October 1, 2004Maple Audio Works Supreme and Power Purity Power Cords
Maple Audio Works makes power cords, interconnects, and speaker and video cables. Designer Bernard Tritz is an electrical engineer; his partner, Gilles Charette, has a background in computers and is a seasoned audiophile. Tritz founded the company after being challenged by a friend to make a power cord that could isolate components from the noise and hash generated by power companies. He did it, and soon became popular as a purveyor of custom-made cables, until he tired of making one-off cables for friends and, with Charette, founded Maple.
Tritz spoke with me by telephone from his home in Victoria, British Columbia. He said that he began by going back to basic principles of noise rejection, using circuits published more than 50 years ago. Perhaps because Tritzs original project was free of cost considerations, Maples cords are designed with a no-holds-barred approach. The Supreme ($480 USD/2m) and Power Purity ($225) power cords combine high-purity, oxygen-free, single-crystal copper wire with advanced dielectric and shielding materials, as well as something unique to Maple cables: a proprietary network circuit of coils and capacitors built into the plug housing. Tritz claims that this network achieves some of the beneficial effects of balanced power, including common-mode noise rejection, without the large transformers seen in todays balanced power conditioners. Still, Tritz doesnt claim that his cords actually produce balanced power. Sure enough, when I plugged in the cords and slapped a multimeter on them, I found that only one pin was hot at 118V AC -- no balanced power.
A first look
Both the Supreme and the Power Purity are black with a mesh exterior. A standard IEC-type female plug, suitable for the sockets found on most components, is found at one end, while the other is terminated in a Hubble three-prong plug with an enlarged housing for the network circuit. Both cables are lightweight, slightly stiff, and tend to hold whatever shape you bend them into. If you squeeze the cables along their length, you can feel the braided triwire configuration within. Bernard uses a weave of his own design containing "quantum shield" wire (13 gauge in the Purity, 12 gauge in the Supreme) with a Kapton dielectric. Kapton is similar to Teflon, but is said to have even better dielectric properties. The only physical difference between the two cables is that the Supreme is slightly thicker, and has a longer plug housing.
My system includes a Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player acting as a transport through a dCS Purcell-Delius upsampler-DAC combo. The digital interconnect is MITs Digital Reference. The output of the Delius (which has a remote volume control) goes directly by way of MIT 350 interconnects to my KR Enterprise 300bsi single-ended tube power amplifier, thence to a pair of JMlab Electra 315.1 speakers via Cardas Neutral Reference biwire speaker cables. An old Panamax line conditioner with minimal filtering and surge protection serves as a power distributor. Transparent PowerLink Super AC cords supply all components.
Some time ago, I replaced the wall socket that feeds my system with a PS Audio hospital-grade unit with very tight connections. The resulting improvements in clarity and transient definition were worth the $80. At about the same time I also fiddled with my home electrical panel (dont try this at home) by installing a new dedicated Cutler-Hammer circuit breaker on the main rails that feed the aforementioned wall socket through its own dedicated large-gauge wire.
The first listen
With so many potential power-cord combinations to be tested, I thought it best to stick with only two tracks of recorded material -- and only the very best-recorded material would do. The first track was Knoas "Uncas Flight," from A Selection of Knoa [Opus3 CD 8078]. This Swedish instrumental group -- violin, three guitars, upright bass, percussion -- plays very original compositions, mostly written by one of the groups members in the late 1970s. These compositions reflect a dizzying breadth of influences, from Bach to bluegrass to circus music. The effect is unsettling. From the liner notes: "The tunes make off in the most unexpected directions, only to be succeeded by the worst of musical clichés." I dont know if there was a translation problem there. Let it suffice to say that the recording quality is to die for, though the compositions themselves may be to die of.
On my base system, the sheer realness of this recording is stunning, each instrument occupying its own space in a very wide soundstage. With my eyes open, I notice that sounds tend to want to stick to the speakers; with my eyes closed, the whole soundstage is continuous and full. The smorgasbord of plucking and bowing in "Uncas Flight" is excitingly defined. The tonal quality is dry in the sense of not sweet -- like a dry wine -- but still liquid in the sense of smooth, complex resonances. Sounds ring out when they should, stop dead when they should.
Because all of my components have removable power cords, I was able to listen to the effects of Maples cords on each component. My experience has been that my power-hungry, 600V tube amplifier likes it best when plugged directly into the wall, so my first move, after listening to the Knoa track again, was -- without adjusting any of the settings on the system -- to replace the cord on the KR Enterprise 300bsi with the Maple Supreme. What the heck? I thought. Lets go for broke.
The first thing I noticed was that it sounded as if someone had turned up the volume -- I heard a very significant increase in vividness and presence throughout "Uncas Flight." Lead instruments were much more present, and a great deal of the confusion of multiple instruments being plucked was better sorted out. Ambient retrieval was improved, with the telltale tape hiss more clearly audible (this is a good thing). Dynamics were much better, and with these, the pace and rhythm were enhanced. When I went back to my base cord, there was a sense that too much of the spectral energy was concentrated way up in the high frequencies. With the Supreme, the energy was spread evenly among the bass and midrange. The bass was, hands down, stronger and better than my reference.
