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October 2021

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Acme Audio Labs Silver Cryo Fuses Review
Is this the best $20 bucks you can spend?
Review By Rick Becker

 

Acme Audio Labs Silver Cryo Fuses Review

 

  They arrived in a Flat Rate envelope via US Postal Service. It took a while to get them. Patience is key. The fuse packaging was appropriate for such modestly priced product and very professional. The plastic and mylar envelops had a tear-off top and were re-sealable. The fuses inside were further encapsulated in clear, snap-top plastic cylinders. A sticker on the mylar side indicated the Silver Cryo Fuse inside and the value of each fuse was marked by hand. A list of Small 5x20, Large 6x32, Slow Blow T, Fast Blow F, and Special CFC Coating each had a small box that was manually checked off to identify the fuse contained within. This was an enormous help, not only because I had two sets of fuses to keep track of (with and without the CFC coating), but because with the matt-silver caps on these small fuses the engraved lettering was more difficult to read than on typical shinny end caps.

 

 

The Game Plan
I started with the standard (non-special coated) fuses in just my DAC and CD transport. It was difficult to notice any difference from the Synergistic Orange at first but I suspected they required a burn-in period. I gave them a couple days and they seemed to improve. Rather than swap the Orange back into the DAC and transport for an immediate comparison, I loaded up the preamp and tube monoblocks with the remainder of the standard fuses and let the system cook for another couple of days. Overall the rig was sounding about the same as with the Synergistic Orange, though it had been four days since I had heard the Orange so there was justifiable uncertainty in my mind.

Next, I repeated this process with the Special Coated Silver Cryo fuses, starting first with the DAC and transport for a couple days before adding the tube preamp and monoblocks. This seemed to sound better than the standard Acme Audio Lab (AAL) fuses, but because of the time span involved in the burn-in, I couldn't draw any definitive conclusions. For good measure, I left the DAC and transport cooking while we went canoeing in the Adirondacks over Labor Day weekend. Social distancing at its finest as the Delta variant raged throughout the southeast and was picking up even in New York state.

 

 

The Hour of Truth
The "moment of truth" took a couple of hours, actually. With both series of Acme fuses now reasonably well burned in, it was time to do a direct comparison with the Synergistic Research Orange fuses I'd been using as my reference. With the CFC (Crystal Fiber Compound) coated fuses in the rig, I spun through my usual excerpts on my compilation CD and noted the very fine performance on critical signifiers — difficult brief passages that revealed definitive improvements in resolution that allowed greater cognition of lyrics or timbre.

 

 

Bruce Springsteen, as great a songwriter and performer as he is, is not particularly known for clear enunciation. In "With Every Wish" he shuts down a line that ends with the word "curse" that for years I thought was "thirst." Both words make poetic sense in the context. As my rig has improved over the years I began to make out "cur..." the first time it appears in my excerpt. The NPS 1260 contact enhancer I had just reviewed was instrumental in bringing that clarity. And here, the Acme Special Coated Silver Cryo fuses made it recognizable with certainty...except for the "...se" which disappears into the room tone as if he had turned his head away from the microphone or cut off his voice by looking down at his guitar strings.

Another Springsteen signifier comes up on "57 Channels" when a refrain is dubbed over and positioned far to the rear and off to the left in the soundscape as heard from my chair. Again the Special Coated Acme fuse brought this refrain to the highest resolution I've heard in my rig and without any ambiguity of the lyric. The additional overdubs at the end of the song were also clear, unambiguous and caused no mental strain to decipher them. If you have a $20k DAC and $100k speakers, perhaps these signifiers have not been a problem for you, but in the context of more affordable gear these signifiers revealed a definite improvement in resolution brought about by the Acme fuse. Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey compilation of historical blues recordings going back to the mid-1920's was a lot more enjoyable with the Acme fuses, too. I can't say I understood the lyrics of these ancient blues recordings completely, but far more than before.

