My email to William Stierhout of Quantum Products Inc. was prompted in part by my being keenly aware that Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio uses Bill's Symphony Pro parallel device in conjunction with a Sound Application CF-XE. Other people whose hearing I trust are smitten with Quantum's offerings as well. As a diehard audio dweeb, that was good enough for me. I launched Outlook Express to see whether Stierhout might be interested in yet another public opinion on his products. By way of introduction, I referred him to the URLs of some of my writings. Then I hit "send". A few days later, the phone rang. Bill had read my review of the Audio Magic Stealth Power Purifier and felt that my recent exposure to power line conditioners in the $2,000 to $4,000 range called for investigating a competitively priced product that was not yet on the Quantum website nor, for that matter, the radar screens of any underground audiophile boiler rooms. So freshly minted was it in fact that Bill only had one. If I were interested, he'd need it back in time for the CES. There was a brief silence on the line, and it wasn't of the pitch-black sort good conditioners are supposed to create. My brain was in overdrive emitting curiously crackling noises.
Was it broken in I asked out loud (secretly referring to my
upstairs)? Thankfully he replied in the affirmative. (One down for the home team, one to go.)
Would readers be able to buy one come January 2002? He formed a simple Y-E-S
Combak of course is best known for its Harmonix line of resonance control devices. However, it also offers the DAP-777 20bitK2 digital-to-analog converter, a collaboration between Victor/Japan (converter), Kyodo Denshi (Japanese precision instrument manufacturer) and Combak (resonance control). Following this precedent, Combak's newest product, the Reimyo ALS-777 line power stabilizer, is another joint effort, this time co-developed with Quantum Products Inc. of Santa Monica/USA. Ah, grasshopper, that explained the Japan/California connection.
Apparently the ALS-777 represents a two-years-in-the-making evolutionary outgrowth of Stierhout's former Wizard AC line stabilizer that was marketed under his Coherent Systems brand before he launched Quantum four years ago. Combak was his Japanese distributor at the time and much impressed with the Wizard. Meetings at consecutive CES trade shows developed this relationship further. The end result is today's Reimyo ALS-777.
Quantum's specialty is QRT, or quantum resonance technology. Little about the operating principles of QRT is divulged save a terse nod to quantum mechanics and electromagnetic field theory. A precursor of sorts might have been the Tice Clock of yore. Little definitive was known about that either, except for the howls of detractors claiming snake oil or disputing any real science at work. In Quantum's case, the application of its proprietary treatment via a coil and certain encoded frequencies is said to set up a small coherent field effect that radiates up to 50 feet into the environment and enhances the transfer function of conductive materials in such a way that the electrons operate in a more organized, less random and chaotic fashion. The firm's Symphony product is claimed to extend its "therapeutic" effects on electron behavior over a 3,000sqft area while the Pro version undergoes yet stronger treatment for more powerful results. For the Reimyo, the enclosed spec sheet only states that the QRT factor is carried by specialized microprocessor circuitry that pulses the AC line at preprogrammed frequencies.
The ALS-777 works in parallel with the AC line and features six 15-amperes outlets for 1,800 watts of total available power. The unit is supported on Combak tuning feet and sports a silver-anodized aluminum front plate with central green power LED. It measures 2.32" x 16.9" x 12.75" HxWxD and displays current draw on a front-mounted analog load display. As is the nearly standard 17" width, aesthetics and fit 'n' finish are of very fine audiophile component caliber just begging to be proudly displayed in plain sight, perhaps in the bottom shelf of a rack stacked with the bespoke kind of gear the Reimyo presumably will be used with. Cost is $2,499.95 without power cord. The Reimyo thus rubs shoulders with the similarly priced Audio Magic Stealth Power Purifier, Shunyata Research Hydra and forthcoming Jena Labs PowerWing, all of which play in the $2 - 3K range, quite unlike actual Quantum-branded components that come in under $1,000. For comparison, I still had the Stealth in-house.
Getting A Fix - And We Ain't Talking Weed
On Angelique Kidjo's phenomenal, quasi a cappella rendition of Gershwin's "Summertime" [Keep on Moving, Wrasse Records 85758], the presentations offered by the Reimyo and Stealth were different in an initially subtle but soon distinctly discernable way. To describe it accurately, lighting terms seem most useful. The Reimyo simply wasn't as lit up, its images not as illuminated from within, its late afternoon scenery contrasted by the Stealth's earlier, just before high-noon setting. The soundstage via the Reimyo was just as translucent and easy to navigate. Still, each aural event had a bit less "pop", with a cooler color temperature. With the main-beat chord accent of the Rhodes piano, for example, this manifested as less mass and weight, the impact of each chord somewhat lightened. In the rhythm and pace department, the Stealth portrayal created drive and tension, the Reimyo imparted a more relaxed mien. To illustrate this point, compare a hand movement through air with the same one through water. Disregard the fact that the second will require more muscular effort to overcome the water's resistance. Concentrate instead on the sensation that this resistance inspires. Now transfer this tactile memory to the auditory sense. You should get a heightened sense of acuteness, albeit one that's a bit more on edge. It's the difference between leaning forward and into something versus back and away from it. You can pay equal attention either way. Still, the gestalt of your participation changes whether you move forward or recline. In my case, this track sounded slightly slower via the Combak unit though my head knew all along that a metronome would have proven this to be purely perceptional and not measurable.
