It Works. Don’t Ask Me Why.

It Works. Don’t Ask Me Why.
Further Reflections on the Mysteries of Power Line Enhancement
Mike Silverton
5 May 2000

Publisher preface: I really didn’t want any more coverage of the Richard Gray’s Power Company or the Quantum Life Pro. I’ve decided to post Mike Silverton’s piece because we can all use a good laugh. Of interest is Silverton’s postscript, which isn’t in the least amusing.

Close your eyes. We fly back through time to the seventy-eights. That’s (apolitical) revolutions per minute, young things — brittle black platters, surface crackle to daunt a cicada, those dear dead days of yore. My earliest purchase of music on disc, the “Anvil Chorus,” was my father’s recommendation. I remember the shop, Amrose Records, with its little listening booths. This dimly clangorous warhorse exhausted the old boy’s knowledge of opera, if one ignores a moment of familial blubbering overLa Bohème some years on. One slipped one’s boilerplate Verdi into his front-loading Philco 1201 radio-phonograph and drooped. Henceforward, I’d do my own research. A lad at loose ends in blue-collar Flatbush, I truly believed that Franz von Suppé’sLight Cavalry Overture was the best high culture had to offer. That’s the ticket — an officer of hussars leading an Austro-Hungarian charge! Take that, Turkish aggressor! Infidel! Thwack! No, make that on parade in charming Old Vienna, the nobility’s buxom daughters swooning left and right. Ah, music, ah, recording! Open your eyes, we’re back in the present. Nowadays, my martial-equestrian fantasies are all out to pasture, taking life as easy as I. From a slothful geezer’s perch, the more I contemplate this lovely artifice, audiophilia, the more convinced I become that life is for learning, certainly, though not necessarily why a tweak succeeds, but rather why we shouldn’t ask. That, for me, is the heart of the matter. One encounters an enigma — something that works when what we’ve know says it ought not. Either one resubmits himself to the educational mill (or the shaman of his choice) in order to gain insight where ignorance holds court, or one opts for pliancy, choosing to engage where his interests truly lie.

Particularly in the area of exotic tweaks and peripherals, skepticism is no stranger even here at the high end, witness green ink, CD degaussers and wee hardwood pucks. Can feng shui be far behind? In issue 122 of The Absolute Sound, the excellent Dan Sweeney covers a large number of line conditioners from what appears a reasonable, technically informed position, not that I’ve command of any aspect of that. I’m the sort who glosses the tech-talk and heads for conclusions. I was pleased to see Sweeney saying something nice about one line enhancer I’m using, Richard Gray’s Power Company, and disappointed to hear him dissing another, the Quantum Symphony and Quantum Symphony Pro:

“The last class of AC power palliatives are the black boxes that operate on either undisclosed principles or are based on highly speculative physical theories, such as fifth-force physics. These include … the Quantum ….” Fifth-force physics I last saw in the corner, among the dust bunnies, ensnared in string theory. (To quote Senator Claghorn, Thassa joke, son, a joke, I say! No idea in the world what fifth-force physics is, and I’ve already mentioned all I know about string theory, which is, in fact, for real.)

Because I hear the Quantum Pro working, I e-mailed Sweeney urging him to give it another shot. His response does little to allay the suspicion that the pod and its inventor operate beyond one’s workaday definition of the pale, not that I much care. Seems Sweeney asked the Quantum’s designer-manufacturer, Bill Stierhout, some questions the answers to which did not satisfy. He was further put off — more like alarmed — by Stierhout’s having said that the Quantum radiates — well, something. And then there are those health perks…. One feels himself drifting onto crystal shoals aboard the good ship Lollipop. Am I concerned? Do I give a freaking fig? Hey, call me the oldest New Ager in my zip zone. The thing works! In case I’m not making myself clear, it works! For the comprehension challenged, that’s W-O-R-K-S! Don’t ask me how, and yes, I feel fine. So far. Sweeney’s grasp of electronics blows mine out the door. If he finds Stierhout’s explanation incompatible with what he, Sweeney, understands of the physical world, I’d have to be nuts to try to explain. Besides, who’s to say that a fellow innovating in a field elsewhere seen as bordering Oz is obliged to behave conventionally? I’ve always tried to be tolerant of gifted people’s quirks. Not thinking it at all inappropriate, Stierhout has actually suggested what I ought to be saying about his Quantums. Never mind that I happen to agree with what he thinks I ought to be saying. The wise audiophile attends exclusively to those household deities flanking his skull. The Quantum works. Did I mention that?

As to why or precisely how, Stierhout’s literature is of little help, at least to me. Quantum resonance technology? My lights dim at long division. However, I do recall reading somewhere that whatever the Quantum does has to be some kind of RFI. Baloney. I’ve never seen RFI referred to as other than a source of signal degradation. Could the writer have meant something akin to euphonic distortion? Baloney piled higher still.

