POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 30
adeptResponse - A Vitalizing Box
as reviewed by Jim Merod
So many power conditioners have passed across this threshold, I've felt at moments like the bloke in the revolving door trying to time his way out. Timing is everything in life. Maybe size is, too. If character is fate, destiny depends to some degree on force.
Enter the world of power conditioning micro-dynamics and heavy lifting. When it comes to taming your audio gear's electron flow, behemoth conditioners offer instant weight lifting opportunities. Small boxes-with-heroic-electro-hearts often foment heartburn. How to win? Or survive without doubt? Do we need these things?
For years, I've been ambivalent. An undeniable improvement in soundstage width and depth, which appears to be the major enhancement one discerns across the spectrum of power conditioners, does in fact add considerable spatial solidity alongside the illusion of increased musical verisimilitude. In sum, such improvement creates a greater sense of "being there", where performers are digging in. That illusion is especially beguiling for live recordings. When this elusive enhancement does its work in spades, one suffers the depreciation of sonic diminution with joyful acceptance.
Okay, one more box to contend with, alas!
The Subtle Kid Now Skulking This Audio Block
When John McDonald at Audience told me, more than two years ago, about a new conditioning box his gang had created, in a fit of enthusiasm I asked if I could audition it at his convenience. John is an unusually polite, altogether thoughtful man. Within days, I found the adeptResponse waiting for my delectation. I decided the best way to go at this new piece of gear was to give it loads of break in because I also decided the outcome of this set of observations was likely to confirm or diminish my tolerance for bulky monsters in the midst of my various signal paths.
I'm sure I erred on the side of over-break in, but when I finally started comparing the adeptResponse to five other conditioning devices awaiting the contest, one thing began to emerge consistently across the line of comparison. Music signals derived from analog pre-amps and amplifiers plugged into the adeptResponse took on textural complexity not previously fully evident ...as if more analog signal information were delivered from the music's original sonic source. As I switched power cords in and out across the series of conditioners, signal isolation generated by the adeptResponse's dedicated analog inputs, head to head against others (similarly connected), was notable: vivid and enhanced sonic clarity with darker black backgrounds in musical performance. In a phrase, what stood out most was bass solidity and upper spectrum transient delicacy. They "stood out" against a more thoroughly silent audio darkness.
When I moved to swap conditioners for my digital front end—consisting of several pieces used separately as signal drive mechanisms: a Pioneer multi-format player; a Tascam RA1000 high-definition digital recorder/player; an Alesis ML96000 hard disc recorder with a built in CD player; and recently an Oppo multi-format player—the audible outcome of comparisons across the board as provided by the adeptResponse was, in essence, an alleviation of sonic glare and transient brittleness. These digital artifacts had not been obvious or irritating, or in any way remarkable, before they emerged with increasingly intrusive presence as I moved deliberately up and down across the entire series of conditioning devices. The least useful (worst) on up to most enhancing (best), which turned out each time—regardless of the digital front-end unit employed—to be the adeptResponse.
Two forms of fatigue and strained attention also emerged as I plowed through this tedium. Over time I've joked (on the square) about my distaste for swapping speaker cables. That aversion extends to power cords and, to a lesser degree, interconnects for the simple reason that this dull work is akin to imprisonment within your own domestic kingdom. Such joyless rigor soon, and repeatedly, boxed me in. Before long, I found my focus drifting. This plug goes there. That one comes out. Did I pay the gas and electric bill last week? What movie should I watch this evening? Doesn't Mickey Mantle look great in the dugout behind Derek Jeter on his new Topps baseball card?
I had to face it. Grunt work carries all the inspiration of washing your pet Aardvark. I prefer Armadillos, but the point seems obvious. A few of these plugging in and out suffice for a lifetime even as one knows that such torment is the essence of reviewing effort. What to do?
The first fatigue was mental drift, the second physical. In my audio set up, a guy has to get down on all fours and reach around two beautiful but non-moveable Grand Prix isolation shelves stacked with gear. Great fun. My ambidextrous youth disappeared long ago, my former self's lithe yogi postures a distant memory. None of this deterred me. I had a job to do, damn it, so there it is …choke, cough, wheeze.
Okay, listen up. I finally skinned this cat.
Subtlety Is a Virtue
I genuinely admire the results of audio agony. I hate a reviewer's rote grind, but respect its outcomes. That's why I do this stupid stuff, but as our old pal Wallace Stevens once noted, "death is the mother of beauty." Perhaps the problem here is what Edward Said (after Theodore Adorno) called "late style" art. Old artists get grumpy and close off the rest of world. That isolation allows them to create wildly eccentric artistic statements since they are essentially pleasing themselves while pursuing radical stylistic innovations.
There it is in a nutshell. Don't give me no drifting inattention. I've busted my hump on this and now it's all for bleary-eyed folks in late night bars. Quarter to three, only you and me. So set ‘em up, Ralph.
Never mind my croaky singing voice. I'm just warming up the ol' pipes, you dig? Older, considerably stiffer, grunt work gets more difficult. There it is, my "late style" nod to geriatric-hood. Here's the working principle. Slow it all down. Take your time. Make things easy. You'll still get there, wherever "there" is.
Here's the outcome of my late, leisurely reviewing misery. The good guys won. No more bad guys. Can we go home now?
Doubtful. First, let's do an inventory.
Fact. I eliminated two big boxes tugging angrily at audio signals once it became clear they created signal fuzz and sonic blur. A very negative outcome. I take this stuff most seriously when my recorded signals edge toward non-musical nonsense. Those two boxes are now in the outhouse.
