The Core Power Diamond Power Cord

Do any of you remember the famous Dr. Seuss story Green Eggs and Ham? It’s about a guy who doesn’t want to eat green eggs and ham, no matter what. “Not on a boat, not on a goat,” he says.

But Sam keeps pestering him, all the way through to the end of the story, his boundless enthusiasm, finally getting the man to cave in and try them. Much to his surprise, he loves green eggs and ham. That’s kind of how it is convincing some audio enthusiasts to try an upgraded power cord.

Power cords are always a point of contention, and often one of the last things I suggest to improve your system. Notice the word system. If you look at your audio system with a holistic approach, no aspect should be ignored. Even audio buddies that take the “power comes from a hundred miles away, so the last 6 feet don’t matter” perspective have been able to hear the sonic differences in a power cord. I share the opposing view that the power coming from your wall is like a giant well that you tap into, flawed or not. So improved power cords and power conditioning is more like putting a PUR water filter on the end of the water spout on the kitchen sink.

I suggest upgrading your cables close to last, and concentrate on the other system parameters first. If you have a turntable, make sure it’s perfectly level and set up to the best of your ability. Then, spend a good day, or at least an afternoon on speaker setup. Once you’ve moved the hour hand, you can move the minute hand. As cable changes tend to be more subtle, the more your system can resolve, the easier it will be to hear the changes a cable or power cord makes.

Finally, if you can afford it, especially if you are running stock power cords – try and replace them all at once if you can. This is a lot easier when you only have a couple of components, and the power cords in question don’t cost a zillion dollars. Which brings us to the Core Power Diamond power cord we have here. Even the most die-hard anti-cable audiophiles I know, usually cave, when swapping between a pair of stock power cords on an integrated amp and DAC, to something better.

As I only had one Diamond to work with, I used it with integrated amplifiers from VAC, PrimaLuna, Octave, McIntosh, and Luxman. All reasonably high current draw components, and with a little help, was able to make some pretty quick swaps between the stock power cord and the CPDPC (as it will be called from here on in…). A 6-foot power cord will set you back $1,000, but they are currently running a COVID-19 discount – $599. Nice. Check their website for quantity pricing and longer lengths.

The results were uniformly good with both the solid-state and tube amps: bass tightened up a bit, along with a modest increase in soundstage depth and width, along with an improvement in top-end smoothness. The change on the top end was more noticeable with the three tube amplifiers than it was with the solid-state choices. Fortunately, this cord offers enough of a delta, that you shouldn’t be freaking out with expectation bias, wondering if there is a difference.

Swapping cables often requires time beyond the initial switch to “settle in,” and the CPDPC is no exception. After the initial switch, about an hour into the listening sessions, the music presented took another click towards the more relaxing/less fatiguing side of the equation.

Tracking through acoustic and sparsely miked vocal selections quickly reveals the newfound ease delivered with the CPDPC. As I’ve experienced with other power cords, I’m sure if I’d had three on hand to replace the one in the Gold Note CD player and phonostage, the effect would be more pronounced. To cheat this a little bit, I used our Core Power 1200w power conditioner (with the CPDPC as the cord from the AC line to the conditioner) to cheat a bit and again, heard decent improvement. There is an unmistakable clarity that the CPDPC brings to the overall sound, and it’s even easier to hear the difference swapping back to a stock power cord after you’ve been listening to familiar tracks for a while. An edge comes back that wasn’t there before.

The CPDPC is very well made, with premium Furutech connectors on both ends and a robust cable in between. Packing is nice, but not overdone to the point that you’ll feel like you paid way too much for a fancy box.

As with every other power cord I’ve tried, this is not a component change that will whack you on the side of the head with a bat, like swapping speakers will. However, if you’ve done your homework, and optimized your system, a couple of these power cords will add an additional level of clarity to your system.

In keeping with the current world situation, I commend Core Power for offering a major deal at a time like this to keep you all rocking. I suspect that if you audition one in your system, with familiar music, you’ll want to keep it. We’re keeping the review sample and purchasing a few more. Happy listening, whether you’re on a boat, a goat, or a couch.

Fake News and Audio Reviews

Now that we are well into our 16th year of publication, it seems apparent that there are still some in the audience that don’t fully understand what we do, why we do it, and what sets us somewhat apart. Now is as good a time to clarify as ever, eh? Many of you have been reading us since the early days, so I’m guessing you like our approach enough to stay. And for that, I thank you very much.

However, there is still the occasional snarkiness lurking, and just as in today’s world situation, claims get made, no matter how unfounded they might be. You might even go as far as to call it “fake news.” Without trying to offend anyone, I’ve never bought into the concept of fake news, I’ve always seen every news outlet as having somewhat of a slant or bias. We’re human beings, and no matter how much we might try to be 100% objective, it creeps in because for better or for worse, we nearly always put things into context-based upon our experience.


