Hello fellow Audiolics! Welcome to another meeting of Audiolics Anonymous, our support group for the insatiably tweaked. Have we done any listening this month, or have you been spending most of your time tweaking as usual?
This month I am back to discussing my old nemesis: AC line noise. See my previous articles for my descriptions of my travails over the years (Chapters 3, 15, 25, 30, 35). I must have the worst electricity of anybody in the United States. The power in downtown New York is cleaner according to several friends from there who have come up for a listen. I have tried everything from AC-DC-AC power supplies to high-end AC cables, ferrite blockers, a line of eight AC isolation transformer, special plugs, and even an AC generator. The power company's chief engineer has even been over here, changed out my transformer at the pole, isolated me from my neighbor, and even put in a new feeder line to my neighborhood... and all of these things have improved but not eradicated the AC noise.
Now I know there will be some engineers out there who will claim there is no such thing as AC noise being damaging to music reproduction, especially with the competent power supplies that are available with high-end audio equipment, yet have had several doubters change their minds when hearing my system with the various AC improvers both in and out of the playback chain. And the situation is only becoming worse with the various junk that is being infused into the power company's supposedly pristine 60Hz wave, even from our own house's different digital, fluorescent, and motor noise producers. Remember, your electricity is carrying on its 60Hz wave other information from subsonic to ultra-high frequency waves, which in audio sense would be considered noise distorting the 60Hz wave. Unhappily, each piece of equipment would need very expensive power supply improvements to shield out this noise. Even then, to retrieve the DC our equipment needs from AC most of our equipment is made only to retrieve the peeks of the wave, which if distorted or compressed, will give poor DC output.
Each fix has done something to improve the purity of the AC signal in some way, yet each has also done something negative... from adding some other noise to decreasing transients, etc. Thus, until I found Jim Weil's Sound Application CF-X units, discussed in Chapters 25, 30, 35), it solved all of my problems... or at least I thought so. The signal was pristine every time of the day, not just at midnight. Combined with his power cords, I could enjoy my system 24 hours a day and was in pig heaven thinking that no further improvements could be made to the cleanliness of the power. I even gave Jim's stuff Product of the Century status! I was so happy with its function and to this very day find his newest CF XE12 units to be superb at cleaning up the AC.
But as with all things in audiophiledom, one can't tell if the system is at its best until you hear something better out of it, and then you know you were originally wrong. And if you think you are at perfection, wait a few months until something new arrives that further improves the sound. Thought I would be satisfied for life with what I was listening to.
Unhappily for my retirement savings, have been proven wrong yet again that no improvement could be made, and by that nemesis of my pocketbook by none other than Lloyds Walker of Walker Audio. Every time he calls me with some improvement he has dreamed up I am filled with anticipation as they have all truly improved what I have previously had. Also find myself filled with dread, as each of his improvements has left my pocketbook a little emptier. He has become my personal demon! He even has a phone number with the first three numbers being 666 (610-666-6087). I try to resist, but he beckons me each time with the phrase "I'll send it to you on approval, and you can send it back at no cost to you, (if you can)." Now doesn't that sound like temptation at its worst. I now have his $28,000 turntable, multiples of his $385 per set feet and cabinet dampers, the Vivid CD-DVD fluid, multiples of his High Definition Links, and his $1,500 turntable motor drive. I shudder every time he calls.
Anyway, his latest invention is the Velocitor Power Line Enhancer. Had heard two of these units in comparison to my Sound Applications units at a dealer's home. I did hear some improvements, which while impressive, did not make me jump at getting a couple of units to try in my house. Why? Maybe it was my backbone suddenly solidifying, or perhaps, the look of my stock portfolio's value. Or perhaps the price of $2,695 for a six-outlet unit plus $425 for its stand, and $650 for the best power cord compared to The CF's 12 outlets at $4,200. But within two days my backbone jellied and I called Lloyds. "Would he send me a couple of units to trial?" "But of course" he said with a devilish laugh. At least I had enough gumption to ask for only two, and without his recommended power cords, as I had an extra set of NBS Signatures and Dave Elrod, of Elrod Power Systems Inc. was sending me two of his top of the line EPS-3 power cords for review. But that story is for next month's column.
Each unit consists of a pine box with six Q.R.T'ed high conductivity receptacles and a grounding post on the top, an IEC plug on the side, and three of his Valid Points. For an additional $425 there is also a butcher-block stand with four of his resonance control discs. He recommends either the Omega Micro or Silent Source power cords as he finds they mate best with the units. All wiring is solid core ultra pure copper and silver and all electronics, wire, etc., is cryogenically treated. The unit has no power switches, circuit breakers, fuses, transformers, chokes, filters or surge protectors in the circuit. So what does it have inside it other than air and magic? Lloyd only says that he has taken the Q.R.T. circuit from Quantum Products, Inc. as reviewed in Chapter 15 and improved upon it. Its not much heavier than the outlets and wood it is made of, so other than the Quantum circuit, maybe there's just some pixie (or devil) dust inside. I don't know and Lloyds is not telling. And considering the price I am not opening it to find out.