Fact. I decided graceful note taking that allowed me to space my review work over a long time [see ‘late style' rule number one above] was an unacceptable self-indulgence. That dawned on me with an ugly surge last Thanksgiving weekend right here at the ol' hacienda. Boggs Moriarity, my rummy pal down the block, waddled by one afternoon two days after he stuffed his turkey. He muttered something like, "Your hillside garden's making real progress, like watching water boil."
I let him go with curt thanks and watched his wobbling butt drag Uphill groaning to repeal Einstein's best worst cosmic news. Consider this. If entropy is the Law of laws, then the truth about gravity—which no one, including Albert E. and our new clean up physicist Lee Smolin, has a genuine clue about—becomes idle speculation. That was not swagger my gravity-challenged pal hauled up the street, but who am I to argue with Moriarity's flatulent hope?
My point is that I decided to dig in harder, more dedicated to weeding this fertile landscape and swapping plugs out, since my weirdo buddy isn't always wrong. Think about it: we must get on with it. Sure, I know: a guy's gotta do what he's gotta do. All that, but when you consider the radiance, that it doesn't withhold itself but gives sunshine's generosity aimlessly to everything seen, even Moriarity's heart moves roomier and raisins, tangled in his breakfast grits, turn giddy …something positive with happiness.
So I disciplined my inner matrix and scooped these marbles up.
Here's what I found. The world's most advertised and critically praised conditioning box got hosed before my discrete and startled work. Conclusion: the adeptResponse appears not to care about breeding, hype or supposed prestige. It skwonked the holy twinklings out of an absolute sure lock on the "power conditioner of the late-twentieth/early twenty first century" award winner. That discovery impressed me since I was previously a believer, and not for inconsiderable reasons.
Belief, according to Moriarity, is fragile. I believe him now (more fragility). Have you read Darwin's The Origin of Species recently? My bloated pal downwind laid it on me. Much to munch on there, excuse my inadvertent crudeness.
Trucking along with my note taking, moving along at a quicker pace, I eliminated two of the five conditioning combatants. Once it came down to three boxes, the results were more subtle, more difficult to be sure of, but ultimately not impossibly out of reach. In sum, as I stretched my increasingly pained agility across my plank floor's Santa Ana debris, one more close-but-no-cigar box showed its flanks.
Goodbye, not quite first-rate box: sayonara and touché ! It came down to a shoot out between two contenders.
Subtlety First, Last, Forever
My collected high-end audio review archives will doubtless provide their lucky recipients with a multi-million dollar windfall someday, if trivial blogs and gossip postings continue at their current pace. A student of mine recently reported a website dedicated to testing the combat survival and textural pleasure differences among condoms. I'd not believe it ordinarily, but this is a straight A student soon headed to the Ivy League, home of liberal irrationality and just about everything that courageous law-abiding gravity researchers seek to endure with a grimace.
Who am I to say that audio culture stands at the head of the line with nutty activities? I'll not subject anyone to my dilatory, ridiculously detailed notational palimpsests.
Here's the outcome. After far too long—apologies to John McDonald, an industry saint if there ever was such a beast—fatigue and stress (god-awful private mumblings notwithstanding) incline me to deliver these hard won bottom lines seriatim:
1) My ambivalence about power conditioners was not out to lunch. Some of these boxes are friendly; others make nearly inaudible noise that corrupts music's innocent sonic horizon.
2) If you like audio adventure, work carefully as a listener across a small armada of power conditioners. Remember that Robin Crusoe was one of the early advocates of global exploration. He wound up stranded on an island with a guy named after the start of the weekend. I rest my case. Remember, too, the New York Yankees spend more money than half a dozen other teams combined, and haven't won the series in a long time. Why take my results for useful suggestions. I was dumb enough to subject myself to mindless work for more than a year. It's your turn.
3) I stayed at it long enough to comprehend my obsessive character (good); hard enough to grind a sore on my left elbow (irrelevant); and maniacal enough to care about what I discovered (your call here).
4) Elusive but discernable audio micro-details (i) created; (ii) enhanced; (iii) exacerbated; or (iv) merely divulged from electrical conditioners designed to make an audio person's life large with musical happiness, collectively, deliver less than promised as a cadre.
5) The two boxes I found to be of substantive music-enhancing, listening-enhancing, and recording-enhancing value are, however, exceptions that prove a nasty but extremely worthwhile rule.
6) Against my habitual grain (and damn near over its carcass) I'll attest here that the ONLY power conditioner—audio re-constructor; signal harmonizing device, et. al.—convincing me of its value, adding sonic and musical vivacity to a superior audio playback system; and, decreasing grunge from a better than good recording chain—is Audience's adeptResponse.
Bottom Line to the Bottom's Lines
I'm aware all reviewing work is eccentric in ways too numerous to list. I'm also aware that my conclusions may not cohere with Moriarity's or with anyone else who does this work. But I'll add one further note to the not much fun effort that went into this from first to last.
I purchased this device. It's mine. I've taken the now quite lovable, fortunately lightweight adeptResponse signal conditioner for several high profile "on location" recordings: Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter; Buster Williams and Kenny Barron; Charles McPherson's quartet with John Campbell (recent examples). Each time this good looking, brushed aluminum instrument gave my master recordings added sonic solidity and musical delicacy, qualities hard to define but not difficult to hear if you do this sort of work a lot, for a long time.
No listener or reviewer is an "absolute expert" regarding fractious matters such as these, but I'll stake my karma on this marvelously useful power conditioner. Other gadgets intended for similar objectives have been replaced here at BluePort. During two years that I've worked with the Audience twelve-outlet device, I've proved to myself (on several levels) it works in ways I need and want it to.
I may add Audience's two new units to my collection, one with six outlets, another with a single outlet. Exhausted, I doff my cap to the generous audio enhancement that adeptResponse subtlety brings my musical universe. Jim Merod