Reviewer: Mike Healey
Source: Audio Refinement CD player, Bel Canto Design DAC-2, Technics turntable
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Refinement Complete integrated, BVaudio P1 preamplifier
Amp: BVaudio PA300 stereo amplifier
Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Haydn
Cables: Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables, Analysis Plus Oval One interconnects, Analysis Plus Digital Oval, 2 x Audio Magic Xstream power cables, 2 x Shunyata Research DiamondBack power cables
Stands: Sumiko Foster & Lowell Standards; StudioTech Ultra 5-shelf audio rack
Powerline conditioning: Shunyata Guardian 4-HT
Sundry accessories: Cardas Signature RCA caps; Bybee Plug & Play speaker purifiers [for review]
Room size: 11' x 17' with 9' vaulted ceilings
Review component retail: $149/ea.

For those not already in the know about recent events in our solar system, June 8th 2004 was a great day for sun-gazing. Venus recently passed between the sun and Gaia and many observers from around the world with the right optical equipment (and weather) captured images of Venus looking like a beauty spot on the sun. This type of orbital event is called a transit. I was surprised by all of the different ways the Venus transit was captured. Some observers used cameras and telescopes with special filters. The filters needed to be of a specific opacity to protect the eyes and cameras of the observers while still committing the details of the sun and Venus' silhouette on film. A couple of guys from Sterling Heights/MI captured an image from their telescope using a cellphone camera!

Some observers didn't use filters at all. Instead they created a type of pinhole projector to safely view a projected image of the event – a completely different way to observe the same phenomenon. The pinhole projectors couldn't achieve the same level of detail or color as the higher powered cameras and telescopes that used filters, but they didn't "touch up" or colorize the images either (except for one guy from Arlington/VA, who jazzed up his projected image when he photographed it for the web).

Just like sky watchers, audiophiles use different amounts and types of filtering to capture the music as it transits through their stereo systems. Using my earlier power cable reviews as an example, some cable designers use filters to keep out noise from the electrical outlet, cell phones or other electronic components in the system (like the Shunyata Research DiamondBacks and Analysis Plus Oval 10). Other cable designers use less filtering to allow the musical light to shine through (like the Audience Power Chords and the Audio Magic Xstreams). With too little filtering/shielding, noise entering our systems can have an audible effect on the music - our components won't sound their best. Too much filtering can seem as if musical details were removed with the noise. This makes me wonder just how much filtering an audiophile actually needs. Is there any cut'n'dried method to determine how many filters will bring us closest to the truth of our recordings?

The most recent heavenly event in my system was the addition of the Bybee Plug & Play Sound Purifiers (try saying that 5 times fast). These audio baubles are filters said to remove electronic grit and grime to render the audio signal squeaky clean before being translated into music by the loudspeakers. Would the Bybees be the musical equivalent of a high- power telescope with a solar filter, offering a clearer and more substantial sonic image?

A CryoTweak by any other name ...
According to the CryoTweaks website, the Sound Purifiers are named after Jack Bybee, “a theoretical physicist specializing in quantum mechanics and superconductivity, [who] developed a series of esoteric wire and power purification technologies for the passive sonar systems of the U.S. Navy’s atomic submarine fleet. Many of the military applications of this technology are still classified; however, continuing research has led Jack Bybee to the development of solutions specific to power and audio/video circuits: The Bybee Quantum Purifiers.”

The Sound or Quantum purifiers (these devices have more names than a stray cat) are made of “ceramics doped with oxides of rare-earth metals such as zirconium and neodymium.” The wire carrying the audio signal runs through this device and Shazam! - removes nasty electronic noise riding atop the signal. Specifically what types of noise are removed and how the Bybees remove it is discussed on the CryoTweaks website, which calls the effect of the Bybees a subject of “controversy.” The Sound Purifiers are passive devices that do not add any capacitance or inductance but a small amount of resistance (0.05 to 0.3 ohm depending on the filter) caused by the additional length of copper wire. Specifications are available on the CryoTweaks website. Standard Plug & Play Sound Purifiers cost $149 each. DIYers can hardwire the Sound Purifiers to their speakers (for $85/filter) by following the detailed instructions on the CryoTweaks website. At time of publication, CryoTweaks offers free shipping for purchases over $50 and a 30-day return policy. A break-in period of 100 hours is recommended.

