Many people, perhaps most, think of power conditioners as providing some degree of protection for their audio systems -- protection they’re happy to have, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the sound quality. The adeptResponse (aR) power conditioners made by Audience, based in San Marcos, California, turn that thinking on its head: Their raison d’être is to improve a system’s sound.
In the mid-2000s, Audience added power conditioners to its line of accessories, tweaks, and cables. Since then they’ve added loudspeakers (including their own drivers), a planned preamplifier and power amp, and capacitors. The power conditioners currently comprising the aR series share parts and details of internal construction, differing only in their cosmetic details and number of outlets (two, six, or 12). These are serious power conditioners -- with them, Audience aspires to offer the best sound available for their various price points.
Audience’s aR6 power conditioner was a follow-up to the original aR12. Both used Audience’s metal-film capacitors as filters for each AC outlet. For the T-series power conditioners, the original metal-film capacitors were replaced with Audience’s then-newest Teflon capacitor, the Aura-T, which upped the performance and price antes. The T-series conditioners have now been replaced by the TS models, which use the newest capacitor in Audience’s stable, the Aura-TO -- it’s still a Teflon cap, but has new leads of high-purity, continuous-cast oxygen-free copper, which reportedly significantly improves the sound when used in audio circuits, speaker crossovers -- and power conditioners.
On the bottom of the aR6-TS’s chassis is a full-sized ground plane of solid copper that first appeared in later-model T-series conditioners. (To see if yours has the ground plane, look for a G in the serial number.) Every ground is welded to the ground plane in true star-ground configuration: all grounds radiate from a single point. The heavy-duty magnetic circuit breaker on the rear panel doubles as the power switch. From past experience with this very expensive type of breaker, which is used in some expensive solid-state amplifiers, I can say for certain that using it instead of a conventional power switch makes for a significant sonic upgrade.
The TS models retain from the T models the uncommon feature of individually filtering each outlet, not each pair of outlets. That means that every component plugged into a T or TS has a filter between it and all other components plugged into the conditioner -- all six outlets can be used simultaneously, without noise from one component affecting any other. And, as in the aR12 models, power is distributed via thick copper bus bars mounted to the chassis with insulating standoffs. The copper bar is uninsulated, to eliminate the unavoidable dielectric effects of conventional insulation. Surge suppression is included, though this is not as comprehensive as in some other units I've tested.
The aR6-T and aR6-TS have the same satin-silver or -black case of anodized aluminum. The aR6-TS ($5000 USD) comes with a 6’ Audience powerChord e with my favorite power-cord connector in the world, Neutrik’s PowerCON: a twist-and-lock connection that will never fall out of the socket, as conventional IEC connectors can. Audience will install a conventional IEC socket for an additional $125, but they feel that compromises the sound; they prefer that those who want to use their own AC cords have them upgraded by removing the IEC adapter and replacing it with a Neutrik PowerCON. Deleting the power cord reduces the aR6-TS’s price by $500. For another $1550, Audience offers an upgrade to their Au24 powerChord, another huge upgrade in sound quality from my experience. For those who already own an aR power conditioner with standard power cord, Audience will do a swap with an Au24 powerChord for $1700, a savings of several hundred dollars over the cost of a new Au24 powerChord. Just as I was finishing this review, Audience announced a new $1000 option for the aR conditioners: an additional filter circuit said to further lower the noise floor. This new filter can be added to existing models for the same charge, and is offered for all current aR models.
Upgrading an aR6-T to TS specification is possible, but it costs $2900 -- every capacitor is replaced with the newer Aura-TO cap. If your aR6-T lacks the solid-copper ground plane, that can be added for an additional $450.
In my 2008 review of the aR6-T, I said that, for sheer musicality, sense of huge space, and ability to make performers sound as if they’re in the room, none of the 85+ power conditioners I had evaluated up till that time could touch the aR6-T. Since then I’ve reviewed at least ten more power conditioners, some of them at or near the price of the aR6-T, but none exceeded the Audience’s performance. For this review, I compared a well-used aR6-T with a well-used aR6-TS. (A new aR6-TS hits its sonic peak only after about 100 hours of use.) Both aR6 units remained connected to power at all times, to keep the playing field level as I switched between them.
The sound of the aR6-TS was, in a word, stunning. Eyes bulged. Ears stretched out and snapped back. This wolf whistled. My mouth drooled. I wore my Depends. I wondered where the heck all this new information was coming from.
How could it be possible that the aR6-TS could work such obviously audible improvements when the aR6-T was already, in my experience, as good as a power conditioner could get? I found myself anxious to hear all my favorite recordings, but I couldn’t sit still for a whole album. For days I jumped from record to record, listening to highlights, marveling at all the newly revealed information I’d been missing. Eventually, I was able to settle down and listen to entire LP sides or CDs without feeling the need to move on to something else. But because I was hearing whole albums with all this new information as if for the first time, my listening remained a gloriously thrilling experience -- precisely what we audiophiles are always trying to get out of the entire process of creating an incredible music system. I looked forward to hearing again everything I’d collected over the years -- relistening to recordings over and over with the aR6-TS in the system never got old.
I need to qualify the superlatives in the preceding two paragraphs, which are addressed to those of you who’ve moved well beyond the sound of basic audio gear. Those who listen on a completely different, nondiscriminating level wouldn’t be impressed by or interested enough in sound to ever do any of the stuff you do, let alone consider spending $5000 or more on a power conditioner. But you aren’t everybody else -- you’re one of us. You own something at least as good as some excellent $300/pair speakers, maybe a nice used integrated amp, and at least one source component that’s pretty good, and you aren’t listening to MP3s and thinking they sound good (they don’t). You can hear the difference between a poor-sounding generic interconnect and something half decent. You can hear that different footers make a system’s sound change a little, and you’ve found some you like enough to use, whether you bought them or made them yourself. You can hear the difference between an original mastering and a good or bad remastering of the same recording. You know what space, depth, clarity/transparency, top-to-bottom balance, and detail are because you’ve heard large or small changes in your system change those characteristics. You enjoy listening to music, but you also enjoy finding ways of getting more out of your system with tweaks, setup changes, new components, or new accessories.
