Particularly next to my stack of all-silver components, the optional dress plate looked swell for little more, just begging not to be hidden behind my pride-of-place Grand Prix Audio stand. But never mind looks - serious audiophiles insist that cosmetic considerations are for sissies only. How did the Haley perform? Having just come off the Balanced Power Technologies BP-2+, the slight shift in overall flavor was immediately obvious. It recalled Lenny's tidbit on how the Haley had been co-developed using his personal pair of Avantgarde Unos as a magnifying glass on dynamics and resolution. In my system, this translated into sharper leading edges, replacing the BPT's minor warmth with greater incisiveness and jump factor. Plucked strings, brass attacks and percussive impacts became more direct, the energetic barometer responded with a higher pressure reading.

Chris Hoff's L9 litz power cord -- $199/6ft, dispatched in the wake of his review to demonstrate further voicing options while acknowledging the noted minor warmth as deliberate based on extensive beta-tester feedback-- accelerated the BP-2's temperament just as predicted. According to the designer, a further boost is possible by replacing the internal silver wiring with Litz cabling. The Haley's innate personality was more hotblooded per se, never mind the partnering power cord. In Caelin Gabriel's Shunyata universe of AC cords, there's distinction between noise killers and pace setters. My older Audio Magic silver-ribbon Clairvoyants squarely fall into the pace setter category - and the Haley does as well. To illustrate the differences, look at the two equestrian images from The Encyclopedia of Horses & Ponies [Parragon, 2002].

The upper shows a Spanish-heritage Lipizzaner such as you'd find at the Spanish School of Pider/Austria famous for its dressage training. The lower is of a Portuguese Garrano, ancestor to the Andalusian and Galician, a mixture of Arab and ancient pony stock. Due to its wild mane, shorter back and stockier build, it looks a bit rounder - the BPT. The dressage horse with its exaggerated show gait, leaner build and sharper edges due to the braided mane and tail cuts a slightly crisper profile - the Haley, its heightened rhythmic precision and prickly dynamic readiness neatly displayed in the posture of the raised legs.

On music that strongly depended on rhythmic tension -- in horse terms, vital but invisible little twitches that signal to the rider his animal's intentions -- this quality spelled the difference between riveting and interesting. It charged the already bristling emotional tension of Kadim Al-Sahir's just-reviewed Qusat Habebain [EMI 540492 2 4] even further. Like much Arabian music, it lives and dies by its rhythmic integrity. Benefitting from EMI's far better than average recording quality (safe for rare but vexing occasions of distorting the input level) this superstar album didn't require the faint softening-around the-edges effect which the BPT as near a requirement bestowed on certain overly hot recordings in a similar vein -- say by Samira Saïd and Hakim -- just to make 'em palatable beyond short and picky track sampling.
BPT BP-2; RSA Haley; Walker Velocitor

When talking sonic nuances like these, it's important to qualify that specific ones aren't inherently superior to others. It's a matter of system synergy and owner preferences. That said, the Running Springs Audio Haley surely conformed to my personal hierarchy where the conveyance of musical energy rules over all other contenders to the throne. I wouldn't go as far as calling it dynamically super-charged or transient-wise hyped. After all, like the rodeo rider on the right, that would suggest a somewhat unnatural imbalance. But it went about as far as possible in that direction before you'd call it overtly skewed or blinded toward those qualities. Call it a horn lover's power line conditioner then. That about nails its core signature.

Those who don't believe that power line filtering can make profound differences should experiment with running their premium-guzzling roadster on the lowest legal octane rating for a change. Gas is gas after all. Clearly not. I recently listened to a conditioner that was electrically working but apparently still defective. It literally killed the spark of the music, rendering silence like a ravenous Black Hole event horizon, swallowing up every living and inanimate thing within reach.

Them tunes dragged ass then, the quiet between the notes exuding a pervasively negative vacuum connotation, of overdamping and undue absorption. My wife walked past the system and opined, in passing, "this really sounds flat, doesn't it?" Indeed it did. It sucked like a Princess vac. It's mentioned only to serve as an example that power delivery -- for all the components in a system -- acts as a pretty powerful equalizer. It cuts both ways depending on implementation and design objective.

Completely innocent of any wet-blanket damping such as you'd expect from the overall atmosphere inside a morgue -- or a defective line filter that filters more than it should -- the Haley was clearly designed by folks who listen to music with their hearts on their sleeves, expecting to be prompted, stimulated and thrilled. While refined in its ability to unravel low-level details, the Haley's key attribute was really dynamic fortitude and transient brio, thus distinguishing it from the BPT BP-2+ which signaled relaxed elegance instead. You can appreciate how these descriptors could turn upside down when applied to an unsympathetic system: Vitality and elan might turn brash and subjectively forward; mellowness and warmth could seem too laid-back and boring. Call these the broad strokes then. Only insertion into an actual system, then personal assessment, can flesh out the synergy picture with the important fine strokes.

To indicate what you would have heard in my system -- and vis-à-vis hard comparators rather than just 'the music' -- I now engaged in some heavy swapping, of power cords, maids and conditioners. Duplicating the hookup pairings (of power amps closest to the inlet, followed by the preamp/ Ortho Spectrum filter, then transport/DAC), I alternated between the Haley, the BPT BP-2+, the just-returned Walker Audio Velocitor and a traveling sneak peek unit of the forthcoming Audio Magic Eclipse. Power cords between wall and conditioner were my customary Audio Magic Clairvoyants.

