October 1, 2007
Audience aR1p Power Conditioner
Ive been brainwashed over the years by promises from the power-purifier people. My innocence shattered, I tried Versalab Red Rollers, then Wood Blocks, then Bybee purifiers (both power and speaker versions) -- and then a PS Audio Power Plant P300, a PS Audio P600, and several Multiwave upgrades to the PSAs. Of them all, the Power Plants made the most easily audible differences. Basically, they transform alternating current from the wall into direct current, then back to controlled pure AC, along the way adjusting frequency and wave shape to help charge your capacitors faster. They also lower distortion and deliver balanced power, though rather inefficiently. At least one Multiwave setting, P2, makes things sound bigger and bolder. A PS Audio High Current Ultimate Outlet feeds my CD player. I also have a PS Audio Power Center 3.5 for my TV and associated gear, as protection against Texas lightning storms. I detect no improvement, but I feel better.
Audiences new, one-outlet aR1p (rolls right off the tongue, doesnt it?) high-resolution power conditioner ($495 USD) plugs directly into the wall outlet, avoiding the need for another power cord. Thats smart, and a significant savings right off the start. It is, however, the 600-pound gorilla of wall warts. You plug your AC cord into the bottom of the aR1p. This gadget fits tight! Audience claims it contains the same technology as their $3800 adeptResponse, except that it doesnt have to protect each bank of outlets from nastiness generated by and shared among your components. Audiences proprietary AuriCap capacitors are employed, along with a non-degenerative, non-MOV surge protector.
Audience makes power cords (called powerChords), lines of interconnects and speaker cables, plus AuriCaps and power filters in several sizes. Some of their interconnects and speaker wires are unusually thin in todays hoseworld, but Audience claims technical advantages for this, as my ears can testify to -- I bought their interconnects and cables long before starting on this review.
My source is a Sony SCD-1 SACD player modified to Vacuum State Electronics Level 5, then subjected to Jim Elliss Breath of Life mod -- very worthwhile and cost-effective, though Level 5 is not cheap. My preamp is an Audio Research LS5 Mk.III modified to Reference Level by Great Northern Sound, and its tubes replaced by Upscale Audio with Type Three 6H23EBs. NuForce Reference 9 V2SE monoblocks replaced an ARC VT100 Mk.II. Interconnects are balanced Audience Au24s, and speaker cables are 30' runs of Au24. These replaced about $12,000 of Transparent Reference wire that I took a real beating on, but to my ears, the lesson learned in the upgrade to Audience wire was worth it in every way. My wall outlets are cryogenically treated Porter Ports.
The PS Audio P300, set to P2, feeds the ARC LS5 via an Electra Glide power cord. A lower-grade Shunyata AC cord feeds a PS Audio HC Ultimate Outlet, which in turn feeds the Sony SCD-1 via Electra Glide. A pair of custom AC cords from a boutique amp manufacturer feed the NuForce amps. A Salamander equipment rack is inset into the sidewall. Aurios Media Isolation Bearings jiggle under the player and preamp, and Black Diamond Racing cones sit under the amps and the PSA P300. Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7 loudspeakers do the woofing and tweeting. My Rives-designed listening room has an isolated 100A panel and dedicated circuits.
The Audience aR1p looks a bit home-brew. Not that that matters, but its no shrunken version of their gleaming flagship power conditioner, the adeptResponse aR12, which, in pictures, reminds me of something from the Jeff Rowland Design Group. The aR1p was also larger than I expected: 2" x 3" x 6". If you have a quad outlet, youll find you cant use two aR1ps side by side; they wont fit. If, as I do, you have two double quad outlets, one above the other, with 2.5" of space between the faceplates, using a lower outlet of the top quad will effectively block the outlets below. It would work a whole lot better if the aR1ps were narrower. Then you could place two side by side in the lower outlets of the lower quad. Add the length of the plug from your cord and the radius of the power-cord bend into the aR1p, and the aR1ps 6" effective length becomes 12" or more. It seems pretty clear from the ceiling-mount screw hole that the aR1p was thought to be the thing for ceiling-mounted HDTV projectors, and it probably is. "So impress me with great sound," I muttered.
Audience sent me two aR1ps. I planned to use them on everything, one at a time, then both on my monoblocks.
Just for fun, I put one aR1p ahead of the PS Audio Power Director feeding the TV, etc. Immediately, I noticed that the sound got clearer. Huh? My 17-year-old RPTVs picture didnt improve, but where there had been brightness in the highs, they became acceptable and cleaner.
