World Premiere Review!
A recent discussion in the Audiogon Forum asked "How much reality do you really need? Some of the replies included:
If it's on the recording, I want to hear it.
For my critical listening, I want the full Monty.
It's the nature of man to want more or different.
Reality is highly overrated.
Just FYI, "reality" is not really my jam.
Enough to hold my attention.
I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.
If a recording needs a playback system in order for you to hear it, and every system is different, how do you really ever know what's on the recording?
I've settled on just having an enjoyable listening experience, one without angst about perfection in the performance, recording, or equipment. :-)
There is no reality. It is all an illusion. You want the most believable illusion you can get or the most accurate interpretation of the artist's and engineer's intention.
Like a conductor playing an orchestra, the audiophile plays the system.
How salty do you like your French fries?
As much as possible; within the limits of what I'm willing to spend.
My only ultimate goal is to enjoy music. Reality blah blah-blah.
And There's More
And you know how that one goes. Both discussions are relevant to this review.
Whatever your take on reality, or your stance on the affordability of high-end gear, Rick Shultz at High Fidelity Cables has come up with a contact enhancement concoction that has dramatically shifted the sound quality and perceived value of my rig.
Yes, yes, I've heard horror stories and negative vibes about such products before. If you need to self-flagellate, check out this web page.
If you want to hear about this breakthrough treatment, read on. To put yourself in the mood, take a listen here:
It smells like Turpentine; it looks like India ink.
Well, it doesn't smell like turpentine, but it is black. On their website, there was a link to a Materials Safety Data Sheet which suggested some of the contents that might be incorporated in some way that pose a safety hazard if ingested. (The list may be deleted by the time you read this.) There is also lots of stuff in it that are not hazardous. In any case, unlike "Love Potion #9", you should never ingest NPS 1260. Their proprietary formulation is the real deal — a mixture of conductive polymers and conductive nanoparticles.
Unlike silver paste products many have tried in the past, "what is so different about this product is that it doesn't focus on electron transfer, it focuses on magnetic or electromagnetic field transfer," I'm told. Keep in mind this product derives from High Fidelity Cable's development of magnetic induction of signals in their audio cables. This is not low-tech — it's the real deal.
Like other contact enhancers, a little bit goes a long way and they have provided links to YouTubes at the bottom of their website to clearly illustrate how and how much to use on spade & banana speaker cables, power plugs, DIN phono cables, and RCA & XLR interconnects. Rick says it also works great on fuses, ground wires, and ground blocks, too. Personally, I found a party toothpick worked great for female XLR and DIN phono connectors. On everything else, I used the brush on the cap of the 1.5ml bottle I was given.
This brings up another obvious point. The review sample was given to me, free of charge with no expectation that I should wipe off my connectors and squeeze it back into the bottle for a return. So in that sense, I have been "paid" for this review. I also have the option to clean it off my connectors if I'm not satisfied at any point, which is not a difficult task, only tedious. So, now you want a spoiler alert?
Rick was curious about what my sonic preferences are and what I felt was missing in my current setup. My top priorities are resolution and transparency, and just below that would rank a sense of three-dimensional or holographic space. Just below that would rank tonal color. I'm not so concerned about the truth of timbre or tonal accuracy as I am more about bathing in the music with rich colors and a decent helping of bloom. I'm more of an "Enjoy The Music" guy than an "Perfect 'Phile Absolute Plus Sound Review" fanatic. Things like an immersive soundscape and depth of field come along with having my speakers on the long wall of the room and they are certainly icing on the cake.
I wasn't feeling critically deprived of anything in particular, especially since acquiring the AGD monoblocks and completing my total makeover of the Linn LP12 turntable this past year. But often you don't know what you need until you find something better. The NPS 1260 seemed like a relatively affordable tweak and the promise of enhancing the 3D presentation appealed to me. I was also very impressed with the High Fidelity Cables presentation in the huge foyer at AXPONA in 2019 so I figured we had a convergence of audio priorities.
Aside from analyzing the sound in audiophile fashion, the most important thing for me is the ease in which I am able to listen to the music. How much brain power am I forced to use to experience it? How does it just naturally happen, or flow? How easily does the music evoke an emotional response from me, whether it be just a physical symptom like goosebumps or toe-tapping, or an emotional response of joy, sadness, love, or loss? Does it grab my attention and draw me into the performance? Can I listen for a couple of hours (not necessarily endlessly) without getting irritated? (Getting "tired" can be the consequence of a demanding piece of music, not a consequence of the rig itself.) The answers to these questions will be obvious by the end of the review, even if I don't address them specifically.
I decided to start at the source end of my system and work my way down to the speaker binding posts. I omitted the AC plugs going into my Synergistic Research PowerCell8 SE power conditioner since that would be difficult to clean out if it proved to be too much in some way. I did, however, treat the 30A IEC input to the conditioner. I have three sources — CD, LP, and a tuner which I use to listen to Hearts of Space each week. I started with the S/PDIF cable going into the DAC, just that one end.
