Audience: AdeptResponse aR12-TSSOX Power Conditioner, Au24SX PowerChords and Au24SX Speaker Cables

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As a reviewer, one of the more important benefits in attending various high-end audio shows is the exposure to new and exciting products. Additionally, the interaction with exhibitors including manufacturers, factory representatives, dealers, distributors, as well as networking with attendees/colleagues and friends (i.e., industry types and other), is an important element of these events. My engagement during a previous AXPONA North America event, held in Rosemount, IL, was particularly demanding due to my needing to cover as much as I possibly could (i.e., solo) for the purpose of producing a formal Show Report. Beyond that – I had my own personal agenda and simply wanted to enjoy my time at the show in a casual manner as well.

The Invitation

Fortunately during the initial part of my journey during this particular show, and while visiting many different exhibits, I was also able to meet the good folks from Audience AV, specifically Lenny Mayeux, Vice President of Sales & Product Development. Mayeux was very approachable and also quite open to exploring the possibility for having me audition (and review) various products in the Audience AV company product line, specifically the newer SX series of cables as well as their top of the line AC power conditioner. Quickly our initial conversation was off to a great start and quite enlightening as well. The fact that the sound in their suite was quite good – this simply further peaked my interest. Audience AV is a company that has literally been on my radar screen for some time so for this level of conversation, I was more than ready. Shortly after the show concluded, I had several follow-up contacts with Mayeux including phone calls and emails. The purpose of those contacts was to determine the number, types and lengths of the various cables for the review project. Additionally, during these exchanges – we reviewed the various types of terminations required including XLR, RCA, spade lugs, bananas, as well as 15 or 20 amp IEC connectors.

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Once these requirements were established, a plan was then put in place for products to be shipped to me based on earliest availability. Due to the company’s current production schedule and increased demand by their dealers for some of these same products, there was a slight delay for delivery on a few items. However, Mayeux indicated that he had a pair of the top-of-the-line Au24SX speaker cables available and could ship them to me sooner. Without hesitation – I jumped at the chance and said yes. In terms of the other products being slightly delayed, that actually aligned with my schedule and allowed me to continue working on another review project that was already well underway and somewhat near completion. We finally settled on me reviewing the newer Au24SX speaker cables, Au24SX power chords (i.e., both Medium and High power designated versions) as well as their latest adept Response aR12-TSSOX High Resolution Passive Master Power Conditioner. NOTE: due to the design configuration of my reference electronics (i.e., preamp/linestage with internal DAC including fiber optic connections to the power amps), it was also determined that the Au24SX interconnects would not be included in this particular review.

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Company Background     

Approximately midway through the review process, and while visiting in the Southern California region, I had an opportunity to visit the Audience AV factory in San Marcos. During my visit – I was able to tour the facility and also meet various members of the Audience team and as they performed their respective production specialties. Importantly, and somewhat surprisingly – not only was I able to connect with Malveux I also had the distinct opportunity/honor to meet John McDonald, Audience’s president, co-founder and chief visionary.

Tweekgeek2017.gifHaving conversations with both McDonald and Maveux that afternoon, I was able to gain insights as to their collective thoughts, commitment and high passion for a purist design philosophy – one that focuses heavily on minimizing intrusion on the sound from their products. As a part of their artisan design and development approach, their products are manufactured by hand at their California facility. During one particular discussion, Malveux, stated the following – “a little known fact about Audience is its original founding vision was to produce ideal loudspeakers. The goal was to design loudspeakers that didn’t just work with or around the limitations of disparate drivers and crossovers but to eliminate those limitations by making speakers without crossovers, without disparate drivers and without the issues that go along with those approaches. While not an entirely new or unique concept, we don’t believe any other company has held so true to this vision. This truly differentiates Audience, but it does not stop there. This innovative approach is the bedrock of all Audience products and designs.” For additional information gathered during my visit to Audience, please see comments at the end of this review (i.e., Post Script).

Maveux further commented that twenty years ago when Audience first released cables, the trend was big, thick, high-mass cables.  However, Audience took a different approach and differentiated itself by breaking from this design trend with its line of low-mass cables and with the moniker Au24. This same uniqueness is also found in their power conditioner designs as well. In 2005 – Audience began producing its line of Adept Response power conditioners without the ubiquitous current-limiting thermal circuit breakers and the high DC resistance transformers or the grungy sounding metal oxide varistors (i.e., MOV’s). According to Mavuex, when designing power conditioners, their designer at that time, the late Roger Sheker, held tight to the Hippocratic Oath of, “First, Do No Harm.” As such, throughout its existence, the company’s product design and development efforts have held true to this standard in an unwavering fashion.

