Sunday, June 26, 2022

KEF LS60: First listens, First Tweaks.



With all of the hype surrounding the new KEF LS60 Wireless speakers, my anticipation and expectations were high for this loudspeaker. Like everything that comes in to my Studio, I planned on putting them through their paces with stock cords, etc. and becoming familiar with their sound. Once that was achieved, I would then start making some changes in an attempt to improve the performance. Some of the plans for the LS60's were as follows:

  • Upgrading power cables
  • Adding a KF62 subwoofer to the mix
  • Using IsoAcoustics Gaia footers
  • Using an outboard streamer and sending the digital signal directly to the LS60, bypassing the speaker's internal streamer.
  • Experimenting with additional tweaks that may help to get more from the KEFs.

Delivery and Setup

My LS60 shipment arrived via freight. The pair were in separate boxes, strapped together, and then to a pallet. One box marked PRIMARY, one marked SECONDARY. Unboxing was very straightforward with the directions clearly printed on both boxes. KEF has done a great job with packaging, and making unboxing simple. I had them unboxed and in place in about 10 minutes. I had to move my power conditioner to a closer location for both speakers so that the roughly 2 meter power cords supplied could reach, and doing this would also allow me to try other cords.

Initial Impressions

I unplugged the ethernet cable running from my Innuos Statement in my reference system, and plugged directly into the primary LS60 speaker. The streaming signal path was now as follows:

  • Netgear Nighthawk Router (plugged into a balanced power supply, and running a linear power supply)
  • Innuos PhoenixNET switch
  • KEF LS60

I used the KEF Connect app to then set up the speakers for my room. I set them down in the "magic zone" that I calculated using New Record Day's LOTS speaker placement system. (you can find it on YouTube). As far as fine tuning goes, the app allows for many settings. I didn't need to trim the treble, I left the bass extension mode at Standard.  It took some time for the speakers to open up, as they sounded a bit congested in the midrange at first. I left them to play for a couple of days while they went through some break in. 

Right off the bat however, the imaging was spectacular. I mean, SPECTACULAR. This was probably due to the Uni-Q Meta driver being coaxial and phase corrected, and the extremely narrow front baffle.

After a couple of days of continuous play, I sat down to make some more adjustments and have a listen. The imaging was still spectacular, and off axis listening was fantastic, but the midrange and highs seemed a bit veiled in comparison to my reference. The bass performance was not super deep, going down to a useable 35-40  hz range, but it was extremely accurate and detailed. I was hearing low frequency details that I had not picked up in my reference speakers with the servo subs. The sound was surprisingly large for such a slender speaker, producing a wrap around soundstage that was quite holographic. Vocals were impressive as well, no boominess or overly chesty voices unless it was in the recording. Still, I was missing some low level resolution. I was detecting just a little less decay, as was the sense of depth, air and space when compared to my reference system (valued at about $70,000). So for one tenth of the price, this system was very impressive. 

I listened to bass heavy rock and electronica, and the LS60's took it in stride, and played pretty darn loud. Bass was impressive, as was the speakers ability to scale. They sounded big.

Chilling out a bit to some more audiophile appropriate selections, namely the "WowII" playlist on Qobuz (created by none other than David Solomon)

  • Elvis Presley's "Fever" presented a fantastic string bass, and a huge soundstage. 

Changing Power Cables



I decided to change out the power cords powering the LS60's. The cords are critical in this situation, as they power the amps, DAC, and internal streamer of the LS60. I didn't want to get crazy, plus I needed some longer cords. I started with the Audience Forte F5 PowerChords that had been treated with their proprietary "M" treatment. This produced a significant and powerful result. Bass depth improved, the midrange and high frequencies improved with far more resolution and clarity. They were getting very close to my reference Aurai Z215's with their open baffle servo subs. I would say the Aurai had the advantage with low frequency extension and sheer output dB, but in terms of dynamics, tone, soundstage, clarity, and listenability it was very close. The KEFs had a wider sweet spot than the Aurai, and better low end resolution, even though it wasn't as deep. 

Adding a KF62 Sub



Adding the KEF KF62 sub was straightforward. I didn't have the KEF wireless module just yet so I used a long pair of interconnects, one from each speaker, to the inputs of the KF62 which I ended up placing about two feet behind my listening chair. The KEF Connect App has settings that allow you to tell the speakers you have a subwoofer, whether it is one, or two, the high pass frequency for the main speakers, the low pass frequency for the sub, gain, and polarity. Quite a bit of control from the listening position. I ended up lowering the output and the crossover point of the subwoofer due to the close proximity. A higher output and/or crossover point made the localization of the subwoofer too obvious. Being able to use the app and in real time make adjustments made the job of fine tuning the sound so much easier allowed me to get the desired visceral impact from a subwoofer in close proximity without being able to locate it sonically.

The KF62 lowered the floor of the system bandwidth nicely into the low 30's/High 20's, and it matched the bass drivers on the LS60's perfectly. Bass was super accurate, articulate and brought a greater sense of depth to the music. 

