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Additionally an AC stick can plug in close to the incoming power line of the house, for instance near the main circuit breaker panel. For the RCA version the recommendation is to plug it into one of the unused i/o ports of your preamplifier. As the name implies, the universal stick can be used anywhere on a cable or behind an audio device. With newly upgraded AER drivers in our Greek Arcadian Audio Pnoe horns, we had been playing that system for many hours a day in a fully tube-based analog configuration. Chris Feickert’s Blackbird with Zu Denon DL-103 was the source, Trafomatic Audio's Reference One phono and preamps followed with their matching Kaivalya monos. Zu’s large Submission subwoofer saw duty for the musical signal content below 42Hz.
We were quite happy with the upgrade Filip Keller had performed on our new MD 3B wideband drivers. There now was increased sensitivity and both extremes of the frequency spectrum had gained extension from strongly reduced self interference. Even at low levels the full spectrum and impact were there and we spun record after record to our full satisfaction. Going through all those albums as part of one’s musical history is terrific fun but also has you realize that those formative years are truly over and past.
When the tuning sticks arrived we were not eager beavers to install them. Our attitude was more of this and that album first to rediscover our horns. Perhaps then we’d give 'em a try. Or not. There always was mañana. Another day, another play. Procrastination. Indeed we did not think too much of the sticks looking at them. They might work or not but in the very best case the results wouldn't be earth-shaking. Yawn. How wrong we were! Respect as modern street talk would say. What we actually said was holy cow once the AC tuning stick was introduced. On the turntable sat the wonderful recording Hold On Tight by one of our best Dutch bands, De Dijk. Here they collaborate with the legendary Solomon Burke. Originally Dutch lyrics are reworked to English and Burke performs them in his unique style accompanied by De Dijk’s roaring B3, guitar, bass, drums and brass section. In short one of the best recent (2010) rhythm and blues recordings we know of.

By merely plugging in the 100-odd grams of AC tuning shtick, the virtual soundstage widened, individual instruments moved further apart and Burke pushed his singing chair forward. When we unplugged the darn stick, the stage shrunk back to its initial size between the horns. Did we hear this correctly? Was this stuff really that powerful? Should we try and smoke it? After replugging it the transformation reoccurred and collapsed once more upon its removal. Mind you, removing it should include a few meters from where you had it according to Akiko.

Still somewhat perplexed we next added the RCA stick to the AC stick. Now we could make out no audible change. However removing the apparently dominant AC stick and playing with just its RCA version showed a similar difference just on a smaller scale. Finally we went for the full treatment including the universal sticks. As the Eichmann terminals located 1.30 meter up the Pnoe speakers do not tolerate any weight hanging off at the expense of snapping—ask us how we know—we chose to apply the universal sticks at the amp’s side of the speaker cable. As the loudspeaker cable and incoming interconnect sit closely adjacent we bound the two together with the universal stick’s Velcro band.

We cued up another Burke album track and now a real shock coursed through us both. How was this bloody possible? Attaching a stick to very highly shielded cables like the coaxial Crystal Cable with its Kapton and Peek layers or the Nanotec interconnect with its robust copper foil should rationally allow for no such effect at least not of the sort we encountered now. Burke’s voice is that of a man of grand stature albeit with a slightly nasal top. Or so it was before the universal sticks entered the scene. Now it seemed he'd blown his nose or inhaled some nose drops. His voice opened up from top to bottom and back up. The same happened to the band. Clarity mopped up the sound without introducing sharp 's' sounds and what emanated from the speakers had an extra inner coherence. Where prior the music had been great replay—i.e. reproduced stuff—with the AC and universal sticks in place the sense of being part of it all grew gloriously.

Scary? Almost. With the enhanced dimensions of the music we now also noticed tiny ticks and clicks from the vinyl's surface giving away that this was still a reproduction. Before the universal sticks were mounted, these ticks and clicks had been inaudible. An extra run through our Clear Audio record cleaner had become mandatory. Other records that in the stick’d setup blew us away were Neil Young & the Bluenotes' This Note’s For You and Andreas Vollenweider's second album Behind the Gardens etc. Where Young discs beg for live SPLs and got them, Vollenweider can be played at intimate levels. In all their differences these two sample albums uncovered the new-found possibilities of our system in full. It had been a very good system already but now it sat at an even higher altitude. Three little sticks were all it took to get up there.

In order to not get too excited all at once, we decided to leave the audio system as it was, call it a night and watch some telly before bedtime. Our current TV setup sports a Devialet D-Premier and Avantgarde Duo Omega horns. We watched the news—not very uplifting—and then thought of the fourth tuning stick, another RCA variant. What would happen when that plugged into the Devialet? That the news would get better was a bit farfetched but the sound definitely did. Here the RCA variant altered the sound in the same way the AC or RCA stick had done in the fully analog system. It left the dynamic and transparent Devialet sound untouched but again spaced everything better between and behind the speakers.

What exactly the workings of these sticks are is unclear. They seem to be related to the Shakti Stones and Acoustic Revive RCG-24 grounding enhancer. The only difference between those and the sticks is that the sticks don't introduce subtle enhancements. They cause a vast enhancement. Our hard-earned cynicism in matters of loudly advertised but quietly under-delivering tweaks had to pack it up until next time. We were very glad to have accepted this assignment!

Condition of component received:
Reusability of packing: Not necessary.
Website comments: Lingers in vagary. English and Dutch.
Completeness of delivery: Just the sticks, no additional written information or user guide.
Pricing: Real.
Human interactions: Formal.
Remarks: The AC and RCA sticks are also available with non-Schuko and XLR connectors.

PS: In an email exchange with Ron Kemp of Kemp Elektroniks who is also a dealer for Akiko he mentioned that in his own setup heavily fortified with WA quantum and Creative tweaks plus an 18-meter* long grounding rod dedicated for his audio system, introducing the Akiko sticks did not alter his sound. Considering how such an installation is far from usual, it doesn't take away from the effectiveness of the sticks in more conventional surroundings. Plus Akiko Audio offer a "flexible 14-day return policy" to assure customer satisfaction as they're convinced that their sticks work fine even in scenarios with a dedicated clean ground.

* If your eyebrows arch at this tall figure—mine did—Marja & Henk confirmed it and added that "in our situation we would need about 30 meters as we sit on higher sand grounds here in Holland. It has something to do with the resistance you need for clean earth. In Boskoop we had 3 meters of copper tubing driven into the ground but there we were really below sea level to begin with. - Ed

Akiko Audio website