JPS Labs Digital AC-X Cord
Length: 2 meters
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Why the Need for a Specialized AC Cord?
The Digital AC-X cord is JPS Labs’ specialized cable for digital components designed to provide a “smoother, more analog environment for audio and video” components. JPS Labs is a manufacturer of a complete line of AC cords, interconnects, speaker cables and digital audio cables. They also manufacture the Abyss headphone, a state-of-the art design that is priced to match. JPS Labs has been in business since 1990 and manufactures their products in East Aurora, New York.
This is the second specialized AC cord I have reviewed; the first being the $3000 Synergistic Research Element C.T.S. Digital AC Cord (see review). Given JPS Labs’ excellent reputation, I asked them for a review sample of their $399 Digital AC-X Cord, something that might be more accommodating to the budget of some of our readers.
But a number of you will ask why there is a need for a specialized AC cord? As many of you know, digital components are sources of noise in the form of EMF and RF that not only radiates from the component, but is also passed back into the home AC wiring to negatively affect what we hear from our other components. The AC cord itself can radiate this noise into the environment adding its negative influence to other components in our system. Midrange and high end hardness, reduced focus, less defined bass, are just some of the consequences of this digital noise. No doubt, this noise results in a loss of attention or interest when listening to music reducing the overall enjoyment of our systems. There is a big market today for AC line conditioners with isolated AC outlets that try to deal with this noise problem as well as the general noise on the AC line. But if we could reduce the noise introduced into the system from our digital components and that radiated from the AC cords, we should notice an improvement in the quality of sound from our audio systems.
The Goal of the Design
JPS Labs first introduced their solution to this problem with their Digital AC Cord in 1997 [reviewed by Art Dudley in Stereophile (see review)]. The cable was upgraded in 2010 to the Digital AC-X. JPS Labs told me that the 2010 version of the Digital AC-X reflected an upgrade in the network components and conductor dielectrics compared to that of the earlier Digital AC Cord.
The Digital AC-X is made of various copper alloys. JPS has designed this cable to isolate and contain the noise in the cord itself and thus prevent it from entering the home AC wiring. The cable’s application goes beyond that of just audio, but can enhance resolution and contrast from video components as well.
From JPS Labs:
“The insulation material surrounding each conductor contains a special compound that absorbs high frequency energy and dissipates it within the cord itself, so the cable itself acts as a sponge for noise, rather than allowing it to flow freely. Specially tuned networks are incorporated to work in conjunction with the capacitance and inductance of the fixed length of the cable, to act as a complete and smooth filtration system within the cord itself.”The cable is quite flexible with a black mesh covering its 2 meter length with JPS terminations that seem to be well built and finished.
“An aluminum shielding material surrounding all of the conductors makes sure nothing radiates before all is absorbed, and shields the cord from contamination by other outside sources without being reactive to the line frequency or the conductors themselves. Also, the conductors are positioned within the cable to prevent an easy flow of offending signals which other cords freely allow, further eliminating any possibility of system contamination. The Digital AC-X is perfectly tuned for optimum effectiveness which improves as noise frequencies increase, making its design virtually timeless as equipment processing speeds increase.”
Components Used In My Evaluation
Most of my listening evaluations were performed with the Benchmark Media System DAC 2 HGC DAC. I felt that this $1995 DAC that I recently reviewed would provide an excellent cost match to the Digital AC-X Cord. I also used the Digital AC-X Cord with my Wavelength Audio Crimson / Denominator with Silver transformers and my MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base. The cable was plugged directly into the wall and into my Synergistic Research PowerCell 10 SE MK III power conditioner. In addition to the PowerCell 10 SE MK III, I employed the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II connected to the wall with the Cobra CX cord to see if the power conditioners were creating a particular sound with the Digital AC-X. Besides the DACs mentioned, I tested the Digital AC-X on my Promise Pegasus R4 8TB Thunderbolt drive that holds my music library. The Pegasus is a single enclosure that holds 4 2TB drives with the switching power supply built in. It accepts an IEC 15 amp connector cable. I usually treat noise from this drive by plugging it into a power strip that is connected to the Synergistic Research PowerCell with a custom dual differential –common mode filter to limit contamination of the AC line. As was the case with the DACs, I first plugged the Pegasus directly into the wall and latter listened with the filter / power conditioner using the stock cable and the Digital AC-X.