 

 

Other aspects of perceived sound quality would have to wait for a direct comparison with the Orange fuses. I've learned that you can often learn more from removing  a tweak from your rig than by simply adding it in. Changing fuses on my large tube monoblocks is a "down on the knees, chest flat on top of the amp" task to get at the fuses located within the IEC power inlet on the back of the amps. Changing the fuse in my 38 pound CD transport involves disconnecting the Sony ES CD player, removing it from a middle shelf and carrying it out to the kitchen to remove the top and work on it in better light.

As I've aged, I've learned that certain grunts (that don't resemble any keys on the keyboard) facilitate this task. The external linear power supply for the Calyx DAC was easy, and the screw-in fuse holder on the Coincident Statement Line Stage external power supply was a breeze since I have it mounted backwards in the rack for easy access to the power cords. In this case, form follows the needs of the reviewer, not the elegance of the design.

 

 

Back With The Orange
With the Orange fuses installed, repeating the music I had just heard was an "Oh, wow" experience. I knew the Acme Special Coat fuses had better resolution, but I wasn't prepared for them to be this much better than the Orange. Drum beats and rim shots in particular had significantly faster attack with the Acme and the decay of notes was likewise diminished. The pleasant bloom heard with the Orange replaced a starker, more realistic sense of musicians playing in the room with the AAL. The CFC coated Acme had greater transparency rendering music with more of a "you are there" perspective. With greater focus there was also more definitive positioning of instruments on the stage and the interplay among musicians that is so recognizable in a live performance, even manifested itself to a degree without being able to see them.

Listening with the CFC fuse was "easier" in the sense that the brain had to work less hard to make sense of it all. Yet the brain was busier taking in all the new detail that was not revealed with the Orange. Another way of saying this would be "the music was more fascinating with the CFC coated fuses." With the CFC the notes were all clearly there and the timbre clearly identified the instruments playing them. Add in the more prominent dynamics created by the enhanced resolution and greater transparency and I was constantly drawn into the music performance. With the Special Coated Acme fuse my rig was taken to a significantly higher level of performance that was a lot closer to experiencing the music live and in person.

 

The Standard Silver Cryo Acme Fuse
So where does this leave the standard Acme fuse? Out with the Orange and in with the standard Silver Cryo fuses. There was a clear distinction between the standard Silver Cryo and the Special Coated Acme fuses (for obvious reasons) but also a clear distinction between the standard Silver Cryo and the Orange. Basically, the standard Silver Cryo fuse fell right between the two. It had more resolution than the Orange, but less than the CFC (crystal fiber compound) coated fuse. Consequently the attack of notes was sharper than the Orange, but softer than the CFC fuse. The decay was shorter than the Orange, but longer than the CFC fuse. It was more transparent than the Orange, but the stage was not as brilliantly lit as with the CFC fuse. The standard fuse was more like live music than the Orange, but it was still more like recorded music than the CFC.

The CFC was more like Being There, yet the standard fuse had more Boogie Factor — it made me want to get up and dance whereas the CFC fuse made me feel like I was standing in front of the stage (or maybe a few yards back), packed shoulder to shoulder in the crowd and just taking in the performance. In more clichéd terms, the standard fuse was warmer than the CFC; it had more pace, rhythm and timing because the image was slightly blurred (but not as much as the Orange, which itself is no slouch.)

All three of these fuses are great fuses but they are three distinct points on a continuum. If I had expensive Swiss electronics and speakers with ultra-high resolution (you know the ones I mean), I'd probably want to go with the Synergistic Research Orange fuses to warm them up a bit. If I had older or more affordable current gear, I'd choose between the two Acme fuses. And that's not an easy choice as it will likely be dependent on the gear you have, as well as your room and its acoustic properties. It will also depend on how you like your eggs cooked.

If you're looking for pleasure from your music, you probably want it a bit on the warm side. (Some might call this musical.) If you're more into the thrill of being at the performance, you probably want to go with the higher resolution offered by the CFC fuse.

