As Max Dudious said in his recent Parasound review: It's all in the nuances. Unless a component significantly deviated from reasonably neutral -- something usually obvious at once -- a reviewer's left to low-level gumshoe devices to capture the slippery Sonny Sonic gunslinger bastard on Steve McQueen's "Wanted - Dead or Alive" poster. Replacing my resident Walker Audio Velocitor with the BP-2 immediately condemned your scribe to sweat the nuances. In other words, rather than screwing up dynamics, air, leading edge fidelity or musical energy -- attributes I key in on most keenly as part of my peculiar audiophile conditioning, and which many power line devices limit or kill off as a function of over-damping -- this "Balanced Ultra Isolator" acquitted itself as one hell of a good guy in my little black book. Sure, you expect blacker backgrounds from a good line filter, and the enhanced low-level detail and heightened resolution following in their wake. But if it came at the expense of communicativeness, as an ultra-absorptive black hole swallowing up not just the grunge but also the very life blood of the music? Hunting for a superior line filter is clearly not a matter of dead or alive. Who's gonna pay a hefty reward for our aural muse if she's dragged into town by her heels and as dead as a road-kill skunk behind a horse wagon?

No, this patient was alive and kicking: Barrio Chino's Mediterra Nostra [Tinder 861042], one of my desert island picks and filled with vitality and out-of-this-world musicianship. It mixes Gipsy, Arabian, African, Sephardic and Moorish and, on tracks like "Guadalquivir", sports cymbal trees releasing more high-frequency reflections than an agitated lake at high noon. Compared to the truly cunningly named Velocitor, the BP-2+ sounded a little softer around the leading edges - not smoothed over but just not as 'charged-while-relaxed' as the Walker (which accelerates transients per se, not giving the impression of speed via upper harmonic emphasis as does the Audio Magic Stealth). The BPT had good air and thus presence, something I hear as nearly a dither of sorts. It's a high-frequency 'carbonated fizz' surrounding performers. Think of it as the polar opposite of what happens in an overly absorptive room that dries out everything to resemble an arid, terribly parched desert scene. Sonorean visions? Not. I toasted myself with an imaginary stem of bubbly and grinned. The BP-2+ had passed my most crucial test without apparently even trying.

Lemme 'xplain. As I said in a recent column, audiophiles get imprinted to evaluate equipment according to certain qualifiers they've unwittingly adopted on their journey through different systems. Whether timbre, soundstaging, coherence, radiance or any other possible attribute, once we've trained ourselves to be triggered accordingly, "it's like a pain we never had before. Now that we know how and where to locate it, just won't bloody go away." Meaning that in critical mode, we cannot not hear what the system, according to our personal biases, fails to deliver - even if every other quality were rendered better than we'd ever heard before.

As you know, when it comes to women, certain guys are into legs, others into buttocks, bosoms, lips, eyes, hair - the list is as long as the human anatomy. No matter how your eyes will eventually roam to admire the whole person, you can't help but return to your original fixation. It's what you're wired to notice first and feel attracted to most. The ladies have their own 'check list' just so us Neanderthals won't have to feel too bad, about being such terribly predictable reflex machines. It's a biological thang. Ditto for audio. I'm an adrenaline junkie. I'm wired for leading edges, dynamics and immediacy. It ain't a matter of right or wrong but primitive patterning. It's what I notice first. Except for the slight taming of transients which the Velocitor turbocharges -- so perhaps the BP-2 is 'neutral' about this aspect? -- my auro/neuro reflexes didn't knot into a twist that I'd have an impossible time to subsequently overlook. Ahh. Life was good. $1,495 for a device that didn't cause any significant setbacks in this vital arena when compared to my $3,110 Velocitor with its optional support? I was digging this assignment. Time to nuance.

