Associated Equipment:
Analog
Front End
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
Power Conditioning
Accessories
Don Shaulis'
Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
Power Conditioning
         
Shunyata’s Hydra Model-8, Model-6, Model-2

A Comprehensive Study

 

February 2005

                  

 Shunyata Research’s original Hydra Power Conditioner, reviewed back in December 2001, hit a sonic home run, standing out from the other AC line conditioners available at that time. Three years later it was still my reference despite the many power conditioners that have since become available. In an industry where the average life span of an audio accessory is on a par with that of your common housefly (Musca domestica) this should be good news (except perhaps for you Audiogon-aholics). Few components remain in a system, fewer still in a reviewer’s system, unless they have proven their worth time and time again. There’s always somebody, somewhere, touting a better product, but I’d not met one that had replaced the mighty Hydra in my affections. Until now: the new Hydra Model-8.

Gone is the expensive, high-gloss Corian and granite side paneling. Gone is the accented rosewood faceplate. Gone is the original’s 35 pound curb weight. Welcome the new line of Hydras. Welcome the new all-business utilitarian look and Atkins-like weight reduction. The new and improved Hydra-8 is lighter, sports an overall improved package and is said to be the best sounding product to come from camp Shunyata.

One thing is certain, Caelin Gabriel, Shunyata’s chief designer, did something special by aiming at greater sonic, rather than aesthetic, improvement. That approach is worth a bravo, but what makes the new units so special? Consider, the Hydra-8 boasts two more outlets, yet retails for $500 less than the original Hydra. In an industry notorious for prices that aim skyward, this news seems almost incredible. And if the $1995 sticker price of the Hydra-8 is out of your financial grasp, Shunyata has created three newcomers: the Hydra-6 lists for $999, the Hydra-4 for $695 and the Hydra-2 for $395 (for reasons unexplained I never got the Hydra-4 to review. Hopefully that will change in the not-too distant future). The model number corresponds to the number of outlets it provides. Gabriel designed these models specifically to meet a wide-range of demands (as well as real world budgets). It isn’t hard to imagine someone in dire need of a Hydra-8 but unable to afford it; or someone who can afford it but who needs only four outlets instead of six or eight. Finally, camp Shunyata has done something to help audiophiles in these situations.

What do you get when you fall in love?

Shunyata Research’s Hydra arrives packed with enough technical data to give one a brain cramp. All Shunyata Hydra products are based on their Trident Defense System: a three-level approach that includes the Venom Filter, new and improved thermal metal-oxide varistors (TMOVs), and Carling electromagnetic breakers. To insure full current delivery, the Hydra-8 uses massive CDA-101 solid-copper buss bars (the Hydra-6 and Hydra-4 use proprietary solid silver buss straps). Hydras do not use transformers or coils due to inductive current limiting. Ditto off-the-shelf fuses and thermal breakers. Shunyata chose electromagnetic breakers designed to operate at full rated capacity without altering impedance characteristics or overheating. All Hydras come equipped with Shunyata Research’s own Venom silver outlets, manufactured exclusively for Shunyata by Hubbel.

One characteristic that has become synonymous with Shunyata’s Anaconda AC power cords is its rattlesnake-like sound. These cords use a granular synthetic substrate whose scientific name is FeSi-1002, and whose sole function is to absorb harmful AC contaminants that could make their way to your electronics. The Hydra-8 is built with FeSi-1002 around its eight proprietary outlets. Unlike ferrites, FeSi-1002 does not dampen high frequency energy, blunt transients or darken the overall sonic landscape.

Speaking by telephone with both Caelin Gabriel and Grant Samulesen, Shunyata’s director of marketing, the AC duplexes being built with Hydra Venom Filters were discussed at great length. Shunyata’s website technical report states, “The Hydra Venom Filter was designed specifically to reduce or eliminate noise and interference as it exits a connected system component. The Venom Filter is actually an integral part of each AC duplex outlet within the Hydra. Each AC duplex has a dedicated Venom Filter bolted to the back of the outlet. This design philosophy eliminates both feedback-noises from the connected components while also eliminating power line noise that may come in from the AC wall outlet. Hydra is the first and only power distribution product to implement this design concept."

Feedback-noise can be generated in a variety of ways: poorly chosen parts, less-than-ideal circuit board layout, inadequate shielding and/or isolation. So in essence, the Hydra-8 is designed to keep noise-generating components, like a CD player, digital amplifier or switching power supply, from contaminating other equipment. Yeah, come to think of it, I can believe that.

