ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article

November 15, 2004

Quantum Products RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer

In the beginning . . .

About five years ago, an audio chum introduced me to my first Quantum Products whatsis, a freestanding pod its designer, Bill Stierhout, calls the Symphony. A while later Stierhout introduced the more potent Symphony Pro. Whatsis, schmatsis -- the better word is spooky, unless you’ve a doctorate in physics. My two Symphonys and one Symphony Pro connect to nothing other than outlets. You place them in your sound or A/V system’s vicinity and they do their thing. No black candles or spells required.

Before we get to Quantum’s RT800 ($999 USD), I’ll trot out a published comment that vexes me still. A journalist allowed that, yes, maybe he heard a Quantum piece doing . . . well, something. And there it lay, gasping for air. Apparently, he determined the pod’s audible effect insufficiently interesting to pursue. If you hear an unconnected device maybe doing something to an otherwise connected sound system, it warrants looking into, subjectively or otherwise. As to that vague "otherwise," I can’t begin to imagine how one would measure a Quantum pod’s performance.

. . . was the not quite right word

Some opinions vex, others perplex. On my recommendation, another journalist placed a Quantum pod -- it might have been two -- in his reference system’s space. He and his setup man agreed that the effects were clearly audible and decidedly deleterious.

So we have one fellow saying, yeah, maybe I heard a little something, and another saying, Pfui! Send the nasty thing packing! While we’d be the poorer without it, subjective evaluation invites, indeed requires, a robust skepticism. More than a smattering of these quasi-papal bulls more closely resemble the excreta of quadruped bulls. It’s the reckless reader who acts solely on a review, mine included. (Should you judge my conclusions questionable, the RT800 is returnable.)

I’ve always liked what the Quantum pods do. More significant, Kazuo Kiuchi, the designer of Combak’s megabuck Harmonix Reimyo line, incorporates Stierhout’s Quantum Resolution Technology™ (QRT™) in the line conditioner I’ve been using with even greater satisfaction, the ALS-777. If further validation is required, Lloyd Walker, an audio designer for whom I have the greatest respect, uses QRT™ in his line conditioner. While I’ve not had Walker’s piece on hand, I’ll bet it’s as good as he says it is. Walker’s reputation for quality and innovation is well earned.

Ignorance is bliss: I hear what I hear

I’ll try to characterize the RT800’s effect on canned events while mumbling as only a dilettante can about the science Stierhout claims is its engine. As I understand it, QRT™ broadcasts into the area in which it’s placed, organizing electricity’s rag-tag motley of particle whatevers into a crack drill team. The assumption is that tidier juice means better, more coherent sound. With respect to "broadcast," my QRT™-assisted Harmonix Reimyo presumably has an effect on the pair of Mark Levinson No.33H mono amps that plug into the wall. The Reimyo ALS-777 is designed for a maximum of 15A operation; together, the amplifiers can draw a multiple of that, which is why I have each plugged into its own dedicated 20A outlet rather than both into the ALS-777.

Whether quantum mechanics or wizardry, with QRT’s™ beneficence bathing the space, Mssrs. Glare, Grunge, and Grain closed up shop. Call it noise. Call it Fred. What’s in a name? And yet: While a degradation’s a degradation, it’s not always a kick in the pants. The QRT™ difference was subtle. No one’s likely to declare, "Wow, [your name here], what in hell have you done to your system?!" However, with respect to any audible difference, here in Audiophilia, ain’t no such thing as subtle. If you hear it, dinnertime: your goose is cooked.

Why I gobble antacids

As a QRT™ fan, the issue for me was this: Would I detect a difference between Stierhout’s $999 Quantum Products RT800 and my $5000 Harmonix Reimyo ALS-777? The possibility that I might not made me uneasy. Surely even the most prodigal audiophile understands my angst.

Reimyo’s Kazuo Kiuchi had tweaked and fussed his way to an exquisite result. For superficial example -- the ALS-777’s case isn’t easily removed -- he uses three pairs of high-quality FIM 880 outlets; the unit sits on a fixed quartet of what appear to be aluminum cones (too blunt to damage furniture).

The Quantum RT800 (5.5"W x 5.5"H x 10.5"D, 5.5 pounds) has four pairs of rather more pedestrian Hubbell hospital-grade outlets and screw-mount hard rubber feet. A spec sheet details the innards: 14-gauge, multistrand, silver-coated wire, insulated with Teflon; three custom microprocessors; parallel AC-line design; a gold-plated IEC AC inlet. (I looked. It is.)