In terms of the need for a source of clean AC power, according to Maveux – this was met by development of the Audience Adept Response Power Conditioners. He further stated that the initial product design and development emerged from the various power conditioners that were produced by different members of the Audience team and that were developed for their own personal use in their homes as well as various industry trade shows. As continued use and exposure to these products proved beneficial by demonstrating their overall effectiveness – the consideration for taking the design to a higher level became another pursuit for the company. It also became a matter of demand from the Audience customer base requesting that they implement this technology into a consumer grade product for use in their home reference systems. In typical Audience fashion – with the goal of creating a new standard and world reference product, important internal parts such as capacitors were the result of exclusive Audience designs. Similarly, according to Mayeux, Audience felt that many other available cables, such as interconnects and speaker cables, did not achieve a standard of absolute natural character.

Products Arrived

Au24x.jpgAs I mentioned, Mayeux indicated that he had a single pair of the Au24SX speaker cables available in the relatively near future. Once received, I was anxious to check them out and get started with some listening. In terms of their overall appearance – the speaker cables had a certain unstated, but elegant design and with a minimalist approach. Additionally, they appeared to be very well-constructed with a nice clean looking outer jacket including gold spade lugs for terminations. Also, given the relatively light weight and smallish physical dimensions of these cables, my initial concern had more to do with whether they would be capable of delivering sufficient current to my speakers, especially compared to my reference speaker cables and their relatively thick snake-like appearance. However, as is often said – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As such, I tried hard to put my initial impressions aside and focus on what the intended design was for the Audience speaker cables and simply judge them for their sonic performance and not their size or shape. Interestingly, I was assured by Mayeux that these cables incorporated both the innovative science and technology that was a key part of Audience’s secret sauce and that, in this case, size did not matter.
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Subsequent to receipt of the speaker cables, I later received a shipment including various power chords. By contrast, the appearance of these particular cables had a noticeably different visual impact. Their overall design and construction had a solid feel along with an attractive high-quality black fabric outer jacket. This cables included high-gloss Furtech connectors all adding up to the look of a serious quality product. The good news is that despite their size, they were actually very flexible and would lend themselves to ease of use during later installation in my reference system.

Early Listening Impressions

First up for auditioning were the speaker cables. In terms of my reaction to the sound of my system with these cables installed, a moment of truth soon hit me. Truth be told – I had let my initial excitement get the best of me resulting in me simply replacing them for my reference cables and without any real burn-in time for the Audience cables. Not a particularly good move on my part. What I experienced was a sound that although was very neutral – there just wasn’t a whole lot going on to impress me. Bass was a bit soft and not fully flushed out. Also, although the sound was detailed and smooth, it also seemed somewhat slow and heavy sounding. Midrange and highs seemed indistinct plus no real extension in the upper frequencies. Soundstage was a bit closed in and not nearly as dimensional as what I thought it should be.

Tektonad.gifFrom these initial impressions – it was clear that before any serious listening and attempts to assess the overall capabilities of these cables – I needed to provide sufficient time for break-in and conditioning. Fortunately I had a very busy schedule coming up so I simply put my system in repeat mode and let musical signals flow through the cables continuously for the next several days. Judging from a quick listen approximately three days into the burn-in phase, I was most definitely encouraged. For the most part, the sound was opening up with solid impact through the lower frequencies with much clearer and improved inner resolution through the broad midrange. More good news — the upper frequency range now was much more open and also well extended.

In terms of the power chord, based on my earlier experience with the speaker cables, I decided to not go that route and instead provided these cables some burn-in time before any serious listening. Also when I first asked whether there would be a different power chord for my amplifiers (i.e., analog) and my line stage/preamp (i.e., digital due to internal DAC), I was advised that the technology and overall design of the Audience power chords is differentiated between High Power (HP) and Medium Power (MP). Essentially the HP version would be used for the amps and the MP version for the preamp/linestage Effectively, there is no power chords in the Audience AV line specifically designed for analog versus digital. Needless to say, my initial reaction was to question this but once again, any doubt or skepticism was quickly removed once I placed these cables into my system. Here’s the tricky part – this my task was to review the Audience products as a system, although I was easily able to detect differences with my reference power chords, I was also quite reluctant to pass judgment at this point. Let it be known however that what I was experiencing at this point was generally very positive and encouraging. What happened to the sound was a continued level of improvement with an enhanced organic, textured flow with excellent body, power and dynamics.

