AC Power Cable Shootout

With all this talk of amp tone, and the current amp shootouts that are always taking place both on this blog and in my mind, I’ve realized one thing. And that one thing is often the most overlooked factor in amp tone. It’s the AC power cable. I mean, this is what actually pulls the power to your amplifier. I see so many guitarists out there with $3,000 amps, and then a $10 power cable from Radio Shack. (Well, Radio Shack’s a rip-off anyway…a $20 power cable from Radio Shack then, without any added quality.) And I’m thinking to myself, how have the tonal nuances of these power cords escaped some of the most brilliant musical minds and ears of our generation? And the answer then of course must be, I am more brilliant than them. So, on to the shootout:

The Players

Cisco Technologies AC power cable (boutique, but not handmade):

Power Cable 1

Radio Shack AC power cable (mass-produced):

Power Cable 3

Quantum Tonal Laboratories AC power cable (handmade, shielded copper):

Power Cable 2

The Clean Tone

Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. V pickups)–>

Matchless Spitfire (which all the cables are going to be plugged into and tested on)–>

65 Amps cab (Celestion Blue and Celestion G12H-30)

Possible Biases

–The Quantum Tonal Laboratories one does have a very sleek finish. Very classy. Looks great behind the amp and running along the ground into the wall socket.

–I hate Radio Shack. Their stuff always breaks, and never works right. I really did not want to like this one.

–The rectifier tube on the Matchless is brand new, and might not be burned in enough yet to be able to hear the proper amount of sag in each power cable.

And the Shootout:

And I’m totally kidding. For now.

Splendid.
Karl.

27 thoughts on “AC Power Cable Shootout

  1. Oh man… I actually thought you were going to do it.

    Something tells me if there’s any kind of difference that we definitely won’t be able to hear from a YouTube demo, this will be it.

  2. haha good stuff!
    My friend told me a story many years ago about a friend of his that had told Eric Johnson about a new power cable called the Black Mamba. Around that time, I remember reading an interview where Eric said that his album was almost finished and would be coming out shortly. After my friend told me that story, it took several more years for the album to be released – did the power cable cause him to re-evaluate everything? I don’t know if I believe the Black Mamba story but I just googled the cable. It’s real and used to retail for $700!

    • oh btw, a shielded power-cable really makes a difference when used on an LCD monitor so i started using the shielded ones i get from work for my amp and my pedal power … i guess i am the who have gone nuts! :D

  3. This is off topic…

    I have been reading your blog for a while now and I was wondering… Have you ever used an AC30 and/or rack mounted effects? I know that you are a big edge fan, and he is legendary for his use of such gear.

    Also, how do you mic your gear when playing live? As a studio engineer student I have found that mic placement, type, and usage can have as much of an effect (if not more), than anything else in your rig. I know that you are big into “perfect tone”, have you ever considered how big of a part the mic plays? After all, your amp is not the end of your tones signal, it is the mic and PA.

  4. Okay, you got me … again.

    Not quite as shocking (so to speak) as the “Going Back to Solid State” article, but close.
    I thought you had tipped over. :-)

    Nicely done.

  5. haha! I am reading this thinking, oh no, we’ve really lost him to the dark side now.

    whew!

    seriously though, is it true that the more expensive the strap you use on your guitar, the better quality your dotted eighths will be?? ;)

  6. Sal–haha Ya, I’m not that far gone…yet. :)

    Phillip–lol Well, I probably am still one of those guys…unfortunately. When you’re trying to hear the difference in rectifier tubes…of the same type…lol

    Nate–;) I do my best. hehe

    Matt–that is true though…although it’s more about the type of plastic on the knobs–synthetic or…uh…natural? ;)

    Travis–lol Totally!!

    Dan–a $700 power cable? Now that’s just stupid. Wait…wait…the high price tag is drawing me in! It must be good! It’s expensive!! hehe

    Rhoy–haha Best comment ever!

    Christianpyro–I have used an AC30, but just to try it out. I go on so much about Edge that if I actually had the same gear as him (even though lots of people have AC30′s and TC2290′s), I’d just get immediately written off as a tribute/cover/ripoff guitarist…uh, more than I probably already am written off. hehehe My aim is to come up with my own voice on the guitar, that gives people the same feelings as when they listen to Edge and U2, but that doesn’t necessarily ‘sound’ the same. And I’m so not there yet!!

    As for mic placement, you’re completely right! I’ve been thinking about getting into some posts on that, but it would have to be whole series. Because most sound techs also think they know the best mic placement, and creating a symbiotic and respectful relationship with the sound guy while also getting a great tone, is difficult to do all in itself. So, I haven’t quite figured out the best way to tackle that topic as of yet. As you’re studying sound, any ideas? :) Cheers!