IsoAcoustics Gaia II Feet

These were a surprisingly significant upgrade as well. The footers cleaned up the lowest frequencies through the midrange. Cabinet resonances can smear music in the time domain. The IsoAcoustics use proven technology to reduce these cabinet borne vibrations that usually are reflected back into the enclosure. There was significantly more clarity in the midrange, and bass definition. 

Impressions (So Far)

After only a few days with the LS 60's, I can proclaim with confidence that this is the model that many other manufacturers will be scrambling to imitate over the coming years. It is an instant classic. KEF has hit is out of the park in terms of sound and user friendliness. They have the jump on competitors with their prodigious research, development, manufacturing and engineering. There will be many imitators, but make no mistake, this is the speaker to beat in the Active Wireless Streaming (AWS) category.

They simply sound fantastic, are engaging, super easy to use, and for 95% of the audiophile population (and 100% of non audiophiles with $7000  to spend) this is an end game speaker in terms of the listening experience they can creat. They are easy to set up, easy to fine tune, there are tons of upgrade paths for those inclined to get more out of the speaker. It's not super fussy about placement, and the app is quite good.

What Next?

In my next blog, I will be connecting an external streamer to the LS60, and feeding the digital output from that to the digital input on the LS60. Will that improve the sound further? Will it be worth the price of admission? Let's find out.


Saturday, April 9, 2022

Aurai Audio Z215 Review: My Journey


I started writing this review in November 2021. Initially I thought it would be fairly simple and quick. It turned out to be neither. Listening to my room and my system through these speakers has turned out to be quite an education. It started at what I would consider to be a college sophomore stage, and through the months of changes to the system, I am now feeling more like a graduate student of Aurai University.

About Aurai Audio

Alain Pratali made his name in audio when he designed several products for Oracle Audio. The 1000 and 2000 CD players and amplifiers were his designs, and have been highly regarded products. He has designed several award winning loudspeakers under his brand Aurai Audio. The M1, M3, Lieutenant Capitain have all been featured in Sixmoons and given rave reviews by non other than Srajan himself.

The Z215 is one of his new Z Series loudspeakers. All are 2 way designs featuring a proprietary high frequency driver, time aligned and mounted atop a uniquely tuned enclosure featuring a Supravox full range driver. The Z 215 incorporates the 215mm Supravox, the 245 incorporates the 245mm driver, and the 285 uses the (you guessed it) 285mm Supravox.

The Z series explores higher efficiency designs, as all possess sensitivity beyond 95dB.

They are offered as a stand mount design, or can be configured to sit atop a matching powered bass module.

Aurai Speaker Philosophy Design

Along with the usual goals of a flat frequency response and uniform dispersion, Alain focuses on impulse response times and in-phase transient response. In other words, drivers that are fast, don't ring, and a speaker with time and phase coherence. Those aren't necessarily unique, but do lend themselves to a speaker that can reproduce very fine harmonic complexity, image like crazy and paint a huge, 3-dimensional soundstage.

Part of Aurai's "Special Sauce" lies within their proprietary polymer high frequency driver. A tweeter whose mass is only .12g. It uses a "floating" system, whereby no screws or extra glue are used to hold it in place. The net result is it works without tension and far fewer unwanted mechanical resonances. The polymer tweeter is then loaded into a horn which reduces frequency related lobing (ex. sound changes when you stand vs. sitting) issues common to every high frequency driver, and it keeps the energy (output) constant over it's pass band. When matching the tweeter to a woofer, Alain has incorporated an ingenious method of using a magnet to give up to 6dB of tuning capability WITHOUT the use of resistors in the high frequency driver's signal path. In the case of the Z215 however, the tweeter does not need any attenuation, as the woofer is several dB more efficient.

To attenuate the output of the Supravox woofer, the Z215 he incorporates an autoformer with several taps that allows one to tailor it's output relative to the tweeter. I received the Z215 with the autoformer set to attenuate the woofer by  -5dB. I ultimately settled on the -4dB down setting for my system and taste. Instead of turning the tweeter level downward, in this case I turned the woofer up. This created a warmer, richer balance with highs that were silky smooth but not lacking in speed or resolution.

The 215mm Supravox driver.

The Z215

Making a departure from the M Series, Z series are higher efficiency two way designs centered around the Supravox full range drivers, and the proprietary horn loaded high frequency drivers. The Supravox were chosen because of their sound and specifications within the envelope of performance Alain was looking for. 

The Z 215 utilizes a 215mm (8.46 inch) Supravox Midbass driver in what is called a Tapered Quarter Wave Tube. This creates a physically deep cabinet with a large opening on the back. I mean, large.  This clever design does several things:

  1. It extends the bass response of the driver without reducing the speed of the bass. You get a useable response into the 60Hz region.
  2. It creates a quasi-dipole speaker. The large opening in the back, coupled with the dipole tweeter, radiates sound in a dipole fashion. 
  3. It keeps the enclosure from building up internal pressures and resonating. All that air escapes out through the TQWT opening with no buildup of pressure. 
  4. It eliminates back waves (from reflecting off of the back of an enclosure) from radiating back through the driver

The rear of the Z215, showing the large TQWT opening.



TQWT with the grille removed.


Bass modules are available, but I chose to have a stand mounted monitor and pair with optimally placed subwoofers delivered. More on why I made that choice later...