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The next Audience product for including in this project was their top of the line power conditioner (AdeptResponse aR12-TOSSOX). A quick visual inspection didn’t reveal anything particularly elaborate or particularly fancy cosmetically. However, the unit had clean lines and again an understated elegance. The on/off power switch was of high quality and a solid feel. Additionally, there was a nice feature on the front panel with a blue LED display indicating the numerical reading of the AC current as the unit was connected to the wall outlet. Again, based on lessons learned particularly with earlier experiences dealing with certain types of electronic devices – prior to installing this particular unit – I had plugged it into the wall AC, including its special dedicated, but detachable, power chord and left it powered up for approximately five days. Importantly, I felt like since this component would serve as the primary source for supplying clean/conditioned AC to my reference electronics – getting it fully preconditioned and ready to take full charge was an appropriate move.

After removing my current reference AC line conditioner and following the Audience Instruction Manual, I then proceeded to orient the Audience power chords for my electronics accordingly. Once everything was properly installed – it was time to take a listen. And as anxious as I had been in the beginning of this project – my patience in providing sufficient time for each of these products to properly break-in, and to achieve their full operational capability, was quickly rewarded. My first reaction was somewhat difficult to describe. It wasn’t anything dramatic and/or something profound. Instead the sound of my system noticeably seemed to have an even greater sense of quiet with less tension and overall was more relaxed. Beyond that, whatever noise, grunge and/or sonic artifacts that may have been there before had literally been removed from the entire sound field.

There was now an even deeper, blacker background where the musical sounds easily and freely emerged from a superbly quiet, open soundstage and in a manner that sounded pure and absolutely captivating. At this point – I was somewhat surprised and caught off guard.  For the most part – my system including reference AC line conditioner was no slouch. However, the Audience line conditioner was able to take me to another level and noticeably beyond my current reference. Sometimes being a reviewer can not only be a fun and rewarding experience – there are also times when it can be painful, especially when one of your cherished components faces unexpected competition and seems to come out on the short end. In this regard, high-end audio can be tricky business particularly due to the fact that just because something is better – it clearly doesn’t mean that what you have is now chopped liver and ready to be retired. In reality it is refreshing and a reminder that ongoing innovative product designs and development continue to bring forth even better results that is ultimately for the better overall.

Continuing on – Instruments and voices now came forth in a wonderfully natural manner, no hype, no exaggeration – just a superb tonal balance that made the sound quite the opposite of Hi Fi. Beyond this – the soundstage was wide open with impressive dimensionality including excellent depth, width and height. Images within the sound field were naturally portrayed and realistically positioned. Clearly there was something truly special going on and this was just the beginning of my journey with the Audience products.

Additional Listening – Greater Appreciation

Because so much of the music that I listen to has a solid bass foundation – I started with this frequency range. You may recall my earlier reservations regarding the overall size (and lack of girth) of the speaker cables. Well anyway, those feelings were quickly put to rest. In fact, with appropriate break-in time and with the full complement of Audience products including the AC conditioner and power chords in place, the bass response of my system was noticeably enhanced. In particular, both the quality and the quantity through the bass range was spot on and very accurately portrayed. A number of very familiar recordings that seemed to benefit with the bass more accurately reproduced and in proportion to the music overall. The result was a sound through the bass region that came forth more naturally in both tonal balance and overall sonic character. Nothing anemic or weak in this area with both control and pitch definition absolutely outstanding. This is a quality often overlooked especially as we sometimes seek levels of bass that are actually unrealistic and beyond what is natural. Yeah I know the old saying – “if it feels good to ya’…..it must be good for ya!” NOT!!! As I continued to enjoy the sound with a focus on the overall bass performance, it was more than obvious that the Au24 SX speaker cables are definitely capable of bringing the power to the party – despite, or perhaps due to their size.

