Shunyata python zi-tron

If someone prefers to build its own power cable he usually starts looking for decent conductors and terminations first. This is when he realizes that there are more than few options – copper, silver, solid core or stranded wires, and plugs with different plating and amperage. Choosing (theoretically or measurably) the best available parts very often does not yield the best results, and sometimes the DIYer ends up with a pretty crappy sounding cable. Why does this happen?



Never ending adventure

The great Sounds of Wood and Steel sampler from Windham Hill (2, 01934-33404-2) kicks off with a sonorous and precisely defined guitar stroke, a kind of strrrrrummm! It is the hyperrealistically recorded sound that triggers your imagination and throws the sonic picture of a vibrating strings and fingers on a guitar´s neck. The sound is followed by a second of silence that helps it blooming in the room, that helps a listener to savor the soundwaves travelling back and forth in the virtual space and then decaying into silence. Into the silence that is not full of digital zeros, rather it is alive with subtle spatial clues that make the performance very lifelike. Well, would you believe that it was Shunyata Research´s Python Zi-Tron power cord that made this possible?

Looks like the guys in Shunyata Research have some aces up in their sleeves. Let´s explore their philosophy that offers some good food for thoughts.

The source mysterium

The primary misconception, says Shunyata Research venture founder Caelin Gabriel, is that AC is a low frequency process as only 50-60Hz waveforms have to be delivered. That approach led to building different low pass filters that were incorporated into filtering or distribution devices, or a power cord itself. This can be true for linear loads like a light bulb, but the theory fails in the audio world as the audio component´s demand of power changes within miliseconds with instantaneous bursts of current. The AC transmission (together with noise) easily extends its frequency spectrum to the 50th harmonic of the line frequency therefore, which is the issue that needs to be tackled.
If a power cord or filtering device is not capable of handling the alternating demand of current or affects its phase or timing, the result projects into the sound as a loss of transient accuracy and dynamics.

Second, there is another challenging thought from Caelin: we usually consider a medium (a CD, record or other format of data) to be the primary source of a signal. It is like that indeed, however, if you think of the signal in terms of energy transformation then the actual source of what we hear is the power from the wall that is rectified and filtered by the power supply into DC that, at the end, after it passes through a system, moves the coils of speakers. If the power source is unstable or contaminated then the output will be as well regardless of the information in the signal source. If the AC power varies or if there's some anomaly in the power source it will show up clearly in the audible range. The assumption that power supplies provide perfect noise-free DC voltage that does not vary under load, is fanciful at best, complete fiction at worst, says Caelin.

The last meter mysterium

Whenever I participated at a discussion about power cords, one objection sooner or later inevitably came up: how a meter or two of an aftermarket power cord could improve or change what is delivered to my home through hundreds of kilometers of wires and transformers on the way from a power plant? Well, Shunyata offers another unconventional view of the problem.

In the audiophile world a power cord is universally considered to be the last meter of the energy transmission. However, power is not unidirectional like water flowing through a pipe - rather it travels forth and back in an endless cycle. The power supply of a component actually sees the power cord as the first meter of the AC network. This means that further a potential source of issues from the component is the less impact it will have on the component´s performance. At the point of connection between a component and power source, the power cord becomes a functional extension of the power supply itself.

On top of that, there is a lot of EMI generated within the audio system. It works against another universal truth that says that the most of the noise is coming from outside and many theories deal with protecting the system from such outboard noise. According Shunyata Research, electronics are minimally affected by electrical conditions that exist outside their immediate environment - that is outside your fuse box - with the exception of voltage fluctuations which are regulated by the power company. Also, most components have built in circuits that filter or redirect the incoming noise so its effect diminishes. Therefore, the most effective way to treat the power for an audio system is to treat the initial outward points of electrical interface for each component - the power cord and the system's AC distributor or power conditioner, assumes Shunyata.

A properly designed power cord can act as the first line of defense by isolating the power-supply and IEC from the radiated energy that surrounds components. It should also allow the back-wave of power supply noise to reach an exit path from the system.