The enclosures are high grade 1" Baltic birch plywood veneered in cherry with a high gloss finish. No MDF here. Since the speakers are made to order, the choice of veneers is nearly limitless if your budget allows.

Specs

  • 60Hz-20kHz
  • 96dB
  • Supravox Paper Full range driver crossed at 3000hz
  • Proprietary super light polymer horn loaded tweeter with a floating suspension
  • Dimensions (with stands):
    • HxWxD: 41" x 12.25" x 21 3/4"
The Z215 Frequency response at 1 meter


Z215 Frequency response at 2.5 meters

Build Process & Delivery

A very well packed pair of speakers


I was surprised that is only took about 4 weeks for Aurai to build my loudspeakers. Alain himself was in constant communication with me. Since he does not speak English and I do not speak French, we made heavy use of Google Translate, and communication was excellent. The speakers were packed in a single heavy duty crate, with metal reinforced edges and a thick foam internal cocoon. The crate was too large for a single person to carry, but I simply disassembled the crate with my trusty cordless drill and the speakers were easy enough to carry into the studio individually. The disassembled crate was easy for me to store since it now could be laid flat and put on a large shelf. I bagged the foam padding just so it wouldn't accumulate dust or insects while in storage.

Well foamed speakers and stands

The stands were unassembled but were easier to put together than an Ikea chair. All that was needed was a rubber mallet to gently coax the precisely fitting cut joints together. No gluing necessary.


The Z215 on stand, ready to play.


The fit and finish were first rate, as they should be for a speaker of this price. Alain's cabinet maker did a top-notch job with routing driver cutouts, assembling, and finishing the speaker.  The packaging and finishing of this caliber just makes the experience of buying a speaker so enjoyable. Yes even from a dealer perspective, the experience matters. Alain and Antoine are reliable, exceedingly competent and pleasant to work with. That is hugely important to me.

Placement

For placing the Z 215's, I relied on the New Record Day LOTS Placement method to work well in my room. I've also taken measurements at the listening position. I have one room peak I cannot get rid of that is at about 150 Hz. This speaker placement system, and my subwoofer positions, do not exacerbate the existing resonance, so I feel I have things pretty well dialed in.

Even though this is a monitor design, it can play like a big speaker that loves space and can scale.
I had solid, useable bass response down to 60Hz. One could use these as a full range system, and the sound would be warm and satisfying, albeit fairly lightweight. For real sonic heft, a subwoofer is required.

Tweaking out

This part was really interesting, and at times frustrating. At times I heard things that were negative, and blamed the speakers. But clearly as the frequency response curves indicated, they were not the cause, but they were the "amplifier" of what errant tweaks or cabling were doing. Yes, the Tweek Geek says that you can over tweak things. I was compensating for other speakers when I put the tweaks in, and the Aurai's revealed that I had gone too far. I removed many little tweaks here and there. The biggest gain was made from swapping out my wall outlet from the Furutech GTX D NCF to a QSA Violet. The QSA was a whole league above the Furutech in terms of naturalness, holographic imaging, and huge soundstaging. I also removed two of the three power conditioners I had running. Leaving only my prototype Bybee Stealth (soon to be V4, as soon as I can get a custom chassis for it). These speakers will tell you if something is amiss immediately. Its funny though. Usually speakers that do this will also shred your ears with less than stellar recordings. These did not once everything was in balance.

Cabling up

Cables were rotated in and out, with the performance being very dependent on them. Specifically speaker cables and interconnects. I started with my own speaker cable, which despite it's 9awg build was a little lean and dry in the midband and upper ranges. From there I tried Audience Studio One which allowed the speakers to provide more detail and more dimensionality, but I found the speakers revealed a little boost in the warmth. The FrontRow from audience was next up, offering even more detail, and better dynamics than the Studio One, but still a teeny boost in the lower bass/upper midrange area. At least on this speaker. It was still very, very good. I listened with the FrontRow for over a month before trying the Silversmith Fidelium. The Fideliums were designed to minimize phase shift. With the time aligned design and resolution of the Z215 this created some incredible holography. It also revealed the slightest harmonics, reverb effects, and brought more clarity to the high frequencies. The overall tone with the Fidelium cables on this speaker was darker, less sparkly, and less lit up at the highest frequencies. But the information that was coming through was astonishing. So, a little less sparkle, but I can't say the speakers sounded closed in or that the soundstage collapsed. I still had an enveloping soundstage with so much texture and subtlety.   

Last cable swap was with the latest cables from Stein Music. Their 3X, 4X and 8X power cords, along with the Silver Matrix interconnect. Here is where my journey ended, for now. The sound was  more refined, slightly laid back, creating for me what was an immersive, wonder inducing listening experience.

A Word On Bass Augmentation

If you wish to go lower than 60Hz, there is an optional matching powered subwoofer that can act as a stand for the Z215. As for me, I preferred to use the minimalist stand, keeping the front baffle area small, and utilizing multiple subs placed optimally within the room. In my opinion, one rarely finds a placement for a full range speaker that produces a reasonably level bass response and optimal imaging. Compromises must be made between optimizing bass performance and imaging. By having the ability to separate the low frequency reproducers from the mid and high allows one to more optimally place the main speakers for best imaging, and optimally place the bass drivers for best in room performance of the lower frequencies.