    TimH–hehe Not quite tipped over yet! I’m sure pretty soon, though. ;)

    Tom–oh, yikes! Ya, and some people on that thread are saying that people are using these, but without using power conditioners! Totally crazy. But yet, maybe… hehehe ;)

    Jamie–correct. The clarity of dotted eighths of completely dependent upon the color of your strap. My tone mentor once said that pink is good for bass response. hehe :)

  7. Karl – as for ideas as to how to tackle the mic placement topic, I have none. I just know of it’s importance and some of the simpler and more common tricks (which I am sure you are aware of). Things like using two mics, one in stereo and one in mono to give your sound a fuller tone and the like… also the type of mic you use is of importance (though the good ol’ sm57 is never a bad idea). :-)

    You’re right though, the relationship with the sound man can be an interesting one, both due to the complexity of the equipment (we must remember that these guys are often volunteers and not professional soundmen)and the personalities that often come into play when new ideas are presented in their territory. It is best to tread softly and not step on anyone’s toes.

    I also wanted to say that I am a big fan of your blog, it is both insightful and funny… if only my professors could take a tip from you. HAHAH!

  8. christianpyro & Karl – I’m the sound tech (and video tech, and network tech, and…) for my church , and when given the choice between pulling audio post eq/pre amp and micing the cab, I always mic the cab. I simply like the sound better when a mic is used. I’ve found that each speaker brand/model is different, so there is no one place that always provides the best sound (the surrounding environment is also a factor). My suggestion is to experiment with mic placement while playing. This works best of you have 3 people: one running sound, one playing, and one adjusting the mic.

    If you have enough time, just ask if the sound tech wants to experiment with the mic placement. Any sound tech that wants to at least attempt to expand their skills would say yes. (I’ve had a few volunteers that couldn’t care less about the sound and spend the entire service texting friends. Needless to say, they no longer run sound.) I don’t recommend doing this after rehearsal, so you may want to arrange a time preferably before rehearsal if you can’t do it during rehearsal.

    As for mic type, typically the best is a large diaphragm mic, but those aren’t the best to use for live audio. I personally would like to use SM57s, but I’m stuck with using Nady SP-5 mics. Although they are cheapos (@ $11/mic), they get the job done. Although, we do have a SM58 for the lead vocal. As long as the frequency response matches the use, you should be fine.

    By the way, I am volunteer (small church, only full-timer is the pastor), but I’m looking for a full time tech arts church position.

  9. Next: Which 9v battery sounds the best in your favorite dirt pedal? :

    Duracell (Alkaline)
    Procell (Alkaline)
    Energizer (Alkaline)
    Energizer Titanium (Alkaline)
    Energizer Rechargeable (Nickel Metal Hydride)
    Panasonic Professional Industrial (Alkaline)
    Ultralife (Lithium)
    Rayovac (Alkaline)
    Eveready (Alkaline)
    Varta Rechargable (Nickel Metal Hydride)
    Saft (Lithium)

    Both with 9v and an 18v wiriing harness.

  10. Also, I use hand made orange cables (KMart Brand cable). They improve my mids and I haven’t tripped over one in 5 years. ;)

  11. Christianpyro–great points! I used to double mic, but now with bringing two amps and needing two mics anyway, I don’t want to be a burden. Unless Coldplay calls; then I’m running six amps with 14 mics! hehe Actually, in one of the U2 videos from their current tour, you can see a condensor mic in front of Edge’s pedalboard, pointing back at his amps for an ambient pickup of sound. Way cool.

    So, do you run sound and play guitar? I’d be way interested in hearing some views from both sides of the stage, as you’re totally right…that relationship can be way tricky, and something that I don’t have even close to figured out yet. :) Wish I did. hehe Cheers, brother!

    MP–great info! I’ll admit that I probably don’t give my team enough time to actually experiment with mic placement on all the instruments. I should, though. And ya, I tend to like 57′s as a go-to. I do however, really like the sound of 58′s on guitar speakers if the guitarist has good tone. Since they’re made for vocals, I also like the way they respond to a well-voiced guitar sound. Cheers!

    Alec–Yikes!! I think I’m gonna save the money and make a down payment on a house instead. lol Thanks for that!!

    Sal–lol Ya, seriously!!

    Mark–haha I am incredibly ashamed to say that a few years ago I bought some Procells and was absolutely sure they made all the difference in the world. hehehe

    lol And KMart sells cables?! Hey, if they give you more mids…I’m all for that!! ;)

  12. I’ve heard somewhere before that SM57 and 58 are actually the same mic, except one has the top cover (dunno what it’s called) and the other is basically the inside of that…is this true?

  13. Maybe. I’m not sure all the technicalities of them. However, if you record using both mics, you can definitely hear the difference. So, if it is just the top cover (don’t know what it’s supposed to be called, either…haha), then the top cover makes a noticeable difference. :) Or maybe it’s all in my head, which is definitely a possibility. lol

  14. re: SM57 vs. SM58
    They are not the same mic. They have different frequency responses etc. Shure’s website can give more clarity if you really need it…

    The “top cover” is of course called, the wind screen.

    Also, Shure’s website has a lovely PDF that is all about live sound reinforcement and mic placement. Pretty cool. Page 13 has a blurb about guitar cab mic placement in particular.
    :-)

  15. its funny that not that long ago i spent half an hour (ok, an hour and a half) reading about the differences in power cables.

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