Review By Wong Kok Chieat
I have my fair share of experiences with power conditioners. Over the years, I have been exposed to many power conditioners myself. Some brought pleasant effects, while some detrimental. No matter what the effects are, they are surely obvious. My first conditioner was the Transparent PowerBank Ultra. Though it was about 5 years ago, I could still vividly remember the improvements it brought to my setup. I still remembered how much I loved the Transparent PowerBank Ultra as it imbued a golden hue over the sound presentation. My setup was warm, sweet and pleasant to listen to.
Prior to adding the PowerBank, the highs were messy and splashy. At times, high hats were forward and intrusive. That rendered the drums detached, with the high hats appearing closer while the rest stayed behind. By adding the PowerBank Ultra, the high frequencies were smoothened and refined. What shocked me was that the high hats were brought back and presented cohesively with the rest of the drum kits. The presentations emerged more cohesively and performed more collectively as a whole.
The PowerBank Ultra served me fondly until it was replaced with the Richard Gray Power Company 400 MKII. I still remembered how I was literally blown off the listening chair the moment I hit the play button. There was so much more bottom end grunt and energy. Because of this, the musical presentation improved in terms of imaging as well as density. The harmonics structures were more complete and richer, rendering string instruments with nuance and delicacy. The strings had better bounciness and textures.
At first, I was not used to the new weightier presentations as the results of adding the RGPC. There seemed to be an over saturation in term of sound density, everything was heavier. It took me a while before realizing that this was the heft that was necessary for imaging body to create that sense of presence so eagerly desired amongst audiophiles. The decays too were more polished, lithe and with no trace of splitting ends.
As I listened and tested more and more higher priced stuff, similar patterns emerged without fail. The pricier siblings would always perform with better resolutions, greater refinement and heftier presentation. As I dug deeper, it has always dawned on me that the pricier siblings had always come equipped with flashier and more elaborate power supply designs. Be it the bigger power transformers or the better spec-ed components like resistors, capacitors and even the internal cablings were of higher purity.
This firmed my belief in quality electrical supply. And it remained as simple as that, better regulated power juice just simply translated to heightened musical enjoyment and listener involvement.
How Does It Work?
While the PowerBank Ultra remained the resistive solution and RGPC provided the parallel solution at best, the Mini Reference was both a resistive and a parallel solution, depending on the outlets you plug your equipments to. Though it was easy to understand the working principal and design behind PowerBank and RGPC, it required some reading on my part to grasp the inner working of the Mini Reference.
There were 3 duplexes in the back of the Stealth Mini Reference. Two duplexes were coded in red while one was coded in white. There were three major components within the black, unassuming box of Stealth Mini Reference. One was the IPF module, which consisted of caps and coils, working together to curb RF and EMI interferences. The other parts were a Quantum QRT module and also a Quantum Physics Noise Disruptor. As the power entered the Stealth Mini Reference, it got fed into two sections, only the IPF module and the QRT module were tapped. The Noise Disruptor was placed in close proximity with the other two modules.
The two red duplexes were meant for lower powered sources and line stages. These benefited from the more conventional resistive IPF module that indeed was current limiting. The white duplex was meant for power hungry mono blocks and power amplifiers. Now, it got interesting from here. Disregard of the duplexes, all of them benefited from Stealth Mini Reference's parallel power conditioning.
The QRT module was tapped to the power input early on, hence, due to its parallel shunt filter nature, all equipments plugged in benefited from cleaner power supply. And with the Noise Disruptor in close proximity, it was claimed to be able to absorb RF and EMI interferences, and subsequently dissipating them as heat. For this reason, the Stealth Mini Reference's white duplex did not work in a current limiting manner. But the two duplexes meant for lower powered components provided additional conditioning and better isolation from the resistive IPF module.
Is It Effective?
Jacky Live Performance [Universal 9827204] can sound as close to a live performance as should be. The limit to it being sounding canned is normally due the system's inability to reproduce such scale and failure to render the mass of the venue. I am not belittling your setups nor boasting mine to be able to reproduce such a grandiose replica, but reproducing a fraction of it and maintaining the accuracy of that fraction proved to be a test to any equipment.
