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The Shunyata Hydra AC conditioner and its associated Anaconda PC are recognized benchmarks in the realm of passive power conditioning products. The Hydra and Anaconda are vaunted for their noise reduction and smoothing effects, but mostly I put them in when I need to lower the tonal balance and grab some more weight and body—there is nothing like them for this purpose. One of the original Hydras has graced my reference system on and off for a long time. I had it feeding the ART Audio Jota amp. (I only use it on the amp—I feel it does less damage there, for reasons I will get to shortly).

Once again, compare these items to a "normalizer" product, in this case, the TARA Labs PM/2 Power Screen passive conditioner (and throw in another The One, because you need an extra PC), and you see what's really going on.

Along with all that weight, the Hydra/Anaconda impart lots of atmosphere and decay. It produces borderless, hazy-edged images—one bleeds into the next across the stage, which is a little foreshortened, depth-wise. The stage it throws is like a warm, soft-focus picture—a little like a framed wall hanging, or a scrim. Because of the foreshortened depth, it has mostly horizontal and vertical extension. Frequency integration and temporal coherence with the Hydra are excellent. And there is that smoothness, which for me, is noticeable to the point where it affects resolution of micro-details and texture. Transients, although weighty, definitely have soft edges. I would say these products are slightly romantic, but not too far from the real thing. So, who's complaining?

With the TARA PM/2 in place, the edge on transients is back. That ever-present, reverberant "atmosphere", or hall sound, of the Hydra is largely absent. (If you define this "atmosphere" as air, you will probably find the PM/2 suffocating.) Overall, the PM/2 with The One is a little lighter tonally (I can't tell whether that's due to the PM/2 or The One, because the Anaconda uses a locking Nema connector and can't be separated from the Hydra), but the spread of energy across the frequency spectrum with the PM/2 is better apportioned—you don't feel that treble or deep bass is dulled down (the Hydra softens up the extremes). Like The One PC, the PM/2 is dynamically charged, with a punchy and round bass. The PM/2 shows what your system is capable of; it is a pass-through, unveiling your system's quality—for better or worse.

The TARA passive conditioners come in two models. The PM/2 Power Screen ($395) is impressively machined out of thick, black, mil-spec aluminum, with an overbuilt, rather than luxurious, appearance (personally, I would like to see rounded corners and a smoother finish). It sports a detachable power cord, surge protection, one duplex outlet, an amber pilot light, and treatment for noise reduction, which we will get to shortly.