To you I say that the aR6-TS sounded dramatically better than other power conditioners I’ve used. The ExactPower EP15A active power conditioner ($2500, no longer manufactured) produced a more silent background -- dead-silent, actually -- than the aR6-TS alone. (Perhaps Audience’s $1000 extra-filter option addresses that issue.) But the EP15A didn’t come remotely close to making my system sound as good overall as the aR6-TS did -- the Audience was able to produce more realistic aural images, with a more defined sense of space around the musicians. More information was available listening through the aR6-TS.
The aR6-T produced a beautiful sonic garden, but the aR6-TS made everything bloom at once -- an explosion of aural flowers in my room. The aR6-T produced a sound that was big and rich and musically wonderful, but I would never have guessed that it was also a little warm and bass-centric had I not heard the same recordings through the aR6-TS. With the aR6-TS, the upper bass through the highest treble had more detail, more space around instruments, more harmonic content, and more richness in the decay/echo/reverb. My system’s ability to re-create reality was now several steps beyond what it could do with the aR6-T, and far beyond what it could do with any other power conditioner I’ve tried. With the aR6-TS, I heard so much more information above the two lowest bass octaves that it seemed impossible that a mere power conditioner was doing it all.
You think Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold is the most spacious rock recording of all time? Wait till you hear the Quiex vinyl edition, or one of the CD remasterings from the 2000s (Japanese SHM or domestic), through a familiar system and an aR6-TS. I felt as if I were hearing the title track (16/44.1 FLAC, Warner Bros.) for the first time. The clarity and lingering decays were heartachingly beautiful. The sense of space was huge, at times convincing me that my room was larger than it is. The aR6-T revealed a lot of air in this recording, but I had not heard how invisible that air could be until I heard the aR6-TS. When the T was in the system for several weeks at a time, the sound would seem so real that I thought I must have imagined that the TS could sound even better. But every time I reinserted the aR6-TS in the system, I had the same revelation as the first time. It was as if hidden or underrepresented information in the recording suddenly became easily -- but not unnaturally -- audible.
All my familiar recordings sounded ultrafresh and clean, as if a towel -- two towels -- had been removed from my speakers’ front baffles. It was the sort of difference I hear when I listen, for the first time, to a superior remastering of an already great recording. I listen in amazement to the freshly revealed detail, and wonder where it could have been hiding all this time. The aR6-TS made the music sound two generations less removed from the original performance. It was a wonderful experience.
Listening to “Katmandu,” from the 2000 remastering of Cat Stevens’s Mona Bone Jakon (16/44.1 FLAC, A&M), his guitar was freakishly present with the Audience in the system. Each note revealed how incredible the original recording sounds -- we’d have been lucky indeed if all music recorded in 1970 sounded this good. The balance of string, body, pluck, and resonance was incredible -- I could hear each element in exactly the right proportion. Vocal quality was spot-on -- I could swear I was in the studio, hearing him sing live. All the extra information the aR6-TS revealed supported the performance, creating that illusion of reality that audiophiles love to hear. It’s absolutely freaky that a power conditioner can do this.
During my evaluation of the aR6-T and aR6-TS, four different loudspeakers trooped through my system (prices per pair): MartinLogan Theos ($5000), Vandersteen 3A Signature ($4500), Atlantic Technology AT-1 ($2500), and Sinclair Audio Brighton 260T ($1000). This was no hair-splitting comparison of differences audible only through the world’s best equipment -- none of these speakers had the slightest problem revealing the difference in performance between the T and TS. The step up in sound quality was just as obvious through the $1000 Sinclairs as through speakers costing five times as much.
Going from no power conditioner to the aR6-TS was such a revelation that it was difficult to believe that a mere power conditioner could make such a huge improvement. If you think your system already sounds as good as it can, you might find it hard to believe what an Audience aR6-TS can do for it. And if you’ve used a power conditioner before and heard little or no change in sound quality, well, I’ve been there many times with many such products. The Audience TS-series models are different. If you already have an aR6-T, you’ll find the aR6-TS a significant, very surprising, very worthwhile upgrade. If your budget can handle it, spending $5000 (base price) to $7550 (with extra filter and Au24 powerChord) on an aR6-TS might just make the biggest overall improvement in sound you can get for that kind of money.
. . . Doug Blackburn
- Speakers -- Atlantic Technology AT-1, MartinLogan Theos, Vandersteen 3A Signature, Sinclair Audio Brighton 260T
- Amplifier -- AudioControl Savoy G3, Belles/Power Modules 350A Reference
- Preamp -- Belles/Power Modules 28A
- Sources -- Apple Mac Mini with solid-state drive, 8GB RAM, Western Digital 1.5TB hard drive in FireWire 800 enclosure; Wavelength Proton DAC; Roksan Xerxes turntable with SME V tonearm and Cardas Heart low-output MC cartridge
- Speaker cables -- Audience Au24 e
- Interconnects -- Audience Au24 e; AudioQuest Carbon and Diamond
- Power cords -- Audience powerChord e and Au24e; AudioQuest NRG-1.5
- Headphones -- AKG K702
Audience aR6-TS Power Conditioner
Price: $5000 USD with 6’ powerChord e AC cord; $4500 without AC cord.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor.
120 N. Pacific St., #K-9
San Marcos, CA 92069
Phone: (800) 565-4390