How does it work? Again, Lloyd is silent. Only saying "...it works on the sub atomic level to align the electricity making it more conductive and efficient." Each unit is made to be left on as they require two to three days to break in and two hours from a cold start to come to their peak. Power consumption is only five watts with nothing plugged in thus one should leave them on. But that does tell me it is doing some work, or maybe only heat loss. I don't know. Anyway, he is right on all counts. While the unit did its thing cold turkey, it improved the system even more over the next few days. And like the Quantum products, the $595 Symphony Pro (of which I still have in my system), the effect improves with age (unlike yours truly).
So what have the units done for my system for twice the price of the Sound Application units? The major change is an inky black lack of audio noises all of the time. With all equipment running, except for the normal tube noise, there is silence and the tube noise is also decreased to a very faint hiss... even with my 110dB efficient horns. This allows the micro information of the sound stage, hall, and unhappily, with analog and some digital, recording equipment noise, to gel into a whole. With six-channel SACD's, when the recording starts one goes from dead silence to a sudden uncanny felling that one has been transported to the venue. One actually feels the pressurization that one feels in the concert hall.
Second, transients are more natural and quick. On great piano recordings, the subtle gradations of how the pianist is striking the keys becomes much more evident. Percussion is more percussive. Strings more incisive, brass more biting. This also affects the bass by tightening it up. Whether this is due to an improvement in how the amps control the fundamental or how the overtones of the bass note are created I do not know, but the difference is not subtle. Sort of like changing from an underpowered tube to a 1000-watt solid-state amplifier to drive subwoofers.
Third, individual instruments become more three dimensional and life-like. On the best recordings (read Old Shaded Dogs and Mercs), one can hear the shape of the piano and its position. I have never heard that before on my system.
Last, while Lloyd feels that the biggest improvement is on the analog side, I have found that it makes the biggest difference in my digital reproduction. I do believe that digital is much more susceptible to line noise than analog. One appears to gain at least one least significant bit of information when the AC is cleaned up, no matter what AC device you use, with some obviously better than others. How? It becomes more analog. Enough said.
For those videophiles among us, the units also worked superbly at cleaning up my video signal. Using my Home Theater computer at 1280x720 into my Electrohome 9500LC projector, DVD's take on an almost film-like three-dimensional quality with very vivid colors, and high definition from DirecTV is stunning. Interestingly, this is with the projector connected to a Sound Applications CF-12X unit with the HTPC running through the Velocitor. When I got some more time, I am going to see if taking the Velocitor out of the direct video chain and using it only with the audio still makes a video difference. The QRT units are supposed to spread their effect throughout the system. Maybe one only needs one Velocitor in parallel with the rest of the equipment to get the same effect.
So is this unit at $533 per outlet better than the combination of the Sound Application CF-X12 and the Quantum Products Symphony Pro combination at $399 per outlet, and is any AC line treatment worth that much? Unhappily for my bank account, yes... at least to me. Did I purchase the two units sent me? Yes. Did I buy another one? You betcha!! And three of his power cords to boot. So what did I say to my wife when she looked at my checkbook? That's easy. "The Devil made me do it."
Interestingly, the power cord feeding the unit also makes a significant difference, which I will discuss further next month. All I will say now, if you purchase the unit, is go with Lloyd's suggestion.
Finally, I haven't been able to review Jim Weil's new CF-XS units as he did not send them to me as promised. It would be interesting to see if he has brought them up to the level of AC line cleanup that the Walker product does, and whether they are actually synergistic. Guess I'll be doing more experimentation over the next few months. From what I've learned over the years, you can get more bang for the buck improving on your AC signal than from changing any other piece of audio equipment you may use. Remember, "garbage in, garbage out."
We at Elrod Power Systems would like to thank Bill Gaw and
Enjoy the Music.com™ for the published review of the EPS-3 signature
power cords. Bill, I'm glad that you continue to enjoy the Walker Turntable, I miss it. In the review, you mention that the Sig 3's didn't mate well with the
Velociter. We would like to suggest that with more burn-in time on the cords that this will most likely change. We have a dealer that is using the sig3's with his Velociters and reports extremely good results. The issue concerning
power cords and "do they really make a difference", continues. Many thanks again to Bill Gaw
and Enjoy the Music.com™ for keeping the debate alive and well!!