The Importance of Power and the Galileo MPC
"The band is just fantastic,
—"Have a Cigar", Waters
When I first got my Synergistic Research USB Active SE cable (which I tend to use with the black Enigma tuning bullet), my friend Nick Gowan suggested that I look into better power supplies than the stock walwart that accompanies it. I called Graham Thomas at Music Lover's Audio in Berkeley, CA and he told me that I actually had a couple of options. One, which is the most flexible and best sounding, is the Transporter Ultra SE, described on the Synergistic Research website as, "[…] a centralized, high performance solid-state power supply for Active Shielding. The Transporter Ultra SE has two isolated power supply transformers: one for active AC power cords, and one for active cables, Tranquility Bases, and Galileo Universal Cable Cells." It's a very elegant design and a perfect solution to multiple walwarts if you own a lot of Synergistic Research equipment; however, if you just own one or two cables, there's another solution, the Galileo MPC. In a sense, it is just an upgraded walwart; but it's also so much more.
Again, from the Synergistic Research website, "We start with a standard MPC, and gut its interior, discarding the capacitor, circuit board, and diodes. Next, we Quantum Tunnel the transformer's primary wind in the direction of signal (electron) flow followed by the secondary wind, again in the direction of signal flow. Finally, we replace the MPC's standard capacitor with a custom, Quantum Tunneled Zap Cap™, and four Quantum Tunneled high-speed diodes. The entire assembly is then point-to-point wired, replacing the standard circuit board. The entire circuit, lead wires, and all contacts are then Quantum Tunneled in the direction of signal flow." So, they do a lot of work. I decided I needed to hear one of these in action and arranged with Graham for my girlfriend Lori and I to come up to Berkeley for an audition. Graham intelligently suggested that I bring a thumb drive with some music of my own, which I did, and wound up using the 24/96 download of Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris" and the 24/176.4 download of Doug MacLeod's "Ghost", both from HDtracks.com.
I will say that, from the very beginning, both Lori and could hear a striking difference in the sound with the Galileo MPC (Mini Power Coupler) installed over the stock wall-wart, and its $400 price tag, though steep, more than doubled the performance of the USB cable, so was actually quite cost-effective. I think Lori described it best when she said it sounded more like vinyl. In more detail, the bass definition and detail improved and the midrange became more lucid with just a touch of blossom. We were listening on an all Spectral/Wilson system using an Ayre DX-5DSD as the DAC, different enough from my Audio Note system that I had to hear one at home. So, with Graham's assistance, I contacted Peter Hansen at Synergistic Research and arranged for an in-home audition. It took a few weeks for the Galileo MPC to arrive, largely because Peter was burning it in for me. I got the version with just one lead (they make one with two), which I think is what works best with the USB cable; at least, that's what Graham said, and I trust him.
When the Galileo MPC did arrive at my doorstep, I immediately hooked it up to my USB Active SE cable and, even with the black as opposed to silver tuning bullet, even with the Sonicweld Diverter HR and the Berkeley Alpha Series 2 DAC, even in an all single-ended triode system, it still sounded more like vinyl; and that was a good thing. FWIW, I changed the power cable on the Berkeley DAC to the Locus Design Keynote, which is a bit warmer and lusher sounding than the Harmonic Technology Magic Power Cord that I had previously used, and changed the S/PDIF cable to an all-BNC-terminated Locus Design Core, which sounded a little more open and slightly sweeter than my previous choice, the Audio Note Pallas with Eichmann Silver Bullet Plugs and BNC-to-RCA adapters; and please don't forget that I have custom-fitted Spiral Groove Strange Attractors on the Berkeley DAC as feet, which help to smooth out the sound. I was saving the Magic Power Cord and the Pallas for another application anyway; and the Keynote and Core helped me to fine tune the sound of the DAC, much like the black tuning bullet in the USB Active SE cable.
