The Chord Co. PowerARAY Professional
By Roy Gregory
A few short weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about the musical benefits and astonishing impact of the Chord Co’s diminutive PowerARAY, a plug-top solution to power line noise. Noise gobbling boxes are nothing new: big, small, expensive or ruinously so, they have been around in various forms from various sources for many a long year. From the Russ Andrews plug-top devices to his larger plug in boxes, the EC Audio Pandora to the Vertex AQ Jaya, they’ve all improved things, removing grain and hash from systems, quietening the background, improving tonal range, dynamics and dimensionality. But none of them has been as elegantly unobtrusive, shockingly effective or such obvious value as the PowerARAY. One very firm recommendation later, I thought that was that – only to have my cosy (and slightly smug) complacence disturbed by the arrival of the PowerARAY Professional, a cat of quite a different colour.
Not all cats are grey…
If the PowerARAY is a model of cute, diminutive discretion, smaller, better presented and less obvious than the average phone charger, the PowerARAY Professional presents a completely different aesthetic. The plug-top format gives way to a bluffly solid, compact but weighty aluminium box, 5 x 13 x 18cm and dangling on the end of nearly 1m of (slightly gaudy – at least in this context) Chord Music mains lead. The curved front panel carries the product’s name, the otherwise typically clean graphics marred by the word Professional splashed across them at an angle in an ugly, cursive script. Compared to the understated elegance of the standard version, it’s all a bit blatant and I can’t say I’m a fan of the looks. However, it is slim and discrete and designed to be tucked away, so no harm done. What’s neither slim nor discrete is the price! At £7K for a small, if heavy, passive box, the PowerARAY Professional is a world away from the simple, affordable, no-brainer appeal of the standard version. I’m pretty well acclimated to the prices demanded by high-end audio companies, but even my first reaction was a slightly shocked, “How much?” Yupp – the Pro is going to give even, hardened, well-heeled audiophiles pause…
And pause you should, because as easy as the PowerARAY Professional is to dismiss, what you should be doing is making yourself aware of its potential – and then asking yourself whether it should be delivering that potential in your system?
It ain’t what you do…
At ten times the price of the standard PowerARAY, there’s a number of ways to consider the Pro’s value. If this is a simple question of absorption and noise dissipation, the Pro has maybe 20 times the volume of the standard unit, so it seems reasonable to assume that it will be a simple case of more and better. But in reality, it ain’t that simple. The key to the Pro’s musical superiority (and it is substantially, obviously, crushingly superior to the already impressive, standard PowerARAY) is not about quantity but quality: it’s not about material but execution. The massively increased efficiency of the PowerARAY Pro rests on the physical arrangements within that compact cabinet, the use of critically damped and separated elements to absorb/cancel noise on both the AC wires and the ground. And boy is it efficient. The Chord Co. has been working with its proprietary ARAY technology for over a decade now and they’ve clearly got a firm grasp on its potential and implementation. Listen to the PowerARAY Pro and you’ll have a firm grasp too!
But first a quick note on cables. The Pro is offered in three different versions, defined by the choice of connecting cable. The version I’m listening to has a metre of Chord’s most expensive Chord Music power cable attached. How much, I wondered, did that add/contribute to the cost and performance? And why is it so long? On the question of cost, the answer is, “Not as much as you might think.” Opting for Sarum T or Signature X cable instead will save you £1K or £1.5K respectively, but according to Chord it will audibly impact performance – hence the three different versions. The reason lies in the shielding and insulation materials used in the three different cables, with the multiple shields and Taylon insulation of the Music delivering a lower impedance connection and significantly reducing induced noise due to antenna effects.