful noise absorbing materials. There is a binding post that connects the platform to the Emerald via a cable. The whole thing weighs approximately 60 lbs. The Brass top and the internal Collector Plate function in concert to draw vast amounts of noise away from the component, while the massive tuned brass top plate decisively shunts vibrational energy away from the component. (We recommend the use of fo.Q HEM-25 footers between the Collector/Platform and the component for enhanced performance.)
Meru Collector Platform
The Meru is the flagship model Collector Platform with an oversized pure silver Super Enhanced Collector and massive brass and composite material top plates. Each will be built to custom specification and can be built for turntables or any component.
Everest Speaker Collector Platform
The PranaWire Everest Speaker Collector Platform uses a massive brass and composite top plate and will hold over 1000 lbs. Each will be built to the customer's specification.
In the coming months we will be designing some more affordable derivatives of these where we hope to capture a great percentage of the performance for less cost. Stay tuned.
A word About My Use Of The Term "Compression"
When I am talking about compression in a system, I am not referring to the method of controlling loudness on a recording in the studio, I am talking anything which inhibits the full blossoming of the sound as it actually exists in the source whether bits or grooves. The experience of hearing a system with vanishingly low "compression" as I describe below is somewhat akin to a 70's light show. The sound appears from nowhere and grows to a particular shape and volume with its own constantly evolving colors, highlights and shadows. It grows to its largest natural intensity and then recedes and disappears. The orchestra, then, is seen as a fountain of bursting, ever changing colors and shapes that fill three dimensional space, and, like the tip of a gentle wave across the sand, each individual sound reaches its natural high point before receding without any interference from the other sounds. The entire system breathes like never before. The sense of intimacy, pace, rhythm, texture, unfettered dynamics and emotion is unlike anything previously experienced. This is what I mean by lack of compression.
Listening Notes, Jan. 17th, 2020 - Customer's System
My customer's system consists of Wilson Alexx speakers, SMc Custom amplifiers and Preamplifier, dCS DAC, Clock and upsampler, Aurender 20+ Server with Pranawire Nirvana and Sukhavati cables throughout with three PranaWire Sovereign Linebackers and one PranaWire Cloud9 Power Conditioner, and other tweeks too numerous to mention.
There are a handful of systems where I have heard this vanishing level of compression, they include my own reference system and this customer’s, both with the PranaWire Emerald Super Enhanced Ground plane and the Annapurna Collector/Platform in place. Let me say from the outset that this listening session was among the peak listening events of my life! The notes should be taken in the context that all comments are on the very things that are different and better, increased or enhanced. This system now has vanishingly low dynamic compression from micro to macro dynamics. The images are not as large as in our reference system, but the quality is beyond reproach. I have heard this same digital front end dozens of times, but now the way it presents, from the softest whisper to the loudest crescendo, is more deeply satisfying than anything I have ever heard. This digital based system rivals the best analog I have heard and in some significant ways surpasses it. I can only speculate as to why, with the Annapurna under the pre-amplifier that this should be so, but it is the case.
Haydn Trumpet Concerto in E flat major. Rolf Smedvig: When the space between musicians is clarified to this extent the sense of ensemble is deeply reinforced. You can feel the power of the interaction between the musicians along with their interaction with hall and audience. The delicacy of Smedvig's trumpet outshines any previous hearing by many miles. It is larger, silkier more richly sonorous and expresses more subtle shadings of tones.
La Sonnambula, Bellini, Southerland and Pavorati: You can’t assume that glare is a fault of the recording. Glare is often seen as a highlight at a particular frequency or range, but when the system is able to handle it, as in this case with the introduction of the Annapurna, that highlight is unpacked, becoming a further enhancement and clarification of the information that is reaching your ears, such as the precise distances between musicians, and and a new freshness and immediacy of the voices. This results in a much deeper emotional connection with the performance.
Concerto for Flute Harp and Orchestra in C major, Mozart K299, Jean Francois Paillard: burnished and floating, everything is richer causing the listener to sit up and give his complete and undivided attention. Zero harshness, yet notes that naturally want to sear and pierce do so with absolute musicality. You’ve never heard the recorded plucking of a harp until you have heard this. Breathtaking!
Kendra Shank ‘Left Alone’: Utter realism. Uncanny tightness and roundness of bass. Her vibrato floats in the air like ribbons on a gentle breeze. More present and full that at any previous listening.
Piano Concerto 24 Mozart, Piotr Anderszewski: Never have I heard such perfect resonance from an orchestra. This is conveyed by the sheer beauty of each section and instrument. From the softest pillow-like pianissimo to intensely musical swells, each sound caresses the ears. This is deeply pleasurable.
La Traviata, Di Sprezzo Se Stresso Rende Anna Mongolia, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill: How to describe such an organic whole? The orchestra is one beast with myriad colors and highlights. The chorus is utterly coherent from ppp to fff. Utterly free of glare. At their loudest the sense of the hall is not obscured like before. Harmonies take on more focus with greater connection to the intense emotions from the singers. Zero compression. Zero. At the ending: The timpani lends its weight in its precise location on the stage. Part of a whole and distinct at the same time. Astonishing.
Don Giovanni :. This shows how nimble an orchestra can be. Staging is uncanny. Violins: utter delicacy with an edge. They nest at the top of the orchestra with woodwinds and horns layered perfectly below. Vocal interjections are startling. The space of the venue is in the room in a way it has never been. Vocal counterpoint floats in three dimensions. Fabulous weight. Zero compression. Layering in this sense can be seen as something new altogether.
Don Giovani 2: Delicious horns. Baritones from heaven. angry sopranos - phenomenal. Everything is (phenomenal) actually! The soprano shout - are you kidding me?
Beethoven 5th, Chailly, 3rd & 4th movements: Speechless. There are no words to convey the beauty and the grandeur, absolutely staggering - perhaps the peak moment of my listening life! All this from one Annapurna in the system. We are building more for the customer and one for the reference system. Stay tuned.