The open baffle servo sub tower next to the Z215.

For sub-woofage I chose a dipole (open baffle), servo controlled subwoofer. This design came out of a partnership between GR Research and Rythmik Audio. GR had a special 12" bass driver made of lighter, stiffer paper (better for music) and Rythmik Audio supplied the servo controlled power amp for the GR drivers. I purchased the "enclosure"  as a flat pack and assembled it myself. I have 2 of these subs, each with 4 12" drivers, powered by 2, 2 channel subwoofer amps. That's 8 12" subwoofers powered by 4 channels of amplification. But in all honesty, 8 open baffle subs is equal to about 4 12" sealed box subs in terms of room pressurization. But the quality of bass from the 8 OB subs is better. The servos correct for driver overshoot, allowing the drivers to stop instantly, even in free air. The response of the subs goes down to 19Hz, but more importantly, they are fast, accurate and very tuneful. The drawback is that the OB subs need space to the front and rear. They need to sit out in the room a ways. They can sit closer to side walls because their output to the side of the woofers is next to nothing. It's a null. But front and back, give them some breathing room.  I highly recommend the OB subs if you have the space for them. If you don't have that option, the next best thing is a sealed version of the servo sub that Rythmik Audio manufactures. After that a high quality sealed subwoofer is the next best thing. No ported subs please. You need speed to keep up with the Z's.

Playback Equipment

  • Innuos Phoenix Switch - receives streaming data from the router, reclocks it, then sends it on to the streamer.
  • Modwright KWA225i (Class AB, Zero Negative Feedback 225 watts) and Qualiton X200 (KT150, EC88, E88C tubes, 100 watts, ) Integrated amplifiers. The Qualiton was preferred after a very long audition of both. But honestly the jury is still out on that one. The Modwright had more sparkle, the Qualiton more romance, inner glow...

(Partial) Playlist

  • Anouar Brahem - Al Birwa from The Astounding Eyes of Rita, ECM Records. 
  • Radiohead - Weird Fishes, from In Rainbows
  • Ry X - Shortline
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Higg's Boson Blues from the album Push The Sky Away
  • Prince - It's Gonna Be Lonely from the self titled album
  • Pale Green Things by The Mountain Goats
  • Sarah Bareilles - Gravity from the album Brave Enough
  • Oliver Nelson - Stolen Moments from Blues and the Abstract Truth
  • Kenny Burrel - Chitlins Con Carne from Midnight Blue
  • Cecile McLorin Salvant - I Didn't Know What Time It Was from Woman Child
  • Theme from Jurassic Park by Hans Zimmer

Lows

Since the speaker has limited low frequency operation, I will focus on speed, impact, definition, tonality and tunefulness. The Z215 revealed to me mid-low frequency detail, punch, tone and harmonics in many familiar recordings that I hadn't heard before. With string bass there were plucks, strums, and slaps that had impact. You could hear the body of the instrument, and feel the room it was in. Drums were tonal, clear, and sharp. There was the strike, the note, and the decay of the skins. if the drums were heavily damped, you could hear that too. They started and stopped with incredible immediacy.

Mids/Vocals

Vocals are scary present, textured, intimate when called for. I will paraphrase Srajan of Sixmoons with his review of the Aurai Lieutenant in that the depth of high harmonics in the upper midrange went well beyond what one normally gets from paper cone drivers. The Z215 dug down deeper into a tone's harmonic layers without becoming slow or syrupy. It made sense out of complex passages where most drivers compress and sounds start overrunning each other to become one homogenous mess of noise. If you are familiar with Radiohead's "Weird Fishes" from their album In Rainbows, you know that there are so many layers, with such divergent sounds, that it can turn to mush. Especially around the 4 minute mark. The Z215's kept the layers layered, the sounds individual enough, and everything together created this fascinating whole that was simply a treat for my ears.

Highs

This is where the Z 215 really shines, and will also reveal any shortcomings in your system. The ultra lightweight membrane  and horn loading gives the driver incredible speed, delicacy and energy. The polymer material of the high frequency driver does not have the zip or ringing of a metallic ribbon as it is better damped. Transients and recovery from transients are incredibly lifelike. The speed helped to decode with clarity rapid cymbal or snare strikes unlike anything I have heard. Ever. This is one Bugatti class driver.

Resolution

This is where things can be challenging with the Z215. It is not as forgiving as some speakers of poor system or cable matching, and will quickly let you know that there is a mismatch. If only it could tell you where. For me it was the cabling, and  tweaks. I ended up with a QSA outlet at the wall, Stein Harmonizers, Stein Schumann generator, Stein interconnects and power cables. The speaker cables ended up being the Silversmith Fideliums. This combination worked for me. When I say "worked" I mean I stopped looking for things to improve.

Coherance

Another area where if things are not right in your system you will know it. When things were optimized, the sound eminated from spaces in the room in front of you. Not a flat plane, but the entire room. You could not hear one driver, let alone one speaker. Everything worked as a seamless whole.