The mysterium of entirety

Let´s be back to the disappointed DIYer that ended up with the crappy sounding power cable despite it was built with superior parts and good intentions. The more revealing today´s audio systems are the more design elements appear in the focus of manufacturers of audio cables. Apart from the wire material (which is already a complex discipline as different alloys, ways of metal crystallization and ways of plating are used), thickness/gauge and type (solid core or strands), there is a dozen of other construction details that decide whether a cable will survive or not. Dielectrics and the cable´s geometry, the way the conductors are laid in the cable, play extremely important role. There are also audible differences between connectors – perhaps not only due to a connector´s quality itself but also due to its interaction with the wire and or the appliance´s inlet or outlet. The sound changes if you use different types of solders or if you crimp or cold-weld the connection. The sound changes if the pins of the connector are plated with gold, silver or rhodium. The sound changes with the length of the cable. The sound changes if you lift up the cable from the floor. And, finally, the sound changes if several cables are used in the system, which is always the case.

According to Shunyata Research, two key elements take the highest importance in building an ideal power-system: the capability to handle dynamic transient current delivery (DTCD) and component to component interference. The newest Zi-Tron series of power cords is designed to maximize the unimpeded instantaneous and continuous flow of current to electronics and isolate individual components from the high-intensity fields of EMI and RFI noise that saturate the space surrounding electronics systems.

All components and hence their power supplies are the part of AC network and thus interconnected. All components in the network have a unique electrical footprint and output noise, especially digital components that may use switching supplies. To get the power distribution under control the approach must be systematic. There is a nice analogy in the Shunyata´s promo material - Replacing one stock power cord with a better aftermarket model on a CD player, pre-amp or amp is analogous to pouring one part clean water into four parts dirty water - the "water" is still dirty. To get a clear idea of the capability of improved AC cords, it important to replace ALL of the cables that have low DTCD and are impeding current delivery. The integrity of the rest of local AC network should also be evaluated. One loose connection or significantly degraded AC contact point can obscure benefits elsewhere.

The above paragraphs were assembled to give you a flavor of Shunyata´s philosophy and their unique view of one of the hottest topics of high-end audio. I recommend checking their web pages to learn more. Let´s now move to the power cords that arrived for this review.



Overture: from Black Mamba to the Zi-Tron

As said, there are myriads of possible power interactions depending on myriads of conditions in the particular hifi system. Throughout the review I used three different Shunyatas (Black Mamba HC CX, Cobra Zi-Tron and Python Zi-Tron), three Nordost´s Valhallas, two power cords from Analysis Plus and one Snakeblock cord. With the loom like that I could not make the all-Shunyata system, therefore I went step by step analysing the effect of the insertion and replacement of a power cord by another. I was finished in two weeks and I would like to thank to my components that they had survived being switched on and off many times.

To start with, I would like to make clear that with both the Zi-Trons a listener aspires to a true high-end experience and that the same effect cannot be had from lesser cables. Especially with the Python the sonic upgrade is comparable to changing speaker cables or interconnects, perhaps to replacement of a component itself. Once you accept the rules of the powergame you may be surprised to find out that the asking sum for a power cord will not buy you a better amplifier in many cases. In many cases, as now we know that the synegy is what matters the most. There is no other high end discipline that is so unpredictable and mysterious buit when everything clicks together the result can approach the magic.