And the spec sheet solves a mystery. When I’d originally set up the Reimyo, I’d asked the American distributor to explain why its On light blinked in an irregular pattern. Um, the light blinks to show that the unit’s working, he said. The RT800’s On light does the same thing; the spec sheet says that it’s the "LED monitoring [the] QRT™ field effect sweep rate." That light tells me more about QRT’s™ moment-to-moment activity than I need to know. But thanks.

Why I didn’t need to gobble antacids

My listening sessions were separated by a two-month break. I’d come to an early conclusion I needed to confirm. For both sessions, I disconnected Stierhout’s three freestanding pods and removed the acoustic isolation platforms under the line conditioners: Silent Running Audio’s Tremor/Less and, later, the same maker’s Ohio Class.

There you have it: first, my electronics operating without benefit of either line conditioner and its QRT™ factor; next, with my Mark Levinson No.390S CD player plugged into the ALS-777; and finally, the No.390S plugged into the RT800. (There’s no preamp. The ML player has its own good level control.) I discussed with Bill Stierhout the power cords I’d be using with the RT800: the Harmonix Studio Masters Kazuo Kiuchi designed for his Reimyo line. Stierhout raised no objection, allowing as how they’re good. (Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Tweaking one’s system for noise is a very elaborate deal.) The speakers were Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7s.

My first test recording was disc 1, track 1 of Heinrich Biber’s Rosenkranz-Sonaten (rendered in English most often as Mystery Sonatas, sometimes Rosary Sonatas), with solo violinist Reinhard Goebel accompanied variously by cello, lute, harpsichord, and organa [CD, Deutsche Grammophon Arkiv 431 656-2]. It’s a revealing set I’ve used before, and the music’s sublime. Second was an equally revealing set, Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field, with cellist Rohan de Saram and pianist Marianne Schroeder [CD, hatART NOW Series 2-6145]. The Feldman’s long decays are especially good at evaluating resolution.

Without benefit of either line conditioner, the system sounded significantly coarser. No surprises there. Coarseness will, of course, detract from coherence, resolution, dynamic finesse, and soundstage verisimilitude.

Thank goodness for figurative language

The exquisitely recorded Biber and Feldman sets deal in acoustic events; specifically, chamber music of the baroque and modernist periods. The performers don’t wear headphones, are not consigned to booths, do not lay down tracks, nor were the takes electronically "enhanced" during or after production. In both test sessions, I heard differences I most likely would not have noticed were I playing rock or some equally raucous or cobbled genre. Taste aside, it was the difference between a living, breathing critter and an exemplar, however well executed, of the taxidermist’s art. (Executed. As Fred Allen’s Senator Claghorn used to say on the radio, "That’s a joke, son!")

Ideally, within its recognizable space, we should hear Goebel’s violin as a purveyor of harmonic wealth, of texture, of overtones and decays, of the most delicate microdynamics, of the venue’s very air: Goebel as master musician, microphones as master magicians. Absent line conditioning, the riches subsided significantly; so, too, did the magic. My comments about the Biber apply as well to the Feldman duo.

I’ve used this image elsewhere: Think of a graduated set of filtering screens. The coarsest weave allows for the passage of lentil-size grains; the finest weave allows for the passage of only barely visible powder. (But it makes you sneeze. Gesundheit.) The difference between the Harmonix Reimyo ALS-777 and the Quantum Products RT800 was one of degree: filters with, respectively, super-fine and super-duper-fine screens. Perhaps because of Harmonix’s own noise-suppression technology and/or the Reimyo’s spiffy externals suggesting spiffier innards, the ALS-777 did a just perceptibly better job of clearing away the grunge.

But fix your attention on that just perceptibly, and remember that the ALS-777 costs five times as much as the RT800. This has not been a rout. Nothing’s been blown out of the water, no one’s socks are out in the driveway. Knowing what I do of Bill Stierhout’s consistency, I expected the Quantum Products RT800 to be a contender, and it is. I’d also say it’s worth its ticket.

…Mike Silverton

Quantum Products RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer
Price: $999 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

Quantum Products, Inc.
943 Euclid Street, Suite A
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Phone: (310) 394-4488
Fax: (310) 859-5563

E-mail: info@quantumqrt.com
Website: www.quantumqrt.com

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