Listening #84 Page 3
With my cables back in place, the system was unambiguously wonderful: great sound, great music. Charlie Parker's November 1945 "Ko-Ko," from New Sounds in Modern Music, Volume 1 (10" mono LP, Savoy MG 9000), was astounding: It was now easier than ever to hear the implied chords during the opening trumpet and sax solos, and the strings of notes seemed less mechanical and more human. Sonically speaking, the performance was forceful, colorful, substantial, wildly propulsive, and just plain big. Make no mistake, the Nordosts from which I'd changed were just as propulsive and forceful, a bit deeper in the spatial sense, and maybe even a notch clearer. The Nordost loom was fine. Just different.
Life was good again. But my restless little rat brain wouldn't leave things alone. What would happen, I wondered, if I really messed things around?
I turned my attention to the accessories that now sat between my Shindo Masseto preamp and my solid-wood Box Furniture rack: a Super Kinabalu platform and a set of coupling/decoupling cones, all from Vertex AQ. The platform and cones together sell for about £600 in the UK, but as of this writing, Vertex AQ lacks an American distributor (although I'm told that may soon change). The platform is built around a beautifully honed sheet of granite, set into a base that's said to incorporate an energy-dissipating labyrinth. The set of cones comprises two blunt ones with soft contact surfaces, for decoupling, and a single pointed cone with very hard, sharp contact surfaces, for coupling. The idea, as Roy Gregory explained it, was to put the decouplers under one end of the component being isolated and the coupler under the other end, thus creating a sort of pathway along which unwanted mechanical energies might be shepherded.
It occurred to me that my logical next step would be to remove all three cones and set my preamp directly atop the Super Kinabalu platform, with nothing else in between. I didand to my ears, the sound and music were better still: more body, more lower-frequency energy, more weight. More color. I did much the same with the Shindo Haut Brion amp, and much the same happened.
Next I removed the platforms themselves and sat the Shindos back on the wooden shelf, as they were before: my first really bad move. The music lost some of its purpose and the sound lost some of its body. Notes that should have sounded frantic were merely strident. I put the platforms back and things were great again. The notes in "Ko-Ko," not to mention the lyrics throughout Rod Stewart's Never a Dull Moment (LP, Mercury/DCC LPZ-2010), were easier to understand.
Then I turned my attention to the products from Quantum Resonant Technology. The simplest of these was their Qbase power distributor ($1299 for the eight-outlet QB8 version). This is essentially an AC outlet strip with a twist: Of its eight outlet sockets, only the one at the center of the striplabeled Primary Earthgoes straight to ground. For the remaining seven outlets, resistors are inserted between the sockets and the ground, to raise the potential, howsoever minutely. This deliberate unbalancing act is done to "enhance," if you will, the strip's behavior as a true star-ground voltage sourcerather like tipping the drain board toward the kitchen sinkin an effort to reduce the noisy currents that can come from having multiple ground points of differing potentials within the system. In a sense, one might view this as the electrical version of Vertex AQ's system of couplers and decouplers.
Quantum's Qx4 model ($2399) is a good deal more complex. Roughly the size of a cigar box, this surprisingly heavy aluminum block has a pair of AC outletsone labeled Input, for connecting the Qx4 to an AC source, the other marked Output, for connection to a single piece of audio gearand an on/off switch. In that very limited sense, the Qx4 is a throughput device, but it neither filters nor limits current in any way. Rather, Quantum RT describes the Qx4 (and its smaller brother, the Qx2) as a scalar field generator, saying that it emits an energy wave, the beat of which is calculated to react in specific ways with stray electromagnetic radiation, such as the fields produced by audio-component power supplies and the AC house current that drives them.
All well and good. But my understanding is that, in quantum mechanics, a scalar field is less an actual electromagnetic phenomenon than a mathematical abstraction: It's not the sort of thing one can actually generate, la-di-da, just like that. There is a secondary and somewhat less well-accepted definition of scalar field that may fit QRT's use of the term, but it comes from a very different field: alternative science, where we also find acupuncture, dowsing, and other things that appear to work despite their inexplicability. I admit being confused, at first, by the combination of a company name that connotes a link to the field of quantum mechanics and a technical product description whose ambiguity appears to point elsewhere.
In any case, the folks at Quantum RT suggest that having one or more Qx4s in any music or video system can improve its performance simply by corralling the stray electromagnetic radiation that keeps it from working at its best. To that end, Mssrs. Gregory and Reynolds delivered and installed in my system a total of four Qx4s: one connected between my wall outlet and the Qbase power strip; one connected between the power strip and my preamp; and, because the Qx4 works via radiationelectrical throughput is there mostly for convenience, to enable proximity to certain components requiring treatmentthe remaining two were placed atop my two Audio Note AN-E loudspeakers, to control the stray fields that are themselves part and parcel of electromagnetic transduction. (Sorry to go all Peabody-and-Sherman there.)
To take the next step in my rearward march, I simply turned off the Qx4s that sat atop my speakers. The change was clearly audible, even when I was standing next to the speaker in question. With those two Qx4s switched off, my system sounded a little less impressive: flatter, less rich, less dramatic, and even a bit duller. Don't get me wrong: Music and sound were still fine without the Qx4s, but my system was more enjoyable when those two units were doing their thing. Whatever that thing is.
Then I turned off the remaining two Qx4s, which were connected nearer the heart of my system. I settled back for an hour or so of peaceful listening, and even switched them back on and back off again a few more times. Remarkably, in light of the above, I could hear no consistent differences.
Finally, I had to skip what might've been my very last act of undoing: Although made in California, my review sample of the Quantum Qbase power strip came to me from the UK: it had a standard IEC socket at one end, but a row of European AC sockets on top. Consequently, for the time being, I have no way of knowing what effect the Qbase alone might have on my system. But I'm told that a US version is on its way, and I promise to write about it in a future columnwhere I'll also try to provide a more complete description of the Quantum Resonant Technology products, in addition to some remarkable laboratory test results provided by Mssrs. Gregory and Reynolds.
Right now, my system is configured as it was before the visit from Roy Gregory and Joe Reynolds, with two exceptions: I've left the Vertex AQ Super Kinabalu platforms under my preamp and amp for now, and I've left the Quantum Qx4s atop my Audio Note speakers, although I canand often doswitch them on and off at will, for the fun of it.
And what of that pair of Liquid Audio interconnects? I tried the single interconnect pair again, literally an hour ago, and heard again what I'd heard before: almost identical to the interconnect I like best, if perhaps just a little less clear. To some that might sound like praising with faint damns: a shame, really, since I don't think anyone, reader or manufacturer, ought to expect a reviewer to "discover" a new reference cable or cartridge or speaker or what-have-you every couple of months or so. That would be crazy.
For now, I believe, Teo Audio doesn't make an AC-cord version of their Liquid Cable. As hinted above, they do make a speaker cablebut its designers have the honesty, and perhaps even the modesty, to say that they simply can't recommend lengths exceeding 4m. That in itself makes me like this company all the more.
In any event, a Liquid Cable loomin the sense of a Nordost loom or a this-or-that loomisn't on the horizon for me. But with Teo Audio's indulgence, I'm going to borrow this review sample for a little bit longer, so I can hear what else it might do. This is a cool idea from a company of integrity, and while it may not be for me to say so, I hope they'll carry on.
Footnote 1: This account is a bit smoother than reality, in the interest of keeping the narrative as brief as possible. As I note later on, the incompatibility of various connectors meant more swapping around than is suggested here, and prevented altogether my hearing the combination of Shindo's own AC cords with the Quantum Qbase power stripand without the Quantum Qx4s.