World Premiere 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 &
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
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
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.
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.