GY8 Review|Chord Company PowerARAY Professional



Date: 2023-09-06


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!

Cutting corners?
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.

Why so long? Blame the nanny state! Building regs in the UK insist that sockets are placed a minimum height off of the floor and as the PowerARAY Pro is inserted into the socket next to the one your system runs off, a shorter lead risks leaving it dangling. If you don’t need a whole metre of cable and you want a neater solution, you can always order the PowerARAY with a shorter cable, but I’m not sure how much (if anything) that will save on the price. I’m hoping to visit Chord within the next month or so, so I’ll take the opportunity to compare the three versions, but for the moment, I’m just going to describe the performance of the unit equipped with the Chord Music cable.

And while we’re on the subject of induced noise, the PowerARAY Pro sits on three, small, round feet. It sounds better if those feet are loosened off. It sounds even better if you provide some added isolation or a small HRS damping plate on top. In fact, I’d say that’s attention to physical support is essential to get the best out of the product. Other than that, it really is plug-n-play.

The REAL deal…
If I was jolted by the price of the PowerARAY Pro, I was shocked by its performance. With a healthy regard for the sonic and musical benefits of the standard PowerARAY, I guess I was just expecting more of the same from the Pro. What I got was something entirely different. Okay, so it does give you more of the benefits that come with the standard PowerARAY, but what makes the Pro special is what it does with them. Plug it in and you’ll hear a pretty much instant (and impressive) increase in dynamics, focus, transparency, dimensionality and instrumental or vocal texture. You are going to hear a blacker background behind and between the instruments too, with lower levels of grain and less bleaching or compression of colours. And all that will improve still further over time. Give the PowerARAY Pro a good half an hour and things will really start to sing. What happens is that all those ‘extras’ start to combine and complement each other, coming together into a more complete, coherent and understandable whole. The sound takes on a fundamental sense of natural order. The space between instruments becomes clearer and better defined: but more importantly, it becomes a key part in the explicit relationship between those instruments and their players. The greater sense of dimensionality, body and texture tells you more about the instruments, the materials they’re made of, the way in which they are being played, the harmonics emanating from the instruments themselves. And voices? The natural scale and character, diction and accent, the shape of the mouth and the body behind it all fall naturally into place. These are not small changes and they certainly aren’t subtle. They add up to a fundamental increase in understanding, a shorter distance between you, the performers and their performance; a step past the system and closer to the original event. And that quality develops the longer the poweARAY Pro sits in the system. Meaning that the real, acid test is when you take it out: be prepared for a shock, as the sound fall back to a mechanical, two-dimensional and awkward facsile of itself. Put what the PowerARAY actually does into the value equation and suddenly it doesn’t seem so expensive Take ‘White Flowers Take Their Bath’ (from Lys, Mari Samuelsen, DGG 486 2096) as an example. The gentle layers, repetitive motifs and burgeoning intensity can sound disjointed and harsh on the CD, demanding a cautious hand on the volume control. But with the PowerARAY Pro in use, the recording and hence music, is transformed. The solo violin takes on a natural texture and complexity, a tonal richness that spreads to the other instruments as they enter. The overarching acoustic becomes apparent, not just as a space but as an enclosure for the relationship between the instruments. The fragile opening hangs in that space, setting the scene for (and making sense of) everything that subsequently develops. As the track climbs into its towering crescendo, the musical energy is concentrated, vibrant and projected, rather than glazing over and congealing. The sonic affects of the PowerARAY Pro are significant. The musical impact is profound, bringing beauty AND power to this poised and intimately structured piece.

Playing nice…
What the PowerARAY Pro does for Lys it does for all music and in all the different systems I’ve tried it. Whether you are listening to the inner beauty of vocal harmonies or the satisfyingly visceral thwack of a well-hit snare, the reedy texture of a breathy sax or the ensemble energy, purpose and attack of orchestral strings at full chat, the PowerARAY Pro invests the music with a natural energy and purpose, intimacy and immediacy that makes performances both more lively and more like life. What’s more, I’m not sure there’s a different way to achieve the same result – at least not one I’ve found. Superior grounding systems, a dedicated AC feed and a coherent cable set each offer elements of what I’m describing, but none of them offer the complete, coherent package that the PowerARAY Pro does. Describing its impact on the system, the recording and the music, words like ‘sumptuous’ or ‘gorgeous’ spring to mind, but they are missing the point. As much as this is about sound, it’s far more about communication and musical reward. Like any fundamental lift in system performance, you just get more back for the time you invest.

Clearly, this is a seriously impressive performer. It doesn’t just deliver significant musical benefits, it delivers benefits that it is difficult, maybe impossible to get in any other way. Which begs the question, what price this little black box? At £7K the PowerARAY Pro certainly isn’t cheap: but at £7K, how much of a system do you need before you really don’t want to be without it? The first system I plugged it into was a Wadai S71, Wadax Pre1 Ultimate, VTL TL-7.5 and S-200 driving Stenheim Alumine 2s. Not cheap – but the PowerARAY Pro really did transform it, delivering an easy clarity, inner intimacy and directness of musical communication. It’s always hard to put numbers on these things but I’m thinking that if you’ve got a total of 40K invested in a system (including the supports and cables) then before you spend the next 5.5K, you should definitely investigate what the PowerARAY Pro can bring to the party.

Doing more by doing less…
But the scary thing is that the bigger the system, the wider the bandwidth, the bigger the benefit. Taking the PowerARAY Pro down to the Music room, where it got plugged in beside a system consisting of the full Wadax Reference front-end and a complete suite of CH amplification driving Stenheim Alumine 5SE speakers and PureLow subs, the quantitative improvement might not have been as dramatic, but qualitatively it was even more profound, almost as if the PowerARAY had stopped trying to deliver more and was instead, simply concentrating on letting the system seem more natural and make more sense. Perhaps that isn’t surprising. Given that the AC feed is, in very real terms, the raw material from which the system manufactures sound and, if we’re lucky, music, acting to improve the quality of the ingredients always has a salutary impact on the quality of the resulting dish. ‘Front-end first’ was a popular mantra back in the day. Well, if you think about it, you don’t get closer to the pointy end than the quality of your AC.

But having said that the PowerARAY Pro is a fundamentally different and superior beast, there is one important thing it does share with its smaller sibling. This is a plug-n-play device. You hook it up, let it bed in for a minute or two and then you listen. If you like what you hear you can worry about whether it’s worth the money. If you don’t, you simply hand it back. If only everything in high-end audio was this simple.