The Shunyata website (www.shunyata.com) is filled with technical information for guys like me, who find such material the most enjoyable part of any review (and if you believe that, I’ve got a NYC bridge I can sell you). I have had plenty of time to sit, listen and evaluate the Shunyata Hydra 8, Hydra-6 and Hydra-2 in a wide variety of setups and my sonic observations, rather than technical regurgitations, would be most appropriate, don’t you think?

Setup

The very first thing I did, of course, was to replace my original Hydra with the new Hydra-8. Two Hydras were used in my setup; one dedicated to my digital front-end consisting of the Gryphon Mikado CD player, the Tact 2.2X digital preamp, and the Apogee Big Ben external word clock. The other Hydra was used exclusively for the two Tact 2150 amplifiers and a pair of Acoustic Reality eAR One Plus monoblocks driving a pair of the latest subwoofers from Talon Audio. Physical limitations did not allow me to place feed the amplifiers and front-end components from a single Hydra-8, though it provides enough outlets to do so. My front-end is simply too far away from the amplifiers, which sit adjacent to the loudspeakers.

This proved to be a blessing in disguise. Because I was provided a single Hydra-8, I was forced to hear what it can do on a first-things-in-the-audio-chain-first basis. Upon completion of that evaluation, I then moved the Hydra-8 in order to feed the amplifiers, while my old Hydra went back to the front end, its original location. Later, I did the same two-part routine with the Hydra-6; same with the Hydra-4. A trio of Hydra-2s (that, by the way, turned out to quite special) also found their way into the mix. All in all, this proved to be a back-breaker of an ordeal but it also revealed in-depth just what these products are capable of.

Wait a minute… This was the first thought that came to mind when listening to the Hydra-8. There’s no way this thing was providing that level of improvement over its older sibling! But it was. The Hydra-8, almost immediately, with zero burn-in, sounded smoother, presented a more delicate touch and more air around instruments. It added a nearly tangible silkiness to overtones while further quieting background noise. This gave the impression of images appearing from a deeper more three-dimensional stage. It was quite obvious that the Hydra-8 did something very special for digital front-ends. The one thing that became certain from this evaluation was that digital equipment, unbeknownst to many audiophiles, can generate a lot of noise and, given the opportunity, will contaminate your sound. The Hydra-8 did a wonderful job containing this problem, improving on the original Hydra.

By way of illustration: when the desire to hear the real bite of an instrument hits me, nothing sounds warmer and grittier than a Yamaha trombone. And I don’t have to look any further than jazz trombonist Steve Turre, a disciple of the late avant-garde jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Turre’s CD entitled “The Spirits Up Above” (HighNote HCD7130) is a monumental thank-you to the legendary Kirk, thus the title. With an ensemble that features the likes of James Carter, Mulgrew Miller, Vincent Herring and Buster Williams ―individual dynamos in their own right ― you can imagine the energy and excitement that’s on each of the nine tracks. The pace, rhythm and timing on this disc are as good and up-tempo as it gets. But as good as it sounds, it also had the Hydra-8 to thank, because the Hydra allowed the energy of this foot-stompin’ disc to take flight. This was some surprise I have to admit, to hear this disc via the new Hydra-8. It simply sounded less editorialized and processed.

Next up, the Hydra-8 on the amplifiers

The Hydra-8 worked some magic on my digital front-end but things got even more interesting when I placed the Hydra-8 on my digitally based amplifiers. Overall the results were pretty on par with my initial impressions. But in its new location, the Hydra-8 also imbued a new sense of life to the music; it enhanced dynamics, on both ends of the spectrum, the kind that lends itself to life’s ebb and flow, and that distinguishes systems sounding merely good from those that approach the “real-thing.”

Ultimately, I preferred the improvements of the Hydra-8 on the front-end. It simply had a bigger impact on the Gryphon/Tact/Big Ben combo by producing a sweeter sound without cutting off the leading edges, which is all-too-typical. Driving the Tact/eAR combo, the Hydra-8 did outperform the original Hydra in terms of letting in more air and zest while also providing a sound that was smoother overall. Placing the original Hydra back on the front-end proved almost disappointing. It simply could not restore that richer, more life-like sound, higher jump-factor and better dynamics the Hydra-8 enabled. In the end, that was the sound I most craved and wanted again.



