Shunyata Research Zitron Technology and A/C DistributionI am going to tread into the voodoo zone of signal carrying products and A/C conditioning in an attempt to share my progressive experiences with equipping my modest system with Shunyata Zitron products, both signal and A/C. While audio reproduction is largely subjective, I am going to try my best to clearly state my biases so that you can somewhat interpolate to your personal tastes how the products that I am describing might impact your “listening experience”.
A Massive Paradigm Shifter With Regard to Sound, Involvement and Science
A Massive Paradigm Shifter With Regard to Sound, Involvement and Science
The term “listening experience” brings me to my first and very fundamental bias—life is about experiences and their relative value to the individual having the experience. While we could talk about the metaphysical value of experiences for hours, let me cut to the chase and say that for me audio or live music experiences derive their value by the amount of enjoyment and involvement they provide to ME. I realize that this is very self-centered, but unless one is giving a musical gift of some sort, let’s be honest most of us judge the value of musical experiences by the benefit that we personally derive from the experience.
For me the value proposition is different with audio gear, because I get to enjoy a fundamental pleasure gain repeatedly with many different sources, versus a live experience, which while much more dimensioned, occurs only once and then replayed via recollection. So, I am willing to pay more for an audio experience because I can enjoy the benefits repeatedly and with a wide variety of sources.
Relative Prices Of Audio Component Classes
Historically, I have had sort of unconscious limits for what I was willing to pay for specific parts of the audio chain, with only moderate amounts for cables and speaker wire (less than 33% of the total cost), even less for A/C products (10-15%), but more for amps and preamps, and the most for speakers with a cap of about $50,000 for speakers.
Recently, the progressive escalation of costs for high end audio products has turned me off to the point that I can no longer afford, nor am I willing to pay the exorbitant prices for audible art that looses 50% of its value once the next iteration arrives. Consequently, I have become an avid Audiogon shopper and sought products that still deliver a strong audio value proposition. I also buy from dealers who will offer discounts in exchange for my loyal long term business.
As a tease of what is to come, my recent experiences with Shunyata Research’s Zitron products have forced me to completely re-evaluate the amounts that I have been previously willing to pay for various audio components, namely the cables, speaker wire and A/C products, because formerly they did not produce the kind of returns that made financial and listening enjoyment sense to me.
Rather than trying to rebuild, post-divorce, the $200,000 system I once owned in a custom designed and built audio room in a house that I can no longer afford, I have sought a system that I can afford that is good enough to satisfy my needs and sonic tastes while not costing more than my annual alimony. Also, I no longer want to incessantly moving speakers a millimeter or two and make endless tweaks to get that great sound at 2 am that sounds surprisingly wrong the next evening.
The Reference System For The Zitron Experiment
Consequently, I put together a modest system by What’s Best Forum standards that pleases me greatly, although previously (pre-Shunyata Zitron) fell somewhat short of the best out there. The reference system that I used as the basis for the progressive improvements imparted by the Shunyata Zitron components is as follows:
1. A listening room approximately 29 feet on the long axis by 19 feet width with 8 foot ceilings with normal stud and sheetrock construction with wall hangings with sound absorbing material behind to control some particularly unpleasant front and rear wave problems from the Martin Logan screens, without any special wiring because I just moved in a month ago after loosing my house to Superstorm Sandy. I live at the end of approximately a 2 mile peninsula that extends into Barnegat Bay, NJ which means I have a lot of noise between the substation and my house. I am not sure what the service is, but be sure that it is nothing special. The room does have multiple “vents” to the rest of the house through stairways, hallways, etc. to the extend that the total exposed volume for the bass is about 300,000 cubic feet.
2. Balanced Audio Technology VK-32 SE – an excellent tubed preamp with upgraded Russian NOS 6H30SP tubes and a Supreme HiFi Tuning fuse (both moderate but noticeable upgrades) powered by a Nordost El Dorado power cord
3. Bryston 4B SST2 connected to the BAT with a Kubala Sosna Fascination balanced cable powered by a Nordost El Dorado power cord
4. Martin Logan Montis speakers (same as the Summit, but only one powered front firing 10” woofer instead of an additional down-firing woofer) connected to the Bryston with Kimber 12 TC spaded speaker wire and powered by their stock 18 gauge power cords for the panel and the powered woofer. I believe that this allows for better mating with JL subs.