On Yulduz Usmanova's eponymous album [Yulduz, DTM 912612-2], "Dunya" is a massive and very polished pop production that features real orchestral strings, Family Factory backup singers, Mthunzi Namba's Zulu vocals, powerful bass and careful mike placement on the superstar's voice. What suggested itself on Keep Moving as perhaps a minor slammage advantage of the Stealth became now, due to the presence of deep and robust bass, a distinct asset for the Audio Magic piece. It projected not only significantly enhanced weight and impact but also punched up the overall color and excitement values by a few notches. Simultaneously though, this effected a minor shift of prominence in the apparent placement of the backup singers. With the Reimyo, the backup singers were separated from the soloist and the instruments by occupying their own distinct space, as though being recorded in a separate sound booth. Via the Stealth, this chorus meshed more into the overall sonic fabric and exhibited reduced spatial distinction. If you focused on these backup singers alone, you would have called the Reimyo dimensionally more resolved. If you took in the whole performance instead, the Stealth was clearly more powerful, energetic and saturated.
I next cued up one of my all-time favorite female Jazz numbers, "'Round Midnight" as performed by Carmen Lundy [Self Portrait, JVCXR-0005-2]. Because of its absence of low bass, I expected the differences to again be more gestalt-like as on the Kidjo track. Still, I also noted an enhanced bloom on the strings via the Stealth. Further, it created a more defined outline around Carmen's voice for a crystalline yet non-edgy vividness. The Reimyo's demeanor was a faint echo of the kind of soft focus that movie directors sometimes cast as close-ups on their female leads. The Stealth also threw a deeper stage. To inspect my growing suspicion that the Stealth might have had an edge in retrieving whatever exactly the subtle cues are that create cavernous depth perception on first-rate recordings, I tried Spiritchaser by Dead Can Dance [4AD 946230-2] and the Volodos/Berlin/Levine recording of Rach's 3rd piano concerto [Sony 64384].
On "Song of the Stars", a famous audiophile demo track for deep bass, the Stealth invoked the opening droning didgeridoo with the kind of pressure waves that the same track via the Reimyo plainly lacked. The bass fundamental per se was there, but not its ominous specter of sub-harmonics that extend far below it. Via the sealed-box, highly damped dual 10-inch woofers of the Avantgarde Duos, this became an overt boon and gifted Lisa Gerrard with the kind of heightened vocal presence that ultra-deep bass always bestows when properly controlled. This held equally true for the next track, "Indus", but didn't give the Stealth any kind of advantage in the depth field. The Reimyo was equally adept at capturing the vast spaciousness of this recording. It simply lacked the kind of stygian extension the Audio Magic unit is capable of. It thus didn't benefit from the enhanced 3-D palpability effects of super-low bass presence.
Fix That, Sucka!
On the Volodos recording, the tables inexplicably turned on me - or should I say musical chairs? I went back multiple times to check. I even got my wife involved. She confirmed my findings without any hesitation: the Reimyo was more elegant and organic, smoother and more romantic - in a word breathtaking. By comparison, the Stealth sounded harder, brighter, more muscular, as though tonally I had moved closer to the stage and heard more of the piano's percussive qualities with its metallic bite that veered on sounded brittle in its upper register.
Were the Combak designers diehard classical music lovers? Had they designed their unit listening mostly to classical?
It was worth a try to investigate this assumption. I zoomed in on the classical section of my CD collection and grabbed José Cura's Verismo [Erato 3984-27317-2], specifically the "Musette! … Testa adorata" aria from Leoncavallo's La Bohème. Presto, I perceived the same softening and relaxing effects of the Reimyo that had characterized the earlier non-classical tracks. To a lesser extent than with the Rachmaninov, I again preferred it to the livelier but slightly sharper rendition of the Stealth. With Cura's lyrical tenor instead of Volodos' piano, the latter's minor stridency was transformed into a more blustery or heroic vocal aspect, now not unbecoming at all but simply offering a choice of intensity, between an espresso and regular cuppa.
Sifting through other classical albums, I eventually came to a conclusion. What on non-classical material was a very welcome "stealthy" infusion of energy, snap and vitality turned, with classical performances - especially truly well-recorded ones that didn't need the extra light and vigor of the Stealth to make things come to life -- into a lessening of what I can only call an organically breathing quality. This, depending on the recording, tended to make the Combak Reimyo ALS-777 into a sweeter sounding unit that better preserved the flow of the music.