The Days Of Our Lives
Day 3: Digital cable RCA from Sony transport
Day 4: AC cable into IEC input of Sony transport
Day 5: AC cable into IEC input of DAC external power supply
Day 6: DC cable from external power supply to DAC and
RCA phono cables into Coincident phono stage
Day 9: RCA interconnects (both ends) from tuner to Coincident line stage and
RCA interconnects (both ends) from phono stage to line stage
Day 10: XLR interconnects (both ends) from DAC to line stage
Phono cartridge pins
DIN pins on the Musiko tonearm
Day 11: RCA interconnects (both ends) from line stage to AGD monoblocks
AC IEC inputs to phono & line stage external power supplies
DC cables from external power supplies to phono stage and line stage
Day 12: AC IEC inputs to monoblocks
Banana plugs on both end of speaker cables
Day 17: 30A IEC input to Synergistic Research power conditioner
As you see above, I started slowly and cautiously. Treating just one end of an interconnect produced a noticeable difference, especially the very first one. Doing both ends at the same time sped up the process and did not make the music darker. On a couple of occasions I took a break of a couple of days to assess the longer-term settling in of the NPS 1260, though once again, Rick assured me that ultimate results would take up to six weeks to achieve.
On virtually every application on a new cable, there was a nearly immediate increase in transparency and resolution, but also a very forward presentation that made me feel like I was in one of the front rows at a live performance. It was pretty intense and not something I would like as a permanent sound signature. Fortunately, by the next day the sound had settled in and even greater resolution became apparent. Early on, with the first few levels of cables, say down to the line stage, it became readily apparent that the noise floor was dropping with each additional cable being treated. Beyond that, the noise floor seemed to stabilize or perhaps diminish in imperceptibly small degrees. Or maybe the room tone of my listening room masked the differences beyond that point.
The effect of the lower noise floor was more inner detail, tonal color (richer timbre), and greater dynamics. Along with the higher resolution and greater transparency, it became much easier to comprehend lyrics and follow the lines of individual instruments in the mix. By the time I was treating cables going into the line stage, the previously aged cables had been running from three to nine days. Since all of that gear (except the Coincident phono stage) was solid-state, I could leave it running 24/7.
I even left the phono stage and tubed line stage on 24/7 once they had treated cables running to them. I could leave my Sony ES CD player on 'repeat' and the tuner on full time, both constantly feeding music to the line stage. From about Day 6 I would leave the entire rig up playing music 24/7, though at very low volume if my wife was watching TV or at night when we were sleeping.
Each source that I treated felt like a major component upgrade after the NPS 1260 settled in for a day or two. My humble Sony ST S550ES tuner is no longer humble with the addition of an Audio Sensibility Testament power cable, ERS paper, Dynamat chassis damping material and Synergistic Research footers added. Yet as good as I thought it was, the addition of NPS 1260 to the interconnects and even the pins on the F-type connectors of the coaxial cable coming from the Fanfare FM-2G antenna, raised the performance to a remarkable new high. Hearts of Space on NPR had such a black background I was expecting UFOs and I could clearly see the Milky Way.
Sixteen Days @ Sea
That show was followed by a syndicated performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. It was either recorded on tape, or there was a lot of air moving past the microphones…or perhaps a subway running past the theater. I could hear definite noise in the seconds before the music began and the few seconds between the movements. The music itself was enthralling, both from a performance standpoint (though I'm no expert) as well as from a sound quality perspective. As with the Mozart piece, there was a level of resolution, transparency, inner detail, and dynamics that begged close comparison with live music. The Fifth was followed by a Tchaikovsky waltz that was equally delightful and captivating. I swear, this is not the kind of music I normally listen to, but it sounded so good I was sucked into it like it was a Stevie Ray Vaughn or Gary Moore guitar solo.
To those of you who scream "Hogwash, no FM radio can sound that good!" I must reply "Hogwarts! Get thyself a vial of NPS 1260 and experience the magic."
Clean Digital Cable
Just for the fun of it, I pulled out my digital cable and cleaned off the RCA connectors on the cable, the transport, and the DAC. In listening to my compilation CD, the music degraded only slightly, sounding a little rawer and slightly less transparent. If someone had done the same without me knowing it, I would not likely have noticed the difference since the rest of the rig was all treated and the sound quality was at such a high level. When I re-treated the cable I noticed a very slight improvement. This should not be interpreted to mean the stuff doesn't do much. Even with the source cable untreated, the NPS 1260 on the rest of the rig brought the sound quality to an extraordinarily high level. In hindsight, I probably should have done this test before I proceeded with treating the rest of the rig. Hey, I'm fallible.