Speaking of broken, when my review pair of banana-tipped Bybees arrived (they appear yellow in the pictures), they were already damaged, whether in shipment or by the previous reviewer remains to be determined. The banana-tipped Bybees are delicate so handle with care! A second (and more durable) set was shipped to complement the first; however the new Bybees (they appear black in the pictures) were terminated in spades, resulting in an additional length of 2 inches. According to Mike Garner of CryoTweaks, the uneven lengths would not influence the sound. To be honest, I could not detect the sonic difference caused by the two-inch difference but the idea of unequal lengths was distracting. The unequal lengths meant I had to stretch the terminated ends of my speaker cables which really bent things out of shape (see picture)! Personally, I'd prefer Bybees of equal length regardless of termination.

Busy as a Bybee
I ran lots of A/B/A comparisons with the Bybees on the + and - speaker connectors, the + and - amp connectors, on both + speaker and - amp connectors, vice versa and without any Bybees at all. For those who hate suspense, I found that using both sets of Bybees on the amp and speaker connectors offered the greatest improvement in sound. If I could only afford one set, I slightly preferred the sound with the Bybees connected to the speakers over the amp connection. However, a single set of Bybees sounded less involving and dynamic than both sets connected. For the full Bybee effect, I recommend trying both sets, one between amp and speaker cable, one between speaker cable and speaker - but it's up to personal experimentation like anything else in this hobby. The sound of my system with the BV Audio equipment before the Bybees' arrival was cool,
clear and collected. My Audio Refinement integrated amplifier sounds less resolving in the highs and warmer in the mids but the effect of the Bybees was similar on both electronics, adding more drama to dynamics, quieter backgrounds and enhanced details. Because of the limited frequency range of my Vienna Acoustics Haydn speakers, I am limited in my assessment of how the Bybees influenced the low bass. But when I removed all of the Bybees, the music sounded muted by comparison. Something was definitely afoot!

Breaking broken records
It took multiple listening sessions before I began to crack the Bybee code. I started with a studio recording of music for cello and piano imaginatively called Cello Recital [Naxos 8.555762 2002]. Tatjana Vassilieva is a very fine young cellist who won the 1999 Adam International Cello Competition in New Zealand. I played this for a friend who has over 4,000 classical CDs and he described her instrument as having lovely tone. The comment reminded me of the sometimes backhanded compliment when entry-level systems are called musical. Yamiko Urabe supports Tatjana on piano. The recording does indeed capture the wonderful tone of the cello which particularly in the Dutilleux piece can sound graphic.

I know that my descriptions of cables sometimes sound like a broken record (you try writing four cable reviews in one year!), but the Bybees managed to take each enhancement offered by the updated interconnects and power cables yet further. The music flowed better and sounded more alive and inviting. I was gaining a greater awareness of the music and hence less of the electronics. The cello already had a well-rounded sound yet the Bybees managed to flesh it out even more without transforming the cello into an overmuscled weight lifter or obese Sam's Club American. They simply allowed me to hear more of what was on the recording from a closer vantage point. I felt that I had been moved a few rows closer to the stage. The setting became intimate enough to make a married man blush. And no, I wasn't looking at the CD cover while listening - at least not much.

With the Dutilleux piece, the closer Bybee perspective made it easier to follow the spiraling runs of the cello. I also noticed how the cello could shoot to the heavens like a violin or sound almost like a guitar when plucked. During a quieter passage, the slow strokes of the bow across the strings were revealed with greater transparency and the backgrounds were as quiet as the air in my listening room. For a more massive recording, I
played the "Fantastic Scherzo" by Josef Suk, performed by Charles Mackerras with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra [Summer Tale Decca 466433 1999]. I love the clarity and balance of this recording. There are mesmerizing passages where massed strings float gently over bubbling pizzicato strings. The Bybees gave the musical image greater depth. I was not only closer to the event but also deeper within the composer's sound world.