So, when I read about world events, I try to digest multiple sources, perform a mental Venn diagram, see where the overlap is, and draw the best conclusion I can. If possible, thanks to the large group of people I’ve managed to get to know here, I get on the phone and call someone. An event in the UK (or any other place) may look one way in our news, yet to people that live there often have a completely different spin. Boots on the ground get the message across.

I feel that audio reviews are the same. No one review will give you a complete insight into a product, because we are all coming from a different place, with different hot buttons, and of course, different biases. Or shall we say, priorities? Most audio reviewers are just like you – audio enthusiasts, mega audio enthusiasts. Often the difference between you and us is that we’ve spent more time listening to a broader range of products than you have, and the hope is that our additional experience will add insight. At least that’s my hope.

When I was on the other side of the desk, I was a very avid consumer of high-end audio products, as any of my long time friends will attest. But that was a different time when dealers could afford to let you take a lot of things home for the weekend to test drive. Still, that was nothing compared to the gear I’ve had the privilege to listen to in my tenure at TONE. We can argue that aural memory is fleeting. I think that if you pull most of the veteran reviewers aside, they will all agree that most manufacturers have a unique enough voice to their products that they have a general knowledge bank in their heads. Quads sound different than MartinLogan, though they are both ESL speakers, and they both sound different than a pair of Magnepans, though they are all dipole radiating panel speakers. And so on.

Need the info

I’m guessing you probably have similar biases, which is why you prefer tubes over solid-state, mini-monitors over floorstanders, metal dome tweeters over soft dome tweeters, etc., etc., etc. That kind of thing. That’s what makes this pursuit of assembling a satisfying music system so exciting and frustrating at the same time. You can’t be everywhere, you can’t go to all the HiFi shows, and you can’t take everything home for the weekend.

So, you probably lean on a mixture of reviews, FB groups, internet boards, and such. What I see as the problem with the latter two, is that it usually devolves into a pissing match with people looking for validation on what they own. The Magnepan person tells you that Magnepans are the best because that’s what they own. And to them, they are. Just as the person who has a pair of single-driver speakers and a 2A3 amplifier will tell you that their approach is the one correct route to nirvana. Finally, it all just turns into a shouting contest, with gnashing of teeth and everyone going away mad. Even more today amid our current crisis, when tempers flare, and nerves are pretty raw to begin with.

Exploring audio gear was supposed to be what made audio fun.

Again I hope that you can gain some insight from all of us. The overlap is where it’s at. The other reviewers all have their unique perspective to offer, but you have to dig a little deeper to find out where their biases lie. Sometimes they will even tell you, which helps, but if you read any reviewer long enough, you get a feel for what excites them, as well as what the limitations of their systems and rooms are. You even find out what their musical tastes are – which may help or may lead you further off the track.

Lew Johnson of Conrad-Johnson once told me to “pick 25 tracks you hate to evaluate gear because when you’re done, you’ll hate them.” For those of you that know what I’m talking about, there is a secret society of audio professionals that absolutely HATE that damn Jennifer Warnes song about the horse. But it’s a tool.

 It’s hard to get excited about an audio component, or put it in perspective if the tracks described throughout the copy have no meaning to you. Thankfully, streaming music now makes it much easier to listen to whatever a particular reviewer is using to evaluate a component.

But at the end of the day, it’s genuinely about the overlap. While I do not suggest buying a component strictly on a review (mine or anyone else’s), it helps to read as much as you can. I think it’s a safe bet that when a product gets a concise review here and elsewhere, it’s worth your time to investigate. Again, the current world situation has increased the degree of difficulty in this case.

Our approach

While we are occasionally criticized for not writing “negative reviews,” whenever I’ve suggested to a manufacturer at a HiFi show that we should start that trend with their product, they always back down. Interesting.

In today’s market, I don’t feel that any of the major companies, or for that matter, even the second-string companies are making rubbish anymore. With the advent of the internet and death by audio forum, bad news travels faster than ever, and if you are a company that builds inferior products, offers dreadful customer service, or both, your days are numbered. And your death will come much faster than me or anyone else writing a negative review. This is where the forums and FB pages can come in handy when researching a purchase. 

If a disproportionate number of end-users are reporting similar failures or consistent bad service, this may be a product to avoid. A reviewer has no way of knowing the answer to that question.

I like to joke that everyone can usually have a great time on vacation. Everyone is happy with their HiFi purchase until something breaks. How a dealer or manufacturer handles things when it all goes pear-shaped is another matter entirely. Sooner or later, nearly everything breaks. That said, I have worked with manufacturers that I have never had a failure with, but that’s an article for another day. When a manufacturer or their supporting dealer gets you sorted out and back to listening to music quickly and painlessly, that’s a big plus – and you can’t get that from a review.

Where a number of the automotive magazines do “long term tests,” keeping a car for a year to see how maintenance is performed, what breaks, and how much it cost to repair, most audio gear does not fail in the short period it is here for review. We have had a few things that have either arrived destroyed (no fault of the mfr) or have failed repeatedly during the review period, but those products have not made it to the completion of the review process. And to be fair, this has only happened a few times in nearly 1700 product reviews.