The world's first theft-proof pumps?
Like the Walker, the BPT didn't portray silence between notes in any heavy-handed or self-conscious fashion; which is to say, not as a "watch this" jetblack abyss of absence - the kind of stuffy, lifeless atmosphere you'd find in a heavily draped mortuary, the sterile, clinical vibe of an industrial 'deep sweep' clean room. Its silence felt light, transparent and friendly. Consequently, images hovered and floated. They weren't pinned like a butterfly to inky black velvet, when harsh lighting accentuates edges between color and black for hyperrealistic contrasts. No, music had an easy, natural affability, not a strained, striated or hyped expression. Transitions between sound and silence occurred in a relaxed and soft way, not as chiseled edges of black against white. Most becoming, this naturalness! It wasn't anything esoteric, complex or hard to fathom. Rather, it was a very tangible and obvious quality you'd notice right off the bat - not by listening for anything but by observing your gut-level reaction. Did the music gush forth freely and natural? Did it feel tight, overtly controlled and constricted? Did it feel like an earthbound body builder or dancer on cushions of air?

A by-product of good dynamics is a sense of airsole-type rhythmic rebound. Tracks like "Sara Cali", a joyous Rumba Gitana hymn to the Black Virgin of the Gypsies, were clearly swingin' rather than ambling, elegantly dancing rather than stodgily marching. Ever noticed how certain systems make tunes sound slower than they should - as though the protagonists were wading through thigh-high water? I have and the BPT in the chain was distinctly not guilty of such rhythmic restraint. Naturally, precise, well-articulated bass is an important ingredient to percussive elan. The BP-2 had this in spades, at times making me wonder whether certain low notes hadn't acquired an added degree of heft and balls versus the Walker - but that unit had been returned to its ever-inventive maker in the meantime, for a small but apparently potent upgrade which I'm naturally intensely curious about.

Because of the BP-2's attacks being a mite mellower than the Velocitor's, its transient perspective was a bit more far-field than close-up. This doesn't refer to actual listener distance as though performers appeared farther behind the speakers. It refers to leading edge sharpness which is always hotter closer to stage than in the more reverberant distance. Speaking of reverberant, the famous "Spanish Harlem" track from playwright David Mamet's famous leading lady Rebecca Pidgeon [Retrospective, Chesky SACD 242] portrayed the upright bass with the kind of slightly rotund, bloomy and warm character you'd hear live in a good acoustic. Low-level retrieval was so spot-on that I could clearly mark the position of Rebecca's mike, by the reflections from her voice first off an object close in front of her, then followed by distinct rear wall signal immediately thereafter.

Having heard this track at numerous tradeshows far more times than pleasant -- which explains why I never bought Pidgeon's Raven until one of our readers finally took it upon himself to mail me Chesky's latest compilation SACD -- I was now pleasantly surprised. The "audiophile-approved" stiffness I had involuntarily braced against? Evaporated as into thin air. I was, in a nutshell, left with simply one gal singing. This may sound like faint praise but wasn't. I enjoyed the overplayed track for simple, human touches, with admiration over production values faintly in the background, the majority of my attention instead on a rather simple song in a simple setting, sung without overdone artifice. Ordinary yet quite extraordinary. Easy. Still not my favorite song by a long shot but now perfectly pleasant on its own merit.

Definite strong points for the balanced power unit? Ambient reconstruction of the recording venue, giving each instrument its own recognizable bubble of space, a fat counterpoint to the cardboard cutouts of Electric Avenue specials. The souped-up BP-2's tonal balance wasn't straddling the fence but one step on its warm rather than cool side. Though often suggestive of obscuration of detail, here it merely meant that detail wasn't thrust at me in a TechniColor way but presented as being enveloped in the flow of the music - I could still count the needles on the pine trees if thus inclined, but the greater sensation was one of riding down the river of the tune. I know this sounds a bit poetic, but the fact is, that's how the BP2 struck me.