               

Next up, the Hydra-6 on the front-end

I liked the Hydra-6 on the front-end over the original Hydra for the same reasons I liked the Hydra-8. There’s a clarity that comes naturally from this smaller unit. The Hydra-6 does offer a very musical and natural top-end, imitating its bigger brother in this regard, though it doesn’t demonstrate the same overall robustness in the bass with very dynamic material. But I have to say that unless you’ve got both units side by side in a direct shootout, you probably won’t notice the difference. For sure, the Hydra-6 also possesses better dynamics than its predecessor. One thing I particularly like about the Hydra-6 is that it does very little editorializing of musical passages compared to the original. This allows the music to come through uninhibited and thus, more authentically. I don’t know exactly what Gabriel has done technically, but in my opinion he has found something unique that he hadn’t three years ago in his first design. The Hydra-6, on my front-end, is superior in almost every way compared with the original. It’s obvious that Gabriel has been busy improving on this technology.

Next up, the Hydra-6 on the amplifiers

Both my amplifiers seem to enjoy the luxuries of this new-found level of noise cancellation via the Hydra-6. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the sonic imprint is the same as the Hydra-8, except with respect to my earlier findings regarding bass and dynamics. The Hydra-6 created a wonderful landscape of sound but there was a noticeable difference in the weight and scale of the musical flow. I was surprised that I would even notice this when both sounded generally so musical. Believe me, this was a very hard and grueling exercise. But in the end I would be willing to take a polygraph on the differences I heard, however finely differentiated they are.

The Hydra-2 times three

Here’s where I have to take my hat off to team Shunyata, for they’ve created something quite special in the Hydra-2. I placed a single Hydra-2 on the front-end and two Hydra-2s on the amplifiers. Guess what? I was not nearly as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. The trio of Hydra- 2s, though diminutive in size and considerably less expensive, appear to be the darlings of the group. What I found most impressive is how dynamic they demonstrated themselves to be. On the amplifiers (one for each mono) the music did not possess the overall richness in tonality as it did with the larger Hydras, but there is no call to apologize for these shortcomings, because dynamically they seemed to go neck and neck with the bigger units. Go figure.

I began wondering if I had been listening too long or forgot to remove a larger Hydra. I double checked: I had not. Then, suspecting listener’s fatigue, I went to sleep and came back days later. Now I’m certain. The twin Hydra 2s, strapped with Alpha AC cords, are, again, not as rich or as detailed as their larger brothers, or possess as black a background (but they’re not shabby in this regard either)—but as far as dynamic expressiveness, they match the Hydra-8s strapped with Anacondas. Now go ahead and shoot the messenger if you wish, but believe me, I was just as surprised as you might be reading this.

If your stereo is as simple as an integrated amplifier and CD player, like I have in my office, then you need look no further, especially if you’ve not already provided AC line conditioning. With very good AC filtering, excellent pace, rhythm and timing to go with its amazing dynamic capability, the Hydra-2 comes the sleeper of the bunch. In fact, the very best setup I found was when I paired the new Hydra-8 on my reference front-end with Hydra-2’s at the amplifiers.

Shunyata Research has shown me again what AC line conditioning can accomplish when it is effectively done right. When all is said and done, I like the companies that have done more than is said. Shunyata Research is just that company. In this world where value is often measured by sticker-price, the Hydra-2 comes as a breath of fresh air and should be placed on your short list of desirable accessories. If you’re looking to throw down a grand, then consider the Hydra-6 as a logical choice. The obvious choice, for those who desire to, and can afford to, go all out is Hydra-8. It does a terrific job of allowing the music to come through. These exciting and affordable new breed of Hydras join my Publisher’s Choice, 2005 Most Wanted Components short list!

Clement Perry


Follow-up

The Enigma

If I was genius enough to create something like the Hydra-8 I would have named it “The Enigma”. It is a transformer without transformers. There is not one transformer in any of the Hydra models but the Hydra-8 literally transformed my system. One Hydra-8 and two Shunyata power cords did what endless interconnect, speaker wire, amp, and preamp swapping could never have done. It attacked the problem at the source---the power source.

A few months ago I was operating my system with an ancient (but well respected) power-conditioner/surge-protector from one of the pioneers in the field. At Clement’s urging I went shopping for a Hydra. Now I should interject some background here. Clement and I travel in different circles. Clement has high-end manufacturers begging him to audition their equipment. He has access to loaner equipment at no risk to anything but his time and patience. I am at the other end of the audio rainbow. The end with the pot of coal. I have a small pension check and a personal investment account that has been savaged in recent years. I make every purchase with the possibility that I may not have groceries when I am 84. The fact that Clement chooses to use Shunyata products on a continuous basis actually told me more than all of his adjectives. There is permanent value in the products.

I was fortunate to locate a dealer with a Hydra-8 that had been sold (but not used--power cords did not reach) for two weeks and returned for two Hydra-6s. Scoring what I thought was a great deal I also purchased a Diamondback power cord for it. I installed the Hydra with muted expectations, having read about the lengthy burn in time required and remembering previous disappointments with highly touted power conditioners. My expectations were met. Really not much to get excited about. As the weeks went by I began to enjoy my system more and more. After a couple of months I realized it had never sounded better. The quiet had crept in, slowly and unnoticed at first.