This foursome covered the price spectrum from $995 (Haley) to $1,495 (BPT BP-2+), then $3,120 (Velocitor plus optional stand) and TBA for the Eclipse but likely well upwards of $3,500 considering it offers three discrete banks of 4 outlets each that are preceded by different circuits for digital, low-level and high-current analog and powered from two cords to hard-isolate the digital and analog sections. To make it an even comparison, I connected the DUO subwoofers straight to the wall as customary. Both resident Velocitor and visiting Haley offer only 6 outlets to cover my main stack of transport and DAC, Ortho Spectrum and PRe6 and the two tube monos.

To keep things manageable, I needed one 'telling' track that had excellent solo vocals, chorus for back-up placement and separation precision, plucked strings for transients, bowed strings for tone, superb production values but also a relatively simple arrangement to not get confused by excessive complexity. And who beckoned but Keali'i Reichel with his famous title track of E O Mai [Punahele 17862]. The first A/B/A was the Velocitor -- having settled back into the system after 24 hours of continuous use -- versus the Haley.

The Haley clearly accentuated the percussive elements of guitar attacks which felt like serrated rocks sticking out crisply above homogenizing fog. Another visual that cropped up was being under a thin metal roof pelted by rain. Each drop makes a very distinct impact, quite unlike what happens with a thick shingle roof. By contrast, the Velocitor enveloped these transient into the musical fabric. Remaining defined, they simply became part of something bigger - the overall flow of the tune appearing in vast space. More so than before its mod, the Velocitor, though very dynamic, seemed to emphasize this element of flow, of riding on the breath. It made for a very big get extremely organic, smooth sound. Vocals with the Haley were surrounded by less audible space or air, appearing more matter-of-factly. This greater dryness when compared to the Walker Audio unit was most apparent in the depth domain. Not as a function of necessarily bringing the performers themselves forward, it simply dimmed the lights on what was surrounding the artists. This left the musicians exposed against a black background but subtracted some of the greater ambient context around them. Going back to the Walker, I was struck how this ambiance, like heat steaming off, kicked in also above the chorus, suggesting a dome of presence hanging literally above the speakers.

In automotive terms, the Haley conveyed the male, angular muscularity of the Cadillac CTS whose edgy, powerful design cues outdo even those of the Mustang. There's something charged and exciting about the Running Springs unit whereas the Velocitor is more dimensional, relaxed and polished - effortless. On Reichel's voice, this dimensionality made for an element of sweetness and breathiness which the starker Haley lacked. However, at 1/3 the Velocitor's price, this was nothing to be bashful about. Rather, it confirmed again an unusual price/performance value that's been lavished upon the unit from California. A guy like me could be tempted to get two Dukes -- for the amps and subwoofers -- and run the front-end and low-level electronics off the Velocitor: Ultimate refinement meets well but not over-damped crispness and heightened jump factor.

The tricked-out BPT BP-2 as described in its recent review was far more similar to the Velocitor. Same flavor of refinement, same resolution wedded to gentle elegance and effortlessness. Where the Walker went farther was in the air and space department and dynamic wallop. For the latter, I went to "La Calavera" on Elliot Goldenthal's Frida album, with its zigzagging percussion flurries and whomping bass accents. This stuff wakes you up! Shy of such espresso potency, the BPT's a flying recommendation for Velocitor wannabes who don't have the scratch and can live without the nth degree of ambient resolution. Chris Hoff has every right to be proud of his baby.

The Audio Magic Eclipse? Two things were instantly noticeable. One, the soundstage exploded laterally by a few feet to each side - as in positively huge, not through over-sized images but a broader spread. Two? A distinct silvery sheen like moonlight that telegraphed a unique, very palpable but hard-to-describe feel different from the Velocitor - more lit-from-the-inside-out. Fascinating.

This naturally will remain a topic for a future review to explore at length - after all, today's subject is the Running Springs Audio Haley. The Eclipse only mixed it up because I was offered the opportunity. How many times do you get a chance to compare this many serious power line conditioners side-by-side?

Verdict? As embodied in today's pricier examples, more money does buy you further refinements indeed. Alas, the cruel law of diminishing returns hangs a sharp right with the Haley and BP-2 units. You get 85% or more of what's possible, at 1/3 to 1/2 the price. Dan Babineau's creation is endowed with a unique voice. It goes for sheer liberated gusto - not Quad but Avantgarde or Triangle-type sound. If that describes you; if your system needs a coffee-grind enema - the Haley's your man. He'll perform for an hourly wage considered worker exploitation in states other than California where Mexican farm hands are expected to break their backs for cacahuetes - peanuts. I'm excited to introduce you to the Haley. It's superb value without any shortcuts! But that's not the end of the power story, yet. We'll report on ATI Tectoniks' Ionic Earthing Array in the future, to describe what state-of-the-art grounding accomplishes. In Japan, this specific system is used to ground entire power stations and recording studios. The US distributor, Brian Ackerman of Artistic Audio, tells me that welding up his reference ground to this custom 10' copper pole -- buried in special clay that can hold 10 times its mass in water -- dropped the impedance of his ground leg from 50 ohms to below 1 ohm ... there's no rest for the wicked, is there? But don't fret - the Haley would give you a well-deserved respite in this upgrade madness called audiophila should you obtain one.

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