A trusted standby for HF performance, Nojima's famous Plays Ravel [Reference Recordings 35], and particularly "Ondine", the track depicting a water nymph in her element, confirmed why the BP-2's becoming, just-right warmth - its treble lacked the last word in silvery endlessness, that upper harmonic sparkle the Velocitor distills from the piano's upper right-handed trills and arpeggios on this devilishly tricky track. While I wouldn't call the BP2 rolled-off -- it's not dark -- it's clearly not lit up either. Rather than platinum or silver, its treble color would be between yellow and white gold - not the slowness of red gold or copper, but just a bit more weight and less gleam than the silvery elements. On "Scarbo'", this meant that the same-key staccatos didn't have quite the hammered bite I usually get, giving a tad more fullness and less metal.

Fans of slam beats will giggle with delight at the BPT unit's iron-fisted control down low. On the potent opener to Bobi Céspedes' Cuban/Yoruba Rezos album [Six Degrees, 657036 1076-2], I thought of the massive bass accents as huge columns of marble, stamping the rhythm with utmost exactitude like some giant Dali-esque stone elephants endowed with movement - massive yet on the button, clearly not etched but whomping like some special effects extravaganza. You get the point - Reggae, Ambient, Dub, Electronica, House and Rap would be very well served indeed. The gently damped steam off Oriente Lopéz' zinging Cuban flute merely reconfirmed the already noted high-frequency voicing.

What remained to be weighted? How the BPT conditioner would compare to a basic outlet multiplier like the Furutech RTP-6. The Furutech makes no claims for filtering circuits of any kind. The device simply functions as a high-class power strip with the best possible parts, condemning the usual crop of computer strips to the garbage heap where they belong. Quickie verdict? The BPT's noise floor was clearly lower, translating as enhanced low-level clarity and heightened acuteness; its bass control was significantly superior; and the element of air or spaciousness more pronounced. While I cannot lay these improvements at the feet of balanced power per se -- conditioners by Sound Application, Audio Magic, Walker Audio, Shunyata and Running Springs Audio achieve very similar results with completely different technical approaches -- today's BPT contender worked comparable magic using a phase-splitter scheme with one honkin' piece of iron. It reminds us once again that in audio, it's not so much how you do it, but how well you do whatever you do.

Which brings me to the closing credits (for today, before a brief re-run that'll do the nuance dance with the RSA Haley and modified Velocitor in a few weeks). With 10 outlets, surge protection, immaculate construction, clearly superior parts and an unusual performance-to-price ratio, the BP-2 has been my first serious bout with Balanced Power. It has set one stunning example for its breed that seems impossible to beat for the price. I couldn't find a single flaw, shortcoming or complaint. The noted performance attributes all fell well within the narrow range of conscientious voicing, just as a classical performer must remain true to the score (neutrality) and only may wield a small scope of artistic freedom (voicing) to add personality before Mozart stops being Mozart. In its "+" iteration of performance upgrades, the fully tricked-out BP-2 seems perfectly matched to systems benefitting from control, lowered noise floor and a soft mellowing of edges and bite.

Frankly, considering its asking price, I question whether Chris Hoff doesn't have a second career somewhere, to augment the money he's leaving on the table with the BP-2+. If you're in the market, I suggest you make your move before he wises up. This is a monster value, about as custom as you're likely to find in a regular production unit (with all the available options including the stainless case below).

BPT - should that stand for Bodacious Performance Tip? Until another unit comes along that smokes it without charging double -- and as one of our former presidents was fond of putting it -- you can take that to the bank and wear a shit-eating grin on your face. Stay tuned as the BPT BP-2+ makes a second appearance during the forthcoming RSA Haley review.

Chris Hoff comments: Wonderful review, many thanks. This sentence struck me as the most revealing: "Most becoming, this naturalness!" The choice to voice ever-so-slightly on the warm side was deliberate and done after much feedback from Beta testers. This can easily be adjusted by using our L-9 power cord instead of the stock C-7 power cord and/or internally wiring the unit with our custom Litz wire instead of our pure silver wire. The increase in speed would amaze you. Again, the flexibility of our design options and custom building-to-order aspect makes our units quite unique. Thanks again for the most insightful review yet published about our units.

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