When my line conditioning consisted of an Audio Power Industries’ Wedge Ultra 112 into which my front end only connected (a Mark Levinson No.39 CD player), my original pair of Quantum Symphony pods extracted a film of grain from events, thus heightening one’s sense of transparency and resolution. The pair also appeared to expand the soundfield. I really cannot see improvements of this sort as in any way euphonic in the questionable sense of that term, i.e., as pleasurable distortions. So far as I can determine, the Quantum adds nothing; rather it lifts a curtain one notes by its absence. Drawing power from a wall outlet, Stierhout’s pods connect to nothing. They just sit there. Emanating. I have since gone from the API Wedge Ultra 112 to two pairs of Richard Gray Power Company 400S line enhancers. These operate as soloists, or better, discrete twosomes (or, if you can afford it, discrete threesomes), connected by short power cords in a daisy chain configuration. Into my RGPC twosomes go Mark Levinson No.33H mono amps and CD player: 33H in one pair, 33H plus player in the other. The Quantums remain in the mix. I’ve moved the original Quantum Symphony pair from their positions flanking the CD player to other locations in the room. According to Stierhout, the Symphony Pro is a good deal more powerful than the Symphony. It sits atop the Little Rock capping the CD player.

As a preliminary test, before the second set of Richard Gray Power Company conditioners arrived and before I reinstated the original Quantum Symphony pods elsewhere in the room, I enlisted my wife Lee to listen to the system with the Quantum Pro in and out of the mix. It’s a very easy text to conduct. One simply switches the pod on and off. When I turned the QP off, Lee made a gesture with her hands indicating that the soundfield had shrunk. QP reinstated, she described a wider image somewhat farther back in the room. When I conduct this test by myself, I do not detect this forward-backward shift, but I do hear a difference in width, along with superior resolution, though this latter amelioration is a hair less obvious to me with the single pair of Power Company boxes in place. What remains to be discovered is whether the double set of RGPC’s renders the Quantum Pro redundant.

The answer remains no. Even in company with the RGPC twosomes, the Quantum Symphony Pro continues to dispense its magic. I listened carefully to two superbly recorded CDs to arrive at this conclusion. The first is a col lengno (a German new-music label) of one of my favorite modernists, Helmut Lachenmann. Track two, Salut für Caudwell, consists of a two guitarists engaging in conventional playing, extended technique, and vocalization (col legno AU31804, issued in ’91 and probably difficult to find at this late date). The other, a hatOLOGY (Hat Hut Records’ jazz category — the label is Swiss) is a reissue of a 1995 recording by the extraordinary Peter Pfister of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, pianist Don Friedman, and Attila Zoller, guitar. The intelligently mellow program is entitled Thingin (hatOLOGY 547).

I began my final listening test by disabling the two outboard Quantum Symphony pods. The session would consist of a single Quantum Symphony Pro and the RGPC twosomes. I determined first, while the guitarists were doing their chanting and playing, that the Quantum Symphony Pro switched off deprives me of a degree of dimension I’d not want to do without. I attribute this perception of loss to a diminution of resolution and transparency. The jazz CD confirms my feeling that the RGPC’s provide an exemplary silence and lively, squeaky clean dynamic gradations even at quite low listening levels. With the Quantum Symphony Pro and both sets of RGPC’s in action, the jazz trio achieves as keen an impression of three-dimensionality as ever I’ve heard in this room. I do believe I’ve discovered quite by chance a marvelous synergy. For my money — I don’t use the term heedlessly — these RGPC’s and Quantums belong together. I’m keeping my trio of Quantums powered, though I’d not recommend acquiring three, but rather the Pro in association with these RGPC’s. At $600 for the Quantum Pro and $700 per RGPC, that’s a heavy hit. Were I you, I’d begin with the Pro and work up from there.

I was about to add that for an optimum result, the RGPC daisy-chain configuration profits from the shortest possible power cords and that I’ve found Harmonic Technology’s Pro AC II / PL 3 and Straight Wire’s blue Helical Teflon equally effective and reasonably priced. But then I paused and sighed a deep sigh. After-market power cords, line enhancers, mysterious technologies: is there an audiophile reading this who has never wailed in despair, No, no, it’s true, these things make a difference! My friends, we dwell among philistines. They’re all about us, these utterly insensitive, cloth-ear clots! For discretion’s sake, we tone down the vocabulary midst family and friends. But still, they’re there, poised to scoff, to bray like the ignorant asses they are, which is why you and I commune here in the audiophiles’ sanctum sanctorum. Ours is a small world, this sitting for hours, facing loudspeakers, fantasizing live events. Were it not for you, gracious reader, and all my eloquent, perspicacious colleagues, I’d long since have begun to wonder about myself. As I’m unwilling to change a thing, perhaps I should anyway. Insanity compounded by smugness — quite beyond help! Happy listening.

Postscript: One wonders sometimes. Michael Fremer reports in Stereophile hearing the Quantum doing, more or less, what I hear it doing. Great. But then Fremer says he’s not much interested in keeping it around. It’s effective, he guesses, but he doesn’t really want it, nor, by inference, can he really recommend it. Does this make sense?

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