June 15, 2005Audience adeptResponse Power Conditioner
I cant pinpoint the exact moment in time, but it was sometime in the mid-90s that I began to think of the audio cable as a component. I still do. You probably vaguely recall your awakening, too. Making the jump from accessory to full-fledged member of the team was not unlike going from batboy to starter. You look at an audio cable differently. Now you have expectations: What will it add, what will it subtract? For the audiophile, the ascension of the cable complicated some already complex matters. Shaping the response of an audio system now meant factoring in cables that would complement everything else. For many of us, this additional challenge has caused consternation, sleepless nights, and great expense. (Well, hopefully not sleepless nights.)
Its equally hazy to me just when the power conditioner made its rise to the first team, though I know this happened more recently. I also know that today a good power conditioner is considered an invaluable part of a complete audio system, and that their positive effects have been made obvious to me on many occasions. In some ways the power conditioner has had an easier time being accepted. After all, it comes in a box not unlike the ones housing your preamp and CD player -- it looks like an audio component. But while your system cant work without cables, it will operate without a power conditioner. So a conditioner isnt really a necessity. Or is it?
A good power conditioner is absolutely essential to me if it accomplishes, at a minimum, two things: It must improve the audible performance of my system -- not just keep it at status quo -- and protect it from electrical surges and spikes. Though these seem obvious enough, not every conditioner Ive tried has met even these minimal requirements.
adept means very skilled
Audience LLC, of Escondido, California, has entered the high-end power-conditioner market with one serious-looking machine. The adeptResponse power conditioner ($3800 USD) comes in a full-sized chassis (19"W x 5"H x 9"D) of grained and anodized aluminum that features a "proprietary selective etching process to create the subtle graphic of the propagating wave" on the front panel. The unit weighs 14 pounds excluding the power cord. Designed to provide power to your whole system, the adeptResponse doesnt limit current flow, Audience claims -- you can plug in your large amplifiers as well as your smaller-signal devices without fear of running out of steam.
A few words of caution: Though the adeptResponse is equipped with multiple outlets, it is fed by only one wall outlet. A conditioner such as the Audience can power your entire system only if the wall outlet you plug it into can provide enough power for all of your components in the first place -- youre at the mercy of what that single house circuit can supply. If youve invested in more than one dedicated line running into your room, youll need a separate conditioner for each line to take full advantage of your multiple-line setup.
The front panel of the adeptResponse has a digital readout of the incoming voltage and a magnetic circuit-breaker power switch. The readout is useful for monitoring the stiffness of your wall voltage, whether under static conditions or a fluctuating load -- at last youll be able to determine the degree of voltage fluctuation you have in your home. It would be helpful to be able to turn off this display, but the Audience has no such feature. After all, you dont need to constantly monitor your wall voltage, and those lights can be distracting.
On the adeptResponses rear panel are 12 Hubbell power receptacles -- each, according to Audience, "double filtered" from the other -- and in/out connections for your cable-TV/satellite box that, also according to Audience, provide some rejection of ground-loop-induced hum and noise. As Audience also makes an array of cable products, the adeptResponse comes standard with their own nicely built 10AWG powerChord power cable, which in turn comes with a 20A Neutrik PowerCon connector on the component end and a Marinco connector at the wall end.
Audience claims some impressive innards, too, for the adeptResponse: the companys own Auricap capacitors are used to filter each outlet, and the "entire electrical circuit" is said to be cryogenically treated. Overload protection is accomplished by a magnetic circuit breaker while surge suppression is implemented without metal-oxide varistors (MOVs), which, Audience claims, would degrade sound quality and provide otherwise substandard performance. Lastly, the adeptResponse is said to perform power-factor correction, which "helps restore natural dynamics by bringing the AC voltage and current into a better phase relationship allowing a more efficient transfer of power."
Set it up
Not much to tell. I plugged the adeptResponse into one of my dedicated 20A lines and plugged everything into it: an Esoteric DV-50 universal audio/video player, a Boulder 1010 preamplifier, and a Boulder 1060 power amplifier. The electronics fed my Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria X-2 loudspeakers. I used Audience powerChords for the DV-50 and 1010, as well. A word about the Neutrik PowerCon connector on the adeptResponse: brilliant. It provided a secure power connection that just wouldnt slip or sag. The power cord inserts into the inlet and, with a twist, locks firmly in place. I wish all of my components were fitted with these -- a standard IEC input just cant compete.