The boys in North Dakota,
I also thought it would be fun to swap out my ADG GaNFET solid-state amps for my Magic Tube Research monoblocks with parallel 300B tubes. Going from 85 Wpc Class D to 18 Wpc Class A from tubes should be quite a trip, I thought. And I wasn't prepared for what happened. The quality of Eddie Wong's tube amps took on the same increase in resolution and transparency as the AGD, but also seemed to double in power with more bass slam and no evidence of clipping in several places on my compilation CD that would normally reveal that shortcoming. I could feel myself being drawn across the border into the land of vacuum tubes once again. The tube amps were somewhat more colored than the AGD, but I found them very pleasant and engaging once again.
As my reference amps, they had been acceptable if I could ignore the occasional slight clipping. Now, with the NPS 1260, they were completely acceptable. I was mesmerized. I will not be selling my AGD, however, as they open the door for me to review more demanding speakers when the occasion arises. It's also nice to have two flavors available. Plus, a cool-running amp for summer and a tube amp to help warm the house in the winter. Damn, I'm getting decadent in my old age.
3D — No Glasses Required
The NPS further enhanced this three-dimensional immersive image of the musicians, but it was of the slowest characteristics to mature for me, taking a couple of weeks. Perhaps in another month, it will get even better. As of now, it is delightfully entertaining to experience the music as it flows from one section of an orchestra to another and is layered from front to back, perhaps with a choir even further up stage.
What the NPS 1260 did for my system almost immediately was to allow the music to flow seamlessly, uninterrupted from the soundstage behind the plane of the speakers through the space in front of the speakers all the way to my listening position. Without the NPS the soundstage possessed the ambiance of the recorded venue, while the space from the speakers to my listening chair had the ambiance of the room in my home. The music was "back there" from the speakers to the front wall behind them. NPS brought the ambiance of the recorded venue all the way out to my listening position, creating a "you are there" experience on everything but the most dreadful recordings.
On the Enjoy the Music.com website within the high-end audio Review Magazine section is a sub-section on How We Review. Partway down are four diagrams of various performance levels of systems within a room. Previously, my room most closely matched the first diagram. I thought I was locked into that performance level because my side walls are far to the left and right of my speakers. The NPS 1260 brought me very close to the fourth diagram where the sound of the recording venue permeates the entire room. Apparently, it has not been the absence of side walls. The excellent resolution, transparency, dynamics and low noise floor brought into play by the NPS 1260 seem to have pulled off this trick for me.
We all live in a yellow submarine.
Rick Shultz was delighted to get his goop into my hands because he wanted to show that it works great on good gear as well as more entry-level gear. There are rigs far finer than mine, but his next review should be done with more modest gear. I highly suspect that it will elevate equipment of any level — possibly to the point of negating any desire to purchase something new and more expensive. NPS will probably not put any manufacturers out of business as it is human nature for people to lust for something better or more expensive. But it will certainly give people pause—perhaps long enough to pay off college loans or save up enough money to buy something exotic. If you already consider yourself to be "finished" with your system, let me encourage you to make just one more purchase. It's transformative.
Should we be worried that unscrupulous vendors will use this to enhance the products they are selling? Perhaps in a brick and mortar store where a rig can be set up long enough for the NPS to settle down and blossom, yet at an audio show it would be a risky gamble. It takes at least a couple of days to reach an acceptable effect. The initial sonic signature could drive many people out of the room. Since it remains viscous, it is vulnerable to being wiped off in handling and transit, making pre-conditioning a rig a bit problematic.
Beware Of Substitutes!
The world is in an uproar,
Many of us seek out the comfort of personal audio to escape the uproar of today's world, but it would likely be a grave mistake to apply NPS 1260 to the stereo jack of your headphone cables. The thought of trying to apply it to USB or Ethernet cables creates visions of smoking DACs and laptops… unless perhaps you're a miniature artist who wields a brush with three camel hairs and also knows which pins are hot. The NPS is highly conductive and the possibility of a short in such tiny, multi-conductor connectors seems high. Likewise, the possibility of the viscous material smearing across the non-conductive bands on a stereo jack with similar results is a test for someone with lots of expendable gear.
Six Weeks Before The Mast — Addendum Forthcoming
Summary, June 21, 2021
The NPS 1260 3D Enhancer solution is, by far, the most astonishing tweak I have reviewed over the past two decades. While its description reads like snake oil to audiophiles who have ever been burned with a purchase — and they are legion, the proof is in the application. The tiny 1.5ml bottle is sufficient to treat an entire system and virtually every component that carries an electrical signal will benefit from it. All your sources, all your amps, and nearly all your cables.
My upper-middle class rig has jumped from one costing tens of thousands of dollars to sounding like one that costs hundreds of thousands. I could get off of the audio equipment merry-go-round today were I not such a Curious George. The only way I would not give it my highest recommendation would be to learn it is made from whale oil. If I hadn't had the privilege of doing this review, I'd take this advice and buy some. To paraphrase the late Walter Cronkite: "This is your music, and you are there."
Revisiting The NPS 1260 3D Enhancer Solution