Nothing To Fix
Interesting. While the contributing qualities of both units to the overall system sound remained unchanged throughout my shorter-than-usual audition period, their respective and subjective suitability fluctuated depending on music material. I had an unequivocal preference for the Stealth on every single non-classical recording I tried, yet a strong to minor reverse preference for the Reimyo on classical fare.
To flesh out this picture, let me clearly state that, via the Reimyo, I never felt that anything with non-classical tunes was amiss. When I switched to the Stealth, it didn't diminish the previous rendition by suggesting the lack of something fundamental or hinting at the presence of obvious flaws. Rather, the Stealth simply added get-up-and-go juice and vitality of the sort you didn't know you were missing or could add - until you heard it. Conversely, classical music via the Stealth sounded very exciting and terrifically colorful - until the Reimyo revealed an alternate take that was distinctly different, equally valid, seductive and, in my case, more appropriate for my favored mid-hall perspective. As I've explored earlier in a review of the Bel Canto eVo 200.4, an orchestral nearfield rendition is radically different from one sitting farther away, both in the actual hall and as a reproduced perspective at home. Veteran concertgoers with season tickets tend to opt for balcony front row center or central mid hall seats. They facilitate timbral blending and shave off a certain edge. In those terms, the Stealth sat you closer to the stage than the Reimyo.
Ultimately, what a reviewer prefers means - or at least should mean -- precious little to the reader. It is important that he/she describe, as lucidly as possible, what the gear under review sounded like. From my seat, this is often accomplished with more relevance in a comparison against an appropriate piece of equipment, rather than evaluating a component "in limbo", against itself or the imaginary standard of life music that depends so much on the venue and one's placement within in. Hopefully the above descriptions of the Combak Reimyo vis-à-vis the Stealth - reviewed in detail last month for those who want to refer to it for further insight - give such an indication independent of personal bias.
On a concluding note, I no longer had the Shunyata Research Hydra on hand that served as one of my references in the Audio Magic Stealth review. Still, I suspect that the Combak Reimyo ASL-777 could be its aural cousin. Compared to the Stealth, both conditioners made very similar counterpoints. How close this relative similarity of difference with a third piece would make them in an actual side-by-side comparison will have to remain something another reviewer might tackle. For now I feel safe suggesting that they could well turn out to be cut from the same cloth, as though their designers shared very similar thoughts on what reproduced music should sound like.
What I'm ill equipped to consider as yet is the relative merit of Quantum's resonance technology on the overall performance in my setup. With its own internal makeup and microprocessor circuitry, this Combak unit seems a departure -- or at least variation on the theme - of existing Quantum-branded conditioners. I can't know whether what I was hearing was mostly QRT at work, a unique implementation of it, something else, or any combination thereof. I have been promised some regular Quantum products to look at that will afford investigation into this particular curiosity.
For now I'll bow out of this review by saying that regardless of who deserves what amount of credit for the final results of this jointly developed product, the Combak Reimyo ASL-777 is yet another contender in the rapidly snowballing sweepstakes of power line conditioners. It is very attractive, beautifully put together and of regular component width to take its place openly and proudly next to regular stereo kit. It clearly deserves an audiophile audition. That seems especially, dare I suggest it, pertinent for those for whom classical music is the major key to the kingdom. My personal pearly gates these days open toward world and fusion music, trance/ambient and some Jazz and New Age. The classical repertoire of my youth appears less and less on the docket. I thus favored the Audio Magic Stealth. However, I have to admit that for those occasions that call for a Chopin or Liszt piano recital, for the transcendental excesses of Bruckner, the diaphanous tone poems of Debussy or the full-blooded voluptuousness of Khatchaturian, I would dig to have this Combak unit around for a little bit of - ahem, high fidelity transgression from my main fare. Don't you call me a floozy now - this is simply audiophile greed talking.
After returning from CES 2002 in the usual state of cerebral meltdown and psychic exhaustion, I sorted through 100+ emails that had collected on my server during the week I was gone. One greeted me from Bill Stierhout. He apologized for having misquoted the selling price of his unit in the first place and asked me to amend it as soon as possible. Instead of $2,495, it should have been $4,995.
Ouch! I'd call this a massive booboo on the part of the manufacturer.
Needless to say, value for money, formerly rated at 95, now finds itself adjusted to 80. What's more, by doubling the actual retail price over what I had originally been told, I no longer feel this unit is at all competitive with the cream of the crop. As I hinted at earlier, the Shunyata Research Hydra is sonically an aural cousin to the Combak Reimyo. At half the price, I'd recommend the Hydra without hesitation as the much better value and would also urge prospective buyers to look at the Audio Magic Stealth as another very cost-effective, top notch alternative.
Power line conditioner with no current limiting devices
Three 15-amperes duplexes for a total of 1,800 watts on six individual power sockets and one IEC inlet
Silver anodized fascia with central green power LED, gold Quantum logo, analog current draw meter and power on/off rocker switch
Black top, bottom and sides
Supported on Combak tuning feet
Dimensions: 2.32" x 16.9" x 12.75" (HxWxD)
Price: $4,995 without power cord
Quantum Products Inc.