Friday, September 20, 2019

2 Tweaks For Improving Streaming Audio Sound Quality

Just a quick post highlighting 2 things that really helped my streaming setup sound significantly better. 

1. DMT Wormhole Dots

DMT Wormhole Dots

Starting with the internet connection that comes into my home. I have found that the DMT Wormhole Dots placed on all relevant internet/ethernet connections made more of a performance improvement than a higher quality ethernet cable.  The sound is more natural, and appears to be quieter as I hear more detail. If you only start with one, start with the one at your router, and work your way to your streamer. Place one on every ethernet connection.

2. Balanced power on Data components

Starting with my router which is located in another building. I have connected it to a relatively inexpensive balanced power transformer I purchased on Ebay. Balanced power is commonly used in pro audio as a way of reducing AC line noise. The 120 volts normally carried on the "hot" wire runs through a specially wired transformer that splits the 120 volts into 60 volts on the "hot" and 60 volts on the "neutral" and making one electrically out of phase with the other. This out of phase wiring causes a cancellation of noise on the AC lines, and the bonus, the component still "sees" 120 volts. It not only cuts the noise in half, it also isolates the components plugged in to the transformer from the other components (in this case audio components),

I connected one transformer to my router, and the other transformer is in my listening room powering my Roon Rock server, Cisco switch, and an external hard disk with switching power supply.  I have listened to this in and out of my system, and it is definitely smoother and quieter in my system.

I have had hit and miss experiences with balanced power on my audio components, but for data components in the audio streaming chain, it is essential. Below you can see a photo of the unit I purchased (I actually purchased 2).

My Cisco switch sitting on top of the balanced power transformer. My Roon Rock server and an external drive are also plugged in to this unit. Highly recommended.

500 watt balanced power transformer with 2 duplex receptacles. Perfect for your routers, switches and data components

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Acoustics: Not All Treatments Are Equal. My Experience With The Stillpoints Aperture II's

If you've been following my blog, you are aware of my new studio and the fact that I have been working on my studio's acoustics. I am on round 2 of this adventure after not being thrilled with the results of the first round. I will admit, my needs and room is not super easy. I have open baffle speakers (Spatial Audio X3's), they need room to do their dipole thing, and are a little more sensitive than average to the surfaces behind them.

Over the last few months I have been working on these issues from other troubleshooting angles: Power conditioning, speaker placement, cables, and tweaks. I have been making really good progress, and I have detailed some of it on previous posts.

The latest breakthrough was born out of my being bored, unsatisfied with the sound, and wanting to experiment. I had four Stillpoints Aperture II acoustic panels in storage for the occasional in-home audition and decided to place them in the area behind my speakers.

A photo of my studio with conventional acoustic treatments a-plenty. The speakers have changed, but the treatments remained.

On the left side behind one speaker is a window (visible in the photo above), which isn't a death sentence but is a challenge. I thought that the cloth-like cellular blinds would absorb some sound, and it's accordion shape would also keep sound from reflecting directly back to me in my listening chair. They didn't perform as well as I had thought, and the acoustic treatments I used behind there were good on a measurements level, still I was not satisfied.

Studio again with the Spatial X3's in place. They are further out into the room now...

I Got Issues

First, I had to turn the system up to a moderate level to hear all of the music. Low level details would disappear at lower levels. I had to turn up the volume to hear all of the music. This was not always ideal.

Second, I felt that the depth of my soundstage was lacking, partially because of the above issue, but also it just sounded a little flatter than I am used to. At this point I experimented more with speaker placement, which did help a bit.

Third, complex musical passages lacked life and seemed to just be mashed together sonically a bit. I tried power conditioning experiments, cables, and was making some progress, but still not where I wanted to be.

Spatial X3's have found their place, as have the Stillpoints Apertures. Now to build stands that I like...

My Reasons (And Perhaps Yours) For Not Trying The Apertures

The main reason I had not used the Stillpoints Aperture II panels in my studio is, at $800 each they are not inexpensive. I felt like most people probably do when they look at these. I thought "It doesn't appear that I am getting a lot for my money with these." I mean, they are extremely well crafted, they look like furniture, yes I get that. To my eyes they were small, and I felt like I was paying a lot for the aesthetic. Not that there is anything wrong with that either, it's just that there were other brands and options that seemed cheaper per square inch, looked and measured well too. This was my first mistake.

