February 2, 2011

A Big Step Forward - Shunyata V-Ray v.II & Black Mamba-HC CX 20A

I am a Shunyata fan. My love affair with Shunyata started 3-4 years ago when I was looking for a power line conditioner and came across a Hydra 8 (version 1) unit. The Hydra 8 produced a beguiling midrange, added a little warmth to the bass, and imbued the whole sound with a musical energy which made it attractive for long hours of fatigue-free listening. I have been living with it since.

You could also call the Hydra 8’s sound a little rose-tinted or a little golden hued. After listening to a number of other power line conditioners, I found the others indeed may sound more neutral. I know, my meat could be someone else’s poison. However, if one fell for the Shunyata’s colours, it is not easy to pull away.

After the Hydra 8, I tried a Shunyata Taipan Helix power cord on my source component, a Copland CD822 CD player. The energy and poise the power cord added transformed that CD player’s performance. I liked it so much that I went the whole nine yards, changing all my power cords to Shunyata Taipan Helix and Python Helix.

Among the lot, the biggest contributor to the overall sound is the Python Helix 20A from the wall to the Hydra 8 unit and another Python Helix from the Hydra 8 to my current frontend, the Ayre C-5xeMP universal player. It is also my experience that Shunyata power cords shine best in a complete Shunyata system; having one or two pieces of Shunyata in an array of other brands would not allow the full Shunyata flavour to come out, in my opinion.

So, given my affinity for Shunyata, when Big E told me that CMY has taken over the Shunyata distributorship in Malaysia and the Hydra V-ray v.II, the top dog in Shunyata’s power line conditioner hierarchy, was available for a listen, I was extremely interested to say the least.

The Hydra V-ray v.II comes in with a list price of RM20,590. The construction is similar to the Hydra 8 (now also upgraded to v.II status), which is basically a very sturdily built rectangular box slightly bigger than a loaf of bread. It has an aluminium fascia, and comes with a power switch and 8 American style outlets at the back. Shunyata says that the outlets are individually filtered. The ‘magic sand’ inside the box is there, Shunyata calls it ZrCa-2000, a noise reduction compound. Therefore when you pick up the box and give it a shake, it sounds like sand sloshing inside the box. As a bonus, the V-Ray v.II comes with a free SR-Z1 wall outlet, the same kind as the ones on the V-Ray v.II itself.

The V-Ray v.II is rated for a power throughput of 2,400 watt, unregulated, and a 20 amp continuous / 50 amp peak current capability. The V-ray also has surge protection of 40,000 amp and an electromagnetic breaker for over-current.

I started by plugging the V-Ray v.II to the wall with my Shunyata Python Helix Alpha 20A power cord. I plugged all my components into the V-Ray v.II, just like I did with the Hydra 8. In my new room, I did try plugging the more power hungry monoblocks directly into the wall outlets. Initially, the sound seem to have become more revealing, however, long term listening showed that it was noisier and harsher, it was not comfortable to listen to beyond 20-30 minutes. So, at the end I preferred to plug the monoblocks into my Hydra 8. I had the same result with the V-ray v.II.

How did the V-Ray v.II performed? Let me just not beat around the bush, the performance of the V-Ray v.II is streets ahead of the old Hydra 8!

The first difference I noticed was pronounced – the frequency response of the system was much further extended, it went way low in one direction and way high in the other.

An excellent example is from a jazz piece - Sonny Rollins’ ‘Way Out West’ from the album of the same name. The double bass notes were energetically thumping away from the woofers, each pluck packing a little punch, going lower than I heard before from my system. Noteworthy too was the way the V-Ray v.II made the notes sound more distinct from one other, the tune in the double bass playing was heard much more clearly, and the rhythm it carried was simply infectious.

On the same track, the cymbals and high-hat were much improved on, there was much less of the feeling of ‘a cloud of high frequencies’, each hit was more cleanly delineated. They also had the spread-in-air and illuminating-the-space qualities.

In addition to the improved extension at the frequency extremes, the V-Ray v.II brought with it a much lower background noise, instruments and vocals were playing on a cushion of velvety blackness. Clarity and details improved further, focus was better. The vocal from Pop Pop Music’s ‘Brasileiro Z Yan’ album was locked in between the speakers and rendered a couple of feet further in from the speakers’ plane, the staging was also very dimensional. Despite all these improvements in details and focus, the sound did not lose its good body, which Shunyata is well known for. It did not become thin.

As a further improvement, Shunyata pulled the V-Ray v.II away from the old Hydra 8’s rendering of tonal colours. If you think the old Hydra sound was too ‘flavourful’ for your taste, sort of a little too much ajinomoto, then you’ll find the V-Ray v.II not having much of such folly. The V-Ray v.II takes a big step towards neutrality.

At the tail end of the listening period, I replaced my older Python Helix Alpha 20A on the V-Ray v.II with the new Black Mamba-HC CX 20A (HC stands for High Current). I was pleasantly surprised, the musical performance did not diminish one bit. This is despite the fact that the Black Mamba is the replacement for the Taipan, which was one rung lower than the Python, its price is also lower than the Python by 20-30%. For a 2m cord, the Black Mamba lists for RM3,100. The Black Mamba also took a step towards neutrality compared the old Python Helix, which I think is now the new general trend for Shunyata products.

The Shunyata V-Ray v.II and the Black Mamba-HC CX impressed tremendously. Those who love Shunyata and have the requisite deep pocket, you have my envy.

Shunyata is carried by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel: 03-21439206

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