If my descriptions here do not convince you of which fuse to try, my suggestion would be to choose your favorite front end and order both a standard and a CFC coated fuse and put 50 hours on each fuse. Then decide. Then work your way down to your preamp and power amp. Distortion starts with the recording and the front end gear. You can't correct that further downstream. But each component along the way (as well as the cables) will add their own distortion, so it is important to keep those components sounding as clean as possible with superior fuses. The affordable prices of the Acme fuses make that proposition possible for virtually all of us — even fuse deniers.

 

 

Fuse Directionality
Another factor to keep in mind when installing your fuses is the directionality of the fuse in the fuse holder. There is usually no way to determine this except by trying it out. There is no industry standard. Designers are typically most concerned with optimizing the circuit board and wiring, not the direction of the fuse. If it's not sounding good to you, turn it around in its holder and see if that's better.

I did not do that, simply because it added another layer of complexity and additional time to the review process given the number of fuses I had to change each time. What I was hearing each time I added the Acme fuses, both initially and after burning in, was so good that reversing a fuse could only deteriorate the sound. If it got better with reversing the direction, it wouldn't have altered the superlatives I was already going to heap on the product. As the new owner of the fuse you should invest the time because you only have to get it right one time. Once it's right, leave it.

 

Fine Tuning With Fuses And Footers
Adding the Acme fuses (either model) was an obvious upgrade once they had been burned in. The only disappointment I encountered was with listening to Hearts of Space on NPR. My hot-rodded Sony ES tuner does not have a fuse but the "Slow Music for Fast Times" programing was rendered with such high resolution by virtue of adding Acme fuses to the preamp and power amps that the normally dreamy sound lost its liquidity. All of the flaws of the solid state circuitry came to light. Fortunately, the Synergistic Research MiG 2 footers I use allow me to further tune the music.

Instead of two domes facing down and one facing up for pinpoint soundstage, I went with two up and one down for an ambient soundstage. Sure enough, the music retained a good deal of the resolution imparted by the Acme fuse, but regained enough bloom to eliminate the graininess and extend the soundstage to the moon. This ambient effect carried over very nicely to WXXI-FM's normal fare of classical music. In this case, and I expect many others, enhancing the transparency and resolution will make it easier to fine tune the performance of a component to your liking.

 

CFC And Ceramic Fuse Compatibility
So what is this Crystal Fiber Compound (CFC) that they use on their Special Coated Fuses and a few other items they make? It's a proprietary conglomerate of crystals, fibers and hardeners that they apply to the outer surface of their standard Silver Cryo fuses. It feels similar to very coarse grain sandpaper but with even more densely packed grit. It far outperforms the Anti-Vibration Magic (AVM) material I had used many years ago.

 

 

The CFC gets very hard, but I found it can be vulnerable to chipping off a bit when inserting or removing a fuse in one of the very tight plastic fuse holders that is incorporated with IEC power inlets common on many components. These fuse holders are designed to grip the fuse by the body, between the end caps. Some of the CFC fuses went in and out of this type of holder several times with no problems. And it's unlikely that you will be removing your fuse once you experience the results — unless you get curious and put on your reviewer's cap. With fuse holders on circuit boards, the chrome clips are spaced to grip the end caps directly, so the CFC is unlikely to be damaged. Acme makes silver plated versions of these clips if you want to get out your soldering iron and tweak your fuse holder to the max. I'm not going that far, thank you.

 

 

Acme Audio Labs also gives a warning on their website about ceramic fuse compatibility:

We have found that some equipment with no inrush protection will destroy Ceramic body fuses. It is recommended that a potential fuse customer first try a stock ceramic body fuse before ordering Acme Audio Labs Fuses.

I've only had a problem with one tube amplifier blowing fuses with inrushing current at turn-on, and this was solved by switching to a small signal rectifier tube that turned on slowly to avoid the inrush.