Imaging/Soundstaging/Phase

Flat out superb. The phase coherent, time aligned speakers behaved as expected. Disappearing sonically, leaving a very expansive soundstage, and pinpoint imaging. They pressurized the room in a way that felt bigger than the room itself on certain recordings. Sound was everywhere, and you were in the middle of it. Now to be clear, the performers were still in front of you, but reverb, hall echos, etc. filled the entire room and surrounded you as they would in a live setting.

Dynamics

At 96dB, the Z215 is lively, dynamic and presents dynamic information extraordinarily well. Transient information is conveyed effortlessly with absolutely no overshoot or overhang. Vocal Transients on Muddy Waters album Folk Singer, track 1 "My Home is in the Delta" were shocking, uncompressed and had me startled in my seat. 

Complexities/Harmonics

If you listen to  complex music, be it orchestral, vocal, or well recorded rock and electronic music, the Z 215 can present musical complexity in a delicate, coherent, and natural manner without mashing sounds together. As you turn the volume up, they hold their composure, although your room may not. It makes a great argument for acoustically treating one's room.

Scale

Again, the advantage of a time aligned, phase coherent speaker is that phase information that gives the sense of the size of a venue (small club vs. concert hall) exactly as it was recorded. It can be jarring at times when going through a playlist that has a mix of such recordings. One goes from being in a concert hall, to a tiny club in the blink of an eye. This is felt almost as much as it is heard, that's how I explain it. 

When one is discussing power handling and output as a factor of scale, the Z215 definitely plays bigger than it's dimensions would lead you to believe. I drove them with 225 watts and they didn't break a sweat.


Conclusions

After living with the Aurai's for more than 6 months, I can now safely say that  the Z215 is one of the best loudspeakers I have had in my system to date. Not since the Vivid Audio Giya have I had such imaging, soundstaging, sheer output and musical enjoyment. The 215's do exceed the Giyas in that they are more natural sounding with my system and to my ears. That is very high praise indeed. When the recording and system setup are up to it, these speakers will disappear and throw a huge, wrap-around soundstage with pinpoint imaging, naturalness and "relaxed resolution" that will leave you reveling in the moment. There is an element of wonder that this speaker brings. A bit of what got me hooked on audio and music in the first place.  I suspect because of the way the speaker just seems "right" in so many aspects of it's portrayal of the musical event.  It is lively, textured, engaging, and energizes the listening space with emotion and  music.

With my final system setup, even the not so good recordings brought joy, and had elements within them that made them engaging and enjoyable. With many hyper-revealing speakers this is not the case. The Aurai's have pulled off a magic trick of epic proportions here. Enjoyable, engaging, and super-resolving.

When I want to listen, and melt into the moment, the Z 215's deliver. When I need to put my "analytical ears" on, for example when evaluating a component or tweak, the Z215 also allows me to precisely determine a product's effect in my system very quickly. It can be used as a microscope for hearing changes, but one has to be mindful of the task at hand or otherwise be caught up in to the music and out of analysis mode. Consider this your warning. :)


Monday, March 21, 2022

The QSA Journey continues. Yellow, Violet, Red & Red Black AC Receptacles.

 Squeamish or Skeptical About QSA Fuses? Try the Outlet.

For those of you who have tried the QSA fuses, you know already what they are capable of. For those of you who are reluctant to open up your components, or are just not comfortable with the risk of being out several hundred dollars if your QSA fuse blows (they do have a replacement policy, BTW) the AC receptacle is your entry into the super natural (sounding) world of QSA.

Step 1: Replace The Wall Receptacle

There is no need to over complicate this. Simply replace your wall receptacle with a QSA. I don't care if you have a premium outlet already, or a power conditioner downstream from the wall outlet. The QSA AC receptacle will improve your entire system, and you will hear it within 5 seconds. You may also hear a little unpleasantness for awhile as the outlet breaks in, but that is soon gone, and the sound will continue to improve over the next 2 weeks. Yes, even if you have a power conditioner downstream...

Yellow

The QSA Yellow Receptacle will best any other audiophile outlet on the market at present. The margin may be closer to competitors than with the Violet, but the price reflects that. The soundstage will enlarge in all directions, and the energy of the music relaxes and becomes more natural.

Violet

The Violet AC outlet takes you further down the road. In comparison to the Yellow, it's as if another veil has been lifted off of your system. Add to this greater extension, bass control, and high frequency clarity.

Red

The QSA Red wall outlet is another leap into the sonic depths, and widths. More refined, more resolving, more textured and nuanced. Here will be the stopping point for most. This outlet does more to open up the music than nearly any power conditioner I have listened to. To be completely fair, power conditioners filter out RF and EMI, and some offer transient protection. This outlet, to my knowledge, does none of that. That being said, the sonic portrait this outlet helps your components to paint is better in many ways than a power conditioner. My theory (and Yick Man from QSA agrees) is that a power conditioner's benefits may be offset by the extra connections made from adding another box to the power chain, as well as time smearing of the filtering components.

