Power ripping


To properly precondition cables, outlets or power conditioners, I know of nothing better than AudioDharma's ingenious CableCooker 2.5 ($649). It's one of those indispensable reviewer's accessories to assure that wires under evaluation have matured to optimum performance level. Even non-reviewing listeners would be well advised to procure one. To maximize your investment, you might pool resources for a time-shared unit. It'd be accessible to a group of friends who pitched into the original purchase. The manufacturer recommends quarterly "tune-ups". This creates plenty of downtime to cycle a single unit between multiple users sans overlap. As a reviewer never knowing when new cables might arrive, I'm piggishly hogging one all for myself. But unless you insisted, you needn't be a pig like greedy yours truly. Be a gentleman or real lady, share and save money.


Incidentally, the break-in protocol for a power conditioner requires two power cords. With the Furutech FP-3T35 and Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC10, I had two never-played ones that required proper break-in for this review. I ran the FP from the Cooker's high-level output to the RTP's IEC inlet. To expose all of the strip's distribution wiring to the Cooker's high-voltage signal, I used the duplex farthest removed from the inlet and closed the loop back to the Cooker with the Fantasy power cord.


The Cooker's green light confirmed continuity and I let this setup run for 72 uninterrupted hours. My second reference system around the Bel Canto eVo 200.4 and Triangle Ventis 222 then became the testing ground. Simply, I wanted to avoid the lengthy relay-controlled power-on of the tubed AUDIOPAX monoblocks in the Avantgarde DUO system. I did, however, quickly transplant the currently under review Bel Canto DAC-2 into the living room. Why not enjoy the major sonic upgrade this would bestow on that system's ancient but indestructible Denon DCD-1560? (When Lady Cashflow smiles again rather than viewing me with a weary eye, I'll eventually replace it with something affordable yet fine, like the 24/192 Ah Tjoob or Jolida JD-100A.)

AudioDharma supplies Deltron-to-AC-plug converters that connect to the high-levels' standard binding posts. You can also obtain IEC-to-plug repeaters to strap multiple power cords in series. The same holds true for interconnects. They can be daisy-chained with RCA-to-RCA barrel connectors.


Furutech FP-3T35 to left, Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC10 to right, both using Furutech connectors.


Power tripping


"Reflections of Her, Part 2" -- my favorite track on Eric Hansen's suave debut guitar album Without Words [Neurodisc, 0499 2 50222 2 3, 2001] -- quickly diluted hopes that I had, in the impressively built and spec'd RTP-6, discovered a half-priced stand-in for the headline act of aural bon mots that the Stealth bequeathes in the areas of air, dynamics, vividness, soundstage depth and accelerated transients.

The RTP-6 was drier, not as adept at rendering ambient space, foreshortened soundstage depth relative to the Stealth, portrayed less impact and weight in the bass and presented a smaller harmonic envelope. Having lived with it for so long, I had forgotten just how comprehensive the improvements of the Audio Magic power purifier really are. In my last go-around with diverse powerline products, I had suspected that if anything, the Stealth could be accused of highlighting, emphasizing or supercharging transient incisiveness and a parallel perception of dynamic intensity. Impossible to tell what an album should really sound like if you weren't present during the recording. Perhaps I need to confess that if the Stealth plays doctor by injecting a strong contrast agent, I'm a willing victim for such surgical grafting.


Such suspicions were rekindled during today's comparison. Being a devout Avantgarde hornspeaker owner, my appreciation for lifelike dynamics will be obvious - even the more conventional Triangles are optimized in this aspect. Equally obvious then, prioritizing this quality over others in the audiophile lexicon is purely an arbitrary function of a personal hierarchy. It's reshuffled by other listeners who make, say smoothness, truth of timbre, holographic soundstaging or midrange voluptuousness #1. But being dynamically more lit up and energetic wasn't the only better-according-to-this-reviewer distinction of this juxtaposition.


Hansen's Hermanos Conde Felipe guitar was both more full-bodied and silvery on the Stealth. The first was a function of weight, the second of more pronounced upper harmonics. By comparison, the RTP-6 sounded flatter, less colorful. If the sonic landscape of the Stealth was a relatively young mountain range under cloudless skies, with jagged peaks, crisper edges and a certain wildness of aspect, the RTP-6 looked over an ancient range smoothed over by the ravages of time. Its contours were smoothed over not just by the elements but also the diminished contrast of a slightly overcast sky.


Cyprean sensation Anna Vissi's Mala [Columbia 50827502] is a phenomenally recorded twin CD romantic opera by husband/songwriter/producer Nicos Karvelas. Sung entirely in Greek and vocally firmly planted in a modern musical or song format rather than classically operatic style --something Elton John would do if asked to compose symphonically -- even the Grecian liner notes don't unlock the mystery of content or theme. Only the included production images indicate to a non-Greek that i's a period piece about a concentration camp during the inhumane Nazi regime. Track 7 on the second disc is emotionally charged, troubled and accusatory and then seems to make musical statements of hope or repair.


The RTP-6 again seemed spatially more forward by curtailing the depth dimension and reverberant atmosphere of the recording venue. Anna's voice lacked the breathing quality of the Stealth, sounding dry, more matter-of-fact, as though recorded in an acoustically overdamped space.


The orchestral timbres of strings and brass were painted in more primary colors. They lacked some of the added wealth and hued shading of the Stealth. The RTP didn't do poorly by any stretch - it was merely less refined, fleshed-out or developed, less spacious and airy, dynamically a bit plainer. Incidentally, all these comments refer to using the Fantasy AC10 cord that quickly proved itself more full-bodied and hefty than the olive-green Furutech wire.


