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Positive Feedback ISSUE 79
Adept Response aR2p, aR2pTO, and the aR2pTOS AC Powerline Conditioners
as reviewed by Steve Kozle
I think we can all agree that, generally speaking, the thought of experiencing a new power supply or conditioning product is not quite as exciting as fresh new speakers and amplifiers. I mean, who really wants to spend all that money on electrical cords and outlets? Still, I have experienced several power cords and power conditioner combinations that really make as big a difference in the sound of my system as a new amplifier or preamp. By a wide margin, the best I had heard up to now in that category were the Triode Wire Labs All American Power Cords. In my review of those fantastic products (The Twelve+, Ten+, and Seven+ AC Cords) I said they made a difference comparable to upgrading a major component in my system, so much so that I purchased the Seven +. Staying on the topic of power component upgrades, let's now talk about some new power conditioning products from Audience, which are the subject of this review.
Power conditioners are one of the most essential components in a high quality audio system. At the same time, they are one of the most misunderstood in terms of their benefit and function. As with other major components like amplifiers and speakers, there are many approaches to their design and sonic effectiveness. Audience believes that improving the audio performance of your system, rather than just protecting or isolating it, should be the primary goal of the power conditioner.
It is often assumed that the voltage we get from our AC wall outlet is pure. Nothing could be further from the truth. All kinds of electronic noise in the form of radio frequencies and electromagnetic radiation is picked up on the line and fed directly to your components thereby compromising audio performance. Even the various components within a HiFi system can generate harmful noise and contaminate the line. Listeners are often unaware of the veiled quality that this noise imparts until it has been removed. Attempting to deal with these problems in an effective yet nonperformance compromising fashion is the goal of Audience Adept Response power conditioners.
The Audience conditioning products in for review are passive devices which avoid the brick wall or brute force control style employed in many conditioners. I did not find heavy transformers, redundant power supplies, integrated circuits, or performance degrading protection devices inside of these products. Instead, I encountered an elegant layout that employs the filtering, isolation, and device protection strategies. These design parameters ensure that components live up to their potential so that you can obtain the highest level of performance from your audio components while simultaneously protecting them.
The Adept Response High Resolution Power Conditioner is a cutting edge design providing the best power conditioning possible without limiting dynamics. Since power must respond quickly and completely to the demands of program material, it is imperative that power conditioning components present the lowest possible impedance power path while providing wide bandwidth noise reduction. Conventional power conditioners available to the general consumer simply cannot approach the bandwidth/impedance characteristics necessary for high end audio reproduction while still offering effective noise filtration and high voltage surge protection.
After having experimented at length with brawny line conditioning beasts from Shunyata, PS Audio, and Synergistic, I began to wonder how much bang for the buck I could retain through downsizing in the arena of power conditioning. The Audience aR2p products look, for lack of a better description, like really large, really fancy wall warts. They plug directly into the wall, and offer two outlets for components to plug into, which is nice because the size of a single aR2p series product covers both outlets in a standard North American wall plate. (I'm told that a Euro version of the aR2p is also available)
The aR2p are designed like the renowned twelve outlet Adept Response aR12, meaning they are hand built without the use of circuit boards or clip on connections. They are assembled only with premium quality high current components throughout to deliver wide bandwidth RF filtration, and are finished in a high impact polycarbonate housing. By reducing power line noise interference they provide a lower noise floor and blacker background, resulting in a higher resolution performance from components such as amplifiers, receivers, preamps, video projectors, and video displays. Whereas surge suppression devices like the ubiquitous MOV (Metal Oxide Varistor) are sacrificial devices and wear out over time, the aR2p's surge suppression properties do not deteriorate and remain entirely silent.
aR2p / aR2pTO / aR2pTOS
There are three products in the aR2p series the standard aR2p ($695), the higher end aR2pTO ($1600) and the supercharged aR2pTOS ($2075). The aR2p Adept Response provides surge suppression up to 20,000 amps. The aR2pTO employs Audience Teflon capacitors. Overall performance, including transparency and resolution, is improved. The aR2pTOS offers everything the previous model contains in an extreme version that is wired with all OFCC wire and the Audience S filter power conditioner option. This version began as a special offer to a few customers as a modification. However, it is so good that Audience decided to add it as the flagship of the aR2p product range. The bottom line is that it is quite a bit more advanced than the other two units.
One thing we as serious listeners don't often realize as we switch, upgrade, and spill cash, is the degree to which we are undergoing ear training similar to that of a musician, learning to differentiate tones and textures in the search for musical order and ultimately, satisfaction. I bet you can remember the sound of your first pair of serious speakers. Likewise, I am certain you recall the feeling of hearing your first tube powered preamp, should valves be your particular passion. So how would these tiny tots of the Audience product line fare next to the heavy metal behemoths that I am used to?
