Bybee Slipstream RCA Magic Bullets And Speaker Charger
A New Generation for the Ages
Review by Max Westler
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Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am not one of those intrepid
Enjoy the Music.com'ers who can write as persuasively about music as about equipment. Sometimes,
it's true, our fearless leader will offer up a sporty new Italian amplifier for review, and
I'll be tempted to take him up on it. But in the end, I fear I wouldn't find much more to say about it than the Frankenstein monster had to say about his first cigar:
Smoke: Good! But when I was offered the chance to review the Bybee Slipstream RCA Magic Bullets, part of the newest generation of
purifiers from Jack Bybee, my heart leapt and I couldn't say yes fast enough. I've been using Bybee products happily for eight years now, and they are perhaps the only pieces of equipment I can talk about with both experience and authority.
My current system was pretty hot stuff just about the same time Bush the Elder was delivering his first State of the Union address. As good as it was, I saw it then as just another transitional step in a lifelong quest that would eventually take me to audio heaven. Sooner or later, I told myself, I would surely be upgrading these components with newer, better models; and every month I would scan the pages of audiophile magazines mulling over the latest contenders. Then I got married, and the liquid assets once reserved for equipment upgrades became earmarked for impractical things like house and car payments, and college tuition's for my new stepsons.
I soon realized that henceforth any upgrades to my system would have to come in the form of tweaks, and overnight I became a prime sucker for any oddball gimcrack that promised
dramatic improvements at minimal cost. Unfortunately, this plan tended to squander what little cash I did have to spend on audio, and almost always produced intense disappointment. Out of desperation, I came up with a
five day test all prospective tweaks had to pass before they could take up permanent residency in my system. The
five day test was just that: I would install the tweak in question wherever it was supposed to go, then subject my system to five days of more or less ordinary listening. On the morning of the sixth day, I would remove the tweak and ask myself if I could still honestly claim that the perceived difference I had heard for the first day or two was really there. Most times I
couldn't. Most times, that tweak was sent right back where it came from. As Mark Twain would have put it,
I'd been sold again.
Bybee Generation 1
Just as I was beginning to despair, a wise friend suggested a pair of Bybee Speaker Filters (as they were then called). Experience had turned me skeptical, but I had to admit these devices had indeed improved his (far better and more current) system. But would they have an equally powerful effect on mine? The answer was not long in coming. From the moment the stylus slipped into the groove, it was instantly apparent that the Bybees had changed the sound of my system for the better. Where the high end had been a little edgy and shallow, it was now pleasingly and surprisingly smooth. The bass also improved--at once more prominent and better defined. The
image of the orchestra was not only bigger, but also more detailed. In short, the system sounded more realistic. Needless to say, the Bybees passed the five day test with flying colors. Hemingway once said that
there's no going back to lesser pleasures, and that was certainly the case here. Once my ears had adjusted to this exciting new sound, there was no thought of returning to the status quo.
Though my friend recommended that I take the next step and purchase a pair of the then recently developed Bybee Interconnect Filters, I was at first reluctant to add more
filters to my system. In spite of my happy experience with the Speaker Filters, the word
"filter" suggested something negative/subtractive. I was informed that Bybee devices are not really filters at all; the current term
purifiers is much more apt and descriptive. So enlightened, I added (over time) two pairs of Interconnect Filters, for the CD player and turntable. I also had a few Bybee Quantum Purifiers inboarded into my amplifier and loudspeakers when they became available. All of these additions further magnified and intensified the beneficial effects, but for the sake of both budget and sanity I decided to stop right there. Thanks to this trifecta of Bybee devices, I no longer ate my heart out when I heard my
friend's (still far better-sounding) system or read the latest audio reviews of components to die for.
Bybee, Generation 2
Well, that tranquil interlude is over. With the arrival of these new Bybee Slipstream RCA Magic Bullets, everything is changed. Two surprises right from the git-go. First, these things are small and trim in contrast to the more thicker and much heavier devices I was used to. And when I just popped them onto my CD player to garner some preliminary impressions, I was taken aback.
It's immediately apparent that the new Mbs are much more powerful than any of the Bybee filters I had grown used to. So of course that made me all the more eager to get right down to some serious comparative listening.