5. Twin JL F113 subwoofers connected to the BAT via home made Belkin 3214 cable terminated with the largest WBT RCA connectors you have ever seen (BAT has only one balanced and one single ended out) and powered by their stock 14 gauge power cords
6. Bryston BDA-1 DAC connected to the BAT via a balanced Cardas Golden Reference cable and powered by a Nordost El Dorado power cord.
7. Ariston RD 90 Turntable powered by a stock power cord with an SME IV tonearm with a Spectral Reference cartridge, Nordost tonearm wiring and connected via Valhalla single ended cables to the BAT which has the phono pre preamp module installed
8. Oppo 93 using a Toslink to a Bryston BDA-1 DAC (the same Oppo transport as the 95) and directly via HDMI to a 50” Pioneer Kuro Elite Pro plasma powered by a Nordost El Dorado power cord
9. Mac Mini connected via mini-Toslink to the Bryston BDA-1 and directly via HDMI to a 50” Pioneer Kuro Elite Pro plasma powered by a stock power cord
10. Fios digital fiber optic cable box connected via Belkin 3214 cable terminated with the largest WBT RCA connectors to the BAT and and directly via HDMI to a 50” Pioneer Kuro Elite Pro plasma powered by stock power cord
11. Pioneer Kuro Elite Pro Plasma powered by a mid range older MIT power cord
The Shunyata Zitron Experiment
Based on my previous experiences (pre-divorce) with higher cost cables and speaker wire (total Valhalla, which was excellent but had a quite high retail cost that I did not have to pay thanks to an extended loan) I was somewhat hesitant to make a relatively big investment in Shunyata Zitron technology. So I started with a budget of $5000 and bought virtually every piece of Zitron technology that came onto Audiogon during a 1 week period and quickly exceeded by budget. At the end of that spree I had a pair of their top of the line Zitron Anaconda speaker wires with spades; a Zitron Python (second of four reference A/C cords) 20 Amp power cord that I thought would power my Bryston amp because Caelin Gabriel said that would be the single best place for a single piece of the technology to see what it could do; and two Zitron Python balanced interconnects
Unfortunately I did not realize that the 20 amp C-19 termination on the Python power cord would not fit my amp and it was $400 to have it converted to a 15 C-15 termination that would work. So I installed the Anaconda speaker wire and Python interconnects between the DAC and BAT and the BAT and Bryston amp and started the 120 hours of active play-time break in needed for all Zitron products because the circuitry is slow to equalize, not to mention the substantial amounts of copper in cables and wires..
At first the sound was much smoother than the Kubala Sosna, Cardas and Kimber wires replaced by the respective Shunyata Zitron products. Immediately I noticed that Ernie Watts’ sax sounded much more like an instrument than a recording of a sax. Over the next 10 hours the sound got smoother and more realistic, and seemingly more articulate, although I knew it was a different type of articulation than I was familiar with from past experience. The more I listened, it sounded to me that the sounds extinguished much faster and went to a blacker black, creating the illusion of greater definition.
I was beginning to realize that I was beginning to experience something new to me in my system and something that I had only heard in the very best systems where every detail including cable, conditioning and power cords were all tweaked. I was also realizing that my initial financial projection was going to be much farther off than my first buying spree had already generated.
Somewhere around 20 hours the first real surprise happened because it happened in what I thought was going to be one of the biggest problem areas in my system, the powered 10” woofers in my ML Montises. Suddenly the bass was much tighter and at least 5 cycles more extended. Consequently the mating of the electrostatic panel and the ML woofer became less noticeable and the bass became more commanding and extended.