My second mistake was making the assumption that the Aperture II's were "normal" acoustic treatments. Yeah they did a little bit of everything according to the description. A little absorption, a little diffusion, a little resonance control. But so what, other products did that too. Although I might have to use 2 or 3 different products to achieve the same thing, right? No.

My third mistake was assuming I would need a bunch of these to treat my room properly. With them costing $800 each, I thought I would need as many as 20. This probably more than anything had me looking at other products.

Back side of the Spatial X3 and my work chair. Beside the chair is a Vicoustic diffuser (it's gorgeous and works well).

The Reality Of The Stillpoints Aperture II's

Placing just 3 panels behind my speakers, propped up about 24" off the ground allowed for coverage of the windows, and put the Aperture II's in the line of fire of the dipole midrange and high frequency drivers of the Spatial X3's.

This. Was. Eye. Opening. Hooo Leee Shit. What just happened to the sound?

I'll tell you what happened. Magic.

The other listening chairs, and the Vicoustic diffuser on the right side wall. Also gorgeous and works well.


First, the soundstage. There was more depth, plain and simple. My soundstage went further back, which was the main complaint about the current setup. Even so, I wasn't blocking the windows by that much. I did stack two Apertures on top of one another at the center point between the speakers. One was good, two were better.

But there were also surprises...

Aperture II in Cherry wood with a cream grill. A very cool, retro kind of coloring and look. Love it.


What I wasn't expecting was the amount of de-smearing that the Aperture II's could perform. All of the sudden there was more clarity, more separation of the musical elements. I had no idea four 22" x 22" acoustic treatments could pull this off. This was sooo enjoyable.


Another surprise. Dynamics had more attack, more transient snap, and more low level impact as well. Listening to Steven Wilsons "To The Bone" there were the strikes of the toms that had more impact and realism. Quiet passages were quieter, and dynamic passages had more jump. I have never heard an acoustic treatment pull this off before.

Volume Independent

Here was an interesting contrast that directly addressed one of my complaints. With the other treatments, I had to turn up the volume to hear the lower level resolution in the recording. At lower volumes there seemed to be things in the music that were missing. With the Apertures I didn't need to turn up the volume to hear those details. They were there, and so were the dynamic contrasts.

Three T's: Tone, Timbre, Texture

THIS. This was the biggest surprise, and the most important aspect of performance that separates the Aperture II's from everything else. The tone, the timbres and textures were quite simply more natural and believable than with conventional acoustic treatments. There was flow, there was ease. My brain wasn't trying to analyze, it was allowing me to feel, forget analysis, and enjoy. I don't know if one can put a price tag on that...

Where the 4 Aperture II's are parked, awaiting stands which I will build out of wood.

Incoporating Aperture II's With Conventional Acoustic Treatments

The best analogy I can think of is with cabling. Treat the source first with the best cables you can buy, the downstream components, while important, don't necessarily need to have "the best" cabling. Especially if budget is a concern.

When treating your listening room, start with the wall behind and between the speakers first. Here the Apertures are indespensible. They will lock in the center image, create depth, allow your speakers to resolve music, and beautiful natural tone.  The side walls are nearly as important, but take second place to the wall behind the speakers. Here you can use diffusion to eliminate secondary reflections. Ultimately however, the Aperture II's can widen the soundstage and add to that wonderful sense of natural ease and flow of the music.

In my case, I had hardwood floors and an 8' ceiling. The Vicoustic heavy duty polystyrene diffusers worked great on the smooth ceilings, and a natural wool rug with a felt pad underneath worked extremely well on the floor. Apertures on the ceiling? Not for me. The polystyrene diffusers were effective, and light enough to not be lethal if for any reason one should detach itself from the ceiling. The Apertures weigh 23 pounds each, I did not consider that safe.

Back walls? That depends. If the walls are closer than 5 feet to your listening position, Aperture II's may provide an advantage, but one can certainly use conventional acoustic absorbers to eliminate any slap echo.

One could start with a single Aperture II, centered on the wall between the speakers, and over time build a very good sounding room with the addition of 4 or 5 more Apertures. This actually makes the apertures very competitively priced when shopping for room acoustics. You need fewer treatments, because they are more effective on a per square inch basis.