You’re super busy, and I get it

This leads to the core of our approach. My goal from the beginning with TONE was to be like a great concierge in a great hotel. Not to be “Mr. Know It-All of Hi?Fi.” I’ll let you in on a little secret, no one is. There are thousands of you and a few of us. Collectively, you will always know more. A great concierge listens to their guests, building their knowledge base on feedback received. More than once, our readers have led us to products we didn’t know about.

So, I’ve always felt our job is to help you make a shortlist. When you get into a hotel at 7 pm, tired from traveling all day, and you just want a good steak – now, and you want your clothes pressed in time for your 8:30 meeting tomorrow morning, that person behind the desk handles it. You don’t want to be bothered with 20 Yelp reviews (with at least three of them negative) you want to be taken care of.

That’s how I see my personal responsibility to both you and the audio industry. Need a great tube preamp with balanced inputs in the $5k-$8k range? We’ll help you find it. Need a pair of tube friendly monitor speakers that will work great in a 13 x 15 room, custom color a bonus? Got you covered.

In the context of TONE, writing a disparaging review, wastes everyone’s time, and that means in addition to finding great products for you to put on your list, I have to seek out crappy products to bash. Is that helping anyone?

What makes our process a little different

Nearly all TONE reviews begin with us vetting the products we’re interested in, rather than getting random products and being surprised. We don’t have enough hours in the day. If that’s truly the approach you want, we are not your HiFi magazine.

I’ve always felt our job is to describe a product thoroughly enough, that YOU can decide to put it on your shortlist. Many times our reviews lack the “conclusion” paragraph in most other reviews. That’s on purpose, and it’s a tribute to your intelligence. If we’ve done our job correctly, you will draw the conclusion yourself. Isn’t that the best conclusion?

This is why we always have a clear photo of the rear panel. How many inputs are there? Balanced, RCA, or? Usually a shot of the remote control too. It’s those little things. We always try to use a pair of speakers with a wide range of amplifiers, from low power SET to high power solid state. The other way around for amplifiers. The Magnepan or ESL owner is always going to want to know if it will drive “their speakers.” So we keep a pair of each on hand, specifically for this purpose.

Once the overall sound character of a component is identified and agreed upon (somewhere on the scale of warm, through neutral, to somewhat bright/forward) and put in the context of speakers, cables, and associated components, our focus turns to functionality. We feel how something will integrate into your environment and system can often be the deciding factor. We once reviewed an incredible, $60,000 phonostage that only had one input and no gain/loading adjustments. This isn’t a fit for everyone, but for the handful of people that are looking for just that, it’s a perfect choice.

A nine-watt SET amplifier, no matter how glorious it sounds, isn’t going to drive a lot of speakers. A mini-monitor with flawless midrange, won’t play techno music, a luscious moving coil cartridge with only .15mv output won’t work with all phono preamplifiers. And so on. This is why we take the shortlist approach.

We also try our best to determine if said review components are easy or tough to set up because you all have different skill (and patience) levels. I feel this is often overlooked in product reviews of all types, and can often lead to hifi frustration. I’ve heard many systems not give their all because of lack of setup, not component shortcomings.

See where I’m going with this? It’s neither my job nor my responsibility to make the ultimate decision for you. My job is to help you weed through the jungle of the myriad of products out there. No matter what you buy, there will always be something different, or perhaps that reveals more music than the component you just purchased. That’s why you rarely see the B-word (“the best”) in our pages. Someone always has infinity plus one.

You may or may not know that I photograph every component that graces the pages of TONE. I spent my last life as an advertising photographer and then as a fine art photographer creating high-quality images in the automotive world for years.

 I enjoy photographing the gear almost as much as I do listening to it.

The bigger picture is that I listen to every single component that has been in this magazine. It has helped to give me a broader knowledge base, but it has also helped add that “additional listening” section that you often see in our reviews. Not everyone on the staff has ten phono cartridges at their disposal, or a range of amplifiers, cables, etc. Knowing how a component sounds when it leaves to head to one of our reviewers makes it that much easier to read their copy, and fill in those blanks at the end if they’ve missed something due to lack of additional associated components.

The last link in the chain

Our job would be so much easier if we could visit your house, size up your room, system and music collection – making suggestions that we think could help you build a system, or get to the next level of audio performance. In a pandemic free world, that would be your dealers’ job, and this is why we’ve been running the “dealers that mean business” section at the back of the magazine.

 This part of TONE is a free service to you and those dealers listed. There are a few dealer ads in the magazine, but the DMB section is no cost to those dealers. They are all establishments that we have visited personally, have attended events at, and talked to their customers about the level of service received. Some of these dealers I have even purchased components from over the years. In short, these are dealers I would spend my money with, and get my endorsement.

A final bit of clarity

If you’ve read this far, thank you. This has been a long “blog” post, but I hope it helps clarify how we operate. We’ve received a lot of wonderful emails and phone calls, along with some great in-person chats with you over the years, and precious few nastygrams. 

