When I told an acquaintance that I was doing this review his cup of scepticism overflowed. Let me paraphrase, and sanitise, his comments for a mixed audience. ‘Ha! More snake oil. How can rational people be taken in so easily? It’s a wire with a plug at one end and an IEC socket at the other.’ Be honest, you are a bit sceptical yourself, are you not? All I can do is report, as honestly as I can, what I heard and indeed what others who have stopped by and listened told me they could hear.
In the interest of full disclosure let me be open and honest from the start. I do hear differences between audio cables, just as I can between other components. Like many in our hobby I have spent more than I would ever care to admit on speaker cables, interconnects, digital cables, Ethernet cables and yes, mains cables. The hard question is not do I hear a difference, rather it is when does ‘different’ transition to ‘better’? Let’s be clear, manufacturers and retailers rely on us, their customer base, to dig out the wallet for ‘different’, and I know few in our hobby who have not done so at some point, only later to wonder if what they have purchased is actually ‘better’.
You can see my equipment list on my bio entry here. Since about 2007 I have used an Isotek Titan and extension socket strip, and Isotek Supreme mains cables. Back then we lived in a modern top floor flat at the furthest point in the building from where the electricity mains entered. My friendly audio salesman (we call them our ‘dealers’ for a reason!) lent me a Titan and I could hear that it made a difference, as did the cables. I think in that situation where the mains was less than ideal my decision was the right one.
Fast forward to 2018. We have moved to a new build detached house in South Devon and yet the Titan is still in use. The sound to which I have become accustomed has the Titan sitting between the wall socket and all the audio equipment. Then the Audioquest carton arrives, and it is time to start listening seriously. Before removing the Titan I play several tracks that I know really well, on vinyl, CD and SACD and I stream some Tidal via the Naim NDX. With that done, it’s down on the hands and knees to unplug everything from the Isotek, and lift that out of the way. I unbox the Niagara 1000. First reaction? What a beautiful object: A shiny chrome body, cylindrical but with a flat bottom with four rubber feet at the corners. Along the top 6 UK plug sockets and at the end an IEC socket and an on/off switch. It comes with a polishing cloth, which is a thoughtful touch. The Titan is very heavy, as it contains a big transformer, the Niagara 1000 by contrast is light for its size. I have replaced an Atlantic Wall blockhouse with an Airstream trailer! For ease of access I place it where the Titan was but whereas the Titan stands comfortably on a polished granite worktop saver, the Niagara is too long so has to sit on the carpet.
Next out is the Thunder mains cable that will connect the Niagara to the wall. This thing is a beast. Three separate thick cables plaited into one very unwieldy whole. I had asked for a two metre length because I know how hard these things are to bend and I was right. I think if I took up yoga at my ripe old age I’d be no less bendy than the Thunder. Once that is plugged in the various mains leads are inserted, using the order suggested in the small Niagara Owner’s Manual. Integrated amplifier in the high current outlet nearest the IEC socket, CD Player next, then the phono stage, the turntable and last but not least the Naim NDX streamer. The turntable PSU and the NDX are using the cables supplied by Linn and Naim respectively, the first three have Isotek Supremes supplying their power.
Switch on, select an SACD to just get the Niagara warm and walk away. Return a little later, knowing that it is still a bit soon but curiosity has got the better of me. Select the 2016 remastered vinyl of Dark Side of the Moonon vinyl, and tee it up on Side 2, Track 1. Kerching! Name an audio cliché that really irritates you. Does ‘like a veil being lifted’ make the short list? OK, then I’ll avoid that one. My notes say ‘greater clarity, and presence’, which I think says the same thing in different words. As the side went on I note that voices are definitely clearer. The kick drum on ‘Us and Them’ really has my attention. Somehow the music has real life, and energy. If you had said to me before that my system lacked those characteristics I would have been secretly quite offended – but you would have been right.
Next I switched back to SACD and ‘LA Woman’ by the Doors. Crikey! Every nuanced phrase, all the pace and timing that I know is in those songs was there. The rain and thunder on ‘Riders on the Storm was spookily real. I played a classical SACD and again, the musical involvement was astonishing. Back to vinyl, a modern recording this time, ‘Staying at Tamara’s’ by George Ezra. Love this young man’s voice, and now that rich baritone is just a bit richer, those choruses just that bit catchier.
The next stage was the phased introduction of the NRG Y3 mains cables. The first change I make is on the SACD player. I restart ‘LA Woman’. Here is what I scribbled on my notepad, verbatim. ‘What??? It’s a mains cable FFS’. The extra detail and clarity is audible and obvious. As I add the NRG Y3 cables to each component sequentially the same effect can be heard. I didn’t mess with the Naim NDX – some things are best left well alone. The most amazing revelation is putting an NRG Y3 into my REL sub – I actually had to turn the sub down with the power flowing through the Audioquest cable.
You remember me asking about audio clichés earlier? Now it is as if the Safety Curtain between me and the musicians had been lifted. That may sound hyperbolic, but I can only report my findings. It was at this point that I got a message from my friendly Audioquest rep. ‘If you think it sounds good now, let it settle for a week then listen again – you will be even more impressed!’
So here is the question. If this entry level Niagara (£995 plus £629 for the Thunder cable) is this good, just how much better would the Niagara 5000 and above that the Niagara 7000 sound in my system? If I get the chance to tell you, I shall definitely do so. In the meantime, the Niagara 1000 is the most cost effective upgrade I think I could make to my system, especially with NRG Y3 cables connecting the whole thing up.
It is easy to overlook the importance of clean mains in order to get the very best performance from every component in a system. The Niagara 1000 is nota mains conditioner in the way that my Titan is, and you may think that nearly £1000 is an awful lot of money to pay for a mains distribution block. In fact it is so much more than that. What it does is get rid of unwanted noise, which is clearly a huge brake on audio performance. Even the Input and output sockets are designed with noise dissipation in mind. It also has non-sacrificial surge protection to protect your expensive kit from electrical storm damage or power line interruptions. My time with these Audioqest mains products has been a real ear-opener for me. I cannot recommend them more highly than to say I want them in my system. All I have to do now is convince my wife!