Well, let’s proceed with the review. I will disappoint those who believe that the Cobra Zi-Tron is a marginal improvement over previous product lines. On top of that, I would also disappoint those who believe that the extra money paid for the Python does not buy adequately better sound than the Cobra provides.
Comparing the Black Mamba HC CX to both the Zi-Trons it had a tendency to spatially compact the sound. The big drum in a symphonic orchestra was moved by several feet towards the centre of the stage, which, in the context of my downscaled listening environment (my listening room is not of the size of a concert hall) represented around one foot of the spatial compression. For the whole lateral image shrought a bit the sound was robbed of its expansive quality I experienced with my reference, Nordost Valhalla, and with the Zi/Trons. The Black Mamba HC CX does not fundamentally play so deep like neither the Cobra nor the Python, its sonic structures are lighter and slightly dynamically compressed. Such a combination can be very attractive with lesser audio systems as it helps bringing up sonic details and you actually hear more, which does not mean that it is always the good thing as fragile ratios of the music are disproportionally altered. In case your system is tonally darker and veiled, the Black Mamba can help to throw extra light on its sound. I am not in favor of correcting the sound post scriptum, however. The best thing one can do is to assure that the system leaves as minimum imprint on the sound as possible and when a new component is included it should respect this rule too. That is why the Python and the Cobra Zi-Tron are indispensable.


1st Movement: the Shunyata Cobra Zi-Tron

The manufacturer claims that the Cobra shows the best price to perfromance ratio in his portfolio. This is however affected by the depth of a customer’s pocket and cannot be generalized for everyone. From what I heard I can conclude that the Python Zi-Tron, though much more expensive, easily justifies the extra paid and to me it is the best performing Shunyata’s power cord at a price.

The Cobra Zi-Tron looks like a real cobra – it is black, it is thick and it is a real visual predator in any room. The Cobra uses light thick core that is surrounded by braided conductor strands so it is surprisingly very flexible. Despite it can be comfortably bended behind a rack I recommend being cautious with some lighter components (like D/A processors) that can be pulled down by its mass. Also, the Cobra is difficult to rotate in its axis so sometimes it requires a lot of wit to manipulate it into the final position. The Cobra is provided in the standard length of 1.8m which is okay for most applications and helps its manoeuvreability. I would discourage you to use force when making turns and twists as it could lead to irreversible ruptures to the conductor strands.

Being so thick it is surprising that with the total corss-section area of ca 5,3mm2 the Cobra Zi-Tron’s conductors are not among the most massive in terms of their gauge (alike the Python Zi-Tron with its effective area of ca 6,5mm2). Still, both cane be used without any hesitation with power hungry amplifiers or power filters.
In the recordings I used for the review the Cobra Zi-Tron wonderfully opened up the soundstage to the level of my Valhalla reference cables. The lateral spread as well as the depth were not limited by anything, the sound just naturally filled up my room. The naturalness was helped by the Cobra’s rich and organic presentation that was supported by well defined and deep digging bass. The latter was the area where the Cobra outperformed my reference cables. The result is that the sound of the Cobra is darker, saturated and dense to certain degree and therefore it requires careful matching. On the other hand, though ‘ darker’, the Cobra is transparent, focused and fast, full of shining colours and easily bringing up the nuancees like ambient details of a concert hall or a studio. On top of that it possesses dynamic swing that energizes the room and makes your feet tap.

I had the best results with the Cobra Zi-Tron feeding my power amplifier; with the SACD player the improvements (though in the same direction) were not so apparent, but I am accustomed to this as my Accuphase DP-78 player is not overly sensitive to power cables.



2nd Movement: the Shunyata Python Zi-Tron

The Python Zi-Tron’s performance is not a step-up, rather a leap-up level from the Cobra. My impression is that to get the taste of the real Shunyata you have to start here. Our regular readers may recollect our comparison of Furutech Powerflux and Nordost Valhalla that ended up to be a draw, yet subjectively both performed with different sets of traits. Regardless of their sonic individualism both were and still are among the best power cables available and Shunyata’s Python Zi-Tron complements them with ease.

I have started this review saying that ‘the great Sounds of Wood and Steel kicks off with a sonorous and precisely defined guitar stroke, a kind of strrrrrummm! It is the hyperrealistically recorded sound that triggers your imagination and throws the sonic picture of a vibrating strings and fingers on a guitar´s neck. The sound is followed by a second of silence that helps it blooming in the room, that helps a listener to savor the soundwaves travelling back and forth in the virtual space and then decaying into silence. Into the silence that is not full of digital zeros, rather it is alive with subtle spatial clues that make the performance very lifelike'.