If we’ve helped make the path a little less confusing, and helped lead you to a satisfying audio experience, then we’ve done our job. That’s always been our goal.

And throughout this wacky time, I hope we can continue to be a useful resource for those of you that read our pages.

Lockdown – Day 58

Almost two months into this, the local and global landscape has certainly changed.

I’m guessing that all of you have been touched by this now, one way or another. We’ve lost a couple of friends here, and have had a number of others go through the current virus and come out the other end in one piece. We’ve been talking to a lot of you, so keep the cards and letters coming.

We’re staying isolated, except for the occasional grocery store run. We’re midway through issue 102, which will concentrate on approachable speakers, and one of our favorite speakers, the new JBL L-100 Classics, just received a new set of blue grills, to change the mood up a bit.

Social media is rife with pictures of how you are all coping, and equally rife with hostility. Tempers are starting to fray. So, I’m hoping you can spend the weeks to come more on the “share ten records you love” side of the fence than the “quick angry mob” side of the fence.

While incendiary nasty-grams continue from the usual sources, the outpouring of email and FB messages, just to check up on us and see how we are doing, is truly appreciated. It’s been nice to hear from so many of you. Keep the cards and letters coming!

The Focal Chora 806 Speakers

Over the years, the TONEAudio team enjoyed many opportunities to evaluate Focal speakers, including their stunning flagship Grande Utopia Evo, as well as the Stella Evo’s currently here on audition.

While Focal’s cost-no-object speakers offer a revelatory musical experience, most of us will never have the financial means to own a pair. Of course, Focal understands this reality and offers many other price-performance speaker options in their lineup. The Chora 806 bookshelf speakers we review here retail for $990 (plus optional stands, $290), demonstrating Focal’s commitment to offering high-quality and financially-friendly speakers. While these stand-mounters serve well as a stereo pair, those looking for a line of matched speakers for their home theater setup will find the Choras equally at home.

France’s Focal resides among a shortlist of manufacturers who design and build their speaker components in-house. Therefore, the Chora line benefits its listeners with trickle-down technology borrowed from more expensive speakers in Focal’s arsenal.

Like the 806’s floor-standing siblings, the stand-mounted Chora employs a one-inch aluminum-magnesium tweeter above a 6.5 inch (16.5cm) midrange. The driver cone uses Focal’s proprietary “Slatefiber” material combining recycled non-woven carbon fibers and a thermoplastic polymer. While non-conventional, the elements certainly deliver the sonic goods. A front port for bass reinforcement complements the midrange and tweeter. The port placement gives owners more speaker placement flexibility since the 806 can reside closer to a rear wall without bass over-emphasis.

The Chorus 806 is a hefty “bookshelf” speaker at 16.2 pounds (7.35kg). The utilitarian, modestly finished cabinets measure 8.25 inches wide by 10.5 inches deep by 17 inches in height (21x27x43cm). For more detail about the speaker specifications, check out Focal’s 806 spec sheet.

The Chorus line offers black, light wood and dark wood finishes to complement most décor. Prospective owners with young children will also appreciate the Chora line’s removable grille covering the woofer, plus the tweeter’s perforated metal armor to help deter small fingers.


To hone your speaker placement, Focal offers a mathematically-based positioning guide, which you can learn about in their incredibly well produced manual. As always, experiment in your room to determine what sounds best to you.

Once locked into an ideal location, the Choras can do an excellent job of three-dimensional projection. Using Stereophile’s Test CD’s “natural stereo imaging” track, the speakers do a terrific job keeping up with the recorded material – especially for boxes at a sub-$1k price point. As David Chesky circles an omnidirectional microphone in the recording space while beating a drum, sound travels in a similar lap around the listening space and projects to the far sides of the listener, and even behind the listening chair. For more traditional stereo recordings, the Chora 806 also does a great job of separating instruments across the front soundstage giving each element a defined presence.

The 806 employs an unusual binding post. Yes, it does serve to accommodate bare wire, banana, or spade terminated cables. Those using speaker wire with banana ends will need to find a thin bladed screwdriver to gently pry the covered caps off.

Even when driven by a modest classic 35-watt NAD 3020 integrated amplifier, the speakers come to life in remarkable ways. For a critical evaluation of the speakers, though, the usual upstream reference rig with a Conrad-Johnson ART150 amplifier lets the Choras sing to their full potential.

Rewards come to those who wait. Over a 24-hour break-in period, the 806’s sound evolves beneficially and settles into a smooth and well-balanced sonic presentation. The Chora’s voice is just a hint to the warm side of neutral. While they do offer substantial treble reproduction, they also avoid stridency and sibilance, as noted during Zero 7’s song “Distractions” that features Sia Furler’s powerful and beguiling vocals.

