Besides the search for new and better materials, measurements confirmed the effectiveness of the existing tuning sticks in the fight against RFI and EMI. With empirical knowledge now backed by hard numbers, the hunt for Red October continued. Eventually the new stick evolved into a triple-compartment design aptly christened the Triple AC Enhancer. Each compartment is fully separated from the others and contains its own proprietary mix of materials whose composition Akiko understandably keeps secret. From each of the compartments exits a copper wire. The resultant three wires are then loosely braided and attached to the protective ground connector inside the AC plug of Akiko’s own design. Marc learnt that the copper wires added more to the overall effect than anticipated. It seems that the wires act as antennae for short-wave HF. Ultrasonic noise was reduced far more effectively with this new wire geometry. The high-end version of the classic AC tuning stick uses the same carbon housing but now it has grown to 160mm long and 50mm in diameter. The top and bottom of the carbon tube are capped with chromed discs. Next to the Schuko version we tested, any other type of plug may be ordered as long as a safety ground is available. All plugs are treated with Mapleshade’s SilClear contact enhancer. The total length of the Triple Enhancer with tail is 330mm and weight is 650 grams.

Groovy. But what does the Triple Enhancer do to the music and is it any better than the classic version? To find out, we compiled a playlist with a lot of piano-based music and some dub steps to other genres. A well-recorded piano is no easy task to begin with and really a litmus test for any playback system. The piano is a large instrument with not only a broad frequency range but also a great dynamic range. Over the piano’s range, the dynamics of fundamental tones and their harmonics change largely in ratio. At the low end nearing 27.5Hz, the fundamental is no less than -25dB away from its harmonics whilst going up the scale harmonics get softer versus their fundamentals. Measured at 10 meters, a grand piano with the lid open covers a dynamic range of about 37dB for the higher notes up to 85dB for the lowest when C-weighted. Many modern recordings put a microphone close to the strings and not at a distance to the side and/or above. Close-miking offers a drier sound with more punch. Being a percussive instrument, there’s a lot of noise from the mechanical workings. That same percussiveness is the basis for a piano’s not 100% mathematically correct overtone distribution. Those harmonics tend to be somewhat higher which adds to a fuller sound. In short, the piano is one of the most versatile instruments and offers a wide range of screw-up possibilities in its playing, recording and playback.

The recent Frames solo venture by Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap takes the listener into the realm of Keith Jarrett without the annoying vocal utterings, Ludovico Einaudi and perhaps Eric Satie. The combination of Michiel, sound engineer Robin Kieftenbelt and not least the mastering by our dear Paul Power makes this recording laid down in Michiel’s own studio really special. Michiel’s Steinway D-274 is played with the sustain pedal depressed to get that dreamy sound where the use of sparse notes enhances the feeling.

One of our setups used our all-Dutch amplifier combination. Hypex Ncore 1200 based monoblocs drove the Grecian Pnoe horns whilst our Zu Submission subwoofer is equipped with a Hypex UcD 400 amp. To tame the high-powered hi-gain Ncore, our Music First passive preamp regulated the input coming from a La Rosita Beta server fed from Qobuz Desktop running on an iMac. The amps are run off a separate power feed for the source components and despite—or because?—the fact that they all use high-grade switching power supplies, the influence of the Akiko Triple was more than obvious.