I've been an audiophile for almost five decades, now; really since 1969. And it never ceases to amaze me when I come across something that appears to work wonders in an area where previously one had thought it to be perfectly addressed. I speak about pure power from the wall outlet, and any filtration (or regeneration) to clean it up as applied to one's audio and video system. On the surface, a piece of gear should work well so long as it is plugged into a working outlet. But as a 'phile, I know that this is just the beginning of my fascination. Within a truly high-resolution playback system, everything introduced into or near an AV system makes a difference in the performance quality; to some extent or another.
In the past, I have gone to such great lengths to achieve the "perfect" power supply as using batteries to run the entire system; various types from dry cell to liquid batteries, such as the ones found in automotive and camping supply stores. I've also extensively used uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), which feature rechargeable batteries to regenerate 50 or 60 Hz @ 60, 120, and 240 Volts pure sine wave alternating current power. The idea is that any line noise that might occur as a result of component to component interactions or from household appliances in use or even at one's neighbors home can be eliminated if one generates one's own AC power, locally! Anybody ever listen to their system after the electricity goes out but while your home is still powered from its own propane generator?
Aside from these large and often noisy UPS (due to the cooling fans used to thermally chill the battery recharging system) or propane generator with a motor, batteries have been the best solution for me when using existing components designed to run off AC wall power. When the power is pure (and measurably so using an Audio Precision 3 system), I have observed improvements across the audio and video performance board... even with the very best built and regulated gear in the world; a system driven by a pure power signal will provide superior sonic imaging, with far greater dynamics, tonal shading, spatiality, tactility, vibrancy, immediacy, freedom from audible distortions, and just plain outright believability. These terms and others are often bandied about (presumably meaning anything one likes in a given context). But in the end it is the sonic illusion which must be truly believable in a way that often produces freezé – the little goosebumps produced on one's arm, neck, back, and sometimes legs – then we are truly in an elevated state of emotional awareness; something only really possible with stereophilia.
As a recording engineer, I have also discovered that I can capture these different sonic variables to power supply quality and compare them by recording the results! A/B testing of different types of power supplies with the ability of hearing repeatedly how any change affects different gear's capability of conveying emotion and holographic soundstaging through music and sound is both demanding and revealing. And I meticulously use remastering skills I learned while working at Chesky Records in the early 1990's, with procedures developed to transfer master tapes to digital for DSD as transparently as possible. This has allowed me to record, measure, and repeatedly compare whatever differences there are (if any) between two otherwise identical states of gear under test, with me repeating the exercise until I have verified or denied any impact from whatever the variation under test is or was supposed to be.
Often, even the subtlest of variations can be located and identified using a variety of practices and instrumentation (many now thankfully available as APPs on our smart phones) including spectral analysis, frequency response, total harmonic distortion, signal to noise ratio, phase accuracy, cyclic variations over time, inter-channel crosstalk, dynamic range, and (most importantly) listening – a skill that is sadly lacking in both engineers and audiophiles, alike, these days!
These points are all the more interesting as we make our way to my latest device under examination (test): HiFi-Tuning's Supreme Harmonizer by Bernd Ahne, which is a component that seemingly shouldn't do anything at all, yet it does! How it achieves this magic may remain a mystery, because the interior of the product is shielded (see photos) from prying eyes and reverse engineering. But it is a fact that is repeatable and recordable, and perhaps a bit measurable to a very small yet significant degree.
HiFi Tuning Supreme Harmonizer's
I recently saw an amazing offer by the 49 year old American Magnepan Loudspeaker company: if a customer purchased but did not like their latest 1.7i speakers (starting at around $2000), they could return them for a complete refund, plus be reimbursed $100 for your troubles! This struck me as a bold statement of confidence concerning the sound quality most users could expect straight out of the box. So, I called Wendell Diller, longtime marketing manager for the company, and asked him how many people had accepted his offer, and then returned the speakers, to which he replied: None!
Naturally, I requested a review loan. Well, these amazing 3-way quasi-ribbon loudspeakers, which I will be reviewing here in a future issue of Enjoy the Music.com's Review Magazine, are able to reveal extremely fine, nuanced, yet dynamic sound in a manner that makes it easy to describe even small changes, such as the ones I heard with the Harmonizer. And although I have many other loudspeakers available for doing such comparisons, ranging in price and complexity from affordable to obscene, it is because of the immediacy, speed, tactility, and openness of the Magnepan speakers that I am able to write with a certainty of opinion – which is this: plugging in the HiFi Harmonizer into the same outlet as your system makes that system sound significantly more realistic and musical in a way which goes beyond what it already was a pretty damn fantastic feat in a well-designed and set-up system!
Let me describe what happened. I received the Harmonizer in a pretty small but heavy box that also came with HiFi-Tuning's latest Supreme Silver power cord – an accessory I will test in different configurations (in a future review). There was no literature included; no indication of the how's or why's. A call to the Bernd confirmed I should simply plug in the unit into the same outlet as my system and listen. So, initially when I plugged it in, which happened to be an outlet servicing only the digital music server: both PC & MAC based recording and playback of up to 960kHz / 64-bit, any differences heard were next to none existent. I couldn't hear or measure any change to the sound quality of my digital music system. But then, it turns out these digital sources also include their own wallwart transformer, isolating them from the incoming AC power, anyway. So in the second test configuration, I plugged the Harmonizer directly into the same outlet as the Digital Amplification Company's Golden Cherry Amplifiers (on review loan) powering the Magnepan 1.7i speakers. And here the change in sound quality was a quite noticeable improvement; not subtle but immediate. All those crazy words I used above to describe various areas possible areas of improvement were clear and obvious when playing a wide variety of my favorite music (including a lot of film soundtracks) from digital sources.