Red/Black Ultra

The leap from Red to Red/Black Ultra should probably be reserved for those with extremely resolving and cost appropriate systems, or for those who do not use power conditioning of any sort. Break in on this receptacle was not pleasant, in my case it started out as bright. After a day or two the brightness went away and the Red/Black Ultra started uncovering more beauty and energy within the music. This was quite a significant leap in resolution from the other outlets. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better with the Red, the Red Black had activated my music ADD. Meaning I stopped whatever work, or analysis I was doing and simply sat there, smiling, shaking my head, and listening to more and more music.

Adding more QSA Receptacles Downstream

Adding more receptacles downstream from the wall, for instance a power distributor with QSA outlets or upgrading outlets on a power conditioner, will yield further improvement. The improvement however will not be as dramatic as replacing the wall outlet. It's very similar to what I've experienced with the fuses. If your component has several fuses, replacing the one at the mains input is the most beneficial, and replacing more fuses inside the same component yields less substantial improvements.

Paring with QSA Fuses 

This is definitely additive. As my system was fully set with QSA fuses in every component. Adding the receptacle at the wall brought more improvement and was immediately noticeable.

Conclusion

As with the QSA fuses, the QSA AC receptacles will dramitically and significantly improve the audio performance of any system. Simply investing in one receptacle will yield gains in soundstage width, depth height, musical naturalness, and resolution. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Transform the Benefit of Your ADD-Powr Sorcer or Wizard With This Tweek


Fuse Rolling On The ADD-Powr Sorcer

Recently I was methodically adding QSA fuses to the components in my system, and experincing truly amazing results, which have been documented in my blog and in a StereoTimes Review of the QSA Fuses. I had been running my ADD-Powr Sourcer X4 with the metal top off, and was in the process of  installing the black plexiglass top when I realized that the Sorcer took a fuse. A 5x20 mm, slow blow, 500 milliAmp fuse was in my Sorcer X4, begging to be replaced with a QSA. 

I wasn't sure that this would be a good thing, since Bill at ADD-Powr likes his devices plugged straight into the wall with no power conditioning. My logic was that if this fuse does any type of filtering it will diminish the effect of the Sorcer X4.

I was so wrong. But that is why we experiment. The QSA Violet fuse that I installed had an immediate "holy shit" effect on the sound of the entire system, and seemed to do 2 things: 1, it magnified the effect of the Sorcer X4, almost doubling or tripling it, and 2, it gave the midband and top end of the music a beauty and clarity that I was not prepared for. Mind you I already had a Red/Black QSA fuse in my Innuos Statement, and a Red Fuse in my Audio Hungary Qualiton XP200 integrated amp. What happened was transformational. Once again these tiny devices proved themselves to be worth the price of admission. 

Fuse Rolling On The Wizard

With such great success on the Sorcer, I took a fuse home to install in the ADD-Powr Wizard I have on my home AV system as well. The same transformation occured in my home system as well with the addition of the fuse to the Wizard. The sound was if I had added another Wizard, plus the added clarity and sweetness to the midband and highs had my home system performing at a level well above it's cost. 

If you own a Wizard, a Sorcer X2, or X4 the 5x20mm, 500 milliAmp QSA  fuses are an absolute must. Every level of fuse will provide you with improvement, even the $28.50 black fuse. But the magic really starts to happen with the Violet, Red and Red/Black fuses. Enjoy!

Monday, June 28, 2021

Fuses for Audio Components: Determining What Your Component Has

 Common Types of fuses used in Audio Components

Size

Fortunately for mainstream audio components, there are (usually) only 2 sizes of fuses, and even among those two sizes, most newer components are opting for the smaller 5mm x 20 mm size. 



5mm x 20 mm - Known as the "Small" fuse in our industry. Most common in all newer components
6mm x 30 mm - Known as the "Large" fuse in our industry. More common in older components

Slow Blow, Fast Blow and Time Delay

What many of us consider to be slow blow fuses are often time delay fuses. The writing on the fuse band indicating the type usually starts with a "T". Like T2A, that would indicate a 2 amp time delay fuse. Technically time delay fuses are slower to blow than fast blow fuses, but they do differ slightly from a traditional slow blow fuse. A traditional slow blow fuse can handle a larger inrush of current for a longer period of time. For example, a tube component might need a traditional slow blow fuse because the current draw to heat up the filaments of the tubes might be more intense and last longer than a solid state component. I said might, as there are no hard and fast rules here. Fuses are the designer's choice based on measurements and circuitry. The innuos Statement is a solid state component, but it's massive power supply has a 3.15 amp true slow blow fuse inside. a T-type may work, but why risk it? Especially if you are investing in a QSA Red or Red/Black fuse. 

Also, a time delay fuse filament generally looks different from a slow blow fuse filament. Take a look at the photos below.

A T type fuse filament looks more like a thin wire.

A true slow blow fuse filament looks like a coiled spring


So grab a magnifying glass, or your smart phone, and take a close look at the writing on the metal bands, as well as the filament. 

Amperage

Amperage is the amount of current, in amps, that a fuse will withstand before failing. It is marked on one of the metal fuse caps, usually right before the voltage rating. So a 2 amp fuse might read on one of the caps: T2A 250V. That tells you that it is a 2 amp fuse, rated up to 250 volts.

Confused? Contact us!