The 806’s voicing is a bit akin to being in the 10th row of a concert hall. Some of the front-row details diminish, but the whole musical picture reaching the ears proves highly engaging. “This Mess We’re In” featuring PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke retains its goosebump potential. While the singers’ placements in the mix overlap front-and-center during the chorus, they remain well-articulated and separated perceptually. Instruments including strings, horns, piano, and percussion render with a substantial degree of separation and realism too.

The 806 is also forgiving. Older tracks like “Sugar Man” by Sixto Rogriguez are fun to hear despite the original recording’s limitations. Even the worst-recorded song I love, “Hi Babe” by the Ngozi Family, sings forth with a surprisingly compelling nature.

For those who like to rock, Rage Against the Machine’s “Bombtrack” proves revelatory too. Given the small cabinet size, low-frequency roll-off is inevitable. However, the Focals do a great job reproducing and articulating bass notes above 60 Hz or so. That said, expect punch, not slam, from the 806.

The Chora 806’s soundstaging capability, complementing their marvelous sonic reproduction, offers an immersive experience generally associated with speakers costing much more. The Chora 806 speakers provide an open and emotionally-engaging window to the music. Moving up the Focal line gets a prospective owner more detail, increased realism, deeper bass, and much more aesthetically-appealing cabinets. Track after track, though, I remained impressed with the 806’s capability.

Summing up

Focal Chora 806 speakers offer wonderful sound and build quality at a very reasonable price point. If you have a $1,000 budget for speakers, the 806 is an excellent choice. For those who desire heartier and deeper bass reinforcement than a stand-mounted speaker can offer, the floor standing iterations in the Chora line — or the addition of a subwoofer — will help satiate that thirst. Either way, you can’t go wrong. The 806 can easily anchor a budget-friendly system now and rise to the challenge as other upstream components come and go over time.

Additional Listening: Jeff Dorgay

While many grouse about flagship loudspeakers, the Focal Chora is a perfect example of vertical manufacturing done right. There are precious few manufacturers left in the world that make their own cabinets and drivers – Focal is one of the select few. Because they make everything in-house, they can put so much more value into a thousand dollar pair of speakers than a company that has to outsource everything.

This is why the Choras are such a great deal. With Focal’s Stella Utopia Ems playing in my living room, it’s easy to see (hear, actually) just how much Utopia DNA is present in the Choras. Granted these speakers do not have the adjustments, or the sexy, curvy cabinets of the Utopias, but the same people that design, manufacture and assemble the top range Utopia speakers build the Choras with the same materials.

There’s a level of sonic sophistication present in the Choras that is absent in most other speakers at this price point. The Focal “house sound,” if you will, is one of resolving detail without being harsh. Rob’s assessment is spot on, and comparing the $1,000/pair Choras to the $150k/pair Stellas, it’s amazing at how much of that house sound still comes right through, especially when listening to music slightly less dynamic, or a little lacking in super low bass information.

These are incredible speakers for someone just getting into the hifi game, and more than worthy of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2020.

Farewell, Art Dudley

In case you haven’t heard the news, we lost one of the industry’s finest writers today.

Unfortunately, Stereophile’s Art Dudley is no more. When I heard the news just a few days ago that he was having problems with cancer that had returned, I had hoped he was going to be ok and had no idea that he was having issues with cancer in the first place. But that was Art, never one to trouble you with that kind of thing. No Go Fund Me page, no posts on social media, looking for sympathy – he just carried on.

While I would love to wax poetic about what great friends Art and I were, we weren’t. We always chatted at the various shows he attended – which wasn’t many because Art hated to fly. A few years ago, I was shocked to see him at the Munich show, but he just laughed and said he had mustered up the courage to go.

That really sums up Art Dudley on one level. He was always understated and always a perfect gentleman. Along with Jonathan Halpern (of TONE Imports, no relation to us), Art and I had put on a seminar about the “Virtues of Vintage Audio” at the New York show eight or nine years ago and had a blast doing it. The room was standing room only, with attendees spilling out into the hall. If you are a Stereophile reader, you know how much Art loved Quads, SET amps, tubes, and his beloved Thorens TD-124 turntables.

After that, we had even chatted about doing a book together, but alas, we were both too damn busy. I sincerely regret not following up on that, because I’m sure I would have learned so much from him. But we always joked about it in the halls.

What made Art such a great writer – one of the best, if not the best in the world of audio reporting, was that his motivation was pure. He lived and breathed this stuff. It was in his soul. And this is what made his articles so enjoyable, whether you agreed with him or not. It always felt like you were right there in the room living it with him – a goal that all of us that write about audio should aspire to. His articles were always a near perfect balance of reporting and telling a story without making it all about him. A good friend of mine compared him to another favorite journalist from the automotive world – Peter Egan. An excellent and worthy comparison.

Even though we were never great friends, I will miss Art tremendously, and always remember him fondly. My sincere regret is that we never did get to be good friends. I think we would have had a lot of laughs together.

The Clarus Duet Power Conditioner

Power conditioning products can be deceptive. With most, you hear a modest to dramatic reduction in background noise initially and the excitement builds.