Somewhere around 30-40 hours I started hooting and howling when I heard things that I never heard before (not just better, but new) on familiar pieces. I do not know how to describe this other than to say it was anything but subtle and with time occurred throughout the entire audible spectrum. For the next 20 hours I was teased as the improvements came and disappeared, which is why Shunyata recommends you either not listen or take a vacation during this time.
By 120 hours all was smooth and articulate, not to mention the most real my system had ever sounded. I was sufficiently impressed that I searched around for a dealer who would give me a deal if I made what I considered a truly large purchase (let’s just say somewhere around another $20,000) of mostly Shunyata ZitronA/C stuff and the all important Python Zitron S/PDIF cable to connect the Oppo transport to the DAC. By the way the dealer I settled on and now a new friend is Sanjay Patel CEO of Ciamara (ciamara.com) in the Wall Street area of NYC. Not only was he honest, friendly and knowledgeable, but he also worked to accommodate my needs in every way. Mark Schneider at Music Direct was also very helpful and happens to offer a 30 day money back guarantee for those of you who want to try my experiment without the risk I took.
I am sure that at this point some of you have your calculators out comparing the cost of my Shunyata purchases to the total cost of my system and wondering if you should read any further because you think I am certifiable. Well the smart and curious will continue and will be treated to the biggest surprise I have had in my 50+ years in audio. I do not expect you to believe what I am saying without experiencing this first hand because I would not have believed what I am about to report either.
Bottom line at this point my speakers sounded the best I had ever heard a Martin Logan sound, even the CLX installations I have heard, and nothing like any Summits or Montises I had ever heard, much less the 4 different models of CLS’s I used to own.
Phase 2 Of the Shunyata Zitron Experiment
My second phase of purchases was initially driven by an effort to save the $400 re-termination fee on the 20 amp Python power cord I bought in ignorance because I needed a power cord for the Bryston amp. Of course using audio-weenie logic I could save the re-termination cost by buying a $3000 Talos power distribution center which needed the 20 amp C-19 termination. And of course because I have used weenie logic for years and needed more conditioned outlets, I bought the Shunyata Triton (their $5000 top reference product) with eight outlets, compared to the Talos’ 6, and according to Caelin about 30-40% more noise suppression and filtration than the Talos, although there is now a Triton add-on, the Shunyata Typhon that supposedly is the current state of the art of Caelin Gabriel’s design prowess but costs another $5,000 plus a Triton, beyond my budget constraints given what I believed was likely to result from the Triton’s insertion.
The good news is I saved the $400 re-termination fee on the Python cord, BUT because I bought the better power distribution system and Shunyata and Sanjay said that to get its fullest potential of the Triton I would need an Anaconda Zitron 20 amp power cord, so I picked one of those up from Audiogon and now had the darn Python cord with the 20 Amp termination again. Oh well!
The funny thing about money is that it is a vague and abstract concept until you have to come up with it. So now that I have this great Triton, which I have never heard and the best Anaconda Zitron power cord to make it sound its best, it would be a shame to plug inferior cords into the Triton on their way to their electronics and hopefully my listening pleasure. So I ordered another Python Zitron A/C cord, but 15 amp this time for the Bryston Amp, three Cobra Zitron15 amp A/C cords (third of four of the reference Zitron power cords), one each for the BAT preamp, the DAC and the Oppo. I also ordered two Viper Zitron A/C cords the lowest Zitron A/C cord available to power the Martin Logan screens and woofer/amps. I also ordered the Python Zitron S/PDIF cable for the Oppo transport. Of course I ordered the Stainless Steel Feet for the Triton because you always order tires with your car—right????. Since I was on a roll, I ordered a Shunyata SR-71 outlet to replace the wall outlet so that Anaconda cord powering the Triton would not feel like it was slumming and some Dark Field Elevators, both large and mini to keep things off of the floor.
By this time I was panicking about the fact that my original $5000 budget had grown to $30,000. So as an act of austerity, much like saving the $400 termination fee, I opted for cheaper A/C cords for the JL Fathoms, the Mac Mini and Elite Pro Plasma to prove to myself that I truly had restraint!!! That is until I upgrade these.