And I knew the Stealth Mini Reference performed as intended when I found myself cranking up the volume, disregarding my house owner, to immerse myself in that sense of live performance. Even at a fraction of the real one. To me, the heightened appreciation during live performance was simply the collective reactions and stimulations from various human senses. Some major contributing senses would be the visual, touch/pressure and, of course, the hearing.
The senses, if working independently, were simply inadequate to heighten our "awareness" and receptions to the music. Yes, the boldest setup I have come across could rival the SPL of a live performance, and closing my eyes imagining a grand orchestra in front of me did get me fooled for a short while. That too, relied on imagery "visual" image. With the Stealth Mini Reference, I found myself imagining less as the sense of space and air was vividly laid bare before me. As I delved deeper in reducing the noise interference from my setup, the reward was always the sense of pitch black silence that helped in depicting the sense of dimensions between the instruments and recording venues.
The first few seconds in Jacky's CD was enough for me to draw a conclusion on Stealth Mini Reference's effectiveness. The soundstage extended deep and expanded wide. However, do not underestimate the Stealth Mini Reference for it was not merely pushing everything further away. The distance between the nearest and the farthest simply became so distinctive. The dead quiet background simply filled space between the instruments as well as adding dimensionality for that sense of fore and aft layering. Still, this came without creating a hollow effect within the soundstage. In fact, I observed better distribution of sound energy beyond and between the speakers. This enabled better portrayal and recreation of the actual sound field. The cheers from the fans gave me goose bumps, I was very much fooled into believing that I was with the crowd!
Jacky's CD could sound harsh and if cranked in loud volume, the presentation could impose as rough and harsh. Spend some long hours with such reproduction; I am sure you would end up having nausea and fatigue. The Stealth Mini Reference did a splendid job in refining the high frequencies and firming up the low regions. Be it crash cymbals, ride cymbals or hi-hats, they all came in a very refined, silky and controlled manner. Yet not at the expense of smoothing out that needed energy and speed.
There was also the cleansing effect from the lower mid frequencies to down under. With other CDs, double basses and bass guitars improved in textures and tangibility. Bass drums and floor drums came with such weight and impact. With added tautness to the bass, it was easier for the bass to extend and sink deeper. This was actually one of the early observations I had with the Stealth Mini Reference. The firm bass reproduced laid strong foundation for that sensation of rhythm and pace. There was no slightest sense of sluggishness spotted, further confirming that Stealth Mini Reference did not impede current at all.
The other area of improvement was how everything snapped into focus. Imaging emerged more effortlessly, instruments transpired in solid and unwavering locations. With close microphone recording, the sense of pressurized air between the vocalist and microphone was so strongly felt that as if the singers were in-house, singing to you. The dead quiet background also allowed tremendous low level details retrieval, thus, giving unrepressed micro dynamic contrast. Without which, instruments and vocal could sound bland, dull and unemotional. The listener involvement and presence factor, to me, was convincing and believable!
Is It Consistent?
In another setup, with high-powered Audio Research separates and huge Marten floorstanders, the sense of that eerie, pitch-black darkness was better felt than in my setup. I guess the better rigs due the greater resolutions offered this. It was here that we found out that Stealth Mini Reference worked even for equipments not plugged directly into it. Due to the complicated wirings, we just plugged the Stealth Mini Reference into one of the outlets. Even then, I could still manage to observe changes by plugging and unplugging the Stealth Mini Reference. Although I could not affix a percentage to the effectiveness of Stealth Mini Reference when it was used in this manner, it was enough to show the improvements to have the Stealth Mini Reference as part of the setup. Disregard of connection methods.
Yes, You Should Give It A Try!
Power conditioner which employs 3 high quality duplexes, silver wiring, with spike and surge suppression, 20 amp breaker, provides several stages of purification and high current design. The unit is also cryogenically treated and also employs the famous MST treatment.
Power cord not included.
Price: SGD 1950 ($999 120V or $1200 for 240V)