Because of the improved silences, the dynamic strengths of this recording became more apparent. The mercurial fireworks of the tympani sounded more startling. Cellos and basses dipped low without sounding as thin as I was used to hearing from my 5.5" woofers. The massed strings sounded appropriately billowing, yet the higher frequencies had more bite to the leading edges of the string playing. And therein lies one difficulty I had with the Bybees in my system - the highs could sound slightly out of control. The triangle sounded closer, yet what should have sounded like a clear metallic ting became unhinged and too insistent. It did not change my silk-dome tweeters to Titanium units but did make the listening experience more fatiguing.

This was all the more apparent when I played a recording that I know to be bright and edgy - an amplified acoustic performance by Rush [Rush in Rio, Anthem 83672 2003]. Don't get me wrong - the performance is wonderful but the recording sounded better without the enhanced transient sharpness of the Bybees. The leading edges of the strummed and picked steel guitar strings were overcooked and I was ready to switch tracks before the song was over.

In an attempt to make peace with my ears, I put on one of my favorite recordings of the human voice: Orenda by Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing [Silver Wave 09182 1998]. The first two songs, "Passage" and "Across the Sky" are arresting in their sheer beauty and soothing pace. "Passage" opens with Joanne singing in a plaintive calling voice while Lawrence Laughing recites a prayer. It can be startling how the voices emerge from the silent background and the Bybees made the most of this - the words appeared from total darkness and were suspended in the air between the speakers. The vibrato in Lawrence Laughing's voice was wonderfully resolved. My spirit warbled with it. However, I found the singers' pronunciation of sibilants to be more insistent and less soothing than I have come to expect from this album.
I felt like listening to a radio station where the sibilants sound hot and scratchy. I am exaggerating for emphasis here, but with my system, the Bybees' slight emphasis in the upper frequencies was too much for my taste.

I invited a friend over to listen the other day and he brought Hawa Hawa by Shujaat Husain Khan [World Village 468022 2003]. The music is both relaxed and perfectly poised, but the recording level is very high and I had to lower the volume a little. Shujaat's sitar sliced through the air and the music saturated my listening room with wonderful drones. I was equally impressed with Shujaat's voice which is relaxed and poised. I felt like I was at the beach on a sunny afternoon when the breezes are steady and the people walking along the water's edge are not concerned if their attire is formal or business casual. As long as the music played, this scene lingered in my mind. With the Bybees, the sitar was sharp enough to draw blood and sun started to burn my shoulders a little, but the transparency of the BVaudio equipment was enhanced and it was
easier for me to hear the feeling expressed through the music. My friend was amazed by how wide and deep the soundstage was, which was certainly enhanced by the Bybees. He also had a three-letter description of how bright the sound was. In my system, the Bybees thus pressed a trade off.

Bye-bye Bybees
Having used the Bybee Plug & Play sound Purifiers in my system for a couple of months now, I can certainly appreciate their contributions. Music was more balanced except for the difficulties I had in taming the more extended but also more forward and sharp highs. Music also had a more natural flow. The midrange was improved and I was surprised by the increase in soundstage depth. Returning to my system sans Bybee filtration was not a severe let down but I knew that they were missing. Without the Bybees, the sound was not as present or alive, the soundstage was smaller and the midrange not as compelling.

The Bybees made my system sound more revealing. They also encouraged greater dynamics to result in a heightened sense of the drama in certain recordings, this a function of a lowered noise floor and a stripping away of fuzz around leading edges. The other side of this equation were less forgiving high frequencies which some listeners in certain systems might find problematic. Recordings on the bright side sounded positively ragged with the Bybees. However, for most of the recordings I played, the Bybees encouraged my deeper involvement with the listening experience. In some systems, the Bybee effect might be a significant enhancement to make these devices an essential component rather than merely just another tweak. The idea that I can improve my system by adding a set of Bybee Plug & Play Sound Purifiers without having to upgrade my speaker cables is impressive and definitely worth a home audition.
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