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Reviewer: Ken Micallef
Digital Source: Wadia 270E [in for review]
Analog Source: Kuzma Stabi/Stogi turntable/arm combo, Denon DL103 cart, Auditorium 23 Denon step-up transformer [on loan]
Preamp: Shindo Allegro
Amp: Art Audio Concerto [in for review], Shindo Montrachet
Speakers: DeVore Fidelity Super 8s
Cables: Auditorium A23 speaker cables, Crystal Cable Micro Speak interconnects
Stands: Salamander rack, 2" Mapleshade platforms (8" x 15" x 2"), Blue Circle custom amp stand
Powerline conditioning: JPS Labs Kaptovator, Shunyata Black Mamba and Anaconda Vx Powersnakes, Hydra 4 [on loan]
Accessories: Mapleshade Surefoot and Heavyfoot brass points and IsoBlocks; (8) RPG ProFoam damping panels/ceiling treatment, Mapleshade Ionoclast for static cling
Room size: 24' x 12', short-wall setup
Review component retail price: $999
|A little black box
That's what this thing is, basically. Or at least, that's what the Quantum RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer looks like. This black box conjures up many mental images from hoodoo voodoo rituals and tragic airline crashes to brainiac science class projects. But for all its nondescript appearance, this black box holds its share of secrets.
As power conditioning has become de rigeur, products available for said task have become more esoteric, expensive, overbuilt and often unexplainable. At times you just want to chuck it all and go back to good old wall power, straight to the socket, just to see if there's any real difference. After all, many believe that straight to the wall is the only way to fly, dynamically speaking, whereas digital components absolutely need some sort of power purification to reveal their full glory. Where does the Quantum RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer fit in to this mad power-purification equation? Apparently it's all about the QRT.
"QRT™ is a proprietary material treatment process applied to alter the conductive properties of electrical components. It is employed in all Quantum products," states the Quantum website. Their products include the very well reviewed Quantum Symphony Pro and Symphony Standard, the ElectroClear™ QRT™ Enhancement System (yep, they're wall warts), Quantum's very own deluxe power bar, the Q-Bar Power Strip, and their top of the line conditioner and subject of our review, the Quantum RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer.
I first became interested in Quantum's products when I heard the effects of the Symphony Pro at a friend's house. Here was a relatively inexpensive, tiny black box that more than lived up to its well deserved reputation. Plugged into to my friend's non- hospital grade outlet and not connected to his gear (!), the effects were obvious: an overall smoother and more dynamic delivery, less digititis and grunge, greater resolution and transparency. Favorable reviews preceded the Symphony Pro from publications large and small. I figured the Quantum RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer would be the company's crowning achievement. And after my previous review of the PS Audio UPC-200 Power Center, the Quantum perked up my ears for all the right reasons.
Hey Randi, I'm baaack
As one who has been lambasted by the Amazing Randi (is that the schmuck's name?), for favorably reviewing products based on supposed voodoo science, I am particularly sensitive to manufacturer's claims. Bear with me as we return to the Quantum website for further explanation:
"[The before mentioned] material treatment is a special process (in this case QRT™) that has been applied to a basic material to alter its structure in a predictable and controllable manner. This treatment can optimize the performance of a material for a specific purpose. Material treatments improve basic substances and fill the need for high tech materials that were previously unattainable.
"The QRT treatment apparatus uses electricity (in a proprietary method) to create changes in the conductive properties of electrical materials. These materials, or electrical conductive components, are assembled into oscillator/20MHz transmitter designs. A pre-programmed algorithm of specific frequencies radiates a small electromagnetic field into the environment. This energy wave has a profound effect on the performance of electrical appliances within a given area of its location."
|So it appears that Quantum treats the innards of this black box with some special process, perhaps a magnetically induced lotion applied with zircon encrusted tweezers that radiates over, above and through any nearby component with a tuned electromagnetic field. Well, perhaps. From the accompanying pictures of the unit's innards (submitted by Quantum's Bill Stierhout), you can see that the RT800 looks simple enough: A Hammond toroidal transformer connected to four Hubbell outlets with 14 gauge OFC silver strand wire. Bill explains that contrary to my comments, there is no spray-type treatment inside the RT800.
|The RT800 includes two Quantum Symphony EMF Stabilizers, the oscillator/|
|transmitter that makes the Symphony Pro strut its stuff and which are housed inside the small black box adjacent to the donut transformer. "The oscillator/ transmitter," continues the website, "[is] designed to activate the QRT energy field. The oscillator contains specific frequencies that are fed into a coil antenna. The QRT wave is transmitted or 'broadcast' via the small electromagnetic field generated by the coil. The influence of this field affects the quality of electrical signals in the surrounding environment including audio, video, and AC power line signals."
So the RT800 should double the effects of the overachieving Symphony Pro. Perhaps connecting one's electronics directly into this mystery device will make an even greater difference than relying purely on its radiated field. The Quantum RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer includes 8 hospital-grade Hubbell Bryant outlets, 14 gauge multi-strand silver coated Teflon wiring, parallel AC line design and a "sturdy aluminum enclosure." Further specs include current handling capacity of 15 or 20 (optional) amperes, dimensions of 5.0" (H) x 5.5" (W) x 10.0" (D) and weight of 5.5 lbs.