Moving up to the midrange and higher frequencies – again the sound field was now superbly open, clear and with excellent inner resolution and texture. With a wide variety of musical genres/styles, musical sounds emerged with lots of detail, yet were also smooth, natural and lifelike.  Leading and trailing transients were revealed with appropriate edge and decay. Nothing was hyped up or artificial. Voices in particular were absolutely delicious-sounding with a natural richness, texture and full of musical color. Similarly, the voicing of instruments, such as piano and sax, was clear, unrestricted and with dynamic power. Similarly, vibes were rendered with wonderful clarity and warmth that were simply a pleasure to listen to repeatedly. Along with these attributes – when the music was soft, there was a wonderful nuance to the sound with subtle details clearly evident, no smearing or loss of information. Bottom line – the Audience speaker cables were doing exactly what they were designed to do and that was to get out of the way and not intrude on the signal passing through them.

With everything in place, it was as though things simply locked into place. Call it synergy or whatever – I just know that when it happens, you know. Of particular note was the replacement of my reference digital power chord for the Audience power chord (i.e., MP, medium power version). In my mind – I’m thinking, OK – let’s see how this turns out. Well all I can say is that the difference was anything but subtle and with the Audience power chord in place, it was as if my system’s sound had been simply freed up and noticeably beyond its previous level of performance. With this experience under my belt, I quickly installed the HP power chords on my amplifiers.

Porternew.jpgA couple classic examples of this included the wonderful recording by jazz singer Gregory Porter. His CD titled “Take Me To The Alley” includes some outstanding juicy deep bass on the track titled Holding On. With the complement of Audience cables and AC conditioning installed – my system produced an impressive deep throbbing bass with no bloat or overhang. Additionally throughout this particular selection – Gregory’s wonderful voice came through with a superbly natural tonal character. No blurring or smearing – just pure vocalese. Another absolutely beautiful sounding recording is Brazilian singer/pianist Eliane Elias on her recording titled Swept Away. This recording features Elias on piano with a very seductive interplay between Marc Johnson on acoustic bass. The sound is majestic, gentle, sweet and with lots of musical color. Another track on this recording titled Foujita is a similar sweet sound with absolutely beautiful piano work, again by Elias. With the Audience products in place – hearing deeply into the music and catching all the musical (and emotional) cues helped me go well beyond just casual listening and moved this into a magical experience.

Over the years I have become more and more appreciative of the significance of power conditioning and the benefits it can provide for enhancing the sound of a true high performance high-end audio system. This, along with complementary power cables, can easily be the difference between a given system sounding very good to that same system sounding absolutely outstanding. As the listening room continues to be a major challenge for extracting great sound, likewise getting as pure an AC signal delivered to your cherished electronics can also present a different but similar challenge. Fortunately, the combination of Audience aR12-TSSOX power conditioner and Au24 SX power chords addresses the issue around AC most effectively and has the ability to literally transform the sound of a truly highly resolving, high performance high-end audio system. In my system – the Audience products allowed my system to reach new levels of musicality and were very impressive. And, in my opinion, clearly followed the designer’s original goals and intentions for minimal intrusion and preserving the integrity of the signal.

According to literature from Audience, their flagship Au24 SX interconnects and loudspeaker cables are designed to achieve extraordinary audio accuracy. They feature XLPE dielectric material with higher quality insulation, higher-purity OCC six nines copper, improved cable geometry and other refinements to deliver better transparency, a richer tonality and stunning sonic realism. Au24 SX powerChords, engineered for ultimate timing conveyance of digital signals and effective shielding against EMI and RFI. Additionally, Audience’s Adept Response aR12-TSSOX High resolution Passive Maser Power Conditioner facilitates a more natural musical presentation in high-performance audio systems, with improved resolution, lower noise, better soundstaging and additional sonic benefits. By the way – did I mention that Audience – does their Cyro treatment for its cables all in-house. Again – they feel they can best control all factors for this process by bringing closer to their manufacturing facility.

Conclusion

At this point, there’s not a whole lot more I can add to what I’ve already stated. The particular Audience AV products included in this review, and as a system, helped me achieve a new level of sonic excellence. These products are truly the real deal and something for serious consideration. There’s a reason why I included them as Products of the Year in an earlier issue and after much greater and intense scrutiny, I am even more encouraged by their performance. These are products that reflect the original vision of the founder and if placed in your system, will very likely take you on a journey of discovery and musical delight. Highly recommended.