Just for reference, the Magic Bullets go between an interconnect and an input or output jack. Though they can be used anywhere in the system, my first round of listening suggested that they work more dramatically between the CD player or turntable and the preamplifier. Jack Bybee suggested that the second pair of Mbs might possibly sound best used in tandem with the first on the same pair of interconnects, and that definitely proved to be the case. For the detailed listening tests, I explored all the possibilities. I first listened to the Mbs on the input from the CD player. Then I listened to the same discs again with Mbs on both the input and output connections. Next, I went through the same sequence with the turntable: a round of listening with one pair of Mbs, a second round with both pairs connected. In both cases, the results were astonishing.
After my first round of listening, I found that I had written "Bigger, more
definite" at the top of every page. My first impression was of a wider, deeper sound stage in which every sound was coming from a specific location, allowing me to
see the performers precisely and in great detail. My long experience of Bybee products had taught me that their profile is uniform and very consistent. By removing noise that works against the music at a subliminal level, they take sound that is generalized and a little blurred and transform it into sound that is concrete, particular, and in sharp focus. This in turn produces a heightened sense of realism that effortlessly compels both your attention and your emotions.
The opening of the "Daybreak" section of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe in the famous recording by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony (as remastered on a
Living Stereo CD) begins with the winds undulating in a relaxed but quietly plaintive way, then builds to a huge climax. With the Mbs in place, there is no strain to the sound, but rather a sense of flow that is altogether natural. Every solo registers in stunning detail, as do the weight and force of the entire orchestra. When the chorus enters, I close my eyes and feel physically transported back to Symphony Hall, for I can
see it clearly arrayed behind the orchestra. And the alertness and freshness of those youthful voices in the pristine glow of that hallowed space is simply breathtaking.
When I add the second pair of Mbs to the output of the CD player or turntable, things get even better. Yes, again, it is
bigger, more definite. (As I've said, Bybees are nothing if not consistent.) But this time what strikes my ear is the warmth and timbre of the sound, its color and sensuality. Needless to say, I feel absolutely no weariness listening to
"Daphnis and Chloe" a second time through. On the contrary, I am seduced all over again by the sheer gorgeousness of the playing, its erotic swell and release. But there is something else going on here. As good as the sound is on this reissue,
I've always heard some congestion in the big climax at the very end: the strings bleach out just a little, and the winds get lost in the final thunder of brass and chorus sounding at full cry. The Mbs clarify that complex of sound so that I hear each of those interconnected strands without in any way losing the swagger and sheer force of the ecstatic climax.
This is also the case when I listen (with both pairs of Mbs now connected to the turntable) to the famous performances of
Debussy's Images by Michealangeli on DG vinyl. The greater transparency and sensuality of
"Reflets dans l'eau" and "Poissons d'or" shine though in telling detail. The variety and delicacy of
Michealangeli's tonal shadings demonstrate why he has no equal in this repertory. However infuriating and willful he could often be, no pianist ever made a keyboard dazzle quite like this great Italian.
With that second pair of Mbs, I also find myself paying closer attention to interpretation, to the character of performances. For instance, I listen to
Respighi's Pines of Rome (Reiner, Chicago Symphony on Red Seal .5 remastered vinyl) right after the
"Dream of a Witches' Sabbath" from Charles Munch's (second and better) recording of
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique with his Boston Symphony (the original RCA vinyl). Here are RCA
Victor's two most important conductors and orchestras during the Living Stereo glory years of the late
1950's and early 60's, both doing music they were justly famous for. But hearing them juxtaposed, I am struck by their differences. Reiner organizes the music in one long arch, from the hush of misty dawn to the steady tread of the drumbeat that first announces the ghostly legions to the huge climax that summons back the Roman past.
Reiner's characteristic deliberateness and restraint, his unerring good taste, lend this shallow music a heroic cast it lacks in most other performances.
In the Berlioz, Munch is just as characteristically improvisational: you have no idea what
he's going to do next. Alternately fierce and graceful, the orchestra follows him through every whiplash turn, as well they should having played this score with him many times during his long tenure as music director. I grew up in Boston, and
Munch's Symphonie Fantastique was the highlight of the first concert I ever attended.
I've heard this record countless times. But hearing it with the Mbs wipes away the dust of familiarity and lets me relive in heart-thumping vividness all the excitement Munch and this great orchestra generate in the heat of the moment.