Both fuse types use a ceramic compound body and air as the dielectric surrounding the filament. They use a bright silver plating over nickel or bare copper on the caps and they are lead free wherever possible. Ken alerted me to the possibility of the silver caps tarnishing over time if you live in a humid environment. Silver oxide is also an excellent conductor so this tarnishing will not affect the performance of the fuse. If the caps were solid silver you would be paying a great deal more, obviously. The filaments, I was told, are pure copper, though some of the lower electrical value fuses have silver tinned filaments.

 

Fuse Testing, Tolerance, Resistance Matching Service & Warranty
I asked Ken Garza about testing of their fuses. He replied:

Yes, our fuse lines have been tested for accuracy within tolerance. We offer a fuse resistance matching service for a small extra fee. This is a special order item and not shown by our dealers at this time. This service would be for very resolving systems that may need a very tight match between channels, similar to tube matching. I believe we are the first and only ones doing this.

Likewise, I'll let Ken speak for the company on fuse warranty.

"If a fuse blows, it's generally because it's doing its job. Fuses with tighter tolerances such as ours, may blow earlier than some stock fuses.

"If a circuit runs close to the edge of tolerance of a stock fuse, it's possible a tighter tolerance fuse may blow upon startup or at high peaks. We always suggest contacting the manufacturer to see if a slightly higher rated fuse will work fine in the circuit. Most often, it's fine.

"We will work with a dealer or customer if needed to remedy these issues. There is no money-back guarantee on our line of fuses at this time. [my bold, RB] It is rare to have such a policy for fuses. We know of one manufacturer that does this, though their pricing is many times higher than ours. We always try to work with a customer to help them get what they need or to solve an issue. We back up our dealers when needed as well.

"We find the most common issue is people not ordering the correct fuse. They usually don't pull the fuse to look at the size, or to verify the rating. Sometimes the manual and equipment differ due to revisions, etc.. They should always verify first. That would eliminate the bulk of customer calls."

 

So there you have it. Grab your magnifying glass and sit under a bright light to check out those fuse values. And remember: T is for slow-blow and F is for fast-blow. At $14 to $20 per fuse, blowing one likely saved your component, and its replacement is nowhere near the cost of rebuilding your moving coil phono cartridge. Feel the loss, but don't cry.

 

Other Stuff From Acme Audio Labs
As they say on their website, Acme is in the business of making fine tweaks for audio and video. Ken Garza adds "Acme Audio Labs is focused on silver plated and cryogenically treated items and some other tweaks that we feel are a good value.  We aim for the solid middle to keep things affordable for as many audio enthusiasts and experimenters as possible.  We aren't fancy with our packaging."

Currently, they offer a variety of silver plated, cryo treated duplex receptacles, some with CFC coating. The fuses are offered in large (6x32mm) and small (5x20mm) in a variety of common values. And more fuse values are scheduled to be added. Other items include wall plates with vibration isolator, IEC chassis inlets and circuit board fuse holders. And I expect more will follow. They are a subsidiary of REVO LLC, as is Revolution Power which also sells items for the pro audio market.

They partner with JENA Labs and Kimber Kable who do the cryogenic treatment of their products. They have a few dealers spread around the USA and foreign sales in Canada, Thailand, Taiwan, Mexico and Costa Rica. And they are looking to build their dealer network. If you can't find an item at a local dealer, or live outside their protected area, you can order directly from Acme Audio Labs.

 

About Acme Audio Labs
Acme, which was started by Michael Brinkman from Eugene, Oregon, had been bought by Revolution Power in Seattle, Washington, a little more than two years ago. Revolution Power was founded back in 2003, and both of these companies are under the umbrella of REVO, LLC. Ken Garza told me they have been improving the Acme products and packaging since that time... and still are. They were in the process of moving to a new facility with the intention of ramping up production. They intend to have far more stock by the end of the year to avoid past shipping and production issues that have come up with Covid. Acme Audio Labs, by the way, should not be confused with Acme Audio Manufacturing, a totally different company.