More often than not, when the initial purchase excitement subsides and you listen to a wider range of music something sounds amiss and it’s usually dynamics and musical nuance. Those “inky, black backgrounds” that everyone is buzzing about usually comes at a cost. Different, not better. Pretty soon, you plug your system back into the wall and notice that those lost dynamics are back.

With the Duet, Clarus has eliminated the main problem surrounding many of the power conditioning products out there, building a conditioner with sufficient dynamic range. The massive 30 amp, C-Core inductor at the heart of the Duet offers enough reserve to keep up with large, monoblock power amplifiers and high powered subwoofers. Fortunately, I’ve always got a number of these around, so this was an easy test.

Spoiler alert: The Duet does a fantastic job and exceeds expectation. And it does so at the very reasonable cost of $1,250 each.

These somewhat small power conditioners are deceptive, as soon as you pick them up, they feel a lot heavier than you might think this box would weigh. The layout is simple, with a high quality duplex outlet on the top panel and a 15A IEC socket on the rear face. Aimed at the monoblock power amplifier customer because of its high-current capability, it’s also the perfect choice for anyone using a system built around a single source and high powered integrated amplifier. If you’re just running a DAC and integrated amp, or phono stage and integrated, the Duet is perfect, having more than enough capacity.

You’re gonna want the cables too

Dynamics and musical nuance rely heavily on current capability and delivery. Anything getting in the way of that process, stifles transients and slows things down. The more dynamic ability your system has, the more you will notice this effect. To that end, Clarus offers their Crimson High-Current power cables, at $1,720 each. (6 foot length) Those that can keep their Duet(s) closer to the wall outlet can opt for the 3 foot version, which drops the price substantially to $1,020 each.

You either subscribe to the theory that power has come all this way to your house, and the last few feet of cable doesn’t matter, or the theory that power is a gigantic well, that you tap into to power your system – and everything matters. If you are in the former camp, you’re probably not even reading this review. I’ve always chosen the latter view, which is why I’ve always embraced having clean power for my system. However, it’s always been the fight of eliminating distortion and artifacts from the power line, versus dynamics. Forced to choose, I’ll take the dynamic freedom, which is why so many power products have fallen by the wayside in the 16 years we’ve been around. The reason you’ve seen so few reviews on power products in TONE hasn’t been for lack of investigation, we just haven’t heard many great ones.

The Duet/Crimson combination does a fantastic job, and at reasonable cost. If it makes budgetary sense, I suggest thinking of the Duet conditioner and Crimson High Current power cord as a system onto itself. The Duet works well solo, offering a substantial improvement over having nothing in the system, but when you add the cord to the mix, the window on your music is open all the way.

Breaking them out, the Duet still offers a substantial improvement in all the musical attributes mentioned, but the Crimson cord takes it all the way. If you can only move on the Duet for now, adding the cord later makes a clear upgrade path.

The test subjects

Putting this quartet of Clarus products to the test, we installed them in one system with the PrimaLuna EVO 400 vacuum tube monoblocks, the Audio Research REF160M vacuum tube monoblocks, the Nagra Classic solid-state monoblocks and a vintage pair of Pass Labs Aleph monoblocks. Each combination yielded similar improvements in low level clarity, lower noise floor and lack of dynamic restriction. However, like nearly every other tube powered amplifier tested, both of the tube amplifiers seemed to have a greater delta in noise floor reduction than the solid state alternatives. This has been very consistent with all of the good power conditioners we’ve tried when connected to tube electronics.

Playing to the dynamic range of all the mono amplifiers tried, the Duets were each plugged into dedicated 20 amp circuits, so they would not be compromised by the power available to them, and connected via the Crimson power cords, with Cardas receptacles. I take this stuff seriously!

More often than not, if a power conditioner passes all the other tests, when pushed hard, in a high power situation, it brings a compression effect not unlike a solid-state amplifier featuring a soft clipping feature. Dynamic peaks when played at high volume merely lose their impact, and the sound field starts to collapse in all three directions, much like a digital recording that’s been normalized. I’m happy to report the Duet scores a perfect ten here, exhibiting none of these problems. A true test of dynamics.

The other

Fortunately, we still had the REL 212SE subwoofers on hand, as well as a pair of their newest S/510s in the living room system, so this offered an additional confirmation on Clarus’ claims. Plugging your subwoofer into a Duet (or Duets, if you have multiple subs) offers a different, yet equally exciting improvement. Called upon to usually work from about 60hz on down, it’s tough to hear a reduction in noise floor.

The improvement here, is strictly in speed and texture. Every single one of the subs we tried, even down to entry level REL and Paradigm subs (both under $1000) offered the same qualitatitve improvement. You’ve probably got your favorite bass heavy tracks, and the funkier the bass line, the more you’ll hear what the Duet brings to the presentation. It’s easier to hear fingers plucking and slamming bass strings, and it becomes easier to hear the different cabinets that bass players use, instead of just hearing one-note bass.