I ordered a new CD, specifically What We Saw from the Cheap Seats by Regina Spektor, and imported it into iTunes on my older Mac mini (which still has a SuperDrive built into it, and a FireWire connection). Playing it back through Audirvana Plus, my Woo Audio WA6-SE with the "premium" tubes (which look really pretty in addition to sounding good) and my Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3 HiFiMAN HE-5LE's, even the 16/44.1 files sound really natural and open, with a nice sense of roundness and decay to the piano notes and a very analog quality to Spektor's excellent vocals. Playing "Don't Leave Me" through the big system reveals an even greater sense of openness to the sound and a very natural, easygoing sense to the vocals without losing the sharpness of the horns or the now more detailed "thump" of the bass. "Firewood" opens up with a very nice combination of piano and vocals, both of which sound extremely natural and analog-like. Perhaps because of my choice to use the black tuning bullet, the piano has a certain "thickness" to it; on the other hand, the vocals are not excessively "round" or euphonic and the whole arrangement makes for an extremely natural music-listening experience.
I wanted to listen to something with a little bite to it, so I switched to the Linn 24/96 download of Highwire by Dawn Langstroth, and the cacophony of electric guitars did not sound cacophonous at all; rather, I could hear each guitar quite clearly and while there might have been a slight gloss over Langstroth's vocals, I think that has more to do with the black tuning bullet than anything else. Plus, don't misunderstand me. Langstroth has a very powerful voice and that power comes through loud and clear. It's just that—in the past—this download has a bit too much of an edge to it, and so I haven't listened to it all that often; however, now it really sounds (almost) like it's coming from a well-cleaned vinyl LP, which is exactly what I have been after in building the digital music server, thanks largely to the general improvement in sound I hear using the Galileo MPC. It's a definite keeper. On "Enough for Two", which is more of a ballad, the power of Langstroth's voice still comes through but in a gentler and more refined way. It's all quite enjoyable; and that's the point of all this, to paraphrase Steve Rochlin, to, "enjoy the music." Langstroth's "Dark and Twisted" is definitely, well, dark and twisted, and it makes me wonder if I'd want to be on the receiving end of that song; however, the fact that I'm listening to the quite intelligible lyrics and tapping my foot to the beat of the music rather than talking about "air" and "soundstaging" is a great sign to me that I am on my way to musical Nirvana, thanks largely to the Synergistic Research USB Active SE cable and the Galileo MPC; although, I might just have to try that gray tuning bullet again. You can get too much of a good thing.
Next, I wanted to experiment with some classical music, so I went into iTunes where I organize my music both by resolution and by genre, and choose Rhapsody, a 24/192 (PCM) download from Channel Classics. On the track "Ravel - Tzigane (1924)," the violin sounded really pristine and the virtuosity of Rosanne Philippens was not lost because of anything to do with the digital music server; again, it sounded like good, high-quality, very clean vinyl. I'm not planning on getting rid of my turntable, but am tempted to use the music server more as the individual components evolve. I also choose to play a few tracks of a Linn 16/44.1 download of Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets, Vol. 2 by the Belcea Quartet, a Gramophone Recording of the Month according to the Linn website. It's a really lovely performance of some of my favorite pieces by Beethoven and the digital music server, with the Galileo MPC installed, really does it justice. You can hear the interplay of the instruments quite clearly without seeming overly detailed or excessive yet still get a sense of the whole performance. The strings don't seem disconnected from one another at all; and the Galileo MPC certainly adds no brightness to the sound. It just makes things clearer and more analog-like, which is exactly what I'm seeking.
Finally, I just had to play some jazz. So I choose the 24/96 download of The Girl in the Other Room by Diana Krall, from HDtracks.com. In the past, I've often felt that the piano, and even Krall's voice, was over-pronounced via the digital music server; but with the Galileo MPC, everything fell neatly into proportion and, as Lori originally said about the Joni Mitchel and the Doug MacLeod, it sounded more like vinyl. I also played the 24/96 download of River by Herbie Hancock, again from HDtracks.com. I was really struck at how natural the cymbals sounded in the first track ("Court and Spark") as high-frequencies have always been an issue with the digital music server and, in my opinion, the Berkeley DAC; but they really couldn't have sounded more tonally balanced and, like I said, natural. Lastly, I took a risk and played the 24/96 download of The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett, also from HDtracks.com. This has always sounded dreadful on the digital music server particularly in comparison to my German vinyl pressing; however, the piano had a more natural sense of "lightness" to it and, for really the very first time, I enjoyed listening to it through the digital music server. While I've done an awfully lot to optimize digital download playback on the music server, I can't think of a single component, apart from the Berkeley DAC itself, that has done more than the Synergistic Research USB Active SE cable with the Galileo MPC. This one's not going back to the manufacturer, no way at all.