 

Value
It is almost laughable to talk about the value of these fuses. For less than a hundred bucks I have five fuses to run from my digital front end to my power amps. The equivalent improvement in resolution, transparency, macro and micro dynamics, timber and inner detail could cost you a hundred grand if you were thinking of buying components or speakers. I am continually amazed at how much performance has been hiding in my Kharma speakers from 2003. Adding these Acme fuses to my system brought these vintage speakers up to the sound quality level of speakers currently in production.

There is one caveat, however. The cable connections in my rig have all been treated with High Fidelity Cables' NPS 1260 contact enhancer. As I wrote in my recent review, this was the greatest tweak I've heard in over 20 years of reviewing. I think it is no small coincidence that both of these tweaks apply directly to the transmission of AC power. It seems highly likely there is great synergy between these two products, so I cannot guarantee that your results will be of the same magnitude as I've experienced. Furthermore, Ken cautioned me that their fuses work better in some components than others. I'd say they worked spectacularly well for me.

While NPS was not used in any of my fuse connections, I wasn't about to clean all the NPS out of my system to test my hunch. At $349 for a 15ml bottle, the NPS is not exactly inexpensive, but if you love the results with these Acme fuses, you should consider the NPS as your next big tweak. They are in the same ultra-high league of tweaks. I'll certainly be acquiring more of these fuses for my analog chain when the appropriate fuse values become available. A $14 or $20 Acme fuse could very well bring you greater resolution than spending thousands on a phono cartridge upgrade.

I've been told that prices will be going up at the end of the year to keep up with increasing manufacturing costs, but not by much. Nonetheless, it's not too soon to be checking your fuse values and making out your holiday wish list. You've heard the saying before, I'm sure. Great things often come in small packages.

 

Summary
Audio reviewers are often ridiculed for claiming each new product they review is better than the one they reviewed the month before. I've certainly painted a bullseye on my chest with this review after claiming last month that the High Fidelity Cables' NPS 1260 contact enhancer was the best new tweak I've reviewed in the past 20 years. To claim the Acme Silver Cryo fuses are the best new tweak I've reviewed in the past month may sound a little lame but don't be fooled. These fuses belong right up there with the NPS 1260 as outstanding tweaks, yet they cost far less.

I've compared them here with the Synergistic Research fuses which have been my refences in various forms since they first came out. I have not heard any of the other high end fuse offerings that involve vibration absorbing materials, EMI/RFI absorbing materials or bee's wax. Most of these others cost considerably more than Acme Audio Labs which employ tried and true silver plated caps and cryogenic treatment and take a further step up with the CFC coated version.

While I originally anticipated comparing the Acme Silver Cryo fuses with standard glass fuses the early results indicated this was completely unnecessary. The improvement was undeniable, yet you should pay attention to the notable differences between the two models I've uncovered in this review.

Most high end fuses at upwards of $150 each are rightly considered an add-on that audiophiles should decide to purchase (or not). At $14 to $20 for a fuse that offers spectacular sound quality, Acme Audio Labs (perhaps unwittingly) has thrown down the gauntlet and challenged High End manufacturers to select a fuse with as much care as they select resistors and capacitors. My highest recommendation, along with the hope they can expand their selection and meet the demand these fuses deserve.

 

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise N/A

Value For The Money

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: Silver cryogenic fuses
Prices: Large Silver Cryo $16.00
          Large Silver Cryo w/CFC coating $19.90
          Small Silver Cryo $14
          Small Silver Cryo w/CFC coating $17.90

 

 

 

Company Information
Acme Audio Labs
126 Southwest 148th Street 
Seattle, Washington 98166 
United States

Voice: (800) 454-4596
E-mail: contact@acmeaudiolabs.com 
Website: AcmeAudioLabs.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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