Wait for it

Like so many other products of this ilk, you will notice a lower noise floor immediately. Using the Duet/Crimson combination provides an effect much like listening to a favorite musical selection in 16/44 resolution, and then immediately hearing it again in 24/96, and going right back. There’s a sense of space in the high resolution, with an accompanying ease that the standard resolution track simply does not have. And, then it’s tough to go back.

Playing a long list of drum and percussion heavy tracks, selections that really tax a power amplifier make it a lot easier to hear what the Duet/Crimson bring to the presentation. The leading and trailing edges of transients are now reproduced with far less effort. From a psychoacoustic sense, there’s much less fatigue, and having the Duet/Crimson in the loop makes it that much easier to relax, engage the music, and forget you are listening to components. That’s what makes this product worth the asking price. This level of clarity is something you can’t get another way.

For all the audiophiles carrying on about the importance of source components, I submit that starting with clean, distortion free power is the ultimate attention to the source. No matter how massive the filter capacitors in your power amplifier are, they aren’t cleaning it all up.

Cost/benefit analysis

It’s always hard to make a value judgement for you. However, in the context of a $10k – $30k system, a pair of Duets moves the scale more than far enough to feel like a great value. The Duet probably offers 75% of the improvement, with the cords adding the rest. Considering how much power these are capable of passing through, it’s not the worst idea to install a couple of premium power outlets to go with your Duets, just so you are getting everything they are capable of delivering.

The Clarus Duet power conditioner(s) are one of the best performing I’ve heard at any price, doing no harm to the musical content and revealing more music than your system is capable of without them in place. Deceptively simple, this is no easy feat. That they do this for $1,250 each, makes them highly worthy of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2020. I’m keeping this pair, so you’ll be seeing them as associated components going forward, permanently attached to our PrimaLuna EVO400 monoblocks.

Issue 101


Old School:

Headphone Art:

The Audiophile Apartment:

Shanon Says:

Mine: It Should Be Yours


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Future Tense

Gear in our immediate future

Cover Feature:

The Nagra Classic Preamplifier

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Nagra products. I can’t hide that from you and keep a straight face. But the admiration is for a good reason – they make fantastic products. Having been to their factory several times now, the team at Nagra is a group dedicated to excellence in every aspect, from design through final build. And their heritage is second to none.

Some American customers bristle at the classic form factor of Nagra Classic components, but I love the simple, compact elegance they offer. Not everyone wants a massive rack of audio gear in their environment, but they still crave high sonic achievement – precisely who the Classic series is for. Those wanting even more performance and a more full-size chassis can step up to the HD series of components – considered some of the world’s absolute finest by recording engineers and audio reviewers the world over.

Just as I would rather have a 1988 Porsche Carerra instead of the new 991 model, I prefer the Classic Line. I like the more straightforward presentation. I love the way a small group of Nagra Classic components disappear in a room, instead of drawing attention to themselves. Yet when you do notice them, and move closer to inspect, the careful attention to every detail that makes a Nagra a Nagra becomes apparent. The smoothness of the controls, the perfection in the details of the casework, and of course, the famous Nagra Modulometer – homage to their decades of building pro gear and recorders lights up the quality center in your brain.

It gets even better when you play music.

Pairing the Classic Preamplifier initially with a Nagra Classic DAC, power supply, and a pair of Classic power amplifiers, operating in bridged mode, is a prodigious combination. Even though the HD series reveals still more music. The Classic line should not be mistaken as “entry-level.” This group of components in place of my standard reference stack of Pass and dCS gear is incredibly musical and does a fantastic job in every sense of the imagination. But for now, we are merely talking about the preamplifier.

The Classic Preamplifier tips the price scale at $17,900. You can add the Nagra VFS base ($2,000) and the Classic PSU power supply ($11,000) to take the performance of the Classic Preamplifier to an even higher level. The PSU power supply does add a greater degree of musicality, with more dynamics, increased bass slam, and definition. It also generates a larger, more three-dimensional soundfield, but it is costly if you own only one Nagra Classic component. This upgrade may not be for everyone. Should you have the tube DAC the power supply is required, and there is an additional output for a Classic Preamplifier and a Nagra VPS two-input phono stage as well.

Powering a single component may be tough to justify, but the power supply is a bargain if you have all three components or plan on adding them soon. For the rest of this review, we will concentrate on the Classic Preamplifier as a standalone component -with the VFS (but without the power supply.) I feel the VFS base makes enough of an improvement in noise floor and focus that it is essential to getting the most out of your Classic. As with nearly every vacuum tube component we’ve reviewed, vibration control platforms/devices usually show more effect with tube gear. Should you already possess a world-class rack, the VFS [ADS1] is not necessary, but it still looks fantastic and complements Nagra’s design ethos perfectly.

Road-tested functionality

For those not familiar with Nagra’s 70 years of experience in designing audio gear, primarily for the pro sound environment, this is where the form factor originates. Their recorders, like the Nagra III pictured here, feature a compact shape and the large, perfectly calibrated Modulometer – a Nagra trademark to keep levels accurate.