As always, we are just an email away from helping. We will do everything we can to help you determine the exact replacement fuse you need. But we are only human and our resources are limited, so as I tell my children, don't be lazy. Investigate on your own first. :)


Saturday, June 5, 2021

QSA Fuses: THE New Top Tier Tweaks In The Tweek Geek Arsenal

The Red QSA Fuses ($1400) are what I started with. Other QSA fuses can be had for as little as $28.50 

Let me say this right up front. My past experiences carrying fuses has taught me that it is a total pain in the ass to sell audiophile fuses. No matter what you stock, there is always the obscure fuse that is in demand. The moment you get stock of it, nobody wants it any longer. You are constantly out of something, and someone is always complaining. For me carrying fuses is a masochistic endeavor.

Let me also say that Tweek Geek is doing really, really well without selling fuses. I do not need the money.

So why on earth am I writing about fuses?

Because the value the QSA fuses represent, and the sonic benefit they bring have me excited enough  that it is worth it for me to share with you. I am no martyr for doing this, I knew what I was getting into this time, and to me it is worth it.

I love audio and music, I love discovering something that makes the experience of listening to music more emotionally engaging and cathartic/Therapeutic. This has been the motivation for my journey in this hobby, and I am sure yours is quite similar. The paths we take to move towards the destination are different, the the desired result is the same. 

The punchline: QSA fuses have DRAMATICALLY altered the listening experience that my audio system creates for the better. Not since my discovery of the Bybee Purifier back in 2000 have I been this excited about a product. This product is even better than the Bybee Purifier, or any other tweak I have tried. Ever. This coming from a guy who calls himself The Tweek Geek.

The Black Fuses hold their own against any other fuse on the market and start at $28.50


How did I discover QSA fuses?

A few weeks back, I received phone calls from 2 of my Tweak Guru's extolling the virtues of the $2800 QSA fuses. I believed what they said, but my internal dialogue was saying "I don't care if the heavens open up and angels sing before me, there is no way a fuse makes $2800 worth of difference in ANY component regardless of cost. How could I even sell these!?". I sat and listened, uh huh. Uh huh. Wow! Really? I totally believed them, but I could not be moved to try them. 

Then Clement called. Clement Perry is the force behind StereoTimes review web site. He was always a big proponent of Jack Bybee's products, and always wrote accurate descriptions of their effects in his reviews. I could trust his ears, because his preferences were similar to mine. He tells me "This fuse will make a $10,000 amp sound like a $50,000 amp". I was starting to crack. I suppose if you put it that way, paying $2800 for a $40,000 improvement would save a person $37,200, and their significant other would never find out.... Oh boy.

So 2 fuses showed up one weekend. Not the $2800 version, but the 2nd tier $1400 version.  A single, tiny red box held a 2.5 amp and a 10 amp 5x20mm slow blow fuse. There were red stickers with directional arrows on them, and some sort of black sticker as well. I couldn't really see the filaments through the stickers, and a quick shake revealed to me that there were no crystalline materials inside. It looked as if all treatments were to the exterior of the fuse.

I powered down my Innuos Statement, unplugged it, replaced the stock fuse being mindful of directionality, plugged the Statement back in, turned it on, and waited for it to boot up. It took about one millisecond to hear the difference, and before an impression could even register it began changing, smoothing, becoming more natural, relaxed, way quieter, more resolving, more presence, way bigger, way more 3D, WAY MORE EMOTION. I emphasized the last descriptive term because that is where the effects of this fuse seemed to have the most effect on me. When all of those other factors lock in, you can't help but stop whatever you are doing, and listen with amazement.  If I could put a dollar figure on this level of improvement, I would say $5000 to $10,000. Yep, 5k to 10k worth of cabling, or component improvements might get you here, to this level. I got it for $1400. 

I installed the 10 amp fuse in my Audio Hungary Qualiton XP200 tube amplifier. I had already tube rolled this amp, upgrading the KT-120 to KT-150 for more low end punch and dynamics, Some Amperex Holland E3-88C, and a pair of Telefunken black diamond 12AX7 (ECC83). This is a phenomenal tube integrated, and the addition of the fuse lowered the noise floor, allowing so much more low level detail to come through. Vocals through my Harbeth Monitor 30.2 speakers were so rich and real. Harmonics were also more natural, separate, and real. Textures so subtle and fine were naturally just "there". The soundstage was so much more 3D as well. Spooky 3D. Another interesting thing was turning up the volume did not change the tone or quality of the sound. It was as clean and clear as it was at lower volumes. That could be dangerous for those who play their music loud. It doesn't seem loud with the fuses in place. It seems the fuses are removing all of the cues that tell us the music is increasing in volume. Of course until your amplifier clips, then you'll receive a rude awakening.

The Blue QSA fuses are $71, and will beat any other fuse on the market.


Conclusion

The sound that these fuses allowed my components to create, the improvement wrought is as significant and as impactful on my experience of listening as the original Bybee Purifiers were when I first heard them back in 2000, and more recently the Bybee V2's. The fuses effect was more signifiant than the Stein Harmonizer system I originally heard around 2007. Both the Bybee and Steinmusic products shifted my paradigm of what a listening experience should be at the time I experienced them. I couldn't look back, and would not be satisfied with less once I heard these devices in my system. 

