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|An inauspicious beginning
After 100 or so hours of warm-up, I placed the conditioner in my main system, which for a while now has consisted of the Shindo Catherine two chassis dual-mono preamplifier and Western Electric 300B Ltd monoblocks, a fully decked out Shindo Garrard 301 TT with Shindo modified Ortofon SPU Classic cartridge, Exemplar/Denon 3910 universal player and DeVore Fidelity Silverback Reference loudspeakers. Interconnects continue to be the wondrous Stealth Indra and speaker cable the Auditorium 23 (quite possibly be the best buy in high-end audio bar none).
Into the fray the adeptResponse went. For the next two weeks, I played lots of analog and digital without listening attentively and certainly not for the purposes of critical evaluation. I wanted everything to settle in and test my own non-reflective reactions. In the third week, Ted Lindblad, importer of Duevel Loudspeakers came by with the Duevel Jupiter to set up them up for review.
Neither one of us was particularly pleased by the sound we were getting. It wasn't what either of us was expecting. The only change I had made was to the power conditioner. So I switched out the Audience piece and replaced it with Mr.T. Everything was familiar again and so I did all my critical listening to the Duevels with the reference system intact. Over the next month I switched between the two power conditioners just to see if I could begin to identify the character of the adeptResponse. I began to get a sense for it as results were invariant whether I played through the Silverbacks or Jupiters.
Without question, the Audience power conditioner provided the darkest background I had ever experienced and had -- subjectively speaking -- the lowest noise floor imaginable. Images were startlingly focused and stable, with an extraordinary amount of space between notes and instruments. In addition, I was able to plug my amplifiers into the Audience with no apparent loss in dynamics. This is the first and only time I have been able to do that.
|In fact, I would go further and suggest that I experienced an apparent increase in micro-dynamic contrasts. Everything became extremely determinate in the way that photorealist paintings are - perhaps more so. All this was not only to the good but in fact far better than I had experienced with any other power conditioner.
|There was only one problem: something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on it at first since there was so much about the sound that was impressive. In time I sensed that some of the overall weight of the sound had been lost and that some of the harmonic textures were truncated a bit. When the Duevel speakers left, I set up the reference system again with Mr.T in it and tweaked it until the sound was as I remembered it. I then reintroduced the adeptResponse but this time, I had a|
|focus and a mission. I played a variety of music I knew extremely well (not just how it sounded in my system but in the case of several songs, how they sounded on other systems and how they sounded live). I even played recordings of my kids' band, Murder Mystery. The results were extremely revealing.
I paid special attention to one LP and one Cd from among the dozen or so I listened to extensively. These were the Ron Carter Quartet's Piccolo [Milestone Stereo M-55004] and the Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson Quartet's Witchi-Tai-To [ECM 1041]. I must have listened to "Witchi-Tai-To" in particular several dozen times. There is a soaring soprano sax solo that on some systems can be truncated and on others a bit etched; a well recorded piano and especially articulate bass line that carries the tune. The bass line is sometimes more front and center in the mix but always present and always the driving force. In contrast, the piano on Piccolo is poorly recorded and distracting, but not so the stand-up or piccolo basses.
The saxophone on the Garbarek piece was fantastically well rendered, soaring, biting and altogether natural. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Seriously, it was that chilling. On the downside, the weight of the bass had gone missing and the harmonics of the piano were clearly truncated. On Piccolo, the body of the bass was reduced in its impact relative to the plucking of the strings and leading edge more generally. The difference was stark when I removed the adeptResponse and plugged everything into the wall instead. The sound was dirtier, less well focused, less well defined but fuller, with the timbre of the instruments more accurately rendered.
These findings were where I began, not where I ended my evaluation. Here's why. Plugging electronics into a power conditioner in effect makes the power conditioner part of the power supply of each of those components. It's hard to believe that doing so would have no impact whatsoever on the sound or voice of those components. After all, inveterate tweakers love to alter the voicing of their components by changing resistors and capacitors as well as by rolling tubes.
The same holds true of power cords, which come before the power transformer - as does the power conditioner. It may be unreasonable to suppose that a power conditioner should have no impact on the sound of the components plugged into it. My concern was that perhaps the Audience adeptResponse was not a welcome addition to the Shindo voicing. And so I was not prepared to draw any conclusions from the adeptResponse's performance in one system.
To be perfectly honest, the sound I was getting was not all that different from what I had heard from the Audience powerChords: fast, dead quiet, dynamic, a bit lightweight in some contexts, a perfect match in others. The powerChord worked wonderfully with the Audio Note DAC, for example, but not nearly as well with the Exemplar/Denon. It worked extremely well with my Mullard EL 34 amps -- naturally warm and a little soft and plumy down below -- but the results were mixed with the Audiopax Model 88s.
Happier in the city
To keep as many things constant as possible, I brought the Exemplar/Denon and Stealth cabling from Connecticut to my NY apartment together with the Audience power conditioner. I also brought along the same CDs. The preamplifier was the Transcendent Sound Grounded Grid and the first amp was the Audiopax Model 88 whose bias control (Timbre Lock) allows the listener to tailor the sound from a leaner and more detailed to a warmer, more full-bodied presentation. This proved to be a tremendous tool in honing in on the character of the Audience. Speakers were Audiopax Reference 100s and the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8s. I did most of my critical listening with the Audiopax combination. Later I switched to the Mullard amp through the Gibbon 8s.
My critical listening occurred by way of Mahler's Symphonie No.5 performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker under by Pierre Boulez [DG 453 416-2]; Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No.8 in C Minor, Op. 65 with Evgeni Mravinsky putting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra through its paces; the Minnesota Orchestra's Bernstein: Candide Suite with Eije Oue at the helm [Reference Recordings, RR 87CD] and The Brad Meldhau Trio's Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 [Warner Brothers 9 48005-2] along with the aforementioned Garbarek/Stenson disc.
In both systems, I alternated between plugging everything into the Audience including the amplifiers, and plugging the amplifiers directly into the wall. The Timbre Lock on the Audiopax amplifiers was a god send. I began by setting the Timbre Lock to what the manufacturer, importer (and our own editor/publisher who owned these amps for years) identified as the 'neutral' or standard position. I listened for one week with the amplifier set this way. The results were very similar to what I experienced in Connecticut. The Audiopax speaker is a bit less resolute overall and especially in the bass than is the Silverback and I took this into account.
The most striking features were the absolute glorious black background and the vanishing noise floor. Instrument separation and soundstage focus were nearly unrivalled in my experience. The Audiopax is not a terribly dynamic loudspeaker in the vein of say, Wilson Watt Puppies, but it is very refined and informative. It is a biggish speaker with a very intimate sound. With everything plugged into the adeptResponse, the intimacy of the sound was incredibly seductive. Again, I could determine no difference in dynamics with the amplifiers plugged into the Audience or the wall.
On the other hand, I sensed again that some of the weight that provides the foundation for large-scale classical pieces was missing. This was especially true on the Mahler Symphony but equally apparent on the Brad Mehldau Trio double disc. The bass was more string than wood. The piano overtones and harmonics never fully developed. The space, while black, was a bit eerie. It was more empty of content than realistic.