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All but the Sunnycable power conditioner were plugged in for a couple of hours of warm-up before auditioning them. The Sunnycable conditioner only got about 15 minutes when we ran out of convenient outlets and it was too heavy to haul to another room. We chose some select LPs: Johnny Hartman The Voice That Is [MCA Impulse 29040]; Viva Manitas de Plata [Connoisseur Society CS-2013]; Grateful Dead Shakedown Street [Audio Fidelity 1816]; and Rosemary Clooney Something’s Got To Give [Concord CJ-333]. Let me preface my comments by saying that this is not intended to be a shootout of power conditioners. It was simply a fun meet to see what we could learn. Hence this will not be a detailed account of every conditioner. Switching from my PS Audio P300 to the full Nordost QRT product complement, we first played the Rosemary Clooney. The soundstage was more open predominantly in the front-to-back dimension. The bass line was more prominent with the Nordost too. Rosemary’s voice was fuller and it projected somewhat more to the front of the soundstage. This should not be construed as meaning that there was any unpleasant forwardness to the sound. Quite the contrary. An unexpected benefit provided by the Nordost was a reduction in the sizzle that I sometimes hear in the treble with the PS Audio P300.

The Audience aR6-TS made quite a showing. Contrary to past complaints about power conditioners limiting dynamics, the Audience actually supercharged them and showed itself to be the king of swing. Bass impact and quality were plain awesome - the best I have ever heard from my system even though I felt that Rosemary Clooney’s voice was not as full and natural as with the Nordost. The Audience also did the expected blacker background/lower noise floor thing that all of the conditioners did while also rendering a wealth of detail.

One aspect of the Audience that bothered me was an increase in treble amplitude. There was just more of it to the point where cymbals became distracting to the overall performance. However the Audience only had about 50 hours and on a later visit we found this to disappear after it had been subjected to over two hundred hours of play. My other friend who brought the Bybee said that many people swear by it. We gave the same Rosemary Clooney cut another spin although I was complaining that we were going to wear out the grooves on this track. My notes said "Midrange is nice! Very open and lively. A lot of bloom." On the Manitas de Plata there was excellent separation on the hyper-speed flamenco guitar with a very lively quality. Switching to the Grateful Dead track, we noted that the Jerry Garcia lead vocal was not as rich as with the Nordost. The plentiful bass on this cut was rocking but the overall gestalt was not as warm as the Nordost. It did not have the standard-setting three dimensionality of the Audience nor quite the superlative vocals of the Nordost but overall showed itself to be a very competitive power conditioner.

Like the Audience the Sunny comes with its own dedicated power cord. Playing Johnny Hartman we noted that the bass was a little wooly. The vocal was very good but there was an overall impression of softer focus and a mildly sluggish quality. Perhaps this unit needed more than the fifteen minutes warm-up it received. And now in the other corner we had a TAS favorite, the Silver Circle 5.0se weighing a monstrous 112lbs. This threatened to lay me out cold after hauling it in and out of my system several times. First impressions were that it was smooth and clean but not as dynamic as the Audience (nothing was). It had a relaxed quality but was involving and very musical. With the Grateful Dead cut, Jerry Garcia’s voice was not as thin as with some of the others. Cymbals sounded a bit muted so there may have been a slight roll off in the highs. There was also a sense of low distortion and a haunting presence/realism. It was getting late so we decided to move on but come back to this one next morning.

The latest offering from PS Audio, the P5 Power Plant, was next. We stayed with the Grateful Dead selection. We immediately heard more shimmer on the cymbals. However we lost the organic pull-you-in quality of the Silver Circle. The P5 sounded like good solid state. While there was more treble information On Shakedown Street, the throbbing bass line did not have the weight of the others. Jerry’s voice was not thin but also not fleshed out as much as with any of the other conditioners. The soundstage was open but there was a distinct lack of warmth. We revisited some of the prior conditioners and went back and forth until I was about to drop from exhaustion. Switching back to the Audience, Jerry Garcia’s voice was not as organic as the Silver Circle. Johnny Hartman also had less chest in his voice. Still, this conditioner had real snap and was the liveliest of the bunch. Going immediately back to the Nordost, we lost some of the toe-tapping drive of the Audience but it was very clean and smoother all around. The upper mids and highs were the most natural of the group, with no sense of strain or edge.

The next morning we put the Silver Circle back in the system and played Rosemary Clooney’s Show Tunes [Concord CJ-364].  On "Come Back To Me" it was very open sounding but we started noticing that the Silver Circle had a leaner more stripped-down presentation. It could sound a little dry. We also felt that it might be subtracting some of the very fine details. So upon playing it more we had to adjust our impressions from the night before. I’m still not sure what went on as we had been quite captivated the evening prior. I now pulled out a wonderful recent find, Dexter Gordon’s Gettin’ Around [Blue Note 84204] and played "Manha De Carnaval". Dexter’s sax solo here is just mesmerizing. Through the Silver Circle there was some edginess on the sax but with the Nordost it was warm and voluptuous. The Nordost conveyed lots of breathiness and nuance. The decay and harmonic overtones on Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes were noticeably better too.

One of my workhorse jazz records is the Art Pepper Quintet Smack Up [OJC-176]. This can sound a little hot in some systems. With the Nordost there was no edginess to Art’s sax or Pete Jolly’s trumpet. In fact it was the best it ever sounded in my system. My friend left the Silver Circle with me for further experimentation. I decided to leave it on for about twelve hours continuously and then give it another try. I put it back in the system several times over the next couple of days. While it was crisper on leading edges than the Nordost QRT system, I preferred the richer and smoother quality of the Nordost.

Circling back
.  For the entire listening session with my friends I would switch in and out the full-bore Nordost system with Blue Heaven power cords between the Qx4, Qx2 and QBase. It was time to revisit individual parts and try to isolate the effect of each component. So I returned to my humble PS Audio P300 with stock power cord and played Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. The strings were not as sweet as with the full-bore Nordost but actually a little more distinct. Next I put the Blue Heaven power cord on the P300 and there was less edge and more body to the strings. I put one Qv2 into the wall outlet and the strings got richer and even easier on the ears. Impatiently I jumped right to all four Qv2 and the strings got markedly less edgy and even fuller in body.

Now I replaced the P300 with the Nordost QBase and plugged turntable, amp and preamp into it and a Blue Heaven from the wall to QBase. The tonal balance seemed to shift down in frequency with better midbass, richer textures but perhaps a tiny bit less dynamics. The edge on the strings now was totally gone. It felt like everything was properly grounded, literally and figuratively. Next I put in the Qx4. There was more depth and nuance but oddly the sound was not quite as rich and smooth as it had been with just the QBase and four Qv2 modules. On the other hand just the bass punch alone gained from the Qx4 was a very solid improvement. I found much the same when I played Art Pepper’s Landscape [promo copy, Galaxy GXY-5128] with George Cables, Tony Dumas and Billy Higgins. On "True Blues" the sax was cleaner with the P300 than the full-bore Nordost system but a little more forward and sizzly - not relaxing. The leading edge of notes was less distinct with the Nordost system as implemented up to this point.