Moving to the Power Purity, I found it well named. This cord concentrated on tonal purity, good bass, and very good separation of sounds and instruments, with a pleasing dryness quite reminiscent of my base cord. The Purity was not in the same league as the Supreme, however, for vividness and grunt.
To confirm this, I put on Holly Coles "The Briar and the Rose," from Temptations [Alert Z2-81026], a tribute to the music of Tom Waits and well worth buying. The track in question was recorded with the Canadian Brass, who serve up generous helpings of their specialty: gorgeous, ringing trumpets over sonorous tubas and horns. The Supreme again ruled the roost, reloading the spectral balance in favor of the lows and mids, and revealing a new level of complexity in the mids that was much more satisfying than Id been used to. I noticed greater depth of soundstage and a delightful layering effect. The "brassiness" of trumpets, which is for some audiophiles the sine qua non, for others the ne plus ultra, and for still others the nulli secondus, is for me more like the habeus corpus. But I digress (mea culpa). With the Supreme, the brassiness was all there, so much so that, through my base cord, the trumpets sounded bland in comparison.
Holly Coles voice was the litmus test. Her smoky tones were nicely rounded and well defined in space through the Supreme. The Power Purity did a good job on the instrumentals, but couldnt touch the Supreme on the voice. Coles vocal image was not as coherent through the Purity, and lacked the needed integrity of the high frequencies and ambient sounds in the vocal range to be satisfying.
Now for the amazing part
This is the part that I know from previous experience is likely to happen, but that always surprises me when it does. I returned my standard cord to the KR amplifier and put the Supreme on my Sony SACD/CD transport, running it between Panamax and transport without changing anything else. Egad -- it happened again! The same improvements the Supreme had wrought on my tube amp I now heard again, even though the cord now fed a digital source product whose output goes to my outboard upsampler and DAC while never leaving the digital domain. As Ive noticed in the past, the sonic signature of a cord often comes through no matter what component you hook it up to. Maybe this is due to the removal of noise from the entire system by the cord. Maybe not.
But the improvements were not exactly identical to those Id heard with the Supreme hooked up to the power amp. I heard, again, increased complexity and lucidity in the midrange, but I thought these had come through better with the cord on the amp. Increased grunt, pace, and bass were quite good on the transport as well, though I thought the bass was a tad more tuneful and tight with the Supreme on the amp. The Power Purity had a similar effect when plugged into the transport.
I next tried the Maple cords on the dCS Purcell upsampler and Delius DAC. The Purcell was a bit anomalous in that the Supreme did its vividness-and-complexity thing while deepening but narrowing the soundstage, which now unfolded between the speakers rather than well outside them. In this case, I think Id leave my regular cord on and put the Supreme elsewhere.
On the Delius DAC, however, I was in for a real treat. In comparison with the Supreme on the amp, the highs were now significantly more refined. Instruments still had vividness and dynamics were enhanced, but when the Supreme was on the amp, I realized that this vividness and punch came at the expense of a certain amount of harshness and grain. With the Supreme on the dCS DAC, I could have my cake and eat it, too. The extra rich tonality was there, but the top was a lot more relaxed. Lovely, lovely. We have a winner, I decided.
All cords on deck
Finally, I dressed up my system with the Supreme and both Power Purity cords I had on hand. With the Supreme on the amp and the two Puritys on transport and DAC, the sound was good, but a little sizzly in the upper mids and treble, with some troublesome grain. Switching the Supreme to the DAC and one Purity to the amp, while leaving the other Purity on the transport, resulted in a big improvement. I got the refinement heard earlier in the treble, along with a tremendous punchiness and vividness in the bass and mids.
This was one of those system transformations that makes you want to sit there and play through your entire collection. I listened to my Holly Cole test track, then went through the rest of the album. Boy, did it rock. David Pilchs woody string bass bore down like a Mac truck, and Aaron Davis spare, plaintive piano licks were unbearably haunting. Compared with my regular power cords, the Maple products took the system to a new level of kick, richness, and complexity.
Meet me at the Juice Bar, anyone?
Another configuration I tried that was particularly good involved the use of a PS Audio Juice Bar. This straight-up power bar is specifically designed for audio components with detachable power cords. Using the Supreme from the wall to the Juice Bar let my entire system benefit from the Supremes virtues. With this arrangement, I was able to keep most of the good qualities I liked about my own cords while blending in the positive qualities of the Supreme. For my money, a Juice Bar beats most power conditioners, because it lets you mix and match your favorite cords without that "filtered" sound some conditioners have.
The Supreme and Power Purity cords from Maple Audio Works are, sonically and technologically, a different breed of power cord. They offer dramatic improvements in vividness and complexity, which translate into more emotional involvement with the music. As Maple says, these cords avoid gimmicks. They wont filter or smooth your treble, and they dont offer the refined, polite presentation some audiophiles (not I) prefer. What they do serve up hot are visceral improvements in pace, rhythm, dynamics, complexity, and tonal richness, with no filtering or attenuation of the nuances.
The Power Purity is a bargain at $225/2m. For what the Supreme does, Im not surprised that it costs more than twice as much: $480/2m. And because Maple ships cables with a no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee, theres no risk involved in giving these cords a listen.
Prices: Supreme, $480 USD per two-meter length; Power Purity, $225 USD per two-meter length.
Warranty: Lifetime to original owner.
Maple Audio Works Ltd.
Phone: (250) 658-6703
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