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Plopparazzi. When the bell rang, it was the Alhambra. I was in the midst of the Job Pre2 review running it with its Job 225 mate. Also in play were the Albedo Audio Aptica ceramiques and Nagra's HD DAC still in from review. I duly powered the rig down, plopped the AC conditioner on the DC filter, fired everything back up and... had clearly more powerful bass but also instantly more overall brightness. A Greek bouzouki player next to Turkish clarinet player Turgay Özüfler just then had patently more snarl and a nearly rusty clattering skip off his close-mic'd strings. I wasn't immediately sure. Was this a function of steeper rise times or a slightly fresher presence region? With these speakers, I also wasn't sure whether I liked the total effect. Bass yes. Brightness? On my warmer less illuminated tonewood speakers, all promised to be copasetic. With the Aptica? Obviously this was cold out of the shipping carton. But I'd not have to worry about hearing something. No hairsplitting here. I decided to let things settle in. Get used to the new, then unplug the Alhambra and get with the old again. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That doesn't just work for love. It's standard reviewer MO.

The actual mechanism is contrast of course. Humans are terrifically adaptive. We get used to things very quickly. It's why itinerant Indian sadhus may not stay in any one place longer than three days. After that, attachments set in. If you are trying to free yourself of attachments, staying fresh and insecure facing the unknown daily is key. With reviewing, our senses are keenest in the transition window of change. Whatever contrast there is captures the difference. But our internal barometer resets rapidly. The exciting new becomes the new dull normal. Soon it's the familiar old. That's why renewed contrast—taking the settled-in newcomer (did it really settle in or was it just us?) out again—is mandatory. Does it reconfirm initial impressions or not? This adaptability of ours is at the heart of the compulsive buying/selling cycle of audiophile addiction. It consigns responsibility for the thrill to new hardware. We don't know how to approach our hifi in a fresh new way each time we sit down to keep the original thrill alive. That mental/psychic preparation which puts the onus on the listener is rarely talked about. It's the cure to audiophilia. But I digress.

What had, with the particular music playing then, first indicated brightness proved upon more inspection to act as primarily higher incisiveness. On more forward steely recordings, this narrowed the margin for error. Bright productions acted even brighter. More natural recordings became dynamically more alive and communicative. There was a general tie-in with the type of observation many have about copper vs. silver cables. The Alhambra acted silvery: quicker, more articulate but also sharper. This was the old truism. More resolution shows both good and bad in more detail. The greater bass power I'd noted right off didn't really fit the silver profiling but expectedly lacked any double edge. For the bass the only provision I had to make was a lowering of the Zu Submission subwoofer's attenuator. I needed less <40Hz assist. The main speakers did more on their own. The effect really wasn't that different from a more powerful—or better damped—amplifier.

The higher incisiveness had a related aspect. It'd show up for example on Charlie Bisharat's violin [Al Andalus, 21 Strings] when he plays deliberately dirty to trigger flageolet harmonics whilst still making the string's fundamental, Middle-Eastern style. Those upper harmonics were fierier. They showed more glint to really cut through the surrounding venue sound. 21 Strings is a very fine production whose title adds up the strings used by the trio of oud, flamenco guitar and violin. With the Alhambra in play, the energetic perspective was closer to stage. Transients were piquant. Separation was high. The subjective contributions of the presence and higher brands had the nearfield's typical directness and vigor before being mellowed in the farther seats by increasing reflections.

Couching the same observation in different language, the Alhambra was DAC-direct. Without Alhambra the Nagra Jazz preamp got in the loop. Which incidentally is exactly the swap I made to qualify this statement. Thus going DAC-direct and AC filter made for the freshest, crispest most immediate sound whilst also the one that became most critical of lesser recordings and most informative about extreme close-mic'ing. Where some producers stick their microphones just isn't where our ears would ever be. If reed spittle, on-string noises and a singer's throat seem suddenly exposed in pornographic proximity, it's the price one pays for this level of directness. How close do you want to zoom in on the skin pores of your leading lady and see all her mascara and foundation powder?

Incidentally none of these were stereophonic effects. They were plainly audible well outside the listening window, even 4 meters beyond the left speaker behind my work desk. All of it clearly spoke to the effectiveness of Cliff's black Krion slab. It also spoke to the precarious balance which ever increasing resolution can upset between the polarities of attack speed and body, honed definition and languorous ease, spunk and warmth. Interestingly, where the best Vibex DC filter had a quasi tube or DSD function by increasing tone and colour saturation and a certain temporal fluidity, its AC counter part acted like wide-bandwidth direct-coupled highly damped transistors or high-level PCM. Sugar and salt. If properly administered because the surrounding hardware keeps the scales centered, music's flavour intensifies. As a clear accelerator—Llyod Walker immortalized that effect by naming his passive power box Velocitor—you can predict where the Alhambra would be tailor-made; and where it might require rebalancing elsewhere or plain overshoot the mark.

Nagra HD DAC with/without Nagra Jazz, Crayon Audio CFA-1.2, Albedo Audio Aptica, Zu Submission

In the above hardware context, my personal choice was between just the Granada with the HD DAC direct into the Crayon amp; or adding Alhambra and Jazz. Obviously the Nagra books significant extra dosh but €1'600 for the AC conditioner aren't peanuts either. With the former adding body and a tad of warmth, the latter injecting velocity to counter the weight gain, the final result was a bit more full and stately yet even more present than the first option. A rare trick. I'd opt for cheaper and simpler unless money really were no issue. With my all-wood Boenicke W5se, soundkaos Wave 40 and 100% omni German Physiks, I'd not need the Jazz but definitely would want the Alhambra as quickener to add lucidity into those speakers' bloomier mix and energize them.

On the ceramic speakers again whilst Jazz and Alhambra were double-teaming on opposite sides of the fence playing against the middle, I also noticed a different behaviour of dynamic swings. With the DAC-direct setup sans Alhambra, there was obvious speed and suddenness but not the same type of follow-up. Voltage shifts seemed to occur more on the surface. With the preamp and AC conditioner, the dynamic ripples and waves weren't just about the white caps. They were also about what was beneath the wave motion as the undertow. Put different, the sheer amount of stuff shifted or displaced felt more profound.

Based on the evidence of 10+ years of hifi trade show attendance, I'd characterize the majority of modern 'high-end' sound as falling quite short on colour depth, body, mass and gravitas. It could stand more 'tube' virtues. Hence the rising popularity of DACs which convert all PCM to DSD. Against that assessment, I'd stick by my opinion of going into this assignment. The effects of Vibex DC filtering as maximized in the Granada are more relevant to the majority of systems than the Alhambra's AC conditioning is. It seems fitting then that Granada would be the base, Alhambra the plug-in. It illustrates what the foundation is. If your system already straddles the golden mean for sizzle and steak, adding both devices should load up your scales in equal measure. You'd maintain balance but intensify the overall flavour just as salt and sugar together increase tension, contrast and depth.

Regardless where in this picture you come down, it's undeniable that power delivery has a profound effect on the feel and gestalt of our playback once the signal-path hardware has been addressed to our ability and satisfaction. Vibex have quietly worked this sector for many years. They seem to have perfected their craft without fanfare or glossy ads. My happy exposure to Vibex now means that when their man Cliff Orman says that something of theirs makes a very obvious difference as he did say for the Alhambra, I can take it as gospel. This is powerful stuff. You only must want or need what it does. Hopefully I painted the picture on what to expect; how the Granada and Alhambra double-team on the DC and AC filtering sides of the equation relative to sonic effects; and how those might respectively apply to your own situation.
Vibex website