The QSA fuses receive my highest honor. 5 Tinfoil hats.

Fuses For All

Fortunately, you don't have to shell out $1400 to get a taste of this effect. It can be had, albeit in smaller doses, for as little as $28.50. 

In addition to the $1400 Red fuse, I have tried the black ($28.50 each), Blue ($71), and Yellow ($213) fuses so far in my system and can say that all offer value far beyond their price. Each offers a level of improvement, and it is consistent in a "house sound" sort of way as one moves up the line. The overall sonic benefits:

  • More low level information
  • Expansion of the soundstage in all dimensions
  • "life". The system wakes up, becomes livelier, more engaging, without tension but with a naturalness and emotional element that is hard to put into words. 

If I hadn't heard the $1400 fuse I could be perfectly happy with the clarity, lower noise floor and engagement factor any of the QSA fuses produce. 

I hope you get the chance to try one of these fuses. I don't think you will regret it. I as Tweek Geek try to make it as painless and easy for you with a money back guarantee, and a limited time fuse trade up program.






Sunday, April 18, 2021

The "Poor Mans Statement": Three Innuos Products That Get Very Close To the Performance Of Their Flagship Streamer For Less

The Innuos Statement


The Innuos Statement, a streaming tour de force. Coveted by many, but the $15,100 price tag puts it out of reach for all but a select few. If you are curious, but hesitant to invest in a $15,000 streamer, there is an Innuos-based option that you can implement in steps, that will get you very close to the performance of the Statement. I call it "The Poor Man's Statement".  

Innuos Zenith MK3


The foundation of this system begins with the Innuos Zenith MK3. The Zenith MK3 is the step below the Statement in price, starting at $4699 for a 1tb model. The biggest difference is that it has the linear power supply and streamer in one box, rather than two. It is a very quiet and robust power supply, but not quite at the statement level. Size and price constraints dictated the compromise. The Zenith MK3 does have the solid state internal drive, and it's the only Innuos model other than the Statement to do so. That is what makes it the best choice for getting to the performance level of the Statement for less.

Overall the Zenith MK 3 does get reasonably close to the performance of the Statement on it's own.  It has the same house sound, just a little less fine resolution. Still a great streamer on it's own for 98% of audiophiles. That is an understatement really, most audiophile could and have stopped there and been perfectly happy. But for those who must have the best,  It's the next two components that take the performance of the Zenith MK3 very close to that of the Statement.  What are those components you may ask? Well, if you take a close look at the other technical features of the Statement you will find your answer. 

What Makes The Statement Sound Like The Statement?

What makes the Statement so natural sounding with so much resolution, besides the quiet outboard linear power supply with all of the separate voltage rails feeding all of the internals of the Statement, it's the reclocking of the incoming Ethernet stream and the outgoing USB stream. The Statement has 2 separate reclockers built in that give it the sonic edge, and the higher price tag.

Innuos Phoenix USB

Reclocking/Conditioning USB

Every signal that flows out of the Statement's usb port has been cleaned up and reclocked. It was such a successful circuit that they decided to make a separate product out of it. The Phoenix USB. This is the USB reclocking circuit of the Statement, in it's own chassis with it's own linear power supply. This would connect between the output of the Zenith MK3 to the USB input on your DAC of choice. It would require an extra USB cable, so keep that cost in mind.  Speaking of which, we don't sell it but I do recommend the Phasure Lush 3 USB cable. So far this is the most natural sounding cable that offers the sonic balance and holographic soundstaging I prefer. Oh and the price is very reasonable for the performance. I do not have any affiliation with Phasure, nor do I profit from this other than having the satisfaction of making a solid recommendation on a usb cable. Anyway, onward.

Phasure Lush 3 USB cable. Starting at around US $260.


Reclocking/Conditioning Ethernet

Innuos' latest product, the PhoenixNET Reclocking Ethernet switch is what made the Poor Man's Statement a possibility. This product is actually a bit more robust than the internal Ethernet reclocker of the Statement. Here they started from scratch rather than just mimic the circuit in the Statement, so it is actually a bit better. This is where the Poor Man's Statement gains ground.


Internal Reclocking Circuit on the PhoenixNET

Advantages

With the Zenith MK3 (1tb for this example), Phoenix USB and PhoenixNet, you spend about $11,697 to get 90% of the Statement's performance. That's a savings of $3403. Additionally, you can do this over time. Starting with the Zenith MK3, then adding either the PhoenixNET or Phoenix USB as time and finances permit.


Conclusion

My pursuit of this hobby has always been about value. That has taken me to some pretty creative lengths to do so. The "Poor Man's Statement" will make more sense to those who want the best performance for the money, with more flexibility when it comes to purchasing, cabling, and resale. One can acquire this system in 3 purchases rather than one. One can place the components more advantageously if need be since there are 3 separate chassis. Cabling options, while adding some additional expense, can help one tune the sound more to their liking. Lastly if one piece is replaced with a newer model, or one technology advances suddenly, one can sell one of the three pieces more quickly and maintain the performance and value of the rest of the system more easily.

All of the reasoning above makes the Poor Man's Statement a great value. But of course the biggest reason is the price. Thanks for reading!