For Russian symphonic works, I often turn to Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi's renditions whose tenure with the Scottish National Orchestra turned the latter into a truly world-class formation like the Concertgebouw. Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade [Chandos 8479, 1986] is one such a gem.


Expectedly by now -- but it's always wise to test a variety of material just to be sure -- the Stealth had the upper hand in resolving the cavernous SNO Centre in Glasgow so that the colorful score of Korsakov was set against and in the context of living perceptible space whereas the RTP-6 presented the music per se but outside this context for a starker deportment.

The dynamic contrast of the brass on one hand, and Edwin Paling's solo violin on the other, was more ferocious, the weighty impact of the former heightened by sharper leading edge contours, as though arising out of silence with more acuteness or suddenness. The RTP-6 was a mite tamer or contained. On this particular recording, I didn't think that the depth perspective was less developed rather than that width assumed a more tunnel-like form. Via the Audio Magic conditioner, the orchestra was broader especially in the farther rows of the woodwinds and brass section.


For a final report on tone, I settled on Norwegian sax man Jan Garbarek and his latest self-assembled twin-album rarum, a compilation on Manfred Eichler's ECM label [440 014 165-2 - 2002]. "My Song" sports Keith Jarrett on piano, Palle Danielson on double-bass and Jon Christensen on drums. Jan's soprano sax -- endowed at times with an oboe-like nasality, emphasized upper harmonics and a certain biting piercingness -- was somewhat softened or "prettified" by the RTP-6. Jon's brushes had less ringing haze, and the piano also sounded somewhat rounder, harmonically weighted downwards to turn warmer, less percussive. Can you appreciate how the shifted emphasis of my description now seems to favor the contender from the land of the rising sun? Penetrating bite - bad? Warmth - good?


Power flipping


This merely goes to show that HF extension comes at a price, transient snap with a crispiness that, depending on your sensibilities, can seem either more direct and lifelike, or too "in-your-face" and intense. I'm not talking spatial forwardness but energetic propulsion. It's clear which one I favor. Still, you might well lean the other way. All this by way of reminding us that while the RTP-6, for my tastes, errs on the side of "civilized understatement", you could conclude that the Audio Magic Stealth was too revealing or unsettling.


And then there's the matter of payola. The RTP-6 is half the price and certainly far better than merely half as good. It does lack surge protection. However, I wager a guess than for many listeners not exposed to regular and capricious thunderstorms as I am here in the high desert of New Mexico, that feature might seem of only trifling significance.


Perhaps the more relevant question to ask is how the RTP-6 compares to a plain-Jane Wallmart power strip? I purchased such a hairy beast to afterwards use on my fax machine and assorted non-audio devices. I selected one eschewing surge protection, a lighted power switch and a plastic housing. I grabbed a 6-outlet metal unit to avoid the worst offenders of bad sound with entries in this field - cheap plastic, throwaway MOVs and noisy light bulbs.

On the Jan Garbarek track, el cheapo punished with clearly audible background hiss/noise that was utterly sublimated with either of the two much dearer units. While some soundstage depth survived, it was significantly flattened out. The piano now sounded bright and a bit steely, the brushes sizzled and Jan's sax lacked air and finesse.


The much higher noise floor covered up detail and caused a cutout appearance of the performers - the kind of headless but life-size celebrity stand-ups that entrepreneurs without overhead use to turn tourists in parking lots into more or less believable photographic semblances. Mom, I met Clint Eastwood!

Call it a kind of two-dimensionality, not at the total expense of depth per say. A semblance of layered staging between the four performers did remain. What was missing was depth or body per musician. The artists flattened out - cardboard stand-ups on a 3D stage. This lack of air or appreciable space reduced the music to sounds that seemingly arose out of a vacuum. And these sounds were coarse, gritty and not very involving. Anyone could hear this degradation in a New York minute.


This setback was clearly of a far graver nature than the differences between RTP-6 and Audio Magic Stealth. Reduced to a choice between the three whilst enjoying limited funds, the Furutech clearly is the winning ticket. Could one approach its performance while spending less than $800 though; say with a PS Audio Juice Bar or equivalent device? I couldn't say. I lacked such a component for direct comparison.


Hence today's evaluation concludes without a final conclusive statement as to the exact merit of Furutech's RTP-6 against equivalently or lower priced competing power strips. It's beautifully made and obviously the love child of uncompromised engineering. It transcends the performance of a no-name cheap strip by the kind of margin it's 85 times expense necessitates to not be called excessively silly. It's eclipsed by an active power purifier at double the money albeit not nearly double the performance. These factors alone make it commendable.


The unanswered question remains whether you have to spend $800 to get this level of performance from a passive power strip. If Furutech lets me hang on to the RTP-6 while another power strip with a lower retail makes an appearance in a timely enough manner, I may be able to tell you. Otherwise, another reviewer will have to.


I shall bow out then with the incoherent grunt of the pig I've confessed to be - until I find better for less, the Furutech reigns in its category. Competitors of the RTP-6, the onus is on you now to throw your contenders into the ring. Always in favor of finding more-for-less recommendations in a hobby that tends to insanely escalate beyond what regular folks can afford, I would certainly look forward to hearing from you.


Power Script


8/27/02:
A day after this review went on-line, a reader volunteered to send me a PS Audio Ultimate Outlet for an A/B comparison with the RTP-6. Meanwhile, another reader is sending an RD-1 demagnetizer to compare against the just-reviewed RD-2. With sincere thanks to these music lovers for such proactive participation in support of the audiophile community at large, expect a Furutech Follow-Up in a few weeks.


Manufacturer's website
US distributor's website