Audience AV’s journey into the audiophiles subconscious goes back almost 5 decades, to 1972 and a chance meeting of two audiophiles, John McDonald and the late Richard Smith. Forward to today, and the brand is synonymous with a niche hi-fidelity portfolio including incredible flagship cables like the Au24 SX interconnects. The brand is a pioneer on the power conditioner front as well, with hand-crafted devices like the aR12-T4 Adept Response power conditioners. We spoke to founder, President and CEO John McDonald to get a perspective on the place of power conditioners in the hi-fi set up, what qualifies as good PRAT, and the importance of the First Few Feet.
So the power we get from our wall socket, it isn’t pure?
Many good audiophiles tell me they cannot hear any noise in their system. However, once the noise has been removed by the application of a good AC power line conditioner, it becomes apparent that in fact they were listening to music through a layer of low level noise. Yes, AC power lines are contaminated with a barrage of all sorts of noise, mostly RF interference coming in from a wide range of sources. RF is even generated within an audio system by digital audio gear.
In other words, power conditioners really do make a difference to the output..
Yes, a good power conditioner will filter the noise from power lines.
So what are the factors to take into account when going for a power conditioner?
Generally speaking, power conditioners have a bad rap. And the truth is, this reputation is well founded. Most power conditioners will filter noise. However, there are a multitude of sound degrading issues that are employed in many filter designs. First and foremost, avoid the use of transformers. The easiest way to design a power conditioner is by using transformers. However, transformers inherently have a high DC resistance and therefore limit the dynamic flow of power. This is the number one criticism of power conditioners. Secondly, avoid the use of MOVs (metal oxide varistors) that are used for surge protection. MOVs 1) add a grunginess to the sound and 2) they wear out and become ineffective. Third – avoid conditioners that employ thermal circuit breakers. Thermal breakers act as a resister as they heat up when power increases, therefore working against the flow of music and limit dynamics much like transformers. There are a host of other details that go into designing a good power filter … like using high quality low impedance passive filters. The wiring design is also important and one should avoid series wired outlets. Parallel, star ground wiring is the best design for good PRAT (pace/rhythm/timing).
In terms of output would there be drastic differences between the end output on a entry level power conditioners compared to a flagship offering?
With the Audience lines of power conditioners, the flagship units are made with the very finest and most expensive filter parts that result in a more refined sound. The good news, however, all Audience power conditioners, at all price points, are made well. All Audience power conditioners are designed with the founding principal of do no harm.
What aspects of the audio output do you see a power conditioner like the aR12 improving? And how integral is the need to invest in premium power chords to enhance that output even further?
A good power conditioner will improve all aspects of sound reproduction including transparency, tonality, imaging, dynamics and PRAT. The power cord is also an integral part of the system. Many times, I have been asked “how can the last few feet of the power line coming from utility generated power affect the sound of a music system?” The truth is that I find the impact of power cords to be hard to understand. What I do know is that they do in-fact have a big influence on the sound. And the affect can be negative or positive. Back to the proverbial question about the last few feet, think of it as the FIRST few feet that is seen by a music system. Yes, upgrading the in wall wire in a home also helps. Even, the wall outlet is important. In a highly resolving music system, everything matters.
Take a flagship device from Audience AV like the aR12-TSSOX. What are the key distinctive elements within that aid the audio set-up towards attaining full dynamic range?
With the Audience flagship conditioners, there are four design upgrades; 1) Teflon filter capacitors whereas the standard units have polypropylene capacitors 2) the internal power wire is 100% OCC, 3) the outlets are premium Audience Hidden Treasure duplexes and 4) the entire circuit has been treated with the proprietary Audience Ultra High Voltage Treatment. All of this adds up to be a more refined sound reproduction in every possible way.
Do elaborate on the various components within an audio system that can generate harmful noise and contaminate the line?
Primarily, within an audio system, it is digital components, like disc players, that generate RF noise.
You mention how a key culprit afflicting most power conditioning products is the Metal Oxide Varistor, which is seen as a sacrificial element by many brands. Elaborate, please
Yes, as mentioned above, MOVs add a grungy quality to the sound. They are designed to absorb power surges; however, their life is limited.
As a brand, how do you measure and maintain efficiency in your power conditioners?
As eluded to above, Audience focuses on high quality low impedance parts and design. Even though we use new wire, we go as far as cleaning each wire before it is soldered to remove any film residue from the manufacturing process. This actually results in a better connection and improved sound. We avoid the use of snap on connectors. We actually hand manufacturer the connectors for the buss bar, made from pure copper tubes, to avoid the use of commercial nickel pated connectors. It is important to pay attention to every detail.
I’m sure you get queries for custom power conditioners. What’s the most extreme request you’ve got for a custom power conditioner?
Actually, the custom requests that we have received are pretty minor, like requesting an IEC power cord connections in place of the high quality Powercon connector.
For someone who is setting up a hi-end audio setup, what are three tips that you give to ensure the natural flow of music.
You raise a truly important question. Every component in an audio system has an impact on flow. Most audiophiles understand that cables make a difference. However, in my opinion, cables are the most important component when considering flow. And, the geometry of a cable is paramount in this regard.
You have been very involved in the segment for many years now. From a technological standpoint, what would you say was the greatest advancement, one that brought about massive changes in the power conditioner segment?
Audience started making power conditioners in 2005. All of the considerations that I have mentioned went into the very first conditioners that were produced by Audience. Since then, there have been many refinements along the way. So, in my not so humble opinion, I think the biggest changes in the segment was simply the fact that someone started doing it right. Since Audience started making power conditioners, some of our competitors have followed and made changes like using magnetic circuit breakers instead of thermal breakers. Audience was also the first to use a Neutrik Powercon connector to connect the power cord to the conditioner. The Neutrik Powercon is the very best component AC power cord connector. It locks in and cannot slip out. It has the lowest surface contact DCR of all available AC power connectors. Audience led the way here again and now other brands are following.