A perennial favorite of mine is the early Chesky Records jazz album, Clark Terry Pennies From Heaven [JD-2 1989]; for which I was lucky enough to be editor of the simultaneously recorded 15 IPS quarter inch analog master tape (Dolby SR). I therefore have a great deal of experience listening to this original master both in it's digital as well as it's analog version. For those who would like to listen along at home, you may purchase a copy at HDtracks.com in various formats including high resolution PCM and DSD (the original 128-times oversampled CD is still available, too). Hearing the first track with the same name as the album, Clark is supposed image (sonically appear) just to the right of the right side loudspeaker - but clearly in front of the plane defined by the two speakers. While this is an easy to produce stereo illusion with most well set-up systems that feature careful control of floor, sidewall, and ceiling reflections, plugging the Harmonizer into the same outlet as the amps removed some of the last doubts I may have had as to the ultimate transparency of this recording, engineered by Bob Katz.
Apparent sonic distances proximate to myself and the recorded ensemble of musicians were immediately stabilized and became precise in a way that was clearly holographic and tactile when I closed my eyes! Instrumental outlines now changed as the performance went on, turning as the musician's move, and I became aware of subtle distinctions in Clark's embouchure (lip shape) as well as the neat rhythmic fingering introduced by the bass player – Victor Gaskin, during their respective solos. The sonic textures were now immediately obvious and fleshed-out in comparison to not using the Harmonizer. I had been just as surprised when I first began playing around with powering my whole audio system from battery power in 1992. Properly configured and noise free AC mains power can definitely improve the sound heard from any system; even one's that have been specially purpose built to power a recording / production facility.
Making my way around my library, I selected some neat production music by Keith Mansfield from the KPM Library – you may remember it from Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse Double Feature as the some of the interstitial materials between features. Here, I choose his signature 1979 album, Night Bird, on Vocalion Records.
This is some of the funkiest, hot disco studio album music every committed to vinyl in an era before CD and even most digital recording. So the engineers and also the musicians are at their height in England performing with a truly soulful American beat. As a composer and arranger, Mansfield's works are legendary and it is almost inconceivable that anyone watching movies and TV for the last 50 years has not heard and loved at least one of his many melodies.
This was an era from the late 1960's & 1970's that I simply adore because the commitment to quality (even when it was stick, like Batman (1966 – '68) was evident in every frame of film and bar of music performed. Names like Brian Bennett, Alan Hawkshaw, and Johnny Pearson defined countless jazz, rock, pop, and disco variations on popular tunes of the time that have in many ways surpassed the originals in notoriety without anyone actually realizing it! Consult the catalogs of Amphonic Music, Bruton Music, Conroy, KPM Library, and Vocalion Records to learn more. And the recorded sound of these tunes is just outstanding, again revealing subtle improvements that in context are a tremendously overdue area of noise and distortion suppression without detrimental effect to the music.
This often C.HI.P.S-sounding music is sufficiently complex and driving that it can demonstrate things like dynamics and impact better than many other forms of music; especially when it's this well recorded and produced. Have a listen! And don't be surprised to find yourself looking for and listening to these wonderful compositions and arrangements which are at once so familiar and also different.
1) A Classy Pair with Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie (1979)
– Pablo Records / LP & CD
2) Jacob Cats (1577-1660): Klagende Maeghdenenandereliederen –
Camerata Trajectina – Globe Records (2008) / CD
3) Dave Valentine: Kalahari – GRP Crescendo (1982) / LP
I liked the sound better without the Harmonizer. And this began a furious back and forth set of comparisons to figure out what was going on, here; particularly on track two Monkey Button. Now this song has several percussion instruments including tapping on the rim of the drum kit. Close-mic'ed and with little ambience mixed in on that on sound, I came away hearing what it was more clearly with the Harmonizer. But I liked the sound better without it. And I noticed something else: The bass was being noticeably affected by the Harmonizer in a way that (with this album) seemed detrimental to the music. So I decided to try a few more tunes.
4) Karen Briggs: Karen – Manley Labs - VTL Records (1993)
/ LP & CD
My firm professional opinion is that, under normal conditions with a well set-up highly resolving system in a tuned room, you will hear an improvement in how recordings are reproduced. But this improvement is different from system to system and sometimes from one recording to another. But in the end, the HiFi Harmonizer produces more improvement then it sacrifices. Greater detail is evident, subtleties of texture stand out more from the background, and imaging becomes more palpable and holographic. And I'm willing to say that most people are going to hear this to some degree. But the most important aspect, musicality, will be heard first and for most, as the Harmonizer does what it says: it Harmonizes the different aspects on a system to produce a greater whole than without it. And this is something that is worth going to a demo to hear and appreciate for oneself. I look forward to reporting back on my further experiences.