Phase 3 Of The Shunyata Zitron Experiment – Piece-By-Piece System Insertion
48 hours ago I went to NYC to Ciamara to pick up my Phase 2 purchase from Sanjay at Ciamara and began inserting one piece at a time into my system to try to discern the difference each piece introduced. The first insertion was really 3 in one, but OMG, I was in no way prepared for what happened.
I took the Triton out of its box and plugged the new Anaconda Zitron A/C cord for its power source (20 amps of course!) into the Triton and plugged a Python Zitron A/C cord (15 amps of course!!) into the Bryston amp and tried to get back to my chair before the Bryston switched on and TV audio restarted. While still behind the speakers, hearing basically only the rear wave, the audio began and I was already floored. It sounded completely different, much like changing amps and it was sound track from The Real Housewives of Orange County, no less!!! And then I realized I had better bass than I had ever had and I was standing behind the JL’s!
Then I put on music and all of the instruments sounded different, especially wind and string instruments with an image that extended about three times the depth of the image prior to the change. All of the vocal sounded different as well. Basically it already sounded much less like a system and more like music with each note and instrument clearly articulated and the darkest noise floor I had ever not heard.
The Montises sounded completely unlike any ML I have ever heard and their woofers (naturally rolled off in the high to mid 20’s) with a force and tautness that I would not have believed possible given that only the Bryston had been changed and power to the speakers was still the same. So I took one of the ML stock power cords and plugged it into the Triton and viola, the interface between the ML woofer and the JL’s (starting at 45 hz) improved considerably, pretty strange considering the JL’s were not seeing anything from the Bryston power change, implying the improvement was coming from the ML. Over the next 30 minutes, everything I have described in this paragraph only improved to the point that I was uncontrollably hooting and howling at what I was hearing. Of note it sounded a bit like the ML’s were no longer in the same plane although they were because only one was plugged into the Triton.
The next change was to substitute the Python Zitron S/PDIF cable between the Oppo transport and the DAC, replacing a Toslink connector. This immediately improved EVERYTHING, but made it sound different again and further enhanced the bass to the point that the level was probably 3-6 db too high, but the articulation was incredible. The image that had jumped forward with the change to the Bryston, now receded a bit, BUT now extended way behind the speakers in addition to the improvements in front of the speakers. I listened in awe for the next 3 hours as if I had never heard any of the music I played during that time on this system when in fact I had heard it at least 10 times during the previous 3 days.
The next day I connected the BAT preamp to the Triton through a Cobra Zitron A/C cord and the music so improved in every area with a much warmer sound and further sense of reality and more bass with more articulation and massively more force. After about 1 hour I added more Cobra Zitron A/C cords to the DAC and the Oppo transport in that order with more of the previously mentioned increase in realness, articulation, blackness and even more bass energy and articulation with each addition.
Although the bass was way too loud, the sound stage was amazing going at least 5 feet beyond the outer edges of the speakers and the system was invisible except fo the excessive bass from the JL’s, still with no A/C impact except for the conditioning from the preamp, DAC and Oppo.
By this morning the sound was stunning, especially after I reduced the JL’s each by 1 ½ notches (a huge amount considering the 2500 watts amps in each woofer). One of my favorite vocals, Ruth Brown’s “If I can’t sell it” sounded unlike I have ever heard it before on any system, including a number of super big rigs. You could tell the differences in her mood by the changes in her voice. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention there was no grain in anything, including fairly crappy recordings.
Over the next 100 hours I am going to insert more power cords including Viper Zitron’s for the ML’s and plug the JL’s into the Triton and maybe even put the feet on the Triton and use the Dark Field Elevators to make things look better and hopefully sound better.
Interim ConclusionSo as I bring this first phase to a close, my greatest surprises are two:
1. Just how much better my system sounds even before this equipment breaks in
2. The A/C side of the improvements made an even greater difference than the signal path improvements.
My interim assessment is that the changes I have made to date with a partial break-in already constitute the single best listening improvement of any change that I have made in the past 50 years of playing in this game. Said another way—it is already worth the money!