Arming the block box
I began the review process by plugging the Wadia 270E CD player into the Quantum RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer, using my JPS Kaptovator power cord to fire up the unit. I figured if the party really started rocking, I would plug the whole rig into the Quantum. There are no transformers inside the RT800, so power limiting shouldn't be a concern. Just plug it in and forget it. Quantum recommends you plug in your gear to the RT800, hit the unit's power switch and then turn on your gear, in that order. A small green LED tells you the unit is powered up.
I used four CDs for evaluation: Donald Fagen's Morph the Cat (clinical but extremely well recorded jazz-pop [Reprise/Wea 49975]), The Beatles' White Album (a famously bad recording [Capitol 7 46443 2]), British folksinger KT Tunstall's Eye to the Telescope (a state-of-the-art British pop production [Relentless/Virgin 50729]) and guitarist Charlie Hunter's Copperopolis [Ropeadope advance].
|The night belongs to Mona
|Sure enough, the Quantum improved the sound of the Fagen disc playing in the Wadia over the previously reviewed PS Audio UPC-200 (which offers a good combination of warmth and cleansing for $299). In Fagen's urban tale "The Night Belongs to Mona", electric bass notes became fatter, more present and wiry; drums had more punch, slap and bass drum thump; and overall presence was improved no doubt. When a tom was struck, you could almost visualize the drum thwack. The noise floor also seemed lowered, enabling Fagen's layered vocals to more totally fill the presentation. There was slightly increased decay of notes as well. While treble definition was improved, it came with a slight sibilance and metallic sound that was either the product of the unit or perhaps I was just really hearing the Wadia, which is a|
|methodical beast in its own right. But I was taken with the honeyed glow the RT800 gave the music, especially in the nether regions. The soundstage seemed to have greater weight, though there was no change in perspective. Would this honeyed glow turn sickly sweet?
The Charlie Hunter disc proved less conclusive. Recorded no doubt on a much a smaller budget, Copperopolis is a simple trio affair covering bluesy rock and swampy gator improvisations. Compared to its playback through the UPC-200, the Hunter disc sounded more homogenous, less visceral and immediate through the Quantum. Slightly recessed but smoother overall was the initial verdict. But then, with a less than stellar recording smoothing was not such a bad thing. Still, the guitar didn't quite pop out of the speaker and float in midair as it did when blasting through the Wadia/UPC 200 combo. Mind you, these were very small differences.
My next step was to change recordings again, albeit to one I know very well, playing it with both Wadia and Allegro preamps plugged into the Quantum. Since I only use line conditioning for digital, I wanted to hear the difference, step by step, as I inserted the entire system into the Quantum since the company suggests running your whole rig through the RT800.
|KT Tunstall is a 30-year-old singer/songwriter who is burning up the UK charts. With three hit singles to her credit in Great Britain, she has also logged two very popular Today show performances that have caused her ongoing US tour dates to sell out across the country. And her debut, Eye to the Telescope, didn't get released domestically until February 7th. Talk about a buzz. A record that basks in pure pop radio production, it is nonetheless a gem of songwriting and vocal perfection - like Dido, Bonnie Raitt and Joan Armatrading rolled into one.
|Preamp in, honeyed sound and deeper bass booming larger! The sound was certainly a bit more colored but also addictive. It was almost like I had changed to an SET. The midrange|
|seemed to have more bloom and bass frequencies were somehow rounder and fatter if a bit more ill defined. The soundstage grew in size yet not in weight. But I also felt the upper frequencies had become slightly more recessed. Yes, the honey pot was growing.
|The last change (and thanks for hanging in there) was to plug the Montrachet power amp into the Quantum and play The Beatles' White Album. A spectacularly crummy-sounding record when compared to Abbey Road or, heck, Magical Mystery Tour, I nonetheless knew what to expect. And the results were the same as before, just more so. There was added snap, bass response grew even deeper and larger but also more boomy, liquid and looser. If I am nitpicking a horse's butt here, it is only to note the differences as changes occurred, small as they were overall.
|Finally, I removed everything from the Quantum and went back to the original configuration.|
|Gone was the honeyed, warmly aromatic and bass-rotund presentation. The sound was a little hotter with the Quantum out of the system loop and not as plush but it was certainly more dramatic. It was like leaving a gorgeous busty brunette in the front seat of a '60s Jaguar XJE for a slightly cooler but just as alluring blonde seated in a spiffy Lexus. I was happy, all was right with the world. But that brunette sure shivered me timbers.
|Perhaps more than any other part of the audio chain, power conditioning can be a system- dependent affair. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. My New York City power is no doubt much filthier than your (fill in the blank) juice. The Quantum did some things I liked in my system, such as creating a sense of|
|deeper bass and expanding the soundstage to resemble an earthbound Zeppelin. But with that came a slightly diffuse presentation that also zapped the upper frequencies with a purple haze, as though I had taken a step back from the tweeter. But as mentioned before, these are all nits being picked.
Ultimately, I believe the Quantum RT800 is best suited for digital gear. That is where I heard the biggest improvement, where accuracy, clarity and resolution were wrought in spades. I also dug the honey pot glow it created when I attached it to my amps but there is the rub. Do you want ultimate truth? Can you handle the truth? Or is a little sweet-talking more to your liking? The Quantum RT800 AC Source/EMF Stabilizer is a sonic romancer, but whether it speaks your language of love most likely depends on a visit and a brief fling at your own swinging bachelor pad (or family room). I enjoyed my brief flirtation with the RT800. It sure warmed me wee cockles.