PowerWire CB0 Active Cable

Review, PowerWire CB0 20-foot Buffered Instrument Cable

Some months ago, I heard about a new line of cables, the PowerWire series from a company called RM Tone Technology.  These cables include a tiny buffer preamp in one of the two 1/4" jack plugs.  What a neat idea! I originally balked at the full price though - $149 US for a cable, no matter how premium, seemed steap. I was glad someone finally designed and built this though.

I've always wanted to add a buffer to my guitar, after some experimentation with an EMG PA2 preamp booster back in the 1990's.  I found it noisy at the time, but I've never given up on the idea of putting a buffer in my main axe. I considered a buffer in pedal form, but that only provides benefits to things downstream from it in the signal chain. One of these cables deals with things right at the source, similar to switching to active pickups, but without the hastle of well, switching to active pickups. I'm quite happy with the Suhr pickups in my Suhr, and the Bill Lawrence L280 'set in my strat, and don't want to change them.

Fast-forward a few months, and the Powerwire cables go on sale for 50% off, making one of them the same price as that old EMG accessory, or probably the same as buying a buffer circuit and paying my local tech to install it, so I bought one. After all, I can use it with either of my two guitars, too.

They offer several versions: one with flat frequency response, 0.5dB from 20Hz-20kHz; one with a fixed 6dB boost; one with a sub-bass boost; and one with a midrange boost they describe as similar to the midrange boost in a Tubescreamer type pedal. I wasn't interested in any of the boosts or frequency shaping, so I bought the CB0 model, which keeps things at unity gain.
 
It arrived coiled and tie-wrapped around a large cardboard sylinder, inside a box, which was inside a bigger box. Points for a good packing job.

One jack plug is a little bigger than the other, and it houses the preamp circuitry and two button cell batteries which power it.  That end goes into your guitar, and the regular size end plugs into your other equipment.
  
A company rep tells me that "we've not had a single return for any reason. We're only 8 months into the market so that's not much time. We've intentionally put heavy strain relief (lateral and longitudinal) and encased the electronics in a heavy duty brass connector barrel. It's true that we've soldered everything together, but again that's for added strength." That's reassuring, but I can see that being the only downside here, having to return your cable to the company should it need servicing.

Performance:
Compared to 10 foot George L's and a 10-foot Yorkville Sound branded cable I have here, there is noticeably less background noise with the twenty-foot Powerwire. This was while running straight into an amp, or into a Wampler Pinnacle overdrive, then into the amp. There is more sparkle in the highs compared to the two regular cables mentioned above. I imagine the difference would be even more pronounced, if I had a twenty-foot or longer cable here to compare.  A tiny bit more signal does get to my amp with the Powerwire as well, enough that things break up just a little more, if I'm set to a clean sound with "a little hair on it".  I'm not sure if the preamp in the cable is boosting things, or if I am getting  a tiny bit of signal loss with the traditional cables, but more signal is getting to my amp for sure. Note, this is a tiny tiny boost, I'm guessing a dB or less.
 
I'm happy with my purchase. I've never been happy with signal loss in cables, or trying many different cables to "find my sound". I'd rather send everything my guitar has to offer downstream, and shape the tone with whatever pedals or amp I am running through.  I'm strongly considering buying a back up.

One thing I'm not clear on yet is whether the power to the preamp is disconnected fully, when the cable is unplugged.  That's how active pickups work, using a stereo output jack.  The company rep I spoke to is going to get back to me on that. The FAQ section of their Website says the following:
"Batteries will generally last up to a year, but the initial set that was shipped with your cable may need changed sooner depending on the time between production of the cable and when it was purchased."

As for what batteries are required, here's what the Website says:
"The cable requires button-cell batteries (either #675 or #357) available at many drug and discount department stores."

#675 type are zinc-air cells, meaning they are activated by oxygen, once you remove the protective tab over the cells.  With this type of battery, you get more life from using them, rather than letting them sit idol.  They are designed for constant use scenarios like hearing aids.

On the other hand, #357 type are silver-oxide, and have a much longer shelf life. If you're playing a lot, try #675's. If you're playing occasionally and want the batteries to still work in a year or two, try #357.  But don't mix the two together!

Battery replacement instructions are at:
http://rmtonetech.com/instructions/
 

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