When Nagra began to design audio gear for the home environment, it made perfect sense to their engineers to keep things compact. The meter continues to be produced, and Nagras assembly team pays careful attention to their construction and calibration. Illustrated is the test bench where every piece of Nagra gear goes before heading out to you, with multiple, sophisticated checks along the assembly process.

The term “Swiss made” is often associated with the Swiss watchmaking industry. Still, every bit of meticulous detail that you would apply to any top Swiss watchmaker takes place inside the Nagra factory. It is clean, quiet, and highly organized. Walking through the factory as I have done a few times now, the vibe is calm, and the people building your Nagra are friendly but highly focused. This level of focused excellence is what gives Nagra components such a high level of mechanical and electrical quality. I’m sure that somewhere a Nagra component has failed, but in my 15 years of using Nagra components as reference pieces here at TONE, and among my friends that own them, no one I know has had a Nagra component fail.

This is a must if you are recording on location out on the edge of civilization, or capturing a legendary performance at the world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival (where Nagra gear is used exclusively to record every performance.). The Nagra SN was used by NASA on later Apollo to capture those legendary events.  [ADS2] It is still a big bonus knowing that your home audio system will always be there to fulfill your musical desires.

New yet familiar

While the casework, layout and form factor will be familiar to those using the Nagra Jazz preamplifier, and if you happen to be stepping up from the earlier PL-L or PL-P preamplifier, you’ll note the inputs and outputs are now all on the rear panel. Again, the side inputs of the PL series are an homage to the pro side of Nagra, but the rear inputs certainly make it easier to integrate the Classic into a home system. Let it not be said that the Swiss are inflexible.

The rest of the inputs are also similar to Nagra’s past, as well as the other components in the Classic lineup. There is a switch for volume, an input selector and to the far right, a large dial that powers up the Classic Preamp, allowing it to be fully on, in standby, or by using the selection marked “R,” controlled by the handy (and equally compact) remote control. Somehow as easy to use as the remote is, I always find myself getting up to manually adjust volume just because I like the feel of Nagra gear. It is unique and like no other.

The Classic preamplifier has four sets of RCA inputs and a single set of XLRs, while the output has two sets of XLRs and one set of RCA. Either way, it should be more than enough for any system.

Around front, there is a small switch for XLR, RCA, or headphones. That’s right, headphones. Part of the increase in price from the Jazz is the built-in headphone amplifier, which is excellent in its own right. Spending a fair amount of time using the headphone jack with phones ranging from a pair of Grado SR60s all the way to the Focal Utopias, the verdict is top-notch. Some of the world’s finest (and most expensive) dedicated headphone amplifiers offer a little bit more resolution and dynamics, as they should. Still, the headphone amplifier in the Classic is outstanding.

Neutral in more ways than one

The overall sound of the Classic builds upon the evolution of the Jazz and the PL-L/P before it. This is still a three-tube design, with a pair of 12AU7s and a 12AX7, but the newest preamplifier is quieter, more dynamic, and more refined at both ends of the frequency spectrum. As we happen to have a Jazz here to make a comparison, the first thing that comes to mind is if you have a Jazz, you will definitely be able to experience more music with the Classic, but the flavor and voicing of your Jazz is nothing to hang your head over.

Listening to the opening track on St. Vincent’s Love This Giant, the big bass drum is more robust, more locked down with the Classic. Rolling through a long playlist of bass-heavy tracks, it’s easy to hear that there is more texture, life, and definition, along with a little more speed to the bass line. Nagra has done a lot to update the power supply in the Classic, so this makes perfect sense.

Switching to vocal tracks and music showing off the other end of the frequency scale, the same observations are made. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Elish both come further out of the speakers, feeling more convincing and natural. Cymbals have more sheen, and the soundfield created by the Classic is larger in all dimensions. The Jazz feels a little small when you go back to it, but still very listenable. However, those asking the familiar “should I upgrade to the new box” question, I’d say that if it doesn’t cause any undue financial strain, it’s definitely a worthwhile upgrade. Sell your Jazz to a friend that isn’t versed in the way of Nagra yet!

Another aspect of the Classics performance that shouldn’t be overlooked is its compatibility with other amplifiers, tube, or solid-state. I made it a point to use about ten different amplifiers with the Classic, and there were no issues, and it’s neutral tonal balance carried through to reveal the signature of the power amplifier used. Even the RCA outputs had no problem driving a 25-foot pair of Cardas Clear cable between amp and pre.

I’m sure that Nagra people would love you to have an all-Nagra system, but we all start our journey somewhere. The Nagra Classic preamplifier works well with whatever components you choose to mate with it. Very Swiss Indeed.

The Nagra Classic Preamplifier

MSRP: $17,500


Amplifier Nagra Classic

Digital Source Nagra Tube DAC

Analog Source GrandPrixAudio Parabolica Turntable/TriPlanar Arm Koetsu Jade Platinum

Speakers Focal Stella Utopia EM

Cable Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Reference