Welcome again to another meeting for the insatiable tweak. Please review last month's article before continuing. Why? Because I said so! :-) Actually, I'm just being lazy today and don't want to have to repeat myself, although that would fill up some pages and save me some time. Also, to rush this to print I'm going to be a little more concise with my verbiage, as I want to get the information out quickly about today's components for discussion, it's that good.
Anyway, last month we evaluated Audience's newest AC noise suppresser, the aR1P single outlet unit. I thought so much of them that I sort of hinted at the end that maybe I'd be willing to review one or both of their bigger brothers, the units. Happily, John McDonald, the owner of Audience took the bait, and sent one of each for review. This worked out perfectly as I usually have the left and right channels isolated from each other all the way back to the sources. Thus, for initial setup, the aR6 was used for the right channel electronics and subwoofer, and the aR12 for the left and center channels and all of the audio sources. Afterward, just to make sure that one unit could supply a two-channel system, each was used in turn to power the left and right channels together. While my system consists of super high efficiency horns, the pair of preamps and four amplifiers are all Class A tube units, and the subwoofer uses a Crown 1500 watt Macro-Reference amplifier, which does take plenty of juice on organ peaks, so they were pushed close to their amperage limits. Also, each unit has only broken in for about 250 hours at this writing, and Mr. McDonald feels they don't sound their best for at least 500 hours.
Each unit is in a beautiful well-built satin anodized aluminum silver case, with black also being an option. Each comes with its own detachable 6 foot 10 AWG power cord, with the plug to the unit not the standard IEC, but a 20 Ampere Neutrik Powercon type that I'm unfamiliar with, thus they'll be no tweaking with other powercords. This may be a safety thing or just that he thinks there is a synergy there, I'm not sure. The other end can have either a 15 or 20 Ampere Hubbell AC plugs.
The front of the aR12 has an LED voltage readout panel and a heavy duty magnetic circuit breaker for a power switch, while the aR6 has the circuit breaker on the back. Unlike most other units out there, each outlet rather than each dual outlet is isolated from each other thus giving double filtration between them. Each unit also does power correction to align the voltage and amperage waves and spike protection. Audience's own Auricaps and a non-wearing type low impedance surge protector rather than the ubiquitous MOV's are used in them.
The back of the units have either 6 or 12 Hubbell AC plugs and the 12 also has a set of F plugs with a ground loop isolation transformer to get rid of that nasty 60 Hz. hum that sometimes comes in with cable or satellite cables. The aR12 goes for $3800 and the aR6 for $2600 with the power cord.
Enough of the specs. How did the units sound? (A caveat here!! We are discussing what the units do in my system. Like any other audio component, synergy with the system is important. I don't mean with the other components, but with the garbage coming in over your AC lines and what is being produced by your digital components, which also feed noise back into the analog components. ) In a word, sensational. I hate to say it, as I keep backing myself into a corner each time I extol on the virtues of one of these power conditioners, but these two units beat the crap out of any other power conditioners I've had in my system. They do need about 200 hours of break-in before they completely shine, but even straight out of the box they are great.
First, the noise level from the AC has further dropped by about 3dB compared to my previous champ, the APC S-type power conditioner. With my 106dB efficient horns, where before I could still hear some slight hiss that I took as tube noise from the amplifiers, there was less, suggesting that maybe the noise we attribute to tubes is actually AC grunge which they allow through compared to some solid state units. Interestingly, I could then hear a little 60Hz hum coming from the speakers that was masked by the hiss before which is caused by a slight imbalance in the output tube filament current, which happily I could adjust out. So much more silence could be heard ( or not) coming from the speakers. System silence is important as the low level ambiance and hall information is easily masked by it, decreasing our feeling of realness of the presentation.
Second, this silence also allowed more low-level information to gel the space between and around the music, thus more hall sound. This is very important to me as I primarily listen to and attend classical orchestral music and live folk concerts, and a large part of the sound impinging on our ears is the hall information, reverberations from the walls, audience noise, and even the sounds from the hall's heating systems. These subtle cues allow us to understand the space the music is being reproduced in and there seems to be an innate need in humans to be able to hear that space to make us feel more comfortable. If you don't believe me, next time you have your hearing tested (you do that at least every couple of years don't you) have them do it in an isolation chamber. After a few minutes of silence I guarantee you'll become uncomfortable as our ancestor's need to hear the jungle sounds and their surroundings still affects our sense of well being.
Third, the APC units must have been impeding ever so slightly the current, as these units gave a little more jump to transients.
Fourth, and most important, there was a significant increase in resolution. By this I mean there was a congealing of the sound from single voices or instruments that made them clearer as an entity, much like bringing a slightly out of focus image into sharpness. Think of the Hubbell Telescope's first images compared to their corrected ones.
Fifth, while these units are on the expensive side, one Ar12 should be sufficient for any sane two or three channel audio system, or even a decent surround system, and maybe even in addition the video side of a media room, and it should for its price. The aR6 will be great for a two channel audio system. By the way, at least in my system try as I might, there was no discernible difference in the quality of sound improvement using either unit to their rated specs.
I have not had time to evaluate the units with the video side of my media room as I wanted to get this out before my deadline, and will try to report that next month. Anyway, while one of these units may be more expensive than any one or possibly several of your pieces of equipment, they are less expensive than several other products out there I've reviewed in the past that don't work near as well, and I will guarantee that the unit will significantly improve any and all pieces of equipment attached to it. They are so good that I've relegated my previous conditioners to the video side and will keep these units until Audience threatens legal repercussions. Highly Recommended.
As I wanted to get this out for this month's deadline, it was sent out yesterday for comments by Mr. McDonald, who was asked why his units sounds so much better than others reviewed in the past, (no names mentioned, just look back at the previous article), who sent the following with the apology that he's at the RMAF Show in Denver and didn't have sufficient time for a bigger reply.
The literature speaks volumes about the construction; i.e. The Powercon, heavy magnetic breaker, ALL quality parts, cryogenic treatment to entire circuit, all hand wired, no circuit boards etc. Additionally we are going to great lengths now with the wire and buss bar assembly. We are actually connecting the harness wires to the buss by inserting the wires into copper butts that are welded to the bar. Effectively, the wire and the butt and the buss bar become one. By doing so we have actually further reduced the already extraordinary low DC resistance of the power conditioner... I mean we're getting down to some very fine science. I'm sorry to be so brief; however I am at RMAF.
Cheers, Very best,