Tice R-4 TPT & Coherence ElectroTec EP-C "Clocks" Thomas J. Norton March 1991
When I submitted my piece for the October 1990 "Industry Update" on the digital alarm clock controversy, I was only aware of the $500 Coherence Industries version and the $25 Radio Shack standard model. In case you're just getting back from the moon, I should elaborate a bit. Some people have observed that operating one of these clocks in the listening room actually has an effect (many report a positive one) on the sound of an audio system. Why this should be so has not been explained satisfactorily—certainly not to my satisfaction.
The plot thickened shortly after I submitted my copy, with the announcement that Tice Audio Products, manufacturer of the well-regarded Power Block line conditioner, was marketing a similar product. Or, more precisely, they are marketing what they refer to as "Tice Pulse Technology" (TPT).
Electrons normally travel through a conductor in a somewhat random and chaotic manner. Even under the influence of a current-generating electric potential, they can scarcely avoid collisions with the conductor's (and various impurities') atoms. Tice claims that TPT "programs" the electrons to flow in a more direct path. This is said to reduce so-called "electron noise," a type of noise which Tice says they have recently discovered, and to dramatically improve the sound of a system where TPT is employed. This electron noise is said not to be related to other forms of power-line noise.
The TPT process is claimed to be applicable to a broad range of products; in the present instance it has been applied to the familiar Radio Shack (né Spartus or Micronta) large-number digital alarm clock, this clock said by Tice to be a carrier for the TPT processed electrons much as a blank tape carries encoded audio information.
The first two samples we received still carried the Spartus label. When we were sent updated samples (the samples upon which our observations are based), a Tice label had been substituted. According to Tice, after the clocks are treated with TPT, their "programming" is then transferred to the conductors in the system—more specifically, to the electrons within the conductors—by plugging the clock into the circuit which powers the system.
I'll have more to say about all this a bit further on, but first let's cut to the chase. Although we followed Tice's instructions about using the clocks to the letter—not placing them on top of power amplifiers or other components likely to throw a magnetic field; experimenting with the AC plug polarity—we were not able to verify the claims made for the TPT clock here in Santa Fe. John Atkinson, Bob Harley, Guy Lemcoe, and I all listened independently to the effects of these devices on our systems. JA discusses his reactions to the product in this issue's "As We See It." RH noted no change in the sound of his system with the clock. GL did hear a difference—a more forward sound with the Tice—but felt it to be a negative, not a positive, change.
Which brings us to yours truly. I did my initial listening with two Tice clocks in my system, since feedback has indicated that two work "better" than one (footnote 1). During my first listening session, a friend from the East Coast was visiting Santa Fe. He has been using two plain-vanilla Radio Shack clocks in his own system, and is more than satisfied with the results of his $50 investment.
As we listened to my system with the Tice clocks plugged into the power line—a system very familiar to me but new to him—we both heard differences, most notably a trace more presence to the sound and (I initially felt) perhaps a slightly better-defined midbass. I considered the differences to be subjectively quite small. When I asked my friend if he was hearing the same sort of differences which he has heard on his own system with his non-Tice clocks, he replied yes, and that the degree of change was similar (one cannot do more than broadly generalize about this, for obvious reasons).
I later spent considerably more time listening to the two Tice clocks on my own, and continued to hear subtle differences. While the midbass did not appear to be changed in this longer audition, I continued to note a bit more forwardness to the sound with the clocks plugged in. But ultimately I felt that the elusive changes heard were not an improvement in my system; it was simply a shade more open without the clocks.
To be perfectly honest, I'm a bit nonplussed that I heard any change at all. The only logical conventional explanation I can offer for why these clocks may affect the sound in some (but not all) systems is that they may produce some sort of electromagnetic interference. I consider the explanation offered by the manufacturer for their operation to be off the wall, to put it mildly. I'm not saying that there's nothing to it, only that it falls far afield of recognized scientific principles.
A more lucid and rigorous explanation is demanded if any credibility is to be established for TPT among those of us who don't believe that better sound requires us to casually throw our prior knowledge about the way the Universe works out the window. That knowledge must always be subject to review, but can only be abandoned or modified in the face of compelling theory and evidence.