Conventional wisdom from audio gurus I trust is that any line conditioner needs a super large transformer to allow juice to flow unimpeded to said amp. Too small a transformer means restricted dynamics, pinched sounds, tonal thinness, and generally no fun. But the Audience conditioners are definitely not ordinary products, as I was about to find out.
Even without a proper break-in period, the difference was large. My home's AC quality runs a dishwasher well, but without proper cleanup, is not really suitable for high-end audio enjoyment. The initial difference of adding the aR2p was so significant that I decided to let IT settle in while playing background music from a streaming server.
After a month of background duty, some serious listening was in order. Though the aR2p is not a power regenerator or stabilizer which eliminates those voltage fluctuations that momentarily make the lights dim or brighten, it did successfully clean up the power such that I could revert to low listening levels and still enjoy all the nuances, pace, and dynamic drive that release music's emotional content. Without the Audience conditioner, there was a stream of somewhat more disconnected tones masquerading as musical performance. With the aR2p, there was musical performance built upon coherent interplay filled with spatial cues, proper timing, and dynamic accents.
Moving up the line, the Teflon capped aR2pTO and aR2pTOS sounded good on paper, but would it work? Let me explain the differences I heard between the more expensive aR2pTOS and the aR2pTO. Compared to its little brother, the TOS version created tremendous clarity and focus in my rig, smacking hard with a dose of cool morning air and bright sunshine. Every part of the frequency range took on increased sheen, accuracy, and dimension as well as increased dynamic range, translating into crystalline highs and tight, impactful bass lines, be they acoustic or synthetic. The TOS added a serious case of high relief to the music, though with some music that meant increased sibilance on vocals and a subtle heat in the treble. My room, with its real hardwood flooring and ceiling to wall windows, is responsible for some of this zing, but the Audience gear is all about concentration and transparency; so it too has a supporting role in that picture.
The standard aR2p, by comparison to the TOS version, was mellower, a little slower off the sonic mark, not quite as ultra clear, and consequently, a little smoother overall. Rolled off? Not really, just a different set of tonal priorities. The aR2p also didn't quite match the super dynamic focus on individual instruments within a given song, tending instead to mass sounds together in a more homogenous but still exceedingly musical way. This is not a knock on the aR2p, at a third of the price there is no basis for complaints about marginally inferior performance.
Eeny Meeny Miney Moe
Which one is right for me? All three models like their music warm and flowing, but things got better as I moved up through the line. The lower model is more about euphony and an easygoing ride than the super immaculate precision and truth serum induced honesty of the top model. The aR2pTO presented bass frequencies with greater warmth and weight than the entry level aR2p, if somewhat less precise than the aR2pTOS.
The TOS version presented slightly larger and faster images than the aR2pTO, creating a thrilling, most satisfying presentation. The TOS is all about the love inside the music, but the difference over the TO model is subject to the normal, everyday audiophile situation of diminishing returns. Both the TO and TOS models are better than the standard model, no doubt about it. However, they are also more than a little bit more expensive. If you can afford it, don't hesitate to order the TO or TOS units, you won't regret it. But if your silver spoon got lost in the birthing room, as mine did, the aR2p model represents the biggest bang for the buck in this lineup and at only $695 delivers a kinder, gentler, better sounding world.
Pure Power, Pure Audio
The aR2p family of power conditioners won me over with small size and big sound. They imbued both excitement and slam to the music and are highly musical and natural sounding. In particular the TOS supercharged my rig, creating a fully realized, detailed, superbly immediate and consequently addictive sound. Call me infatuated, in my opinion, every product in this lineup is a winner. With a 10 year warranty for all products, the only real consideration here is how much you want to spend, as overall performance is commensurate with the price of each unit, although admittedly becoming more minimal the further up you go. Whichever you can afford or choose you can't lose simply put, my experiences dictate that aR2p products make a big and beneficial difference for every budget.
A Personal Note
As an aside, I would like to end this review on a personal note. I've never done this before, but in this case I think it's not only important, but necessary. I have had these three products for a full year. That is way too long. I initially agreed to this review with all the best intentions, but the last 9 months have not been easy ones for me, with personal issues, work issues, and a move all converging on me in turn. Basically, life got in the way of pleasure and problems were more pressing than audio, so this review, unfortunately, took its rightful place at the bottom of my priority list for a while. Throughout the delays, the people at Audience, especially the CEO John McDonald, were patient with me and very understanding. Their compassionate and graceful reaction to my situation is something you should be aware of because it speaks volumes about the company and its employees. Audience is clearly comprised of real people with real personalities and real emotions. John McDonald could have screamed bloody murder about my long review period...he didn't. Instead he emailed me a note of concern, making sure I was doing as well as could be expected and not to stress about the extra time I needed. He and everyone else I interacted with at Audience displayed the kind of customer service that we usually only dream of.
Most of all, I would like to thank the good folks at Audience for being, and acting human. Unfortunately, It's exceedingly rare these days, and a great many companies could (and should) learn from their example. Steve Kozle