Curiouser and curiouser said Alice. I finally decided to compare it to my old, multi-transformer power conditioner. Then the full impact hit me. Putting in the older unit........Well, think high school gymnasium acoustics. There it was again; glare, noise, echoes, ringing and more. All the reasons why I was never quite satisfied with my system and kept fiddling with interconnects, amps, and preamps and CD player upgrades. I thought the fault lied therein. And Caelin Gabriel would agree but point out it was not the equipment itself, but the noise therein (and, to a lesser degree, external).

As a new Shunyata convert, I went searching for additional power cords. I found a used Sidewinder for my TacT digital preamp. Again, very noticeable improvements along the lines of the Hydra but not of the same magnitude. Audiogon, here I come again. After a little patience, I found what I was looking for-- a 20 amp Python Alpha for my Hydra. Grant Samuelsen had told me the power cord to the Hydra was the most significant power cord in my system. I cannot verify that since I have not put Shunyata power cords throughout my system (yet). I can say that I believe him since the improvement was nothing short of stunning. I think the power cord upgrade to the Hydra was as significant as adding the Hydra itself. It is probable that anyone using a Hydra without a power cord upgrade is not getting the full benefit and judging the Hydra unfairly.

Are Shunyata products expensive? In dollar terms, maybe. In relative terms, maybe not so much. Just the Hydra-8 and the power cord to it unlocked the value hidden in my system. The value I had paid for but had not enjoyed previously. The Hydra-8 is less expensive than many competing products that do not work as well. I know, I tired some and returned them.

I still intend to test Grant’s claim for myself by putting Shunyata power cords on all of my primary equipment. I can’t stop without knowing. Audiogon, here I come---again. Hmmm, maybe I should try some Shunyata speaker cable also. It sure is pretty and I am now a believer in both the Shunyata engineering philosophy and their ability to execute. Someday I may be standing at a street intersection with a hat in my hand and a cardboard sign. It will probably read “Help, hungry--but I have this bitchin’ audio system”.

Don Shaulis
 

                          _________________

Manufacturers comment:

We'd like to thank Clement Perry for taking the time to thoroughly cover the range of Hydra products and their performance within in his system. Not surprisingly, Clement Perry's detailed review mirrors the conclusions drawn by the music and film industry's foremost studios, mastering engineers and electronics manufacturers. Simply put, that the Hydras have performed consistently across all systems, whether in film, professional or playback since their inception. Our listed technologies, applications, professional endorsements and trade-relationships confirm that the Hydras will form the perfect base-line of high-current delivery, system-protection and noise-isolation for any system of electronics.

Again, we appreciate Clement Perry taking the time to carefully describe the various Hydra models, and their unequivocal impact on system performance.

Best Regards,

Grant Samuelsen
Marketing and Sales director
Shunyata Research

                                     _____________

Hydra-8

• “Trident Defense System”
• 2400 watts @ 20 amps continuous
• Surge protection (40,000A)
• Four individual, isolated circuits
• 16 element Venom Noise Filter
• Massive CDA-101 buss bars
• FeSi-1000 noise-reduction compound
• Detachable 20A inlet
• Aluminum chassis

Dimensions:
Height: 6”
Width: 13”
Depth: 9.5”
Weight: 15.5lbs
Ship Weight: 20lbs

Hydra-6
• 6 Shunyata Venom Silver outlets
• “Trident Defense System”
• 2400 watts @ 20 amps continuous
• Surge protection (30,000A)
• Individually filtered outlets
• 10 element Venom Noise Filter
• Solid silver buss bars
• Detachable 20A inlet
• All metal chassis
• Professional rack mount

14 gauge all metal chassis
Professional rack mount faceplate
Threaded footers for after-market cones
All inlets and outlets mounted on back
Width: 19” Height: 3.5” Depth: 5.5”
Weight: 8.0lbs

Hydra-2

• 2 Shunyata Venom Silver outlets
• 2400 watts @ 20amps continuous
• Surge protection (10,000A)
• 4 element Venom Noise Filter
• Silver/Teflon wiring
• Detachable 20A inlet
• All metal chassis

Contact:

Shunyata Research Inc.
5594 N.E. Minder Rd. Suite 101
Poulsbo, WA 98370 USA
www.shunyata.com
Customer & Dealer Information
Matt Reilly: Email: cservice@shunyata.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Villetri

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luminous Audio

Shunyata Hydra 2, 6 and 8