 

 

 bill wells   

Post Script

Below is an excerpt from an interview/conversation conducted earlier this year while visiting Audience AV at their manufacturing facility located in San Marcos, CA. Session included John McDonald and Lenny Mayeux:

1. 1. What is your short/long-term vision for Audience?

JM: Our plans are to continue developing and designing true high end audio products reflecting both high performance and high value at both the entry and ultra high-end levels. In fact, in the very near term – Audience has plans for releasing several new entry-level, lower-priced power products. Much like our economically priced line of OHNO cables, which received industry acclaim and awards, our new Forte f3 powerChord and Forte f3 power conditioners represent an unbeatable value. The f3 powerChord will be very affordable and the 8-outlet Forte f3 power conditioner similarly priced. We believe these products are almost too good to believe at their perspective prices.

At the same time, we are also holding true to the company’s founding vision by developing more ultra high performance loudspeakers. Although Audience has already made a unique mark in this arena, we are just getting started. Expect to see some truly outstanding new loudspeaker developments from Audience in 2018 and beyond. Also, as a result of boarder interest within the industry – we are now actively spreading our reach into the Pro audio world as well.

2. How would you describe the value proposition provided by your products?

JM: Every Audience product offers unbeatable value for the performance level provided. However, “high value,” in and of itself, is just not good enough. It has to be high value without compromise, and that is what Audience has accomplished. For example, our award-winning entry-level OHNO cable line. Additionally, our reference-level Au24 SX RCA interconnect has also achieved high acclaim and numerous industry awards. Granted, its price-point cannot be considered inexpensive, yet this is a cable that can compete with any cable on the market, including those that are significantly higher in cost. In other words, our top of the line represents an extraordinary value to performance that is competitive at any level. 

3. What role does emerging technology and/or innovative engineering play in your design and development processes?

JM: Audience has proven to be a leader by continuously providing a number of advanced technologies, processes, and materials. We were one of the companies on the forefront of cryogenically treating our products since 1998, and set up our own in-house process to ensure the adherence to the highest double Cryo standards. Audience was, also, one of the very earliest adopters of high purity OCC wire. Currently we are investigating nanotechnology (nano-conductive sprays and nano-substrate deposits) and their uses to improve sonics.

Audience does not shy away from the future nor cling to the past. We adhere to a “performance first” mentality and are constantly striving to improve our product lines. For example, years ago, we were trying to find the perfect high bandwidth driver for our loudspeaker designs to free us from the issues with crossovers, but were having no success; even with the “state of the art” that was available to us at the time, it was just not good enough. Instead of accepting the status quo, Audience did something that was nearly unheard of, something considered too risky for most companies … we developed and built our own driver from the ground up! If there is a better approach to be had, then Audience will pursue it. In our loudspeaker design team, we have a transducer designer who seeks out new proprietary software, methodologies, and materials to ensure we are always improving. Audience, also, has a separate system designer who works in parallel to look for any new, advantageous ways we can push the envelope further to improve our enclosures, total system integration, and performance. In other words, not only do we stay abreast of emerging technologies, but we do not overlook the valuable insights and ideas that come from using the best, most forward-thinking people available. 

Was it worth it for Audience to go through all the trouble and costs to adhere to our uncompromising standards? The “pursuit of perfection” is not idle, empty words for Audience, it is the lifeblood that runs through every aspect of what we do.

Specifications:
Price:

Au24 SX PowerChord (HP), $4,600 6 ft ($180 per ft add’l):
Au24 SX PowerChord (MP), $4,200 6 ft ($165 per ft add’l);
Au24 SX speaker cables, $3,000 2 meter. pr. ($575 add’l meter — spade or banana terminations
aR12-TSSOX High Resolution Passive Master Power Conditioner, $11,195 with 6’ powerChord SE-1. Upgrade to the Au24 SX powerChord, $4,200. Other versions are also available including AR6 TSSOX at $6,450 including 6’ powerChord SE-1.

Manufacturer Info:

Name: Audience A/V

President: John McDonald

Address: 120 N. Pacific St., K-9, San Marcos, CA 92069  

Tel: 760-471-0202 or 800-565-4390

Web Site: www.audience-av.com

E-Mail: info@audience-av.com

 

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