The contribution of the Python Zi-Tron was apparent yet subtle when it was inserted in the system and when asked at that time I would have been very hesitant to acknowledge its super-effect. As usual, one has to live for couple of hours or days with such an upgrade to fully appreciate it. Immediately after the Python was removed from my amp and replaced by the Cobra I missed desperately the Python. The music was stripped off, shineless, less palpable, less open, less everything. The big and sonorous strrrrrummm! morphed into a small and dry strum! That trailed off much quicker into the background silence. The energy was gone.

The Python Zi-Tron is an illuminating type of hifi – it can dig deep into the farthest corners of a studio to find the tinniest bit of information that can be brought to your ears. Its background is not ‘blacker’, in fact it is very alive with the subtlest ambient clues and microdynamic shifts that were either blended together or simply missing before. The Python does not compress, there are no audible phase errors or whatever – the music leaves loudspeakers the same way it arrived to microphones during it had been recorded.On top of that, the Python Zi-Tron’s revealing nature provided me with a deep insight into the work of a mixing engineer, the sounds generated in consoles were ruthlessly sorted from those coming from live instruments. The Python-induced transformation was easily apparent on complex orchestral music, with instruments sounding fuller and more alive. An almost tangible reduction in background hash provided clean canvas for purer timbres and more harmonic nuances, I was transported closer to the real performance. It is very rewarding for the listener to easily distiguish between left and right kettle drum in a symphonic orchestra including the variations in strokes, or absorb the sound waves generated by vibrating mass of a gong.

The pythonian Shunyata Python Zi-Tron looks alike the Cobra Zi-Tron, just thicker. Again it is very well bendable in radius and torsion-resistant so it is necessary to think before you start coiling it.
Shunyata was always synonymous for very complex geometries, called Matrix or Helix. For the latest product lines they created a wire geometry, the VTX, that would in essence function as a virtual-tube, vastly reducing the internal skin-effect distortions common among traditional solid-core or stranded wire types. Hollow, or tube-like wire is by nature extremely difficult to use because of its stiffness, but is an ideal signal and power conductor. If you wish to learn more check the Audiodrom´s review of Analysis Plus cables that discuss the skin effect vs hollow conductor theory.

Shunyata Research was among the first few companies pioneering cryogenization of conductors by alpha-cryo process. The method that was couple years ago compared to the snake-oil science is now applied by most big names in high end audio.


During the four weeks of my life with the Shunyata Zi-Tron snakes I made lot of comparisons and combined them in various set-ups. As already outlined, Caelin Gabriel of Shunyata Research points out the importance of system approach so it might have happened that I did not exploited the Zi-Trons potential in full. I wish I had Shunyata’s Hydra conditioner on hand to check the synergy, but I did not. Means that the adventure continues – I will be happy to be back on the Shunyata power solutions in another review in near future.
In the meantime stay assured that the rumors around these cables are not rumors and that the Zi-Trons are not just cables, rather the full-fledged components. As such they are great investment.


Pricing (standard length 1.8m):

Shunyata Research Black Mamba HC CX – 930€

Shunyata Research Cobra Zi-Tron – 1,390€

Shunyata Research Python Zi-Tron – 2,490€


The system:

Amplifiers : Accuphase C-2410 and Accuphase A-65

Speaker cables: Krautwire Fractal

SACD player: Accuphase DP-78

Interconnects: Cardas Clear, Audioquest Wild Blue Yonder, CrystalConnect Piccolo Diamond, Homegrown Audio DNA

Power conditioning: Nordost Thor (modifed), Nordost Valhalla, Snakeblock, Analysis Plus Power Oval-2 and Oval Ten.

Loudspeakers: Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond, KEF LS-50


Contact: Platan Audio, Hlohovec / Bratislava, tel. +421 905 409 802