Listen to it
The adeptResponse was mechanically quiet and provided glitch-free operation during two months of use. Im one of those who believe we should not have to suffer to achieve high-end performance. I dont ascribe to the notion that being an audiophile means accepting amplifiers that melt down, speakers that sound good only with a particular type of music, or endless tinkering to maintain top performance. A well-designed product should work correctly right out of the box and continue to for a long time. A $3800 power conditioner should make no excuses. This one doesnt, functionally or sonically.
If a power conditioner is improving the quality of the power fed to a system, it should lower the apparent noise floor of that system from the outset. Doing the old ear-against-the-tweeter test, hiss-type noise from my speakers tweeters was essentially inaudible with no music playing and the adeptResponse powering away. Now, my Boulder electronics are extremely quiet anyway. My Esoteric universal player seems less so. The additive effect of having all three hooked up to the Audience adeptResponse, however, was to make what had been a very low noise floor a smidge lower still. With the adeptResponse running the show, the system was near silent even when turned on. It terms of noise, it doesnt get much better than that.
For the first musical test, I pulled out some acoustic guitar. Peppino DAgostinos Acoustic Guitar [DVD-Audio, AIX 80013], namely the 24-bit/96kHz two-channel tracks, showcases a mixture of light percussion backing up some fine guitar playing. AIX recordings are famously clean and straightforward, and make excellent tools for searching out noise. Acoustic Guitar is no exception -- I could hear no sizzle or hiss riding along with the music. Acoustic guitar seems singularly suited for such tests, as any noise alters the leading edges of notes and generally makes things sound dirty. Listening for crisp, clean playing, I concentrated heavily on "Costa Rica" and "The Dancer," the latter in a fairly complex arrangement. The guitar sounded just a touch sharper and more focused with the adeptResponse in the system. The effect was wholly enjoyable, with a touch more realism that served the music.
I next loaded up Dorian Michaels Acoustic Blues [DVD-Audio, AIX 80016]. "Broad Street Blues" and "All Dressed Up" should sound tuneful and playful -- these pieces rely on precise timing cues and fleet playing to keep things moving along. The adeptResponse preserved these characteristics in totality. If your musical tastes run toward foot-tappin pace and rhythm, youre in luck with the Audience. It was as quick as the music.
As I often do, I loaded up some power music. I did this not only to get my rocknroll fix, but to test the Audience adeptResponses ability to supply full power to my system while running hard. Theres nothing worse than wanting to rock and not having the horsepower, and Ive heard power conditioners rob the life from rock tracks by blunting and truncating their dynamic gradations. Perhaps this is an effect of their limiting peak power to the power amplifiers. At borderline-sane levels I heard plenty of punch and spirit from the eponymous offering from Candlebox [CD, Warner Bros. 45313-2], and Garth Brooks Sevens [CD, Capital 8-56599-2]. You may have limitations in the rest of your system, such as speakers that dont do low bass (decidedly not good for rock). You may also need more power than the adeptResponse can provide from just one wall outlet. But with an average-sized system, I imagine that the Audience adeptResponse will power whatever you throw at it.
My references for power conditioners are Shunyata Researchs Hydra models. I typically have a Model-8 ($2000) and two Model-2s ($395) powering my system. The three units add up to 12 outlets (total cost $2790), just like the adeptResponse, but the fact that the Hydras are three separate units allows me to use three separate dedicated AC lines instead of just one. Because I usually use at least one high-current, solid-state amplifier that runs best off its own line, as well as a monster subwoofer (the Wilson WATCH Dog II) I power via its own line, this arrangement makes the best use of my available power. Advantage, as far as configurability is concerned, goes to Shunyata.
Both the Shunyata Research and Audience conditioners offered improved sonic performance over the wall outlets. They did sound slightly different from each other, however. The adeptResponse was quickest off the line, fast and immediate in the sense that it almost pushed along the dynamics of the music. It was as if the components in my system were hooked up directly to their own dedicated power station. The Hydra Model-8 yielded an even blacker background than the adeptResponse, seeming to silence every iota of noise. Consequently, it sounded as if there was an extra degree of separation between the power source and my system. Both components allowed for sharply defined images and crisp transient response with a variety of music. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay both companies products is that none produced any negative characteristics that I could hear. I cant say that about much of anything.
Sum it up
Audience has delivered a first-rate product in the adeptResponse power conditioner. It is designed to protect your system against power-line surges and overload -- though I could not test that aspect of its performance -- and it sounds fast and transparent. Its relatively expensive, but it can power your entire system without breaking a sweat. My only caveat would depend on whether or not youve invested in multiple dedicated AC lines for your room. If you have, several smaller units, one for each line, might make more sense. Lastly, the adeptResponse features very good build quality and attractive cosmetics. Audiences adeptResponse is a fully realized product thats come to play ball.
Audience adeptResponse Power Conditioner
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