It's clear to me now that one pair of Mbs make a profound and discernible difference, but two pairs working in tandem produce the effect of listening to an entirely new and much better-sounding component. So I ask myself whether I want a new CD player or a new turntable. To help me decide, I play Benjamin
Britten's own performance of his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra on CD and vinyl. I have both the CD and the original LP of this sensational-sounding performance, so I figure that playing them back-to-back should give me a good read on which way to go.
On both CD and LP I can again follow all the changes I heard earlier. With one pair of Mbs I hear again the heightened realism of the enlarged sound stage, the visceral impression of more depth and greater detail. Again I
see where every sound is coming from. I more fully appreciate -- in a way I hadn't
before -- the brilliant accompaniments Britten uses to characterize each
instrument's moment in the spotlight. I have never noticed the dark basses plucking in the background as the harp declares its regal self-importance. And during the fugue, I hear each separate orchestral choir as it is added to the mix:
First fiddles, second fiddles, violas, cellos and double-basses, all registering with force and velocity.
It's a mighty complex of orchestration, to be sure, but not a sound is obscured or lost.
With two pairs of Magic Bullets attached, I appreciate not just the virtuosity of the players, but the full splendor of the sounds
they're producing. I had always thought Britten's interpretation of this music a little four-square; but hearing it now, I realize I
couldn't have been more wrong. Somehow I had missed the great good humor of his approach: the fun he seems to be having at the expense of more pompous and beefy-sounding British composers, the almost goofy pleasure he takes in playing with this orchestra (the London Symphony) he knows so well.
Final Summation? Ha!
So I hear all of those sonic revelations on both the CD player and the turntable; but in the end the record sounds better--warmer, more voluptuous. So
I'm going with the new turntable, and saving my pennies for the new CD player two more pairs of Mbs will provide. And thus, more or less exhausted from so much intense and rewarding listening, I am sitting down to write the final draft of this review
when the never-resting folks at BybeeInside.com throw me a curve in the form of their new Slipstream Speaker Charger.
And, inquires Mr. J. Bybee, would I mind giving these a listen too?
Coming Full Circle
The Slipstream Speaker Chargers go between the speaker cables and the speaker inputs, and are the new-millennium version of the original Quantum Speaker Filters I have been using happily for all these years. So once again I had two surprises in store. First, I was startled at how lightweight, trim, and flexible these babies were next to the blocky, truculent monoliths I was used to. Then I did some preliminary listening, and found that, as with the Magic Bullets, they seemed much more powerful than their predecessors. Apparently Jack Bybee is not just a genius;
he's also also a poet, for only a poet would think to concentrate more power in ever more concise forms.
The day before the Speaker Chargers showed up, I received in the mail a CD I had long been anticipating: a recent live performance of the Mahler Second Symphony with Oleg Caetani conducting the Robert Schumann Philharmonic on the Arts Music label. I plan to review this important release for the March issue, but of course I
couldn't resist slipping it into the CD player right away. Listening to it all the way through at low volume (my wife was home) suggested that this incredibly realistic recording captures with both sensitivity and weight the full range of
Mahler's sound world: from the hushed pizzicatti of the strings in the Andante to the clamor at the end of all creation.
As both pairs of Magic Bullets were serving with the turntable, I decided that listening to this new Mahler Second at full volume with the Speaker Chargers but without the Mbs would give me a fair idea of what I was dealing with. So with the best intentions I sit down in my
sweet spot, pen and notepad in hand. But soon the pen and pad are on the floor. Listening to this Mahler through the Speaker Chargers remains one of the most intimate and intensely emotional experiences
I've ever had as a music lover. At last, technology I can comprehend intuitively and
emotionally/technology serving music, the music itself raised to the level of magic. From the first notes of the
"Funeral March," my speakers simply disappear and I am transported to a first balcony seat in the Grand Room of the State Hall in Chemnitz, Germany on November 11, 1999, with this performance actually taking place. The presence and realism are thrilling. I hear and
see everything as if in three dimensions:
the conductor on his podium, the musicians in their seats, the breath Monika Straube takes before she begins to sing, the off-stage brass announcing the resurrection, the hushed solemnity with which the chorus first enters. I have never felt myself taken so deeply inside the music, so effortlessly compelled and beguiled as while immersed in this transcendent performance.