That said, I would never discount a product merely because I don't accept the explanation offered for its operation. Most cable manufacturers present questionable arguments on their products' behalfs, but I still find significant sonic differences among cables. Various CD tweaks have their strong proponents, though no proven theory has been offered for their supposed effectiveness. And the TPT clock is not quite in Peter Belt territory—at least it is actually connected in a fashion (through the power line) to the system.
Subsequent to the above observations, Tice sent new samples of the TPT clock with a further update. They also sent excerpts from various books, in an attempt to further explain the operating principles behind the process. There are hints that the clocks are treated by some sort of pulsed magnetic field, and the excerpts were apparently submitted to show that electrons can be affected by the presence of such a field. Which is true. But as far as I'm aware, such an effect is temporary and vanishes as soon as the field is removed. The contention that electrons could be "programmed" by TPT to move more coherently—which appears to be at the heart of the process—was neither directly nor indirectly addressed in the readings (unless I missed it) (footnote 2).
While to be fair to Tice it must be stated that they admit they do not as yet have a full explanation for TPT, it must also be stated that what they do offer is difficult to accept on scientific grounds. Just how does TPT "program" electrons to flow more "coherently," and to avoid colliding with atoms in the conductor—thus reducing "electron noise?" How is the clock able to do this by the simple matter of plugging it into your power line? Tice's White Paper on the subject is of little help in clarifying matters. It suggests that to learn more about electron flow and how it is affected by pulsed magnetics, further reading should be pursued in quantum electrodynamics, quantum field theory, the Maxwell equations regarding field radiation into free space, the Feynman diagrams, Perturbation theory, and, most importantly, the field of magnetic resonance. No specific references are given to guide the interested through these admittedly deep waters.
This would all be academic in the face of conclusive listening tests. As I have already stated, the proof remains in the pudding. I brought the new clock (two clocks were sent, but I elected to listen to one this time around, JA listening to the other in his system) into the listening room for a further audition. Care was taken to keep the clock away from other equipment with large transformers, as per Tice's directions. It was plugged into the same outlet which supplies the preamp and program sources.
My observations remained as before. There were times when I felt that the system-with-clock was subtly—very subtly—more immediate. At other times I was not at all certain. And when I did feel that I heard something, I was not fully convinced that it was an improvement. But again, I cannot emphasize enough that such changes as were heard in my system were, at best, highly elusive.
Yet the plot thickens. Just before we were about to go to press with this review, Dick Olsher listened very briefly to the Tice clock. While he, too, has doubts about the explanations offered for its operation, he was favorably impressed by the perceived change in the sound of his system (the same amp and loudspeakers I used—Threshold SA/12es and Apogee Stages—but different cabling and front end). So while most of us who've tried the clock remain unconvinced of its ultimate effectiveness and value for money, at least I'm intrigued enough to consider further investigation, and a possible follow-up. The controversy will likely continue.
It's possible that Tice's clock will do something that you find desirable in your system. I wouldn't discourage anyone from listening to it for themselves, but I would still insist on trying before buying—or, at the very least, on an unconditional money-back guarantee from a dealer you trust.—Thomas J. Norton
Footnote 1: See George Tice's reasoning behind his recommendation to try two clocks in this month's "Letters" column.—John Atkinson
Footnote 2: For those wishing to investigate these references for themselves, they were (in addition to the White Paper), excerpts from Matter in Motion, The Spirit and Evolution of Physics, Ernest S. Abers and Charles F. Kennell, Allyn and Bacon, Inc., p.322 (the pertinent words, which were highlighted, are "Actually, all substances can be magnetized to a minor extent by very strong magnetic forces; and the metals cobalt and nickel show effects similar to, but not as strong as, iron." (my italics); Basic Electricity and DC Circuits, Howard W. Sams & Co., pp.1-27 through 1-31; McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill Book Co., pp.151-152 (Paschen-Back effect), p.328 (Stark effect), and pp.614-615 (Anomalous Zeeman Effect and Zeeman effect in molecules); and Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, Seventh Edition, Van Nostrand Reinhold, pp.1044 and 1055, p.2146 (Paschen-Back effect), p.2642 (Stark effect), p.3062 (Zeeman effect), plus an additional page from the same reference (unnumbered in the copy sent us) which briefly mentions the Zeeman effect and discusses the vector model of the atom.—Thomas J. Norton