Not all acoustic treatments are equal. The Aperture II's while small are way better in getting one's system to sound fantastic in their room. Their "potency" allows one to save one money  on treating a room because fewer Aperture II's are needed than conventional diffusers and absorbers.  Additionally, since fewer Aperture II's are needed, one has more wall space to hang art. It's a win-win!

Seriously though, I had spend a chunk of money on more traditional acoustic treatments, and they simply did not allow my system to reproduce the music as well in my room. That was an expensive lesson. I share this information with you so you don't make the same mistakes.

The Aperture II's are a superior product worthy of the asking price. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A New Reference For Power Conditioning.

The Never Ending Story

Being an audiophile is a continuous journey, an evolution. Our nature as humans is to explore, experiment, to take things further and discover what is possible within our own limits.

Our limits (or at least mine) are technological and financial. When one cannot afford the latest equipment, we get as close as we can within our means, and we also find other ways to advance performance that are also within our means. That is why DIY audio and tweaks exist. They allow us to fulfill our drive to achieve higher performance (sometimes) while staying within our limits (hopefully our impulses don't get the better of us). Case in point: My audio system's power conditioning.

My Reference 

I have used the Bybee Power Purifier in some iteration as the reference power conditioner for my system for over 10 years. Nothing has bested it despite many attempts. I continuously have improved it over the years, and continue to challenge it's capabilities with other conditioners, and tweaks. It has remained.

It uses a combination of series and parallel filtering elements, along with top shelf wiring and AC receptacles. The series elements were very low resistance, and on paper do not significantly impede current delivery to audio components connected to it. It's always been more natural sounding, while digging deep for low level detail, and presenting information more clearly (while remaining balanced) than anything I've tried.

My reference: The Dark Matter Stealth


Last year while at the 2018 RMAF  I ran in to Bill Stierhout, the inventor and former owner of Quantum Resonance Technology. Quantum Resonance Technology (QRT for short) is a unique approach to power conditioning that uses a parallel "signal" or field to smooth out the AC waveform. Several years ago, Nordost had purchased this technology and contracted with Bill to oversee continued production and development of Nordost's QRT line of products. When we reconnected at RMAF, He was finishing up his contract with Nordost and had ideas for a more advanced version of his technology under his ownership (now called ADD-Powr). In January, he had a prototype device which I was able to audition. I found his new device to be quite beneficial to my existing power setup, and we became partners once again.

I began using his Sorcer X4 (pictured below) in conjunction with the Dark Matter Stealth power conditioner, which provides passive filtering with DMT materials, capacitive RF filtering , and some series filtering devices from Bybee and High Fidelity Cables. The addition of the X4 lifted yet another veil in the sonic presentation with greater clarity, microdynamics and textures.

The ADD-Powr Sorcer X4

The X4 I was using in my reference system was also my in-home auditioning unit, so it was in and out of the system often. This allowed A/B listening to the unit in and out of my system frequently. I heard it's benefits multiple times as it went out on loan and came back.

Returning from the 2019 Rocky Mountain Audiofest, I was finally able to retrieve my ADD-Powr Sourcer X4 since it was being used at the show. While it was there, Bill Stierhout installed the latest upgrade to the X4. A small board that he said would "take the mid and high frequency resolution further".

X4 Solo Duty

The following Monday morning after the show, I was eager to put the newly updated X4 in my system. As I mentioned in the past, I used it in combination with my Dark Matter Stealth V2 power conditioner, but today I wanted to hear only the X4. I removed the Stealth from the system, replaced it with a Wireworld power strip and one of my Duelund wire power cords, and then plugged the X4 straight into the wall.

Ear Opening

Every other time I had listened previously, it was with my Dark Matter Stealth. I had assumed the Stealth would allow my equipment to perform at it's absolute best with the multiple filters and tweaks, while the Sorcer X4 would do it's thing plugged into the wall receptacle. That assumption was wrong. Way wrong.

Plugging in the Sorcer X4, straight into the wall, with no other power conditioning was shockingly "ear" opening. It revealed to me what the Dark Matter Stealth was doing and what the Sorcer was doing. I liked the sound of the "solo" Sorcer better. It was more dynamic, clearer in the midrange and treble regions. Clearer in a way that made for a more cohesive sound emanating from the speakers. All the drivers spoke with one voice. There was more depth, and more density to the soundstage as well. Textures and microdynamics had more "pop" as well. There was more naturalness and life to the music being reproduced.