In my listening room, I compared the aR1p with my Power Plant P300 by plugging the ARC LS5 Mk.III preamp alternately into each. Id always thought the P300 sounded more vivid than real, but Id liked it, and this was a very close call. I give the nod to the Audience because its a passive design, doesnt generate heat, and sounded, well, organic. The aR1p had good dynamics, strong bass, clear highs, and clean mids -- basically, the strengths of my amps, preamp, and SACD player. Well, first do no harm. I felt that CD reality was well served by the aR1p -- it sounded more real than the P300.
Next I tried the Sony SCD-1 into the aR1p using an Audience powerChord. My usual AC cord was too short to reach all the way down the rack and accommodate the radius of cable turn to the aR1p. I switched to one of the powerChords Audience had provided, but that changed two variables and I wanted to deal with just one, at least at first. But I had no other option. The Audience powerChords are more flexible than my Electra Glides and just reached the SCD-1s receptacle. I heard nothing misbehaving, bad, ugly, or wrong; I also heard no new magic.
I switched the aR1p back to the preamp, now running on the Audience powerChord. Net result: a greater difference into the preamp vs. into the SACD player, and thus a step forward. There was a better sense of nuance in the musicianship, and more punch in the bass drum. This would turn out to be an addictive combo. Yet I dont think the powerChord mattered in this. The Electra Glide did a fine job too.
I next plugged my NuForce monoblocks into the two Audience aR1ps. I expected this to be the big whammy. Cursing the electrician who put the outlets in a hard-to-reach place (we were 1200 miles away while the house was being built), I half expected to dislocate a shoulder. Now I did hear a substantial difference. My usual power cords for the amps, Tiffanys, add just a touch of edge that seems to be detail but might not be. By comparison, the broken-in powerChords and the aR1ps removed that -- god, I hate to write grit -- and so music seemed less aggressive. I played the Barenaked Ladies Stunt [CD, Reprise 46963-2], which is pretty compressed and full of jangle. It did seem that the powerChords and aR1ps communicated a very nice sense of the singing; processing aside, the guys sounded real. However, I wasnt lost in lust. The CD sounded brighter, too.
Audiences everywhere: filters and powerChords
I decided to replace all of my power cords with Audience powerChords. I needed about a 12" clearance to use a powerChord under an aR1p due to its length, the plug, and radius of bend in the cable, and each Chord raised the price of my system another $500. I believe the powerChords are fine pieces of work, but -- happy surprise! -- not sonically better than what I use in my system. I let the powerChords cook for about 170 hours, then listened more, then again as I subtracted them. Sometimes that can reveal what you didnt notice right away -- the soundfield collapses, or whatever.
Murphys Law of Power Cords: No matter which cord you use, the twist you have to make to align it with the components IEC connector input will torque the box in such a way that it no longer floats on its Aurios or whatever other vibe damper you use. Murphys Law of Reviewing: You may grow very sick of your favorite discs as you play them over and over, seeking tiny improvements. Murphys Law of Upgrades: You can spend a fortune for a little better or a little for a lot better, but you wont know in advance which is which.
Somehow, Id lost the magic. The all-Audience setup sounded "too polite." Had I burned myself out with too-long listening sessions? Chosen bad reference discs? Had I picked at the scab of an old prejudice? The best sound so far was with only one aR1p on the preamp, without any Audience powerChords. At this point I had a mental tug-of-war: If one aR1p is good, two are twice as good.
I switched back to one aR1p feeding the ARC preamp, using my own power cords. Immediately, the magic returned: more bass guitar and kick drum, noticeably more punch. The image expanded somewhat. Some details stepped out a bit farther in the mix. I should now play Steve Millers Abracadabra.
With my ARC preamp plugged into the Audience aR1p, I played Steely Dans Two Against Nature [CD, Giant 24719-2]. My god. This was a visceral experience. I dont know how they do what they do, but compared to some flat, cardboard-between-the-speakers CD soundstages, sounds were blooming all over the room. Amazing. This was why I persist in this hobby -- the room was alive. Two channels suddenly sounded like five.
When this sort of thing happens, you can conclude that your speakers are fine, your rig is fine, that life is fine. If your system can do this, any weak links arent showing. Its just great sound from a synergistic set of electronics and circumstances, and you want more.
Note to self: Sell PS Audio P300, replace with one of these great-sounding passive wall warts -- I mean, an Audience a1Rp.
Audience aR1p Power Conditioner
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