This, I realize afterward, is where all the Bybee devices I have experienced--from those first speaker filters to several pairs of interconnect filters to the new Magic Bullets to these astonishing Speaker Chargers--have been leading: toward total emotional involvement, immersion in the music. Here is the difference between good and great when it comes to the reproduction of sound. Good sound reproduces a musical performance exactly. But great sound lets you hear the music actually being made: the thump of the drumstick on the skin of the drum, the click of the clarinet as
it's being played, the pluck of the harp, the bow of the violin making contact with the strings, the throaty ache in
Sinatra's voice as he sings "That Old Feeling."
After recovering from that "Resurrection," and with a deadline looming, I did summon the strength to try the Speaker Chargers on two problematic CDs. Toru
Takemitsu's From Me Flows What You Call Time is essentially a concerto for orchestra and five percussionists, each with his/her own distinct sound world. The performance (BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis) cannot be faulted, but the sound had seemed flat and rather shrill, as if all the performers were crowded into a small room. Listening to it with the Speaker Chargers, the sound blossoms into the presence of a huge space (the Albert Hall, in fact) with the orchestra spread in front and the percussionists precisely spaced across the rear of the stage. The ability of the
"super-chargers" (as I am always tempted to call them) to illuminate instrumental colors and differentiate the tapestry of sounds, while also precisely locating the performers even in the thickest, most dissonant
passages -- is startling to say the least.
The CD Amazing Day is a fascinating collection of 20th Century music for
women's voices, featuring my very own Saint Mary's College Women's Choir with the brilliant Nancy Menk conducting. I attended the concert that preceded this recording, and it was one of the great occasions in the life of our campus. To hear those voices tested in a wide range of sounds and choral effects in the perfect acoustic of the Church of the Loretto was an unforgettable experience. The sound on the CD, I had thought, was too resonant, with the hall sometimes obscuring the clarity of the singing. Once again the
super-chargers prove me wrong, opening up the sound and expanding the space so that I can clearly distinguish the voices from the reverberation of the hall. (This wonderful CD is now available from the Saint
Mary's College Bookstore, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, (574)
To Bybee Or Not To Bybee
When it comes to Jack Bybee's devices, there have always been--and given human nature, there probably always will be--nay-sayers and skeptics. But over the past few years the negative voices have been diminishing as ever more listeners, audiophiles, inboarders and manufacturers trust to the evidence of their ears and not to some closed-minded ideology. How do these devices work? When I first asked that question so many years ago, my friend smiled cryptically and said,
"Better living through Quantum physics." I recommend that all parties interested in pursuing this question turn to the Bybee web-page where they can read more technical background as well as informative reviews by
Enjoy the Music.com™'s own Dick Olsher and Wayne Donnelley, far more technically adept and savvy writers than
I'll ever be. As a shamelessly nonscientific person, I've always resorted to analogy. As far as I can tell, a Bybee device is like one of those modern wonder drugs: it gets rid of diseased cells (electrons) while leaving healthy ones alone.
So I'm not going to embarrass myself by listing all the familiar devices and technologies I make use of every day without having the slightest idea of how they work. But lack of expertise
doesn't stop me from answering the phone; and tomorrow it won't stop me from watching my Patriots play in the AFC Championship game. To tell you
God's honest truth, I don't really care HOW these devices work. All I care about is their performance, which I have found to be consistently astonishing over many years of dedicated listening. For me, life without music would be life diminished and rather barren. So I consider these fruits of Jack
Bybee's labors precious gifts that always give great value no matter how much they
cost -- which in the context of hi-end audio price vs. performance, isn't all that much. To hear music recreated with such fidelity and realism and tonal splendor, to be drawn so effortlessly, yet deeply inside it, reconnects me with the sense of excitement and discovery I felt when I first started listening seriously to audio thirty or so years ago. These Bybee Slipstream products are Viagra for the
ears and the soul.
My advice is to begin by auditioning a pair of Magic Bullets. Put them on either your CD player or your turntable, or between your preamplifier and
amplifier -- wherever you most want a boost or feel a lack. Having been thrilled by the profound improvements that first pair of Bullets have made, you will then surely want another pair to transform that component into a brand new CD player or turntable. If you want to raise your entire system to a truly exalted level, step up to the Speaker Chargers. And remember the golden rule: two Bybees are better than one. And three better than two, etc. Or consider this: if they produce such wondrous effects in my aging system, just imagine what they can do in yours.
Bybee Slipstream RCA Magic Bullets: $400 per pair
Bybee Slipstream Speaker Chargers: $775 per pair
2072 Touraine Lane
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019