Upon listening over the next several days, I still felt the Sorcer was better, but was able to identify the signature of RF leaking into the audio chain and affecting the signal. A little bit of harshness in the midrange revealed itself. Still the dynamics, textures and soundstage were better than with the Dark Matter Stealth added to the system. I had to ask myself however "What if we just took the capacitive and ground filtering elements of the Dark Matter Stealth minus the series elements (Bybee Purifiers and High Fidelity Wave stabilizers)?"  I went to work and put together an 8 outlet distributor, star wired with Furutech wire, and with the parallel capacitive filtering of the Stealth in place. The ground filtering elements were the only elements in series at this point. There were no series devices on the current carrying hot and neutral legs of the AC at this point. I replaced the Wireworld power distributor with my newly wired, filtered power distributor and listened.

Star wired with parallel capacitive filtering, the Dark Energy power distributor was essential to reference performance.

The parallel filtering did as I had anticipated. It removed any trace of glare and harshness due to RF, while preserving dynamics, textures, soundstage and had the speakers singing with one voice. I  could now safely say that the combination of the Sorcer X4 with a parallel filtered power distributor could replace my Dark Matter Stealth as the reference for my system. The Dark Matter Stealth had been my reference for over 10 years. This was no small feat, and not a casual consideration.

Enter High Fidelity

I had the opportunity one day to test High Fidelity's latest parallel power conditioning device, the MC 0.5 Helix Plus. The original MC 0.5 was hit and miss. It didn't do much of anything when the Dark Matter Stealth was residing in my system, so I wasn't expecting much in this case, but this was a different system with no series filtering components. 

The MC 0.5 Helix plus was plugged in to a spare receptacle in the power distributor. It was immediate. It allowed the system to dig even deeper, finding more subtlety and musical information. The musical "flow" as well as tone were more natural, and it was as smooth as butter. That was with one!  As a result, I knew I had to incorporate at least one of these devices into the power system I was creating. This was, to date, the best sound I have ever had. Clarity, dynamics, natural tone and flow to the music. I was in full musical enjoyment mode and my analytical brain had retired for the next several hours. Wow.


I am dubbing this discovery the Reference Power Conditioning System 1.0. Much like software, this will be a continually evolving combination. Right now this is where it's at:

High Fidelity MC 0.5 Helix Plus adds further detail, refinement and noise reduction.

I have yet to try High Fidelity's MC 1 Pro Helix parallel conditioner, or try a more expensive parallel power distributor. They most certainly will sound different, but may not justify the cost. Time will tell. For now I have an AC conditioning system that filters RF, filters ground noise, with no series filtering elements in series with the current carrying AC wiring. It sounds better than anything I have tried before, it can be purchased in increments, and costs less than the state of the art offerings from other manufacturers.

Things Learned

1. The Sorcer does not always play well with other tweaks. One has to carefully A/B the Sorcer with every tweak in the room. Especially power conditioners that incorporate unconventional filter methods, devices, etc. Like the Dark Matter Stealth. I found that the Dark Matter Stealth's Bybee SE AC Purifiers in series with the hot, neutral, and ground did not work well with the Sorcer, and I also learned the Sorcer was better. Tip: Take out all your tweaks and power conditioning before plugging the Sorcer straight into the wall. This will be your baseline.

2. Parallel power conditioning may finally surpass series conditioners. With the ADD-Powr Sorcer and High Fidelity Helix parallel power conditioning, the tradeoffs of parallel (not as effective) vs. series (dynamically limiting) power conditioning may be gone or so minimized as to make parallel conditioning the obvious choice. 

3. The Sorcer has incredible synergy with High Fidelity plug in parallel conditioners. The MC 0.5 Helix Plus is our favorite so far with the Sourcer X2 or X4. There is a depth, resolution and smoothness to the music with this combination that sounds far more expensive than it is. 


I like progress, and in this case progress is slow, but steady. It has taken over 10 years to hit a new level of performance for power conditioning in my system. I am especially pleased because, unlike most improvements in audio, this one actually costs less than it's predecessor. A Fully loaded Dark Matter Stealth is $8499, the Reference Power Conditioning System 1.0 is $5737.20. It can be purchased incrementally, and it can also be scaled to something larger. That is icing on the cake.

Thanks for reading!