I first listened to the Benchmark DAC2 HGC connected with the standard AC cord and then the Digital AC-X plugged directly into the wall outlet. I also listened to both cables plugged into the Synergistic Research PowerCell 10 SE MK III and the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II to see if there was much difference going through the power conditioners. Comparing the standard supplied AC cable for the DAC2 HGC with the Digital AC-X connected directly to the wall yielded sonic differences. The stock cable was fuller sounding in the bass and less defined than the Digital AC-X. The Digital AC-X had superior definition and a bit more dynamic impact than the stock AC cord. The soundstage was a little smaller side-to-side with the stock cable with less front-to-back depth. The midrange was clearer and better defined with the Digital AC-X. I have no doubt that better definition and control of the mid bass helped this observation. There was also less hardness and a smoother, more natural high end with the Digital AC-X.
Comparing the standard AC cord for the DAC2 HGC with the Digital AC-X both plugged into the power conditioners resulted in similar findings as when the cables were plugged into the wall, but now a lower noise floor was perceived with even less hardness to the sound. The soundstage became larger with using the PowerCell 10 SE MK III. The Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II also had similar findings, but was not as quiet or as free of digital hardness as the PowerCell 10 SE MK III.
Substituting the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base for the Benchmark DAC resulted in similar findings as those that I heard with the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. The only difference was that the sonic effects were even more apparent with The Analog DAC. The Analog DAC with its upgraded Analog Power Base is the more revealing DAC and the Digital AC-X made its presence even more obvious.
I performed the same comparisons with the Wavelength Crimson / Denominator Silver into the wall and then with the 2 power conditioners. The results were consistent with what I observed with the other DACs. The JPS Labs Digital AC-X appeared to improve the sound regardless if connected straight into the wall or into a power conditioner.
The Promise Pegasus R4 8TB Thunderbolt Drive
Our external hard drives and computers also spew noise into the environment and back into the AC line. My computer is run with its battery and it rests on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base. Both measures help reduce the perceived noise contributed by the computer. This noise results in hardness to the sound with less focus and definition from top to bottom. The perceived soundstage size also is affected and reduced.
The Promise Pegasus is also a culprit in adding noise back into the AC line. As with the DACs, I connected the Pegasus directly into the wall with the stock cable supplied and the Digital AC-X. The Digital AC-X resulted in a smoother sound that was better defined. The effects were not as pronounced with the Pegasus as those heard with the DACs, but the improvement using the Digital AC-X could easily be perceived. Adding my custom filter and the Synergistic PowerCell 10 SE MK III to the mix also helped to lessen the adverse effects of the switching power supply of the Promise Pegasus.
Back to the Benchmark DAC2 HGC
I felt that the Digital AC-X made a substantial improvement to the general sound of the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. I played the ripped DVD-A 24/96 of the album Fourplay / Fourplay, cut number 2. This track has a very strong bass line that is well defined. Without the Digital AC-X, the bass was too full sounding with a lack of definition and impact. Adding the Digital AC-X to the DAC really improved the bass on this track making it far more enjoyable to listen to.
Aaron Neville’s My True Story 24/192 (HDtracks) also benefitted from the use of the Digital AC-X with the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. Neville’s voice, as well as those of the background singers, was more focused and distinct with the Digital AC-X. As in the Fourplay example, the bass line had much better definition with the Digital AC-X.
The ripped SACD Stile Antico Song of Songs (.dsf files) sounded considerably better with the Digital AC-X. The ensembles’ a cappella voices were less hard sounding and grainy with enhanced reproduction of the hall ambiance.
All of the equipment evaluated in this review benefited from the replacement of the standard AC cables with Digital AC-X Cord. While some readers will be skeptical of my results, I feel very confident in my recommendation of this AC cord, especially with DACs like the Benchmark DAC2 HGC and the significantly more expensive MSB Technology Analog DAC and Wavelength Crimson / Denominator Silver. The result of using the Digital AC-X Cord on large hard drive arrays was also beneficial. The JPS Labs made a positive contribution to the sound of my system, and I have no doubts, it will do the same for yours.